Not this past week but the week before USU did their "Mental Health is No Joke" week, which I always think has something to do with comedy because it reminds me of the time they invited a pair of comedians, one with a severe stutter and the other with Tourettes, whose routines largely consisted of poking fun at themselves. So you know, when I see this title I expect there to be some kind of mental health awareness comedy night that finishes up with "Seriously though, mental health is no joke." But the title really is to be taken at face value in this case. Although I'm not enrolled, I made time to attend one of the evening events after it was brought to my attention.
Called "Light the Night", its focal point was lighting sparklers, but this was preceded by a guest speaker who shared her experiences with mental illness and therapy. As soon as she started listing off her disorders, I knew depression would be on the list. I'm not sure if it's even possible to have any mental illness without depression attached as a free bonus. It seems that the slightest deviation in any way from neurotypicality automatically disrupts serotonin levels or something. She described depression as like being at the bottom of a pool with cinderblocks on your chest, which was apt. Anyway, she had a whole string of issues that I don't remember in entirety, and she shared her story about coming to recognize that she had them and going through hell and eventually getting the help she needed. Then there was a musical number by The Octaves and then we held a moment of silence in honor of everyone who has struggled with mental illness. Let me tell you, that really made me feel good. It felt almost as if everyone was kneeling in reverence at my feet, but without actually doing it, which would have been very uncomfortable.
The main purposes of USU's mental health events are to raise awareness of its counseling resources and to decrease the stigma against mental illness, which exists in the first place because a defining trait of being human is to seek out reasons to be prejudiced against other humans to feel better about yourself. In this enlightened age, most criteria for prejudice are no longer acceptable to use except for politics and religion, but this stigma persists despite lip service to the contrary. It is perpetuated by movies like "Madagascar 3" with one-dimensional villains whose sole motivation is being "crazy". It is perpetuated by anti-vaxxers who would rather have dead children than autistic ones. It is perpetuated by gun rights supporters who, approximately 2.7 seconds after every mass shooting, rush to blame anything except guns and often point fingers at mental illness even though mentally ill people are far more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators. It is perpetuated by people who pride themselves on tolerance and love for all but instinctively give a cold shoulder to anyone who manifests a socially unacceptable form of weirdness.
I don't look to be victimized and offended by every little thing. I'm not a spokesperson for all mentally ill people, of course, but I for one don't feel offended in the slightest when people call each other "crazy", "nuts", "mad", "insane", "crackpot", "loony", "loopy", "daft", "barmy", "troppo", "screwy", "cray-cray", "delusional", "demented", "deranged", "psychotic", "lunatic", etc. by way of insults, good-natured or otherwise. (I'm sure I've done it myself without a second thought.) As a writer I think mental illness is actually a great motivation for fictional villains, if they're portrayed as tragic characters and their rationales actually make sense from a certain point of view. And I don't at all mind characters like Crazy Dave in the fantastic game "Plants vs. Zombies". He's harmlessly eccentric and a great help to the player.
Now the rest of this post will be almost entirely about me because I'm somewhat more familiar with that topic than most. I have been very open online about some of my mental health issues (most notably here, here, and here), and apparently some well-meaning people have managed to be 180 degrees wrong about my intentions in doing so. My parents recently gave me an unsolicited spiel about how I'm putting limits on myself and victimizing myself and labeling myself and defining myself by my autism/Aspergers and broadcasting it to the world. Because you're not supposed to talk about mental illness, don'cha know. You're supposed to keep it to yourself and pretend that everything is fine and normal and peachy. Talk to a therapist, by all means, but no one else wants to hear about it ever. And mental issues, unlike physical ones, are just kind of vague and intangible and not really real unless you put labels on them. So don't put labels on them! Simple!
Look, with or without me saying anything, people will and do notice that I'm "different" and act accordingly. My default state (which they seem to be advocating for) was not knowing or caring that I was different, and as a result I was bullied from kindergarten to fifth grade until I learned to stay quiet. Thereafter I was the disproportionately frequent target of the friendly mockery that males bond with, and reactions ranging from amusement to incredulity at my social faux pas. I've had enough of being rejected and ignored and shunned and talked about behind my back to last five lifetimes. Don't get me wrong, the majority of people are nice or at least civil to me, but many of them speak to me like I'm a child. A few months ago some people called the cops on me because they thought I was acting weird and might need help as I was minding my own business and swinging in a public park on a Saturday afternoon. I go weeks at a time without being contacted by anyone for anything and if I had a nickel for every ignored text, email, and Facebook message sent by me, I could feed Africa for a year. And dating... don't get me started on dating. Let's skip that part.
