25 May 2013

A Baseball Wife, an Actress and a Nobody Walk into a Mental Health Facility...

Back on Monday, I caught one of numerous unkind things said on Twitter to a woman I follow. I'm not naming her because she deleted her tweets relevant to the discussion, which I take to be an indication she doesn't want to deal with it any further and I respect that. The short version is that she's married to a professional athlete and had expressed some anxiety - a topic she's shared just as candidly as I have (though, you know, with a much wider audience).

Naturally, some dude felt compelled to snipe at her:
damn you have such a tough life following your athlete husband around the country. Please cry about it more
I, of course, was instantly upset. As I noted in my earlier piece, "On Depression", there is no lifestyle insulated against the misery of mental health problems. People continue to think that everyone is equally miserable, until they get to the point they can buy their way out of it. Both parts of that are patently untrue. Again, we're back to the misconception that there are people who are, and who are not, "entitled" to be anxious or depressed. Anxiety and depression don't give a damn about such things.

This guy persisted, though:
quit crying nobody cares solve your own problems like other people and not seek attention for your problems 
I know firsthand that it is impossible to "solve" mental health problems alone. They thrive in isolation, which is why depressed people withdraw from the ones who love them most. It's paramount that those of us who do fight these chronic issues maintain a certain level of connectedness. Is this young woman an "attention-seeker"? Perhaps, but only in the sense that she is actively seeking attention on behalf of those who also struggle with anxiety. She knows what I know: that the biggest problem with mental health issues is the ignorance of the general public. Raising better awareness, promoting fuller understanding and putting a human face on the issue are instrumental if we're to change how mental health patients fare.

These are, incidentally, the exact reasons why I share what I share - in person, in this blog, on Twitter, on Facebook; wherever the subject may arise, I use my voice to try to change the misperceptions that have made it so difficult over the years for me and millions like me to receive the proper help we need. There is no philosophical difference between her using her voice and me using mine on this issue. The only difference is that she's known by a whole lot more people...which, in turn, means that she has the chance to reach a much wider audience than me.

This brings me to last night's arrest of Amanda Bynes. For months now, the actress has become controversial for erratic behavior. It seems that she threw a bong in her apartment, was arrested and then remanded to a mental health facility. That isn't actually the kind of dramatic thing it sounds. Half the patients with me at Our Lady of Peace were there for reasons similar to mine, but the other half were there on account of substance issues.

Throughout the day, I saw countless tweets about Ms. Bynes actively rooting against her receiving help. Here's a typical reactionary tweet, variations of which are easily found:
Amanda Bynes was arrested today. Day=Made
There's a reason this upsets me so much, and it goes beyond seeing Amanda Bynes as a human being. When someone like this tweeter makes such a remark about a celebrity going through such an obviously difficult time as Bynes has been recently, it sends a chilling message. If this person's day was made by Amanda Bynes being arrested, what support would she offer for the millions of us Nobodies going through similar ordeals? How much compassion can there be for those of us with mental health issues when even popular patients invite such active venom?

This is, of course, where such people become defensive. "It was just a joke, man." Maybe to you, but you didn't even stop to consider how it also undermines a very serious matter for other people. "Hey, that's not my responsibility. If they can't take it, they shouldn't read/listen/whatever." You don't tweet/write/speak in a vacuum. You don't get to choose who can and cannot read or hear you. You aren't responsible for how people react to your words but at the very least, you are responsible for being mindful of which ones you use.

"Well, if my one little tweet/joke/ecard meme was the breaking point for someone, then they clearly had bigger problems anyway." This is my favorite defense, because it argues that we were all playing a game of Jenga, and the tower was still standing after their turn. Your one little throwaway quip may not have been the one that brought down the tower, but you contributed to compromising it.

Will Amanda Bynes be affected terribly by any one person who tweeted that her arrest made their day? Probably not. But what about people who actually know those tweeters, who saw their quips and made the mental note to themselves, "Don't reach out to him/her/them about my own depression/anxiety"?

We cannot continue to try to have parallel conversations about mental health issues. We cannot treat celebrities with mental health problems as "fair game" and act as though somehow, that's different from mocking a Nobody like me. When I see a baseball wife or Amanda Bynes ridiculed for what they face, I know that the only reason that same scorn isn't actively directed at me is that they have no idea who I am. We need to quit this dangerous game of Jenga. The objective should never be to see how much we can take away from someone else's life before they collapse. It should be to see how much we can help build up one another.

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