When the fated article by Amanda Lauren about her mentally ill friend who had “nothing to live for” was published by xoJane, I wrote about my schizophrenia, and how Amanda Lauren and xoJane couldn’t be more wrong, how, actually, yes, I do have something to live for. About 24 hours later, xoJane took the article down and replaced it with an apology that the majority of the mental health community (see the comments) felt was half-assed and a day late, a dollar short, if you will.
Though I hadn’t written for them (yet), I was in the xoJane contributor network at the time. After learning that xoJane was owned by TIME, I reached out to their editor to politely request that I be removed from that network. I received a very rude reply that referred me to the aforementioned apology, so Sarah Fader of Stigma Fighters and myself wrote TIME a letter requesting a more sincere apology to the mental health community. No reply came, of course. They are TIME. They do not have the resources to reply to some small-time non-profit organization. But it was worth a shot. Sarah and I truly care for our community and wanted to seek justice on behalf of the amazing people living with mental illnesses. The people who, ahem, do have something to live for.
The fiasco died down. After a few days I didn’t hear much of it. That’s how the Internet is. It loses momentum when something more important comes along, which happens just about every day on this side of the pond.
Then came Holly Leber, a writer who took to The Huffington Post to share with the world that Leah, the name given to the woman who died by Amanda Lauren, was her best friend. I rejoiced inside. Someone had achieved justice for this poor girl, and for so many others who deserved better. It doesn’t matter who does it, as long as it gets done, is what I say.
The Internet is a strange place, you know? It’s almost like it doesn’t click that what you write, publish, and post is going to be read by real people. People comment with this detached attitude because they are detached; all they have is a small photo. There is no physical connection on the Internet and therefore people will say whatever they want. They are angry and offended; they have an opinion and everyone needs to know. There are no repercussions for their actions. If they hurt someone, they can’t see their reaction; they can’t see them visibly get upset, so who cares? Wouldn’t you do anything you wanted if you never had any consequences?
This culture we have created for ourselves – this social networking with the photos we choose worthy and the empty absence of a handshake or hug – directly affects mental health advocacy just like it does any cause for change. I am guilty too; I have posted these drawn out novel-length thoughts on Facebook when someone has upset me; the Internet has elevated my passive aggressive nature to a point that I can get out of actually facing the issue at hand. Why would I bother when I can just post my feelings somewhere and everyone will side with me?
It is dangerous and unacceptable, this ideal that mental health advocates can talk so much about themselves and how they are being stigmatized and how they are being wronged but we never have to ask ourselves well what about the person stigmatizing us? How do they feel? Were they scared when they found out I was schizophrenic? I was scared when I was diagnosed. Of course they would feel that way.
When you read an article or a Facebook post or a tweet about mental health, do you ever try to empathize with the other side? Don’t we understand that what goes up must always come down?
There is something we can all learn with this xoJane debacle and that is we, as mental health advocates, should never, ever make excuses for our behavior and we should absolutely not be writing/posting/publishing any piece that knowingly hurts someone in our life, online or not. If your answer is not NO to the question “Will this hurt someone?” then you shouldn’t be publishing it if you have not already addressed the issue with this person and IF you are one of those people who “doesn’t care that it’s offensive” then please stay away from me. I don’t need that negativity and cruelty in my life.
We absolutely cannot spout stigma because we are not being treated equally and then say “well I can’t stop interrupting people because I have anxiety.” We either want to be treated fairly or we don’t and if our advocacy is solely based on how others treat us without ever asking ourselves how they feel, without ever acknowledging that they are people with feelings too, we are walking backwards. No one will ever respect us as professionals because we would be hypocrites. We will always be the mentally ill people who want people to feel sorry for us but don’t care about anyone else. You will learn this when you take your advocacy off the Internet and onto the street, but until then, I ask that everyone keep this in mind.
Amanda Lauren wrote something honest and from the heart about someone without ever thinking how she, or the people who loved her, would feel. Don’t be that person.
Allie Burke was an author before she told her readers she had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The admission led her to write hundreds of publications on the subject, some of which have been published in Refinery 29, Vice Magazine, and Women’s Health. She now hosts a writing workshop called The 557 Block to give back to the mental health community by teaching, coaching, and still learning about the art of the written word. She has written ten novels.
Allie lives with her boyfriend and their three pets in Long Beach.