Mental Illness, Shame, and The Art of Asking

Dear Internet,

I have complicated relationship with Amanda Fucking Palmer.

While there are some things that I’m critical of in regards to AFP, I am incredibly mindful that a lot of conversations happening  now are because of her. Changes in how music is viewed/played; how relationships are shifting beween art, artists, and viewers; how we challenge not just our own perceptions  but perceptions of the world at large even just by living our lives as how we define our lives to be, not by another’s definition. In addition, she lives her life fearlessly, which is incredibly inspiring.

AFP was invited to speak at TED this year and below is her talk, The Art of Asking:

AFP’s salient points on discussing crowd sourcing, risk taking, or even challenging common public notions and beliefs. But at this talk’s core, as she states, is the relationship between the artist and the viewer. That very intimate relationship that is only owned between those two people.

Yesterday, I was part of a panel at MSU Comics Forum where we gave a presentation on Golden Age: Comics and Graphic Novel Resources in Libraries. Our schtick is to present on this topic at non-library conferences because we knew it was important for artists, writers, creators, educators, and comic book lovers to be aware of what/how libraries are doing with comics and graphic novels. Within the library world, it is a given. Outside the library world, not so much.

While prepping for my talk, I was debating on whether or not to mention I was bipolar and relate that to graphic novels available on the topic. If part of my argument is graphic novels should be in libraries is because they help broach difficult topics, is this not a difficult topic and ergo a perfect example? The other question that would be asked is what kind of obligation do I have in mentioning I am bipolar to anyone about anything? Why does the onus fall on me?

This debate went on in my head up until I took the podium.

When the slide came up I had earmarked to mention being bipolar, I found myself just saying it as naturally if you please:

“I’m bipolar. I’ve had several friends who’ve read Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me and say to me, ‘Okay. I understand what you’re going through. It was eye opening.’ And this is perfectly illustrates how graphic novels and comics can help broach difficult topics.”

Several heads in the audience nodded with agreement.

In the space of a few minutes, I had negotiated in my head the trust relationship between myself and the audience. I gave myself permission to be candid. The floor did not open up and swallow me nor did fire come reigning down the heavens.

While I was feeling manic up until that moment, and then the world shifted into focus. When my 15 minutes was done, I felt my body relax for the first time in weeks.

Before watching AFP’s talk last night, I had not realized the mental negotiations taking place in my head about having a mental illness were about exchanges in trust with whomever. Oh, not you Internet, but with those in contact of my daily life, who don’t follow me across the social sphere or read this blog. There is a price tag on honesty, and on revealing, one that was too high in the past to contemplate, and one that is constantly always under scrutinizing but is becoming easier to negotiate.

AFP rationalized it is not about taking a risk, rather it is trust. Shame comes in when those not part of the negotiation attempt to criticize it. I am currying trust with my readership by telling them about my crazy, but someone who doesn’t read my blog, or know me, starts to make judgements on the already established link between me and my readership, they are installing shame on the affair. Anything different is open to criticism and this needs to change.

My name is Lisa and I am bipolar.
It needs to be said, it has to be said, I will continue to say it.

xoxo,
Lisa

  • Bravo! You are being super brave, and I admire that so much! Also glad to hear the presentation went well. 🙂

  • John Kirriemuir

    My name is John and I think you are awesome (and, in several ways, a role model). Thought the same before I knew you were bipolar; knowledge of this fact does not change that; you’re still Lisa.

  • My name is Kate, and I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2009. I also think you’re awesome, especially for continuing to bring light to a still very taboo subject. The more education and awareness we can provide about mental illness, the better our world will be. I hope there will come a day when society accepts mental illness as just that – an illness deserving of treatment, not a case of “lashing out” or “looking for attention”, nor an illness that can be solved by praying and finding God.*

    Rock on with your badass self. I love you for it.

    * Actual comments said to me by college friends when I told them I had been in treatment for depression. Needless to say, they are no longer friends.

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