Monday, February 1, 2016

The Taboo of Judging of Crazy People Crazy

A few months ago, I spent some time with a young friend who'd had a psychiatric break, forcing her to leave college. I accidentally offended her by suggesting that this was a bad thing. She insisted that what she'd experienced was not craziness, it was other-ness. Other ways of seeing, being, acting. Neither better nor worse. I was judging, and judging's always bad.

Understand that I'm a yogi, very accustomed to altered states and alternative interpretations of everyday phenomena. And I was once a jazz musician, well-versed in other sorts of altered states. So I'm as receptive to this argument as anyone you'll ever meet. But, of course, I could see it was bunk. You're on psych medicines with serious side effects. You're no longer in school. You're unhappy. If what happened wasn't something we can clearly describe as negative, then why take all possible steps to reverse it?

To my horror, I realized it was not the madness talking. She was clearly parroting what her health professionals had told her. This is the new attitude: nothing's wrong, nothing's bad. It's just "other". Spineless, ditzy mega-relativism has apparently taken hold of psychiatry. We seem to be telling crazy people that it's just fine. You go, girl!

But if it's just fine, why are we treating them? Why are they put on these drugs? Why are they unhappy? I'd pronounce the whole thing crazy, if "crazy" weren't a trigger word I've been told we must never, ever utter.

My tragic friend Deven, who was smarter than any doctor, delighted, as crazy people do, in hoodwinking his shrinks. This was incredibly self-destructive (hey, he was crazy!) but the judge, who I'd begged to find him better help, couldn't do anything. And his estranged wife, who spent heroic hours reading up on psychiatry, couldn't do anything. Because Deven needed to be respected, and his devious, untruthful self-accounting in therapy taken at face value. Because crazy people aren't, like, crazy. They deserve respect and tolerance and self-determination. Everyone deserves those things, right? Tra-la-la, love-love-love!

So he ran his shrink ragged, never letting her in, while loved ones watched helplessly. He spiraled down and down. And one of the brightest people I know wound up beheaded in a homeless shelter.

Parents don't seem to want to be parents any more. No one wants to personify the cliche of the screamy, spanky, tyrants who so vexed us as children. Today, it's all enlightened parenting. You collegially reason with your kids, expecting them to make right choices, just like you would expect from any reasonable, rational adult. If not, you patiently and cordially review their workflow, highlighting points of non-optimality. It can hardly be coincidence that so many kids appear to be narcissistic monsters, gleefully running circles around their parents, as Deven ran circles around his shrinks.

It sucks for nice people to have to exert authority. I had to do this for Chowhound, and didn't enjoy one moment of it. It sucks to draw hard lines, to tell people they can't act in certain ways. Renouncing this unpleasant responsibility feels incredibly relaxing and enjoyable, so selfish, spineless people (as parents, as managers, and as authorities of every stripe) have been dodging their obligation to place hard limits upon those in their charge. The problem's societal. Everyone's seeking to avoid friction for themselves - and vainly, smugly assuming this to be enlightened behavior. We make a virtue of our lack of resolve. 

Sometimes, for a greater good, lines must be drawn (see Chowhound's head moderator describe the anguish she felt every time she was forced to limit a user's free expression), though I, for the record, am as anti-authoritarian as they come (ask any of my teachers, many of whom were scarred for life). Well, the pendulum's swung too far the other way even for my taste. This is the first generation in human history so smug, selfish, and lazy to assume it's found a better way. 

And so Deven, who was nuts, was treated with respect for his rational volition, and that volition spurred the "lifestyle choice" of residency in a homeless shelter in Harlem. Hey, he's an adult, and he made his choices. All lifestyles are equally valid, so who are we to judge?

I, who still have my balls, shall judge. When Deven first started doing terrible things shockingly at odds with his own core values, he should have been coercively helped. I understand that the asylum model of the past was a failed model. As a non-conformist, myself, I keenly understand that if we "lock up the crazies", we will inevitably trap those with legitimately different values as well as those with organic discombobulation (it's a fine line!). But empowering crazy people is not the solution. Erasing the word "crazy" from our vocabularies is not the solution. Pretending to respect the volition of people who are in no position to exercise rational volition is not the solution.

1 comment:

Steve R. said...

I was very sorry to hear about Deven, who I met quite a # of years ago thru a CH get together. I am just as sorry to admit, as a retired mental health professional & administrator, that I agree with your assessment of the situation. "Friends don't let friends drive drunk", but the system should allow citizens beset by mental illness to "choose" to stay at the wheel of their lives while grossly impaired?!

Blog Archive