Tag: combatting ignorance about mental illness

Officious Anonymous Advice I Will Not Follow

This morning I got an anonymous email from someone who wanted to share some unsolicited advice which I found officious.  One of my main goals with this blog (and with all my writing) is to tell the truth as I know it and as I experience it, to reveal the dark corners in order to bring light to them.  I try to share the good moments just as much as I share the bad ones.  But long before I had a blog I decided that I was not going to keep quiet or private about my struggles with my mental illness.  I respect that many people with mental illness are uncomfortable with sharing their struggles because the stigma attached to being mentally ill (and especially for taking medications) is still very strong.  But I decided for myself that I would not accept the stigma.  All may know my challenges with it and how I cope and what I do to treat it.  All may see my ugly moments and likewise be part of the bright ones.  I have my family’s support in this openness both in our in-person interactions as well as my online ones.  Since my son and husband also have mental illness I share our struggles as a family.  You may not know it but my son has given his permission that I share personal details about his experiences with ADD and OCD.  The moment he wants me to stop sharing, I will respect his wishes.

It is therefore obnoxious to me to receive advice from anyone to keep my personal details in the dark as though they are somehow shameful and to remind me that such details are weapons that can be used against us.  I acknowledge that mental illness CAN be used against us in job searches and opportunities, but this is only true because so many people are complicit in viewing mental illness as something shameful, dangerous, and bad, when in fact mental illness also gives gifts of amazing creativity, insights to the human heart, and many of the most important artists and scientists and sports stars are/have been mentally ill.  If those of us with mental illness hide our struggles in shame then we agree that what we have is shameful.

I do not agree.  I refuse to be complicit in keeping mental illness in the dark and misunderstood.  Any opportunity I lose because of some idiot’s ignorance about mental illness is an opportunity I don’t want.  Nothing is worth being marginalized and made to feel dirty and shameful for something that is biological and not a moral failing.

If you ever want to give unsolicited advice (and who doesn’t?  I do it all the time with great glee) don’t do it anonymously.  If you are going to advise someone you don’t know on how to live their lives with regards to serious issues then you should do so with your name attached.  If it’s advice you stand by, advice you feel really good about, your name should be on it.  Anonymity in this instance (and most others) is absolutely disrespectful and cowardly.  I am going to reprint this letter I received (and my inelegant angry response) so that it is not a barb in my secret side.  It will receive light like everything else in my life does:

Dear Angelina,

I happened to stumble across your blog and
wow, you write well & so descriptively.
     This is unsolicited advice but I do care
about the link between poverty & your child.
Bit of advice? Delete the comments about your
child’s meds and how he is doing in school.
    Have you any idea how social workers can
read that kind of thing and make moves to
assess your living conditions with respect to
how it is impacting your child (ie the power
being cut off = not providing properly for him.)
Or all it takes is a relative to phone up a
social worker or child agency place with a concern
about that.
     Protect yourself by never putting comments
so personally about your child, online. I saw
a family go through hell and back having to defend
their child simply because of something written
online that led to an investigation as to the child’s
      If I were you I would NOT put any public comments
about your meds, your mental health, how your
child is doing at school, etc. Just keep
your online stuff a bit more generic then no one can
use anything against you in the wrong way.
Only post everything positive to do with your child
and if there is anything which isn’t, certainly don’t
broadcast it in writing online to strangers.
     Just a thought. You are unwittingly inviting
danger by putting so much online in terms of details.
Seems you are having a tough enough time without
inviting more ‘issues’ to your door.
    Sincerely, concerned older person
who knows a bit about this sort of thing.

My angry response (including typos and missing words):

Dear ?,

When I was officially diagnosed with my mental illness 10 years ago (though obviously I already knew I was mentally ill) I was so relieved to finally have a psychologist confirm that the issues I was having were real, were treatable, and that they weren’t because I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I told a neighbor friend shortly afterwards, telling her how I’d started taking medication and getting cognitive behavioral therapy and she said to me “You know, I understand about this kind of thing, but other people might not.  You shouldn’t tell anyone else in the neighborhood about this.” and that comment made me feel like some kind of bad person that needs to hide away under a rock.  I decided right then that I would NEVER be secretive about my mental illness.  People suggesting mental illness is something you should keep quiet about are helping stay in the dark ages and holding the ridiculous stigma around being mentally ill in place.

My son and my husband are also mentally ill and we have all agreed that this is a part of our life that anyone can know about and we celebrate openly the gifts it has given us as well as the difficulties and struggles it has presented us with.  I have my son’s permission to share details about his experiences here and he openly shares details about his ADD and OCD in his day to day life.  The day he is uncomfortable with that, I will respect his wishes and stop discussing his personal details online.

I’m sure that some people have had some bad things happen to them by revealing stuff online.  Truth is, people have bad stuff happen to them by revealing stuff in person too.  You take risks sharing information in any format.  If you are someone who is planning to call social services on us then you’d best get to know us and our situation a little better before doing such a thing.  Everyone who knows us personally knows that my son is being taken care of better than most people’s kids – no fucking lie.  He’s being seen by an amazing psychologist and a great pediatrician, and our power wasn’t, in fact, turned off.  We may be struggling financially right now but my son comes first and if you read my blog enough you would see that there is nothing to indicate the need for social services intervention.  I am confident that any investigation will reveal that my kid gets extraordinary care in his home and from his parents.

Considering the county we live in and the number of children who are being criminally neglected and abused and starved and NOT being taken away by social services, I am not afraid that my kid who is constantly supervised, treated with great love and given respect, who is always clothed and fed well, kept warm at night,  and who feels secure in his home and with his family – such a child is of no interest to social services.

We choose to live transparent lives.  I refuse to participate in paranoia or secretiveness.  I’m a writer and “generic” information isn’t worth writing about.  People come to my blog to hear about my real challenges so that they won’t feel so alone with theirs.  I don’t read positive crappy lying shit written about other people’s lives – that’s worthless to me and everyone else.  Why even bother communicating if we don’t communicate truth?

Here’s how I decide if I will put something on my blog – if it’s something I tell people in my everyday life then it can go on the blog.  I don’t write anything on my blog that I wouldn’t tell you in person, no matter who you are.

You are like my neighbor friend who I dropped as a friend when she made me feel like I should keep my challenges secret because she thought them shameful and made me feel like some kind of horrible troll.  People like you are dangerous to truth, to light, and to progress.  You may think your advice comes from a kind place but your suggestions are offensive to me.  Most especially because you have not even been open enough to sign with your whole name.  Either I know you and you don’t want me to know you are telling me to stop sharing my private life, or you’re just too much of a coward to give me unsolicited advice in the open.  Either way, I have no respect for anonymous letters of bad advice.  I would like to express a hope that you do not spread this same poor advice all across the internet to other struggling parents with kids with mental illness or who have mental illness themselves.  I would like to express a wish that you stop reading people’s personal blogs if they make you uncomfortable.

I wish you the best in your own life,