What does it mean to be insane? Who gets to define it? How do we know when someone has “crossed the line” into a state seen as abnormal? What does it say about power and control in our culture?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the DSM, the 5th edition which will be published soon), just about every human emotion can be classified as a mental illness. I have been fulminating against this odd cultural artifact of a book for the past twenty years, ever since I realized that it was being used as an insidious weapon against me and millions of others. I’ve had gobs of the labels contained within it thrown at me, by “professionals” and “lay-people” alike. Even my child, at age three, was accused of “oppositional defiant disorder” by someone attempting to wield power over her (which I didn’t tolerate even for a second).
For quite a long time, I bought into the story that I was crazy. I certainly felt crazy. And in comparison to others around me, my thoughts, feelings, and actions often seemed downright wacko. And of course, anyone who has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital, or spent hundreds of hours with therapists, or taken an entire pharmacy’s worth of psych meds, must be crazy by definition, right?
I now reject this story. If I’m crazy, then you all are crazy with me, no doubt about it. We are collectively held hostage by the Culture of Lies, Domination, Murder, and Exploitation, also known as industrial civilization.
I remember a time when I raised the issue with a psychologist I was seeing. I said something like, “What about the larger sociological context I find myself in? What impact does that have on how crazy I am? I really wonder about this. What do you think?” He was dismissive; he provided no encouragement for me to pursue this line of thought. Instead, I talked in circles for years and years, about my mother, about everyday circumstances, blathering on and on, feeling enraged at how much the sessions cost, feeling enraged that he held me at arm’s-length in a most professional way, wanting desperately to connect with him in a deeper way but feeling always dissected, a curiosity, an object, a mechanistic collection of brain chemistry and individual life events that were supposed to account for why I was so impossible.
Another psychologist, years later. I presented to him Kathy McMahon’s Do You Have a Panglossian Disorder? or Economic and Planetary Collapse: Is it a Therapeutic Issue? He didn’t seem all that amused, although I found it hilarious. He just didn’t get it, and in fact seemed to view it as further evidence of my craziness. I had struggled for years to get off of psych meds entirely, and had finally completed the task. But as soon as I started hitting another dark period, he said to me, “I think you should consider going back on meds.” That was the last straw. I realized, with complete certainty, that the psych establishment had nothing to offer me anymore, and in fact, was busily arranging to anesthetize and disable me. So I dumped him. I never went back, and I never visited a therapist again.
I say this not to dismiss every single psychiatric professional or every single person who has ever taken psych meds (a huge number). But I think there’s still a huge problem in the way this culture displaces “insanity” onto the shoulders of individual people (such as outspoken women interested in justice, perhaps?) rather than on the perpetrators of monstrosities who are allowed to roam freely. Such as world leaders. Such as those who sanction bombings. Such as those who loot and pillage entire nations. Such as those who colonize the bodies, minds, and hearts of entire populations, warping them for profit. Such as those who viciously rape the earth in an attempt to extract ever-more “resources.” Such as those who presume to justify the current set of arrangements that are leading to the murder of all life on earth. And, yes, such as those who presume to label every human emotion as a form of mental illness, rather than seeing those emotions as core to our humanity, gifts to cherish.
I don’t care anymore who views me as insane. It makes me laugh. My own darkness and struggle, it’s a message from the center of my being that circumstances in the world are very wrong. It hurts, of course. It’s agonizing. But I will call out the true insanity for what it is at every opportunity.