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I blogged a week ago about mental illness and antidepressants, prompted by an exchange I had with a troll on the #imnotashamed hashtag on Twitter.

I like and support the stated mission of Team Notashamed: “to spread the message that mental heath conditions are nothing to be ashamed of … [and] helping end the harmful stigma associated with mental heath conditions and advocating for better and more accessible healthcare.”

But good intentions don’t mean you never screw up. Rose Lemberg pointed out the following post on the I’m Not Ashamed Twitter feed.

Screenshot of I'm Not Ashamed Tweet and graphic

And…no. Just, no.

I have no problem with some of the comments here. Mental illness is not a character flaw. It can be incredibly helpful to know you’re not alone. But some of the others are a mess, and problematic as hell.

I am creative and smart. I am, in all modesty, both creative and smart, yes. But this has nothing to do with my mental illness. Depression doesn’t make me creative or smart. My creativity, my work as a writer, these things happen in spite of my depression, not because of it. Depression is an obstacle I’ve had to overcome in order to be productive and creative. Please stop spreading the bullshit myth that creativity and intelligence are in some way enhanced by mental illness.

I’m so strong because of it. Maybe you are. Great! Maybe you’re not. That’s okay too. I do believe it takes strength to survive any sort of chronic illness, but does that mean the illness makes you strong? Because to be honest, there are times I wish I could put that strength toward other things instead of spending so much of it coping with depression. I don’t see my mental illness as some sort of gift, one I should be grateful for because it makes me stronger. If you choose to believe that for yourself, fine. Don’t push that on everyone else.

I help others now. This one didn’t fishhook my attention as much as the previous two until I saw a few Tweets by Corey Alexander, talking about the imagined trajectory of “graduating” from trauma to helping others, and the pressure on helpers to focus their energies on others to the exclusion of themselves. It got me thinking back to working with sexual assault counselors, and how many of those wonderful, kind, dedicated people had been through their own traumas. Some were still suffering from PTSD. But the emphasis was always on helping others. I think it’s great if you’re able to help others, and being able to draw on your own experiences can make you a more effective helper. But as Rose Lemberg pointed out, the word “now” makes it seem like you didn’t/couldn’t help people before? Or that this is the trajectory everyone should be on. There’s just so much to unpack here.


I’m not going to go through everything. But all right, I get it. Someone wanted to post something feel-good and inspirational. So they Tweeted something problematic, and various folks on Twitter called them out about it.

At which point it sounds like I’m Not Ashamed began blocking people who had a problem with the Tweet. As far as I can tell, they never responded or addressed people’s concerns; they just went straight to blocking.

ETA: They blocked me less than an hour after this blog post was published.

I asked them about this, but haven’t yet gotten an answer. The Tweet that started it all is currently pinned as their top Tweet. We know they’ve seen the criticism, since they were blocking people, so this feels like a pretty clear message that they’re choosing to ignore that criticism.

And that’s the bigger problem here. This is a group that’s set themselves up as advocates for people with mental illness…while ignoring feedback from the very group they claim to support. I don’t know the individuals behind Team Notashamed or their situation, but this feels like symptoms of Toxic Ally Syndrome, where you’re so determined to be an “ally” of Group X that you ignore or argue with members of Group X because you know best. This is often followed by choruses of, “Why are you getting angry at me? I’m your ally! Fine, if you’re gonna be so ungrateful, I’ll just take my allyship and leave!”

I hope it doesn’t go that route. I hope they read and respond to the critiques from the people they’re claiming to want to support, rather than ignoring and blocking.

ETA2: One of the members of that group Twitter account informed me that “All leaders of team not ashamed personally deal with mental illness.” This doesn’t change my sense that it feels like Toxic Ally Syndrome, but I don’t want to erase that these people also either have or deal with mental illness themselves. Hopefully that makes sense?

I’ll wrap this up with a Storification of Rose Lemberg’s Tweets last night about mental illness and identity and the pressure to feel or act certain ways, generally for the comfort of others.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2016 05:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post, Jim - and thank you for citing the work of others in addition to sharing your own experience.
Feb. 17th, 2016 06:02 pm (UTC)
Your post here reminds me a lot of the "disability inspiration porn" backlash a few years ago.

Feb. 17th, 2016 06:28 pm (UTC)
This definitely reminds me of the Gold Star Now I Want A Cookie Ally, too.

