Monday, October 31, 2016

My Nevermores

Halloween Insane Asylums, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton’s Emails

A month or so ago, I took the unusual (for me) step of unfriending and blocking someone on social media. The woman in question is someone I consider to be a friend IRL (in real life). But after delivered several polite but increasingly stern private warnings about her posts on my personal Facebook page, she crossed a line. 

When I ebulliently shared my and other advocates’ successful attempts to convince Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags to close their offensive and stigmatizing Halloween asylum attractions, my friend felt compelled to share her point of view that advocates were reading way too much into this “fun” and that we were in fact ruining Halloween in the name of “misguided political correctness.” 

To be fair, my friend knows firsthand the real and painful struggles of caring for someone who lives with severe mental illnessShe’s also very smart. When I blocked her, she sent me a long email missive entitled “Offended by logic?”  

My response? “I have made up my mind on this issue. Discussion is over for me. Find someone who is interested in having this discussion. 

I don’t take this kind of step lightly. I love learning new things and hearing alternate perspectives on just about every subject you can imagine. 

But I also believe we all have our proverbial lines in the sand. There are a few things I have made up my mind about, and I don’t want to “debate” these issues further.  

In fact, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging and enforcing these personal boundaries, which I’ve decided to brand as my “nevermores” in honor of Edgar Allen Poe’s taciturn raven. 

Here’s a partial list of my “nevermores,” or things that I have made up my mind about: 

If you want to ask me about my carefully thought out, researched, reasoned position on any of the above, I will be more than happy to share it. But these are not things I’m interested in debating. I’m not saying other people can’t hold other points of view than mine—of course they can! I’m just not interested in conversations on these topics, because I have already made up my mind. 

“But!” you might be saying. “New information! James Comey! Emails again!” 

No. It’s the same story, and the same emails. And frankly, like the majority of Americans, I don’t care about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails.” Mrs. Clinton is a woman about my mother’s age, with the same level of technophobia. She made a mistake, and she admitted it. This kind of mistake (fortunately!) really has proven to be the definition of “no harm, no foul.” 

But for the men who have repeatedly tried to destroy Hillary Clinton, there was definitely harm, and there have been plenty of uncalled fouls. 

Every time I see Julian Assange’s smug smirk, all I can think is “sexual predator.”   

Every time I see the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner in the news, all I can think is, “sexual predator.”   

Every time I see Donald Trump disparage another minority group  or mock someone with disabilities  or denigrate a slain soldier's family   or threaten to sue the women who have bravely come forward to share their stories of abuse at his (tiny) hands, all I can think is “sexual predator.”   

And yes, to be fair, every time I see Bill Clinton, I think of how he betrayed l his wife, his daughter, and the nation—for sex with “that woman,” Monica Lewinsky, who has now emerged as a brave and powerful voice for women everywhere.i  

It’s ironicno, more like terrifying—that all of the prominent men standing in Hillary Clinton’s way are connected with sexual assault. It’s even more terrifying that women’s voices weren’t enough to legitimize this fear, and that even though Trump’s own words have exposed him for what he truly is, he is still considered a viable candidate for President of the United States. 

I’ve already voted—and I wouldn’t change my vote based on this “new” (aka, same old, same old) information about emails. But to journalists everywhere, I would issue this plea. 

Set boundaries. 

James Comey failed to set boundaries when he issued his cryptic letter to Congress, and in this failure, he has allowed you—and Trump—to “write the book” on what the FBI may, or may not, find. 

Don’t write that book. It’s likely historians will categorize your unfounded speculation as fiction. Even worse, with a week to election day, your irresponsible reporting may destroy our republic. 

It’s not that hard to do this the right way. When you weigh in on whether this new email discovery may lead to a reopening of the investigation that could harm a Clinton Presidency, it is only fair and balanced to ask the same questions about Donald Trump, who is currently facing a civil trial for defrauding students with Trump University and has a post-election December 16 hearing on allegations that he raped a 13-year old girl.  I hope—though in the current climate of rampant institutionalized misogyny, I cannot assume—that a rape case would seriously harm a Trump Presidency.   

Granted, Hillary Clinton is not perfect. I don’t know many people who are. But she is more qualified than any other male—or female—candidate in the United States today. And she is our best chance to break that “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”  

So I don’t want to discuss Hillary Clinton’s emails with you anymore. It’s time to vote for the most prepared, qualified candidate in the history of the United States. It’s time to make herstory a reality. 

