I took part in a discussion with a few Twitter users the other day in which we spoke about the appropriation of the term “depressing” in the title of a webchat about the effects of fourth wave feminism. This conversation took many meandering paths and we were pretty unanimous in our opprobrium of medicalised terms to discuss everyday experiences. We spoke, at length, about the myriad ways in which we, as women with disabilities, are erased from the discourse of mainstream feminism. On the one hand my instinct is to ignore the word “depressing” as something which has become deeply assimilated into our everyday conversations, but on the other I am aware of the hypocrisy of ignoring such terms whilst feeling offend by the use of other medical terms such as “schizophrenic” or “retarded” as adjectives for negative terminology.
My life has been full of a variety of tragic strands which, if sewn together, would make a large shroud. I have written about them on several occasions: my experiences as a person with disabilities, my fight against anorexia, my life as a survivor of rape, my battle against post-natal depression & my general feeling of being ostracised by the world because of my disability. Those who read my blog will be familiar with my life. But what I wanted to write about is my particular experience with depression and why I take issue with it being co-opted as a term to describe non-medical annoyance or frustration and why non-disabled feminists need to make more careful choices regarding the words they use.
I entered psychiatric inpatient care on a Sunday, much like any other, in July. There was nothing particularly special about that weekend, neither for the rest of the world nor for myself. It was by random chance that I had decided that that weekend would be my last. On the Friday I took a large dose of Valium, nothing happened, other than a long sleep and lost memories, and so on Sunday I decided I would give it a harder push and took an overdose of Baclofen, my muscle relaxant. I didn’t even get very far into this second overdose, due to the restrictions on my liberty (due to being a wheelchair user largely confined to bed), before the ambulance and police were called and so, before I could cause myself significant harm I was carted off to hospital. I don’t remember much of what happened next. But somewhere along the lines my indignation about my right to die led to me receiving a ticket to a psychiatric hospital.
When you first arrive for check in one of the first things they do is give you a physical medical, it was at that moment that a hidden truth was discovered: I hadn’t eaten in quite some time. I had fallen from a size 16 to a size 6 and the jutting ribs and sagging skin made alarm bells ring in the on call doctor’s head. It was from that moment on that the ins and outs of my body became public property. Scale reading after painful scale reading was meticulously recorded by the medical staff and weekly review meetings centred on whether they had convinced me to eat yet.
Every day a menu card was brought to me in my room and every day I would have to explain to another member of my medical team that “I don’t eat”. There is a painting by Max Ernst called Europe After the Rain, in it sits dozens of references to eyeballs watching the painter, signifying the paranoia during WWII. This painting perfectly exemplified the sensation of being watched which I experienced. In reality, my medical team were solely invested in keeping me alive but in the mind set I inhabited for that time they were the enemy who sought my destruction. All food was poison to me, a rotten carcass with detrivores spilling out of its remains.
Nurses, doctors were only seen on a weekly basis, tried to talk me out of my depression and desire to end my life. I was presented with classes in clay making, presented with dogs to pat, given sedating medications on my request, and even sent on long-spiralling guilt trips about my responsibilities to my children. Alas nothing would shift my desire to end my life. I was placed upon a course of drugs which I flouted by refusing some medications and, at other times, sneaking large amounts of laxative into my bedroom. My thirst for self-extinction was unquenchable.
I had no desire to do anything, and death occupied most of my thoughts. Indeed, the feeling of disconnection caused by starvation gave me cause for hope. No one could connect with me, because I inhabited a different plane: they were in the land of the living whilst I was somewhere nearer to death. Eventually the only thing which, ironically, sent me from my self-destructive course was the death of one of the most important people of my life. Though her death didn’t make me eat, it did stop me from being in a place of continual overdose. A desire to protect those I loved somehow caused a paradigm shift that I doubt I will ever truly understand.
When I think back to this time and compare it with my feelings about feminism the latter seems entirely ridiculous. How can something so desperate and soul destroying be used as a synonym for what equates to upsetting? That said, feminism does, quite literally depress me, specifically because of the way in which it makes women with mental illness and disabilities feel alienated and erased. The repeated instances of feminists using lazy and bungled ableist language need to end. Having a disability is already isolating, and presents women with more complex oppressions, feminists need to make a conscious effort to be more aware of these issues and seek to support their sisters. Perhaps the question of whether feminism is depressing wasn’t so silly after all.