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The Things You Say

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This is not: a medical paper, anything to rely on in lieu of actual research and talking to people who know what the hell they are talking about, a diagnosis or in fact anything that makes sense at all.

This is: an extended rant about how the internet is wrong, a personal essay about being a person with mental health issues, and a how-to guide on the minimum research standard when you're writing a person with mental health issues, or, come to think of it, any experience you have not had yourself. Mostly it is about mental health privilege, let's be fair.

We're going to be focusing on the Teen Wolf fandom, since that has a character that is canonically ADHD and has anxiety issues, and the amount of writers who dump out a box of cliches about Crazy People and stir them around is actively making me want to punch people in the face.

I (Meg) have never been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, although going by family history I could probably argue my way into getting tested. I have been diagnosed with chronic depression and generalized panic disorder with a side order of panic attacks, although that last one has calmed down quite a bit.

Sami has been diagnosed with ADHD and will be focusing on the Actual User Experience. Meg's going to talk about how to research things like this, and how this, respectfully dealt with, could make a better story.

So here is the thing: People are writing Stiles, who is a person with ADHD. People are not, and I want you to pay attention, because this is important, people are not spending the time to research basic things like how his medication works or how his life is affected by his disorder.

Guys. Guys. You can't do that. It is not okay. I literally cannot express how not okay this is. Like, all right.

Let's say someone wrote a fic about the Hale pack actually being Native American. This a pretty amazing idea, and sometimes I stop and admire it for a while, although I don't have the time or energy to write it myself, and also I'm afraid of accidentally being an asshole, or more than I usually am at least.

The thing is, if you wrote the Hale pack being Native without researching Native culture and experiences, it would be a pretty asshole thing to do, right? Writing about a person with mental health issues, without taking five fucking minutes on Google to fact check, is also an asshole thing to do.

When you write about something you don't know about, without talking to someone who knows what they're talking about, you are going just rely on your cultural and personal impressions of what that group is like. You are going to write based on stereotypes and prejudices. You can't fucking help doing it, and it is absolutely not okay. I don't really have words to express how not okay that is. You have a responsibility to not hand out disinformation. You have a responsibility to think about what you're writing. This is not a cheap vehicle for angst, or humor, or plot points. This is someone's experience. You have a responsibility to respect that.

Now granted, speaking as a person with mental health issues, sometimes it is kind of funny, in a terrible way. Sometimes you hit the point where you laugh instead of crying. Sometimes you laugh because if you take this seriously the disease, the disorder, is going to win and by God it's not gonna do that to you. The distinction I am trying to make that it is one thing for me, the person most involved with my disorder, to make jokes about the brain weasels singing the You're Wasting Oxygen song. It would be a dick move, a terribly hurtful one at that, for some stranger off the internet to make that same joke when I'm already barely hanging on as it is.

I'm not trying to say, Oh my God, you guys, being an asshole about people with depression or ADHD or bipolar is just as terrible as being an asshole to a person of color! For one thing, there's different degrees of functioning within the spectrum of mental health issues, and for another, my experience with mental health issues as a white woman with a supportive family and relatively good access to medication and therapy is going to be light centuries better than a person of color with no support system and hideous access to medication and therapy. I am trying to say that a person without mental health issues is in a position of privilege over someone with them, and needs to think about that really hard before writing or talking about it.

I've been pretty open about my struggle with mental health, because, let's be fair, things are improving a lot but even fifteen or twenty years ago, depression wasn't a thing that people really talked about. Panic attacks weren't really a thing people discussed. And it would have helped me a lot if someone had stepped up in my social circle and said, This is not your fault. There is a way to manage this. You can get through this. And I don't know if things happen for a purpose or not, but I like to think they do, at least. And by God if the purpose of me going through that was to be a warning to others, I am gonna stand on that mountain with a bullhorn, warning the fuck out of everybody I see.

This is what we're going to talk about:

1. Minimum research standards when writing about a character with a brain disorder, and how to do that research so you're not losing readers because they're staring blankly at the screen wondering how the hell anybody doesn't know that Adderall is a restricted drug. (Pro tip: You cannot go to the pharmacy and get a new bottle unless it is time for your refill. Period. End. Full stop.)
2. The difference between how brain drugs work, and how people apparently think they work, which is vaguely hilarious and definitely horrifying. (Another free tip: Sami tells me that one of the actual tests they use to diagnose ADHD, since you unfortunately cannot open someone's skull and dig around to find out what is going wrong with them, is the reaction to the drug. If it affects you like an upper, you don't have ADHD weasels. Which, hurray, but back to the drawing board. If you actually calm down, you have ADHD.)
3. The actual day-to-day grind of living with a brain disorder, which, in summary, sucks Satan's hairy balls, and specifically how this would affect a character like Stiles and the people around him.
4. Sami describes the actual ADHD experience.
5. Why you should care about this, besides not being a dick. There are some legitimately good stories waiting to be told about this, guys. Let's tell
them.