rhivolution: Matthew Macfadyen is pensive, text: jeux sans frontieres (games without frontiers: Tom Quinn)
Rhi. ([personal profile] rhivolution) wrote2010-06-07 10:19 pm
Entry tags:

so fucking special: mental illness panel ftw.

A brief note first: in light of what shit just went down as regards the topic of unsafe, I'm...just gonna pass on making a whole other post. Should you want to know what I would have said, [personal profile] antarcticlust sums it up well in her first two paragraphs here. Namely, being uncomfortable is important, because it means for once we (we = me + other white people) aren't just coasting on by, letting privilege protect us.

I probably would have been a bit less kind, though. I'm an angry person.

Now, to the rest of the post...a few notes from the Mad Seers, Holy Fools, and God–Touched panel at WisCon 34.

Let me say first that this panel seriously touched me and made me think, probably so much so that I bloody neglected to take down who necessarily said what or may have gotten that wrong in my frantic writing. I apologise to [livejournal.com profile] onceupon, [personal profile] revena, [livejournal.com profile] upstart_crow, and [livejournal.com profile] suzych for that. If anyone could provide further info or better notes, I'd be much obliged. My unspoken notes are in italics.

Main point of discussion: Are there accurate representations of our own experience (of mental illness) in SFF?

Suzy: Looking into how these tropes of mental illness (seer, fool, god-touched) have been used in the past.
- Sturgeon's More than Human (50s); character is thought to be mentally ill by his doctor, but is actually part of a telepathic gestalt, missing the rest of his group.
Rhi: I thought of LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven here.
- Shakespeare and the classics come up as well.

Robyn: You can't separate literary ideas from how they affect reality. (We think and believe people are certain ways because we understand them through media.)

Robyn: The ever delightful consent issues for the mentally ill--the problems in Firefly/Serenity fandom of believing River can't consent because she's crazy.
- General consensus was 'of course she can.'

We never see a 'functional' person with mental illness. This is possibly because producers feel mental illnesses must be shown explicitly. There are people who are functional in their societies but not in a normative way.

Robyn: There is a spectrum of 'functionality'.

Audience: 'Functional' is a problematic term and ableist.
- Panel and audience acknowledge this.

The Rotund and Robyn discuss being bipolar and characters that have 'functional' periods and 'fallow' periods as people have in Atwood's Onyx and Crake, where it is normative.
- And Miles Vorkosigan, believed to be a fairly accurate representation of the bipolar experience.
- Though Bujold is not exactly exempt from wackness; while one could argue that Mark Vorkosigan is an example of a 'functioning' person with mental illness, his illness and characterization is problematic.

Audience: mentions the ace [community profile] access_fandom.

There are issues of cultural shame as regards mental illness.

JoSelle: Some works do have characters where their disability is not their defining attribute.
- Laurie R. King apparently does this well.

Discussion of the Icarus Project and the whole 'being mentally ill makes us Special and we should embrace it' idea (a la 'god-touched').
- panel generally don't buy this mindset--it may work for some, but not as a rule

The Rotund: While it can be good to be the seer or something, for some of us it's hard to feel good without having a schedule and/or a 9-to-5 job.

JoSelle: Society's structured against us.

Audience Member: Daughter once, while in breakdown, exclaimed 'I don't want to be so fucking special!' (re: Icarus etc.)

So who is doing it right?
- Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark (autism and ASD)
- Nia Calhoun, The Phoenix Dance (bipolar)
- Matt Ruff, Set This House in Order (MPD) - can be problematic?
- I noted here or at some other point the god-spoken in OSC's Xenocide--a good portrayal of OCD on an experience and emotional level, but with the frustrating 'they were made this way to hobble them' trope. Not to mention Card's myriad of other issues.

A question: what is 'correct' if everyone's viewpoint and mental state is different?
- inherent psychophobia of society

The issue of the reliable narrator.
- The Rotund and Robyn talk about 'gaslighting' in bipolar disorder--being told, insistently, that your perceptions are wrong. It isn't helpful.
- This is true outside of bipolar disorder too, just seems to be a common concept there. I did not have a name for it!
- JoSelle notes that her therapist has a good method for talking to someone without gaslighting: accept the reality of their reactions, but suggest (not insist on) the reality or the alternative view.
- Lying to yourself or lying in your diary--we can still lie to ourselves.
- Things are difficult for those of us with no real experience of being normatively 'sane'.

- True Blood - doin it rite, esp. with Terry, from the start.
- Doctor Who? I don't know. It's very awkward and sporadic. I...need to do some more reading before I get into it in an RP context again, as I think I may have messed up a bit.
- Funny how we don't write about what happens to people after epic quests, surely they might need some help. Like Frodo. Or Sam even more so. Not to mention other issues they may have developed besides PTSD.
- Batman is that frustrating trope of dooooom. Remember that things 'can be cool as well as wrong' (JoSelle, The Rotund?).

There is a continuum: everyone is ill and everyone is sane in some way.
- Your lived experience is real. This is important to remember.
- Mentally ill people can have bad days (non-illness) too and not be 'breaking down'.

Issues of productivity and laziness which I identified with so bloody much zomg. Issues of disability and defining self as a person with a disability, feeling 'not sick enough'.

Doin it rite: Cat Valente, Palimpsest.

Final question: would you want to be cured?
- Panel doesn't think so--formative part of identity.
- Need for a supportive culture.
- Cure should be a personal choice, not a societal one (rather linking into this post by [personal profile] megwrites that I've seen around today).
- Note also: Greg Bear's books Queen of Angels, Slant, portraying an America where everyone must meet a certain standard of sanity, sanity leading to class status, job access, agency. Therapy is provided, but people with intractable problems and those who opt out are disenfranchised.

