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further exploration into madness in academics

caelinfoley's picture

reading the "Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life" reminded me of "The Collected Schizophrenias Essays" by Esme Weijun Wang, so i wanted to talk more about the presence of mental illness/madness and how it affects our experiences in academics. Esme Wang's chapter, "Yale Will Not Save You", details how her experience at Yale defined her as a schizoaffective person, and how, eventually, the misdiagnosis of Bipolar disorder, the hesitancy to treat and medicate, and the pushout of mentally ill students led to her suicidal and out of school. at the beginning of the chapter, she states, "I went to Yale" is shorthand for I have schizoaffective disorder, but I'm not worthless," and in this, we understand how elite schools deceive mentally ill students, covering up their disability while also often making it worse. 

for students whose mental illnesses include suicidal ideation or self harm, they're often encouraged to cover it up to avoid being hospitalized against their will and wants, considering that it often leads to missing out further on social and academic life, which is very important for a lot of college-aged students. Esme states of her experience, "Never tell them you've thought about killing yourself," they counseled me. I was a freshman. They were taking me under their wing, offering me wisdom. "Never tell them you're thinking about killing yourself, okay?" I think about that advice now: never tell your doctor that you're considering killing yourself. Yet this was sound advice, in the end, if I wanted to stay." while this advice made her condition so much more dangerous because it meant that others had no idea how she struggled with the idea of killing herself. an illness that is already stigmatized is swept under the rug as an inconvience, something to avoid thinking about if you want to continue to be a successful individual. 

the essay continues to detail her worsening mental health, with her being hospitalized twice by her sophomore year. her freshman year, she had to move into an off-campus apartment with her mother, who they assumed would ensure her safety, despite her struggles with her mother's relationship and atittude towards mental illness. eventually, Yale decided that she was a burden on the system, too much of a danger to allow to exist under the Yale label. "I left Yale for good in early 2003, although I did not know at the time that it was the end. I'd been hospitalized for the second time at the institute-two times in one year, was the way the head of psychiatry put it, although it was two times in two school years-and because of this breach of etiquette, they asked me to leave." The dean at my residential college gave me the choice of declaring my departure to be a voluntary medical leave. If I officially named it for what it was, he explained, an involuntary medical leave would be a black mark of which I could never rid myself." this action worsened her mental illness, as she lost the community she held onto for the past two years, had to pursue a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend at the time (who is now her husband), and was stripped of the academic and community resources at Yale that she received as a first-generation, low-income student (which we could also connect to the issue of low-income student's access to mental health care and testing). after this, she spent a year pursuing different academic and professional opportunities, re-applying at Yale but being denied, and was able to transfer to Stanford where she received more equitable treatment. however, many students will have the same experience but not be lucky enough to have the opportunity to still receive education at an elite level. Yale's choice ties both into ableism and capitalism - while there is a belief that mentally ill students are dangerous and less able to function on a campus the level of Yale's, there is also a tie to the need for accomodations and expending a college's resources that often is overlooked - the school assumes the student will simply be too mentally ill to pursue work in the future, despite showing clinical improvements, and therefore, are closed off from their community and the benefits of an education. this can often lead to homelessness and other systematic issues that mentally ill and neurodivergent folks face, with extreme judgement, without ever receiving the resources that would help them to thrive. 


*attached the reading to this post i believe in case anyone else wanted to read it!!