The time I tried to (metaphorically) smash someone’s head just to change her mind

“Smashing heads does not open minds.” –Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture.

This is not a post about mental illness, not really. It is a post about frustration and anger and trying to change other people’s minds.

So many times when I hear people talk about the mentally ill, I feel angry. They don’t get it, I think. I want to smack them upside the head with reality: you’re talking about me. Me.

My mental rant continues erupting, spewing anger and frustration, pointing toward society and church and any unlucky person in the path of my lava-like rage. I might throw a few chairs, too, or stomp from the room. It’s all imagined, of course. I don’t want to physically or emotionally hurt people. Besides, volcanic eruptions change landscapes, not minds.

But over the years, I’ve mentally ranted at the People Who Don’t Get It. It might be eating disorders or the legal system or the stance of their political opponents or simply the other side of a silly argument, the type where the people talk past each other and they might as well be speaking Swahili and Mandarin Chinese to each other. (But that’s a different blog post.) I usually fume in silence.

Every once in a while, though, I come across something I can’t ignore and the volcano erupts.

Case in point:

Months ago, a Christian denominational magazine ran a cover story titled, “In The World: Following Christ into a Relationship with the Mentally Ill.”

As I read, I was infuriated. Just in case I was being overly-touchy, I handed the magazine to my husband and had him read it before I shared my thoughts. “Did you notice anything about the article?” I asked.

He furrowed his brow. “Well, the author didn’t talk about any non-violent mentally ill people. The only people they talked about were the extremely violent ones, like Adam Lanza. And it acted like mental illness was all out there and not in the church, too.”

Exactly.

I wrote a letter to the magazine editor, detailing what I found offensive about the article. Initially, I wrote a screaming rage-rant, the type that uses expletives and all that. Later, I toned down the anger in my original rough draft, taking out the four-letter words and overall nastiness. I thought hard, polished and edited and made certain that I was rational. But when I read this letter now, ten months later, I remember how upset I was. The anger is still there.

I sent the letter by email to the only email address I found in the magazine. (This one never publishes letters to the editor, and there’s no “contact us” type of address listed.)

Silence.

The editors never responded.

I don’t know if my email was caught in their spam filter. Or if it got to the right person. Or if it did, and the right person didn’t have time to respond. Or if they dismissed me as a “crazy” person they needed to ignore. Or if they never respond to emails, ever. Or if it made the writer think, at least for a moment, about the consequences of her words. I don’t know.

I know this: I’ve waited for a response and never gotten one.

The silence increases my frustration. My letter did absolutely no good.

Was this a case of smashing heads? Was I expecting changed minds from a technique that never changes minds? Was I smashing heads or simply being passionate in my argument?

I don’t know.

Was I too unreasonable? Too angry? Too offensive? Was I re-enforcing the stereotype of “crazy mental case” by writing this?

Again, I don’t know.

Was there a better way to handle this? Was there a type of response from me that would have prompted a response from them?

Once more, I don’t know.

I wish I did.

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9 thoughts on “The time I tried to (metaphorically) smash someone’s head just to change her mind

  1. I can totally relate. I like to counter misconceptions about mental illness using myself as an example that defies stereotypes. When I do so in anger, it kind of undermines the whole point I’m making. It’s hard, for I DO have a temper and righteous indignation is often in order. Even Jesus threw over tables. But we undermine ourselves when we express ourselves in anger. Those we are trying to educate find reason to reinforce their preconceptions. Damn! Where’s a table to overthrow when you need one?

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    1. Yeah, there have been times when I’d love to have a table to overthrow and the knowledge that I was right to overthrow it. I’m never certain if my “righteous indignation” is completely righteous, or if there’s more than a little sin of self-righteousness motivating me. Thanks for commenting, Kitt.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, I’ve sinned that sin. Some pride in there. Better to let go of it. Not let go of the fight for justice, but let go of the “self-righteousness.” I’ve definitely been guilty of that, more so in my youth. Age brings with it the knowlegde that you don’t have a clue. (At least I’m more humble now than I was at 20.)

