“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” ~ Allen Ginsberg.
When I was growing up in Chapelton, Jamaica, there was a man from the area who was considered mad. It was fairly obvious, as he could be seen from time to time hitting his head against light poles. Of course, since we couldn’t understand it, we laughed at him, joking that he was the light post ‘tester’, making sure they were sturdy enough. Mental illness was not discussed, he was just ‘mad’. We often excuse a touch of madness in those we see as being brilliant, perhaps even a genius, but this poor man did not seem to have that going for him.
Unfortunately, many of us (including nurses) have very little understanding of mental illness, and don’t take time to understand it. If you have never experienced depression, you have little tolerance for those who do. They should just shake it off! Get busy! Depression is selfish and self-indulgent! Substance abuse or addiction of any kind? The person has no will-power! Then for those who battle more serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, we don’t allow them the freedom to discuss it openly. There is a stigma. Would they be able to get a job if they disclosed it on a job application? If I have diabetes I wouldn’t feel that way. And then you can see how isolation and non-disclosure can feed in to other mental health symptoms, and make the load even heavier to bear.
In Jamaica we used to joke about the effect of migrating to the UK. For some reason it seemed to make people ‘mad’! Often returning residents would come home a little ‘touched’. A friend of mine was researching the incidence of schizophrenia. It turned out that there were higher rates of schizophrenia among immigrants in the UK than existed in their home country. Perhaps England did have that effect on people! Or was it something else altogether? Imagine a hard-working Jamaican man coming home off his second shift, to find his wife in bed with their neighbor. Picture him ‘getting off’, exploding with a mouthful of colorful language and violent threats, and the police being involved. It is easy to see how they could interpret his unintelligible outburst as being the language of a madman, and hauling him off to a psychiatric institution, where strong anti-psychotic medications would render him harmless, and diagnosed. Perhaps.
Then there is a theory that a viral infection may be one cause of schizophrenia. I watched a weirdly interesting TV show that described rats infected with toxoplasmosis as becoming ‘super-rats’ that were so brave they actually attacked cats! They have not yet found a direct link from there to schizophrenia in humans, but it is an interesting thought. We have come so far in understanding physical disorders. We can map the human genome, and harness the human immune response to tackle cancer, but there is still so much that is unknown about the human body, and especially the mind.
On another show about mental illness, I learned that in the South, before Emancipation, enslaved Africans who ran away were considered to be suffering from ‘drapemania’, a form of madness. They would actually be counted on the census as ‘insane’. Imagine that, you would only run away from a brutal life of being owned, abused, beaten, and worse if you were insane. That is madness.
It is good to think about our own mental health after a year of strange times. They are finding that the rate of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses has increased over the past year. For children and teenagers, it has been tough. And we often don’t have the language or experience to explore this. Sometimes the remedy is the same as for our health in general. Make sure we are eating a healthy diet; getting plenty of rest; maintaining balance between work/commitments and recreation; exercising; staying in contact with our network of supporting friends and family.
And getting out in nature. I have recently been making an effort to get out of the house every weekend and finding someplace new to visit. A tropical garden; a nature reserve; a museum. It has been good to see others doing the same. The time of enforced home confinement has made us appreciate the freedom of changing scenery. But in particular, studies are finding that being out in nature, surrounded by trees, is health restoring.
Make sure you are paying attention to both your physical and mental health. The mind-body connection is inseparable. If you don’t take care of your mind, your body will soon show the strain. Take a moment in a busy day to stop what you are doing and take a series of slow, cleansing breaths. You can breathe in for a count of four, out for a count of six, and slow down that stress response. Sitting at your desk, place your feet firmly on the floor, feel the chair beneath you, your posture straight, arms unfolded, fists unclenched, and allow yourself to be totally in the present moment, unruffled by passing thoughts; unperturbed by the demands of the day. A few moments of mindful attention to your body, to your breathe, to your heart, shutting out all of the noise from the outside world can do much to revitalize and restore the balance. And send thankful thoughts to all of the cells and organs of your body that are working hard every day, regardless of whether you notice them or not. Send thanks to your kidneys, your lungs, your digestive organs, your immune system. Appreciate them! And most of all allow your brain to take a break from the internal chatter that so often creates unhealth.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!