I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

So, are writers mentally ill?

By whose definition?

Look, part of the whole problem with the deinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill, which goes all the way back to the early seventies at least, and as far as theory is concerned probably a lot further, is that health professionals started, DELIBERATELY blurring the lines between mental illness and mental health.

Part of this was – I think – a genuine effort to make it possible for some people classified as “mentally ill” to be able to make a go of it in the community.  A lot of new psychiatric drugs had been discovered which, while they didn’t heal, masked the symptoms of mental illness and therefore made it possible for these people to integrate in normal society – provided they would take their meds (more on that later.)

The other part – I know, my SIL took the mental-health portion of her MD in the late seventies – was the insane “equivalence brigade” which tried very hard to convince themselves that the US too did EXACTLY the same things the USSR did.  Since the USSR put political dissenters in mental hospitals, then the people in US hospitals MUST be also political dissenters.  This was hard to prove, since the Soviet system provided ideological support for mental treatment of dissenters: i.e. the Marxist system was perfect, so anyone disagreeing must be mad, while the American system mostly tried to get people off the streets who would do harm to themselves and/or others.  However the medical profession found their justification in an upside-down of the Marxist system.  Since Capitalism was bad for humans and other living things, then everyone who went mad under capitalism were, ipso facto, political dissenters.  So, if you happened to be a woman who liked to throw rocks at strangers and go into bizarre monologues on the subject of cabbage, you weren’t mad, you were a feminist protesting male aggression.

Now I have no proof this was intentional or a coordinated AGITPROP operation.  It’s entirely possible it was (merely) the predictable mix of ill-intentioned agents and well-intentioned idiot fellow travelers.

However the end result was making people too crazy to live alone into political victims and incidentally to give the USSR room to claim the capitalist system created homelessness.

Fortunately or not, the intervening decades have brought more and more evidence that a lot of mental illnesses have a physical basis.

Also, curiously, just like the “freeing” of women has resulted in a lot of them behaving like Victorian maidens who demand special protection from those all-masterful men, the blurring of boundaries has worked in the other direction too.

I’ve mentioned here before that … must be… 14?  13? Years ago, I had a UTI that didn’t let me sleep for a week, and then on my birthday, all the sixty stories or so that I had out came back rejected.  And I had a cold. Also, Dan was in the middle of one of those projects that caused him to work eighteen hour days.  He got out because it was my birthday, in time to take me to dinner.  We had a babysitter.  As I got in the car, Dan looked at me and said “You look dead.  What’s wrong?”  When I told him, he said, “We’re going to emergency.”

So, there I am on my birthday, getting prescriptions for various ailments and knowing when we got out it would be too late to go to dinner (which I’d been looking forward to for weeks) and the doctor tells me “You look depressed.”  I said “I am a bit” and explained why.  And he told me “No, no,  You misunderstand the process.  Depression is caused by an imbalance in your brain.  If I give you Prozac you’ll feel better and that proves it’s chemical.”

My answer was unprintable, and I think I called him a witch doctor.  BUT he was absolutely convinced of what he was saying.

Since then, older boy has taken psychology.  I read his textbook (you can’t trust these critters.)  And guess what?  ANY fluctuation of mood is now described as bipolar.  Apparently we’re supposed to be on an exact even keel all the time, like robots.  External factors are discounted and it’s all “brain chemicals.”

I think witchdoctoring is light.

But what this means is that more and more, I keep finding the “clinicalization” of perfectly normal conditions.

I mean, I knew growing up that dad was of what we could describe as a “depressive habit.”  Not that he moped, but he read a lot of history and he had this tendency to think our most principled days were behind us.  I also knew mom was bipolar and SHOULD have been on meds, because she could get outright scary.  One of these things is not like the other.  Dad was inclined to be saddish and think the world a sad place, but he never talked about killing himself.  To be honest neither did mom, whose stronger cycles are maniacal and involve things like painting half a house overnight.  BUT to the untrained eye it was very clear who could do harm to him/herself and others, and who wouldn’t.

Even for someone of a depressive habit who might have suicidal thoughts, if never acted upon, it’s probably not a concern (at least if they’re over thirty and aren’t doing anything else related to depression.)  But go to any doctor and admit you’ve thought of opening your wrists in a warm bath, no matter what the provocation, you go on the happy drugs.  EVEN if they had to prod and poke and ask if you ever had the slightest suicidal thoughts, and even if the thought was twenty years ago.

And my kid once quoted Ray Bradbury in a school essay to the extent that “I’m seventeen and I’m crazy.  My uncle says both happen together.”  Mind you, he went on to explain he was only fourteen, but he felt that adolescence was a difficult time period.  You guessed it.  They sent him to a psychiatrist without telling us.  Fortunately the younger kid is sane as a rock (literally.  He’s so stubborn and so sure of who he is at his core that he’s like solid rock) so the psychiatrist told the counselor she was making a storm in a teacup.

