Last night an ex SLer made an article on their blog which was deemed broadly offensive. It had a number of statements which seem to have no factual basis. Let’s explore the article piece by piece, before we start let me say that I am NOT a qualified psychologist or mental health professional. In the offending article these things were presented as facts by the use of the presenting language. I have been careful to show that my counter arguments are my opinion. These are things I have learnt via what we like to call “common sense”.*
“Many people suffering from mental illness will spend countless hours logged into Second Life.”
Incorrect. Mental health illness is a global problem, Second Life is not a global phenomena. There will be, shock horror, people who have never heard of SL and never logged on even once. It’s shocking but its true. This, is a fact. For references to prove please compare the Second life user database statistics with the estimated world population.
“They will participate in almost every activity.”
A common symptom of depression, one of the most common mental health issues, is a lack of interest in things that the person normally finds interesting. So the likelihood of people with depression obsessively becoming interested in every single thing that the huge Second Life community has to offer simultaneously is, in my opinion, unlikely. Not least because it would be exhausting! I can’t ride an SL motorbike whilst writing for an SL newspaper, dressed as a hamster and learning how to animate by watching tutorials on Youtube – can you?
“they will often tell stories about themselves, of which the facts (when compared with previous stories) just don’t match up.”
Interesting, this suggests we are a literary community! Hooray! In actuality the percentage of SecondLife users who have been published is similar to the percentage of people in any community. Getting published is hard work! There is no evidence of a correlation between story telling abilities and Second Life user status to my knowledge. If there is, and I am mistaken, please direct me to the correct place as I have several things I’d love to get under editor’s noses.
“They will make up facts and believe them to be true.”
This may have some truth to it, the important word here being – some. There is some evidence to suggest behaviour which seems to be lying and believing ones own lies in cases of people with Borderline Personality Disorder (more info on that here), however literature on the matter suggests that these people don’t tell lies – they simply tell what they believe to be the truth, but because they are unsure of their identity, including their personal values and comprehension of themselves, their truth may shift alot quicker than it does in other people who have a firm grasp of their social and internal status. So their version of truth shifts quickly, and makes it appear like their original statement was a lie. When in actuality it was how they percieved the truth to be at that time.
If thats confusing for you I will give an example – Once upon a time people knew the world was flat. Some people got on a big ship and went to prove it, and came back to let us know it is not flat. The day they worked out the world was not flat their ‘truth’ “The world is flat” became untrue, their truth became “The world is not flat”. They didn’t LIE when they said the world was flat. Lying implies intention.
The ‘They’ of this sentence is an implication that this sentence is about the people addressed in the prior sentences, in the first of which the word “Many” is used. So we are to suppose that the writer meant that many people suffer from BPD. Statistics available to me – the common person on the street – via the internet suggests that anything between 2 (diagnosed and recorded) and 10% (estimated actual ammount) of people in the USA suffer from this disorder. Let us assume for the sake of arguement that it is the lower number, even so 2% of such a huge population is quite a lot of people! So saying that “many” people have this reaction is probably similar to saying that many people have trouble reading (For more information about dyslexia, click here) or that “many” people experience period pains.
So if we are suggesting that Second Life users are a representation of the general world population – correct. Most of SL users are in fact also part of the general world population.
“People with mental illness have trouble focusing on one thing.”
Again this may be true, but my personal experience leads me to believe otherwise. A whole spectrum of disorders within the mental health category are based on behaviours of people who find it difficult to NOT think about one thing. Body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia.. these are examples off the top of my little head in which the stereotype is of people who ‘obsess’ about one thing (Hint: just like in the name ‘obsessive compulsive disorder!’ Fun fact huh?). The diagnosable state of being is when you cannot ‘function’ at a ‘normal’ level because of your phobia or obsession. So all the evidence suggests that not only are people with mental health issues able to focus on one thing, but a large range of them are unable not to focus on one thing. However, it is, in my opinion, rare that anybody is only able to focus entirely on one thing. Even people with extreme phobias are often able to trigger the body’s fight or flight response when faced with their phobia, for example if a person who is arachnophobia is faced with a big spider and they are stood in a road, in most cases if a car comes they will instinctively move. The brain is good like that! It does a lot of those things for us.
