Mentally Ill or Spiritually Wise?

Posted: July 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

Crazy. Bonkers. Looney. Nutso. Psycho. These are just a few of the words casually used in our society to describe people who are dealing with illnesses like depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s become so commonplace and accepted that when someone who is merely exhibiting odd behavior, perhaps playfully or (worse) in ridicule, we transfer those terms over to him. We think it’s funny. We laugh, roll our eyes, mock the behavior ourselves. What the harm, right? Those people are so “out there” they’d never know the difference anyway.

I don’t laugh. I don’t think it’s funny. These illnesses, like diabetes, leukemia, breast cancer, and epilepsy, are life-changing and life-threatening. Underneath the despair or the mood swings or the hallucinations or the delusions is a beautiful human being, someone who needs warmth and care and love just like everybody else. And someone who, if we will give him a chance, is eager to share his wisdom, humor, and love with all of us.

The language that we choose to use, in part, adds to the stigma of mental illness. I don’t even like the term “mental illness.” I never say, “I have a friend who is ‘physically ill.’” What if we were to change the term for everyone with a diagnosis from the DSM-V to something like “Spiritually Wise?” Not only would that change the way we viewed these folks, but it would vastly alter the way they are treated in society, the care they have access to, and the respect they are afforded.

But…wise? Yes, not only wise, but compassionate and caring, funny and playful, and painfully, brutally honest. Suffering does that to a person. I’ve had thousands of conversations with people who have struggled with some form of mental illness, and I’ve always been struck by their willingness to engage, not only in a prolonged game of chess or quick challenge at cards, but also in intimate, honest dialogue. Even those who are at the most difficult point in their lives are able to offer a part of themselves for those willing to listen, if not in word, in the touch of a hand, a hug, or intense, heartfelt tears.

If we regularly, without second thought, saw someone who had severe depression or schizophrenia as someone who was “wise” instead of someone who was “crazy” and “psycho,” we would treat them differently. We would, instead of assuming they were, as those labels tend to imply, disabled or incapable or stupid, consider that they had worth and value, and insight to offer the rest of us. We’d be outraged when fellow co-workers made fun of them, insurance companies would provide coverage for therapy and medication, therapists would change their cookie-cutter approach to therapy, and society in general would work harder to create an environment that is warm and embracing to them, instead of cold and uncaring.

Until then, I am convinced that if each of us changes the way we think about those who are dealing with emotional and psychological challenges, we will begin to make a difference, if not in the world, at least in the lives of a few of those nearest and dearest to us.

  1. Colleen says:

    I love reading your blog and did so back to March 2009. So much of what you talk about hot home–you could have been writing about me!

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