And of Autism Speaks, particularly the part where once the "afflicted" start speaking for themselves, the group does everything it can to silence them.

What a shame, but thank you for bringing this to light.
Feb. 17th, 2016 06:48 pm (UTC)
This is along the lines of something I've increasingly addressed publicly in my talks (some day, Jim, I'll tell you stories... it's actually kind of funny) around HIV.

"So close."

When the messages are almost there, almost. And everyone around me is cheering and whooping it up I'm sitting there going "well, yeah, if I squint... I can sorta see it. But."

It's good to see people actively coming to this same place. It's often lonely here trying to educate people that intentions aren't enough. That being close isn't enough. When dealing with issues that are so very problematic due to how they're perceived by the public "getting close" is not enough. Sometimes to move perception has has to be explicit and exact in their conversations. It's a nasty bit of responsibility that's often put on the shoulders of the effected individuals... Which is its own set of issues. But whether or not I agree with that aspect, the requirement that the conversations be clear and well thought out? Is there. Like it or not.

Because when you're not part of the effected group you don't have attention and you can be lazy about your word choices, about how you discuss things because "well, whatever" is often a default setting. Holding everyone accountable to how these things gets handled is an effort to untrain that laziness.
Feb. 17th, 2016 07:09 pm (UTC)
It's the "So close" that's so frustrating to me, because I believe they *are* trying to help, and so much of what they say they want to do is good and important, and...argh.

I don't actually know whether the team behind this is part of the group in question. One of them Tweeted to say they all "dealt with" mental illness, but that's an odd word choice, and doesn't tell me if it's that they personally have mental illness, or someone in their life does, or they work as a counselor or nurse for people with mental illness. But either way, this thing feels like a swing and a miss.
Feb. 17th, 2016 09:58 pm (UTC)
Well I am a step further removed from the conversation so I was talking more to your point of Toxic Ally.

To a point later... I've started to make a distinction in health care in my talks.

We used to have health care messaging. Now we have health care pr campaigns.

We gave information, now we sell ideas. Sell perspectives. Sell feelings. It's not universal but it's pervasive enough that I'd call it a trend.

We can't succinctly sum up or sound bite a complex condition. But by damn we're going to try. (hands in air) Meh.
Feb. 18th, 2016 04:27 am (UTC)
It's the "So close" that's so frustrating to me, because I believe they *are* trying to help, and so much of what they say they want to do is good and important, and...argh.

Yeah. It's a problem without a good answer. Is "a little" better than "nothing at all"? Is "nothing at all" better than "getting some things wrong"? Though I guess the real problem is... not that they got some things wrong, but that they lacked the humility to correct their mistakes.

The worst kind of righteousness is self-righteousness. And the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Feb. 17th, 2016 07:31 pm (UTC)
and then the people they claim to be supporting and helping are the ones they are not... sigh.

Its not a question of a Right Way or a Wrong Way to do things..
Feb. 17th, 2016 08:02 pm (UTC)
Something you said here, and in a previous post, really resonated with me. Some years ago I got into an argument with someone who objected to my use of prescriptions to help my mental/emotional state, and pointed to all the great artists and writers and creators that also had mental illness issues - and basically said they were creative *because* of this, that treating the issue would have killed the creativity. I couldn't at all get across my point, which is that they managed to create *despite* the issue, not because of it. Perhaps they would have created differently, I don't know, but it felt like he was telling me to stay trapped in this prison where I might produce something every now and then, and it would somehow be more interesting because he knew of my mental state. I'd rather produce more often and feel more comfortable in life... and I really appreciate you having made those points.

I'm now unmedicated, which is working for me to some extent, but this whole issue of being ashamed/not ashamed is something I haven't addressed much in public, and I'm not sure how I feel about this not-ashamed hashtag. It seems like it's reducing some very complex issues to little tiny bites. Maybe it's more digestible that way, but while I would like to see how mental illness is viewed by society change, I'm a little ambivalent about this particular movement. Thanks for addressing this in a clear, well-thought-out way.
Feb. 17th, 2016 08:12 pm (UTC)
I think you nailed it. They're running into trouble with sound-bites that don't address or account for complexity. I think they have great intentions, but too much is getting oversimplified.

Hashtags and sound-bites *can* be effective, but my sense is they need more context and discussion to back them up. It can't be *just* sound-bites.

