Monday, January 5, 2015

Out of the Attic

So I disappeared.

When your brother tells you the last class he took for his law degree would be something you really could do and it wouldn't be that hard, he's lying.

All the same, I am glad I did it.  I took Intro to Mental Disability Law. at New York Law School online.  New York Law School is on the forefront of mental disability law and one of the few schools that offers a degree in it.  Mental Disability Law basically covers those in state run programs like institutions, out patient programs, and group homes, and those in the prison system, and discrimination issues.

In my undergrad years at the University of Michigan, I was devoted to a group, Mentality.  We were fighting stigma and promoting education and awareness of mental health and illness through creative expression.  We wrote skits.  Had dancers.  Singers.  Art.  We had open performances, but we also did workshops, the most gratifying of those being high school classes.  We always had a facilitated discussion afterwards.

Mentality was one of the most meaningful experiences in my entire life.  We only did work that we had direct experience with.  So, someone who had gone mental health issues could write about themselves.  Someone who had gone through someone they had known going through a mental health experience could write about that.  Someone with no direct experience could write from the angle of how mental illness was treated in the culture or be involved in one of the group improvs we used to form skits.  Anyone could perform anyone else's work with permission.

I wrote from all perspectives.

I'm bipolar--or manic depressive.  So you see, I came by Amber in Rebirth honestly.  I am still refining my memoir about growing up in a supportive and eccentric family, and how despite the fact I had all the advantages in the world, I still fell to pieces under the weight of an undiagnosed mental illness.  I am well under control now.

I wrote a testimonial.  I wrote skits about my experiences. I also ran the gamut of bad coping mechanisms from substance abuse to my drug of choice, self harm.

.  I wrote skits about interacting with people I knew.  My friends had been through suicide attempts, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Going up on stage was a powerful and validating experience.  I had a woman tell me she had never known anyone else self harmed besides her before.  One woman told me she understood her sisters depression for the first time after hearing my testimonial.  Subsequently, she joined Mentality and did her own testimonial about dealing with her sister's depression.  I once had someone who had seen the show strike up a conversation with me in the grocery store line when I really just wanted to buy my tampons and go curl up in a little ball.

I made the decision some months back that I wanted to re-enter mental health education and advocacy.  My dream would be to start a new Mentality, hopefully as a job.  But in making this decision, I realized the mental illness I was most familiar with was that of the privileged.

Mental disability law is a new and not well represented form of law, despite the constitutional issues involved.  And it is really motherfucking depressing, scary, and infuriating.  The largest mental institutions in the entire world is the U.S. prison system.  It is not set up for and does not want mentally ill patients.  The entire system is severely underfunded.  The staff/patient or prisoner ratios are appalling and often mean medication versus therapy is the go to.  Violence towards the mentally ill is not uncommon.  To make this clear, the insanity defense takes up one percent of mental disability law.  A quarter of those who try it win.  That's .25%.  They, along with all other involuntarily committed, are then relegated to an institution without a maximum sentence.  They are there as long as the staff believes they need to be.

Some admirable group home and half way house situations exist.  However, they are underfunded, and do not represent near the population who could make use of one.

Never have I felt more privileged than when I took that class.

That said, I had never taken a law class, and it was not an introduction to law class.  It ate my life.

All the same, I finished another draft of Will-O-The-Wisp Warps, the sequel to Weaver's Web.  I still have to do some pretty-fying.  But the draft is solid.  Now that I am back in my natural element, you will hear more updates on how it is going along with my general blathering.


  1. Thanks for this honest, edifying post. I taught writing to high school and college students--all kinds of writing, poetry, essays, research, narratives, interviews--and
    I heard from A LOT of students who dealt with mental illness--theirs, a family members, a friend's. One of my favorite comments came from a student who wrote about self harm experiences and was criticized by her classmates. She turned on them and said, "I went to high school with a lot of you. I know which ones of you drive drunk, drive high, share needles, pass out and get passed around at parties, who takes steroids and who pukes to stay thin. Go on. Talk to me about self harm." I love your fiery, dynamic, often at risk characters who flee all kinds of monsters and have to learn to be increasingly honest and brave or put themselves, their friends, and sometimes, worlds, at risk.

  2. Thanks. My characters do tend to come from the fringes. But then again, most of the people I know do. In fact, one in four will experience a mental health issue throughout their life times. You would think it was uncommon for all we hear about it, but mental illness is still so heavily stigmatized. The only "ism" we even have is sanism--the discrimination against people who are mentally ill. No one outside the mental disability world knows that.

    "Out of the Attic" refers to the fact that lucky mentally ill people not so long ago were simply kept locked in some part of the house, hidden away such as Bertha, the mad wife in Jane Eyre, locked in the attic. We need to come out of our attics.

  3. So, I read the previous post before this one. Thought it a bit too simple for Jobi to cure Amber in Rebirth (my favorite of your books), but having read your books it makes more sense now.