This will probably go down like a lead balloon….and I will state right away that I am completely happy to be challenged on this – you might even change my mind…but here goes…
I know that there has been upset regarding the Lisa Fowler storyline in EastEnders. Her character returned to the Square and within days was seen talking to herself in what people believe is a stereotyped portrayal of mental illness. But there’s something that I, personally, think we are getting confused with regarding portrayals of mental health.
Whilst I don’t believe we should betray people as scary, frightening and irrational, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t portray mental illness in that way. It is, after all, pretty scary sometimes.
So I think with this EastEnders storyline, it all depends on what happens next. It all depends on the context. Do we get to see Lisa the person, or do we only get to see Lisa the ‘crazy person’? That’s when I might want to raise a complaint. But I’ll give it a little time yet.
I have to make something clear before I go on, I haven’t experienced psychotic symptoms myself, so I am quite prepared to put my hands up and say I’m wrong if challenged. However, I have witnessed psychotic symptoms first hand when they have blighted the lives of several of my friends when I was growing up.
If we become too consumed with stigma and confused about why we challenge it, we might shy away from showing the distress that mental illness can cause for the individual and perpetuate the idea that everyone’s ‘a bit OCD’ at times
If that was all I could remember of my friends that would be terrible. But it isn’t, of course. Because mental illness was just a part of their lives. I could tell you so many brilliant things about them but I wouldn’t want to risk naming them – because it’s not my place to do so. But if I make a point of thinking about the psychotic behaviours I saw, they were, in fact, frightening at times- more so for them than for me I must add. But nonetheless, it wasn’t a walk in the park. There were sometimes strange conversations and they did sometimes attract attention in public. Much like I have when I have suffered a panic attack that brought me to my knees or anxiety that had me convinced that I was hallucinating (a frantic hour that led me to pull a bag of hay out of the dustbin three times to check that I hadn’t imagined the mites I had removed from the chicken coop).
Talking to yourself isn’t confined to psychosis, either. I have paced the front room frantically repeating a phrase over and over mid panic, and only two weeks ago found myself doing something similar whilst driving the car on the A1 in an attempt to stop the ‘inevitable’ crash or black out I was convinced might be heading my way.
The reason I bring this up is because mental illness is often ugly. It doesn’t mean that the people who suffer are though – and that’s what we need to remember. My profile picture on Twitter does not show a terrified and anxious wallflower. But an occasional tweet might tell you that I am terrified at that moment in time.
If we become too consumed with stigma and confused about why we challenge it we might shy away from showing the distress that mental illness can cause for the individual and perpetuate the idea that everyone’s ‘a bit OCD’ at times. Or the idea that if somebody suffers brief palpitations before giving a presentation in front of an audience then they probably have an anxiety disorder. If we are scared of showing what mental illness has the potential to do to us we are giving Piers Morgan more ammunition to call us whiny, needy, twerps.
So I do think its important to show the distress – as long as it doesn’t cloud the personality. If Lisa leaves the Square immediately following her psychotic breakdown, or we see her attacking Louise (let’s remember, she hasn’t tried to hurt her, has she?) then I’ll be writing to points of view. But if the story pans out to allow us to see the empathy, the recovery and the love she has for her daughter, then I think it’s not such a bad thing after all.
What do you think?