If you’ve just wandered in off the internet, #MHMon (Mental Health Monday) is a recurring feature to talk about staying creative while dealing with mental illness. If you would like more information, or to know how you can participate, check the MHMon tab above.
This month’s submission is courtesy of M.K. Anderson.
I’m open about being mentally ill online mostly because I don’t pass. There’s no point in putting that pressure on myself. It doesn’t give me an advantage pitching my writing to agents and editors. That’s not how this works.
Mental illness is a disadvantage, always. I have a thirty-year reduced life expectancy because of my diagnosis. Not because of suicide, as most people expect when I tell them this. It’s stuff like the flu. Treatable illnesses. In my father’s lifetime, we cured polio. We more than doubled childhood cancer survival rates. We cut smoking rates in a public health coup that saved millions of lives. But because of the state of our medical and criminal justice systems, right now is the most dangerous time in the last fifty years to be mentally ill in America. A serious mental illness has the same risk of early death as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
If we made mental health a priority, we could save millions of lives. It’s not, and we won’t. We only ever talk about death and mental illness in the context of violent crime. The link between the mentally ill and violent crime exists — predominantly as victims, not perpetrators. It is not a secret that the predominant narrative about the mentally ill is a lie. The truth is merely drowned out by politicians and private citizens who have committed to the lie.
This all has real consequences. I plan my retirement for my disabled husband with the assumption I won’t make it past sixty. My mom didn’t. My uncle didn’t. Carrie goddamn Fisher didn’t. I won’t be the exception.
Then is publishing an exception to this culture-wide hatred? It’d be extraordinary if it were, so proving that would require extraordinary evidence. I haven’t seen evidence either way. I’ve looked.
Maybe if there were a link between mental illness and creativity, I’d think publishing might be a little more friendly than the rest of society. No link exists. I can’t even find figures that prove we’re published at the same rate as neurotypical writers.
In the absence of evidence, I can’t assume publishing loves me when society hates me.
I’m hungry for real portrayals of our lived experiences. I want to fight the ignorance and violence that killed my mother and my heroes. I want white-hot indictments of the society that hates us. I want to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I want to connect with people who might otherwise have no idea how the mentally ill live. Maybe our writing can humanize us, outline the problem, offer solutions. Maybe even entertain.
But shame requires a level of self-awareness in the reader. Without it, an authentic portrayal reads not as an indictment, not a shared experience, but as nothing. Grammatically correct, but not emotionally resonant. “Didn’t connect.” Our talents languish in “reject” piles.
I worry it is not our assigned role to write bestsellers that reflect our lived experiences. It is ours to dye our hair rainbow colors and teach young men the wonders of oral sex and dancing in the rain. We’re convenient boogeyman in horror stories and thrillers; scapegoats for political violence committed by the sane and affluent. We exist so our neurotypical relatives can write about how they came to terms with our untimely and preventable deaths. Objects, not subjects. Meat for the creative grinder.
Me? I’m not your manic pixie anything. I’ve got about thirty years before my time’s up and all ten of my fingers. Let’s write some books, you and me. We’ll punch this problem in the face and be back in time for dinner. Isn’t that a nice story? Doesn’t it have a happier ending than the one forced on us?
Now get to it.
M. K. Anderson lives and writes in Austin, Texas. She has a story set for release in the upcoming NightscriptVolume III.