You always hear that, don’t you. When you watch those programmes with people who have seventy eight cats all living in the house with them, turding on the floor in piles taller than the coffee table. Houses where rats have eaten their way into the chesterfield and have left because the premises are too unsanitary *even for rats*. The programmes that proclaim that people who keep every piece of rubbish and who shop three times a day at thrift stores and who pile their belongings to the ceiling and back again so that the floor struts and supports creak and groan and crack under the weight of all of their issues – that those people have an acute mental illness and that they suffer, oh Lord they suffer, through emotions as thickly cluttered as the seventeen sets of As-Seen-On-TeeVee spatula collections somewhere under the imitation authentic dining table.
I don’t doubt that you are dealing with mental illness if you are living in a house where the water and power has been cut off for years and you’ve been going poo in plastic rubbish bags and tossing them in what used to be the lavatory but what is now a cesspit of human waste, dead animals, and Ginsu knives still in their boxes. I don’t doubt that you deal with mental illness *for one second*. And I sincerely hope you get, and are willing to accept, the help you need.
Mental illness is a cruel sonofabitch. If you get diagnosed with diabetes or MS or tuberculosis, chances are *very* rare that your family members and co-workers and friends are going to say things like “it’s all in your head; buck up little soldier; you’ll feel better soon.” It’s *highly* unlikely that your boss will tell you that your health plan at work which covers the flu will also cover debilitating anxiety or seasonal depression. And even if it does, even if you’re one of the very, very few people fortunate enough to have a comprehensive and progressive health plan that takes into account that you, as an employee, are a human being, and a whole person first, you still have to be the one to stand in front of your employer and say these words:
“I have mental illness. I am bipolar” or “I am shizophrenic” or “I am agoraphobic”.
Those aren’t easy things to say, because once you say those things, you know…or at least you suspect…that no matter what else comes out of your mouth, your words are now suspect. Every single thing you do now is suspect. You have undermined yourself. Because you know that every decision you make is going to be questioned. They’re going to think you’re not capable of logical, reasonable thought because you have admitted to dealing with mental illness. You will never, *ever* be allowed to have a bad day. You will never be allowed to lose your temper. You will never be allowed to be anything other than pleasant, all the time, without having to deal with people peering at you suspiciously and saying things like “she must be off her meds today”.
IT’s a different sort of stigma than being a woman and having to hear “I guess she’s on her rag today”, but it’s related.
Whether you’re “just a woman on her rag” or “some crazy person”, you don’t get to have dissenting views. You don’t get to disagree or express an opposing opinion. You don’t get to be frustrated or sad or angry. Not without nobody taking you seriously. Because once you say those words (“I have mental illness”), that gives everyone else around you permission to completely dismiss what you have to say because you’re “just crazy”.
And sure, there are famous people who’ve suffered from (and in some cases who’ve succumbed to) mental illness. Some are very accomplished people. Some are famous because they were mentally ill. But there are far, far, FAR more people who don’t say a goddamned word because to do so means the rest of their lives comes with even more labels than they already have. And boy, howdy, hiding it makes it *even more difficult* to deal with.
This is TOTALLY not the direction I was taking with this post. I got on to the hoarders thing because I have been submitting pieces to markets for the better part of four months now and I have been collecting rejection slips faster than shore whores collect receipts for syphilis treatments. So I was going to make some comment about how so many hoarders consider themselves collectors and not hoarders so maybe I’m not actually collecting rejection slips; I’m actually hoarding them. Maybe I should share these fuckers with you so that we can spread the misery around some.
But that would be really mean. Cruel.
Thank you, so-and-so, for your submission, but our magazine currently isn’t… We appreciate your submitting to our journal, however, we felt your piece just didn’t… While your submission was entertaining, our editorial team feels it just doesn’t quite match the tone of…
And then I was going to say something about how I really fucking hate rejection and don’t we all and why the hell would I end up in a profession that features rejection as frequently as the medical profession features free posters from drug companies. I have heard all of the platitudes and the morale boosting speeches and I know – I KNOW that I have to keep submitting things because when you fire a shotgun in the air, the chances that you’re going to hit something is pretty good. I don’t want to hear it. I really, REALLY don’t want to hear it.
Yes, you have to develop a thick skin if you seriously want to be a writer. And trust me, I have a thick skin. But just give me this: just give me the right to be supremely pissed off, frustrated, hurt, and completely dejected when journal after journal after journal returns my work with politely-worded notes telling me to kindly fuck off. YES, that IS what they are saying. They are saying, “Fuck off, cenobyte.” If I called those editors up and asked them, “how much would you be willing to spend, if you had all the money in the world, to just be able to tell some of the writers who submit to you to just fuck off?” I am willing to bet that to a single one, they would name a shockingly low number, or even a zero…or even that they would PAY money to be able to say that.
Now pardon me if I don’t particularly give a pigeon’s fart in the middle of Boston that editors (of which I am one) have to reject pieces. That is how this world works. I get that. And as a writer, I am reaching the end of my patience. The polite writer in me is sitting in the goddamned bell tower, but you know full well that I’m never releasing a volley of bullets – or a volley of anything except perhaps some well-used tissues, because after all is said and done, we still need each other.
Yes, I mean the writers, the editors, and the publishers. We still need each other.
Sorry to have distracted you with the mental illness thing. That’s important too. Aren’t you lucky? You got two rants for the price of one.