"Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life", Nellie Bly asked in 1887, "then be declared insane, without hope of escape?" It's a brutal question, and Bly was speaking writing in the midst of the most famous stunt of her career as a pioneering gonzo journalist, getting herself thrown into the Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum. In her two-part special for the New York World, Bly expends a great amount of energy in the first part trying to convince people that she is mentally unstable. In the second part, she comes to realize that inside the asylum it doesn't matter how she acts, the doctors and guards will treat her the same regardless.
Her experience is a good stand-in for how so many people experience their mental illness. When you hear discussions of "good days" and "bad days", you're hearing about a multitude of mental experiences interacting with each other simultaneously, the performative abilities of the person in question. Mental illness and neurodevelopmental disorders, be they Asperger's or depression, can feel like living with a ghost that occasionally takes possession of your body. Eventually you start to wonder if you are the ghost, if you have no identity outside of that ghost, if you need to start performing as the ghost in order to become yourself. It's smoke, mirrors, a delicate balancing act.
The Membrane will be a place where no balancing is required. It will function solely as a place to discuss mental health's interaction with three different planes of existence: culture, the individual, and the state. PTSD, Alzheimer's, Tourette's Syndrome, bulimia, ADHD, schizophrenia, postpartum depression, borderline personality disorder, you name it, it has a home here.
The Membrane will be keenly aware of the historic marginalization that women and people of color, and anyone who identifies as LGBT have faced in the arena of mental health. The Membrane is equally aware that its founder and sole staff (Hi, that's me, I'm the guy writing "The Membrane is" in third person, yes it's semi-pretentious but come on, let me have this) is a cis-straight white dude of economic privilege. If you fit into any of those categories, I actively encourage you to send in any writing you'd like, you will get paid at least $100, probably around $200. And that goes for anyone in marginalized professions too, like sex workers or undocumented labor. Send your pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things The Membrane is interested include: profiles of interesting people who just happen to have mental illness, write-ups on popular culture (Community, Epileptic by David B., Kendrick Lamar), things that aren't really 'popular' culture but like how else would you describe them (Susan Sontag, paintings, Shirley Jackson), the increasingly militarized tone lawmakers in America are taking towards the mentally ill, the history of mental illness with a special focus on drugs and incorrect diagnoses such as homosexuality, what it's like in your day-to-day, what it's like on your best day, scientific breakthroughs, scientific missteps, whatever comes to mind, and, of course, investigative journalism in the tradition of Nellie Bly.
Getting back to the question Bly poses at the top and taking it out of context and bringing it up to present day: I, for one, would rather be who I am than a murderer. And I imagine you would be to.We say 'mental illness' like there's a chance of recovery, and while there are certainly improvements through medication and psychiatric treatment and self-care and a multitude of other things, we're by and large stuck like this. We're all in this thing together. So welcome to The Membrane, I hope this in some way can be a home for your struggles, victories, curiosity and empathy.