“You’re so strong!” Um…okay…

Content/TW: sex mention, death mention, discussion of inspiration porn, cursing

On the surface, it seems a bit weird to be discussing this topic on an anti-stigma blog, because it’s about NTs actually having what they think is a positive outlook on mental illness. But at the root of stigma is NTs seeing mentally ill people as Other, not like them, not entirely human, etc. And inspiration porn? Yeah, that’s seeing mentally ill people as Other.

You may be asking: Mara, what the hell is inspiration porn? My girlfriend says (half-jokingly) that that phrase inspires her to have sex with me. (I did mention I’m a lesbian, right? I think so. If I didn’t, yeah, I’m gay. I was also, like. Next-level gay for Carrie.) Anyway, what is inspiration porn? Inspiration porn, as coined by disabled activist Stella Young (RIP), is the phrase for what happens when people who are privileged by their ability level feel “inspired” by something a disabled person does because they’re doing a thing while being disabled, oh my fucking god, would you look at that!?. That isn’t the only kind of inspiration porn, though; sometimes it takes the form of a disabled person being treated decently and the abled person being decent is canonized. An example that absolutely made my Autistic blood boil occurred recently when this basketball player sat with an Autistic boy at lunch because the boy was sitting alone. (When I sit alone, I usually want it that way. Leave me be, allistics. And maybe ask the person sitting alone if they want company?) Allistic people fell all over each other awww-ing over this crap. They saw what they perceived as a famous person treating an Autistic boy more nicely than the boy’s peers did, i.e., like a human being. I, personally, think that we Auties should be treated as humans all the time.

So what’s wrong with inspiration porn? The fact that disabled people do not exist to ~inspire abled people. When abled people coo over disabled people existing while disabled, it’s Othering as hell. (If I wasn’t clear in the first paragraph about what it means to “Other” someone, it means to treat them as Not Like You in a big kind of way, often in a way that paints the Other as subhuman.) We’re just trying to live our lives. And now I’m going to bring this back to the idea of strength, because a common form of inspiration porn is mentally healthy people calling mentally ill people “strong” just for existing. And we’re sick of it.

Remember when I said that NT definitions of “strength” when it comes to mental illness are “garbage”? I stand by that. Unfortunately, I forgot to talk about the garbage definition that is “you’re so strong for dealing with mental illness every second of your life!!!1!!111!!!one!!”. UGH. I’m strong because I have done martial arts for much of my life and like weightlifting, Dave*, not because I’m mentally ill. It’s hard for me to articulate why this attitude pisses me off so much. Because as I mentioned in my last entry, some MI people do derive strength from how much our brains have put us through, and the fact that we survived it. But then again, some of us don’t survive it. Others are so damn tired of being “strong” and long to exist without struggling constantly. Many hate being reminded that we’re “strong” because we know we have no other choice, but NTs seem to think we do. I guess the “you’re so strong” attitude makes my skin crawl because the NTs who ascribe to it are sort of…acting like mentally ill people are here for them to judge and consume. And that’s creepy to me. It involves a mental chasm or fence that NTs are placing between them and us, sort of like we’re animals in a zoo. When an NT tells me that I’m “so strong” because my neurotransmitters like to misbehave, I feel like I’m a tiger in a cage being gawked at. And I want to unsheathe my giant claws.

The “you’re so strong” narrative is also really patronizing. Remember that mental chasm I mentioned that NTs are placing between themselves and mentally ill people when they ascribe to that narrative? That chasm often makes me feel as if I’m on one side, feeling small and childlike (and pissed), while the NT reaches over to pat me on the head. It’s infantilizing. It places NTs in a position to be the one judging because they’re NT. Not being mentally ill gives them the authority to judge. Even though the trait these NTs are ascribing to us is supposedly good, the reason they are making that judgment is rooted in Othering us. I might go so far as to say the “you’re so strong” narrative is dehumanizing, turning mentally ill people into a feel-good movie for their consumption. Ew.

While some NTs genuinely (and foolishly) think they’re helping when they call a MI person “strong”, I have also noticed that there’s also a self-congratulatory element that I have noticed inherent in NTs invoking the “you’re so strong” narrative. When they croon “you’re so strong for dealing with your mental illness”, they picture themselves canonized for being what they think is nice and supportive; they see themselves as the basketball player who decided to join an Autistic boy for lunch. They think of how the basketball player was praised, not of how he didn’t ask the boy if he even wanted company. And they pat themselves on the back for what is really an act of Othering. They haven’t thought about the implications of the word “strong” when applied to mental illness (as I blathered about in my last entry), because in order to think about how another person might react to something, you have to first see them as a person. It’s inconvenient for an NT to consider someone a person when their goal is to use that Poor Widdow Mentally Ill Soul to make themselves feel good.

So, yeah, the “you’re so strong for dealing with your mental illness” crap is inspiration porn, it’s saneist, and it’s gross. On the surface, it might seem positive, but the idea of “strength” when it comes to mental illness is incredibly complicated. Not to mention that the fact that NTs feel like they get to make that call about us being “strong” is coming from a messed-up place of willful ignorance, smugness, privilege, and just…ugh. It’s messed up, okay? If you’re NT and call a mentally ill person “strong”, you had better be agreeing with them when they call themselves such, doing so with their permission because they’ve told you it helps, or referring to how much they bench. Want to actually help mentally ill people? That’s another entry for another day, and it’s one that I really hope many NTs will read.

Carrie quote of the day: “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls.” Well said, Carrie.


* “Dave” is an all-purpose name for some saneist dipwad and is not a reference to a real person.

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