I really love this response and thank you for it Susan. I particularly like what you said about having presence in two worlds. I really wonder at times whether what we are so quick to label a disability is simply coping or lack thereof, and responding as best we can to the conditions we face. What I despise is simplistic labeling. I have plenty of times that I feel totally insane (and to some I most likely am) and others, totally normal, although what is normal for me ain’t normal for a great many. So to some extent, simply trying to classify and label people based on how they show up (like at the end of a really bad day or in my case, dealing with post-concussion syndrome) is patently unfair.
We are all of us deeply complex. That’s part of what makes us so interesting. And we are all of us variously able to cope..or not… and labelling someone mentally ill to my mind at least is a too-easy way of dismissing something else entirely. It’s hard work to understand our complexities. And with all the dynamics from isolation to addictions to substance abuse to sexual atrocities, sometimes I wonder if any of us is “sane.” I frankly don’t know what that looks like. I guess I’d rather recognize that we all pay a price for being human and flawed. I suspect that at any given time during a life any of us could display symptoms that someone else would label mentally ill and in need of meds. I would argue that looking holistically at that person might tell us a lot more than identifying a set of behaviors that may have risen in response to some extremity.
However and you quite rightly point this out that at times, those vagaries an be highly destructive. I’ve been on the receiving end of that at times. It does indeed cause great suffering, as my brother’s exes can attest to. Anyone who’s ever crossed paths with a psychotic for example, who possesses the empathy of a bowl of cold oatmeal can also attest.
Being mildly mad, which I say with a sense of humor, has helped me cope with a great many things. Those who were otherwise labeled (and possibly drugged) as mental cases are often some of our greatest artists. I have no clue, but I have to wonder if that very off-kilter piece isn’t at times the window into our deepest selves and it’s why so many fear it. I’ve no idea.
My title was intended to spark ideas. I’m well aware- having lived with a passel of challenges in my own family- that issues involving mental illness exist (most particularly schizophrenia and the like). Everyone in my family was, as they say in the South where I grew up, a “little tetched in the haid.” And all of us were immensely bright and creative people.
I would agree with much of your assessment about my big brother. For all of us, being slightly “off” may give us the very coping skills we need. I can’t define normal. I have no idea what that is or what it looks like. What I do know is that as you point out, oversimplifying and labeling people in order to feel untouchable or safe is grotesque. We’re all a little “tetched” I think. And I believe in a lot of ways that might be a very good thing. I really, truly appreciated your thoughtful, indepth and intelligent response. Made my evening.