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.


#blogjune 27-30: Coming Out Mental

This ended up a combined post, because I knew I wanted to write on this topic, but I needed to think about what I wanted to say first, and that wasn’t going to happen while I spent chunks of pondering time .

I’d like to start by giving my thanks to the LGBT world for giving me a mechanism to describe the process at hand. “Out” is a process rather than an end point and though I’m taking the step of talking directly on the matter here (rather than discussing symptoms such as insomnia) this is far from the first .

My performance persona, seanfish, is very much at times a celebration of my illness, whether I’m acting loopy to make small children laugh or howling angst at an adult audience.

I’ve contributed to the New Zealand book “Caught Between Sunshine and Shadow“, in which ordinary people who manage their bipolar* disorder and  live meaningful and dignified lives share their journey with the hope of lending courage to others. To any library colleagues reading this: The literature is almost without exception written by clinicians, and while many of those titles are excellent resources a key element of long-term wellbeing is the ability to move on from a sense of isolation. If you check your collection and find that you have an 80/20 imbalance of clinical to personal narrative titles, please consider adding this to your collection. I received no money for my contribution, and the editor Georgie Tutt is willing to provide the title to public libraries in New Zealand at cost if it means people in need get access to this kind of resource.

It has been years since I worked for a manager or team leader who I did not make aware I had a history of mental illness. This provoked a lot of fear for me initially, however now I wouldn’t imagine working any other way.

In personal conversations and relationships I will mention the matter as it naturally arises, although I’m generally not interested in pursuing the subject at length unless the other person has their own equivalent journey to share.

Most of the time responses are appropriate. I recently had coffee-and-desert with a pair of my fellow diligentroomers and their respective spouses (you can see Penny’s husband Rod’s excellent photography at his site, Michael’s other half prefers to be anonymous online but I can vouch for her as she is a fellow ex-children’s librarian). I’ve known Penny and Rod for years, and it was the first time Michael and I have met. During the initial phase, I was trying to recall when I’d last seen Penny, only to be reminded it was in a hospital shortly after the birth of her first child, a meeting I have no recollection of. Fortunately Penny reminded me that I mentioned having difficulties with my medication at the time. My response was to say to Michael and his other half, “Oh by the way, I suffer from mental illness”. We giggled, shrugged, then moved on to continue the greetings and introductions.

Sometimes this results in disappointment. I played at a gig organised by one of my small town’s local musical leaders. At that time I using my music to explain the different experiences my illness can give me. The organiser came up to me after I played and said, “Wow, your songs are so varied in tone, are you bipolar or something?”. When I responded with the obvious “Yes,” his jaw dropped and he simply walked away.

Events like that bring out a dual feeling in me. On the one hand, I’m completely unsurprised. I’m very comfortable with talking about my illness in casual conversation, and I’m used to occasionally seeing similar – and sometimes more negative – reactions. In the times where the other person has found the courage to address their issues – much preferable to those who try to make it all my issue – I’ve found they either (a) themselves suffer from a disorder they are afraid to talk about, or (b) have had someone who suffered from a mental disorder in their life who caused them some personal distress. Having experienced both situations (a) and (b) I am completely able to empathise.

Owning one’s illness is a long series of steps, and this post represents another such step. I am in the first stages of planning a small speaking engagement to promote the book with Georgie and have also had initial discussions around presenting on mental illness to a library profession audience.

My life isn’t perfect and some days are harder than others, but even on the hardest of days I’ve developed an awareness that those struggles are temporary. Because of my choices around openness, I’ve heard from a lot of my fellow information professionals who sometimes struggle and are afraid to share. I’m here to say – you don’t have to share with everybody, but your working life will be better if you take a small risk and choose at least one person who you already get on well with who you can talk to them on a hard day.

*My set of swings and roundabouts has the mood characteristics of bipolar disorder (much improved since medication) with a type of social anxiety (much improved since therapy – about four years ago I had the exciting experience of being able to go shopping without having a panic attack) that a friend recently suggested to be related to OCD. As I spent my entire childhood avoiding stepping on cracks, making sure I put an alternate foot first over each such crack and working through a roughly 30-minute pattern on my fingers based on scales and arpeggios, I think she may have a point.

#blogjune 17: Selling the good life in the digital world

Today, having cleared other obligations, I spent the afternoon working in with (for) my dear wife in Helensville Library. I ran the front of house while she and her team cleared up a few tasks, a pleasurable exchange for all.

It was the late night, so I was out back having a bite to eat and a coffee when Sally asked me to talk to a gentleman about our ebooks.

The conversation centred around whether our ebook collection would be usable on his soon-to-arrive Kindle. The short answer, according to our support pages is no. Kindle does not provide support for ePUB documents.

