Let’s Talk About … Mental Discrimination?

You might be wondering what mental discrimination is. That is a valid question. It is a concept that I am working with, but the basic idea is that, it is discrimination of the mind, particularly of someone else’s mind; more specifically, it is being discriminated because of your mind.

 

It’s not something I talk about all of the time, as it has backfired on me multiple times, but I’m slowly coming back around to being open about my mental illness, schizoaffective disorder. It is a highly misunderstood disease, and unfortunately, it can lead to discrimination.

 

I don’t deny the discrimination that is done because of things like sexual orientation or race, and don’t deny that they have psychological effects. However, the kind of discrimination I want to talk about is much more psychological in nature, at least how I define it.

 

Why is it so psychological? Well, let me try to break it down. When you are schizoaffective, there is a good chance that you have a hard time understanding reality as it is. Which means, you live much of your life in a kind of ethereal state, where you are less privy to understanding the consequences of your actions because you are still trying to figure out what reality even is. So for someone with a mental disorder (not just schizoaffective), they might not think that running into the road with a ton of cars driving by is a bad idea because they are still trying to figure out if those cars are actually there. That example might be a little exaggerated, but it illustrates the point, which is the bottom line.

 

As a person with mental illness, I have learned to not just exist in reality in order to survive, but to live in a hyperreality. What I mean by that is everything becomes hyperreal to me, after years of conditioning to abide by the laws of physics and the social laws that govern us and not our mind. Meaning, I don’t just think about the next thing I’m going to do in any given situation, I overthink it.

 

Now what does this have to do with discrimination? That is a good question, and I’ll get to that. See, when you are conditioned to think overcritically about every decision you make, because you are so afraid of how it’s going to effect the world, that conditioning usually happens because you are singled out (because of your mind and behavior). Quite literally, you are singled out as a deviant.

 

Here’s an example. I used to give talks to high schools about mental illness. It was a short stint, but I learned a lot.

 

Anyway, there was a person in charge of that program, who wanted to stop the school discussions and keep the discussions in house. So, we were now talking to the staff about our mental disorders.

 

I remember asking something like, “Well, doesn’t this new audience change the way we have to plan our little speeches?” I thought this was a well-informed question, and a good one, and one I needed answered. He responded curtly with, “You’re overthinking it.”

 

I want to pause for a moment. Why would this comment of his be such a problem? Certainly, people are told they overthink things all the time. Well, here’s the problem: before that, I’d been conditioned to think that I “overthink” things, meaning that I assign too much meaning to things where there is no meaning; to be blunt, this is actually a symptom of my disease (to assign meaning to things where there is no meaning), and thus, can be problematic if not handled correctly.

 

To continue along this line of thought: Being told you’re overthinking something, even when you are simply trying to understand the situation better, is actually a very counterproductive thing to say to someone with a mental illness, because rather than stopping thinking, you actually might then start overthinking it.

 

It is comments like that, I have realized, that lead me to be manic. When people imply that I am overthinking something (or sometimes, not thinking about it enough), then I get into manic mode.

 

So, something as off the cuff and random as “you’re overthinking it,” can actually have a much more discriminatory effect. You are in essence singled out as someone that isn’t thinking correctly, because you are overthinking it or not thinking about it enough. Comments like this might seem like mere slights, but they happen frequently, and they are culturally loaded, and loaded with implications that are often ignored.

 

There are other examples. There was once a little kid named Junior, who I hung out with when he’d come over to my apartment complex. I was aware of his situation: His father was in jail, and his mother had issues as well, and he needed a good friend.

 

I’ll try to keep the story brief: It wasn’t long after I hung out with Junior (always with an adult present), that I was suddenly passive-aggressively and subliminally (and sometimes aggressively) accused of wanting to hurt Junior. Because I wanted to take him to the park, so he could have fun? Are you insane? Let’s just say the Mom was talking poison behind my back, and it filtered through to the aunt who was babysitting him at my apartment complex (how I met Junior in the first place), and terrible, damaging, and hurtful decisions were made, as well as judgments.

 

The claim, they told me, was that they shouldn’t encourage people my age to hang out with kids his age. Okay, that kind of makes sense, I guess in the sense that they want to be safe, but it’s still hurtful, that I would be accused of wanting to hurt Junior when I was just taking him to the park (with adult supervision!).

 

But it gets worse. After a lot of hurtful things went down, I talked to the aunt’s friend, to try to get some better information (being backstabbed is not a good way to get accurate information, I’ve learned the hard way). She told me that what had happened was essentially, the idea that I would hurt Junior came because I have a mental illness.

 

If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is. I couldn’t even prove my good intentions because I was already labeled. How is that even remotely fair? (Or rational?)

 

But here’s the clincher of what I’m trying to get at: this kind of discrimination (mental discrimination, as I call it) is a much more insidious type of discrimination, because it forces you to change your behavior, and become hyperconscious of your behavior to an unhealthy and even dangerous degree. After that happened with Junior, I was actually AFRAID to be around kids. I internalized the terrible stereotypes about me, and assumed that I would actually hurt people, kids no less. It was a very hurtful time for me, and even now, a year later, I’m still licking my wounds, and afraid that I might hurt people, because I have a mental illness, even though I know it isn’t true.

 

This would still probably seem minor to the skeptic and cynic, but remember, society is literally conditioning me to be hyperconscious of my behavior and of myself as an entity in this world (these are only a few experiences, FYI, when there are much more to draw from, in a much more complicated way), and that also, they discriminate in ways that would seem almost normal but are actually problematic for someone that lives in their head anyway, and is already afraid of how their actions will affect the social sphere.

 

In terms of Junior, I hope you can imagine why that would be such a hurtful experience. I was simply trying to help Junior’s situation. God must hate me for that, trying to encourage the kid to be who he was and to know that he isn’t alone, and that someone thought he was a good kid (and that he won’t grow up to wind up in prison). Looking back on it, I understand I shouldn’t have gotten involved if that was how things were going to go, especially when considering how hurtful the stereotypes leveled against me are.

 

See, not only do people think you are dumb if you have a mental illness, but they also think you’re violent. I am aware of those stereotypes, and I was aware of them when all of this happened with Junior. I knew, deep in my heart, that it was a lie, that it wasn’t true, but that doesn’t stop the hurtful stereotypes from continuing.

 

And here’s why this kind of mental discrimination (criticizing people’s minds and behavior, for instance), is so problematic. It’s problematic because it’s completely psychological. You can’t actually touch it. You can’t make it better. You can’t even fight it or resist it, really. You just have to roll with it. At least if you’re discriminated for something obvious, you know why you’re being discriminated. When it comes to behavior and the mind, however, it’s hard to look at your mind and behavior and know why it’s such a problem. If you can tell me how to look into my mind I’m all ears, but I’m sure you know you can’t do that.

 

There are plenty of other examples to draw from, but I’ll leave it at this for now. The bottom line is, mental discrimination really exists. People with mental disorders are seen as deviants (even if they generally are not), and their behavior must be neutralized at all costs. The problem with this is (ironically!) rationality hardly enters the conversation. When I was blindsided by Junior’s mother, for instance, I did not see it coming. When people try to condition my behavior in their countless ways, I don’t see it coming, because in most cases, I have no idea what it is I’m even doing wrong (again, because it’s hard to look in your mind and know exactly what the problem is). I’m not saying it’s hard to be accountable for your actions, of course: I’m just saying our actions are misperceived dangerously, and that it’s impossible to know what is so wrong with our actions to begin with.

And that is an awful place to be, and it can literally drive you insane, more insane than you were to begin with.

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