- The Reflect Organization
The Reflection Series: Pride Edition
The Reflection Series is a student interview series centered around the experiences of college students and their mental wellness journeys.
In this special Pride Edition of The Reflection Series, Carrie Rudel shares her mental wellness journey as a queer individual. Watch Carrie discuss with Skyler how her queer identity and her experiences with mental illness are interconnected, how she uses art as a form of expression and coping, and much more.
Please consider contacting the counseling and psychological services department at your college if you are in need.
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Skyler-Marie Lane: I'm Skyler-Marie. Thank you for supporting The Reflection Series. Our goal is to empower young adults by helping them share their experience with mental illness, help us drive positive change, and address the stigma around mental illness. Thank you.
Skyler-Marie: So what does the term “mental illness” mean to you?
Carrie Rudel: If I'm thinking about it literally, it sort of means, like a neurological condition that is debilitating in some way. And that could look like a whole host of different things. But they all sort of fall under the same umbrella. But like, to me, specifically, mental illness is less of a categorization and more of like, a lived experience. It's always a part of me. And it, like, always will be a part of me. And mental illness sort of shapes the way that I see the world. And sometimes that's in positive ways and sometimes it’s in more negative ways. But in terms of positivity, it's taught me to be more compassionate and more introspective.
Skyler-Marie: Since you, you've experienced it, and like, you know what it's like, you probably have your own definition, almost, of it. And do you think the term “illness” kind of feels right? Like, depending on how you would define mental illness yourself? Like, would you see it as an illness? Or do you define it as something else?
Carrie: That’s a good question. That's tough. Like Yes. And also No. Because it can make life difficult at times, to an impressive degree. And, in that sense, like, it is a condition that needs to be recognized and treated. And people who live with mental illness, like, deserve help and deserve to be, like, respected and understood and, like, categorizing it as an illness can help with that. But at the same time, it can sort of feed into the tendency people have to look down on those who live with mental illness. And like often people hear that phrase, and they immediately assume that since it's a problem of the mind, the person must be, like, weak in some way or lacking in some way. And it's not a reflection of weakness. I think it's a slippery slope, because there are benefits to that moniker, and there are also drawbacks.
Skyler-Marie: Do you think that either the words “disorder” or “disability” are more accurate than illness? Or do you feel kind of the same about those words, or differently?
Carrie: Disorder is fairly accurate, and I think in some ways, it's less--it lends itself less to, like, sickness.
Skyler-Marie: So my next question would be, do you think that your experience being in the LGBT+ community has changed how you view mental illness, or do you think it's changed how you experience it?
Carrie: There's a lot of overlap between people who live with mental illness and people who are in the LGBTQ+ community--I would call it the queer community, although that word has different connotations for different people, and some people aren't comfortable with it. But that's how I identify--as a queer person. And that's mainly because of the stigma around being queer. It's sort of, like, augmented by a lot of just like what we see around us. Media, even, like academically, it's sort of like there's this whole other section for that topic, and everything else tends to be very heteronormative. That tends to be the standard. And so I think that can lead to people in the LGBTQ+ community feeling very ostracized, very alone. And feeling ostracized and lonely tends to generate a lot of difficult emotional experiences. And that can, like, manifest as depression or anxiety or any sort of mental disorder. Not to mention, like, the LGBTQ+ folks that are, like, kicked out of their house or not on good terms with their family, they don't always have a great support system.
For me personally, I struggled a lot with feeling like, like, I couldn't connect with my peers in the same way because of my identity, particularly in high school. My community was fairly accepting. But, that didn't mean that there was a lot of people who identified the same way or that there was, like, a space where I felt comfortable to, like, be who I was, if that makes sense. I guess, like, one of my particular memories is going on a school trip with a bunch of people from my class, and I was rooming with, like, two other girls. And I, like, I think I mentioned that I was bisexual, ‘cause at the time that's what I identified as. And I could just like, see their discomfort, I could, like, see the way that they changed around me, and that felt really hurtful. Because I felt, they made me feel like a predator. And I felt like I hadn't, I hadn't changed my actions. Like I was very respectful. And I just didn't even know how to be myself around them anymore, because of, like, how they had reacted. It didn't help my feelings of isolation.
Skyler-Marie: Yeah, definitely.
Carrie: Different variations of that, like, sort of happen to folks like me, and that can sort of weigh you down.
Skyler-Marie: That being said, do you think that people in the LGBT+--or queer--community experience mental illness differently than people who aren't in those communities?
Carrie: In some sense, yes. The lack of connection, a lack of welcoming from the people around them; that can make it even more difficult to find a place where you feel you belong. At the same time, it's just sort of a piece of the puzzle, right? Like a piece of what contributes to, like, forming your relationship with wellness and with mental illness.
Skyler-Marie: Is there a language that you feel is helpful for people either in the LGBT+ community, or people who experience mental illness? And/or language that you think is unhelpful, that's kind of shared either socially or in the media, or just in general, that you find either to be like helpful or unhelpful?
Carrie: “Living with” mental illness or mental disorders rather than, like, “suffering.” “Wellness” is a really great word because talking about mental wellness, even if there are a lot of times where you don't feel mentally well, it's still sort of striving for a hopeful or positive goal, I guess. In terms of language that is used socially or online: when people use words like crazy or insane or--like, I'm not saying, like, in general, but like--when they're speaking about a person. Like, that can feel really hurtful. Because mental illness doesn't always mean, like, that that person is out of control or not worth listening to, or someone that you should disregard. And those words sort of, like, lend themselves to that. And that gets applied to women a lot more frequently than it does to men. And that's because culturally, we have learned to paint women as emotional, unstable. There's no real accuracy to that.
Skyler-Marie: One of the last questions I'll ask unless there's something else you wanted to talk about, is if you had any tips or advice for people, either in the LGBT+ community or not, who struggle with mental wellness.
Carrie: I mean, I can only share what's helped me because absolutely, wellness looks different for everyone. But for me, focusing on transforming my emotions, through art. I'm a songwriter and a poet, and I like to sketch occasionally--I'm not very good at it--but that has helped me probably the most. There are, like, little things that I do. Try to take a walk every day; it's not easy--I live in Arizona, it's very hot out. But just that little bit of exercise, getting outside every day, maybe trying on a new outfit or doing my makeup, a lot of like very strange, like makeup things, but just anything artistic, that will sort of bring me joy. Like no matter how down I'm feeling I can sort of, I can put energy into something creative, and it takes my mind off of everything else.
Carrie: This was great, thank you so much for having me on here.
Skyler-Marie: Cool! Yeah, of course.