I’m going to pull a Joni Mitchell here and be honest about the light posting lately, which has to do with a shame spiral precipitated by something I read on a blog. A blog I like. So there’s the monkey wrench. I am ashamed of what the post was about, and worried that talking about the impact it had will attract shit-stirrers, compassion trolls, nice-makers or some self-righteous CBT asshat who feels duty bound to correct my cognitive distortions. I know about dysfunctional shame, don’t tell me how to get over it, just allow me my strategy.
I’ll either be honest here or end up nuking the blog, which is what I’ve been wrestling with since seeing mental illness ridiculed on a feminist site last week.
There was a story in the NY Times, about conversion disorder, aka hysteria. Yeah, I make fun of hysteria myself, and I have that permission, it says so on the label.
My hysterical symptoms lasted about a year, I won’t go into all that since I wrote about it on troublewaits. It’s the reason behind troublewaits, I was sure I was dying and wanted to say goodbye to the whole stupid fucking world before going out.
Spontaneous onset, psychomotor shut down, everything, including speech, and it happened alone, in public, without warning, stand up/fall down, drop coffee cup, in restaurants, in front of people, in the street, in the middle of a sentence all words morphing into a jumble of strangling, guttural, sub-human noises. My first episode I was alone here, in front of my monitor, and when the ambulance came I had to crawl to the door to let them in, nothing like that had ever happened to me, it was most bewildering and beyond unwelcome, I kid you not.
I knew nothing about hysteria, never thought about it at all til the results of the neurological work-up concluded no physical cause, this was mental phenomena.
Everything’s treatable, if you get good help. My psychiatrist, Dr. Fuckhead, who I still worship, provided insight on the social ramifications by touching his thumb to his forefinger with an eighth of an inch of space between them and saying, “This is how much understanding you will find out there. Know that.”
Indeed. If I held it against people for ridiculing mental illness I would never speak to another person.
I could have tried to talk to the blogger and maybe it would have turned out all right. Could, tried, maybe, too much risk. It’s a lot to sink about, innit, some harmless trigger, humiliation inhabits me, and that’s my stuff. Yes, now let me tell you about my pain. Covered a budget hearing, avoided chit-chat, couldn’t make eye-contact, head down, ashamed of being ashamed (thus the spiral), warded off thought, thought about bourbon, thought some people are too fragile for blogging, sat at the back of the bus, home, visit feminst blog, and find another goddamn post mocking hysteria. Thanks I needed that. Push and pushback, anima rising, uprising in me tonight, a vengeful little goddess with shoulders squared forges ahead with snakes around her blog.
OK, one more thing, I was glad to find a feminist writer do a brilliant analysis of the NYT article. This was great, from Mad, Melancholic Feminista,
Mental Illness, even Hysteria, is Real
…The whole time I have been teaching these papers that reconfigure what sort of taxonomic kind mental illnesses are, I took, naively, for granted that most of my students believed in mental illness. I was wrong. Luckily, today I assigned the first chapter from The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon, wherein he describes skillfully what it feels like to be depressed. I also assigned part of William Styron’s account. And, to my surprise, this was the first time that many of my students started to “get” what it means to be the kind of depressed that warrants treatment, either medication or institutionalization.
I walk back from my class, to read the Times and lo and behold discover this article on new research on Hysteria. While there is a lot to chew on in this piece, what really draws my attention is the still pervasive belief that folks suffering from conversion disorder are “faking it” or malingering.
“We don’t like them,” Dr. Black said. “Somewhere deep down inside, we really think they’re faking it. When we see a patient with improbable neurological signs, the impulse is to say: ‘Come on, get off it. Sure you can move that leg.’ The other reason we don’t like them is they don’t get better, and when we can’t do well by them we don’t like them.”
The idea that most people, or at least many people, would think that someone in distress is faking it (and I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t those who do), is the real enemy here. The real challenge of mental disorders, and luckily neuroscience is helping us out here, is that we must rely on the patient’s subjective accounts (if and when they give them). We may not be able to confirm their symptoms with objective signs. However, to make the automatic assumption that they are seeking attention is disturbing. In fact, I find it to be inhumane.
I just keep coming back to this odd fact about interpersonal relationships. We don’t seem to believe that which we cannot see with our own eyes.
That’s a fine piece of work.
I never understand why it’s an indictment of the faker when a woman does this for attention. Isn’t that more a poignant comment on the paucity of attention she’s had, that she resorts to faking blindness? The symbolism, it’s rich.