In the aftermath of the whole Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor social media exchange, I was reminded of an embarrassing moment of my own earlier in the week. I’ve been volunteering for school newspapers on campus, but because I am the definition of an introvert, I find it extremely challenging to initiate conversations with people I don’t know. Hence, my anxiety for interviewing people.
I attended a forum held by the Political Science Department at U of T last week. It was my job to take notes and talk to a few students about it, then write an article. I had no problems with the note-taking, but talking to other students was a daunting task. I began stammering through my introductions, and could feel my face getting red as I was struggling to properly articulate myself. Needless to say, it was embarrassing. Afterwards when I was home writing the article I continued to beat myself up for being too jumpy and socially awkward to get some of the proper information to be able to use my quotes–like students’ last names and course programs–and wondered what people must have thought of me, being too scared to start a simple conversation. Even though I gave myself a break and realized that I will do better next time considering that I’ve now had some experience, I was still frustrated by my own mental block, and momentarily with the type of person I was. My nervousness couldn’t be helped, and as a result I briefly felt powerless and not in control of my mind and body.
It’s human to lack control at times. I think we all go through these struggles and mainly because of the embarrassment that goes along with it. I think mental illness is also apart of that, only people view it as a more permanent aspect of a person’s life and personality. The funny thing with mental illness is that we are so accustomed to demonizing people who have legitimate problems with facets of their brains, and most people don’t even realize that it’s a physical problem, much less a temporary one in some cases. Not to compare my social awkwardness to mental illness, but I think it’s comparable in the sense that both can be temporary and pass with time and effort to heal/fix the problem. People will eventually forget how awkward I was; larger displays of social problems and mental illness, however, carry a more permanent stigma despite not being a permanent problem in most cases.
Last year I read about a process called “sanism” in describing the oppressive frameworks sometimes found in social work and the world of psychiatry. I believe it relates to the overall ways in which we view people who suffer from mental illness: an unresolvable craziness that is solely the fault of the person who is not in the right state of mind, ignorant of all other events that have led to it, and moreover an unshakeable reflection of who that person is and always will be. Particularly, “Tranquil Prisons” discusses madness as an alternative way of knowing, proposing this view replace such harmful language as “delusional” and “crazy”, and even that we begin to deviate from our conceptions of mental illness as neatly packaged and categorical diseases. Indeed, the professor in my mental health course last year even noted the inherent problems in categorizing and diagnosing mental illness, solely for the fact that people are complex and problems vary. We cannot concretely decipher and determine which problems are “normal” and which are not.
I think we saw this play out perfectly with Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes. We need to keep in mind that we view these dichotomies of “normal” and “crazy” are heavily laced in social terms. For instance, the “descents into madness” for both of these young women were not only associated with their sexual maturation into adult women, but also their failure to remain sexy. Both shave their hair off so it is implied that they are crazy for wanting to shed part of their femininity, and they both distance themselves from their once-innocent and wholesome good girl images to dressing provocatively and making people uncomfortable with their transformations. The fact that they are crossing social lines makes them crazy, and thus a spectacle, entertainment.
This whole Miley Cyrus thing is striking the same chord for me. I’m not saying I think she’s crazy, but I believe that to some extent she is uncomfortable with the criticism that is coming from her attempt to re-brand as a sexually mature adult. To some extent she is embarrassed by people’s inferences about her mental state and internalization of her own image. While some parts of Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley were overdramatic and accusatory, I feel like it’s important for people to speak out and voice a concern when they see one. What is not acceptable is to reference another person’s unfortunate public meltdown and compare it to another person in an attempt to discredit them. Unfortunately what Miley did, comparing Sinead to Amanda Bynes and using her Twitter meltdown to mock her, was not really out of the ordinary. I think that in order to make ourselves feel normal, we use others’ temporary lack of control as a way of normalizing our own poor behavior and deflecting from looking inside ourselves.
October is mental health awareness month and I feel like it’s important that we begin to re-assess what we define as normal, and begin to realize that mental health is a spectrum that is comparable to our physical health. Just as we take care of our bodies and may have some problem areas, we can learn to nurture our health needs. The same goes for our minds, and one of the first steps to doing this is to redefine mental illness and become aware of the fact that anyone is susceptible to a breakdown of sorts, and it is not okay to mock somebody at their most vulnerable. Just like some physical ailments can be healed with time and care, so can mental issues.