This piece was written by charli, as part of our 'Disability pride starts here' project.
content warning: this article discusses suicidal thoughts.ideation, trauma, ableism, when people with a mental illness are treated differently or badly because they have a mental illness.saneism
What does it mean to feel disability pride when you’re mentally ill?
I’m sitting in my comfy bed writing this, listening to ‘loved you before’ on repeat by Peach PRC, a lesbian singer who has openly shared her experiences of a condition where people think, feel or hear things that are not real.psychosis, borderline personality disorder and trauma.
There’s an open bag of salt and vinegar chips to my right, next to my phone which I’m using to when people with ADHD do tasks with another person beside them.body double with a uni friend via video call. The end of my bed is covered with a chaotic and bright array of pink, purple and red items of clothing, ranging in texture from Fake.faux fur to lined satin to (plain, but) cozy cotton. These clothes were left from two days ago, where I was frantically deciding what to wear to a Satellite Foundation event, where Satellite hosted members working in the Lived Experience sector of the Department of Health.
My tortoiseshell cat, Sappho, is perched on her pink cat tower, telling me she loves me with slow eye blinks. I adopted her when I was experiencing chronic loneliness and Following.subsequent suicidal thoughts after my brother passed away, almost two years ago now.
I need to pick up my anti-depressants today as I’m about to run out. I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, either. It’s almost 1pm. I also should take my first dose of mood stabilisers, as soon as possible.ASAP .
I’m an autistic ADHD-er and it’s not challenging for me to feel pride for these disabilities, with a growing culture of understanding and celebrating natural.innate neurodivergence.
It feels a little different for my acquired neurodivergence, such as my mental illnesses. How do I feel pride around illnesses that were caused by trauma and ongoing, happening for a long time.chronic stress? How do I feel pride for having an illness that tells me it would be better if I wasn’t here?
Alongside depression and anxiety, I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). It took me almost two decades to get onto medication for my anxiety, which had a devastating impact on my childhood and adolescence.
I frequently thought I had bipolar disorder growing up- my Nanna had bipolar and I have always felt emotions very intensely. I didn’t even know about BPD until I was in my 20s.
I was introduced to BPD by people with Borderline Personality Disorder talking about it on social media, specifically Instagram and Tiktok. Some symptoms I identified in myself included impulsivity, emotional instability, chronic loneliness and unstable relationships.
I was very privileged to access a free psychiatrist at the time, who was reluctant to diagnose me with BPD, but nevertheless put me onto .mood stabilisers. The mood stabilisers meant I wasn’t crying my eyes out every day, and I’ve seen dramatic improvements in my emotional regulation, relationships and impulsivity, thanks to the medication and my therapist.
I remember feeling anxious about telling my family about my BPD, since it’s primarily understood as caused by childhood trauma. I didn’t want my family to feel guilty, especially since I understand that a lot of my trauma occurred due to systemic failure. However, BPD is so obscurely known that my family’s reaction was underwhelming- more of an “okay… and?”
I nabbed a last minute ticket to see Peach PRC live at the Northcote Theatre a few months ago. In a pink sea of ‘girls, gays, theys’, I found myself standing next to an old friend who went to the same church as me, years ago. She asked me how I’ve been.
I replied, “well, I’m very mentally ill!” which seemed a fitting response considering how open Peach is about her own mental illnesses.
Peach introduced one of her new songs, ‘favourite person,’ dedicating the song to everyone with BPD. I let out a ‘whoooooooo!’ while the rest of the crowd was the quietest it’d been all night.
I really admire how people with mental illness are breaking down the stigma around mental illnesses that are less talked about. It has been encouraging and relieving to hear that others experience similar symptoms to me- I am not alone.
I have especially enjoyed learning from Aretha Brown’s article on BPD, where she talked about decolonising mental health and proposed that for First Nations people, BPD can be a result of colonial trauma. Another article written from lived experience that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed is this article about Nina Simone and her bipolar disorder. In a world where cluster-b personality disorders are highly stigmatised, these articles warm my heart (and I would highly recommend them).
I feel incredibly grateful to learn from other people with mental illnesses but it is also discouraging knowing that most, if not all of us, have experienced Sanism refers to systemic discrimination towards people with mental illness. sanism .
I have been invalidated and made to feel paranoid by doctors, told by loved ones that I shouldn’t seek out medication for my mental illness (whilst in a mental health crisis) and experienced sanism at work from bosses and colleagues. I’ve seen numerous non-Borderline people on the internet describe us Borderlines as monsters, abusers and inherently manipulative (when really we are misunderstood, misdiagnosed, victims/survivors of trauma and abuse ourselves, and in need of support, compassionate healthcare and better resources).
Despite the sanism, I’m surrounded by loved ones who understand, and who themselves experience anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, BPD, OCD, PTSD and more. We’ve resisted ableism, advocated for ourselves and others (which we shouldn’t have to do!), learnt from and listened to each other and showed compassion, support and empathy for each other.
I think some non-disabled people think that disability pride is about being proud of our disability, and it’s understandable why they would think that.
I could write out a long list of famous people and celebrities who have/had a mental illness to ‘prove’ that we’re amazing and capable of fantastic things, but my pride doesn’t revolve around rich people I don’t know, and I’m not necessarily proud of us for being outstanding.
I’m proud of the 2 in 5 people in so-called ‘australia’ who have experienced a mental health condition, just for existing. Not in the disabled inspiration porn sort of way- but because in existing, we’re resisting systems that discriminate and institutionalise us, both historically and in the present-day. Being mentally ill in this world is hard.
For me, disability pride- whether it’s about my mental illness, being autistic and an ADHD-er, or my chronic illness, is about how I have resisted ableism, how I experience joy and the support, love and solidarity evident in our disabled communities.
I’m proud of us.
For fighting, resisting.
For advocating for ourselves and each other.
For living, and loving.
For being in solidarity with each other.
For experiencing joy.
Despite the ableist bullshit.
I am so proud of you. Of myself. Of us.
Despite living in a capitalist, ableist and colonial hellscape, we are still here. And we’re not going anywhere.
Meet the writer
charli (fae/them) is a white queer settler writing, resting and resisting on Wurundjeri Land of the Kulin Nation. fae are an artist who explore themes of nature, queerness, grief, politics and joy through analog and digital collage. fae has been on Satellite Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council since 2022, and recently exhibited their art on grief through Vic Uni’s Resonant Voices program. you can view their art on instagram @gayheartcreative and hear more about their lived experience of disability on their other instagram account, @disabledfrogfairy.