I don't wish to complain or dwell on this stuff, or blow it out of proportion, but I bring it up all at once now merely as my response to the nonsense that people will just assume I'm normal until I announce otherwise. So my actual purpose for being so open about my mental illness is and always has been to reduce the stigma and ignorance around it and to offer comfort and hope to anyone with a similar condition. I only want to make life better for myself and other people. I'm sorry if that hasn't been as obvious as I thought it was. I don't know what impact, if any, my site has had in that regard thus far, but at my previous job I talked in person with two coworkers who had teenage Aspie sons and they both told me that I gave them relief and hope for those sons having decent futures. That was one of the few experiences that made that horrible job worth it. Also, I see no reason not to define myself by something that filters and/or molds my entire worldview and personality and every thought that ever enters into my mind.
My parents first tried to tell me that I'm not autistic because I didn't act the way they think autistic people should act. First of all, "[i]f you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism," said Dr. Stephen Shore. Second, I'm not the one who decided to reclassify Aspergers as "autism spectrum disorder". In fact, I rather resented it for a while because it brought an increase in stigma. If you have an objection bring it up with the people who did that. They then switched tacks and told me my case and other problems are mild, as if I've ever claimed or tried to insinuate that they're the worst. This was actually an issue both times in group therapy, where I felt guilty about even mentioning my problems after it became obvious that everyone else's were more severe. And after a while of me being silent they prodded me to open up, and I told them that, and they unanimously felt that it's not a contest and you don't need to have worse problems than everyone else before you're allowed to speak about them.
My parents' spiel concluded with an exhortation to stop holding myself back, because "There are people with no legs who run marathons!" Good for them. I have no desire to run a marathon and don't understand people who do. As far as the principle involved, though, I agree and it's too bad I'm not striving for any great ambitions of my own like becoming a bestselling author... oh wait. Besides which, though I'm not familiar with their methodology, I'm almost positive that people with no legs don't run marathons by ignoring the fact that they have no legs, or by hoping no one will notice. "Confidence" divorced from reality does not get them over the finish line. It's never gotten me any good results either. It just caused me to be blindsided when the bad results hit me.
I have a positive attitude though, I promise, and here it is: I wouldn't give up my mental illness because it's just the price I have to pay for having my eyes open. This may sound really narcissistic but I don't care because it's true. Lacking an instinctive understanding of social norms and cues, and having to examine them through logic and psychology and evolution instead of taking them for granted, makes it clear how very, very stupid society truly is, and how very, very stupid many of the things normal people do every day without thinking truly are. I don't mean the stupid mistakes during lapses of judgment that we all make, but the stupid things like saying "How are you?" when what you really mean is "Hi" and you're not interested in a real answer. Also, literally everything about modern dating; again, don't get me started. So in order to truly fit in and be comfortable, I would have to be blind, and I wouldn't know I was blind so I wouldn't mind it, but from this vantage point I have no desire to make that trade. Jiddu Krishnamurti taught, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
But that's not even the full extent of my positive attitude! I also believe that this makes me a much better writer than I otherwise would be. Because of the worldview I just mentioned, and because of the unique voice it gives me, and because I seek it out as an escape from this planet and an outlet for emotions that can't be expressed in other ways. (Of course, it took plenty of practice and experience to turn this into a strength instead of a weakness. As recently as my senior year of high school, the dialogue in my stories was so far from the way real people talk that Cleverbot probably wouldn't recognize it as English.) How many of history's great writers, or great artists of any genre for that matter, have had perfect lives and been perfectly comfortable in society and with their fellow humans? Probably zero. Whether this exchange turns out to be worth it, though, largely depends on whether I get anything out of it before I die.
Also, this meme - and this one definitely doesn't apply to me much of the time because I'm frequently inconsiderate, disrespectful and/or selfish, but I think it holds true in general given that society is mostly constructed and run by fake and shallow people, so this meme always makes me smile. Years ago I included it (uncensored) in my Powerpoint on Aspergers for Honors English 2010, and all my classmates got a kick out of it too.
Napoleon XIV - They're Coming to Take Me Away
Maybe sharing this song makes me a hypocrite, but I like dark humor. Not despite, but because of my own struggles with depression and suicide, for example, I find Marvin the Paranoid Android absolutely hilarious. While this song would be completely unacceptable if it were made in 2017, I can laugh it off as a relic of the Dark Ages - specifically, 1966. This portrayal of asylums and "treatment" of mentally ill people not so long ago is more accurate than we'd care to think, and the perpetuation of that image long after improvements started to be made has scared many people away from seeking help. So, to recap, this is satire, and it's in poor taste, but I think that's okay because it's old. Anyway, if you disagree don't watch it.
Don't forget that tomorrow is Easter! Celebrate with all the special people in your life! (That's a Lego Movie paraphrase)
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.