I would suggest (because I can, because this is my blog, d*mn it) the old definition of mental illness from the village – you might have all sorts of crazy beliefs in your own home, on your own time; you might believe that there is a miraculous shrine of the Virgin formed by mold on your wall, and you might pray to it everyday; you might think your dog is your kid’s reincarnation; you might think you have to wear purple or the demons get you; you might still be mourning your husband who died forty years ago.  No one cares about any of this, and people will laugh a little behind your back (sometimes.  Unless they’re crazier) but you’re still a functioning member of the community.  HOWEVER if you believe you see the devil in your kid’s (or dog’s) eyes and go after the creature with a knife; if you decide you can no longer wear clothes and start wandering the streets stark naked screaming judgment is coming; if you think you’re an onion and start taking slices off yourself, the village elders (after being prodded by their wives) are going to put you in a car and take you to the asylum, because you can’t function as a member of the community.  (Turned out the gentleman who was going around naked did so because he was convinced from the neck down his body wasn’t his, and that someone had replaced it in the night.  Turns out that this isn’t mental illness, but the result of a stroke.  We didn’t know that, and yes, mistakes will happen.  But mistakes will happen either way because we’re human.  He actually went around screaming “This isn’t mine.”  And yes, he died in the asylum, something that upsets my older son very much.)

So, are writers crazy?  Let me say right up front that even if you go by historical standards, no creative person seems to have his/her head on quite the right way.  I mean Da Vinci?  Van Gogh?  In the composers, it’s entirely possible Liszt was sane, but I’d like proof of that.  Among artists, writers are almost sane.  Or at least we can pass.  I mean, I could make guesses about Jane Austen, but no one around her seemed to think she was nuts.

Is this because we’re sane?  Look guys, leveling with you: I’ve had characters appear fully formed in my head and speak in such a compelling voice I had to write it (Lucius Dante Maximillian Keeva of A Few Good Men was one of those.  So was the Athos of the vampire musketeers.)  This can’t be normal.  I’ve had books come to a grinding halt, because I wasn’t getting the dictation right.  This can’t be normal.  I’ve had stories haunt me and hunt me down for years till I write them.  I write 4+ books a year.  THIS CAN’T BE NORMAL.

And yet, I raised my kids no worse than anyone else.  I keep the house clean(ish).  I have been known to curse/throw things at the TV, but only during political campaigns, and who hasn’t?

Am I crazy?  Probably.  Certainly I’m very different from the norm.  However, I can function as a member of the community.

And I’m not going to say that without MY peculiarities society would lose a great deal.  I’m just going to say that without the peculiarities of most artists – if those were cured or masked instead of tolerated, society WOULD have lost a great deal.

So, there is a method to madness, or at least a use.  And if it doesn’t impair your other functions, only a madman would try to “fix” it.

*There is a “sister” post at Mad Genius Club enlarging on this. .

97 thoughts on “I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell

  1. Regarding: “Is this because we’re sane? Look guys, leveling with you: I’ve had characters appear fully formed in my head and speak in such a compelling voice I had to write it (Lucius Dante Maximillian Keeva of A Few Good Men was one of those. So was the Athos of the vampire musketeers.) This can’t be normal.”

    My brief “about the author” blurb, on blog and the manuscript I’m editing right now, includes the line “One morning, he woke up with a universe in his head, and knowing this was a sign of either insanity or literature, started writing and hopes for the best.”

    …so, yeah. But it’s certainly MY normal, and I’d miss it if it ever went away.

  2. To paraphrase R.A.H. everyone is as crazy as uncle Pete’s pet coon. That is one statement of his I have never been sure of. I’m sane, it’s just that the rest of you are nutballs!

      1. Oh geez – this one triggered my grandfather’s fav. story of a skunk and chasing little girls with it. Unfortunately my grandfather’s friend held the skunk behind his back. The skunk was able to put its paws on his jeans and sprayed his back. It was heck getting the smell out–

      1. I always heard either crazy as a pet coon, or crazy as a loon. Now I don’t know about loons, but I’ve been around several pet coons, and they may make good pets when young, but once mature (and I’ve seen this even with those that are fixed) they are the definition of unstable. Irrationally angry doesn’t quite describe them, they have episodes where they are just plain mean.

        1. “Irrationally angry doesn’t quite describe them, they have episodes where they are just plain mean.”
          Sounds like most women to me. Not insulting my own group, but heck, women get that way all the time. Call it what you will, but when a woman gets into that mode, there is no going back.

  3. I agree with you. When I posted the link about the Swedes research, I was laughing and screaming at the same time. Insane? I don’t think so. Besides I think the world would be less happy w/o creative people. In some cultures we are shamans and storytellers. And in those same cultures (a long time ago), we were important.

  4. I did a post on this back in July. I believe that yes, writers are a little insane – we have to be in order to come up with the things we do, but that’s not a bad thing. Quite the contrary, since who wnts to listen to sane people say boring things? 😉

  5. And this is why I’m not a writer. These people don’t come and talk to me and nag me into telling their stories. I’m glad! I had that happen to me once. A little vignette popped into my head and I wrote it out and got it into the company newsletter as a fable about how housekeeping is a safety issue. (The company I work for is VERY big on safety.) Luckily, they stopped doing the newsletter, so they didn’t keep bugging me to come up with more of those.

