Content/trigger warning: discussion of saneism
Let’s talk about what it doesn’t mean to normalize mental illness. Or rather, let’s talk about one thing I see from neurotypicals that seems aimed at normalizing mental illness, or at least familiarizing themselves with mental illness, but is actually misguided and neurotypicalist.
This is going to be a short entry because I can only keep up unbridled rage and disgust for so long.
I am so fucking fucking sick of neurotypicals* saying they are “a little [psychiatric or neurological disability]” in reference to one trait or mindset.
You might be saying: Sheesh, Mara. Isn’t that an overreaction? No. Not to me. Because it is a sign of an underlying issue: neurotypicalism due to the lack of understanding of psychiatric and neurological disabilities. Yes, mental illnesses are constellations of traits, and some people without the illnesses can have those traits. The same is true for neurodevelopmental disabilities like ADHD and autism. However, a mental illness is an ILLNESS, not a name for one trait or mood. A neurodevelopmental disability is a DISABILITY, not a descriptor for being awkward or flighty. No one says “I’m feeling a little pneumonia-ish”; they either have pneumonia or they don’t. So why do neurodivergent conditions get the “I’m a little [blank]” treatment?
Because, again, neurotypicals don’t understand. Specifically, they don’t understand the difference between variations in experiences among those with neurodivergent conditions and the fact that ND and NT people can share traits. Worse, NTs think of these traits in themselves—perfectionism (“I’m a little OCD”), flightiness (“I’m a little ADHD”), social awkwardness (“I’m a little Autistic”)—and they often think of how they can deal with those traits or how they can be trained out of those traits to the degree that they don’t cause serious difficulty. This is not the case for neurodivergent people. Oh, neurodivergent people can learn coping mechanisms. We can recover from some disorders and lessen our symptoms of other disorders. But we wouldn’t be ill or disabled if we didn’t have serious negative impacts on our lives either from our brains malfunctioning or society not being set up to accommodate us. (I specifically mention the latter because I don’t suffer from autism, I suffer from allistics and allistic society.)
Oh, and there are also the people who think being mentally ill is cute and quirky, which is why they refer to themselves as using saneist slurs or as having certain mental illnesses. This is so beyond the realm of making sense to me that I have nothing more to say about besides the fact that these people clearly also don’t understand mental illness. There are probably also people who think having certain neurodevelopmental disabilities is cute or quirky too—I’ve seen “lol I’m so ADD” way too many times—and that similarly befuddles me. Just. Just stop, people. (I think this is fetishization, which is not entirely the same as believing oneself to be “a little [ND condition]”, but it’s similar enough that I wanted to bring it up. I will probably tackle fetishization of mental illness in depth some other time, if I can summon any thoughts on the topic beyond incoherent keyboard-smashing.)
So why it so insulting for a neurotypical to say things like “I’m a little schizophrenic” or, worse, “I’m a little cr*zy”? Because like I mentioned, being neurodivergent comes with suffering. This suffering may come exclusively or almost exclusively from being marginalized by society—as a proud Autistic person, I could never say that being neurodivergent in and of itself causes suffering—or it may come from our brains doing horrible things that have a profound negative effect on our lives. Saying you’re “a little” neurodivergent is saying that you have experience with being neurodivergent, thereby appropriating how we live with society’s boot on our necks and are thrown under the proverbial bus even by progressives. It is not only appropriating our suffering from neurotypicalism, but our difficulties existing with our disabilities. If you’re “a little PTSD” after seeing a terrible film, will you have flashbacks that reduce you to a shaking, weeping wreck when you’re reminded of the film? If you’re “a little Autistic” because you’re not particularly socially adept, will you be unable to accomplish anything for the rest of the day after a difficult social interaction? (Not that all PTSD sufferers have murderous flashbacks or all Autistic people have no spoons after a difficult social situation, but I’m trying to make a point here: ND people have experiences that NTs do not.)
So when an allistic who is a little shy says they’re “a little Autistic” or a neurotypical who had an unpleasant experience says they’re “a little PTSD”, how my reaction be anything but “How dare you”?
The Carrie Fisher quote of the day has to do with how damn hard it can be to function while neurodivergent. This quote is specifically about bipolar disorder, but I think she would be okay with some of us other ND people taking inspiration from it too: “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
*I am not referring to ND people with internalized neurotypicalism who say they’re “a little [condition]” as part of their path to accepting who they are. I’m referring to neurotypicals who think it’s completely acceptable to describe themselves as “a little [condition]”.