Mental Illness: In Writing, In Literature & Online

Author of Drunk Mom and fellow Torontonian Jowita Bydlowska had another article appear in the Toronto Star on mental illness, specifically the happy personas that cover up a depressing reality through social media venues like Facebook. It’s a well-written piece and an eye-opening look into that elephant in the room which, even today, goes largely unspoken about, unnoticed and/or unacknowledged. More worrisome is that in an age when the stigma is slowly — ever-so-slowly — lifting, many of us still put on the façade that all is okay when in reality this could not be further from the truth. So why do we still hide behind a veneer of “happiness” and “unbridled joy,” especially in public forums, where I’m-so-happy-I-could-smile-through-your-freaking-screen-right-now selfies abound like fallen leaves on a late-autumn morning?

This got me thinking about the issue of mental health and how it’s been addressed in literature over the years. Novels which spring to mind include Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Bell Jar. It also reminded me of a powerful story (now memoir) of an otherwise sane person mentally breaking down I once read in Harper’s Magazine by Eleanor Cooney called Death in Slow Motion: A Descent into Alzheimer’s, in which she wrote (no surprise that Amazon readers who were moved by Cooney’s memoir also loved Still Alice) a line that still haunts me to this day (paraphrased): I now understand how people can wear an overcoat all day and drink whiskey for breakfast.

Fortunately, many societies are now finally recognizing that mental illness is exactly that: an illness. It’s not something to be made fun of or looked down upon. Although people from the time of Sophocles more than two millennia ago have been writing about mental anguish/illness, it seems we still have a ways to go in understanding that even those among us who may appear strong could in fact be reaching out the only way they know how, not through self-reflective writing or counselling, but through happy-go-lucky mediums like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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