Blogging Against Stigma: Virginia Woolf
Welcome to post 9 in my two-week series, Blogging Against Stigma. Someday, with a cumulative effort across society, people may stop dying from things like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Someday relationships and families won't be irreparably damaged by partners or members who behave in ways they can't control or explain. Someday people who are diagnosed with a mental illness will not internalize that illness as a central part of their identities. Towards this end, this post is dedicated to English writer, Virginia (Stephen) Woolf (1882-1941) who is considered by some to be one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors. Her struggle with bipolar disorder is being shared as a means of combating the one remaining factor that continues to haunt our approach to mental health as much today as it did throughout Woolf's lifetime - stigma.
Much like Nikola Tesla, Virginia Woolf was ahead of her time. In the 1910's to 1930's she spoke about very taboo topics for the time, including childhood sexual abuse (including her own experiences as a child), same-sex relationships, and sexism. Through setting up a publishing house along side her husband, Stephen Woolf, in 1917 she was able to publish multiple novels and the work of other writers who spoke out against the patriarchal nature of society. The Woolfs were known for publishing books by writers that took unconventional points of view, to form a reading community.
As a pacifist, Virginia experienced the devastation that war brings. While today we have a much better understanding of the impact of trauma on individual and collective mental health, the evidence of this impact did not yet exist in Woolf's lifetime. As a woman who, at the age of 13, had her first "breakdown" following the death of her older sister, she eventually lost her battle to mental illness at the age of 59. Virginia wrote her husband a final letter and took her own life in March 28, 1941. The sounds of bombs in the night, in the area where she lived, did not stop until May 11, 1941. By the time of her suicide, Woolf's home and printing press had both perished during the The Blitz of World War II, which consisted of nighttime bombing raids against London and other British cities by Nazi Germany. Were she alive today, I can't help but think that Virginia would be ashamed of us for the way society treats individuals who experience difficulties with their own mental health. And rightfully so.