CN: gendered violence, death
Collecting data can be painful: lower back spasms, headaches, blurred vision. I take screenshots for hours. Then there is the content of the data— Bell Let’s Talk documents, advertisements for Bell on the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s website. The stamp of capitalism bleeding over every page. Twitter threads that makes you realize everything is a little bit worse than you were originally told, even though you knew this already, you’ve known since the first time someone grabbed your ass, and the last time someone told you how to cure your anxiety. You must look like a project that needs fixing, an imperfect line of code, always spitting out an error number.
I’ve been thinking a lot about presence lately. In Mad At School (2011), Margaret Price asks: “what does “participation” in a class mean for a student who is undergoing deep depression and cannot get out of bed? Or a student who experiences such severe anxiety, or obsession, that he can barely leave his dorm room or home?” (5-6). My grandmother died this term and I spent two weeks in my sweatpants watching Friends and playing Fable 3. Between grief and everyday depression, I missed every meeting for the digital scholarship graduate conference of which I am a committee member. I posted comments on the shared google document. I emailed suggestions. I have a virtual presence when I cannot be present physically.
Different colours of pain weave across our research.
Beth LaPensée is an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish artist and game designer. Her game Thunderbird Strike won the Best Digital Media Work award at ImagineNATIVE. LaPensée is currently under siege by oil lobbyists who want to rescind her art grant and destroy the game. Why? The game advocates for the removal of oil pipelines. I follow LaPensée on Twitter, and I’ve played Thunderbird Strike (it’s beautiful and powerful— and free! Play it!). Recently, I read Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love. I am currently reading the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar’s As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance, and a collection of short stories by Dawn Dumont, a Plains Cree writer, entitled Glass Beads. I’m a third year PhD student in English and cultural studies and I have never read critical/cultural theory written by an Indigenous woman. I work in a colonial university, in an English department that privileges eurocentric texts and written culture over Indigenous literatures and oral cultures.
How do I honour the land on which I work and play, stolen land, and the people it was stolen from? How do I discuss mental health movements in the context of colonialism, and attend to the ways in which both the psychiatric industry and Mad Pride are settler movements, and have been leveraged as weapons of colonialism? And how do we honour Indigenous resistance that has always existed when we talk about mental health and Mad digital activism?
Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliot discusses depression, anxiety, and chronic illness in her article “On Being an Ill Writer”: “Is there a way that we can create a space, a language, around illness, that not only robs it of its stigma, but also positions it as a fact of life instead of merely an obstacle to be overcome on some imaginary road to “wellness”?” I want to follow these writers into their truths. Not to steal— we’ve stolen enough (we continue to steal). But to the acknowledge the work that sick, disabled, and mentally ill Indigenous women do, resistances that are not colonial, capitalist, anti-Black, violent.
I am starting to understand that the framework of my research, with its settler focus, colonial violence, and Indigenous erasure, is nowhere near good enough.
The light folds away into origami cranes and the world is dark. The world is dark. Mad Pride Toronto Retweets a CBC article entitled “Mentally ill patient died while strapped to bed in locked hospital room.” Everything is a little bit worse. They’ve stopped tweeting about Andrew Loku— there are new deaths to bear witness to. Next year, I will have to do something with this data I am collecting, make sense out of it, untangle it like a child’s skipping rope. As if the act of tweeting as both witness and testimony is simple, something easily categorized and dissected and known. As if we aren’t all entangled in our work, looking up organizations on our own Twitter and Facebook and Instagram pages, sharing and saving and responding and hurting and trying. The footprints of my research are easy to find. It is a textbook crime scene.
Elliot, Alicia. “On Being an Ill Writer.” Open Book. November 13, 2017. Web.
Price, Margaret. Mad At School. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011. Print.