Article, Guest Post, Mental Health and Disabilities, Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s not manly to be gravely ill – ‘Fake it Till You Make It’ review

 

Depression cuts across the genders, let’s get that straight first of all. But our society has shut off for men many of the methods and opportunities to seek help that are more readily available to women. It is not manly, apparently, to be gravely ill. Sharing with others your personal struggles and anxieties is not something that men can do easily, at least not without feeling that they are compromising themselves in the eyes of their peers.

Fake it Till you Make It (Soho Theatre, 23 September – 17 October) explored this problem. Written and staged by the performance artist Bryony Kimmings alongside her partner Tim Grayburn, a marketing consultant. The play is a biographical performance piece about Bryony and Tim, or perhaps about their relationship. Instead of viewing depression through the individual fighting an illness, the depression is seen in the shape through the destructive effect it can have on a relationship with family, friends, and in this case, partners. Bryony does not ‘take care’ of Tim as a pseudo-nurse, neither does she try to push him to get better one way or another. Instead, the play shows her struggling to keep on living as a mentally healthy individual in a relationship buckling under her partner’s illness, and for them to function normally as a couple without hurting Tim more than the depression already is.

Bryony offers the opposite experience. Raised with the cultural encouragement to open up and talk, combined with her career as performance artist, Bryony made a performance piece aimed to translate Tim’s feelings and for her, as well as an audience, to understand his illness better.

For those who feel like this might be, again, a story about a man and his various problems, perhaps it is important to consider that the narrative is a lesson in the harmful aspects of the stereotypical behaviour that men are pushed into. The main criticism on our culture’s treatment of depressed men comes in the lyrics of a song, “tell him never to talk about his feelings”.

Luckily, there were no stereotypical gender roles in this play. Both Bryony and Tim have full time careers, both carry on, for worse or for better, in those careers as the illness takes its toll.

Even so, I have to agree that it is a pity there is no counterpart to this play where a woman can narrate the effects of her depression. Although I do  agree with the observation made in the play that women have an easier time getting help. But then again, maybe getting help itself has a different impact on the life of women than on men: A woman taking time of work to take her mental health seriously could be at risk of losing a lot more momentum in her career, and damage to her reputation, than a man might. Taking time off from work is in general more harmful for a woman’s career. Also, women are taken less seriously in their ambitions.

The flip-side to the idea of people caring less if a woman gets ill and needs help, is how it shows that people care less if a woman gets ill and needs help. It illustrates how society underestimates the opportunities that are missed for any woman’s life and career to the time and energy spent on getting well again. A play looking at how a someone deals with this situation, maybe with the help of a caring and supportive partner of her own, would be interesting.

Mental health is increasingly becoming more of a point on the public agenda, and hopefully we will see more artistic attention to this issue from both male and female creatives.

This review was written by Saskia Rombach, an ex-King’s student in politics & an avid iFemSoc contributer. Fake It Until You Make It was shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well Soho theatre, and has plans to return to the stage again this year. 

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Mental Health and Disabilities, Safe Space Policy

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Nicole Walsh has just finished her first year at King’s on the Liberal Arts degree, and is a KCL iFemSoc member. 

The intersectional feminist community continues to strive to be inclusive for all, to debate on matters such as trigger warnings, race, class, gender identity and the effects of capitalism. However, one thing the left seems to fail at so often is protecting the disabled and in particular, those with invisible disabilities such as specific learning differences and mental health problems.

It is true that none of us hold the knowledge or answers to everything, but can only try and remain open-minded and respectful at all times. This however, does not excuse the fact that before we comment or make assumptions we should attempt to further educate ourselves on the matter in hand. One particular instance of this, was a conversation recently in our own iFeminist society.

People such as myself, who suffer from mental health problems continue to face a media onslaught of propaganda that props up the idea that we are violent, dangerous and not fit to be in society. Like other forms of oppression, the stigma and prejudice faced by those in my community has a long and dark history of asylums, torture, electrotherapy and lobotomies. Hundreds of people each day lose their lives because of their mental health problems and because they cannot receive the treatment that they need. In the majority of cases, these people lose their lives at their own hands: ‘There are about one million suicide deaths worldwide each year. During 2011, there were 6,045 suicides in the UK. The number of attempted suicides is much higher, with at least 140,000 attempted suicides each year in England and Wales’ (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Causes.aspx)

In the UK today, there are current investigations into the number of people with mental illnesses who have had to spent time in distress in police cells. Still, people are being locked up because we do not have the services to treat them. Despite being a leading cause of death in the world, we continue to mistreat and misunderstand those who are suffering.

The conversation about mental health is one that many people struggle to have. It is surrounded by confusion and controversy and can be difficult to understand. This does not mean we should not spend the time making the effort to do so. What seems much easier for people to do, is discuss an individual’s mental health if we are able to dismiss them as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’, the dangerous other that is nothing like ourselves but a risk to society. This is not a mistake made by one person, but something our media tells us it is ok to do by pushing poor journalism and research to the forefront of our available material.