Because if Donald Trump wins, there's a frightening chance that too many Americans' hopes and dreams will be "nevermore." 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Use Your Voice! #BraveChat #FaceOfMentalIllness

This is a guest blog by super-advocate Jennifer Marshall of Thanks, Jenn, for all you do and for letting me share this important social media campaign!
Jennifer Marshall, the #FaceOfMentalIllness
Every Halloween mental illness seems to be exploited and mocked for entertainment value and profit. Companies using horrible images of mental patients or mental hospitals, and even creating "costumes" depicting the outward wounds of dealing with mental illness. 
Thankfully, due to the work of countless dedicate mental health advocates, society is beginning to wake up. Over the past few weeks, offensive costumes have been removed from websites and shelves, Halloween attractions have been shut down, and people are being educated about the realities of what it is like to live with mental illness through stories shared.
And we're still able to celebrate and enjoy Halloween. 
But when the public has this image in their head of what mental illness looks like, we need to speak up.
Tonight during our weekly #BraveChat on Twitter, we're launching a campaign to change the perception of mental illness through photos. And we need your help!
Join us by sharing a photo of yourself with the hashtag #FaceOfMentalIllness. Or, if you don't do Twitter, you can still add your voice to the campaign by taking a selfie holding a sign that says:
This is the #FaceOfMentalIllness
and share it on Facebook or Instagram. Share a little about your story and why you feel it's important that we speak up. Be sure to tag us (@ThisIsMyBrave) so that we can re-share to amplify our voices. 
“You know this would never happen for other health conditions. You wouldn’t have a Halloween attraction about a cancer ward. It is mocking something that is a very serious illness.”— Mary Giliberti, Executive Director of NAMI to Washington Post
Use your voice and join us!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Stop Profiting from Pain

Walmart’s suicide costume is an affront to decency and morality
My son at age four

“Why do you tear me?
Is there no pity left in any soul?” 
Dante’s Inferno Canto VIII, John Ciardi trans.

I’ll never forget the first time my child talked about suicide. He was four years old, sniffling and shivering after a several-hour fit of thrashing, incoherent rage. As I rubbed his white-down hair and cuddled him, he said, “Mom, I don’t want to be anymore. I just want to be a zero.”

Nine years later, when I finally learned my son’s diagnosis, bipolar disorder, after years of specialists, hospitals, tests, medications, juvenile detention, and ongoing suicidal ideation, I was relieved. I knew people who lived with this illness and managed to have successful, happy lives. In fact, one of my closest friends from childhood, diagnosed with bipolar disorder in college, had married a wonderful man, raised four children, worked as a librarian and historian, and was writing her sixth novel.

Many of the 10 million people[i] in America who are diagnosed with severe mental illness can live healthy, happy, productive lives. But instead of celebrating their bravery, our society stigmatizes their illness by mocking it in horribly offensive ways.

There’s no time of year mental health advocates dread more than Halloween.

Every single year, it’s the same thing. Mental illness becomes the punchline of a joke, or the theme of a horror attraction. This year, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags did the right thing, shutting down their horrific asylum-themed virtual reality attractions when advocates expressed justified outrage. A representative from Six Flags explained the company’s decision to me in an email: “This is a good lesson for us all about perpetuating stereotypes, and we apologize to anyone that we may have offended.”

This is a lesson that Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, desperately needs to learn. A picture of a “razor blade suicide scar wound latex costume make up” (I won’t link to it, because it is a real trigger) is the latest and most egregious example of the ongoing battles people with mental illness and their loved ones must face to educate the public about the reality of mental health conditions.

Imagine if I told you that my child had an incurable illness with a risk of death as high as 20% [ii] If I told you that the illness in question was cancer, you’d be bringing my family casseroles, organizing community bake sales, and demanding that your legislators provide more funding for research and treatments. 

You’d be outraged by my inability to access quality medical care for my child. And you would be furiously calling for a boycott if a major retailer released a Halloween costume called “bald head cancer patient latex costume make up.”

But when I tell you my child’s illness is bipolar disorder, you back away. The risks and challenges are the same (I know—my father died from cancer when I was in college). But when I and other advocates express our outrage about suicide costumes and asylum-themed attractions, you tell us, “Stop being so politically correct,” or “Can’t you just take a joke?”

No, I can’t just take a joke. To those who don’t understand why this is all so wrong, I say in all sincerity, I’m glad you don’t. I am glad that you have never lost a child, or a parent, or a spouse, or a sister or brother or close friend to a choice-stealing brain disease. Because the pain of that loss never heals.

And I’m glad that you have never had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, to come out the other side a survivor, but still struggling in a society that thinks your illness is “a joke.”

Our pain—and our loved ones’ pain—should never be used for entertainment or profit. If you think that I am just too thin-skinned—that I can’t take a joke—I have a Halloween costume idea for you. Go as yourself. You scare me.

[i] Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Among U.S. Adults. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from
[ii] Pompili, M., Gonda, X., Serafini, G., Innamorati, M., Sher, L., Amore, M., ... & Girardi, P. (2013). Epidemiology of suicide in bipolar disorders: a systematic review of the literature. Bipolar disorders, 15(5), 457-490.