According to all of the psychiatrists I’ve seen I have a mental illness. I’m not currently insane but I have been before which nonetheless makes me one of the crazy ones. Is this fair? I certainly didn’t think so when I was diagnosed as bipolar and seven years thereafter. Even now, although I’ve finally accepted my diagnosis, I still resent the connoted stigma, the blame game.
What does it mean to be “mentally ill”? To answer this question let’s start at the beginning and call in the big guns. As Foucault made clear in Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, the war waged by supposedly normal people upon supposedly abnormal people is ancient, brutal and, unless you count the manic episodes of conquerors like Alexander The Great, one-sided. On a different but related note, Freud explained in Civilization and Its Discontents that even “normal” people carry a lot of emotional baggage as animals trying to repress their animality. So, despite our tendency to identify and persecute the loony among us, we’re all a little fucked up and it’s not our fault.
Fair or unfair, mental health is like everything else a spectrum-of-grays matter rather than a black-and-white one. Quantitatively, normalcy is the average, the mean, on a statistical bell curve. Then, one standard deviation to the right, you have the slightly less normal folks, moderately neurotic people. Then you have the victims of trauma two standard deviations to the right. Finally, on the outskirts, there are those who experience psychotic episodes, as I did—lucky me! Just like I did on the SATs I scored in the 95th percentile.
What’s missing in the above statements, which are founded upon probability theory, is first of all that statistical analysis is numerically reductive—people, humans, are not just numbers. Statistics are 100% descriptive, phenomenological, meaning that statisticians do not ask why people are the way they are in regard to mental health. Instead, existentially, they ask what people are doing and thinking. This approach is, in a word, cold.
A warmer, more holistic perspective is associated with healers but even we can get stuck in cognitive and behavioral thinking. If we don’t get stuck and ask whence symptoms arise there is always one conclusion: that if anyone were to go through what the mentally unwell person went through he or she would also lose his or her shit too. As such, to be batty is not to be morally bad, so those of you whose symptoms are mild or unnoticeable need to stop judging us, especially because of the following.
Like plants we all thrive when conditions are optimal, when the sun is shining and the weather is sweet. Do you agree? Then why do you normatively presume that sturdy trees will flourish in today’s shitty soil? With all due respect, you need to take a look around. Millions of innocent, Yemeni children are starving to death at this very moment. More than 90 percent of all organisms that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. ISIS? Donald Trump? DAPL? Climate change? Enough said.
Many of you are able to get by with a delectable melange of helpful ego defenses: e.g., denial (Freud), projection (Freud), bad faith (Sartre). You are the 95%.
So what about the rest of us? We’re already genetically predisposed to mental affliction. We’re already living in a civilization that is not natural to us since, no matter how hard to fight it, we are animals. Given the challenging adversity we inherit as infants, you really expect us to turn out alright in these conditions, in a society that is so clearly dysfunctional and unsettling?
Hate the game, not the player.
A dagger to the soul
Mind unleashed losing control
She thought she had it all
Little did she know she was about to fall
Damaged goods to society
Broken winged angel running from the past
She cries deep screaming loud
Yet no one khows what she has to say
Fallen from grace looking for hope
The mirror reflects the mask she fakes for them
Yes she never stops fighting the forces of conformity
Her spirit was designed for anarchy
Will she win, will she lose
If only her life was hers, she had the power to choose
Is it fate or is it what society demands
You may think she’s completely insane
But beware this could someday be you
(“Perspectives” by Alexandra Mooes)