(And now I'm going to wander off second-guessing whether sound-bites should be hyphenated. Probably not, but ah well.)
Feb. 17th, 2016 08:37 pm (UTC)
Now I'm wondering if sound bites should be hyphenated or not... though I did spend like 5 minutes wondering why one of my sentences was so awkward but not caring enough to change the grammar. Which for a livejournal comment seems like a lot of grammar work, so meh.

Anyway! Yeah, I think the tiny bits over-simplifies, and especially with a complex issue it can end up muddying the waters. It *would* be nice if mental/emotional illness was viewed the same way physiological illnesses are, but it may take some work. Real work, not hashtag work.
Feb. 18th, 2016 10:51 am (UTC)
Yeah, when a friend tells me his meds mean he can't compose music anymore, I believe him, because I know some meds do produce brain fog and other effects. Luckily he has other creative outlets, and I'm personally pleased that he got to a point where being mentally healthy is more important to him that making new music. But it wasn't the illness that made him a song writer, it was his own talent and creativity which survived despite the illness.
Feb. 25th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC)
That's one reason a lot of people I know are suspicious of meds, is the foggy feeling, or just feeling too different or disconnected. It's unfortunate sometimes it means a trade-off, but kudos to your friend for choosing mental health, and I hope his other creative outlets are just as satisfying.
Feb. 18th, 2016 06:50 pm (UTC)
it felt like he was telling me to stay trapped in this prison where I might produce something every now and then, and it would somehow be more interesting because he knew of my mental state (emphasis mine)

I think you're onto something there. He was effectively telling you that it was your reponsibility to perform mental illness according to his standards, like a trick animal. And that your creativity got some sort of cachet because of coming from a place of mental instability, and was therefore more interesting to him -- but not, of course, to the point of him actually buying what you created.

Hmmm... looking back over what I just wrote, it sounds as though he wanted to have the authority of a patron without being willing to hold up his end of the deal.
Feb. 25th, 2016 07:52 pm (UTC)
Your comment really, really resonated with me, because you stated what it felt like at the time - and I didn't have words for it myself. I had feelings about it, but couldn't necessarily express them. And it also felt like he was coming from a place of relative privilege - with no diagnosed conditions of his own, it was easy for him to tell me what to do, because he couldn't understand the fear, the instability, any of it. And his "encouragement" basically ended there - no patronage, no simple support, no "let's make art together" even.

If it ever comes up again with somebody else, I'm hoping I can remember at least the gist of what you said and bring it up :)
Feb. 18th, 2016 03:47 am (UTC)
it feels like the hashtag or that team is just riding the "wave" about it and is not really concern with the actual people experiencing depression or any mental illness. just for the sake of popularity/follows.
Feb. 18th, 2016 06:30 am (UTC)
I don't know if they're toxic allies. They might be. They might just be generalizing wrongly about their experience of mental illness. (Wrong=inaccurate and wrong=damaging, both.) There are so many kinds of mental illness, and so many kinds of visibility and validation.

Just for a personal example, I have depression. I don't take anti-depressants because of side effects. (The seizure/depression tradeoff is complicated, but I've made my peace with it for now.) I have decades of experience with different kinds of depression--being depressed for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason. Depression that feels like Eeyore or Oscar the Grouch. Depression that can be touched by flickers of light through the fog, or not. Part of depression IS shame, even before we get around to social stigma.

Autism is a different kind of thing. I am, at best, an ally there. It may not be obvious that they're different kinds of things, when we talk about "mental illness." And it's horribly limiting to say there's only one way to support it.
Feb. 18th, 2016 08:56 am (UTC)
I suffer from depression - have for probably 20 years. I hate it! I don't feel empowered by it. I don't feel any "upside" from it. I sometimes try and kid myself that its the reason for my compassion.

Unfortunately, it makes me feel weak, as I seem to fall apart at the slightest confrontation or problem - absolutely no resilience!

I've tried to manage the condition with medication until I no longer knew what "normal" was. Am now trying non-pharmaceutical methods only.

I applaud anybody highlighting the huge problem that mental illness is today, and any conversation that helps eliminate its stigma has to be good.
Feb. 18th, 2016 10:45 am (UTC)
I like this post, and I loved Rose Lembergs tweets, whcih I saw early this morning in the storified version.

