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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Writing Madness from the Rocking Chair

Ariel Mae Lambe

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Keywords: mental health; therapy; Twitter; motherhood; tenure

Categories: Parenting as (Im)possibility in Impossible Circumstances; Place-Making and Space-Taking on Social Media; Disability, Illness, and Survival (When the World Doesn’t Want You To)

On spring nights in 2021, I sat in the dark next to my two-year-old’s crib and reread the twelve tweets I planned to post if awarded tenure that term. My twelve tweets said “my mind shattered” and “serious symptoms” and “was diagnosed with.” They said “after giving birth.” They said I was “coming out” of hiding and silence upon earning tenure, and they talked about visibility, wholeness, and authenticity. Like my toddler, I was finding my voice. My therapist and I discussed my twelve tweets. She suggested that “bipolar” was big and scary enough for one Twitter thread. I took out “lithium.” I took out “psychotic features.” I wanted to be visible, whole, and authentic, but I did not want to frighten everyone away from me.

Becoming a mother forced me to reimagine myself in 2013. Being diagnosed with mental illness did so again in 2015. Then COVID struck in 2020 and my days—already full of my academic work—stretched and strained to encompass also supervising remote school and full-time childcare. I had to reimagine myself once again. 

Reimagine, but also assert. Mental illness disclosure during COVID made me feel as though there was a sort of protective layer around my offering to the world. When I spoke of my own chaos, my voice would join millions of chaotic voices jumbled together in the time of global pandemic. To have mental illness in motherhood is to experience and to exhibit madness in front of one’s children. It is deeply taboo, but perhaps makes a bit more sense now than it did before. It is to mix the extraordinary with the mundane, the terrifying with the tedious. What else is daily life during COVID? Not everyone will relate to my madness in its particulars, but maybe people are a little more sympathetic now. Maybe my visible, whole, authentic self makes a little bit more sense in such strange times. 

The response to my tweets was everything I had hoped it would be. People welcomed my news warmly and with compassion. People wrote things like “your bravery here is amazing and inspiring” and “you are fierce and strong and amazing and definitely a role model for me” and “thank you for your honesty, perseverance, and advocacy” and “this is how you use tenure!” People offered support with these kind words, and also they offered their stories. Direct messages flooded in from people hiding like I had hidden, expressing solidarity and asking for support. Opportunities arose to write more on the subjects of motherhood with mental illness and of breaking silence. The work continues to this day.

My twelve tweets were not the first nor the last step on my journey to visibility, wholeness, and authenticity, but they were an important turning point. They moved me significantly toward giving myself care.


Image of a letter from the UConn Office of the provost to the author informing her that on April 28, 2021, the Board of Trustees voted to approve her promotion to Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of History effective August 2021.

A tweet by the author reads, "Tenure is not anticlimactic to me [image of a thread spool]. Here are some words people have encouraged me to write to overcome fear and to be my whole authentic self visibly and joyfully. These words deal with tenure, motherhood, and mental illness." The tweet contains the tenure and promotion letter from the University of Connecticut's Office of the Provost. (Letter's contents in alt-text. Click here to access the tweet thread. )


Ariel Mae Lambe is Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut Waterbury Campus where she teaches Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. history classes. She is the author of No Barrier Can Contain It: Cuban Antifascism and the Spanish Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), a study of Cuban activists who self-identified as antifascists in their pursuit of anti-dictatorial and anti-imperialist goals at home and abroad. Among her recent research interests is the topic of silences, explored in her 2022 American Historical Review essay “Seeing Madness in the Archives.” One of her current ongoing research projects examines histories and lived experiences of silences caused by ableism against mental illness. The other of her current ongoing research projects is a study of plausible deniability in and the U.S. public’s perceptions of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Lambe received her B.A. in History from Yale College in 2004 and her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in 2014. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two young daughters.

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