Let me take away your mental disorder.
ADHD and anxiety and all these other terms that are used for ‘mental illnesses’ are not real.
They are not things.
And they are most certainly not the bad things that cause the symptoms.
These labels are invented so we can discuss specific human experiences.
They are supposed to be helpful linguistic constructs or concepts.
But they are not brain defaults, nor genetic fuck ups.
Now let me get this straight right away: of course I don’t deny or dismiss or make fun of the complexities of the human experience.
We are most definitely capable of deep suffering and excruciating agony and feeling distracted and down and bothered and hopeless.
There is anxiety and mourning and sadness and pretty confused thinking, and all of it can become a huge burden.
But those things are byproducts of being alive.
They derive from the incredible richness of the human experience, and our unique capacity to feel an amazing variety of stuff.
They’re just not caused by ‘neurological deficiencies’.
Now there’s a word for the basis of this big misunderstanding.
This phenomenon, where a name for something eventually becomes a real thing, is called ‘reification’.
We do it all the time, and it’s actually very useful.
For example, ‘intelligence’ is one of many examples.
It doesn’t really exist as a tangible form (something you can put in a wheel barrow, like supercoach Michael Neill likes to say), but it can be helpful in conversations.
Although ‘intelligence’ is not a real thing, it refers to something we can use in our daily lives.
So: quite helpful.
But when it comes to mental illnesses, reifications can become tremendously limiting and counter-productive.
Over the past few years I have seen this process over and over and over again:
People visit a therapist where they are generously treated to one or two or five psychiatric labels.
At first they are relieved because ‘they finally know what’s wrong with them’, but soon after that the whole idea of ‘The Thing Within’ starts to build up.
Now they’re not just having a specific human experience that might feel very confusing or startling or disruptive: they experience the results of their Thing.
The Mental Monster hiding in the dark.
The collection of evil cells that fuck you up when you least expect it.
All of a sudden they start to see life through the lens of a non-existing biological failure, which then cunningly creates false evidence for the existence of that Thing.
Out of nowhere, they’re not just miserable or somber or distracted: it is CAUSED by the name that was given to a couple of randomly chosen symptoms.
You get the confusion?
Let me clarify this painful mistake for you:
Just pretend you haven’t really taken care of your kitchen for a while.
There’s dirty dishes and pans and forks and knives and food and empty bottles all over the place.
You could say it’s ‘a mess’, and people would agree.
But what is the cause of the state of your kitchen?
Is the condition of the kitchen caused by the mess?
Is the word you give to this specific situation, responsible for the chaos?
Of course not.
That’s a total and ridiculous reverse of what’s going on, yet we do it all the time in the case of mental diseases.
ADHD and bipolarity and social anxiety and all of those words that many therapists hand out like candy, can be useful as terminology in case we’re discussing human wellbeing.
But they can (and often DO) become a dangerous hindrance, a self-limiting trap, when it comes to healing.
When ‘suffering from painful but normal human experiences’ becomes ‘a mental illness’ which then turns into ‘being the victim of a Thing inside of you’, there’s a big chance of losing your autonomy.
You are suddenly fucked by something you can’t control, an outside, devilish an unreliable entity.
You are helpless.
Because instead of trusting yourself and weathering the mighty storms we can sail into as people, instead of relying on our tremendous innate resilience and capacity to get back up no matter how hard you fall, we suddenly hand over our power to the idea of a disorder.
That is sad.
Sad and very unhelpful, in many, many cases.
Sad and unhelpful and totally unnecessary.
And simply not true.
Now let me bust another myth for you:
The mental diseases we suffer from are not the result of ‘brain imbalances’ or ‘brain deficiencies’, because those are massively debunked hypotheses.
To date, there are no biomarkers of any kind available to any of the psychiatric disorders, which basically means that our diseases are not caused by an improperly working brain.
There’s no simple, isolatable malfunction somewhere in our head that makes us feel the specific things we have translated into all these labels.
Human beings are not just walking piles of chemical processes, robots that you can fix by implementing emotional spare parts.
We are living, feeling, sensing creatures.
Our distress deserves care, and love, and patience, and words of encouragement, and the immense nourishing that derives from exploring our true nature.
Please, let’s be more than brains and labels.
We owe it to ourselves.
(Photo by @cristian_newman, for Unsplash)