  6. I’ve had experience in the other end of this. My son Joe NEEDS to be in an assisted living situation. Joe was severely abused by his birth parents. That abuse caused some significant damage to his brain that has kept him from emotionally maturing beyond the mental age of about 14. Yet he’s been judged by the courts as being mentally capable of caring for himself. While he can manage to feed himself without dying, and to keep his area fairly clean, he cannot handle money, nor can he make good value judgments. It’s not that he’s stupid, it’s just that his brain doesn’t work that way. We finally have him in a good place. He’s been there for five years now, and that’s about all he can handle without wanting to move. He’s found another place where he’d rather be. We’re still in the process of checking it out.

    Sarah, I’m probably more like your younger son than most, so I can sympathize. I also understand about the tendency today to label everyone with some kind of “mental illness”. I take Cymbalta for my chronic pain, and it does a pretty darned good job of helping control it. Yet because Cymbalta is ALSO used to treat depression, I’ve been tagged as “depressed”. I’m pretty darned happy for someone who’s supposed to be ‘depressed’.

    I think we all grew up with knowing at least one person that would qualify as “crazy Uncle Paul” or “crazy old Aunt Stella who lives in the attic”. Most of them functioned well enough to survive on their own. Some of the people that got turned out onto the streets in the 1970’s didn’t fit that description. What we (society) did to these people was insane, and should be held to account.

    1. I take Cymbalta for depression – the depression is almost certainly caused by narcolepsy (as in, chronic sleep deprivation), but was diagnosed long before the narcolepsy after a stress-induced breakdown (not being able to do anything right will do that to anyone. I lasted a year before breaking).

      There’s a tendency to medicate away anything that doesn’t fit what’s “supposed” to be the norm. I actually need the meds to function. Many don’t.

      In my not at all humble opinion when someone shows up to a doctor with what looks like depression what should happen first – unless they’re clearly non-functional – is figuring out if it’s transient and environmental or not. If it is transient, some counseling for dealing with the cause can help, or simply waiting out whatever is the problem. Medication should only be considered when someone can’t function at all, and it’s lasting more than a couple of weeks or so.

      1. There is a time and place, and need, for medication in our lives. Many self medicate with food, booze, smoking (both kinds), or taking drugs from the streets. Some use sex, some use exercise, some use checking out and going away as ways to cope with life’s horrors. But you really can’t escape everything.

        Just because you take a medication to help you cope, does not mean that you can’t function as a human being, no matter what you do for a living. Having a “clear head” doesn’t always mean someone is in control of themselves. I, too, take and medication – lots of different kinds for my diabetes and heart disease. (2011 was the year of 3 open heart surgeries for me. Death was walking very close by.) If I didn’t have the anti anxiety medication, I would just have another heart attack.

        There is a huge difference between mood altering drugs and medication that is needed to function without an emotional breakdown or other serious medical conditions. People can, and do, abuse it, but they would probably be falling down drunk if they self medicated with booze.

        The whole bi-polar thing bothers me, because a lot of different issues and problems get shoved under that umbrella. They kept trying to lable my son, Arron, as bi-polar and defiant something or other, when he was refusing to go to school. Come to find you, he was qualified to be in MENSA and he was bored to death in school. So he dropped, got his GED, and moved on. But they still wanted to label him. Sometimes folks just can’t get their heads around the fact that everyone is different.

        1. Yes, they wanted to label Marshall (later) as learning disabled and anti-social, because a) he’s very smart b) he was being bullied by girls — and as we all know girls don’t bully.

          I tend to attribute the labeling thing to Marxism, but Marxism is just part of “treating people as things” aka, age-old evil.

  7. Is “creative insanity” a safety valve for those of us who might otherwise lose our grip on what currently passes for the normal world? Especially when there is a family history of either eccentricity or clinical mental health problems? My characters started appearing when I was in my teens, faded when I started flying, and returned shortly after a near breakdown during grad-school and have not let go since. Am I sane? I function very well in society and pay my taxes on time, so probably. Would a therapist load me up on anti-depressants after diagnosing me with “autism-spectrum disorder” or “Aspergers?” Quite likely, which is one reason why I tend to avoid people of that ilk.

    1. Any therapist who tries to prescribe anti-depressants for being on the spectrum needs a smack with a clue-by-four. While some people on the spectrum may be depressed because they don’t fit in and are bothered by this, the spectrum disorder itself doesn’t automatically come with depression.

      (The fellow who diagnosed my kid did broach the possibility of ADD medication, which I smacked down firmly-but-politely, and he dropped it before I went to firmly-and-with-nails-in; aside from that minor quibble, he was quite informative and useful. So the kid is unmedicated, and attends Social Skills classes weekly, as well as having an IEP for the parts where, yes, she does need a hand — not for the Asperger’s, but for the “Organizational Deficit Disorder,” which is a fancy way of saying that she’s absent-minded to the extreme and hasn’t developed very many coping strategies yet.)

