There is an epidemic of mental illness splashed across my generation like a heart-shaped bloodstain. Why is that? Is it that doctors are too prescription-happy and get kickbacks from drug companies? Is it that all humans are, in some way or another, intrinsically damaged simply by existence? Is it that young people are insecure and simply grasp at any convenient sign of their own identity, and any pill to go with it, anything to make them feel more entitled to the benefits of being “normal”?

We like to forget that society produces the mentally ill people upon whom it imposes the many designations of mental illness it also produced. It created these designations to seemingly address the problem of mental illness. But before mental illness was categorized, it certainly existed, and now that it is categorized with as much gradient variation as geology, meteorology or any other science, it still exists. It even thrives, such that every deviation from the norm—overt anxiety, overt sensitivity, overt awareness, overt fear, overt particularity—can now be categorized, diagnosed, catalogued, and panoptically scrutinized by a chorus of licensed professionals.

Notice my use of the word “overt.” If these traits are not overt, if they are kept inside, they are not visible to other people and hence the need to categorize them diminishes until such times when the subject commits murder or pedophilia, to the extreme surprise of his or her familiars to whom he or she was “such a nice quiet person. I never would have thought…Sometimes you just never know.”

How could you “know,” how could you “have a thought” about something you ignore? Of course we are told to ignore the hateful and embrace the lovely, and of course we are taught to espouse it as well.  Even while we over-diagnose, over-medicate, over-scrutinize, we ignore and remain silent on the hateful aforementioned truth: that society creates its many segments, including the murderers, rapists, and corrupt politicians, because it thrives as it is through them. We are not taught to understand why a person commits murder or other crimes, except that they are aberrations, anomalies, and outliers, statistically insignificant, not signifying any greater message besides humanity’s ineluctable “dark side.”

Society puts dark ideas into our heads, ideas like “what is different is bad, what is the same is good,” or, “to dominate is to be right,” or “life sucks, get over it.” In the manicheistic pursuit of happiness, positivity, and self-interest, most of us tuck these lessons away to fall back on in the event of indecision. When we are not sure what to do with our lives, we can always rely on imitating the herd, the will to dominate (or, more likely, to be dominated, assuming its inherent virtue), and excusing the inequities and failures of life to steer us in the right and safe direction. This is what is considered “good mental health.”

But for the mentally ill, there are two other reactions to these adages. The first is total commitment i.e. taking it too far. These are murderers, rapists, pedophiles, the senselessly violent, hurting the innocent or defenseless, attacking minorities, preying on those they perceive as weak or different, and resolving any moral qualms with some variation of “life sucks, they’ll get over it. Life has winners and life has losers.”

The second reaction is emotional resistance. This puts the young woman or man in a state of anxiety while taking a test comprised of arbitrary criteria, depression when life appears worthless, anger upon learning about the state of the world, and (antisocial) alienation while struggling in that harsh “real world.” Pundits would have us perceive ourselves as “soft” and “weak.” “Sometimes life is sad, get over it.” “Sometimes life is anxious, get over it.” “Angry? You should be grateful!” “If you act like a weirdo, you get what you deserve.” Notice the similarity to the refrains of the killers.

For the emotionally resistant, the body is willing, though only under duress, and the mind is not. The mind is unwilling to accept the terms of engagement that have been thrust upon it, coercively, not as a request but as a requirement, if she should hope to succeed, to live safely and well, and to remain safe from the social stigmas of “failure,” having “never quite made it,” “never quite fitting in,” being “uncooperative,” “immature,” “ungrateful,” “underachieving,” having had “all the chances in the world to get ahead and missing or messing up all of them.”

Perhaps there is some compassion, some understanding that one aspect or another of society failed, not the emotionally resistant individual. This sense of shame and of self-disgust, of non-acceptance of the self, is laid at her feet for her to voluntarily take unto herself—as though she was being told to climb into her own grave—in the form of social stigma and mediocrity, to exculpate the society as the ultimate robber of this person’s “success” (a hopelessly twisted and obscure concept) to whom it never gave a chance, and place the blame right where it belongs: on the shoulders of the prisoner who hates her prison, her prison-guards, her prison-owners, no matter how beautiful a cell is promised or delivered, no matter how wonderful a meal is reserved for those who really “work hard” at deserving it, at fitting in.

She remains diagnosed as “her own worst enemy,” unsafe alone, unsafe with others, generally too sick to be around. Keep her alone, and silenced, and unloved, because her anger, her revulsion, her rejection of what is baldly wrong and unjust, of what completely fails to live up to the potential she sees in her daydreams—where hope is unneeded and fears are acted upon, where nature thrives and justice prevails, where the eye looks where it will and not where it is directed, where people are free—might rub off onto you.

And then you would be to blame.

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