The longer answer is yes, so long as one changes the filetype, thereby stripping the DRM from the file. This was a statement I was not going to make to the gentleman. Safe? If only it were that easy.

Taking the high road, I guided him to our support pages and discussed with him the range of platforms he could use Adobe Editions to manage his borrowed eBooks on. His response:

“Yeah, but I can convert anything to anything.”

He’s right, of course. There are single-purpose websites available for almost any format conversion desired. I’ve used them to tinker with my backing tracks for performance when needing to do quick work on a machine that doesn’t have a music editing suite installed.

I have a response for moments like these. I allowed for the existence of such tools, but asked that the gentleman not to tell me if he chose to use them to circumvent our licensing agreements. When he countered suggesting he could simply use another type of site to download the item directly (I won’t mention the method, but suffice to say it’s not the P2P we’re all supposed to be concerned about) all I could do was raise my eyebrows and smile innocuously, an expression few believe however often I practice it.

We talked some more, and by the end of the conversation I understood he was enthusiastic to use our service so that he could do his eReading ethically and as close to legally as possible. He wished to borrow from us and delete the item at or before the due date, rather than use a possibly more convient pirate source, so that his use of the rights could be correctly reported.

I don’t know if we’ll ever have a set of universally-adopted, standardised file formats. Given that, “close to legal” is an interesting, and perhaps useful, construct although I do not advocate shifting file formats illegally. Over in the Diligent Room I use road speed limits as an analogy; some, in fact, get annoyed at  people who do drive at fifty in a fifty kilometres per hour zone. To drive legally can to disturb the flow of traffic, which is in fact a crime. Just try driving at 30 on the motorway. Is downloading legally disturbing to the flow of information?

I’m put in mind of Aristotle’s good life. We can either identify my customer as a would-be pirate, or as in a very real way opting to make his digital reading a more complicated affair for an ethical reason.

If we decide that the glass is half full here, I think we can refocus our conversation away from breaches and towards the opportunities that selling an ethical digital life affords us. With the eyes of the nation looking at a new law and wondering which of their behaviours will put them on the wrong side we’d be crazy to do otherwise.

#blogjune 16: Lightning post: On the creative use of insomnia, with a tip of the nib to @hodgman

I’m feeling ripped off. I head a productive and enjoyable day, a healthy walk at luncthimes, good conversations throughout, modest meals but enjoyable meals and my last coffee at 12pm.

I still can’t sleep. Still, I did have excellent sleep the rest of the week. Improvement is improvement, which makes my second deliberate tautology in a learning situation to day. You gets the cheap laffs where you can.

Experiment: Tomorrow night I shan’t join Sal if she wants to watch Criminal Minds.

Also: I’m going to use the excess mental energy from my insomnia to write raps, then sleep the sleep of the pious. After that it’s Friday, Friday and then I’ll be singing the Weekend Song (C) me and my homeslice.


Protected: A tale of woe

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The Mangawhai Hate Crime: Social justice and the art of car maintenance

It’s been a funny week.

It started with a call from Lee, my mechanic. My routine service-and-WOF had discoverd a pricey set of faults to fix. As it happens I have inherited a small bequest from a relative who passed on last year, which more or less exactly matched the amount needed. This is how the universe works it seems.

Tuesday I got an email from the victim of a hate crime in a small town not too far from where I live. (You can read my email and their response below)

It seems someone identified two people living a life together and running a business as targets for arson, sundry vandalism and menacing behaviour. The business is bulb-based and so works around an annual cycle that has now been disrupted. Effectively these people have cut off the couple’s livelihood for a year, as well as depriving them of their safety and security.

So what caused this hate? They are of the same gender. Truly this dumbfounded and outraged me.

I remember being a teenager when the homosexual law reform bill was being debated. I recall being appalled at the obscene descriptions given by those in opposition, and my family. We were liberal-ish, but not particularly radical and that was the point. Middle New Zealand was ready for a change, and the failure of the petition and success of the bill reflected that. That bill was enacted a quarter of century ago.

Today I spent remembering the things I wanted to spend my windfall on and feeling foul. I’d pondered spending the remainder on taking Sally out for a nice dinner (it’s our anniversary soon) but what won out was this:

I’ve decided to donate what’s left (with a small top up from Sal) to Juliet Leigh and Lindsay Curnow so that their business, Blooming Bulbs can bulblike nestle underground for a while and regrow in a year’s time in spite of the actions of a few idiots. I’ll forget the nicest dinner, but I suspect not this. I’ll get something special to remember my grandmother by.

If you’ve got a little spare floating around, why not do the same. Donations can either be made direct to their account: ASB 12 3064 0216613 00 (please ensure you refer to Blooming Bulbs when you transfer) or via the Gay Auckland Business Association charitable trust.

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