      1. Good for you! Being depressed because you don’t fit in is environmental, and can be worked around. All oddlings are prone to this one until we get away from school lockstep and can find our own kind.

  8. Two things came to mind:

    First: When I was young I learned about a concept: functional insanity. People in this group did not see or relate to the world quite like everyone else, but they were not a threat. Terms like eccentric were coined. That artists saw the world slightly differently was largely assumed — although there was the question with painters if the chemicals hadn’t gotten to them as well.

    Second: Books, Flowers for Algernon (both the book and its publishing history) and Brave New World.

  9. “Sane” and “Insane” is too much black and white with no grey in between, not to mention the rainbow. It’s like saying there are teetotalers and there are alcoholics, with no room for people to have a couple of beers while watching the game or a glass of wine with dinner.

    Artists, including writers, *stricktly IMO* have trained themselves to use and control the parts of the brain that are overactive and out of control in some seriously mentally ill people. Yes, I have multiple personalities. But I know which one is “me.” I may be a bit foggy after a long writing spree and take a moment to turn off the fictional character and put him or her back on the charger, but I’ve never actually tried a magic spell, nor do my horses and dogs speak. I live in the real world, thankyouverymuch.

  10. The world has too many isms today. Everything is a mental issue. Yes, some folks do have problems, and as such should get the help they need. However, some just need a good kick in the pants.

    I think anyone who thinks differently may be considered slightly crazy by the regular joes. Curiosity is what gives us away. Always asking questions, always trying something new, listening to the nudger in our heads to write something down NOW and follow the lead of the nudger. Writers, artists, musicians, theater people, designers, are all a bit insane. They have to be to use that creative gene installed within.

    Many of my friends are deeply into things like RenFaire in Southern CA. They LIVE the lives of their characters every weekend Faire runs in the spring and summer. Is that crazy? Our friend, Cat Taylor Overstreet, is the artistic director of the Great Dickens Fair in San Francisco that runs between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year at the Cow Palace. (or whatever it is called now.). The people involved live their characters, everything from saloon dancers to Queen Victoria run the gammut. All sorts of Characters from Dicken’s books roam the place. Are they crazy?

    In practical terms, yes! The cost of the clothing, the classes, the rehearsals, the constant demand to learn to walk, talk, and behave like people in that era . . . it is NUTS! But in creative terms, certainly not! They bring the era alive, engender interest in Victorian and Edwardian history, and in Dickens’ books too. Not to mention create a fun venue for mid winter.

    I crave to be a writer, artist, creative. So maybe I am crazy, but I don’t think I am ill in any way.

  11. Unfortunately – this research study in the end will put everyone in the same bucket and the people who really need the help will be lost (in the well). Ummm.. so I think in metaphors… so DON’t sue me.

  12. My mother started dragging me to shrinks after she found out where I was ‘going’ all the time. I never had a problem with the other worlds, or the people I played with there, but my mother did. Thankfully, in it’s own way, the pathetic way my childhood experiences with psychiatry worked, no lasting damage was done, since the shrinks generally talked to my mother to decide what to ‘do’ with me. When the shrinks and mother reached the point where what they decided was to lock me up in the asylum, my father put his foot down with a firm no. I’ve come to realize over the years, that my father’s mind works much like my own, and while he may not wander other universes, there are places in his woods, that only he may go . . . he has a much firmer grasp on his doorway though, since he manages to bring a dead deer back with him every time.

  13. I recommend The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty to all and sundry. The author’s a neurologist and discusses the mental conditions most nearly related to writing at great length. Like hypergraphia.

    1. There is a lot of misinformation about hypergraphia. In Strange Minds and Genius, they said Phil Dick had hypergraphia for writing six books a year… when that’s the normal output (under several names) of most midlisters…

      1. > they said Phil Dick had hypergraphia for writing six books a year

        I think the main think that PKD had that let him right that much was a reliable speed dealer.


        I took amphetamines for years in order to get energy to write. I had to write so much in order to make a living because our pay rates were so low. In five years I wrote sixteen novels, which is incredible. I mean, nobody, I don’t think anybody’s ever done it before. And without amphetamines I couldn’t have written that much. But as soon as I began to earn enough money so that I didn’t have to write so many books, I stopped taking amphetamines. So now I don’t take anything like that.

        1. I recall that Dick famously discovered that his body did not metabolize amphetamines, thus rendering his remarkable consumption irrelevant … except for the placebo effect of thinking the speed helped. It’s been many a long year, but I think the article was in Rolling Stone or perhaps Playboy-; it was at about the time he started receiving serious** critical attention.

          *Heck, it could have been High Times, although I doubt they would have thought their readership wanted to be told that some drugs don’t affect some people.