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      2. Realizing that I have bipolar disorder and that I cannot do everything and anything I choose has played a part in my humility. But life itself has played a part, too. We are not in control of everything. Then there’s motherhood… Parenting is not easy, whether or not you have a diagnosable mental illness.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I imagine your letter was just fine, Laura. They might be one of those outfits that ignores letters, or they might have taken offense needlessly because you pointed out the shortcomings of that article.

    In any case, I would have considered it worthwhile if I’d sent it, even though I’d also probably feel frustrated at never hearing back from them. You took the time to read their article and write them about it; why couldn’t they take the time to send you back an email?

    In any case, I am glad you passed on that experience to us today because it’s a reminder I need constantly: “volcanic eruptions change landscapes, not minds.”

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    1. I’ve kind of gotten used to the “no response” from agents/editors that I’ve queried about my novel, so this frustrated feeling is familiar to me. I think I would’ve been more frustrated with myself if I had NOT responded to the article!

      Thanks for the encouraging comment. I need the reminder about volcanic eruptions quite often.

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  3. Very interesting post, Laura! I’m sorry you did not hear back from the editor – who knows what really happened? 😦 That is SO frustrating and not hearing back would have bothered me too!

    Over the past couple years I’ve emailed journalists/editors only when I’ve become enraged about one thing or another (usually regarding bipolar-related topics), & I’ve gotten a response from them 99% of the time. :0 Because of that, I got the message that I could only “command respect” if I went batsh*t, which was NOT good for my blood pressure, stress level and overall self esteem.

    It *shouldn’t* take my rage to get a reply from these people, of course. I was surprised that they even wrote me back after reading my anger-infused words! (At least I held off on potty talk….I had some standards!) So far I’ve received courteous replies from these editors, which is nice, but I still felt lame for getting so upset in the first place.

    What to make of this? I’d like to not get so worked up when I feel compelled to email letters to editors. It sounds so nice and simple, doesn’t it? It’s not.

    You should have seen my reaction to an article my mother sent me from the L.A. Times. The writer is a L.A. Times regular & very well-known – he had a bestselling book & is very accomplished. His article was about a young woman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a very young age. The way in which he wrote the piece was too simplistic for my taste; he implied that she was just fine and dandy after she stopped taking bp medications. I felt his article was misleading to readers because it sounded like she’d be 100% fine from that point on, living life without any meds & having a serious mental illness, despite beginning college where life’s stresses had only just begun. (sorry if that doesn’t make sense & I go off on a tangent – it has been a looooong day!)

    Anyway, oooooooohhhhhhh- I went off at this writer!

    I got an answer from him within 5 minutes, and I almost fell off my chair. It turns out that I didn’t read the paragraph he wrote stating that “she had been misdiagnosed with bipolar”, apparently, and she had a different mood disorder called “mood dysregulation disorder”. Uh oh. He graciously pointed it out to me that I didn’t read that part.

    Ooops! I was embarrassed! It turned out to be no big deal, but I knew that my being in a state when I wrote him, I made a fool of myself. Not good.

    Thank you for letting me vent and share. Reading your post makes me feel like I’m not the only one to feel rebuffed & upset if an editor (or someone else I respect) blows off a letter I’ve taken pains to write.

    Wouldn’t it be bizarre if you wind up getting an answer after all?

    Stranger things have happened!

    Love your blog!
    Dy

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    1. Dy,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m glad that you’ve gotten responses, though not glad that it takes going ballistic for them to respond. (Hmm, that says something about our culture, doesn’t it? Reasonable responses don’t get attention, but the more outrageous we act, the more attention we get. Not always positive attention, though.)

      BTW, I’ve never heard of “mood dysregulation disorder.” I’m sure it’s in the DSM-IV somewhere; I’ll have to look it up.

      Thanks for the comment. I always appreciate them!

      Liked by 1 person

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