I’m sitting right here – discussion of mental illness at Nethui

Nethui launched with a bit of brouhaha around a couple of jokes from the MC, lawyer and standup comedian James Elliott. A couple of his opening jokes – designed to loosen things up – were of questionable taste; one naïvely implying that the vast amount pornography on the internet was “pictures of naked women”(1) and the other faux-mistaking Vikram Kumar for a Bollywood film maker of the same name.

I responded to the brouhaha, suggesting that the MC was a distraction and not to let upset over his faux pas get in the way of the real business. I had to clarify that I wasn’t saying “let’s support gendered and racial speech”, and I now feel a need to explain what I was really getting at.

The real discourse happens after the MC stops joking. The real discourse is made by the session conveners, and the participants, particularly those who are viewed as experts.

Here are some snippets of phrases I heard variously from people conducting sessions, and personages of importance contributing:

“People who are mentally ill…”

“People who are mentally ill are…”

“You’ve got to be mentally ill to…”

When someone spoke to demean women, there was an uproar.

When someone made light of race, there was an uproar.

If someone had been foolish enough to make generalisations about the capabilities, limitations, features and characteristics of blind people, wheelchair-using people, deaf people, any kind of differently-abled person, of non-normative sexual and gender selves – there would have been an uproar.

The term “mental illness” came up a number of times in the context of the “trolling” discussion, for example. It seems that anytime someone is behaving antisocially, they must have a mental illness. Now, I’m not here to justify antisocial behaviour – there are some interesting works which explore the social constructions we put around “antisocial”, and the differing constructions we create when we wish to make use of antisocial behaviour for societal ends.

I didn’t make an uproar. Other people I know for a fact manage mental illness as part of their lives didn’t make an uproar. In my case, the “forever angry and unwell” Sean discussed matters with the “healed and well” Sean, and we agreed my (to reunite my two halves, as I must do every day to function(2)) planned outcomes from attending Nethui might be disrupted if I started laying into people who so casually prodded my deepest pain. Why? Because every time I expend emotional energy, I have to factor in the risk that I am misperceiving matters, and that my efforts to address a problem I see will make things worse. That it’s not going to change things anyway.

I want to make an uproar now. I’ve spent the last few days increasingly triggered, and I suspect there’s more to come if I maintain silence.

I’m here to say – you’re tarring a lot of good people with the same brush. That’s right – I’m not blasting anyone. My anger, as always, is my own. I’m going to speak, and hope some people listen. I’ll stick with the troll example.

Some people with mental illness troll.

Some people with mental illness experience frustration, bewilderment and an inability to understand the rules that govern interpersonal connection.

Some people with mental illness express frustration through attention-seeking antisocial behaviours at some times.

Some people with mental illness act to seek attention in online communities. In some ways, longlasting online communities are function as economies of attention, and sometimes some people with mental illness use the wrong strategies. What does that say about the other trolls – who don’t wrestle constantly with demons, who are simply choosing to seek amusement? Much easier to blame the loonies.(3)

We are not some people. We are your family, colleagues, and friends. We grit our teeth while people construct a world in which all of the otherness is laid at our doorsteps. How are we to reach out to you when you dismiss us in a way isn’t allowed for any other group in society? Can’t we come inside the PC circle, at long last? Can’t you see I’ve got a headful of bad wiring, and I’m still a good, caring and compassionate person? I know some sane, or at least stable, people who are real pricks.

Most of us mentals(3) don’t bother speaking up, because it’s too hard.

Most of us feel like we’ve failed before we open our mouths, or put hands to keyboards.

Most of us are trying to connect, however badly. Some are doing so pretty well, thank you.

I’m sitting right here. I’m next to you, wishing to work with you. Don’t say we need to stop talking about access and start talking about inclusion when you’re still leaving me out.

(1) Pornography would be vastly less problematic in some ways were this so.

(2) As Paul Simon said: “From what I can see of the people like me/We get better/But we never get well”.

(3) I will take these words back, and I’ll use it any time you want. Don’t you dare.


About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Personal including infoculture, book reviews: http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Music: http://seanfishmusic.wordpress.com/ Last.fm band page: http://www.last.fm/music/Seanfish @seanfish

9 Responses to I’m sitting right here – discussion of mental illness at Nethui

  1. Penny says:

    Great blog Sean 🙂 I need to be more vocal in this too…

  2. Lance Wiggs says:

    I didn’t hear any of these – but the point is very well taken.

    I spent the morning at Attitude TV – an inspiring organsiation. One thing mentioned was that it takes a lot of time and immersion to understand each community of people living with disabilities. Each community has a language to use and certain trigger words not to use, which are sometimes unknown to the general public.

    I encourage you to continue be active in letting people know when these occur – a timely tweet or a word in a presenter’s ear can be highly effective way of letting them know the language or behaviour is unacceptable. In my case an interjection, series of tweets, blog post and conversation with the MC were all methods used to address the situation.

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Hi Lance,

      I had a bit of a private blow-up about this, as you know from an email sent last night. I don’t at this point wish to post it in public, but I respect your right to choose to do so.

      I really do appreciate your intention, but at the same time I feel patronised by some of the assumptions made in your response. Again, I know this wasn’t your intention, and I own my trigger points.

      You’re right, there were a number of ways I could have responded. I chose not to at the time, as I was being paid to represent other communities. I did choose to do so here in my private persona, and was rightly pleased with the response.

      I also applied for a membership of InternetNZ at the conference (which other than my frustrations above I found largely excellent), so I am definitely interested in contributing positively and proactively from an informed viewpoint, if such is possible.


  3. James Hancox says:

    Fantastic! Another way is to own it, like “The Nutters Club” does. No excuse for the context of its use in this arena though.

  4. librarykris says:

    Thanks for writing this. I have been guilty of lazily using (all sorts of) language without thinking through the (potential) consequences. I hope that we have the kind of relationship where you could point it out to me and then have the patience to wait while I try and understand. I understand the reluctance to speak out at the time – good on you for writing it up once you’ve had time to think about it.
    Pretty much everything else I want to say in reply (about society and the way [some] people behave) seems pretty obvious, so I’ll finish with a tautoko to your comment ‘some people with mental illness’ / is not ‘all people with mental illness’.

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      I think we’re all guilty of using language we shouldn’t – myself included. We definitely have the kind of relationship where you’d hear about any objections, believe me, and I’ve always got patience for my friends.

      I think my learning around this is that I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like the lone voice in the wilderness – feeling like if I have something to say I have to step out. I’m finding that letting people speak with me is where my journey is taking me next, so your tautoko is not only welcomed but essential.

      Kia ora, e hoa.

  5. Pingback: Helping 101: Find the person, don’t talk to the symptom « Discourse Analysis Overdose

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