          ** By which I mean: outside the SF/F ghetto.

      2. A mistake Flaherty would not make, though I don’t believe she mentions Dick by name. She had hypergraphia herself during post-partuum mania.

  14. You know who the truly insane people are? The ones that think sanity can be achieved and maintained by prescription. Talk about your delusional states…

    1. ::snort:: Prescription drugs at least in my case allow me to manage my insanity. They sure as heck don’t make me sane.

    1. Well, if it cripples that which you are trying to use to make money (as in, shuts up the voices of the writer’s characters), then yes.

      1. OK. For those who rely on their creativity, I’ll agree that happy pills are usually a bad thing.

        But for the rest of us?

        1. Existential quandary: are you happy or are you drugged so that you merely think you’re happy? (And: does it matter?)

          Invert it: are you sad or do you suffer a chemical imbalance?

          Generalized: Are you you or merely a consequence of chemical interaction.

          Ethical implication: who is entitled to determine the chemical state you should inhabit?

          1. THIS is why I don’t want drugs. I already have passengers in this here head. I don’t need to add confusion to it.
            And btw, allergy meds break my “writing thing” which is why I only take them when I can’t write anyway.

            HOW do they do that? I don’t know. But I don’t like it.

            1. And just what makes you think you’re the driver of that bus? 😉

              Which is the inevitable endpoint of this type of discussion.

              1. Nah. You’re the passenger. But you do get some say as to what goes in the gas tank (and that’s probably pretty limited too given people’s problems with addiction and inability to get to the weight they think “they” desire.

                The concept of conscious control is just an illusion.

          2. Existential: Doesn’t matter (at least to me). If I think I’m happy (not sad), I am happy (not sad).

            Invert: That’s not the inversion.

            Generalized: Ultimately (IMO), we’re just the result of biochemical interactions yet you’re also you. Besides, most Americans routinely use psychoactive substances like caffeine, alcohol, chocolate (my personal downfall), tobacco, prescription drugs, recreational drugs, etc. What’s really the difference between all those (or even just the legal ones) and happy pills?

            Ethical: I’m a believer in better living through chemistry or at least the right to attempt better living through chemistry (I’m personally too old for that sh*t now). On the other hand, as long as you’re not in an institutional setting, nobody can really force you to take anything.

        2. For the rest of us, it’s a case by case basis of what compromises people are willing to make in life. Among non-authorial friends and roommates, I have known quite a few people with several strong deviations from normal. (they flock together for support and comfort, you see, so if you know two, you’re likely to know ten.)

          Some never got medicated for the ways their brains deviated from the ideal normal, some did and would happily catch up with each other on how life was going, and what meds they were on now due to what side effects and interactions. Some turned out to be fairly grounded, highly talented and happy people. Others are like phoenixes – they rise, only to make poor choices, crash and burn, and struggle to rise again. Medication does not guarantee a good life, nor does it ensure a bad one.

          1. My son is one of those that, as long as he’s on medication, he does all right. When he stops, or he doesn’t take them, he makes very bad choices and crashes and burns. That’s why he’s in a place where the STAFF controls when he takes his medication, and they ensure he does take it.

            I’m on a ton of drugs, mostly to combat the pain of having a body that’s been through one too many demolition derbies (relatively speaking), and doesn’t work too well any more. I know they affect the way I think, and what I think, but I’m just not quite sure how. I just know that with them I don’t hurt as much, and I still seem to be able to write, just not as fast as I do not taking them.

    2. Following this thread of conversation in particular is leaving me with a very strong case of de’ja’vu. Did we (as a group, I don’t think I specifically was involved) have a similar conversation something like 3 months ago?

      1. It’s a topic that keeps coming back, rather like bad mexican food. Mostly because so many creative folks walk a rather thin line between functional but crazy, and non-functional.

        1. I meant more this specific sub-thread, where the issue of, “You say it like it’s a bad thing.” comes up. There was a three-response series that I thought was word-for-word what came up a few months ago. @_@;

        2. I think it was my fault this time (I found a link to a Swede study that creative people are nuts–it is the Swedes after all). I wasn’t here three months ago so I didn’t see the last argument. Oh well– I am functional… as long as I stay home. 😉

  15. Not quite the thing to make you found of Pepe le Pew, no? Having smelled skunk I never did understand how anyone could create a him be so charming a character. Maybe because they made him the perpetual romatic & failure.

    1. This was supposed to be attached to Cyn Bagley re: grandfather and skunk. Either the computer is scrambled or WP. Sigh.

  16. The reason it’s so easy to be crazy enough to need drugs but so hard to be crazy enough to need supervision is that, when people walk into a psychiatrist’s office under their own power (as long as they’re not minors), the default assumption is that they’re there because they want drugs. But it’s illegal to give drugs to people just because they want them. So the doctors, being basically accomodating folk, have written up a manual full of diagnostic criteria that they can point to when they get investigated by the government (or sued by the surviving family of a Prozac user with no history of self-injury who commits suicide), and cite — chapter and verse — the justification for handing out drugs. Which manual, of course, contains diagnoses so broad that if every living person were subjected to examination for them, there wouldn’t be a single “healthy” person left.

