People are so desperate to have an identity so that they can be special enough to banish the fear of their own mortality. If you collect enough identity tokens you'll be special enough to be a main character and then you'll never die.

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Your are so right, and I am grateful for your honesty. I flew in from the Middle East to put my closest friend in the hospital when her bipolar mental disorder rendered her incoherent and unable to live by herself. I sat her her room as she wept for hours in her misery. It took years for her to recover and she was never the same. Fortunately, as a tenured professor, she had great medical insurance and job security but she still suffered enormous pain and there was nothing to celebrate. Thank you again for speaking the truth.

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AAPC, one of the biggest names in publishing about autism issues, also includes schizophrenia and bipolar disorder etc within neurodiversity https://www.aapcautismbooks.com/blog/neurodiversity-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-to-be-neurodivergent/

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May 10, 2022Liked by Freddie deBoer

I think the notion I'm most exhausted by is that having/expressing/living according to one's mental illness makes one a more authentic version of themselves. Last night I actually read the Unherd piece to my wife, after which I made the same comment. When I said, "You are not a more complete or authentic version of yourself because of your OCD, there's no reason to be grateful for it," my wife initially disagreed, before realizing that the disagreement was in fact a symptom of OCD. This self-enforcing notion that we would not be complete without our illnesses is toxic. Somehow the message that "disability does not make one less complete or authentic" has become muddled into the dark mirror image you're discussing here. That my life and personality, like those of all disabled and mentally ill people, have been shaped by my "neuro" and body diversity doesn't mean that I am better for them. I'm not worse or less from them, either, but that doesn't make them badges of honor. I've watched this mentality absolutely poison the lives of many of my friends and acquaintances - perhaps an inevitable byproduct of attending a hyper-liberal liberal arts college in the early 2010s - and it's ugly to watch. It's also profoundly sad. And as always: Who benefits from this?

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I have more than one family member whose life has been ruined by untreated mental illness. Their lives would be no better if they'd romanticized their conditions, because not getting treatment is what's ruinous, not "stigma" or whatever.

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This got me thinking about the "neurodivergent" label I've previously identified with, and which (contrary to the original author's definition) I've considered "non-destructive mental oddities". Mild Asperger's, well-managed. I was going to offer a defense of that limited definition, but the more I seriously poked at it as I wrote and erased in this comment box, the more I realized I don't care to. I'm not special or magical because my brain's wired a bit different. People tend to figure it out, I don't exactly hide it. But when I hear people describe me, it's not the characteristic that comes up. I am the shit I've done. I am my sharp wit, the eccentric D&D campaigns I've run, and the empathy I've shown to the cancelled in my circles when nobody else would, not a diagnosis or an identity characteristic.

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I get that solidarity is important, but combining all mental health related concepts into a single bloc has become

basically incoherent. After mass shootings, I see friends on social media talking about how mental illness doesn’t cause mass shootings and how they know this because they had a single depressive episode four years ago. “Neurotypical” is a bizarre concept that somehow includes, say, a piano prodigy, a guy with an average IQ but a photographic memory, and an intellectually slow woman with amazing people skills, but doesn’t include a guy who gets nervous in some social situations.

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I think there are autistic people whose disease doesn’t cause them any problems in itself, and who would have no issues living life if it weren’t for non-autistic people treating them poorly. It seems like describing this type of person is the origin of “neurodiversity” and the concept fits quite well.

Why every useful concept has to be expanded beyond its limits into a big blob, I don’t know.

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It feels like a lot of the critics of this piece are disrespecting Freddie's lived experience. (Am I doing 2022 right?)

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There’s another piece to this. When you have a diagnosis, to some extent your work is done. That can be a relief.

I have a terrible time remembering faces. I can meet the same person many times but will never recognize them when I see them again, particularly if it’s out of context, like running into them on the street. It makes things really awkward, and it seems to be getting worse as I age. I’m like Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland.

So I took some online diagnostic for face blindness that SSC posted once. Maybe that’s my issue! But yeah, I REALLY don’t have face blindness. I “aced” the test. So now I have to confront the other possibility: I’m an asshole who isn’t performing a really basic requirement of social interaction - taking the time to associate names with faces. It’s something I actually desperately need to fix and to learn a skill that most people developed when they were six. And I’m not getting better, even though I’m trying (advice here would be welcome).

But if I had face blindness- well! It’s an awful terrible debilitating condition, but it’d also be out of my hands. The world would just have to accommodate it. I can see the mental advantages.

