Plurality and the Stigma of Mental Illness

This is a Facebook post from a year ago today. It’s still relevant. We’ve edited a couple lines to protect some names we don’t need flying about:

We’ve been chewing on this post for days and we’re not sure we’re going to balance it right, but we gotta get it out, so we’re going to try.

We feel like every time we’ve come out about something regarding ourselves, and asserted our truth, we have become distanced and estranged further from our family and friends. Basically everyone.

And we’re not talking about bigots we’ve had to cull and block because they’re not safe for us.

This is a more subtle and pervasive thing.

Although science and medicine have shown again and again that the following is not true, our culture (that of “the West”, colonialism and capitalism, of the U.S. and the U.K. certainly) teaches us all from a young age, and reinforces it at every turn, that if you feel something, if you perceive something is wrong with your mind, that it is entirely an attitude problem and you need to change your attitude with force of will.

And while medicine and other medical therapies are becoming more broadly accepted, the default is to assume an attitude problem first and to coerce, punish, cajole, and belittle someone into changing their attitude first. And certainly not to exercise autonomy and ask for simple social accommodations.

This filters down to everything:

If you are ADHD and you have trouble focusing on things and you can’t make decisions and you have trouble controlling your emotions, that’s primarily an attitude problem and you need to “grow up.”

If you have any sort of mental illness, it becomes a moral failing of your own, especially if you don’t seek the proscribed treatment for it. But even if you do, the stigma is still there. If you don’t keep your psychosis or PTSD or whatever you have under perfect control, so that no one notices it, it’s you’re fault. It’s your attitude problem.

If you’re gay, that’s an attitude problem. An unfortunate choice.

Likewise if you’re transgender.

Worse if you’re non-binary.

All of these things are equated with mental illness.

Yes, we’ve made great strides at getting people to accept that orientation and gender diversity are not mental illnesses, but our dominant culture still treats them as such, EVEN IN THE MEDICAL SETTING. You have to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to seek medical transition. And you have to prove it’s not some other mental illness before you can do that.

And mental illness itself is treated as evil and dangerous.

And the thing is, this stigma still effects everyone who has “become accepting”, even those of us who have these identities.
When you’ve been taught all of your life to consider any variance from the norms in your own personality as an attitude problem that needs to be fixed, at every level and with every step, you can’t just shed those reflexes by accepting that “being gay is not a mental illness.”

It takes considerable work every day to love yourself for being divergent, and to assert your needs and boundaries, your rights.

So, we’ve noticed certain things happening as we’ve identified each of our intersections. People talking to us less. People invite us to things less. People are more careful asking us simple questions. And people get more frustrated with what we have to say about nearly anything, faster.

We’ve also noticed, with each step, that we’ve been more scared to reach out and reconnect. It’s definitely been a two way street. But the fault lies in our culture, and in EVERYONE’s expression of it.

Part of that is that we’ve been writing and talking an awful lot about self advocacy on Facebook and in real life, and talking about weirder things that we see people just have a harder time accepting. And we’re just afraid of meeting the looks and awkward comments. The silent judgment.

We’re afraid of reaching out to family and friends and finding that they don’t reach back.

And then, especially when it comes to our Autism and our Plurality, strangers and acquaintances have all been way more accepting and understanding than anyone in our family, and most of our close friends.

When talking to a stranger on the street who seems interested in getting to know us, we can say, “Yeah, I’m autistic,” or “I’m plural, a we, actually,” they all go, “Oh, cool! I know someone else like you!”

With family, with those two intersections, we’ve been met with either guarded skepticism or outright dismissal, “No, you’re self diagnosing and that’s wrong. I don’t want to hear any more.” Even when we had a diagnosis and the confirmation of two psychologists and three neurologists.

We have an uncle who has called our dad, worried out of his gourd for us, explaining to him how our plurality is much more serious than we make it out to, probably a delusion. Absolutely ignoring everything we’ve told him that our medical professionals have said.

We’ve made progress, though. We’ve worked at easing them into it. At coming back in both small and big ways, different ways, over the last few years, to explain things again, and to confirm that we’re still experiencing the things we do.

We’ve shown people that we’re still pretty stable, for the most part. Getting better, even, from the height of our trauma in the first couple years of our transition and autistic burnout. And that’s worked.

Except that when we point out that we’re still mentally ill, we get, “No you’re not.”

Because people just don’t understand what mental illness is.

Mental illness is not acting unpredictable and dangerous.

It’s a way that your brain doesn’t work quite the same way as the medical establishment thinks it should work. That’s it. And there’s a wide spectrum of what that means.

Our plurality is considered a major mental illness by most of society. But, for us, it actually isn’t one. It doesn’t cause us undue distress, except for when people don’t accept it. And clinically, that means it’s not a mental illness. But it still comes with the stigma of mental illness.

We cannot act openly plural in most serious settings without being seen as mentally ill and untrustworthy.

Our PTSD is, however, a mental illness. An injury, technically. But it’s a way that our brain has been conditioned to react to things that does cause us a great deal of distress. It disables us.

And when we say we are mentally ill, we are referring to our PTSD and we are correct to do so.

But here’s the thing.

None of any of this is new.

We’ve been this way for the vast majority of our life.

We’ve been plural, autistic, trans, asexual, non-binary, a girl, a dragon, and an id monster (female, aporagender, teratogender), and intersex ever since early childhood, if not birth (genders develop by 3 or 5). And we’ve had PTSD since we were an infant, beginning with an incident with a train, and just getting worse as our autistic needs were not recognized nor met.

No one can be held at fault for any of that. Most of it isn’t even bad or wrong. It just all is.

We’ve just been slowly coming to terms with it all and asking for some pretty simple accommodations for it.

And one of those accommodations has been our name change.

We need to be called “the Inmara”. It’s who and what we are. And when we are called by any of the other names we’ve had, we feel dysphoria. Maybe not always, but often enough. Because they don’t belong to all of us.

We needed our legal name to reflect that as well. To form a complete sentence, if in our conlangs, to describe fully who we are on the inside. And we wanted to take a new last name in honor of the marriage of the two greater halves of our system, between Anne and Eh. “Fenumera” means “of the work of Fenmere” and this union is absolutely that. Fenmere spent a good half of our life trying to get us to accept our plurality and make this alliance. This Inmara.

Our old last name is now our maiden name, and we absolutely do still own it. And we still consider ourselves to be members of the [redacted]*, [redacted]*, and [redacted]* families, too. *(the maiden names of our mom and grandmothers)

We’re still the same “person” everyone knew before we came out. We’re just appropriately named now.

But, we sense that this new name has distanced us from our family just a little more. Another setback.

It feels like people see it and think, “Oh. They’re really serious about this weird, unacceptable plural thing. Damn.”

It’s so hard.

Most of our family and old friends are really good people, for the most part. There might be a lot of internalized ableism in the groups as a whole, but we see the people we love starting to fight that, to learn how to accept us as we are now asking them to see us. Our parents have been absolutely incredible about this.

But we really miss the old connections, connections that really should not have suffered through all of this.
Very few of our old loved ones are dangerous to us. And we’re not any more dangerous to them than we were before. We’re autistically predictable, in fact.

There’s no reason we should be less of a family.

We’re still the same people we were before. We’re just more open about it.

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