So I just read this. First, if you're not following Drew on Twitter even just for the giggles, you need to be doing that. But also read his blog, because there is some really good stuff there. And then a few days later WriteWorld posted some really great stuff about othering, to go along with previous great stuff about "writing the other" and if you are not following Drew, you should be, but if you are not following WriteWorld, you are not yet half the writer you could be. Get on that. (though, granted, if you are a writer and you are not following WriteWorld because you are not on Tumblr, then you have more self control than I will ever possess, but I swear, this is not me leading you astray.) And then in response to all of that I wrote this post. And then, because of the aforementioned mental illness, it sat on my dash for a much longer time then I intended it to. Sorry about that. Here it is now, in all it's glory!
As you have undoubtedly seen over the last few weeks, I also suffer from mental illness. I am generally a very high functioning depressive anxiety sufferer. I have a job (FINALLY OMG THREE MONTH JOB SEARCH SUCKED SO MUCH!!!) And when I'm not working I occupy my days with studying and writing, and other busy make-work stuff. I like to do things. This may not seem like it could be true of an anxiety sufferer, but it is, in fact, the reality. I like to move around. I like to have things always coming up. It stops me from believing the crap people say about people with disabilities.
I've written a few times about being a person with a disability, and how that has shaped me as a writer. Also, I have written how difficult it is to write a person with a disability. It's something I've been struggling with for a long while. Most times, my main characters aren't people with disabilities, but I'll have someone with a disability in the background. This part isn't because I'm scared of it being mistaken for me. It's generally because when you put a person with a disability up front and centre, you first have to explain that person, because you have to assume enabled people are going to read your book. You have to explain things they might have to do differently, and then you have to explain all the things that aren't different. And that can sometimes be the harder thing to do.
I have both a visible disability, and an invisible mental illness. So I'm in a bit of a weird position.
It's tough to have a mental illness. It's tough to hear that a person who is generally happy and optimistic can have a mental illness like depression, and understand that it isn't about positive thinking. But in the last seven months, the tough part of my mental illness has been the really depressing stuff that I'm not actually wrong about. It's having to separate the feeling that I don't deserve to be stuck on the system, that I should have been able to get my education, that people who love me the most are the people who have been lying to me my whole life about what they think I'm capable of, with the fear that it's always going to be this way, there's nothing I can do about it, and I probably should have died as a baby like all the doctors thought would be best. (Yes. That happened. Depression sucks, you guys.)
Recently, I had a discussion with someone. She is a friend of mine, who has read my work before. She mentioned, in the pseudo-casual way, why I always put people with disabilities in the background of my story. I explained my reticence to put them in the foreground, and that I was sort of trying to work my way out of that. She said "No. That's not what I meant. I mean, you always write them in. I'm just thinking it might be distracting just to have them there, when you don't talk about it."
"Well, that's sort of the point. I don't think about the actual diagnosis. It doesn't matter, it's not part of the story."
"Well, isn't that a bit too political? People aren't going to want to read it, like that. You can't just have them in there for no reason."
Here's the thing: I grew up with people with disabilities. That is one half of the world I was straddling. Those are my friends. I put people with disabilities in the background of the story, because mine has been the background of my life. I'm lucky. It doesn't consume everything I do, except when it does, except when it's supposed to. Because yes, at summer camp we would occasionally talk about symptoms and diagnosis, but mostly we talked about boys, and clothes, and school subjects and horrible teachers, and bands we liked. And yet every single one of us were aware that two weeks a year was the most normal we could squeeze into our lives, and we were supposed to pretend we didn't know that.
When my depression and anxiety is at it's absolute best, I still have to be afraid what people see and don't see. Because I am physically weaker than almost everyone I know, including my sister, who is 3 inches shorter than I am, my friends, who forget because they "don't see me like that." and my ten year old nephew, who doesn't understand when I don't roughhouse with him. I have to be aware of those things, because everyone else doesn't want to know, so I have to cover it up. Just like have to be aware that the whole world thinks my life is depressing, even when my depression is so bad it's the worse of the two conditions. I have to remind people there are good things about being born like this even on the days when I can't get out of bed long enough to eat.
Nobody wants to know that I actually don't mind being disabled, that my legs don't hurt as much as they used to, that I've been able to travel on my own, that I do things on my own because that's how I like doing them, not in some bid for "independence". They don't want to know about my friends who've got married, or had kids, or have jobs a hell of a lot better than the one currently tiding me over. Because they don't want to know that this is not the problem. I went for years without a diagnosis, because it seemed pretty obvious why a kid with a disability might be sad. Sometimes, that was used as the excuse to bully me, "well, there's not a lot we can do. She's different from the other kids."
I write people in the background with disabilities because they're in the background of my life, but also because they're in the background of yours. Because I know you don't want to look at us, and I deal with that knowledge every day, and you know what? It sucks, and I'd rather not have to hate you for it, because there are still more of you then there are of us, and I am not that misanthropic, not yet. I put us out there because I don't care what you want to know anymore. I put it out there because I still can't put it all up front, I'm not ready for that, you're not ready for that, and this is what I can do.
It's not my fault if I'm a political issue instead of a person. And I don't care- no, I hope- that makes somebody uncomfortable, somewhere. I think it's someone else's turn to be an uncomfortable reality. I dare you to write me one person with a disability who's just there because we are. Don't make excuses. I have to write people I don't identify with every day. Try it. You have no idea how needed it is.
But I do.