Today when I was browsing through the pictures posted by one of my contacts I ran across a bit of what was supposed to be humor.  I’m not going to say who it was or link to it, because it was something I had seen in literally dozens of places.  Hundreds, probably.

Today, however, maybe because I got up at 4:30 this morning to go shovel snow and my whole body aches, I decided that I am finally going to speak out.  Enough is enough. 

People, stop making jokes about the voices in your head.  I’m serious.

I have a mental illness that is called Dissociative Identity Disorder.  It used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder.  I do have voices in my head.  It’s not fucking funny.

I’m very fortunate to be an extremely high functioning dissociative.  I have been able to hold a job for most of my life, I can live on my own, pay my bills, go out in public around ordinary people.  I have worked very hard and had the good fortune to be able to work with an outstanding therapist.

Like most dissociatives, I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. I have known a number of schizophrenics, and it is a brutal disease. Once I spent a couple of hours with a woman who was having a severe episode.  She had called my wife, incoherent, and we went to pick her up and take her to be admitted.  It was a weekend, and the ER could not admit her without first contacting her psychiatric worker, who was evidently hard to get in touch with.  So we sat with this woman and waited for the worker to show up.

Our friend knew what was going on.  She had difficulty remembering her medicine (routine is very important with anti-psychotic drugs–you have take them at the same time every day and also eat at the same times every day, and working out the schedule and the dosage is a matter of trial and error).  This was not her first trip to the ER.

She sat between us, cringing at things that we couldn’t hear.  A man that she had once known, who had died of a drug overdose, was screaming at her.  She knew he wasn’t really there, but that didn’t stop the pain.  She tried not to talk back to him, but she would visibly flinch and bite her lip, and I knew that she was hearing him shouting at her, threatening her, blaming her for his death.

Just try to imagine what that must be like.  Try to imagine not being able to sleep because you hear someone screaming at you every time you close your eyes.  Think about what it’s like to be unable to carry on a conversation because the other person’s words are drowned out by a voice that isn’t real.

Mental illness isn’t funny.  Being crazy hurts. It is debilitating, humiliating and agonizing to be unable to trust your own mind.

What I have is comparatively minor.  It is a functional rather than an organic disorder–my problem is in the software rather than the hardware, if you will.  That means what I have gets better.  Schizophrenia is not curable.  Many schizophrenics can medically manage their illness, but many more are never able to work out a course of treatment that allows them to live unsupervised.

I wrote the characters of James and Catskinner, in part, as an attempt to communicate the experience of dissociation.  It’s a fictionalized version, of course, and overly simplified (I, myself, have seven main alters) but I tried to capture the feeling of having a malevolent other occupying your body, speaking with your voice, acting for you. It can be utterly terrifying, to be a prisoner in your own body, watching yourself doing things with no control.

If my fiction helps people to understand that, then I will consider myself a success as a writer.  I don’t like to preach, and I don’t want to be known as a “mental illness writer”–I write first and foremost to entertain, and I think I succeed at that.   This is, however, a subject that I care very passionately about.

Having voices in your head isn’t funny.  Stop making jokes about it.



About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Who I am and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to ENOUGH!

  1. Sue says:

    People’s ignorance still astounds me. The only way they learn, wait I take that back, they never learn. The only way such ignorance can be lessened, I don’t think it can be stopped entirely, is for people to point it out. Like you just did. And fiction is an excellent tool to teach people empathy.
    Good for you. I know people with mental health issues. We all have some kind of issue. And as you said it ain’t easy. Keep educating If enough of us spoke out maybe it would help

  2. While I understand that you’re sensitive about your condition and for good reason, I think most people make jokes about dark and painful things. Most times they’re not trying to hurt someone. The jokes are lame, maybe, but comedians make sick, dark jokes all the time. I think it’s how some people cope with life. I’ve never made a joke about hearing voices in my head because it seems like a boring joke, but if we only wrote, read and said things that were super sensitive and extremely, rigidly tolerant this would be the most intellectually bland place in the universe. It’s sometimes hard to keep up with all of the things that offend people. When I was dying my brother made a very dark joke about bleeding to death–which I was. That joke made me laugh. So you never know with people. I tend to think most people don’t really want to hurt suffering people and I hope I’m not offending you with these words. Your piece just made me think–which is a good thing.
    All the best.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I can see your point, and I agree that humor can help us deal with tragedy and horror. I do it myself.

      However, I don’t think that people who post “The Voices In My Head Don’t Like You” type of memes understand what it is that they are making light of, by and large. I can’t recall ever seeing an able-bodied person posting “I’m Going To Run Over You With My Wheelchair” or a similar joke about physical handicaps.

      I suppose that I am not offended by jokes about mental illness so much as I am offended by glib jokes about mental illness, if that distinction makes sense to you.

  3. kingmidget says:

    Agreed … it’s one of the things that, forgive the pun, drives me more and more crazy these days. There’s a movie that came out years ago. It was called What About Bob? I rented it one evening and started watching. I turned it off after 15-20 minutes because I didn’t feel like watching something that was going to make fun of “crazy people” for two hours. That sense is something that has grown in me ever since and not just with jokes about “crazy people” but also jokes or things that make fun of or single out the things that make us different — colors, faiths, disabilities, weight, etc. I see my wife and kids and others around me doing it all of the time and I just want to go off on them for it. But I don’t. I just sit and stew and marvel at the need to belittle and poke fun at people who aren’t like us.
    Last night I went to see Nebraska with my father and brother. The movie is about an older man who gets a Publisher’s Clearinghouse-like letter and he really thinks he has won a million dollars. He then goes on a road trip with one of his sons to collect his winnings and all sorts of hilarity ensues — almost all of it built around the weaknesses of old age. There was a moment early on where I had the same feeling that I had when I sat down to watch What About Bob? — great, a movie poking fun at senility. I sat through the thing and, on some level, I enjoyed the movie. But, at the same time — well, it was just incredibly painful.
    But, one more comment — as you point out about your stories, frequently stories like this are about much more than what they look like on a superficial level. Nebraska pokes a lot of fun at old people, while also telling a great story about a family and memories and going home. Those kind of stories should be told. But I agree with you — a lot of what floats around on the internet these days is just crass stupidity.
    Thank you, by the way, for sharing so much of you in this post. It most certainly does put a face to something in a real way and helps me continue to believe that these kinds of differences should not be made fun of.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I am never sure how much is oversharing. And I agree with you on “What About Bob”, I walked out of a party once where it was playing, I hated that movie so much.

  4. kingmidget says:

    Reblogged this on KingMidget's Ramblings and commented:
    Yes, I’m on “a break,” but I haven’t been able to stop reading other people’s blogs. I think this is a post worth sharing. There are real people behind the fun we like to poke at the “differences.”

  5. sknicholls says:

    My husband and I, both bipolar, joke between us about our “bipolar moments”, but the social stigma associated with stereotypes and labels does suck.

  6. fair enough, I can see how irritating that would be. I’m sorry to hear that you have a disassociative disorder. Now you point it out, I do see how it’s reflected in the Catskinner books. I guess making light of mental illness is deeply ingrained, isn’t it – from ‘I’m crazy-you’re crazy’ to ‘are you a lunatic!’ , ‘she’s completely mad’, etc. Because the mind is ‘us’ in a way that the body isn’t, its disorders are also more associated with us as individual personalities than it would be if we had, say, a limp.

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