Lines in the sand

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Trigger Warnings:  death (including suicide), insanity, psychiatric abuse, and injustice

Words are important.  Naming things, finding the right name, gives them power.  Conversely, a misplaced word or name can just as easily take that power away.

I like the word “mad”.  I like how it rolls off my tongue.  Mad.  When I admit to being mad, I am admitting to being crazy (which is accurate), but I’m also admitting to being weird, outside the mainstream.  We’re all mad here, said the Cheshire Cat, when what he really meant was “All of us are freaks, and if you weren’t a freak, too, you wouldn’t be here.”  I love letting my freak flag fly.  Which is why I love being mad.  Reveling in madness is, in its own small way, an act of rebellion.

Despite all this, though, I don’t shy away from saying I am “mentally ill” or “have mental illness”  …when this is accurate, which it sometimes is (though not always).  The way I see it, “mental health” is very real, and wherever there exists a spectrum of health, illness can exist too.  Physical and mental health and illness are, in ways, similar (despite being drastically different in other ways, but that’s a topic for another day).  Illness or “injury” (a broken brain) can result from an “accident” (a traumatic event).  You can also “catch” an illness (sometimes, your environment just conspires against your well-being).  Some people are more prone to illness than others, or take longer to recover than others, and some people are born with illnesses that they will have their whole lives.  Some people get so ill, and perhaps don’t have access to resources that could help them get better, that they end up dying from it.  This is very sad, no matter if the cause is physical or mental or some combination, because it’s often preventable…but it isn’t always prevented.

And yet… everyone can get ill.  And everyone does.  Which is not something most people want to think about, because it’s scary.  And so it becomes the mythological territory of us outliers.  The disabled, the mad, the neurodivergent.  They won’t let us have our moments (or years) of health, no matter how prevalent they may actually be (just because someone is currently experiencing or even especially prone to challenge or instability, doesn’t mean they always will be…especially with the right support and opportunity for a healthy and fulfilling life).  But if this is acknowledged, it must also be acknowledged that the lines that divide the healthy from the “sick”, and the sane from the insane, are not as black-and-white as they may seem.  With that comes the realization that even if you’re healthy now, you probably won’t be forever (either physically or mentally)…which is something that many people just aren’t ready to accept.

“People ask, How did you get in [the mental hospital]?  What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up there as well.  I can’t answer the real question.  All I can tell them is, It’s easy.

And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.  There are so many of them:  worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well.  These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.

…Another feature of a parallel universe is that although it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from.  Sometimes the world looks huge and menacing, quivering like a vast pile of jelly; at other times it is miniaturized and alluring, a-spin and shining in its orbit.  Either way, it can’t be discounted.

Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.”

(Susanna Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted)

Lines in the sand are meant to wash away.

They (the people of influence and power) would just assume tuck us away, keep us in our parallel universe, and keep the main universe free of anything messy or ambiguous.  They make pretty boxes, just the size to store a person (and keep that person from getting any power of their own), and put the boxes up on a shelf.  Neat, tidy, attractive, easy to digest in small doses.

The truth of the matter is…. we scare them.  We scare them because we are a mirror of their humanity, in all its glorious imperfection and unpredictability.  But what scares them even more than that… we are also a mirror of their mortality.

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2 responses »

  1. I’ve been the “sane” person working with people who were in a locked inpatient psychiatric ward, people not all that different from myself. Occasionally, another student at my school. It was terrifying because I knew I couldn’t separate myself from them; one bad day was the only thing between me coming to volunteer at the ward for an hour and me coming to live on the ward for who knows how long? (It was an acute setting, so probably not more than a week.)

    I quickly realized I couldn’t see “my clients” as their diagnoses, I had to interact with them as people. I gained a lot of respect for them, because whatever got them on the ward (and whether they were there voluntarily or not) by coming to therapy groups they were asking for help. They had the courage to acknowledge that they had a problem and try to do something about it, even though that required them to publicly acknowledge their vulnerability. It’s something most people find incredibly difficult to do.

    It’s something I find too difficult to do.

    So yeah, I can definitely see people being afraid of us and wanting to deny that when they look at us, they’re looking in the mirror. In a way I guess we’re all looking in the mirror.

    • Good points! It’s interesting to hear your perspective from “the other side”. I can imagine how it could be just as scary to be in that position as when I was a patient in a mental hospital myself (it was an acute ward too, but I was there for 10 days), albeit in different ways. The thing is, though, you *acknowledged* that you couldn’t separate yourself from the patients. Perhaps this has to do with your history of depression, but as I said *everyone* has their own insecurities and emotional issues, mad or not. And whether or not they have a diagnosis themselves, I’ve noticed that so many mental health workers do not want to acknowledge their own vulnerability. Many, perhaps unconsciously, see going into helping professions as a way to avoid thinking about themselves by being distracted by others’ problems. This is really not healthy, either for themselves or their patients/clients, who can end up bearing the brunt of their insecurity and avoidance.

      Your own healing journey may still be in progress (heck, we’re *all* “works in progress”), but this recognition that you’re imperfect and human, that you’re not all that different from your past and future clients, is huge. It sets you apart from a lot of people in mental health fields, and will ultimately be of great benefit both to you in your own recovery, and to your future music therapy clients. And yeah, it’s really hard to do, but I don’t see it as being “too difficult” for you. By seeing a therapist, looking for other treatment, and writing your blog, you are *already* doing it.

      If we weren’t friends, and if I lived near you, I’d hire you to be my therapist in a heartbeat. ❤

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