Mental Health Is Messy and Variable, But Still Important

comic showing physical illnesses treated like mental illnesses (ignored)Greetings. It’s time for a somewhat odd end-of-year post, but bear with me. As anyone sticking around here can tell, I’ve been struggling for years to update this blog regularly. I’ve considered writing about the process many times, because I think it’s important to talk about mental health and capacity in activist communities, but it’s also tough to put myself out there and be vulnerable about my own mental health. I wanted to speak up today, though, while I’m in a particularly introspective place with regard to my mental health, have a good support structure to back me up, and have been reading some really thought-provoking work that’s made me think about how we rate our own “issues” as serious, or not serious, “enough.”

The posts I’ll reference here have very little to do with one another, at first glance. One is about executive function, another about sex-negative feminism, and the third about strategizing when to “call in.” The common thread, though, is that all three got me thinking about things in my life that often seem too “mild” or trivial to focus on or use as justification for behavior. And this is a thread that’s been incredibly prevalent and challenging for me in my attempts to practice self-care.

At a glance, I have a lot of potential mental health issues, but none of them are particularly severe, and particularly don’t seem so in comparison with what my friends and fellow activists face. Some of the people I’m closest to live with health needs that are extremely challenging to meet in this ableist society, from autism to chronic pain to severe food limitations to suicidal depression. In contrast, my mental health is a hodgepodge of various “issues”: moderate but medicated depression/anxiety/social anxiety, garden-variety introversion, a childhood history of compulsive lying that has some minor adult consequences, a history of disordered eating that never reached a critical level, some general issues around control, mild executive function difficulties, slight obsessions and compulsions that come and go, moderate focus difficulties that may or may not “count” as ADD, sexual history that includes several “not quite non-consensual” experiences, varying levels of gender dysphoria, and an auditory processing disorder that’s mild enough that I sometimes wonder if everyone has these issues hearing speech and I’m just assuming the worst. None of these things keep me from holding down a job or maintaining relationships with other people. I don’t see a therapist, though I’m doing some cognitive behavioral therapy on my own. I often feel that I could just “get it together,” and occasionally I can rally some motivation and actually accomplish a lot in a span.

In some ways, I suspect these kinds of issues are just symptoms of living in a fucked-up racist, patriarchal, capitalist society. I feel whiny and selfish sometimes when I focus on them, because I know that many many much-more-marginalized folks are surviving much worse every day. Black women, for example, are particularly discouraged from seeking out mental health care. People of color in general and poor trans and physically disabled folks may not be able to afford mental health care in our deeply unjust system. When I think about those struggles, it feels pretty embarrassing that I can’t just write a damn blog post every week. But when I’m feeling compassionate and able to look more carefully at the full context, I realize that my mental health problems are valid. The fact is that almost none of us are raised and educated in such a way that adequately prioritizes mental (or physical) health and wellness, and we all face the negative consequences of living in this deeply fucked society—even those of us with relative privilege.

So while I would never advocate for allocating more resources or focus to people like me when compared with those who face more severe challenges, I do think it’s important that those of us who deal with “minor” challenges are gentle with ourself and acknowledge that our health needs are also valid. That’s why working towards a better healthcare system, and a better society in general, is crucial for everyone—focusing on the needs of the most marginalized is important to prioritize the emergencies, but over time building a better system can also affect everyone’s long term health for the better. And, since we live in our own bodies, and external support is always limited, it’s okay to focus on our own needs from time to time if only to ensure that we can in fact do the work.  Everyone deserves health.

In 2016, would you like to read more blog posts from me on my personal struggles with mental health? Leave me a comment and let me know. I can’t promise anything, given the vulnerability involved, but I’d like to know what readers are interested in.

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About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on December 28, 2015, in (dis)ability, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. You know, I’ve got the whole suicidal depression thing going on, and I still sometimes catch myself thinking my problems aren’t “serious enough”. Especially when I’m doing relatively okay and feel like I don’t (or shouldn’t) need to use the accommodations that my university’s disability office provides me with. Or when I’m thinking about calling a suicide hotline or considering whether inpatient treatment would be useful, but I don’t feel like I’m “suicidal enough”, and what if I ended up taking up a bed that someone else needed more and… this whole line of thinking is pretty silly. My health is important regardless of how my problems compare to others. Triage is important, yes, but that’s other people’s responsibility.

    I also have some history of disordered eating that never reached a critical level. I felt like a fake ever comparing myself to someone who had a “real” eating disorder, but just because my problem wasn’t as bad as some other people’s (and just because I was overweight when I started and never reached a point of being underweight) doesn’t make it not worth addressing or talking about. Besides, sometimes those relatively minor problems can develop into something worse. Surely it’s better to address it while it’s still relatively minor.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this post. With the stigma about mental illness I always find it refreshing when people talk openly about their mental illness. I feel less alone.

    • I really appreciate “triage is important, yes, but that’s other people’s responsibility.” The “what if someone else needs services more?” thing is also a trap I often fall into, but I find it really helpful when someone reminds me “hey, that’s not actually your job.” And I liked the way one interpreter put it when I wasn’t sure about requesting interpreters because it could take away from profoundly Deaf people–he pointed out that requesting accessibility tells the people in power that the services are necessary, and so they’re more likely to consider them (for people who need them at whatever level). I think that basically applies with healthcare as well, though I hate that the system can be so deeply fucked that sometimes there isn’t enough care to go around.

      I’m glad this post was helpful to you — much solidarity, and good luck with your own care. And also, affirmation on the disordered eating side that it’s absolutely still important to address whether or not you’re underweight. It took a lot of reminders to that effect for me to get it, but I do really believe it now. Disordered eating is about mental, not just physical health.

  2. Hey,as a camab’d femm.im medicated with clozaril and depicote.I love myself enough to not let myself go to any game and wanted to tellya somethings.The mental heath system is good and bad.Ifya think you can fix more than a couple at once,ya better be ready for it.I’m collecting social security money as I was malpractice’d on by a big doctor.I’m a scizoprenic acute/bipolar,so my medicine is a big part of me.I’m non binary,non op and can’t let a good queer like me go anywhere.Um,while some doctors are good at it,some are old Germans.I’ll read into your stuff soon,Seeya,johnique

    • Yeah, it’s hard to trust the mental healthcare system (and the health care system at all) sometimes! Good luck with your care and solidarity to you.

  3. Oof, I hear you on this and experience some of the feelings you described. And I’m in a place of privilege with many of the things on your list (exceptions are long term depression, anxiety, and a topsy turvy history of disordered eating) so I feel kind of “unworthy” of a lot of the things I’d recommend to a friend in a similar situation. This bit is particularly well put: “But when I’m feeling compassionate and able to look more carefully at the full context, I realize that my mental health problems are valid. The fact is that almost none of us are raised and educated in such a way that adequately prioritizes mental (or physical) health and wellness, and we all face the negative consequences of living in this deeply fucked society—even those of us with relative privilege.” Yes, yes, yes. And also yes to being interested in more posts of this sort. Wishing you well.

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