According to statistics, a large number of Australians will suffer with mental illness in their lifetime. Of course that is if you get officially diagnosed from a list of disorders. There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness. Most people can think of nothing worse than bearing the label of a mental illness. Others find relief in finally being able to name their inner torture because they cannot bear the exhaustion of battling it in secret any longer.
Many moons ago after I left school, I studied an Associate Diploma of Social Science. My favourite subjects were the Psychology Units in which I excelled. My major assignment was to pick a mental illness and write an in depth report. I chose Schizophrenia. It was extremely interesting but the most fascinating part of the study was an educational video on the disorder. Towards the end, there was a shot of a young man smoking a cigarette while sitting in the garden and staring off into space. The narrator was summing up all the information and added that there was one belief that those who were delusional were actually just experiencing another reality, the real reality as opposed to the dream of what was ‘normal’. It stayed with me and ensured I had a about what mental illness was.
Before I began a loving relationship with your Daddy, I had a companionship with a man who had been given the label of Schizophrenia. His behaviour, feelings and thoughts were controlled by heavy medication so that he could live the ‘normal’ life. As I was fresh from the initial cancer diagnosis and my experience of unlearning, I had dropped judgements I had lived by my whole adult life. So in learning of this label of mental illness and some information about how his life had played out so far, I chose to experience his friendship in the now, without the past, from one human to another human.
His family had shown me photos of him as a young man. He was fit and healthy and had a warm, friendly smile. Physically now, he was quite different because of the effects of the medications. One warm February afternoon, we were chatting on the veranda of his Grandparents home. We were laughing and as I looked at him I saw something absolutely extraordinary. The younger, fitter, healthier version of himself which I had seen in photographs, stepped forward and smiled at me. I could hardly believe what I was seeing but it was as clear to me as any other person that stands before me. I pondered on it later and came to the conclusion that he was showing himself to me. His true self was stepping forward to say I am here!
He was saying; I am not lost beneath all this medication and all these labels and the judgement of others.
We had many open and honest conversations about his experiences of being Schizophrenic. We had many loving and happy moments in our companionship, along with some challenging moments. But that is the nature of all relationships.
Because I did not fear that label of mental illness, I went on to have a wonderful friendship with a generous, sensitive and funny man. If I had not been able to get past the label, the concept of who he was, I would have missed out. I would have missed out on knowing and experiencing a great person.
A dictionary definition of mental illness is:
Any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people.
For all the years that I suffered deeply with depression and anxiety, I felt anything would be better than having the label of mental illness. So I struggled along, masking my pain. Knowing some of the intimate details of my friends lives, thoughts and behaviours, they were doing the same thing.
My mind was broken. It was fragmented by beliefs, judgements, illusions and fears. Yet beneath all of it, my true whole self was waiting. Waiting to shine again, as that is the beautiful truth. Self-love was what was required to stoke the fire, the oxygen to the flame. In the heat of ultimate love, my mind was healed.
If my thoughts, behaviours and feelings go against what is deemed normal then call me crazy, please! There is not much of the dished out version of normal that I relate to, or have ever related to.
Seamus, a label is a two dimensional piece of information which we give meaning to. It speaks little of the human being beneath it. Ignore the judgements and have your own experience, based on your own feelings about that person or situation. With a free heart and whole mind, you can be open to the most incredible life experiences. Create your own normal darling, it will be your only sanity.
“Everybody will think you are crazy, but you are simply being natural; and nature is not crazy. To be natural is the authentic sanity: the more natural you become, the bigger will become the distance with the artificial society and the artificial people – but you will be becoming more and more sane” – Osho