Today is World Mental Health Day. I wouldn't know this if not for a tweet I saw from a game journalist linking to a blog post they wrote last year about suffering from depression. World Mental Health Day is about spreading awareness of mental illness. I ought to know when this day falls every year because I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999 and had been suffering from it for almost a decade before finally seeking help.
There were two reasons why I never sought help. First I didn't understand what was going on, and later when I had an idea that something was wrong I was afraid to do anything about it.
Over a few pieces at Unwinnable I've slowly been working into writing about this, stating that I had a mood disorder, having been severely ill in the past, and citing my issues with drug addiction that arose around trying to self-medicate my condition - a common enough state of affairs that there's actually a formal, medical diagnosis for it - but other than these few references to the past I've avoided ever talking about having a mood disorder, or being bipolar. The precise, medical definition of my condition changes with each new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, but I've been afraid to mention my mental illness by whatever name because I've been afraid that doing so would come back to haunt me. The reason we need World Mental Health Day, and why people like me who are capable of effectively communicating the experience of being mentally ill need to speak up, is because these illnesses are still stigmatized.
I remember the first time I ever told anyone I was going to therapy. I was in seventh grade and mentioned it to a friend of mine while we were walking with three other people to class. He looked at me like I was an alien and am pretty sure he told me to get away from him. That was the last time I ever tried talking about going to therapy to anyone other than the closest of friends until, well, until right now, actually. It wasn't until 1999, after a failed year of graduate school that I could lay on being high pretty much every day, and a year of working at a brokerage house in-between transferring to another graduate school rather than sucking up to mistakes and thus wasting an insane amount of federal student loan money as only three credits transferred over from an entire year's worth of work, that I finally decided to deal with this issue because quite frankly I was tired of feeling like I wanted to kill myself on a regular basis because I was so depressed, so distraught, and so utterly devoid of hope.
I published something on Stu Horvath's gaming and geek culture blog Unwinnable last week. They do themed weeks over there and the themes have been resonating with me, and I really like Stu and his crew so I participate whenever I can. I don't get paid for any of it, but I think the stuff I've been contributing to Unwinnable is some of the better content I've been writing lately. And I think there's a connection between the lack of remuneration and the nature of the work. My reasons for writing on Unwinnable are different than when I take professional assignments elsewhere.
Part of it has to do with how I perceive Unwinnable. It's a place where I can take some risks I can't take elsewhere. Unwinnable is much more a potpourri of different perspectives and lenses, whereas when I write for commercial sites they have established voices at the outlet level and part of a freelancer's job is to learn how to write to that voice. The fact that I'm writing for free does seem to matter, though. I'm writing this stuff purely because I want to share something with an audience, not to try and further my career or make new inroads at a new outlet, and I suppose that's why anyone ought to be writing.
If one wants to make a living at this, though, they're going to have to take gigs that have nothing to do with self-expression or the craft of the writing, or have less to do with either due to the nature of the assignment, and those pieces are inevitably, I think, going to be of lesser quality. I've seen this in my own writing, I've heard my wife saying as much as she moved from blogging to full-time writing and editing, and I've seen it happen to numerous people who have moved into paid positions on game journalism outlets. That isn't offered as a revelation or anything, but it isn't something I really thought about until recently, and realized how often I've seen it happen.