- Living with (Manic) Depression as a Racialized Woman: Women’s Memoirs about Invisible Dis/abilities
In her memoir, Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life (2013), Melody Moezzi describes herself during a manic episode as “Tigger on crack.”1 By mixing humor with social critique, the author compares the discrimination she experiences as a Muslim woman of Iranian descent and as a woman living with bipolar disorder I in the U.S. Gayathri Ramprasad’s Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light within (2014) offers insights into Ramprasad’s childhood marked by chronic depression in India and her approaches to managing her mental health that combine Hindu culture and Western medicine after migrating to the U.S.2 Both women expose and criticize exclusionary practices that dehumanize and isolate people with invisible dis/abilities. Their life writing urges that only when we understand psychological dis/ability as a social construct shaped by a web of oppressive forces, can we create more opportunities for effective and just treatment and inclusion.
This article investigates how women use memoir to discuss the negative ideological notions that patriarchal society has historically attached to dis/ability, femininity, and non-whiteness. My comparative reading—informed by life-writing theory, feminist concepts, and dis/ability and critical race studies— offers an intersectional perspective on how society perpetuates the oppression of women with a mental dis/ability based on their bodies, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion. My article adds to essential current issues within the field of American studies as it focuses on conversations and lived experiences around (invisible) dis/ability in an intersectional and interdisciplinary manner. My analysis takes to heart Jasbir Puar’s admonishment that “intersectionality [End Page 45] always produces an Other, and that Other is always a Woman of Color . . ., who must invariably be shown to be resistant, subversive, or articulating a grievance.”3 Through my comparative approach, I hope to avoid “racial essentialization;”4 and in focusing on national background and migration influence, I add one of the “least theorized and acknowledged of intersectional categories” to my discussion about gender, race, and dis/ability.5
Unless quoting someone else’s words, I use the spelling dis/ability (relying on Subini Ancy Annamma’s expertise) to refer to the term’s reliance on social context and its fluidity. I write “disabled” when implying that the act of disabling is being done to someone. I further refrain from using the terms “illness” and “impairment” as they might connote deficiency or abnormality. In line with Alison Kafer, I, too, understand dis/ability as “political, as valuable, as integral,” and I see this conviction in Moezzi and Ramprasad’s works.6 As a person not living with a dis/ability, I am acutely aware of my privilege in and the power of naming, and I respect every person’s right to choose words that capture their bodies and minds the most accurately. Moezzi and Ramprasad use the terms “bipolar” and “depression”/“postpartum” depression respectively to refer to their conditions. While I understand that more medically accurate and precise terms are available, I have decided to use the terminology the authors have chosen as I believe it reflects the rhetorical choices they have made to reach their audience more successfully. Lastly, it is not my intention to make essentialist claims in this article as I adhere to Annamma, Connor, and Ferri’s recognition “that having a dis/ability is not universal and in fact, is qualitatively different for individuals with the same dis/ability depending on cultural contexts, race, social class, sexuality, etc.”7
Robert McRuer sets the tone for any discussion about dis/ability: “A system of compulsory able-bodiedness repeatedly demands that people with disabilities embody for others an affirmative answer to the unspoken question, ‘Yes, but in the end, wouldn’t you rather be more like me?’”8 Alison Kafer phrases this common devaluing of dis/ability in a more pungent way when she argues that many hold the belief that “disability is a fate worse than death or that disability prohibits a full life.”9 Moezzi and Ramprasad work with the understanding that the U.S...