[TW: suicide, self harm, and self-mutilation mentions]
By Manali Sankhe
For a long time, until I was 20, I romanticised the idea of mental illness. I always tried to make it look beautiful on the outside. I always felt that it makes me special and to be honest, my identity still revolves around my illness, which I’ve been working to reform. I’ve had evolving mental disorders for almost ten years now, and until 5 years ago, it never made sense to me. I figured it was a part of who I am. There were periods where I used art as a crutch to help me get through periods of intense dissociation, but when I was back to myself I still thought of my disease as something that made me beautiful. Until recently, when I looked back and saw the unnecessary, unimaginable amount of pain I’ve lived with, for so long, tampering my entire life that I realised, how wrong I am. There is nothing beautiful about it. Its painful, unbearable, life-threatening and destructive. And I would give anything to have never had it. But this gets me thinking, questioning, as to how as a society we came with the idea that mental illness makes a person interesting, beautiful or poetic? That great artists are messed up? I now believe that great artists wrote/made great work despite being mentally ill and that is commendable. The reason they made art was itself to get through the mental illness that was distressing them. Because now I’m aware how debilitating and disabling it is to live with a mental illness. I strongly believe that it must not be romanticised, just as much as it should not be stigmatized or we’d be conveying great misunderstandings to the growing young adults.
However, we exist on two different opposites and only see the black and white sides that is either stigmatize it or romanticise it. What needs to be seen is the grey zone, where real life experiences of those with mental illness exist. After realising how social media which is just a platform giving representation to ‘word of mouth’ now has become a source of information or advertising, where no one bothers to verify that information and trust it blindly. Just like films and other media that portray mental illness in a twisted scenario rather than real life accounts, social media does so too, as a form of advertisement promoting diet culture, or as a casual mention of depression as a regular mood. Anxiety disorders are now compared to feeling anxious prior to an examination.
Eating disorders like anorexia are considered as an advantage/being lucky.
Self-harm, suicide, self-mutilation are all considered poetic and as a form of expression, rather than an alarming symptom and complication. I have been a perpetrator as well as a victim to this romaticisation, as a person who considers art her identity and as someone living with mental illness. I have been labelled as someone ‘asking for attention’ when instead looking for support. I have created artwork when oblivious to my own experiences and lacking self-awareness, that may have glorified suicide and self-harm. That said, I thought of this way of art as my way of being ‘honest’ and ‘being myself’, unaware that not everyone perceives it so and it could be translating to something that may indirectly grossly affect everyone with mental illness in this society.
Having come a long way from the person I was then, I see my past actions as outrageous while also being empathetic to myself. I am grateful for having understood the invisible impact I was making with my actions.
Which brings me to this discussion. I am gathering information on this and the evidence is overwhelming.
The cause could be how mental illness is related to the misunderstanding that it establishes creativity in a person. Or it could be the films that don’t rely on statistical evidence or real life first-hand accounts of those with mental illness rather than exaggerated a single emotion and either portraying them as a version that is stigmatized or a version that is romanticised.