“Possibly, they are involved in sex-related events almost constantly – this would indicate a severe problem with perversion.”
I cannot expend the time that would be required in checking the definition of ‘perversion’ in every language that that word happens to appear, but as the article was written in English I took it upon myself to check the Oxford Dictionary (English); it told me that perversion means “sexual behaviour that is considered abnormal and unacceptable”. “considered abnormal and unacceptable” is an external social definition. For example in some countries having more than one sexual partner long term is okay, and in others it is seen as ‘weird’. A mental health disorder is not an external thing… so a perversion isn’t a mental health disorder.
That sentence links on to say…
“Possibly they were abused as a child. Maybe this person even believes they are a true Gorean practitioner, or a furry, or involved in the objectification of one sex or the other.”
Well, firstly we’ve established that perversion isn’t a mental health issue so none of this is relevant, but the author has carefully tied the concepts of perversion and sexual abuse together with their sentence placement to give the insinuation that the two things are related. Sexual abuse is a very real and serious problem that can, yes, affect the way you view sex. Personally, I (the author) am perverted. According to the dictionary because my view on sex is ‘weird’ according to my peers. I don’t like sex… I was sexually abused however I wasn’t interested in sexual contact before that (although I was very young then so I will never know if I would feel this way had that not happened to me).
There is evidence to suggest that having a negative sexual experience can alter your perceptions of sex. Correct. However if I order a coffee at McDonalds and they give me an Orange Juice and refuse to refund me, I wouldn’t go back to McDonalds. Perversion (having a view that is different than the socially accepted norm) is normal because we are all different humans who have different lives. Some people who are abused have perfectly healthy “Vanilla” love lives. Some people who only ever have positive emotional and sexual relationships may be less “Vanilla”. Negative experiences can help people make up their minds about sex, its true, but so can other things – like whether your first time was with someone of the same gender as you, or if they were older or younger, or if your partner was inexperienced… theres a million different factors and I’m afraid there is no proof that everyone who is perverted (who has a different viewpoint than the socially accepted norm) was abused. If there was proof of that I’m pretty sure I’d be aware of it and be suing the hell out of someone about now.
“Mentally ill folks in Second Life often have a problem keeping a handle on their emotions.”
The key word in this sentence is the word OFTEN. The author is not suggesting that no one else has trouble keeping a handle on their emotions – that would be easy to disprove – but that people who are ‘mentally ill’ have this issue more often. Unfortunately theres no proof to back this statement up. I have never participated in a mental health questionaire via SecondLife – I have not seen any mention of tests done before I joined in 2006 – so I have to assume there never has been. I could be wrong. I’m probably not.
The frequency of losing control of your emotions varies based on a million different things. Personally I have many mental health disorders but I very very rarely lose control of my emotions because as a child I was taught it was not acceptable to display negative emotions. In some cultures that theme is very strong. That’s an example of a variable that I happen to know of.
If we look at other key words in this sentence we must look at the opening term “mentally ill folks”. People who have a mental illness. That could include people who have an eating disorder, people who are phobic of flying in aeroplanes, narcissists, people who are depressed, people who have been grieving for their life partners death for over 2 years – all of these could be termed as mental health illness depending on your definitions. This statement is inclusive of every kind of mental health issue there is, including, as another example, anger issues. I personally hardly ever lose my temper, I can in fact count the number of times I have lost my temper in the past 3 years on my hands, because I have a problem with not knowing how to healthily express anger, so I repress it. You could say that I control it. I keep a handle on it. It’s not the right way to do it probably but its definate evidence that some mental health issues have ‘keeping too much of a handle on your emotions’ as a symptom. Which disproves this statement (in my opinion).
