Stop Capitalizing On My Mental Illness
In this blog post, I depart from my typical political ravings, ethical dilemmas and social commentary, opting to instead highlight a topic that is even more personal to me.
Fuck the self-care movement. Honestly.
The self-care movement is the latest capitalist-venture-turned-activist-movement-turned-trend-turned-shitstorm that utilizes a kind of phrase that's difficult to dispute until one takes a closer look at the deepest motives that may lie at the heart of said movement. The very idea of "taking care of yourself" seems to be pretty innocent; I mean, would anyone advocate for not taking care of oneself? It's a little more nuanced than that, though. The name recalls self-care practices such as yoga and meditation, reading, relaxing, unwinding with physical activity and similar, sappy nonsense that's supposed to cure even the most plagued depression-cases.
Here's the thing: that's utter bullshit.
This self-care movement has been met with an equally strong opposition (of which I am a part), citing recent articles in Vice and the New York Times and in reference to several recently published books (including Svend Brinkmann's Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life , Sarah Knight's The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do and many others, most accompanied by expletive-laden titles). There seems to be a common thread throughout most of these writings and among those of us that share similar thoughts: life can suck, so don't waste it getting caught up on trivial, subjective matters such as happiness and success.
And no, I completely reject the person that says that "sometimes those little things can make a day so much better." That's bullshit. Introduce me to the person whose depression can be diminished because a check-out lady smiled at him or her or because that person ate a piece of cake and I'll show you someone who's full of shit.
At the root of this entire movement are the commercialization and monetization of people's sufferings and illnesses. Self-help and self-improvement books cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year and ultimately result in zero of either. According to a recent analysis of the self-improvement market by Marketdata Enterprises, a Tampa market research company, around $549 million a year is spent on self-help books in America. That's hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of promise-makers and marketers that sell words on a page to a market segment that wouldn't even exist if people weren't suffering from mental illness, poor body image, anxiety and so on.
Perhaps just as bad as the profiteers are the socialites who treat mental illness like it's some fucking trend that's sexy to be a part of and advocate for. All over social media, you'll see actors and actresses, young millennials, politicians, PR and marketing professionals, nonprofit workers and many others all advocating for the silent sufferers, those that are marginalized in society because of their having a mental illness. In the spirit of optimism, I'm sure many of those people are genuine in their concern. And for those that aren't, that's a special kind of evil to be advocating for people with mental illness in order to appear relevant, woke and sensitive. But beyond the genuine nature of what is being said, rarely do people actually look at the effectiveness of what it is they're advocating for.
Go ahead, don a bracelet that says "You matter." I'll be sure to remember that next time I go binge drinking to cope with my anxiety. Go ahead, start a little club that raises awareness of the signs of mental illness. I'm sure that'll make the nut-case think twice next time he or she is standing on the edge of a bridge. Go ahead, tweet about how important it is to help those in need of treatment for their mental illness. I'm sure that'll give those people the boost they need once they come down from the drug high that carries them through their day.
"Call your family." "Bake some cupcakes for yourself and your neighbors." "Read a book." "Take a bath." "Listen to music that reminds you of past times." "Take a nap." "Do some meditating." "Buy this candle or this essential oil." "Take some time to self-reflect." "Force yourself to go socialize." "Drink some tea or coffee." "Celebrate the small victories." "Reflect on the struggles of the many people who have come before you and the current sufferings of other people around the world." "Get a makeover." "Exercise." "Donate money to or volunteer at a charity."
Fuck that. Ya know, sometimes we can't all bring ourselves to bake cupcakes because we know that that won't change a damn thing. Sometimes we can't force ourselves to interact with other people because social pressures give us more anxiety than anything else. Sometimes we get panic attacks when we plan too far ahead, drink too much caffeine, nap too often, nap too little, celebrate small victories when we're desperate for a bigger one, and worry about our weight and body image. Sometimes we can't bring ourselves to ponder the struggles of other people because then we think even less of our own problems, feel even weaker and grow less likely to seek out much-needed help.
There is a seriously fucked-up expectation that people with mental illness should be able to take a fucking bath to feel better. And it's equally fucked up that mental illness is a topic that is sexier than ever and there are more people willing to talk about it than ever, yet people still think wearing a bracelet or tweeting is enough to radically change a person's life. Maybe I'm bitter to demean all the "work" that some people have invested into dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health. Sure, some lives have been saved by seeing "You matter." tweets and bracelets. I see stuff like that every now and then on Tumblr, testimonies of how the slightest offerings of hope were all it took to stop that person from taking their own life. And for that person, that's fantastic. But millions of other suicides won't be stopped by a posterboard in a common area.
In his book, Brinkmann writes, "Our secular age is shot through with fundamental existential uncertainty and angst, and this makes it difficult to stand firm." He's so right. So maybe, rather than the tweeting and T-shirt making and fucking meditating, we should actually put an ounce of work into reaching out to the next vulnerable person. Don't make a blanket statement, don't put up a flyer, don't wear a bracelet, don't tweet to the millions of people on Twitter. Go find this person. Roughly one in every five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness. A recent study even suggests that only 17 percent of Americans claim to have never felt symptoms of mental illness at some point. Think of all the people you interact with on a daily basis and do the math. Now be more intentional than a fucking tweet and go save a life.