Going Off The Rails On A Crazy Train

My new favorite show is Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite. I find endless humor in it’s obscene and violent tonal shifts.

Of course, it’s also a humorous exploration of life with mental illness. It’s frustrating for those that have to live with people like Bamford and myself….not knowing when or why we’ll inevitably lose our cool…why relationships abruptly end…why even the smallest things can send us over the edge. While Lady Dynamite is over-the-top, I do find it one of the better explorations of this topic.

Indeed, the show’s extreme shifts and straight-up madness provide an interesting glimpse into how someone suffering from bipolar disorder experiences the world.

I commend Netflix for producing content that explores mental health and addiction. In addition to Lady Dynamite…Flaked, Grace and Frankie, and even BoJack Horseman touch on this in varying degrees (those are just the shows I watch). Even a running theme in Star Trek Discovery is how PTSD is effecting various crew members.

Mental health awareness is now (thankfully) a part of public discussion. There’s still a long way to go, but at least there’s some acknowledgement. But this still leaves many questions (in my mind, at least), namely “what in the hell is bringing about the prevalence of these mental illnesses, and have they been there the whole time and we are just now acknowledging it?”

Now as you know, I talk about this shit all of the time. It’s my favorite subject, actually.

But the common conception (real or imagined) is that were are increasingly finding people that are unable to handle their shit. The modern world has become too stressful for the human mind and people are finding refuge in both prescription and illegal drugs along with other substances. This is evidenced by the opioid crisis, tiny houses, “social justice warriors”, and pretty much all of the problems associated with millennials….people today simply cannot handle the realities of the real world.

Older generations complain that this is the result of declining parental discipline, lowering of standards, and an overall decrease in “good-old fashioned values”. Others claim that we are only shedding light on problems that have always been there, society has just now progressed to the point where we can talk about them.

But common sense would lead us to one of either two conclusions: “mental illnesses” have always been with humanity, and we have simply gotten better at diagnosing them. OR, society has been progressing at such a rate that human psychology has been unable to adapt, thus leading to an increase in psychological problems. Just a few thousand years ago, we were hunter-gatherers wondering around in our “natural evolutionary condition” or “state of nature”, and now we’re living in highly structured societies with careers, full-time jobs, and mortgages that’s all enforced by a technological-bureaucratic complex. We’re rarely outside and probably don’t get the exercise we need. Most of our world is lit up by artificial light and we eat processed crap. What does that do to the human mind?

Surely the violent shifts in development over the last 6,000-10,000 years have had an impact on human psychology. Keep in mind that humans have been around for over a 100,000 years.

While I’m inclined to side with a “Rousseau-ian”, skeptical perspective regarding the so-called “progress of mankind”…I mean, we may be living longer, but are we really better off today than our ancient ancestors? (To which my response is “not necessarily”(it’s a massive trade-off))…the reason behind the rise in mental health problems is not so black and white.

Taking the lead from Yuval Noah Harari’s work Sapiens (one of my favorite books), I don’t think it’s fair to judge pre-historical humans with the same standards we judge modern people. I DID say that we have every right to judge Aristotle’s views on women, as philosophers before him seemingly took far more progressive perspectives than he did (which is why we’re able to pass similar condemnation on Hitler, Genghis Khan, and other perpetuators of atrocities). But as for the pre-historics, their actions simply were. While those actions most certainly contained what we call today atrocities and other appalling behavior…their models of morality were either non-existent or varied so completely from ours as to be deemed unrecognizable. Or to paraphrase Harari, they were simply being human.

It’s only through our modern eyes do we apply any sort of “moral worth” on their actions….constrictions that simply didn’t exist in those times. How we have come to evaluate “mental health” works the same way.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, and even autism are likely not recent developments in the human psyche. These patterns of behavior have probably been with human beings since the beginning. I don’t know if we can say with any degree of certainty, but it’s possible that early societies might not have identified these behaviors as being out of the ordinary. I mean, some forms of psychosis might’ve been deemed “demonic possession”…but other behaviors, like the sociopathic-kind, might’ve been rewarded (like it is for some today)! Of course, this is all speculation, but it’s not beyond reason to suggest that what we’d call a “mental illness” today was just deemed a person’s behavior in ancient and pre-historic times.

Even the person experiencing the “disorder” might not have seen their condition as an ostracizing illness.

It’s only through modern analysis and “clustering” do these behaviors become deemed “abnormal” and a disorder when experienced in excessive amounts. It’s not so much that the person with the so-called illness NATURALLY feels out of place in current society…it’s that society deems their behaviors as abnormal, thus contributing to their sense of isolation and exasperating their condition.

Perhaps the next step in “mental health awareness” isn’t to see it as an “illness” or “disability”. Yet because we have done so, as corroborated by doctors and scientists, we have a generation of people who seemingly can’t handle their shit because everyone thinks they’re crazy.

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