Philosophical questions of who we are, where are we headed, what is human suffering and so on are not questions only asked by philosophers, academicians, or scientists. If we recollect, we have asked these questions as kids. We have asked them without knowing much about the world. And we yet ask them as we grow. The answers are varied and sometimes can seem very vague and disappointing because they leave us with no answers. No certainties. No validations. As human persons we are complex yet we strive for certainties. In this game, we are driven to cruelty and unkindness mostly to ourselves. We forget the questions we have asked until we are hit by the rod of suffering begging us to ask ourselves the same questions. What are we? What are we here for? What is our purpose? What does life mean? What do we mean?
Ask a philosopher and the answer will never end. Ask a physicist and the answer might be an atom. Ask a scientist and the answer might be in your genes. Ask an activist and the answer might be in your rights. Ask a doctor and the answer would be in what he knows. Ask a saint and the answer will remain for you to question again. In other words, it is relative. And this again leaves us with further questions. Our search doesn’t end, which is a good thing says the explorer.
But sometimes, in many cases of human suffering- in the area I work in, in the area of mental health and mental illness – one needs answers. One needs certainties. This condition of the human experience has seen more cruelty and torture in the world than any other human experience. It has been shunned, demonized, romanticised, exorcised, experimented, executed since the beginning of civilization. It is 2014. We enter 2015 in less than a month. And this human condition is still shunned, still demonized, still romanticised, still exorcised, still experimented and still executed. The ones who are living with these labels are not the ones engaging in these cruel methods but they end up as victims.
I was at Mindscapes 2014 on the 13th of December 2014. I looked at the audience and said: ‘I have sat amongst you for the last 3 hours. I have not raped, molested, killed, or tortured anyone of you. I might have made noises, made faces, screamed in laughter, jumped around and not care about what anyone was saying. In fact, if you see one of my kind loitering around outside on the streets – we are so busy in our own world, likely talking to ourselves, or walking around naked or in torn clothes, or looking at the sky and laughing, or running away from you and hiding. How in the world did we become the dangerous ones? From all other atrocities out there, war, torture, men who leech at your breast, authorities who will rape boys, drivers that will curse you because you hit their car, beggars who knock your vehicle, pedestrians and other motorist that disturb traffic, where is the question of me being the dangerous one who is ruining your peace? Why are you scared of me and call me the crazy person? What has made you assume this without getting to know me?
There was a period when I believed that each one of us shuffled between the planes of normalcy and madness. That each one of us are both and that perhaps we are all just unique in our own ways.
The question of labels became difficult because every person would have their own meaning of their condition and would choose their own label to define it.
But in the process of labelling, treatment becomes a pressing issue.
For if I had to say I have a mental illness, I would be treated as a mentally ill.
If I said I have schizophrenia, I would be treated as a schizophrenic and this would include medications, therapy and all other methods that have known to exist to handle schizophrenia.
If I have to say I have epilepsy, I would be treated as an epileptic.
If I have to say I have a mental health issue, I would be given various tools known to talk about mental health.
I continue questioning even these very alternatives. The very ideas I thought of that once made sense to me.
My need to break the barriers between normalcy and madness.
My need to inspire others to see that I, you, us, they, everyone are just unique and that normalcy and madness is a matter of being relative.
I tossed and turned last night because I was missing something.
There is a need for people to belong. For people to find meaning in their experience. For people to identify their experiences, give them names and yet feel safe. What works for another does not work for the other. It never will. In this truth – no one will ever come to a universal agreement because there simply cannot be one.
However, in the eyes of the law – in the matters concerning rights, in the search for meaning, in establishing a basic premise of what it means to be human and what it means to have a condition that can be given many names – I am forced to challenge my own constructs.
People might not understand and that is okay. But do I have to wait another 10 years for them to understand and make sense of this pressing issue or can I just sit by the bonfire with a few who would connect to what I am saying?
I am a person who gets bored easily. What I might have said 3 months ago will not apply today. An idea I might have used a year ago would have died and I’ll come up with another 10 or 20 more. Many will fail and few will work. I’ll get bored and work around another. For me this is me being constant and NOT being ‘unfocused’ or hyperactive. Because change is the only permanence there is.
How then can I explain or decode the abstraction between normalcy and madness?
Many individuals often speak about other individuals who were ahead of their time. People who didn’t make sense in their own time because they spoke in future sense. These were people who were always misunderstood and called crazy. They were asked to take 10 steps back. But for some odd reason they never did. They continued speaking in future tense. In a language that makes sense today. They lived ahead of their times and in doing so they felt alone. I’ve more than often felt like this. And I was told that I was being grandiose. That it was part of my psychosis. So I kept to myself. But many others without any ‘mental illness’ labels began crossing paths with me. Individuals who have identified themselves as visionaries. As being ahead of their time- having something new to share with the world. And these individuals aren’t a figment of my imagination. They exist in real time and are on my list of friends. Many who continue inspiring me – allowing me to believe that it’s a circle of inspiration.
So when a student came up to me and asked me about depression and suicide, I said ‘When I finish an art work, I die. I feel a very huge part of me lost – suspended in a different reality. I spend 3 days (at least) wondering what the hell just happened and why am I overwhelmed by death. The process in creation and destruction is inevitable’
When I thought about my reply, I realized how important words are and what we tell ourselves when we are speaking to others.
I realized that we are not necessarily mad or normal or unique. We are necessarily all creative. I have a creative illness…a creative condition and the only way to treat it is by creativity.