Sunday, September 28, 2014

Was it brave to publish a memoir about mental illness?

People have remarked how brave I am for having published Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis.

I don't consider brave quite the right word. The adjective means having or showing courage, especially when facing danger, difficulty, or pain. Courage is the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action. 

I don't think I am in any real danger having put out a rarely told story of mental injury. In my mind, the worst thing that could happen is people don't like it, believe it, or respect it. The only pain that can come is embarrassment and infringement of privacy.

I have told a story of a facet of my life. When I shared my experience of surviving psychosis, I revealed only symptoms of the disease and the portions of my life connected to it. I have many secrets and private joys and sorrows outside of the pages of the memoir. Deciding to openly share the raw details of psychosis and bipolar reveals physical and behavioral symptoms of a disease. I am not defined by bipolar disorder. I have the diagnosis; it is just a part of my whole. 

Stories about mental illness are not common, however, and for this reason, it was important for me to publish it as a memoir rather than to fictionalize a character surviving psychosis. This story needed to be in the memoir genre, because it is true. It happens to people and affects them and their families. And when it happened to me, I found no one who could talk to me about it or understand what I was enduring throughout recovery.

Currently, having bipolar disorder is about as interesting to me as having brown hair. These are facts about me. I wouldn't be humiliated to have Type 1 Diabetes or blond hair, so why should I be embarrassed about another disease and hair color?

The memoir is not a confessional of family secrets; it is not dirty laundry aired for the sake of attention seeking. It is a literary work offered for public consumption. My deepest hope for the work is to inspire people with mental illness to believe health is possible and to commit to treatment. It is also intended to reduce stigma associated with mental illness and have it respected as a legitimate disease, something mental health professionals have already accepted.

Perhaps it is courageous to subject myself to the judgment of others. My bold audacity to try to change the attitude regarding mental health requires vulnerability. I do not agree that I am brave, but having released a personal narrative about a taboo subject does leave me exposed.  

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