    So, in order to perpetuate the myth that they’re doing something other than selling pills to people who want to buy pills, they have to define the whole world as being divided not between crazy and not-crazy, but between different camps of crazy, allowing no room for anybody to be provably not-crazy. Because, of course, if it were possible to prove that any given person is not-crazy, then some of those psychiatrists prescribing pills might be at risk of prison time for giving drugs to people who aren’t actually “sick” in the sense that real doctors use that word.

    Of course, once you have completely eliminated the possibility of ever proving that a specific person — once they’ve been publicly suspected of being crazy — is actually not-crazy…well then, you either have to give up on the whole “institutionalize the crazy people” concept, or else consent to a legal system in which any person can be locked up at any time for any reason and never let out again, at the whim of whoever happens to be in charge.

    Millions of children and adolescents force-fed dangerous, addictive, and hallucinogenic drugs because their teachers don’t know how to keep their attention? Thousands of homeless people suffering the eternal persecution of demons that aren’t really there? All just side effects of our society’s collective hypocrisy about mood-management.

    1. They tried to get Robert on ritalin. You’d have to know Robert to understand how crazy this is. He wrote his first fan fic story at four or five. Before that he won coloring contests so routinely we always had “children’s meals” at Mickeydees coupons around. This was a child you could keep quiet and happy with a book or a tape. BUT he wasn’t behaving as the teacher expected and he asked “weird questions” (He knew more about the rain cycle than his teachers) so they wanted him on ritalin. Later they wanted to do the same to his brother. Marsh had severe sensory perception issues (It’s in the autistic spectrum, but he has NO other symptoms, and that’s the one that often hits high level math-leaning IQ) He did not have any attention issues. He just couldn’t focus on the blackboard or hear if there was noise in the room. One on one, or at home, he devoted himself to mind-breaking math puzzles. Ritalin would have done NOTHING except … well… mess with his mind.

      As for the homeless — don’t get me started.

      I don’t necessarily agree this is all a “drug management” issue, though. I think it’s more a society management. Soma, they want us on Soma. Can someone explain to them that Brave New World was not a blueprint?

      (And yes, I’m pro legalization, though I’m not pro-drug, if that makes sense. It’s just what we’re doing doesn’t work and generates more crime.)

      1. They don’t “want us on Soma”. They want to dictate to us who’s on Soma and who isn’t, based not on who wants it but on who they want to give it to. Which the statists simply assume, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, is going to be determined by genuine experts and always managed in such a manner as to promote both the general welfare and the specific good of the affected individuals.

        I, of course, not being as profoundly ignorant of history and human nature as all that, make no such assumption.

        1. Always keep in mind that experts are merely those who, having “mastered” the conventional wisdom, now get to certify who is admissible to the guild. Human history is so replete with instances of experts completely in error on the most fundamental premises of their craft but nonetheless fighting to protect the cartel that it would be tedious to even start a listing.

      2. (And yes, I’m pro legalization, though I’m not pro-drug, if that makes sense. It’s just what we’re doing doesn’t work and generates more crime.)

        That makes perfect sense. Besides the fact that we’re making things worse, instead of better, we shouldn’t be making that decision for others.

        And before someone starts on “Well, don’t you care if someone driving a forklift is high?”, employers already have the right to prohibit being under the influence while on the job, and ditto for while driving. At that point, it becomes a public safety issue, rather than a strictly personal one.

      3. We’ve got a real problem brewing with Timmy. He’s smart as a whip, but there’s a disconnect somewhere, and things just don’t track. It’s like each word he sees, he’s seeing it for the first time, ever, even when it’s already been used in the same sentence. We’re hoping that the MRI he had this week will give us some answers. With him, we’re pretty sure it’s physical damage, and not any kind of mental issue.

        1. Mike, have you tried just straight out phonics? I have (slight) brain damage (shuddup you) due to being premature, and my visual memory was SO bad, I’d never be able to learn whole word and/or ideographs if it had been that.

    2. The results of medicalizing the human condition can be tragic. As Theodore Dalrymple observed of the battered women who consulted him:

      My patients medicalize both their own misery and the terrible conduct of their violent lovers, a way of explaining their existential dissatisfaction that absolves them of responsibility

      full text here:

      or again

      The word “unhappy” has been virtually abolished from the English language. For every person who says “I’m unhappy” there must now be a thousand who say “I’m depressed.” The change in semantics is important: the person who says he is unhappy knows that there is something wrong with his life that he should try to alter if he can; whereas the person who says “I’m depressed” is ill, and it is therefore the responsibility of someone else — the doctor — to make him better.

      Full text here:

  17. The fundamental problem is those who believe that life should be 100% happy. ‘Tis impossible to achieve except by artificial neurochemistry and, by that measure, anyone with a deeply cynical nature (Hello!!) would be diagnosed as profoundly depressed and would be forced into taking hydrogen bomb materials (Lithium) to “fix” a non-existent problem. Mayhaps we drug the 100% happy crowd to see things as normal people do. Couldn’t hurt.

