Do you ever feel depressed, anxious, obsessed, compulsive, too sensitive – or just out of it? Does that mean you’re really crazy? What does ‘crazy’ mean anymore, with so many categories of mental disorder? What does ‘normal’ even mean?
Peter D. Kramer, clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University, notes “Diagnostic labels are proliferating, and mental disorders seem to be annexing ever more territory. At the same time, many people with diagnosable conditions are forging their own original takes on what’s normal.”
Dr. Kramer writes, “I have been thinking a good deal about normality lately. It’s a concern in the medical world. The complaint is that doctors are abusing the privilege… to define the normal. Ordinary sadness, critics say, has been engulfed by depression. Boyishness stands in the shadow of attention deficits. Social phobia has engineered a hostile takeover of shyness.
He continues, “The fate of normality is very much in the balance. The American Psychiatric Association is now revising its diagnostic and statistical manual—the next version, DSM-V, should preview in 2011 and become official the following year. It may, indeed, be that as labels proliferate, mental disorders will annex ever more territory.
“But claims of a psychiatric power grab are overstated. The real force behind a proliferation of labels is the increasing ability of technology to see us as we’ve never been seen before. Still, the notion of a shift in the normal invites unease: To constrain normality is to induce conformity. To expand diagnosis is to induce anxiety. Is anyone really well?”
Dr. Kramer quotes Christopher Lane: “We’ve narrowed healthy behavior so dramatically that our quirks and eccentricities—the normal emotional range of adolescence and adulthood—have become problems we fear and expect drugs to fix.”
Kramer says, “Psychiatry’s critics also complain that doctors medicate patients who meet no diagnosis, who practice what I have dubbed ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology,’ to move a person from one normal, but disfavored personality state, like humility and diffidence, to another normal, but rewarded state, like self-assertion.”
Rejecting the “platform of inadequacy”
Here is a profile from the Psychology Today article – in a section titled Redefining “Normal” :
Donna Flagg, 45, is founder and CEO of the Krysalis Group, New York-based business consultants whose motto is “Business NOT as usual.” “Everything we do challenges the status quo,” says Flagg, who early on—dyslexic and labeled retarded—was sensitized to looking at everything in novel ways.
“Most people think there’s only one way of doing things.” The only time she ever struggled, she says, was in grades K-12. “Once I got out of the system, I was free; paths opened.”
Trained to be a dancer, she took a side job doing makeup at Chanel—and discovered she loved the business world. After starting her own beauty company, she opted for a second chance at school and got straight As on a master’s degree at New York University.
“I have two businesses, two master’s degrees, I wrote a book. How do you call me disabled? What’s not normal about what I’ve been able to do?” Flagg thinks “people confuse normal with average. Why would anyone want to be average?” She believes our society “creates a lot of things that don’t fit.” What makes her different, she insists, is that she has chosen not to work from a “platform of inadequacy.”
> For more on dyslexia, autism, visual-spatial learning etc and creative talent, see the page Learning differences.
The inner turmoil of personal evolution and change
Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, has commented: “Every positive change—every jump to a higher level of energy and awareness—involves a rite of passage.
“Each time to ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of personal evolution, we must go through a period of discomfort, of initiation. I have never found an exception.”
This kind of “discomfort” may be particularly intense for those with high ability and high sensitivity.
Kazimierz Dabrowski, MD, PhD, studied many gifted and talented people, and said “Almost 97 percent of the highly creative suffer from different kinds of overexcitabilities, neuroses, and psychoneuroses. They are a mine of social treasure.
“If their emotionality, talents, interests, and sensitivity were discovered at an early age, society and science would profit.”
In their article Misdiagnosis of the Gifted, counselors Lynne Azpeitia, M.A. and Mary Rocamora, M.A. note “Gifted individuals face many challenges. One of them may be in getting correctly identified by psychotherapists and others as gifted.
“It’s well known among researchers of the gifted, talented and creative that these individuals exhibit greater intensity and increased levels of emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensual and psychomotor excitability and that this is a normal pattern of development.
“It is because these gifted children and adults have a finely tuned psychological structure and an organized awareness that they experience all of life differently and more Intensely than those around them.
“These characteristics, however, are frequently perceived by psychotherapists and others as evidence of a mental disturbance because most of the population lacks accurate information about the special characteristics of gifted individuals, couples and families.”
Woody Allen admits he has “a lot of neurotic habits. I don’t like to go into elevators, I don’t go through tunnels, I like the drain in the shower to be in the corner and not in the middle.” [From the page Dysfunction / disorder]
Allen says of his childhood: “You know, when I think about it, it’s so clear why I’m so neurotic and I’ve had such a neurotic life.
“Think of the number of times I changed schools and moved around, having to get acclimated to new friends and new schools and liking it or hating it – usually hating it – and then pulling up stakes and going to another place and having to get acclimated to… a new school and then doing that again and again.”
[From Lax, Eric. Woody Allen. A Biography.]
A prolific writer and director, Woody Allen used his “disorders” to create richly memorable and meaningful – and, of course, funny – stories.
Other artists also make use of their own psyches whatever condition they are in – neurotic, dysfunctional, psychotic – or more or less normal.
One of my responses to Dr. Kramer’s and other’s comments about the pathologizing of normality is to realize we can probably do ourselves a service by just letting ourselves be who we are, and consciously distancing from any labels about how we are deficient or wrong.
Of course, if anxiety or depression or phobia or compulsive cleaning is interfering with your joy and creativity, do something about it.
But – to use a rather archaic term that I still think is kind of fun – we are all neurotic. In our own ways. So what?
Sources of clips in video – plus some related material :
clip from The Big Bang Theory – episode: The Maternal Congruence (with Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Christine Baranski). cbs.com
clip from video: Mad Pride Subvertise 03 [excerpt]
clip from video: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Andrew Solomon is author of The Noonday Demon. By his mid-twenties, Andrew Solomon earned international accolades for his work as a novelist, journalist and historian. At 31 he experienced a major depression, and was helped by a combination of family support, medications and talk therapy.
In her post 10 Good Things About Depression, Borchard details some of the ways a mood disorder can be something other than a “disease” to be only and immediately medicated away or otherwise suppressed with extreme prejudice.
Here is part of one of her good things: “Now I know that going public with a nervous breakdown and describing in detail one’s psychiatric chart online and in the pages of a book is not a good career move for most people.
“So I suggest you think long and hard about pulling my stunt. But here’s the thing, my mood disorder has been good for my writing because I don’t care as much what other people think. If I did, do you think I’d let folks get a sneak peak into my neurotic brain?
“Most of that caring about other people’s opinions was fortunately left inside the walls of the psych ward.
“I walked out of that place able to pen the real stuff, the good stuff, the material oozing from my very heart and soul.”
Read the rest – she helps you see the humor in it all, and the hope.
mental health enhancing, mental health books, creativity and mental illness, talent and mental illness