I'm totally here for being not ashamed, but I'm also here for admitting that my mental illness is shitty, it hurts me, and I have hurt other people when I wasn't looking after myself. And I'm acutely aware that having meds that work makes me one of the lucky ones.
Feb. 18th, 2016 11:05 am (UTC)
If I could put a stake through the heart of the mental illness and creativity thing...

I'm willing to allow that certain specific flavors of anxiety make some people more productive because must-work-or-the-nameless-bad-thing-will-happen (I live there myself!) but it's not a healthy place and leads to major burnout over time. And that's as far as I'm willing to concede on that one.

But even if creativity absolutely led to mental health issues, I'd fix the damn issues anyway! There are plenty of tormented artists in the world. Happy people with their crap halfway together are a vanishingly rare commodity. Nobody's owed my misery for their entertainment.

Feb. 19th, 2016 06:50 pm (UTC)
right to be creative and smart
As my depression DID bring with it the voice that insisted: "You are mentally ill now and that is why you should shut up! You are too stupid and boring to have a voice now that the illness has dumbed you down", I read the "I am creative and smart" as "I should not shut up in shame, no matter what people tell me, being ill does not have to mean I stopped being creative or smart, it does not have to mean I should be silent!"

(even if, in my case it did mean I stopped being creative and smart. I am unable not just to write creatively, I have also been banned from more than one of my old online haunts as I am not smart enough to feel the boundaries and the tone of words and sentences now)

So - in my case people have told me "Your illness* has killed your ability to be smart. We do not want to know you any more, as all your amusing creativity is eaten up by your illness"

*well, as these are not assholes, what the people tell me is: "We do not ban you for the diagnose, we ban you because you are different person now, coming off as quarrelsome and offensive. And boringly so"
Feb. 21st, 2016 07:29 am (UTC)
"Toxic Ally Syndrome" -- thank you so much for this term. I remember an incident a few years back, in a WoW guild I was part of. Both of our guild leaders have mental illnesses. One of the questions on the application was something along the lines of, "Why are you crazy?" It was meant as a joke, but someone who joined the guild anyway threw a fit when another person in guild chat used the word "crazy" -- and took a screencap and posted it to a heavily populated (at the time) WoW LJ community to rant about how ableist our guild was. This person had admitted in the past that she did not have a mental illness.

I have PMDD, which is for some reason classified as a psych disorder, but birth control (specifically, the nuvaring) helps sort it out. Before that, I would go from happy to suicidal like *snaps fingers*. It was not fun, and it was hellish on my relationships. I also have bipolar disorder, which I'm pretty sure interacted with the PMDD. I am on medication for bipolar. When I first went on lamictal, I started writing again. I've had more difficulty since I was put on seroquel, but I'm not sure if it's that or the massive stress I've been under.

I can write, though; it's getting started that's the problem. So it's not like my creativity is gone; I suspect the lamictal on its own had me in a slightly hypomanic state, which is where I feel the urge to write write write write. Now, I need to learn discipline, vs. relying on my hypomania.

I think that's a problem for a lot of writers who have bipolar. It is WAY too easy to rely on the hypo/manic state and then not write anything during a normal or depressive state. I spent March 2002-2003 hypomanic. I wrote 5 novels, 1 novella, several articles/essays, and a number of short stories. While I was in college full time, by the way. I got about 5hrs of sleep at night, and a 1-2hr nap when I came home from school. And then I started writing.

Once that manic state went away? I had no idea what to do. I still struggle with this, because my formative writing year, so to speak, was based on that kind of output and... it's hard to describe mania. It's like a drive. Some nights, I didn't get more than 3hrs of sleep because the characters in my head wouldn't shut up until I wrote them. I got used to that, and even now, more than a decade later, I'm still learning how to write without that.

At the same point, I need the medication, because the downs were such that I was suicidal. The only thing that kept me alive sometime was knowing I had more stories that needed to be told, that I still had things to do in this world, and that checking out then would do no good.

It's especially pernicious in the bipolar community, that the medications will make you a numb zombie. I tell people, if they have that effect, then the med isn't right for you and you need to talk to your doctor. And if your doctor doesn't take you seriously and try something else, then you get a new doctor.

I agree with you that you don't have to be an ally to fall under Toxic Ally Syndrome. I've seen enough extremists in the social justice community that behave like that. It's exhausting.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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