Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sane Expectations

This is the time of year when we anticipate, start dreaming of what we'd like the year to be. It's human nature to carry around expectations and hopes. Part of us is always mapping out the territory ahead, planning how to handle it or what we'll get from it.

When we find out we're mentally ill, all our expectations change in an instant. Will we lose our jobs, our spouses, our status, our self-respect? Will we have to be put away? Will we take pills for the rest of our lives? Will we slobber and wear a strait jacket? (All the images are bad. We're coming out of thousands of years of brutality and fear and ignorance). Maybe a minute ago we were vaguely afraid of 'the insane' - and now we're one of them! Nobody thinks, "Wow, Napoleon was insane too. How totally cool!"

Suddenly, we have to figure it all out over again. Suddenly, the biggest challenge is to have a calm, functioning, peaceful mind. And that turns the whole American paradigm upside down.

Is that a bad thing?

Imagine how this country would change if people did what made them feel sane and happy first...Instead of what would impress, or intimidate, or make more money, or please their families or stockholders. What if no one put up with relationships that 'made them feel crazy' any more? What if everybody earned only what they needed and spent the rest of their day doing something more interesting? What if everybody chose a career based on their deepest dream instead of the prevailing job market? What if we lived life slowly, with pauses to enjoy the scenery? (Which industries would collapse and which endure? Food for thought. I'd put my bet on the arts & entertainment.)

When you have a mental illness, chances of a high-pressure, big-money job drop pretty low. Suddenly it makes more sense to do what you care for, even if it 'doesn't pay' - since you can't make the big bucks anyway.  Our gift as psychiatric patients is to be lifted out of the 9 to 5 cage. Some people would give their eyeteeth and both arms and a few spare toes for that chance. Yeah, I know all about the dreariness of being in the margins with a low income. I've sung that song for a long time. But when was the last time we looked at the positives? Is it wrong to change the emphasis from achievement to quality of life?

So I've made a new type of resolution this year: in 2010, I'm going to enjoy the life I already have. After all, I'm not the first to notice it: the way much of America lives is utterly bats. 

Look at it this way: I'll have psychotic attacks, and they'll have heart attacks. Seems equitable to me. And I'll have peace of mind, when I have a mind at all.

Who knows, it might start a revolution.

Perhaps that's what society really ought to fear from the lunatic fringe.