We’re All Mad Here

Sometimes, I feel downright crazy. I’m pretty sure we all do, right?

I’ve been thinking about our whole concept of mental health and illness lately, especially after a recent trip home where I was able to have all kinds of interesting conversations around the issue.

As I’ve written before, I truly believe that the “ill” part is mostly around us, which is what causes the problems within us, and not the other way around (exceptions, I think, might be true psychosis, a total disconnect with the reality that most of us consider to be true).

There’s a lot of human variety, but there are also a lot of fundamental similarities.

We’re all pretty interested, to varying degrees, in food. With a few exceptions, we’re pretty interested in sex. And somehow we’re pretty interested in violence, too, something that both attracts and repels us (I just watched the first episode of House of the Dragon last night…yikes).

The biological and the social swim around together, and trying to separate them can get pretty sticky. In many ways, impulses we consider to be “in our heads” are there on purpose to keep our biological selves alive.

One of my strongest beliefs is that humans were never meant to live the way we’re living; we certainly weren’t meant to raise children this way, with only 1-2 frazzled adults available to get done everything that needs to get done.

Anthropologically, humans are made to live in groups, in communities. It’s how we evolved and advanced as a species: helping each other.

So is it any wonder that living in such small households, barely getting by while taking care of an ever-increasing and increasingly complex set of needs is making us feel not okay about everything? It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

A friend this summer was telling me that she was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in middle school. Many friends have told me that they’ve received this diagnosis, many in adulthood. I’m pretty sure if I went looking for it, I could get that diagnosis, too.

In our conversation, she talked about an article she read with an interesting thesis: ADHD is only a problem to be solved within a capitalist system where everyone needs to support themselves individually and be constantly productive; it’s also a system in which children need to behave in very specific ways in large groups. The boxes we must fit in are smallish and particularly shaped, and not fitting into them can have dire consequences for the life and prospects of us all. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Because really, this world is clearly crazy.

We have so much stimulation and so few layers of care from others beyond childhood (and some people don’t even get the childhood part). So many little evolutionary buttons to be pressed that nature never imagined we’d have access to.

We’re programmed to look for fat and sugar, which is rare in nature. So what happens when we’re able to eat exclusively what we’re programmed to seek out?

We’re programmed to notice sexual cues and become aroused. So what do we do when suddenly we have access to porn, sexual cues galore that we’re, again, programmed to seek out?

We’re programmed to seek out what ups our endorphins. Guess what? We can now ingest them! Opioids feel like love during a time when we’re so unconnected to each other – those relationships are where we’d normally get those endorphins – that many people would literally rather risk dying than not feeling them.

Our brains evolved for a simpler, more close-knit world. The world is now incredibly complex, and individuals are suddenly incredibly isolated, even when they’re physically surrounded by others.

And all the while, we’re counting ourselves as “disordered” for normal human behavior when what’s really disordered is our way of life.

No wonder we all feel so unhinged.

A person close to me is what most psychologists would classify as “on the autism spectrum.” Of an older generation, he’s never been diagnosed for (probably very justifiable) fear of job discrimination. But he’s definitely not “neurotypical” in the way we describe it now.

Someone like this person is not meant to live on his own. None of us were, but especially not him. Community would make this a non-issue, and we’d all be able to focus on his unique and myriad gifts more than his inability to perform basic tasks.

I don’t know the solution. I don’t know the path out of this. But I do want to take the pressure off of our brains a little bit; so many are being considered “faulty” because they’re not behaving in very narrow ways that support a sick society. Society will never be perfect, of course. But we could at least make a bigger effort not to let our fellow humans drift in the wind.

9 thoughts on “We’re All Mad Here

  1. Re: “We’re all mad here.”
    I am a semi-retired clinical psychologist and I love this article. You are identifying something that I have thought about for a very long time, namely the way we must contort ourselves to fit a very distorted set of environmental and societal demands. This is not a new problem, of course – look at the history of child labor, for example – but there is an increasingly relentless drumbeat of demands on individuals that has been even more exacerbated by Covid and economic inequality. As a therapist, I was always wary that societal “illnesses” not be construed as the the fault of the individual. My job was more often helping my clients figure out how to navigate the demands of a crazy society, one that was out of balance and overly focused on money and productivity at the expense of our humanity.
    When I moved to Mexico three years ago in order to cut back on my own work demands, I discovered a kind of joy I had not felt in many years, the joy of stretching out and letting go, of being unambitious, of taking my time. I realize how lucky I am to be able to do this, and have been willing to sacrifice certain things in order to be here. It is important to continue to look for ways to thwart the craziness in society and even if it is not possible all the time, to take the radical path of acceptance and happiness whenever possible while resisting the pull of the corporatized existence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I turned seventy recently, I promised myself to remove as many things as possible that caused me stress. This meant seeing some people less, taking my time at everything, being alone more and making my interests a priority. They tell me stress actually changes the chemistry of your brain in a bad way. I’m pretty sure a calmer life can change it back to a healthier state.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like a good plan!
      I agree about stress causing one’s brain chemistry to change; my worry is always how to prevent stress in stressful situations when it doesn’t always feel we’re driving the machine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have given this a lot of thought lately . We have been headed this direction for a while .
    The good news is:
    We can reverse it with the proper attention and determination .
    This whole pandemic only escalated the whole phenomenon .
    Thanks for spelling it out

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yes, it seems we had to suddenly be isolated from one another exactly at the worst time, ha!
      I remember my sister telling me about an academic talk on the popularity of zombies. The person speaking said one of the things that made zombies so scary was that people, those we run to for comfort from scary things, WERE the scary things, which is what makes the thought of them so horrifying. I think a lot about that…

      Liked by 1 person

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