We’ve seen it all. The villain with dissociative identity disorder, the sex-crazed bipolar femme fatale, the depressed bomber, the paranoid lone gunman, the schizophrenic baby snatcher…the list goes on. And on. And on. And on.
Oh. We have seen it all.
Over time there has been a massive outcry for diversity and visibility in today’s media and fiction. And definite inroads are being made. From better portrayals of race, recognition of other sexualities and gender, to the hard-fought movement of how we see beauty.
Where’s the bipolar princess? Or the clinically depressed action hero? Or the sexy heroine coping with anxiety?
No? None of those?
Where are they?
Oh… How about a little closer to home. Here.
Yeah. People like me have seen it all. And we’re scared. Because when we announce our diagnosis. You see this:
I say you, it’s deliberate. Because you, or someone you know has a diagnosable mental illness or has been touched by mental illness in your or their lives. You deny it. You think mental illness happens to “other people.”
I’m telling you mental illness gives zero fucks about your gender, race, creed, flag, sexuality, religion, or even social or financial status.
And the media and entertainment industry keeps us firmly entrenched in too scared to come forward.
I have bipolar disorder. (And if you missed the first post, surprise!) It’s no secret. I can’t hide it any more than I can hide my hair being three colors.
“But wait,” you say, “Full stop! You can absolutely hide your illness!”
It comes out in everything. From my rapid speech, unprompted emotional outbursts, spontaneous crying, scattered thoughts, everywhere. I didn’t just suddenly develop this condition. I was born with it. I can’t help it. I’ve just learned how to get by with it.
And I’ve learned very quickly as a child through film, TV, and the evening news, the world doesn’t want people like me.
Fun fact: We’re everywhere.
I was once told to my face to think about finding a new job because I was “worrying customers.” When I had to miss an important event at GRL Atlanta due to a disability hearing, I was told, “Don’t you dare tell the organizers you’re disabled.”
I was taken aback then, I’m still pissed when I think about it.
I’m not someone who crashes a plane, shoots up a movie theater, molests children, or is cruel to animals.
But those people? They’re just like me. But they either didn’t get help, were denied help, or didn’t even know that was an option.
Do I look like a monster to you?
If you said “No! Of course not!” Actually, that’s where you’re wrong. I am a monster. I’m just a very stable monster who takes her medication every day without fail. But if I’m just a slightest bit off with the timing for an extended period? Things get dodgy. Too little sleep? That’s disastrous. Too much stimulation renders me nearly catatonic. (Fun times at conventions!)
I want you to know me and people like me we are beasts. And we are capable of anything.
Like being a rebel princess.
Making people laugh.
Even landing on the moon.
But all the media shows is the schizophrenic pervert, the suicidal psychopath…and you know…I bet you can name at least 20 villain types off the top of your head.
But you say, “There are heroes! There are! Claire Danes in Homeland!”
When the show runners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa describes her character, Carrie Mathison, as “a driven CIA officer battling her own psychological demons.”
Nope. I’m out. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars.
Let’s talk about the very short-lived ABC show Black Box. I was hype for this one. Finally! A bipolar heroine on mainstream TV!
Who flushed her meds and turns into a hyper-sexual fiend. Because it made “good television” and it’s “interesting.”
It’s not interesting. That is not cool, fun, or anything of the sort. Exploitation of mental illness for titillation is pretty fucking disgusting.
There’s very, very few television programs that get it right. Ironically, one you would never expect is NBC’s Hannibal. I’m a Fannibal, I confess, but the pro-mental health/self-acceptance message is one of the many reasons I love the show. (Beyond people looking tasty, and Mads Mikkelsen being hot af.)
A new one that I’m on the fence about is FX’s Legion. It shows promise. But admittedly the pilot did the show no favors. Told completely non-linear from the perspective of a schizophrenic lead, it’s humorous in that it hits close to home, and some points are even sad that—I repeat—it hits close to home. When watching with my mother, I’ve turned to her and said “That’s me when I feel like this.”
I’m going to keep watching to see where it goes. Reviewers seem to dig it for the front and center mental illness portrayal on television. If it sticks around, I could likely find myself babbling about it a lot.
But, despite mainstream Hollywood finally dipping its toe in the water and doing so with integrity, there it is on the 11 o’clock news on how some “mentally disturbed” individual shot up a school, crashed a car, bombed a federal building, tortured children…
And this, my Dandelions, this is the very reason we need to hold our heads high and not be afraid. Not be scared back into our mental prisons. Not be scared that we will only ever amount to being incarcerated and left to rot. Not be afraid of losing our jobs, our homes, our families. (News Flash: That’s illegal, by the way. Americans with Disabilities Act is a thing.)
So, stand up and be counted. You are living proof that mental illness does not happen to “other people.” You are one in a society of millions that are looking for people like you. Looking on our TV screens, in our media, in our daily lives. We are looking for heroes like us.
Over millions of years, atoms have smashed and stars have collided to come together to make the miracle that is you.
Miracle, Monster, or Beast, this is your chance to rewrite the narrative.
So, my Dandelions, how will you tell your story?