Maybe Roz Warren, Isaac Blum & Kate Stone really did write Congratulations On Your New Diagnosis! (Greeting Cards for People With Mental Problems) to make fun of people with mental illnesses. In that case, they’re assholes, and I’m an asshole for thinking it’s funny. If this is your opinion, congratulations on having it confirmed, you may now go and share your enlightened outrage in your echo chamber of choice.
I admit, I wouldn’t have examined why I find it funny if it hadn’t gotten an over-the-top negative reaction in the comments. I’d have chuckled and clicked on to something else. But now I have thought about it, and in the best tradition of the internet, I’m going to take what could be a throw-away puff piece, stylistically similar to those chain emails your mom continues to forward you even though you’ve asked her to stop, and take it way too seriously.
The best comedy has a deeper meaning. It takes something conventional and stands it on end. It forces us to re-examine the subject, think about it in a different way from a different angle. It challenges us and, often, it offends.
Roz Warren’s piece does it right there in the title: Congratulations On Your New Diagnosis!
Why, when 11% of American children are diagnosed with ADHD and 11% of Americans over 12 are taking antidepressants and where one in four adults experiences a mental disorder every year aren’t there tongue-in-cheek Hallmark cards reading “Deepest Sympathy for the Loss of your Imaginary Friend” to celebrate your pal’s therapeutic breakthrough?
If you can get a “Good luck with your appendectomy!” card, why not a “Good luck with your electroshock!” card?
Is it better to do what we do now, tiptoe around someone’s disorders, feeling awkward and uncomfortable holding her rings while a friend finishes her hand washing ritual in a public restroom, or grasping for a subject change when a buddy mentions how his current drug cocktail is killing his libido? Try and mask our discomfort with sympathy and then avoid the person?
Maybe the takeaway here is asking ourselves why, when we’re awash in a DSM soup of ADHD & OCD & PTSD & BPD & depression & eating disorders & bipolar disorder & anxiety disorders & attachment disorders, we’re still not supposed to talk about them unless in hushed, respectful tones reflecting the seriousness of the topic. (And definitely not make jokes!)
Comedy gives us an avenue to explore the things that scare us; mental illness scares us. Maybe a comedian isn’t doing their job unless someone gets scared, gets mad. You can’t make all the people laugh all the time & maybe the most desirable reactions to a joke aren’t the chuckles. And maybe Roz Warren & co. aren’t making fun of people with mental illnesses, maybe they’re illuminating our fucked up reaction to it.