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I first saw this “diversity” narrative in the (physical) disability community: Walking isn’t better than not being able to walk—the problem is that the world is not accessible. If we had wheelchair ramps everywhere, disability would not be undesirable at all. It would simply be a difference, like being Black or short or female.

But obviously, all else equal, it’s better if you can walk. We should have ramps everywhere, yes, but it’s still unfortunate if someone loses their legs. Some conditions are inherently undesirable, and it doesn’t help anyone to pretend otherwise.

The problem with applying this narrative to mentall illness is that it teaches people to expect endless acommodation and understanding for bad behavior. It’s not “better” to be organized and responsible and stable—the world just isn’t accomodating your special difference, which = oppression.

But it’s not helpful to tell people to expect endless accomodation. Your boss isn’t going to put up with poor work habits. Your spouse isn’t going to stay if your illness makes them miserable. You can call it oppression all day long, but you’re still going to end up broke and alone if you don’t learn how to function in the real world.

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I liked your piece and a lot of it resonated with me, someone who got caught up in that stuff for a bit. The reason people are saying it make sense to seperate scitzofrenia etc from autism ADHD etc is that the the later can be thought of as a difference that has many parts some of which genuinely are NOT bad. For example, if an autistic kid is obsessed with trains I don't think it makes sense to claim that he can't get any joy out of the way he's unique. Obviously that shouldn't be extended to his social difficulties etc but it is possible that some developmental disorders (as opposed to other mental illness) have PARTS that are not bad (and maybe good) in addition to the parts that are bad. Depression, etc are a disease that impacts a specific part of cognition in a negative way but things like ADHD or autism are better thought of as a "brain that processes things differently but not always incorrectly" and theres a fundamental distinction there. I think it's possible to acknowledge that without leaning into the cult of validation.

Look at it this way. If you're depressed you're always going to be struggling for as long as you are depressed. When you're struggling less you're less depressed. With autism or ADHD you will always have the same "amount" of autism/ ADHD and sometimes you'll be happy sometimes sad sometimes struggling etc. But one is more structural in a sense.

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I think one of the problems you have run into is how unherd frames things.

Your review came with the heading:

"Mental illness doesn’t make you special. Why do neurodiversity activists claim suffering is beautiful?"

I am not sure if a real human being decided to write this, or if this is robot headlining, but it in no way captures the thought of your writing. You weren't even attempting to answer that question with your column. No wonder people got defensive.

Next time you write for unherd, see if you can have creative control over the headline, as well. (And please report back here if the answer was -- no. This will mean something, though I am

of many minds as to what, as of now.) I'd like to write a column for them, but not if they get to control the framing of the article with their title.

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The hardest thing, in writing about mental illness, is to not overgeneralize from your own experience or that of your loved ones. I know I’ve made this mistake at times, and I see Freddie making it too.

Because, Freddie, when you write that “what it’s actually like to have a mental illness” is “no desire to justify or celebrate or honor the disease, only the desire to be rid of it”—this is really not true for all of us. I’m happy being the person I am, and while I’ve had some mental health diagnoses of conditions, like depression, that did in fact cause me suffering and distress, other diagnoses really did not and do not.

Without getting into the controversy over self-diagnosis (although I have no idea why I should be a priori incapable of reading the DSM and seeing how it applies to me, that shit’s not rocket science), let’s assume that we are only talking about people with an Official Diagnosis from a Credentialed Person.

Even with that limitation, there are a lot of people out there with a mental illness diagnosis who do not actually suffer from their supposed illness and do not want to be rid of it. Mild autism and some personality disorders are the examples I’m thinking of, but there are probably others.

While most people get a diagnosis because they seek out mental healthcare because they are suffering or not functioning adequately, some people have diagnosis thrust upon them. Anyone who is in the psychiatric system will get some kinda diagnosis, regardless of whether they ever felt the need for treatment.

One possible response to this is that, if you’re not suffering or dysfunctional because of a diagnosis, it must not be a “real” mental illness. Maybe personality disorders are just categorically a different kind of thing from other types of mental illness, maybe autistic traits shouldn’t be pathologized unless they cause suffering. I am very sympathetic to this point of view, but, you know, take it up with the DSM committee. As currently defined, it’s quite clear that *some* people with mental illness diagnoses do not suffer from them.

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I sometimes wonder if the internet & social media made us more aware of our insignificance as individuals so that it triggered a mass over-compensation. Then really really special just became the norm.

It’s also redolent of the many entirely typical & banal people I’ve encountered who do or say something quite ordinary then gleefully declare that they’re quite mad.

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Any good reactions to your piece that you would recommend?

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