The written word has a way of reintroducing me to myself – of locating me in my hiding spot, of throwing back the covers. Does it do the same for you? When you find yourself in the center of someone else’s paragraph feeling as though it’s written to you, for you, about you, does something small catch in your chest? When I am in a depression, I am far away from myself, a pale gold mylar balloon caught in the highest branches of a tree, quickly losing air. This then, perhaps, this is why it is so remarkable to be suddenly caught, found, tugged on, and pulled back by the written word. I have long wanted to curate a series on and around topics of mental health and illness. When I found myself nearly done with Piper J. Daniels’ essay “Sirens,” I felt the star-shaped balloon of myself coming back to me. I knew it was time. And you, dear reader, fellow writer, lover of language, this is why I’ve invited you here: to listen, to share, to join in these very important conversations that not only connect different parts of oneself, but to bring about a tender dialogue betwixt all of us who feel as though we are “drowning in darkness.”
Bertha Pappenheim was a prominent figure in the German feminist movement in the early twentieth century. She started the League of Jewish Women, which sought equal rights—particularly in the areas of education and job equality—for Jewish women. She founded kindergartens, community homes, and educational facilities. She wrote stories, plays, and poetry. She was a social pioneer, a philanthropist, a do-gooder. Bertha Pappanheim is also considered the first patient of psychoanalysis.
Sigmund Freud wrote about Bertha’s treatment while she was under the care of his colleague and friend Josef Breuer. In these writings, Bertha is given the pseudonym Anna O. As in: Anna, O, Anna, why so filled with hysteria? No, this line is not taken directly from Freud’s writing, but I include it as a reminder that the origin story of psychoanalysis is fraught with archaic views about women, most notably the view that females lived primarily under the sway of their reproductive organs. At one point during her treatment, Bertha and Josef Breuer came up with a process known as free association. Instead of undergoing hypnotherapy, Bertha would simply talk, sharing whatever came to mind. Breuer understood it as a process of catharsis. Bertha described it as “chimney sweeping” and called it the “talking cure.”
I don’t want to discuss the circumstances of Bertha Pappenheim’s need for treatment. I don’t much want to discuss her treatment method further than I already have. I call her forth to simply and momentarily celebrate her – for all of its mistaken assumptions and limited paradigms, psychoanalysis and the legacy of Bertha’s treatment has journeyed far to arrive in the present moment. For one thing, when I write the phrase 1 in 5 adults in the U. S. experience mental illness in any given year, I understand that we have this statistic because it is deemed important enough to collect this information. Though I wish we were further along, though I wish the remaining stigma around mental illness were gone, though I wish we had more information to help more people assuage their suffering, I am likewise grateful for what we do know.
The Talking Cure is a series born out of a desire to see more stories about mental illness and its many iterations, whether found in the DSM-5 or not. I want to share stories that describe what it looks and feels like to be in your mind, in your body, in your world, while also contending with mental illness. I want to know what it is like for you to love someone with a mental health concerns. I want to hear thought-provoking reflections that re-imagine the trope that connects creativity and madness. I want to read dissections of the language we do (and don’t use) when we do (and don’t) talk about mental illness. I want to read tales that counteract how culture says you should or should not be affected by mental illness as a womxn or a person of color. The Talking Cure invites submissions of creative nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid works on or around topics of mental illness. I thank you in advance for sharing these vulnerable pieces of writing – I cannot wait to read and share them.
I’ll leave you with the paragraph that pulled me back into my body when I read it. The paragraph that demanded I find a way for more stories like it to be shared. In the essay “Sirens” in the remarkable book Ladies Lazarus, Piper J. Daniels writes:
This is a call to the damaged, the suicidal, and the mentally ill who feel as though they are drowning in darkness. I see you. I see your beauty. Hold fast to it. You are convinced, at this point, that you are all alone. I thought that too. But somewhere in the night, in every city, in every country, all around the world, there is a choir filled with people like you and me, and somehow, against all odds, we are singing.
You. You are a part of the choir. I hope you will sing with me.