Off to Wichita to give the mental illness talk.

Today I’m off to Wichita for Skeptics of Oz.  After I gave my Skepticon 4 talk on mental illness I got flooded with requests to give the same talk.  I was touched, but had to decline all of them.  I’m glad I gave the mental illness talk, but it took a lot out of me.  I did an interview for a documentary right after that talk and when I later saw the footage I looked dead.

Skeptics of Oz is run by people I know, in a region that is full of friends of mine.  When they asked me to give that talk, I felt like I was good to do it again.  I’m a little nervous (I’m always a little nervous to speak, but for this one I’m a little more).  There’s a reason public figures tend to keep the personal trappings of their minds private.  In some cases it’s to put forth an image of someone who has their shit together (although, I think that image is best achieved by being honest about who you are).  In others, like mine, I live in a world where people on every side of an issue are looking for some way to get an edge on you.  I can’t tell you how many comments from believers get moderated on this site metaphorically tap dancing over my struggles with mental illness, or suggesting that my issues with various types of anorexia make me wrong about people rising from the dead.

But for all the headache in terms of exhaustion and callous people, everywhere I speak I always have a few people approach me to tell me how that talk made their lives better.  That’s what makes it worth it.  So even though I’m nervous, I’m excited to give that talk again.

Wish me luck.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Adam Collins

    I was at Skepticon 4,and will never forget that.I really liked you before then, but fell absolutely in love with you after that talk. You’ve been my #1 hero ever since. Can’t wait to see what you bring to Austin!!! :-)

  • neatospiderplant

    Hugs. You’ll be great!

  • Juby!

    We’re excited to have you, JT!

  • John Horstman

    Good luck JT! I know very well how draining it can be to try to explain one’s own mental illness, especially to those who have never experienced something similar

    And to all the haters: take you mental illness hate and shove it. My brain might be broken, but it’s broken in a very specific way that does not automatically invalidate my positions on issues or make me incapable of reasoning (and the same goes for JT). If anything, knowing my own perceptions are suspect has led me to carefully evaluate the data related to whatever issue is in question as many perspectives as I can find in order to try to account for my own known biases (this is a good practice for everyone, whether one has been diagnosed with a mental illness or not, as we all have unconscious biases for which we must make some effort to account). As a result, with complete data (and both formal and informal training in valid methods of reasoning) I can expect my own conclusions (or those of, say, JT) to be MORE VALID than those of someone who does not do the work of questioning hir own preconceptions and biases because something like mental illness has never made them personally suspect (or, more precisely, valid with greater frequency than the average person who, lacking a personal motivation to question hir biases, tends to not do so).

    At any rate, mental illness is certainly less problematic than willful ignorance or self-delusion, and also less shameful (given that it’s not at all shameful, while willfully breaking from reality ought to be).

  • M

    *Hugs* You’ll help people, I’m sure. I haven’t had a chance to get to anywhere you’ve given a talk, but I’ve watched some of the videos afterwards. Kudos to you on being brave enough to talk about your mental health struggles and push back against the unwarranted stigma applied to mental illnesses.

    • Loqi

      He certainly helped this people. I’m returning to work tomorrow after a lengthy hospital stay which, thanks to JT, I now realize was sorely needed. You do good, JT. We’re all behind you on this.

  • kagekiri

    Rock it, JT!

    That speech probably saved my life, as it was a primary motivator in my seeking professional help for my depression after years of hating myself for feeling depressed.

    Thank you so much for doing it, even with the high personal emotional cost.

  • Rovin’ Rockhound

    I saw the video of that talk a few days after Skepticon 4, about two months after I had started therapy. At that point I was still deeply ashamed of my mental illness, feeling incredibly lonely, and hadn’t really reached out to any of my friends for support. Things weren’t going particularly well – I wasn’t in any danger, but I was still retreating from humanity regularly to try (and usually fail) to get some control over my runaway brain. Watching that talk was simultaneously heartbreaking and incredibly uplifting. It made me recognize how bad things had gotten, how much progress had already been made, and that it could (and would!) get even better. Reading people’s posts and comments about their own struggles, and writing my own, built the image of this glowing, ethereal supporting crowd that I still retreat back to when things get dark. Watching your talk marks the first of several big jumps in my mental well-being. I was sitting with the dog outside about a week later and suddenly realized just how incredibly beautiful the day was. It had been years seen I had seen those colors. I will forever be grateful to you for that particular moment.

    I’m glad you have not given that same talk since then. If you repeat it too often it will lose the shock value it currently has for the audience, and you might gradually become numb to your own story. This might sound cruel, but as much as we can learn to accept and even embrace what we’ve been through, recounting the most difficult details of our history – to a crowd, no less – should forever feel like being stabbed. Losing that would mean losing your empathy to your past self. I’m also glad, though, that you are giving the talk a second time. It’s been long enough that you will probably reach people who have not heard it, and it might help someone else as much as it helped me (and the many many others who posted here the first time around).

    You rock, JT. You’ll be incredible, as always.

  • Nox

    I wish you luck JT.

    To talk to a room full of strangers about your own most difficult personal issues, that can be a scary thing. But it is a thing which can only help. You are not alone, and today you are going to let someone know that they are not alone.

  • Richard Wade

    All the best, JT. I admire what you’re doing. I’ve spoken about mental health issues, dispelling myths, misconceptions, and prejudices, but I have spoken as a psychotherapist, rather than as someone with personal experience. Your perspective gives you a special credibility that a shrink cannot have, and you give both hope and dignity to people who share similar challenges.

  • Mara

    Watching that talk on YouTube certainly helped me and a lot of other people. ::hugs:: I’m so glad you’re willing to do it again, even though it must be incredibly difficult.

  • ZenDruid

    You done good thar, JT.

    I can relate to your former compulsion to weigh yourself frequently… my personal reward behavior involves playing stupid little computer games, just to get that vague recurring superficial experience of victory.

    It continues, but I’m getting better at recognizing it. It’s difficult to ascribe my pet quirk to a particular cause, and it’s a catch-22 in a major sense, because it’s essentially the ‘avoidant’ personality disorder. At root, I’m developing the notion that it comes from at least two competing phobias kicking around up there. I need to confront them in order to go forward, instead of being stoic/stubborn/stupid.

    I fit the mold of an aging hippie fairly well, I reckon. After decades of abstinence though, I retain an abiding fondness for cannabis [and beer]. I began self-medicating about ten years ago, after I noticed my behavior had been changing. I’ve been doing the CBT with SSRI for six years now. I transitioned from Citalopram to Fluoxetine because the former induced perceptions and sensations very much akin to the beginning stage of an acid trip.

    Kudos for your honest portrayal, and best wishes to your friends.