All I can really say is my people. Seriously, the sense this whole damn thing made to this person with OCD...I just don't even. I have more to say about what I got out of this, but that may have to wait until tomorrow, as I am beat...yay for medication fatigue.

There may be a rant about how OCD isn't taken seriously. Stay tuned.

ETA: If you want to fill in the blanks and expand upon things that I didn't, check out [livejournal.com profile] sophy's panel report.
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[personal profile] sasha_feather 2010-06-08 04:43 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for writing this up! I have linked it at access-fandom.
revena: Drawing of me (Default)

[personal profile] revena 2010-06-08 06:57 am (UTC)(link)
Bwaha, I am reading this post and going "ooh, yes, things I want to comment on" and then conclude by dozing off midway and thinking I'll respond tomorrow. And then I see that your conclusion mentions medication fatigue.

My people is so right.

More when I struggle back to wakefulness!
revena: Picture of Jimmy with duck on his face; text: Perhaps it is you who have a duck on your face...! (Face Duck)

[personal profile] revena 2010-06-09 09:20 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, I'm back!

So, I wanted to hit two quick "oh, no, I think that was __" things when reading your notes, and then I have some Thinky Thoughts. The complaining about consent issues with mentally ill characters, using River as an example, was me. Though I think everyone else on the panel went OMG YES pretty much simultaneously, so. I am sooo glad that I'm not alone with the flailing horror over the idea that "mentally ill" automatically means "incapable of consent." Um, and I thiiink the "things can be cool as well as wrong" was first mentioned by either JoSelle or [personal profile] onceupon, rather than me, though, again, it seemed to be a pretty strong agreement moment.

Now, substance! Gaslighting! I didn't have a name for it either until [personal profile] onceupon used that term in a chat with me a few months ago. And it's such an apt, descriptive name for something I've experienced so many times that I kinda glommed onto it. Before I had that word for it, I'd talk about different versions of reality/memories of events, etc., but it's handy to have just the one word.

Anyway, yes, I think you are absolutely right that it's not just a bipolar thing. The reason why we both talked about it in similar ways is less that it's a bipolar issue in general (I think) and more that we talk a lot to each other about all sorts of stuff, which often includes our own specific experiences of being bipolar, since that particular flavor of crazy is one of the things we have in common (we also talk about Star Trek a lot...). Which probably means that hearing us on a panel is a little weird, since we've got so many reference points in common by now that we're probably doing some conversational shorthand unintentionally. But I think the gaslighting experience, whether it's intentional or accidental, is probably an issue for many, many people with various mental illnesses, because once we're perceived as brain-broken in one way, of course our perceptions of reality aren't to be trusted.

And this is one of the places where popular media makes it harder for us, topically enough. Because the "generic crazy" character so often has hallucinations, etc., no matter what kind of illness they supposedly have. And it's rare that a character who is depicted as mentally ill + hallucinations is aware of that possibility and dealing with it, so there's this sort of cultural message about how 1) all crazy people misperceive reality and 2) none of them realize they're doing it. Thus, of course, we are not to be trusted to accurately recall events, etc.

I'm really glad you were there, and had a chance to share some of your thoughts. Getting an opportunity to talk about this openly at WisCon was kind of more amazing than I'd even expected it to be (as well as surprisingly draining. I had to shower and then sort of stare into space for a while after), and meeting people like you was a huge part of that. So thank you.
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[personal profile] raanve 2010-06-08 02:34 pm (UTC)(link)
I agree - this was an excellent panel.

One thing I have down in my own notes to talk about is that there wasn't much discussion of clinical depression on this panel -- I strongly suspect that's because there aren't as many depictions of clinical depression in speculative media because depression isn't "dynamic". That is, there's a common concept that depressives just lie around in bed all day and who wants to watch/read about that?

I suspect that the character in the WIP I have right now (if, uh, I can ever get over my extreme writing anxiety) has some flavor of a clinical depression, which in my own experience is far from solely "dull" or un-dynamic. (I don't think that's a word. Anyhow.) Of course, part of why I attended this panel is because I'm worried I'll get it wrong -- she may or may not be a seer, and part of the conflict hinges on the various perceptions people around her have of her mental state, and whether or not her abilities are "real". (I have no idea how this resolves. Hence, a big part of my fear of Getting It Wrong.)
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[personal profile] jesse_the_k 2010-06-08 11:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the write up! Given the awesome panel and audience, I'm eager for as many reports from this one as possible. My people is so right on.

One point was made re: OCD. It's all well and good to sprinkle some on a detective to explain why they're good at details (I'm looking at you, Monk) but the actual experience of OCD if often being too stuck to get to the scene of the crime.

John Varley has several heroes with serious mental illness. Both in the Titan, Wizard & Demon "Gaean Series" and in Steel Beach, where the hero's constant suicides are foiled by very advanced medicine.

I'm also rereading Marge Piercy's heartbreaking Woman on the Edge of Time. Piercy plays with the "mad seer" trope in very intriguing ways. If her "crazy" hero is indeed only imagining her contact with folks 250 years in the future, it's still a much better use of her time than being "present" in the hellish reality of ward life in a public mental hospital in the 1970s.
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[personal profile] sophygurl 2010-06-09 12:01 am (UTC)(link)
1. Can I link to this? I love it when other people's panel notes fill in the gaps of my own and you got a lot down that I neglected to. All my notes are over at my LJ, which is sophy.

2. Reading this I stopped and was all "oh! she's the one with OCD sitting behind me that I turned around to agree with a few times!" :)