    As for the deinstitutionalization craze of the late ’60s/early ’70s, proof of the idiocy of that concept can be found in any downtown about 3 AM.

    1. Not all the results were idiotic. I have an acquaintance whose problem was epilepsy, not insanity. Deinstitutionalization is the only reason she escaped an irresponsible commitment, and drugs even more ruinous than the ones she’s currently taking.

      1. Deinstitutionalization was a policy applied indiscriminately and without concern for practical effect. View it as a broad spectrum insecticide: it may eliminate some harmful pests but is equally likely to eradicate beneficial bugs. The fact that it helped some people does not make the practice generally beneficial, just as the fact that institutionalization helped some people does not make it desirable. Which is one reason why it is almost always dangerous to treat people as groups rather than individuals.

        1. Sigh. As often happens, I press “Post Comment” and then a concrete example hits me (ouch.)

          Aspirin is a very effective treatment for various aches, pains and heart conditions, but at certain times of the month it is … contra-indicated.

          Policies with general benefits may inflict harm individually, policies with generally invidious effects may benefit individuals.

  18. “Since Capitalism was bad for humans and other living things, then everyone who went mad under capitalism were, ipso facto, political dissenters.”

    Uggh/ This just caused a flashback to a hideous graduate seminar where we had to take Michel Foucault seriously.

        1. Now that I’ve met (or more likely exceeded) your quota for brain-bleedingly bad jokes today, you can go back to whatever you were doing, secure in the knowledge that nothing else you see today is likely to be as awful as that. It’s a public service, I tells ya.

          If you ever need another dose, ask me why it’s obvious that Al Gore really DID invent the internet.

          1. I was traveling outside space and time (aka, no reliable internet connection) so I didn’t see this until today.

            Ditto on the *grooooooaaannn*

    1. I had to read that book as an undergrad. In History Department. The whole exercise was prefaced by “well, of course, any historian will pick this book apart, but it’s not about legitimate history, it’s about Foulkit’s ideas”.
      Also, it happened in Berkeley in the 90s, when clearly crazy people flooded the area south of the campus and other political streetish people tried to act kind of crazy and push their politics. We undergrads mocked at all of them.

      1. Grad student in History. 1980s. Large midwest university. We were required to take it seriously and write pointless essays about *mentalite*

        “We undergrads mocked at all of them.” Glad to know the insanity didn’t last long. Of course, neither did I.

  19. This is a stultifyingly conformist time as far as thinking and acting like those in power expect. There’s zero tolerance for people who don’t think the same way – and as someone who’s kept functional by prescription drugs and spent way too long finding the combination that let me be something close to normal, I have a wee bit of experience with that kind of intolerance.

    Usually I meet it with middle finger upraised. Occasionally tongue poking out as well.


    Q1: What is normal?

    Q2: Considering what passes for normal these days, wouldn’t you rather be crazy?

    As for shrinks, my (all secondhand) experience with them suggests many of them are crazier than those they treat, and most of the rest are victims of bad education. I would talk to a priest before I talked to a shrink, and I haven’t talked to a priest (knowingly, in their official capacity) … well, ever. And intend to keep it that way.

    1. Most shrinks go into the field trying to treat themselves. Unlike “med student syndrome”, where medical students are firmly told that no, they don’t have the latest disease they’re studying, the psych students are left to self-diagnose and act out everything on their own. Even if they were relatively sane when they entered the program, very few will be when they leave.

      1. I took several classes on mental illness as part of a degree I’m working on. The OH MY GOD I TOTALLY HAVE THAT sneaks up on you even when you’re expecting it.

  21. “Since then, older boy has taken psychology. I read his textbook (you can’t trust these critters.) And guess what? ANY fluctuation of mood is now described as bipolar. Apparently we’re supposed to be on an exact even keel all the time, like robots. External factors are discounted and it’s all “brain chemicals.””

    This is one for the mental storage system.

    Not to minimize bipolar disorder – but we need to function DESPITE the mood swings.

    The kids needed feeding, regardless or whether they or I was in the mood. Ditto driving to various activities.

    If you can’t cope, and you can’t cope by rearranging the crazy life into something a little less stressful, then meds and therapy may help. Heck, they may even help before you get to the crazy place – just takes time and availability and sometimes money.

    I look back, and there were times I just couldn’t think, the next thing was always behind before I even got to it. I’m not sure I could do it again.

    I hope I don’t have to – not quite finished getting the first bunch out of college and ‘settled’ into something. Whatever that means. I am so happy I lucked out and they seem to be making their own lives and decisions just fine.

    Now I can just go and enjoy being crazy.

    And write. If I can just get to the writing, the happiness part works.

      1. We used to say that you didn’t have to be crazy to work in imagery intelligence, but it helped! Of course, being locked into a windowless building, staring into high-intensity fluorescent lights, and counting dots all day may not drive you insane — but only if you’d already made the trip. That’s one reason why I had do very LITTLE tolerance for the “normal” publishing path. I’d already made that trip once, didn’t need to make it again.

