One Step Away from Authentic Representation of Mental Illness?
A colleague asked what I thought of the representation of mental illness on Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (2023). Some people take casual questions casually. Six hours of Netflix, two hours watching interviews, and [however long it took me to write this blog post] later, I can state with utmost certitude: I am not one of those people.
Full confession: period melodrama is not usually my thing. I have seen zero Bridgerton (2020-present), of which Queen Charlotte is the prequel/sequel spin-off. To boot, this is my first venture into in Shondaland. And I am only one person. My own experiences of mental illness and of the mental healthcare system are not universal. I’m a part-time historian, but don’t give two flying flips if writers take liberties with the past when they write fiction. (Black German nobility in the 1700s? Natürlich!) Within those admitted limitations(?), my viewing of Queen Charlotte has left me feeling generally impressed and inspired, but with a profound sense of just how much work remains to be done for authentic and inclusive representation of mental illness.
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Scrounging for Hope
When shadows fall heavy upon the land, I look for signs of hope. Lately, the shadows have weighed so heavy that I’ve been tempted to stop looking. Still, on unhurried days I walk our dog down along the river. It feeds straight to the Bay. I try to forget that it could flood our neighborhood, maybe for good someday if the sea level rises enough. The floodwall wears predictable layers of spray paint script. Much of it inscrutable, though one can decode the predictable bevy of profanities, as specific as they are explicit. But a few weeks back, I saw something new: “you are loved,” “keep going,” and “I am scared I don’t know what to do but I know I will survive and be glad that I did.”
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An Open Letter to the Great Test Generation, Including the Class of 2020
have journeyed far to arrive at this point in your life. Further than you
realize, perhaps. The elements that constitute your physical being traveled
hundreds of lightyears across the millennia to arrive in their current form as
your body. Folk singer Joni Mitchell put it best: “we are stardust.”
are other parts of you beyond the merely physical. Those, too, have a long
story. Indeed, your story isn’t just your story. Your life is the latest
chapter in the story of your family. You are the descendant of survivors. Those
who came before you, your ancestors, lived, loved, worked, and risked their
lives, some of them more than others, so that you could be here today. Some
crossed borders, even oceans, to give you a better life. All made sacrifices.
All made mistakes, some moreso than others. But, in one way or another, all
lived so that you could live. In innumerable ways, who they were has given shape
to who you are. Never forget that.
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Confronting Toxic Power by Destigmatizing Mental Illness
It still seems hard to believe. Eighteen years ago last week, our nation suffered its worst attack since Pearl Harbor. For those of us who came of age during the comparatively placid 1990s, the new world disorder came as a particular shock. U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan ensued as part of the War on Terror. In addition to physical casualties, a generation of veterans remains burdened by the psychological, relational, and economic effects of long and repeated deployments. Despite a decline in violent crime overall in the U.S., the new era has coincided with an increase in mass shootings, proof of disproportionate violence against people of color by law enforcement, widening disparities of wealth, political gridlock, ecological crisis, and, especially recently, the scapegoating of immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, non-Christians, and those with mental illnesses as sources of America’s woes.
The America born on September 11, 2001, has reached maturity. But, like any new-found maturity, this is a condition fraught with internal-conflict, paradox, and room for growth. In a nation at odds with itself and with its neighbors, we Americans can remain hopeful of reconciliation so long as we can accurately diagnose this present madness. My own mental illness has helped me understand much that I might have otherwise missed, misunderstood, or refused to believe. On the basis of that experience, the time has come for me to shed what light I can. In the following analysis, my diagnosis serves as but one possible point of departure; people with other mental health conditions can doubtless offer further insights into the true state of things.
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