|insane, mentally ill, certifiable, deranged, demented, of unsound mind, out of one’s mind, not in one’s right mind, sick in the head, not together, crazy, crazed, lunatic,non compos mentis, unbalanced, unhinged, unstable, disturbed, distracted, stark mad, manic, frenzied, raving, distraught, frantic, hysterical, delirious, psychotic,psychopathic, mad as a hatter, mad as a March hare, away with the fairies,foaming at the mouth|
The grenade of insanity has been hurled at me on a regular basis in recent years. Watching the pin being pulled out, knowing that the pineapple-shaped missile is going to hit, is terrifying – because I think, deep down, we all fear madness.
When we think of the word ‘insanity‘, we think of Mad Bertha, locked in the attic in ‘Jane Eyre’; we think of Virginia Woolf hearing voices and, eventually, drowning herself in the River Ouse; we think of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. We think of drooling, gibbering, hallucinating maniacs. We think of serial killers.
We think of, and often research, all the signs and symptoms which might mean that we are afflicted by this devastating mental condition. We take on-line tests and, in moments of frozen horror, wonder if our scores will indicate that we should have been in a strait-jacket, locked in a padded cell, for the past ten years.
But, fear of insanity does not mean that it exists per se. Let me make that somewhat gnomic comment a trifle clearer. Mental illness, in all its forms, definitely exists and afflicts a wide variety of people. But ‘insanity’ is, I discovered, more a legal than a medical term – and it is very specific in its definition and parameters. It is used to determine whether a felon can be charged as knowingly guilty or not – and such a person has to be proved to have a defect of reason. There’s more to it than that, but that is the bottom line as I understand it.
Fear of insanity, however, has crept, like a bogeyman, under the bed of the Collective Unconscious to such an extent that we see it everywhere, in potentia at least. We say things to one another which indicate the depth of this terror. We accuse others of being mad at the drop of a hat, without actually thinking about the definition on the word.
‘Mad’ has become almost meaningless as a result, an umbrella term used, all too often, to control, to wound, to show disgust with behaviour we, personally, find embarrassing or confronting.
We bandy such terms as ‘crazy’, ‘loony’, ‘doolally’ around all the time, and often without thinking. If someone loses his or her temper, that becomes a sign of incipient madness. Too much energy and cheer? One must be bipolar.
I think this kind of unintelligent hurling of mental illness weapons is destructive, unintelligent and deeply patronising and offensive to those who actually have the misfortune to have been diagnosed with a genuine disorder emanating from the mind and its moods.
I suffer from anxiety. Much of this is situational in the present, though some goes back to childhood worries. Phalanxes of doctors and counsellors have seen me over the years – and not one has believed that I have any kind of genuine mental illness. I have a somatic response to stress – and am quite sure I am not alone there!
Being a blunt sort of chappess, I actually asked a doctor if she had seen signs of mental illness in me. She hadn’t. But, had the answer been in the affirmative, I would have dealt with it, taken medication, seen a therapist – done whatever it took to alleviate the problem.
I think, to sum up, that the need to label others as insane stems from a profound fear, probably going back to things experienced and filed away during the formative childhood years. It can often show a spirit which has been so constrained and inhibited emotionally in those crucial first five years that any overt show of emotion is seen as incredibly threatening and a sign that the other is, indeed, heading for Bertha status and should, by rights, be immured in Bedlam (Bethlem Royal Hospital).
This projection is, perhaps at its most feral, the terror that WE are mad. We defend ourselves against this great War of Psychological Terror by attacking someone else first.