The conversation in question was discussing Elliot Rodgers, the mass murderer who went on a misogynistic killing spree at UCSB. The details of the Rodgers’ case are well known and not necessary to discuss here. However, the vital part that came into question was Rodgers’ psychological state. It has been reported that Rodgers was seeing a psychiatrist. What has not been reported however, was his exact diagnosis. In fact his diagnosis has varied widely in public media, from Asperger’s Syndrome (which is a cognitive and communicative syndrome, and not a mental health problem), to a generalised personality disorder, to depression. What we can take from this is that currently no average member of the population, including any member of the feminist society knows exactly what mental health problem he had. We are all at risk of having poor mental health in our lifetime, just as we are at risk of having poor physical health in our lifetime. When we discuss an individual’s mental health without actually knowing what it was, we begin to delve into dangerous territory.

In the conversation in question, people began to discuss what insanity and sanity were and what a person of a ‘healthy mental disposition’ would or wouldn’t do. These comments are simply not acceptable in a safe environment that is supposed to be inclusive to all. To other members of the group, this shows a complete disrespect to those of us who suffer from mental health problems. It asks the questions, ‘what do you think of my mental disposition?’ and ‘what makes you an expert on mental health?’

Using generalisations such as the ones that were used in the conversation means that the elaborate complexities and history of mental health is completely disrespected and ignored. Not all mental illness is the same, not all mental illness can be treated in the same way and not all mental illness displays the same symptoms. These are facts that should be clear to anyone in the intersectional community. Yet they failed to be addressed properly until later in the conversation.

One of the most interesting comments, I believe, was offered by President of the society, Shanice. Shanice wrote that: ‘what’s more useful is referencing the conditions and environment that actually shapes a persons’ psychology and enables them to do what they do.’ In the same way that our physical health relies upon both nature and nurture our mental health does too. What I believe would have been more relevant to the society was to discuss the facts that we do know. The fact that whatever mental disposition Rodgers had, it collided and was built by the patriarchal society we have today. Rodgers was able to carry out his crimes because the levels of misogyny that we accept in society are dangerously high.

Shanice’s point however, goes much further than discussing Rodgers. When discussing mental health, we have to consider where one’s mental health comes from. When we do so, we are discussing a persons’ genetic makeup, family history and personal life events. To make this clearer, when we see mental disposition and mental health as debatable topics we do not consider the triggers we are risking members of our community.

Poor mental health is very often rooted in personal trauma. For many sufferers like myself, through talking therapies we find that the reason this personal trauma causes us so much distress is the guilt that we feel for it. When you debate the idea that someone who does not have a stable enough mental disposition for your liking or that someone’s mental health makes them a possible danger, you target that feeling of guilt inside us. You target every time we have doubted we are fit for this world and you open up every traumatic memory we have.

Let us not forget that this traumas will vary across intersectional boundaries and touch upon a huge number of memories and experiences. Whilst I understand that it was not the intention of anyone in the group to trigger anyone, I feel it is important that I make my point as clear as possible. I am one example of the many people who may have been adversely affected by that thread and similar conversations.

Through one conversations the guilt and shame I hold about my mental health was targeted. At the same time, my memories and experiences of being the child of an alcoholic, a victim of domestic violence, a victim of sexual abuse, a victim of biphobia, self-harm, suicide attempts, having to leave my family home, having manic episodes and much more all come flooding into my awareness in one huge trigger. These are just a few examples of the makeup of my own poor mental health. With one in four suffering from a mental health problem in their lifetime, debating mental health in this way in our feminist society facebook group alone means that you are risking approximately 198 people from being hit with the trigger of all of their lifetime experiences. This may seem extreme, but I feel it is necessary to recognise how many possible unknown triggers, life experiences and people you are affecting.

It is not acceptable to simply state that you know ‘they’re not all the same’ and to say that you’re not calling us all dangerous or violent. Intersectional feminism means that you recognise my trauma and the trauma of every survivor of mental health problems in our community and beyond. It means that you think before you speak, do your research and heavily consider who you may be affecting with what you say.

It means that when someone clearly states that they have been triggered by your actions, you do not dismiss their statement. It means that you recognise the power you have as an able person to continue the stigma that people with mental health problems have. It means that you understand that generalisations should not be made, that life and identity itself are complex and in depth. That each individual has their own view point, made up from a wide-range of experiences and that no person, whoever they are is the same as one person who’s wrong-doing has caught the media’s attention.

In my time in the KCL’s iFeminist Society I have seen many people make poorly judged comments. No one person is perfect and we all have the ability to make mistakes, I have definitely done it myself. I feel that the difference here is that the conversation became a series of similar comments and generalisations and that my rather upset ‘trigger warning’ statement was almost completely ignored. I would like to recognise and thank those who did apologise to me with the intention of rectifying their mistakes and those who sent me messages of support to ensure I was ok. I know that this is the usual behaviour I can trust to expect from our otherwise strong society. Which is why I recognise that the attitude towards my comments and the comments coming from others seemed to be one of naivety. It is sadly all too common for certain sections of intersectionality to be so poorly understood but it is important that as a group we recognise when these mistakes happen and learn how to move forward respectfully.

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