That’s my theory, anyway. Before you say I’m crazy, read this whole post, then tell me what you think. Am I right, am I wrong, or might I be on to something regardless?
So, what makes me think that we’re all mentally ill? The combination of a few things.
First, facts about people:
We’re comprised of at least two components: physical and mental.
As we age, these components change—our bodies and minds morph.
Everyone’s flawed. We each have stains, blemishes, quirks, and anomalies. (Since we’re each ‘physically’ flawed, why would we ever think we’re not also ‘mentally’ flawed?)
Some imperfections vary over time. Some eventually get worse, much worse.
Next, facts about diseases:
Some diseases lie dormant for years before their symptoms appear. (We may have the illness, but not exhibit any symptoms.)
Some diseases can’t be diagnosed until after their symptoms flare up. (Being symptom-free doesn’t mean we don’t have the illness.)
Each disease affects each person differently—some to a small degree, others more significantly.
The affects or symptoms of a disease don’t jump from “none” to “maximum” in a fraction of a second. They progress from one degree to another over time—maybe weeks, maybe months, even years, but almost never instantaneously.
Finally, facts about me and some of my kids:
I haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness nor been told by anyone that they think I have one.
Professionals have diagnosed many of my kids with at least one mental illness.
I demonstrate many of the same behaviors some of my diagnosed kids do, but often to a much lesser degree.
When I look in the mirror, when I consider the above, I draw the conclusion that I have at least one mental illness, and probably three. As of today, though, my symptoms haven’t risen to the level of needing professional help. (Again, ‘as of today’.)
All this leads me to believe that I, a human—and, by extension, you, also a human—have a mental illness. We might not yet see it, others might not discern it, and it might not ever rise to a professionally-diagnosable level. Nonetheless, I’m willing to accept that I’m mentally ill.
And I’m okay with that.
Because I admire my kids and others who not only wrestle everyday with symptoms far beyond mine and far beyond what I can imagine, but also deal with society’s stares and statements, hand-delivered on ice-cold platters.
Because I know that if I differ only by degree and not by type from everyone who’s been diagnosed, I’m less likely to judge them, to avoid them, or demean them.
Because if “I’m not okay, you mustn’t be okay”, meaning it’s just possible that we could live in a much different world.
In the end, I might be wrong. But, then again, what if I’m right? Either way, imagine the kind of world this would be if we at least considered the prospect that we’re all mentally ill: A world without stigma around mental illness, without judgment or guilt or shame.
As someone who’s lived alongside mental illness for decades, I’d enjoy a world like that.
A note from the author…
I know some of you reading this are thinking “You don’t understand. You don’t know what the mentally ill deal with! You demean everyone who has a mental illness when you refer to yourself as if you were one of them.”
I’m sorry you feel that way, that’s not what I’m saying, but that’s exactly my point. As long as we focus on our differences, as long as we view ‘them’ as a diseased version of ‘us’, this all continues: judgment and guilt and pity and shame and ignorance and disbelief and stigma.
But if we saw and heard and treated people who display symptoms of mental illness as no different than us in nature and in worth—and if we viewed ourselves as people fortunate to not be as affected as they are—we could maybe, just maybe begin to empathize, to inquire, to discover, to learn, to soften, to love, and to advocate.
In a nutshell, this is what I’m saying: We as a society need to do these things to have even a hope of creating a world full of compassion and understanding, full of respect and support, full of grace and mercy and love.
And I do hope we create that kind of world, because the current one’s not really helping those who many call "the mentally ill".