Writing about mental illness

Dear Reader,

My memoir is kicking into high(er) gear since AWP a couple of weeks ago. I’m trying new things and relooking at things in a new light. I can say that it’s opening up nicely.

And by nicely, I mean that I’m tackling some writing and craft things I’ve been avoiding. Frankly, I didn’t know I had been avoiding them until I was in a bookstore (Powell’s, of course) with a friend looking for a specific type of book.

Narratives about depression written by people of color.

Okay, yes, I know there aren’t many (I have yet to find one but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there so if you know of any PLEASE leave a comment below). But I’d think that the City of Books, the Lit-loving Powell’s would have something.

Nope. Not one. There were memoirs from people of color about other types of things and trauma which are now on my to-read list.

Here’s the thing, when a writer is writing in a specific genre or topic, they tend to read what has been written in the past. I’ve read a couple of memoirs about depression. Two of them started with either a name drop of a spiritual guru or with the idea of rowing crew at Harvard.

(This is the part of the post where I pause, raise my eyebrows and roll my eyes.)

Other than the fact that we all have this thing called depression, I can’t really identify with them. Where are the stories of people of color with this depression thing.

And there is the rub, readers. Those narratives aren’t on the shelves. On a book shelf, the story about mental illness looks one way, white. And thus the continued thought of the 1) strong black woman 2) black girl magic. 3) all other attributes of people of color being strong.

So we don’t get that dark cloud. Let me tell you, folks, we do. That cloud, those thoughts, manifest differently in and on our bodies differently.

And don’t tell me people of color don’t have time for depression. Negative. That right there is the problem.

Understanding this and knowing that these stories are out there, I am baffled at why there aren’t more memoirs out there about this. Well, I shouldn’t be baffled but let me have some hope in publishing, please.

This create a problem, this few narrative of POC mental illness — it creates a pressure on me to “prove” myself. To prove I have depression and generalized anxiety. To prove that my narrative is as important as the ones that are out there now.

And boy am I feeling the pressure.

It comes with me when I attack the page. How much of my culture do I need to explain so that people understand how this depression manifests. It’s a weird dynamic.

I have no solution for this. Not sure who does. But it’s worth noting and talking about.

Writing my life away,

~Icess

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