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. Sandra October 18, 2015 / 4:03 am

    Great points Kitt, but also, isn’t our creativity also a byproduct of our minds being dragged from one side of our brain to the other? I so associate with being bipolar, and I find such comfort in knowing that this is the reason I have always felt as I have my entire life. Being bipolar is who I am. Along with that, I am mother, wife, writer, nurse. But I couldn’t accomplish those successfully if I didn’t have bipolar manifestations pushing me along. Of course there is something to be said for all the pain that goes along with it…so I kind of paint myself into a corner when I get to that point lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 18, 2015 / 11:10 am

      We are all of the above, aren’t we? As was Virginia Woolf.


  2. bipolarsojourner October 18, 2015 / 12:03 am

    no help on your decision but… this is my two bits on calling it suicide.

    most, people 99 of of 100 who take their lives faces a despair, that all hope is lost and it wold be better for them and those around if they were dead. most people, probably 99 out of 100 who reach that level despair are facing depression, also.

    when some one dies of cancer, there is no attempted redirect, we say they die of cancer. when someone dies of heart disease, there is no attempted redirect, we say hey died of heart disease. Why the attempted redirect with depression?

    depression scare the bejesis our of people. so, instead of speaking the truth, they redirect and use the term suicide. they don’t understand why someone would take their own life. it just boggles their mind.

    let’s stop using the term suicide and call it what it is, so and so lost their battle with depression. society would never do than since they’d have face up to the fact that perhaps they could have done most. they could have been a better listener, a better friend, not offer every struggle with a solution, let them know that they are perfectly fine with who they are and where they are. maybe it those things where done, they would be less,lives lost to depression.

    sorry, off my soapbox now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 18, 2015 / 11:09 am

      You are more than welcome to get on your soapbox. That’s what the comment sections are for. I, too, have known the pain of severe depression, a living hell, a pain so deep that the only way out that I could see was death. Point well taken.


  3. Angel the Alien October 17, 2015 / 9:32 pm

    I’ve thought of that before… on one hand I definitely don’t want my disabilities and my mental health to be my most noticeable identifying features. But I feel like writing about them helps me reach out to other people who I never would have talked to or heard from before. Still, though, it should be the person’s choice… and if the person is dead, they don’t really get to make the choice, so maybe they should be given their privacy by default?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 17, 2015 / 11:46 pm

      Honestly, I’m not terribly private by nature. I do find that balance is key for me. Balance is not always easy to find. Sometimes I can immerse myself in mental health advocacy and mutual support. Other times, I need to take a step back.


  4. Grief Happens October 17, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    This post sparked a lot of thought and I appreciate you writing it. I think for me it goes in waves — wanting to fight and dismantle stigma, but recognizing that sometimes the best way to fight stigma is to live my life — not in hiding but not always bringing attention to my or my family’s illness. It’s also individual and it’s okay that we’re not always in the same place. I can cheer Dyane on as she sheds light on important issues while recognizing that this isn’t necessarily the time for me to fight every battle. Sometimes activism is macro and other times it’s the small, individual things we do, which can be as simple as sharing our diagnosis with a close friend or acquaintance who’s going through something herself or with a family member. We’re all needed. Right now, it sounds like you might need a break from being “the face of bipolar.” That’s okay. I’ve been guilty of feeling like if I’m not in chronic fighting mode and going up against every injustice, then I’m acquiescing. Wise mentors have guided me and helped me see it differently. You have good instincts and have done amazing work. Rest, create, be. You’ll know when and if it’s time to re-engage. I wish you peace as you move forward, in whatever way that might be.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kitt O'Malley October 17, 2015 / 11:41 pm

      I will no doubt continue to fight the good fight, but I am fatigued and do need to recharge.

      Liked by 2 people

    • dyane October 19, 2015 / 8:48 am

      I’m so lazy, my friend, that I don’t do a whole lot as far as activism! 😉 I love your encouragement so keep that coming, pretty please.

      I guess what got me going was to become so hopped up (in a good way) at finding this amazing women’s writing site AROHO that was inspired Woolf, and then found out that something that affected her writing to a HUGE amount was omitted.

      I actually just found out last night through finding two books written entirely about Woolf and manic depression’s role in her life that her mood disorder played a much stronger role in her life than I was aware of, which to me is all the more reason to mention it on AROHO’s site. It doesn’t need to be a lot of info., but something…anything…a bone needs to be thrown!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Grief Happens October 19, 2015 / 10:01 am

        I think you do SO much, Dyane! I applaud you for addressing it. I agree it deserves at least a mention and could help and even be the salvation writers struggling. I’m going to have to look more at this site.

