Sometimes people are so understanding of mental ill-health. Way too understanding. I am talking about the situations when they attribute everything we do to poor health. I am not saying no one was ever out of control and calling for help when it was awful. It can get outta hand, true. I am talking about our lives most of the time.
What I mean is rather that people attribute almost everything to poor mental health, even when we are acting downright mean. As if we have no responsibility. As we are not a so-called “moral agent”. I am not talking headlines that are always portraying vile people as mentally ill or vile people in the establishment as having some sort of personality disorder. I am talking instead of everyday evil. Yes, some mentally ill people are petty, and also some mentally ill people are standing up for themselves. It includes a bit of aggression sometimes, but it is often dismantled as a sign of illness. Sometimes even deliberately.
I read in one good book on communication psychology this procedure, whether it is aimed at someone with mental ill-health or not, is called diagnosing. So people are putting themselves in the shoes of the expert and diagnosing the condition of their communication partner. It is lame, very lame if you know that on the receiving end you can find someone living with mental illness. But it happens quite a lot, and it is robbing people of their autonomy. It is soft violence and not more pleasant because it is soft.
Some people do it with the best intention, but I read about some indigenous groups complaining about the romanticized vision of their worlds by some anthropologists. They wanted to own their evil as well, whether in self-defence or otherwise. It could be stretched, I think, to many other groups of people, in case we are placing people in groups. If it is ad hoc placing, it can make sense.
Which brings me to the second topic of this post: it is important to own our potential for acting out if it takes, by all means, structured and controlled manifestations of acting out, but still showing our tough side. While I spent time in advocacy, it became clear to me that some people don’t like mad people theorizing, thinking, discussing. It was always easier to give the floor even to other persons with disability claiming mad people don’t have it that bad, that the world is easy on them. It is better to create schisma than to listen. In reality, they were afraid of all that creativity, energy and willingness to fight for visibility. There is one stereotype that is true of mad people: they are not easy to control so better marginalize them. I witnessed in some settings precisely that.
Mad people are smart and creative; they can rebel. Madness has always been observed as a subversive power. And it is still valid.