A Room of My Own

Write & Create Art in a Room of My Own

My friend Dyane Harwood’s recent post A Stigma of One’s Own got me thinking. Dyane takes issue with the non-profit foundation A Room of Her Own (AROHO) for describing Virginia Woolf’s suicide as “took her own life” and for not mentioning her mental illness. I support Dyane for challenging them to rework Woolf’s bio. At the same time, I wonder…

Is it stigma to not mention that Virginia Woolf had mental illness (or had been sexually abused, for that matter)? Is that Woolf’s legacy? Was she not far more than her illness, as are we?

Here’s what I’ve been debating: removing my tagline, keeping references to bipolar in my bio and in my story, but not “limiting” my identity to someone living with bipolar or to being a mental health advocate.

I want to just write, to create art, to have that room of my own. Perhaps we need that locked door. Perhaps that metaphor can include, for some, privacy. Perhaps our illness does not limit us creatively, even as we struggle at times. Perhaps privacy is not stigma. Perhaps, for some, it is respect, it is a lock on a door which only the author, the artist, can open.

55 thoughts on “A Room of My Own

  1. Susan October 28, 2015 / 6:32 pm

    I like your perspective on this topic. We are not defined by our illness unless we want to be. Bipolar Disorder is just one part of who I am. It has helped shape how I view and participate in this world, but I am so much more. I’d have to double check, but I think my bio reads “I’m a wife, mother, educator, mental health advocate and I have Bipolar.” I know, a bit wordy. I’m starting to ramble. I’ll stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. writerwannabe763 October 18, 2015 / 7:32 pm

    I think that if you feel it somehow inhibits you from writing about anything else, then remove it from your header and include in your bio. I have written often about my depression but about many other things also.
    I don’t feel however that to leave it as is, is a stigma that only defines you as bipolar and that you can only write about it.

    So, it’s just a matter of your personal choice. (I likely haven’t helped you in making a decision, but I really don’t feel either is a wrong choice) Diane

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 19, 2015 / 11:23 am

      Thank you, Diane. I think for now, I will leave it be and continue to write and create as I’m called or inspired.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jess Melancholia October 18, 2015 / 6:22 pm

    I agree with Bridget. I too have Bipolar Disorder 2 and I’m obviously keeping my identity secret for now. I was just diagnosed last year and experienced my first real manic episode a few weeks ago. Only a small handful of people know about it. I’m scared to death of people finding out. I’m still wrestling with when to publicly come out and let people know that there are smart functioning people out there with this illness who are not defined solely by it. That we HAVE bipolar but we are NOT bipolar.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley October 19, 2015 / 11:22 am

      I’m open by nature, regardless of the consequences. That is my personality. It’s okay to be private. You should be able to confide in those you love, though. The support of family and close friends is important. I wish you the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. dyane October 18, 2015 / 10:14 am

    I would’ve commented earlier, but it has been a tough weekend here with some family issues. I feel exhausted today and I’m still coughing – ugh. At least the coughs are not bas bad as when it sounded like a lung was going to come up! 😦 :0 I definitely want to return to this post so I can read these comments & perhaps share my perspective after reading them.

    I thank you for writing about such a relevant issue that means a lot to me. And I particularly look forward to reading more about the evolution of your focus!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 18, 2015 / 11:16 am

      Honestly, I just think I’m going to post a variety of posts, which I’ve been doing anyway. Not all posts will be bipolar related (which they are not now). Whether or not I change the tagline, I do not know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dyane October 18, 2015 / 11:29 am

        Sounds good to me. You could always change the tagline and if it doesn’t sit right, be mercurial and try something else! You were wise to register your URL – that’s the biggie. I pride myself for having very smart cookies as my friends. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bridget October 18, 2015 / 9:46 am

    This is the first time I’ve written about my illness. I have a bipolar type II diagnosis among other diagnoses. At one time I was embrassed and didn’t want anyone to know I was bipolar. I was diagnosed 17 years ago and have only recently begun to education myself and want to help others. When I’m not feeling well I don’t think of my illness often and I dont identify myself as my illness. When I’m struggling and I have been for sometime, with mania and depression among other things. When my illness is affecting my life I do consider myself sick and I am my illness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley October 18, 2015 / 11:15 am

      Well put. We are not defined by our illness, but at times it does limit us and in limiting us feels like our identity. Living with a chronic illness is challenging when it is not well-managed. Everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is unique. As you know, one day, one week, or one month can be better or worse than others.