“They can fly off the handle on a whim, at the wrong word put to the wrong meaning, or, quite often, they will simply pick a fight over nothing inflammatory at all. You will often find that they can’t “take a joke”, and although they are lashing out, they are actually very emotionally sensitive, scarred people who feel backed into a corner.”
tl;dr. Okay I’ll read it. There’s lots of statements here again directed at anyone in the spectrum of mental health disorders. Which, as I have explained previously, is such a broad spectrum of people that it disproves itself. They say that everyone will experience poor mental health at least once in their lifetime. Some people might not know it, or might not recognise it. They might live in a culture where it is not accepted or recognised so they ignore it, or think of it as the norm and work around it. So by saying that “often” almost everybody finds it hard to take a joke – well that’s simply ridiculous isn’t it?
I often find humour in the wrong places. I giggled and sobbed through my grandmother’s funeral like a fool. The statement ‘mentally ill folks’ is addressing a whole world of people. Most of human kind will experience a thought, a feeling, a worry, that is seen as ‘abnormal’ right now. They might get sad, or angry, or worried. So what?
Humankind is a group of animals that have emotions and express them through art, poetry, music – we share and we unite and we slowly, bit by bit, come to understand a bit more about each other and then what once seemed weird to us becomes normal. Like racial intergration, like homosexuality – or even more recent, like 50 shades of grey being published by a substantial publishing house.
The worlds views are shifting, thanks to easy access travel and the internet we now have access to information about people we never would have heard of before. We meet people who have completely different views on life to us and we listen and we think. We consider. We engage.
So if sometimes we think, feel, behave in a way that society deems as abnormal? So what. Abnormal is what you can’t relate to. It doesn’t make us subhuman or inferior. Sometimes its an errant thought and sometimes its a big whalloping chase-you-around-and-wont-leave-you-alone PROBLEM in capital letters. Sometimes its out of control and you frighten yourself. Sometimes you frighten other people because they don’t understand. Sometimes you think you just might be the only person in the world who thinks the way you do. Sometimes you are.
Sometimes those people will share their crazy ideas with us and itll open our eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. Einstein. Hawking. Darwin. Newton. Tolkien. O’Driscoll .
A mental health illness, or issue, or disorder, whatever word you use to identify your particular differences when you relate yourself to everyone around you – whatever it is doesn’t deem you as less important. Shouldn’t mean you have less rights (we as a society are still working on that). Doesn’t mean you should feel ashamed of how your life has made you.
When I was younger I had a sister who was severely disabled. She taught me how to communicate without words, because she couldn’t speak. Now, if I talk to someone and they are struggling to explain how they feel – I just know. I can often explain to people how they feel before they can. My life has made me ‘weird’. I’m abnormal. I am a minority of people who have this skill and I got it from the shitty experience that people you love can die on you.
So when I wake up in the morning do I worry about what a freak I am. Being able to communicate with people with more ease than other people. Do I worry about being the minority?
No. I put on my shoes and I go about my day. Getting by, like everybody else.
Being different, in any way, isn’t wrong. It isn’t definable as being an act of moral badness. Being malicious is. Looking down on people you don’t even know and making negative assumptions about them based on a label word is. Those words “mentally ill” “handicapped” “crazy” “depressed” they are just words. They mean a million different things in actual reality and all of those things have context. When I see someone who is mentally ill I just see a person who has been identified, by themselves or others, as being different in some way – and I want to know why. How they got to be that way, think that way, feel that way. How I can help them feel better about themselves if necessary. When I look at someone who uses those labels to try and hurt people. To segregate and make people feel small and alone – I feel pity… sad, angry, confused, abnormal… these things can shift, can change, can be worked around. Being petty and small minded and unwilling to open yourself up to new experiences through people who have different stories to tell than ones you already know – well as they say “you can’t fix ugly”.
As a final thought I would just like to say that from the perspective of this crazy young woman I found our communities response to this article encouraging. It’s great to see people sticking up for open mindedness and acceptance, and pointing out the obvious errors in the presented ‘facts’. I would also like to thank those who thought of me when the subject arose. It meant a lot that my honesty in previous blog posts and events had stuck in your mind, as all I ever hope to do is enlighten by sharing my own story.
Thanks for reading my opinion (aren’t you sick of me saying that ;])
* Common sense may not be as common as the name suggests.