Heard an anecdote tonight about someone applying for a job
Heard an anecdote tonight about someone applying for a job, and then revealing a psychiatric background to the potentially employer. I don’t know how it came up. Often times, psychiatric disability or institutionalization takes up entire chapters of a person’s life, so it is impossible to answer the, "What were you doing during these years?" question without running into it. It’s a tightrope of its own to walk, but that’s secondary at the moment.
The potential employer, the individual recalled, cowered in fear upon this revelation. The applicant, realizing the job would not be offered, extended a hand for a nonchalant goodbye, only to see the employer move further away, trembling more.
I had lost appreciation for the magnitude of the Fear when the phrase "mental illness" comes into play. I’ve found myself a niche of outsiders, most of whom understand the impact of being estranged by these types of experiences. I forgot that this Fear used to mark the lines of my common social interactions. I forgot the accompanying contempt, disgust, the assumptions of mindlessness, and the entitlement people took to treat me as if I did not even exist. For how many, it’s hard to say. Not all, but enough to develop broad, over-applied suspicions of people, never quite sure who would and would not flip on a dime if the wrong piece of information came out.
I’m in a more empowered position now. I see more good and nuance in people of all stripes. In that process, though, I’ve taken for granted how central that Fear was to setting the course of my life, how it subverted my sense of self. If I tried to live amongst it, its impact on me would remain chronic, insidious and toxic. Potentially fatal, even. It would oppress me in very subtle ways – spiritual, psychological, cramming me into this very restricted corner of the mind where I would never be anything but a very weak, disheveled, miserable version of myself. Nobody forced me out of any physical place, but that current of Fear, and the "air of unease" surrounding it, had a force of its own. Too strong of a force. It’s why I ended up in my own zone, surrounding my apartment with books and hanging Christmas lights (I owe Ellison a nod), spending most of my time by myself there. Its why I’ve devoted much of my time over the last five years towards examining the ins-and-outs of the world’s prejudices against madness, first just to attain the language to identify it, and then to outwit it altogether. It’s why I am trying in quixotic vain to build movement against it. It’s why I fundamentally rebuilt my identity around these points. It’s why most of the people I see most nowadays come from a disability background. It’s why I don’t really give a damn about going to Lincoln Park, knowing that neighborhoods like this are disproportionately inhabited by people who have the Fear. It’s why I spent my nights and weekends over the last two years writing a novel around these themes, with absolutely no certainty that it would go anywhere.
It wasn’t just some hobby or some newfound self-righteousness, as many will see political types. It was this or the alternative, which was death. Seems very hard for a lot of people to grasp, but for many that’s a symptom of what they don’t see in their blindspots, or what capitalist media does or does not deem worthy of attention in American life.
I’d say that nowadays I "pass," and I don’t "feel the prejudice" anymore, except for in moments when the world predictably misapplies its reactions to gun violence, sorting it on "undisclosed mental illness," whatever that butchered, fabricated phrase may mean. That betrays the magnitude of the Fear, though. (A tree that falls in the woods does make a sound – one’s observation is not needed for an event to occur, or an act of human prejudice). The world is always pushing outsiders towards underground communities, neighborhoods, ghettos. That I don’t feel the Fear in my own little space is a trick to keep that space I navigate narrow. It’s because I could not survive elsewhere that I am here. The Fear is the power of the system just beyond these enclaves of Others, where they are ironically more free to be themselves.
I think it can be confronted, edified, even transformed. But not for everyone. For who and how many, I have no idea. When I meet people who are still confronted by it, I am afraid for them. You never know what exactly will happen when someone has dehumanized you to an object of Fear. That’s when the bad cop acts all the more rashly, when the pedestrian embellishes an encounter to make you into a monster, when the most vicious lies about you are casually tolerated. It’s sobering to get a glimpse into how deep the rabbit hole may get, because when you’re looking into it in the moment, and it’s looking back at you, shit, don’t it seem deep…
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