        Liked by 1 person

        • dyane October 19, 2015 / 10:05 am

          The site does seem very cool! If it was a crap site, I would’ve most likely have blinked and moved on, you know? I don’t feel like such a dork now that I found two books entirely about V.W. and her manic depression’s influence upon her writing. Thanks for your faith in me. You brightened up my gloomy Monday!!! (both weather-wise and energy-wise, + I have a sick child at home. Luckily she’s not too sick, so I’m very, very thankful for that!)

          Liked by 2 people

          • Kitt O'Malley October 19, 2015 / 11:51 am

            Hope she starts feeling better soon! I have a sleeping child at home (yes, it’s almost noon). Perhaps I’ll go up and let him know what time it is.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Kitt O'Malley October 19, 2015 / 11:49 am

        Woolf also was very much affected by childhood traumas, including the loss of her mother and incest at the hands of her half-brothers George and Gerald.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. vanbytheriver October 17, 2015 / 5:59 pm

    It’s an interesting approach, Kitt, and I get it. I addressed some of my personal issues early on in my blog, then decided to move on. We are so very much more than our illness. Good luck with your decision. We’ll be watching, either way. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley October 17, 2015 / 11:39 pm

      I will probably do both – broaden my scope and continue to advocate for mental health.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. SassaFrassTheFeisty October 17, 2015 / 5:25 pm

    You should do what feels right for you. We are all more than our illnesses, and we each have our own way of expressing that. Do what makes Kitt feel the safest, the happiest, the most comfortable. We will still love you and your blog no matter what ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. robertmgoldstein October 17, 2015 / 4:35 pm

    I think that we do what we need to do. It is emotionally exhausting to publicly expose one’s self to the stigma that one is fighting and at some point one needs a respite.

    It is also good to transcend stigma by focusing on those aspects of your life and mind that have nothing to do with mental illness.

    I think that we might want to know about Virginia Wolf’s mental illness for the same reason that we want to know about Antonin Artaud’s stay at Rodez,or Vincent Van Gogh’s stay at Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy.

    Would we have the brilliant work created by Artaud and Van Gogh if their hospital stays had been shortened by an HMO to a week, which is the average length of stay today?

    How many artists, painters and poets have we killed with lethal neglect since the 1980’s.

    Virginia Wolf was much, much more than an incest survivor with possible bi-polar illness.

    The problem is not who she was; the problem is who we are and the limits we place on people
    with mental illnesses.

    She helps to illustrate the absurdity of the stigma that allows us to physically torture people who need out help and compassion; and who have so much to give us if we would only give them the resources that they need to be productive.

    Liked by 3 people

      • robertmgoldstein October 17, 2015 / 8:23 pm

        You’re welcome, Kit.

        I think that if you are feeling it’s time to move past your illness, it may be because you have also achieved the kind of acceptance that you needed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley October 17, 2015 / 11:44 pm

          Yes. I do think it is a stage of my recovery. At the same time, I do have a calling for mental health advocacy and will not be going into hiding entirely.

          Liked by 1 person

          • robertmgoldstein October 18, 2015 / 11:39 pm

            As I begin to feel as if some of my worst symptoms have passed, I feel the same way. It is not easy spending all of ones time staring down a stigma. I think that most of the wear and tear comes from the struggle with people who know that their opinions are dangerous and uninformed but who can’t stand being wrong, even if admitting that they are wrong and taking corrective action improves their lives too.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Kitt O'Malley October 19, 2015 / 11:32 am

            For me, the exhaustion doesn’t come from fighting stigma, so much as from thinking about mental illness 24/7. I just need a break sometimes.

            Liked by 1 person

          • robertmgoldstein October 19, 2015 / 1:55 pm

            I relate to this. It’s difficult when one aspect of a life becomes the focus. This is another result of stigma. Our mental health issues are not who we are as people.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Just Plain Ol' Vic October 17, 2015 / 4:14 pm

    Whatever you eventually decide to do Kitt, I am sure it will be awesome!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Debby Carroll October 17, 2015 / 3:12 pm

    Go with your intuition. Evolve your bio or tagline, it may be time. I think it’s all a personal decision about how to present yourself to the world. Not sure how Woolf would have chosen to present herself but she isn’t choosing for AROHO. You do get to choose for your site, though.

    Liked by 4 people

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