Saturday, 10 August 2013

Hugo and mental health.

Last Night Hugo Schwyer had a public mental breakdown on twitter. Please note, nothing Hugo has done is defensible, his actions have been deeply racist, sexist and appropriative. This post has nothing to do with advocating forgiveness for him or excusing him, but it is about not feeding harmful tropes about mental illness and using him as an excuse to do so.

I recognise that people are angry with him and they have every right to that anger, but the following things harm all mentally ill people and are not appropriate in any way.

1. Declaring that he isn't really having a breakdown.

Quite apart from the fact that to fake it that well, he would need to be an amazing actor? People having breakdowns should ALWAYS be believed. It's no different to survivors of anything else. Once we state someone is lying about something like mental illness, we set a standard for believing people, this is a problem. In fact, the SJ community has a huge issue with this since it happens constantly, I've seen clearly suicidal people bullied because during in a breakdown they were deemed assholes and therefore not worth believing.

There is nothing about believing he is seriously ill that implies anyone has to forgive or forget any of the shit he's pulled or the hurt he's caused. His actions and words still hurt many many people, and they are still unforgivable even in light of his breakdown.

This attitude of "you need to be this social justicy/not deemed an asshole to be believed about your experiences" will kill someone eventually if it hasn't already. This is a dangerous attitude to be frank.

2. Any notion that his actions while in the breakdown are manipulative.

I'm not talking about his prior actions, just the ones when he had the actual break down, it's called a breakdown for a reason. Calling his actions manipulative just feeds into the old trope about mental illness being a form of manipulation. Mentally ill and learning disabled people have struggled with this dismissal for a long time; Feeding it is problematic.

Have it from someone who has been manic and who has a combined form of depression that gets really bad when it hits? You are in no fit state to manipulate anyone when you are like that. You aren't even in a fit state to know that you are unfit to do or know anything. Yes, it can be self centered, but it's also not under your control, it's like your personal little demon has taken over and is pulling your strings. You are incapable of knowing precisely what you're doing, you meet the standard for an inability to consent to anything. That's why we have sectioning, because people in the middle of breakdowns are severely compromised mentally.

To be blunt, even if he was faking or being deliberately manipulative which I doubt, it is better to consider it to be a real breakdown than to send the message to mentally ill people that if you think they're an asshole, you will be disabilist to them when they're at their most fragile. Last night twitter scared and triggered the hell out of me, I nearly suffered a breakdown of my own because of all the people I thought I could trust or that I thought knew better who were feeding both ideas.

This doesn't mean what he said and did during the breakdown can't be hurtful in and of itself, because no matter his intention or mental state, he can still do things that hurt others. Someone killed by someone is still dead even if their killer is legally insane.

When I explained to some of them that it was problematic I got the following which reveals problematic ideas:

1. You're just interested in defending him, or if you're not with us, you're on his side.

No. I get that people are angry with him, I am as well, but pointing out that breakdowns must be believed and that mentally ill people do not have the insight to manipulate people when in them is not defending him. It is defending myself and others from disabilist stereotypes that harm us. What he has done is unforgivable and should never be forgotten, but his assholery does not justify indiscriminately hurting all mentally ill people.

2. But you're policing what PoC say.

Let me make this clear, I get angry all the time about disabilism and other bigotries, but I always always try to remember that what I might say in that anger can and has at times been hurtful to other minorities. My anger does not justify me saying something that hurts another group simply because I am angry at one of their group.
Even angry I do my best to walk the edge between expressing that anger and not oppressing others, and yes, I don't always manage it, sometimes I do say oppressive shit in anger that hurts other people, and let me make this clear, when I've said something racist because I'm angry about a bigoted PoC I encountered? People of color do exercise their right to tell me that was some awful racist shit I just said and nobody ever says they're policing what I say about my oppression no matter how they express it because it's understood that PoC as a minority get to say "hey that isn't cool" when they get hurt even when it's to someone angry about oppression.

However when it's the other way around and some privileged person of color (since that's the one oppression I don't have being white) is dumping all over a group I belong to and they don't? I have yet to see anyone acknowledge that I also have a right to say "Hey, you're hurting me as well, could you not do that?" no matter how polite I am about explaining it, and yes, I always try to be polite because I do understand that people angry about oppression are in pain and I think it would be inappropriate for me to scream at people in pain even if they hurt me. Sad thing is I can't claim to have ever received the same consideration when in pain myself and someone needed to pull me up about something.

I don't enjoy having to pull people up on this stuff in the first place and I'd rather not feel I have to, but it is still the right of minorities to object to the problematic stuff other minority people say even when those other minority people are talking about their oppression. Pointing out someone said something oppressive should never be considered policing, because there's no need to dump on other minorities while expressing your anger at the harm someone has done or is doing to you.

3. You're not thinking about the mental health of others.

Yes, I am, I do not however think that means I don't get to defend my own mental health and that of others from what others said. If you're demanding I sacrifice my health and possibly even my life rather than object to someone feeding hurtful ideas they don't need to feed? You're kinda being an asshole.

There is no part of being angry with a shitstain like Hugo that is means someone's mental health will be harmed if they don't say things that hurt mentally ill people. There is plenty to talk about that isn't problematic, expressing that you're angry and hate him as a person, talking about his privilege in all other respects, criticising his lack of recognition of the WoC he hurt, criticising that he was so enabled by the white feminist community/patriarchy to hurt so many people, saying you don't accept the apologies, seeking support and comfort from your friends and allies. Talking about his prior bullying behaviour and the reality that he's been a shitstain for years doesn't hurt mentally ill people.

In short, nobody is asking anyone to let him off the hook for years of sustained shitty oppressive behaviour. The guy is an grade A asshole and has hurt people dreadfully, but the comments about mental health being slung around hurt as well. Please could we also have a conversation about that and efforts to tackle the harm caused?

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