The secret wellness of mental illness in the modern world

Image: Diorama – Don’t know where I’ve been. But I’m here now.

A recent article “A mad world: capitalism and the rise of mental illness” looks at the rise of mental illness in a sick world, something which has been a dominant focus of my attention for many years. The article also asks, “Many people believe, and are encouraged to believe, that these problems and disorders – psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, self-harm – these symptoms of a ‘sick world’ (to use James Hillman’s terrific description) are theirs, rather than the world’s. ‘But what if your emotional problems weren’t merely your own?’, asks Tom Syverson. ‘What if they were our problems? What if the real problem is that we’re living in wrong society? Perhaps Adorno was correct when he said, “wrong life cannot be lived rightly”.” [1]

In coming to grips with my own ‘mental illness’, the great turning point came when I realised that my mental illness was a symptom and not a cause. What if my mental illness was, in reality, the alarm bells of a system in distress because of the world in which I was living, and what if one of the main causes of distress is about helplessness and powerlessness in an abusive world. Where do I go if I cannot bear the abuse any more when it is everywhere?

One of the clues I found in my own life was the ineffectiveness of the many medications I’d been prescribed over the years. No medication has ever worked to make my life better until I stopped taking them and, in recovering from them, I discovered an alert mind and a different attitude to the problem, not least, self-determination and trusting myself as an expert in and of my own life experience.

It doesn’t matter how all pervasive and all encompassing it is, the modern world is sick and, essentially, we have two choices, attempt to give in and accept and adjust, or live with the clanging bells of psychological trauma ringing in our otherwise healthy minds and try to do something about it.

The point is that we call this distress by the wrong name, we aren’t mentally ill and our distress attests to our innate mental health. Our distress increases because we don’t know what to do about it and, indeed, don’t yet clearly understand the intimacy of the problem. We also suffer from victim blaming, blaming ourselves (encouraged to do so by the medical profession), and getting locked in victim status by the never ending abuse and our inability to find an escape or rescue ourselves. We also suffer from Stockholm syndrome, because we’re psychologically bonded to, and dependent on, the world we live in and change seems inconceivable and the problems insurmountable.

My recent decision to stop any attempts to monetise my work, was a social experiment on myself, one in which the rewards were instantaneous and astonishingly good and pleasurable. The more effort I put into my work, design, packaging and posting, without charging for it, the more I discovered the pleasure of the whole process, including engaging with and enjoying the pleasure of those who received my work for enjoyments sake.

I am unable to function even remotely well in a world in which money is the measure of worth. Curiously, and with hindsight, I can see that the fundamental problem I had with the education system was that I was unexpectedly resistant to the necessary brain washing required to function in a world based on the premise of money as the measure of worth and I was never able to accept it.

Today, at 70, I see the problem very clearly and the only time I experience what I used to call mental illness is when I am being bludgeoned by some invasive part of the sick system.

Many years ago, a counsellor said to me that mental distress is like a set of internal hidden traffic lights, green means everything is ok, any shift into the yellow/amber region is a warning that something is not right and things are going pear shaped, red means I’ve passed into the danger zone and my well being is under threat and my system is at war. I am still astonished at how accurate that is, in fact I have not used my counsellors words, I have chosen my own and I know she would be delighted that I have.

And therein lies the point of this piece – until we come home to ourselves, make peace with ourselves, stand up for ourselves and begin to move towards living the life we want to live, we’ll continue to experience the distress of a healthy mind crying out to be taken seriously for life… to not merely suffer the disease of a world in torment, but to flourish and begin, perhaps for the first time, to enjoy life, which is entirely what all the distress is about when we’re not enjoying our lives.

It’s a shocking thought, that this particular mental illness, or social dis-ease, may come down to the simple fact of not being happy, something so primal and basic we’re not even aware that’s what it’s about. Though it gets lost in the vast complexity of living and surviving in the modern world, happiness matters and is vital to our well being. Inside me all these years I’ve been living wrong (and I knew it) and all I wanted was to learn to live right (whatever I conceived and chose that to be) and enjoy it.

Keith Lindsay-Cameron. 24 August 2021.


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