Why I can’t call my mental health #OwnVoices – Intersectionality, Diversity, and Disability

At first, I wasn’t going to participate in #DVpit. I didn’t think it was for me.

And then, as people started discussing it. As they started declaring who it was and wasn’t for, I had an epiphany about myself, my situation, and the world I’m moving through

But first, a little background, I grew up in a family where mental health was prominently discussed. The issues we dealt with were known by everyone and their brother. We moved in small communities that concern-trolled their way into every aspect of our lives. And they treated us differently because of it. I was the good one. The healthy one. The strong one.

What I actually am is the highly functional one. I’m the one who can pay all my bills. I can do complex jobs and keep them…most of the time. I don’t look sick.

Until I am. My body, when I forget to take care of myself, manifests physical symptoms of my mental issues. It turns into physical pain that’s so complex I was actually tested repeatedly for epilepsy only to find out it was an extension of all my other problems.

And yet, when I sat down and looked at the dictionary definition of disabled I did not expect to see myself in it. All because my brain sends signals that mess with my daily life. They inhibit what I can and can’t do. They make it so I can’t interact with the world the way I’m “supposed to”.

And I’m not the only one. There are people out there who have mental illnesses and invisible problems that feel like they’re not enough to compare to others and silence their own voices. And that, I’ve come to realize, is rooted in ableism. Because there are people who I would consider disabled that can probably handle more days than I can.

But if you think none of this has entered my writing, then you’re wrong.

My characters often deal with panic disorders, complex traumas, and other things I deal with on a regular basis. I can’t NOT write that way. I can’t fully encompass a healthy mind in the way I’d need to to write them as an MC. And I don’t have to. There are enough kids out there like me that need to see someone dealing, thriving, surviving with these kinds of problems.

But, despite all this I can’t find the confidence to label my story own voices. My MC’s gender identity is one I can’t claim and that, somehow, seems more important. And that supposed importance is a thing I’m struggling with. But even more than that, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable claiming own voices for her panic disorder.

Unlike me her triggers are physical. They’re events I’ve never experienced. She deals with them in a way unlike me because she’s a character in a fantasy world. And in the world of mental health, there is no such thing as two identical mental health issues.

The diagnoses are not perfect. You can’t treat them as a checklist if you’re building a mentally ill character. They’re a gross categorization that allows insurance companies to decide how much therapy and what kind of drugs they’ll approve. They’re not perfect descriptions of who we are as human beings. Heck, they’re not even close sometimes.

I can speak on multiple levels about mental health, I even provide services for it in my volunteer crisis counseling, but I will never say anyone else’s mental health issue is my own. The closest I would say is that we share a diagnosis.

It’s not as simple as another person saying, “I’m gay and I’ve written a gay character thus I am calling it own voices.” Not that there’s anything simple about those experiences in our current cultural climate.

I am a huge advocate for people writing their own experiences, and the diverse perspectives need to continue to be raised up. I am in no way advocating that this discussion take away from the PoC or sexual and gender identity discussions that must continue to happen.

I’m only hoping to explore further mental health, disability, and the intersectionality that has with diversity.

I’d rather not have those whose voices get silenced a lot and whose experiences overlap so strongly with the other identities feel like they need to keep hiding this one piece of themselves.

So, please, let’s discuss. Either here or on Twitter (I’m @muliebris).