Commenting on the nature of mental illnesses, Joseph Heller, in his hilarious rendition of the Old Testament, “God Knows” had David mouth the statement that it is contagious much like physical illnesses. It is apparently quite an offensive statement particularly given the sensitivity with which the issues associated with mental disorders are treated in our times. One could easily come up with a number of instances in the distant and even the recent past where those suffering with mental illnesses were treated in a callous manner mainly on account of this prejudice against mental disorders.
Much of this prejudice derives its strength from the huge lacunae in common understanding of the issues involved. This is actually true of almost all prejudices. They breed upon ignorance leading in turn to fear and soon self-defense mechanisms kick in and the individual involved starts to shield himself or herself against any possible negative influences. After all a person’s utmost and most critical responsibilities lie in taking care of oneself and connected closely is the concept of perseverance, incidentally also the philosophical corner stone of the most acclaimed work of Jospeh Heller, “Catch – 22.” The renowned American author wrote about a variety of mental issues with an unparalleled quirk of humor. Somewhere he wrote, “There is wisdom in madness and strong probability of truth in all accusations, for people are complete and everybody is capable of everything.”
Ways to bring calm to the affected
To gauge the inner workings of human brain, writing random notes has been found beneficial. Free association as the psychologists call it. It is an attempt by those interested in an overhaul of human psyche to gauge into its inner most recesses and find out what lurks deep within. if you read much of the psychological literature with an uninitiated mind, you are more likely to be left befuddled and more in pieces than in whole about the workings and the reasons behind those maneuvers of mind which manifest themselves in quirks, habits, mannerisms and most dismal of all maladaptive behavior. It is quite a matter of surprise and alarm among the general populace to witness the behavior of those who purposely work against their own interests. While the expanse of disordered behavior is huge, their manifestations become a matter of concern only when the well being of one disordered and those around him or her is affected. A lot of disordered or socially varied behavior is not only tolerated but many a times spoken about in laudatory terms because they lead to socially productive outcomes. Many a creative people are known to be affected by some or other degree of disordered or extreme behavior. It is assumed to be overhead costs of their creative surges.
Political leaders, social entrepreneurs and workers, public servants and even people from general population often suffer from some or other mental uneasiness and its consequent disordered behavior as a result of the disproportionate amount of stress they are subject to. The problem becomes murky only when the affected person becomes a source of disquiet or harm on oneself and others around him or her. In such cases, social intervention is often of a coarse and intrusive nature and such instances are definitely among the least countenanced by the society at large. The early and progressed stages of such cases were handled by psychiatrists with the help of various tests such as free association and word association tests. The attempt is to find the unadulterated answers by the respondents. It was surmised by the pioneers of psychological therapies that the human mind is composed of various sections and its largest part works behind the screens without our conscious awareness.
Also, it was hypothesized that the roots of any disordered behavior is within the dark and not readily accessible parts of brain which necessitates the employment of sophisticated tools to probe into the intricate labyrinths of human mind. All this theorizing definitely made psychology an esoteric science. Early publications of these theories cause much scandal. People were alarmed at the prospect of living with a landmine of sorts within their own brains which can go off and leave them in a worse condition than someone suffering from physical disability because the latter at least arouses the sympathy of the general public.
However, with advancement in the ways in which psychological research was conducted newer and more tested and proven theories were put forward. The role of an unknown, lying behind the covers, devil mind was soon thrown into disrepute and theorists started to work with the aware conscious mind. Work with those suffering from mental problems also revealed the strong role played by the conscious mind and the constant negatively looped mental commentary which not only weakens a person’s resolve but also results in repeated occurrences of harmful behavior. The techniques of free association remain in practice but they aim at bringing down the barriers social inhibitions and concerns may have built up into the responses of the affected person. This approach to mental disorders frees us up from the tyranny of an unknowable mind of unfathomable depths. Patients and therapists both find a new confidence and resilience.
The problem of mind over body
The mind is the epicenter of an individual’s functioning, yet emphasizing this point too much allows the mind which after all does have the characteristics of any other muscle to attain a highly conscious and extremely maladapative dominant position. And here the problem starts. A mind a little too conscious of its own workings can prove to be a blessing only in the rarest of rare cases
A dominant position once attained by mind is something it is completely loathe to abdicate – and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the body to become subordinate in a exclusive sense to the mechanisms of the mind. From this position, the mind gradually can hold the entire body captive creating discomfiture where none exists and becoming susceptible to minutest of external variations itself. This need of emphasis on bodily needs was succinctly captured by French philosopher Albert Camus, who once said, “We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us towards death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.” Camus strongly extolled the virtue of perseverance and purposefulness in life. In the preface of his essay on the essential absurdity of life, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ he used a quote by Greek lyric poet, Pindar, “O my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible,” which is a call to ceaseless action rather than saving oneself for any life beyond.
It is necessary to understand the influence of real life choices which should be consistently in the direction of health and consistent with the well-being of oneself and other important individuals around the person. How can one arrive at these choices? Speaking from the perspective of civilization there have been certain choices which have led to a few lifestyles repeated over time. These life choices have withstood the test of time and those who have lived them have their marks in the sands of time. This is a reason that humanity has kept such a detailed record of its important occurrences, its leaders who lived grand lives, its major events and its turbulent and prosperous times. Because no matter how much we want to believe in the newness brought in by revolutionary changes, the human condition has remained essentially the same.
We still don’t know our true origins and our correct destinations with utmost certainty and complete clarity. Mortality weighs heavy even on the mightiest of men and women. To ward off its baneful influences which can turn the daily life into a woeful series of tragic occurrences and inertia induced captivity of sorts, those who want to relish and enjoy life to its utmost need to find ways to channelize the death anxiety outwards. And again it is not a conscious process. One only needs to commit to life and rest is in control of factors over which any individual can have no control. All we have is each other. And that is the reason people need families and trust worthy friends. People who would voluntarily share the darkness and the heaviness which burdens each one of us. Yet again there are matters not in command of any individual. We can not decide who is our family. We are born into it . And just being born also is not enough to assure formation of bonds and linkages necessary for the development of relationships. Living together does not guarantee togetherness of being. It is possible though. Years of tolerance and patience lead to formation of ties within a family. Also important is to avoid an obsession with understanding as life is more about living than understanding; and a healthy life probably requires more of forgetfulness and ignorance than understanding and detailed recall of memories.