        1. We used to say that about Cryptologic maintenance (we repaired electronic equipment). And the “if I told you what I do, I would have to kill you.”

  22. Writers are on the sane side because it takes a relatively sane person to organize his thoughts, feelings and sensations — as well as those of his characters — into an exquisitely narrated book, especially a long book, especially if we are talking about something along the lines of realist novel. Some novelist did go crazy later in life. I’m thinking Tolstoy.

  23. You want to see an exercise in danger-to-self-and-others-level insanity? Here’s a sneak-peek into my head:

    Some of you know (and fewer of you *care*) I react badly to sharks. Here’s the fun part — I am going to trace out for you the exact thought process which occurs when I am confronted with that, or any other perceived threat to my existence:

    “That is a Threat. I have four possible options to deal with said Threat: Fight; Flight; Bluff; Surrender. I cannot outrun it. It is not smart enough to be buffaloed, esp. not by me. Surrender will only result in a slow death, followed by being eaten. Thus, the only recourse: Fight. Since it is bigger and stronger than I am, my only chance to survive the encounter is to not only defeat it, but to utterly Destroy it. Final summation: This is a duel a la morte — one of us is going to die; better it than me. *ENGAGE*.”

    Do I need to explain why this *might* cause problems in dealing with modern society? Some kid decides to wear a souvenir T-shirt, and gets his head ripped off and stomped into paste — not good.

    So I don’t leave the house unless I absolutely have to — which has its own set of contraindicative issues.

    Final note: In the _Call of Cthulhu_ role-playing game by Chaosium, it is explained that the Sanity-roll system works thus: A *successful* roll means “you are able to convince yourself you didn’t actually see what you thought you saw”, while a *failed* roll means “you know exactly what you saw, and there’s no way you can convince yourself otherwise”. An interesting thought there — how much of our lives are spent deluding ourselves in order to avoid seeing the true horror at the back of reality….

    (Happy Halloween, gang. >:) )

  24. You’re grabbing this the wrong way ’round. People with lively imaginations who imagine characters aren’t dissociative. Dissociative people might be the badly malfunctioning versions of people who imagine characters; their imaginations are not lively, but broken. (Chesterton has some interesting things to say about the broken, disorderedly boring imaginations of insane people.)

    I saw your comment on Instapundit about not recognizing faces — I had a rough time with that myself (probably thanks to nearsightedness and astigmatism) but did recognize my family always.

    But what the article describes is a sort of dyslexia of faces, where the faces are misperceived as “drooping” and changing shapes, whereas my facial recognition problems are more like my problems with reading Japanese kanji — I have trouble remembering all the visual distinctions that make the face or the kanji itself and no other, and I have trouble attaching the meanings to this overly and underly complex sight.

    1. I recognize people I haven’t seen in twenty or thirty years the first time I see them. I just cannot place a name to that face. The same goes even for relatives I don’t see often. The “face recognition” or “pattern recognition” works extremely well, but the association doesn’t work well at all.

  25. Most normal kids are hyper and very active, with a short attention span, nowadays they want to put all those kids on Ritalin. They may claim the kids need it, but in my opinion 90-95% of those kids diagnosed with ADD or ADHD are perfectly normal, their parents and/or teachers are just lazy and don’t want to deal with a normally hyper kid.

    1. Ritalin is no longer the drug du jour for managing ADD and ADHD, having been largely replaced by second and third generation drugs.

      One problem I have is that both school systems and most insurance agencies took the attitude that you simply medicate the child, and nothing more. The idea that the child should also be working to learn coping mechanisms. True ADHD and ADD are not simply inattentiveness or distractibility. A child who has the condition may well be able to concentrate well beyond the ‘normal’ ability of his piers if the material catches his attention. The condition is marked by the inability to choose to concentrate on a particular item at a particular time. As I understood the pediatric neurologists with whom I discussed the matter, the drugs are not a solution, but are intended to put a stronger set of reins, so to speak, in the child’s hands so that he can learn how to be in control.

      1. Another case of someone mistaking the tool (chemicals) for the final product (developing ways to cope with current educational system). Which in turn leads back to the fixation institutions have with latching onto the fastest, easiest, apparent solution rather than addressing the problem. Kinda like some publishers and politicians . . . *saunters off, hands in pockets, observing the plummeting leaves*

  26. My shrink summed up things with “I’d certainly be depressed if I’d had your experiences”
    Getting better over time resulted in noticing that my emotional range was dimished (noticed after a few weeks off meds anyway)
    Making an adjustment in meds was fairly easy and now I get angry, have fits of uncontrolable laughter, and enjoy my life 100% more fully than I had for over a decade…
    Crazy is a continum and I know people that are perfectly functional and believe things that are way off the beaten track, and folks that can’t cope with little or no imagination…
    Most of my friends are as crazy as I am, and that seems to work for us all

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