Towards Righting Trauma by Writing

Not only can some (me) argue that a diagnosis of severe mental illness is a trauma in itself, studies have suggested that both PTSD and exposure to traumatic events are not uncommon (and are frequently underdiagnosed) among people with chronic mental illness.

I ran across this scholarly article on the web by Sophie Tamas called Writing and Righting Trauma: Troubling the Autoethnographic Voice. What I find most interesting about it is this:

If we are sitting in the gore and confusion of our own suffering, my sane, readable account of loss may reinforce the expectation that our trauma ought to make sense, and if it doesn’t we must be somehow inadequate or failing. It implies that the order of the universe is, in fact, intact, and the traumatized who have lost faith in reason, language, and human decency are mistaken. I do not think realizing that we are utterly lost and broken necessarily causes despair. What breaks us is the impression that everyone else isn’t. Clean and reasonable scholarship about messy, unreasonable experiences is an exercise in alienation.

Tamas doesn’t offer any solutions in this piece. I believe that one can position oneself as a reliable narrator and still be and portray oneself as one who has “lost faith in reason, language and human decency.” There are two reasons I believe this.

1) I have run across some of the writing I was doing when I had indeed lost faith in all three, and it is much better than I remembered it being.

2) To be judged a reliable narrator and be one who has lost faith in these things requires troubling what the word “sane” means. I strongly feel that troubling the words about us, about people with mental illness are key to change around attitudes towards mental illness. What do you think?

Writing Mental Illness is coming up in June 2009. Also, follow me on Twitter: @alison_bergblom.


Alison Bergblom Johnson

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