Just like a lot of other people with a mental health label, I've been told that I have a brain disease, a chemical imbalance and that my problems are biomedical. I no longer think of my own experience in these terms.
To be sure, there is a lot of going on in me and others that has to be reckoned with. But I’m drawn to other questions:
- What about our lives, experiences, and stories... ?
- What about our personal values, dreams and quest for meaning…?
- What about the need, in each of us, to understand ourselves and answer to the truth of our own conscience…?
- What about the basic human need for support, acceptance and belonging…?
- What about the stress of living – especially if you’re poor, homeless, bullied, abused, or discriminated against by powerful others…?
Sad to say, these questions are pretty much outside the purview of medicine as it currently is being practiced.
Differential diagnosis: Hard Life or Mental Disorder?
Here is where the rubber meets the road. While we don't talk about it much, on some level we all know that life is precious and fragile. To create a single human life, nature arranges for nine months of specialty-designed, comfort-padded, form-fitted, super-insulated, dynamically-adjusted, round-the-clock guarded incubator space. Once out of the womb, there are several years more of intensive care and nurturing that new arrivals ideally get in order to ensure optimum development. The refuge required is not only physical, but also economic, emotional, intellectual, social, cultural and spiritual.
There is no way around it. The maturation process is complicated, labor intensive and a lot can go wrong. We are all vulnerable. If any of us lives long enough, there will surely be setbacks and losses.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …
Add to that the kicker that no one actually has 'the answers' - real answers - to the problems that have plagued human beings since time began. Yeah, there are a lot of theories and philosophies that help people cope with death and loss. There is a lot of religious and social wisdom about how to avoid, escape or transcend the material realities.
No doubt, some approaches hold more promise than others. At the same time, on the tangible, visible planetary level, no one really knows. Everyone has done their level best. Countless scientists, academics, philosophers and saints have tried. Yet, as a whole, for the human race, we still have more questions than answers.
This is especially true when it comes to the hard questions that really matter:
- Why is there suffering?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- What happens when we die?
- What happens to our relationships with the people, animals, beings we love?
In the final analysis, there are no experts. We all end up the same.
Seen in this light, stumbling or struggling are not 'abnormal.'
Far from it! They are a natural part of learning how to live.
Let me say that another way:
Getting stuck is not a pathology.
Stressing out is not a pathology,
Checking out is not a pathology,.
Life is challenging.
Humans are vulnerable.
These kinds of detours are facts of life - not mental disorders.