My Great Grandmother was born in 1904 and immigrated to America with her family shortly thereafter. When she turned 12, her Mother forced her to drop out of school and work twelve hours a day in a tire factory so the family could pay the bills. When she was 17, her family pressured her to marry a man she didn’t love in order to gain financial security. Shortly after she said ‘I do,’ my Grandmother came to her senses and demanded a divorce.
Back then, divorce wasn’t as common as it is now and her demand caused a lot of controversy in her community. No one could understand why a woman wouldn’t want to be with the nice man who wanted to provide for her and many dubbed her a strumpet. But my Grandmother stood her ground and dissolved her marriage. However, upon returning home, her family had decided in her absence that she must be crazy. Literally. They had her forcibly committed to a mental institution.
Mental institutions were not the nice, clean, white places of healing they are today. Instead, they were filled to the brim with incompetent doctors who made snap diagnoses and ordered experimental shock treatments. Patients often spent hours strapped down in beds and force fed drugs that made them feel even worse. Some of them were raped, beaten, or otherwise abused. After all, they were crazy. Who would believe them?
My Grandmother told me all of this for the first time shortly after my 19th birthday. I had recently found out something pretty shocking about my past (Another story for another day, don’t worry) and I went to her for confirmation because there wasn’t anyone else I could trust to tell me the truth. She did confirm what I had learned and apologized for her part in it. Destroyed by the news, I confessed to her that I was thinking about going into therapy. My desire for a Doctor to ‘fix me’ is what inspired her story.
When she was finished, she said to me, “All the time I spent in that hellhole, people were constantly trying to convince me that I felt sad because there was something wrong with my brain. But do you want to know what I really learned?”
I leaned in closer, absolutely absorbed by the image of my tough Grandmother who raised her children, nurtured her (Second!) marriage, and was one of the first successful business women of her era spending time in a mental institution. “What Grandma?” I breathlessly inquired.
“I learned that I wasn’t sad because there was something wrong with my brain. I learned that I was sad because my life sucked.”
Initially, I laughed because it was funny to hear my old Grandma use the word ‘sucked’ in a sentence. But after that, I worriedly asked, “Are you saying I shouldn’t seek therapy?”
“No,” she replied, “I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is that you should be wary of the Doctor who tells you a pill is a fix for your broken mind. The way I see it, you have a lot of reasons to be sad right now. So if that’s what you’re feeling, that seems about right to me.”
Now that we live in a culture where mental illness is so incredibly popular that you’re almost considered abnormal if you don’t have one, her words ring even truer. A lot of people nowadays seem to think that any sign of anxiousness or sadness signifies a broken brain, and immediately upon discovery will run with their asses on fire for their prescription of Happy Pills.
“My brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin!” they chirp. “This is why I’m always sad!”
It’s always the serotonin. It’s never the lousy job or the loveless marriage or the helplessness one feels when they finally realize they’ve been pressured into living a life they would have never chosen for themselves. No, it’s never that. It’s always a broken brain.
Now please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not trying to lambaste psychiatric treatment nor am I denying the existence of real, valid, medically proven mental disabilities. I realize there are people out there who downright suffer from hallucinations, irrational fears and compulsions, and crippling life debilitating illnesses that wreak havoc on their lives if left untreated. I do not fault these people for taking the drugs they need to feel better. In fact, I applaud them.
It’s the people who try to eradicate every hint of sadness and anger out of human existence I fault. Negative emotions are a vital part of the human condition and it isn’t until we experience them that we truly appreciate the positive opposites. In other words, one needs sadness in their lives to be able to fully recognize happiness when they come across it. Without anger, we can never appreciate the calm; our hatred and indifference emphasis our love. To deprive oneself of any emotion characteristic to our nature is to deny the very things that make us human. Our minds work the way they do for a reason. They are not broken.
Modern day Americans are often trapped in lousy, disappointing, soul crushing careers. If they are not divorced already, their marriages are on the rocks. They live far outside of their means, rack up thousands of dollars of debt, and then they work overtime to pay for the toys they never have time to play with. They dedicate their lives to pleasing ungrateful children who won’t amount to much more than they did. Hours of their downtime is spent in front of the television, switching from reality show to reality show, because it is easier to watch other people live life than it is to live their own. In a rare moment of creativity, they might write a secret out on a postcard and send it to a website because they don’t have a single person in real life that they trust enough to share their fears with. They feel all of this on top of the usual human maladies of sickness, death and grief.
To be perfectly honest, I would think it was weirder if most people didn’t entertain thoughts of suicide.
The majority of people aren’t sad because there is something wrong with their brain. They are sad because their lives suck. But rather than admit that to themselves, they run to the Doctor and beg for a diagnosis that alleviates their personal responsibility in this regard. After all, if a man in a white coat tells you’re broken, you never have to worry about fixing yourself. The sad reality is that they’ll spend the rest of their lives switching medications and wondering why nothing they take works and cures their disease. Never once do they consider that the disease is their life and true healing will come once attempts are made to repair it.
If you are sad right now, I want you to consider that perhaps there is nothing wrong with you. Perhaps you are seeing things the way they ought to be seen. Maybe there is just something wrong with the world right now? Instead of popping some pills in the hopes that they will put us on a perpetual even keel, maybe instead we should figure out what is wrong with our society…and fix it.