As I said, this is a requiem, a memory of loss.

But I may have been slightly disingenuous. I may have invited you to a different funeral.

My friends are still alive. Mostly, I’ve lost track of people, but the few people I kept in touch with afterwards were all more or less okay. In an admission I’d rather not make, I ended up dating a girl I met there, and so we kept up with several folks. They were surviving, making the best of things, and moving on as they could.

Jennie, from a small town up north on the way to Duluth, was back at school again last I heard. She was excited to be back home, even if things were still rough. She was planning on graduating early, and going to trade school to be a mechanic. Her mom and step-father had agreed to some joint counseling, and we were hopeful that things might be getting better for her.

Mollie, who i dated, struggled some after we broke up. But she had avoided self-injury for over a month when i spoke with her last, which was longer than she’d gone in some time. Her family was dedicated, if somewhat overwhelmed, in trying to help her.

Bobby, I saw again on my later visits. He was still doing outpatient treatment for anger management. Things had been going better for him at home, and his mom and sister were more comfortable having him in the house. He was still foosball champion, however, as he had been there the longest. He was in good spirits, and we talked about looking forward to getting back to our lives apart from that place.

Jill, who I talked about in the previous entry. I spoke with her later on, and she had had a good couple weeks. She was glad to be home, and her parents had gotten some respite. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on, since they didn’t tell her everything in terms of her treatment plan, but i took it as a good sign that she was released to home, and not Green Acres.

I haven’t heard from any of them now in years, and I always have a little twinge of worry for Jill. But my friends are all strong people, and I do not believe I am unreasonable to think they are well. I don’t mean to suggest I believe they are all cured, or magically transformed. By the numbers, it’s likely that some of the folks i met there are in longer term institutions. Others are still in contact with the mental health system in other ways. But if my intuition is correct, their strength and determination has served them well. Despite the dehumanization, I know many people who have survived and overcome.

This is a requiem. I’m not crying.

This funeral is for shame and stigma. I’ve been holding these things for a while now, and I’m going to keep holding them until the damn things stay in the ground. And I’m not going to shed a tear for these bastards, these demons. I’m going to celebrate my friends, my siblings, the survivors, the strength of our community.

We’re just getting started. Consumerist movements have been around for a while, but all in all, my sense is that disabilities organizing is at a place of possibility. Mental health communities have been historically problematic to organize, because of the strong potential to get overtaken by “concerned” outsiders.

There’s much to be done. I’ve blogged much of it before, but I want to put my words in the context of a vision, and not just in reaction.

The system is broken. Any attempt to “help” people with violence and coercion is doomed to reproduce the worst of human possibility. While I am aware of how scary it can be to see someone who is in extreme distress because of mental illness, the fact is that few individuals do not have periods in which they are more willing and able to discuss their wishes and desires, to be agents of their own well-being. The non-consensual model of care conveniently forgets this, using force when it can, cajoling and manipulating when it must, and creates an image of mental illness that is fixated upon the helpless subject. The “lunatic” is one of the strongest images of the necessity and justice of White Male Intervention, the beneficence of the imperial. The ‘crazed native,’ the ‘neurotic and hysterical woman,’ the ‘confused’ genderfucker… We have all seen social dissent codified in to pathology, and many of you have been on the receiving end. But make no mistake. It is those who are most fully made subject to this language of inhumanity that suffer the most because of it. The fight to end stigma is not justified because it may be helpful to other struggles for liberation, but because there are people who are not free. No liberation owes it’s raison d’etre to anything but that conviction.

In protest of how my words have been characterized in past days, I will make very plain that I am not trying to “rescue” anyone from the slander of being called mentally ill. I would never dispute the illogic, double think, and troubled nature of the narrative of domination systems. I am trying to rescue my community from the slander of being labeled mentally ill in a world that then cease to recognize them as human. Note that the single most determined part of that conversation was the conclusion that white folks will use their privilege to avoid that term because it is a bad thing. Of course they will, and of course it is. It’s been made that way. As I said before, it is a gun loaded with the pain of my people.

The choice before us is fundamentally about the autonomy of the subject, and of peoples and communities. As James Cone reports in Black Theology and Black Power, a Black Power advocate was asked, ‘what about integration?’ The reply was clear. “Integration of what?” Nobody has a moral obligation to “cure” themselves of on account of the social compact. I believe that people have the right to the most autonomous existence that is possible for them, regardless of if they are neuro-typical or not. Mental illness isn’t about pain for other people.

I believe that most ill-treatment, stigma, and fear of persons will mental illness revolves around observers imagining that they are the victim. That being forced to exist in the same world as somebody who thinks, feels, and perceives differently than they do is terrible. And then the cure gets a whole lot worse than the disease. Racism is a white problem, not “The Jewish Question,” not the “Negro Problem,” not the “Immigration Debate,” nor any of the other names by which the process of putting the humanity of people of color to a contest has been known. Stigma is a neurotypical problem, not the menace of the atypical. The exaggerations of criminality, the use of prisons to punish those who have been denied assistance, the narratives of the helpless yet threatening lunatic… Is anything becoming familiar yet?

We need to bring new language to bear in describing people who are neuro-atypical, make sure every one of them has access to care that respects them as a human being with agency and choice, end the stigma and fear that is inflicted upon them, end cruel and inhumane “treatments” and institutional settings, end the criminalization and incarceration of people who simply need medical and social support, find housing for those who have been pushed on to the streets, banish the racialized models of care that look for an existential crisis and deny that anger and disruption are legitimate responses to a hurtful world, make mental health a cornerstone of care from daily life to disaster relief, cease complicity in the sexual assault and exploitation of those made vulnerable by authoritarian settings, and begin to actually promote the welfare of neuro-atypical people to make active choices towards their health, not simply regarding treatment as their obligation to society, but options to be weighed in seeking their own good.

For there is a better way. As Piny remarked, ablism is brutally wasteful, and represents a cornerstone of the persistently eugenic fantasy of the West. There is a better way, and it begins in a movement and a politics that declares that we have a right to exist. I believe in a community that respects our elder siblings in liberation, the communities that have learned to organize and with whom we share the common goal of freedom, expressed and realized in unique ways. I struggle for a future in which the test of human authenticity is not commodified angst nor pacification, but the work of choosing one’s own future.

For the memory of those who have died, solidarity with those who still fight, and hope of a just future, I pray.

-sly

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