Why Do I Write About Mental Illness?


I have bipolar disorder, but that by itself isn’t the answer. Here’s why I write about mental illness and mental health:

It’s what I do. I’m a writer. It’s what I would be, bipolar disorder or not. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and writing and editing professionally for decades. But that isn’t the whole answer either.

It’s what I have to do. I have plenty of topics to write about besides mental illness. Over the years I have written poetry; a few children’s stories; and articles about martial arts, religion, cats, education and teachers, technology, architecture and other subjects. In addition to this blog, I have another in which I write about whatever crosses my mind or my path – books, news, humor and the things that made me name my blog Et Cetera, etc.

But this blog is the one I have to write. It started as journaling but quickly – in a matter of weeks – became more.

It’s what I am. Mentally ill, that is. A lifelong acquaintance with – or rather, experience of – a mental illness makes the subject one that goes to the bone. I can’t call up a memory from my childhood that doesn’t involve desperation, sobbing and disaffection, or fragile, giggling glee at things no one else noticed or cared about. My college years were marred by distress, anxiety and apathy. My adulthood has been marked by breakdowns, immobility and psychotropics. I can’t get away from the subject, even if I try.

I have the skills for it. I have read a lot about mental illness and bipolar disorder, in self-help books, more scholarly works, memoirs and even fiction. I have an academic background and an intelligent layperson’s knowledge of science and psychology. I can share that perspective with others.

It helps me and others understand. Examining aspects of bipolar disorder necessitates I learn more about it – and therefore about myself. Planning, writing and editing posts help me clarify my thinking about this illness I live with every day. Sometimes I am just too close to it until I step back and look at it from a different or even new perspective. That’s one of the benefits for me.

The feedback I get – comments from readers and other bloggers – leads me to believe what I write has value for them too.

It needs to be talked about. The general public – society at large – sometimes doesn’t understand mental illness. There are widespread jokes, misunderstandings and inaccurate media portrayals. Above all, there is discrimination – in jobs, housing, medical treatment, the legal system and more. There is more trash talked about mental illness and psychotropics every time there is a mass shooting incident or a domestic terrorist bombing.

One of the solutions to these problems is education. Most of the writing I’ve done in my life has been on (or near) the subject of education. I consider myself an advocate for education, and now I am an advocate for education about mental illness. That education should start in public and private school health or social sciences classes. It should continue into adulthood for those who never learned it in school.

Celebrities like Glenn Close and Richard Dreyfuss have big names and big audiences and a vital message to spread about mental illness. I don’t have the big name or the big audience, but I do what I can.

Because the people — including me — who live with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses every day need messages of hope and sympathy and experience and activism and explanation and thought and outrage and kindness.

And that’s why I write about mental illness.

Follow this journey on Et Cetera, etc.

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Thinkstock photo via viki2win


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