  6. Sandy Sue October 18, 2015 / 7:06 am

    I think we all fluctuate in our identities. Sometimes carrying the Bipolar Standard into battle feels right. Sometimes we want to be acknowledged for all the other things we are. You know you can change your header as many times as you want!

    Being sort of PC dumb, I’m not sure why saying Wolfe “took her own life” is worse than saying she committed suicide. It’s the same thing, isn’t it? What am I missing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 18, 2015 / 11:12 am

      I think the issue is her mental illness wasn’t discussed, though in most other bios of Woolf it is. I believe that aroomofherownfoundation.org purposefully wrote the bio as they did. They are, after all, writers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dyane October 19, 2015 / 8:37 am

        Yes, the AROHO staff are writers, but they could also very well be writers who hold stigma towards mental illness, especially when it comes the woman they so revere. I couldn’t help but wonder what their stance is about the whole thing. Last night while vegging out with my Kindle looking for Virginia Woolf books, I found not one but two books written about how her manic depression played such a significant role in her life. There are probably more books on the topic…I was very intrigued and sampled the books. I might have to write another blog post about Woolf and manic depression that has nothing to do with AROHO…stay tuned…..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley October 19, 2015 / 11:39 am

          Point well made. I do think that you’ve done a great service in addressing the phrase “took her own life” in AROHO’s bio of Woolf. AROHO need only change one sentence to accurately describe Woolf’s illness. Thank you for taking them on.

          I used your post as a jumping point for a debate I’ve had going on in my own mind. I’m still open about my bipolar disorder and will continue to be.

          Forgive me if I did not sound supportive of your efforts on behalf of mental health awareness and acceptance.

          Liked by 1 person

          • dyane October 19, 2015 / 1:01 pm

            You are my BRA – you are full of support and you always have been that way. I shall call you Maidenform if you keep it up!! No, seriously, you rock.

            Believe it not, I can actually put myself in my “pre-bipolar” shoes and think, “Why would I add manic depression or bipolar to this woman’s bio? It’s not needed. I want to keep it spare.”. But since I found 2 books about Woolf & bipolar, esp. the free (yay yay yay) one, that really makes me think it’s relevant and interesting to include that she had bp or md on in the AROHO bio. If Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison has something to say about it (which she did in her book “Touched With Fire” and in the Woolf book “The Flight of the Mind”‘s afterward) that also makes me think I’m barking up the right tree after all.

            Thanks for everything – I think this is a very cool and illuminating discussion of someone who remains an enigma despite the accolades, films etc.

            Liked by 1 person

    • dyane October 19, 2015 / 8:42 am

      Hi there Sandy Sue! While some folks disagree with me, I personally am okay with either phrase (“took her own life” and “committed suicide”, although now I try to remind myself to write/say “died by suicide” in respect to the suicide survivor movement many of my friends take part in.) Hope that makes sense. So, I’m okay with all three phrases. As Kitt pointed out it wasn’t the wording of Woolf taking her own life, but just the omission of Woolf’s manic depression/bipolar altogether that I thought should have been touched on briefly, and which wrote about in my blog.

      Interestingly, last night while on my Kindle while doing a general Virginia Woolf book search, I found two books written entirely about manic depression and its affect upon Woolf; one got great reviews, the other so-so – and there are more books like that, I bet. I didn’t expect to find those! 🙂
      Sending you my best, & take care, Dyane

      Liked by 2 people

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