Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Disordered Thinking's Role in Society © Megan Snider

"We are all born mad/Some remain so."--Sammuel Beckett (Act II, "Waiting for Godott")

It is more than a probable estimation that a lot of people are bothered by the close proximity between abstract thinking patterns and mental illness. I would certainly be hesitant to label one as "normal" and another as "abnormal" because I don't think these predefined positions exist; I think people just desperately want them to exist.

I graduated college with a BA in English, so I spent a lot of time hammering the meaning out of literature. Sometimes it wasn't that hard to do; sometimes it could be pretty difficult. No matter what you were looking at, it wasn't hard to see that all of the famous, acclaimed authors were coming from somewhere-- and while their backgrounds and circumstances were pretty varied-- the thought that it took to generate a lot of what they wrote would probably be deemed as "disorganized" by mainstream society.

A lot of authors were also pretty brutally honest. Maybe that's why I liked modern poetry and writing the best. I grew up liking dated things and to some degree that will always be the case, but as you look closer at the progression of modern literature, it seems to disintegrate. It doesn't lose meaning or become any less potent, but rather the words and the arrangements and the ties between them seem to become less important and emotion becomes more raw.

I think as society has progressed, it has come to put greater pressure upon individuals and greater stigmas on individuals who fail to meet these expectations. People who could not find function in their lives to the normal degree would be forced to express themselves in other ways.
If you're dealing with thoughts that you can't express on any other terms, let alone audibly, then it sort of makes sense that you would scribble them down, throw some paint at a canvas, or pluck some strings on a guitar. Don't put me in the position of saying that everyone who ever made great achievements were mentally ill; that's not what I'm saying at all. But, certainly, it shouldn't be undeniable that a pretty large degree of highly intelligent people can suffer from some pretty debilitating mental disorders.

When things don't fit our purposes we throw them out for the most part. Ideas we don't like, people we can't stand, sensations that bother us all litter this huge trash heap in the back of society. Basically, this is what a lot of people do when confronted with mental illness. I don't think people understand, and I cannot stress this enough, that there are no clearly defined rules pertaining to what is normal behavior and what is not. I think if every person in the world was forced into one-on-one sessions with therapists and counselors they would quickly see how irrelevant notions like "looney", "insane", and "crazy" are. Frankly, we are all possibly a stone's throw away from having a mental illness touch us either personally or through the onset of a disorder in a loved one.

It's rather inappropriate that the man who sells ten best-sellers and suffers from a psychiatric disorder is invited on television and the man who works at the kiosk that sells those best-sellers and has a psychiatric disorder could be shuffled in and out of residential treatment facilities just to spare you the inconvenience of having to look at him for one day longer.

The problem with this lies in the fact that there truly are so many misconceptions about mental illness. People who claim to be normal don't understand that a lot of the reactions, sensations and serious hindrances caused by mental illness stems, in many cases, from extreme and uncontrollable emotion like fear, sorrow and, yes, even anger. Society only catches buzzwords that apply to mental illness and then repetitively misuse them. A psychotic is confused with a sociopath or psychopath. Bipolar is confused with Schizophrenia. (The two are related, but not the same.)

In fact, misconceptions about mental illness abound in modern society. For example, a psychotic person is not dangerous. In fact, more people who suffer from mental illnesses are destined to be victims than to be aggressors in violent crimes. Furthermore, if pushed to violence, a psychotic person is more likely to hurt him or herself before he or she would hurt another human being. “Psychosis” does not mean by definition “harmful”. It means someone exhibits a “break from reality”. Does this sound scary? I assure you, it is terrifying, but it does not drive you to senseless murder—only senseless horror.

I believe that there is some fine line between what manly pigeon-hole as “insanity” and what others applaud as “genius”. I remember vividly asking several of my professors what accounted for greatness in literature. What did it take? What drove these men and these women to this point? None of them could answer me; it was always with those same wordless smiles they met me. I did not want to know for my own benefit; I just wanted to see their opinions. I know what I believe that extra glow in a passage of words to be or that carefully-placed, extremely fragile adjective just before the right noun is. It is your right to disagree with me. But I wish it would also not be your right to habitually misunderstand, misrepresent and alienate a whole section of the population that is mostly already internally terrorized, afraid to live another day and unable to help themselves.

I think one of the most frightening aspects of mental illness is that at some point in time you realize in little snatches of lucidity that what is happening to you is not normal and that, no matter how you try, you cannot control it—that yours is a life out of control, spinning off the rails and into absolute oblivion. And while you spend your days and weeks banging down doors to admit this problem to anyone who can pump you full of enough pills to help and enough cognitive therapy to turn the negative thoughts inside out to positives, the whole rest of general society is denying that they have ever felt this way themselves.

© Megan Snider