My name is Aoife, and I discovered this morning that I am a lunatic. I have to say that I found it kind-of hilarious. You see, not only am I a lunatic, but this morning I’m a lunatic off my meds. Left ’em at home yesterday when I was packing to stay elsewhere last night, and it’ll be another hour or two before I get back to them. It’s very annoying, to put it mildly. For me, missing a dose of my meds is a bit like combining the feeling of having had too much and too little caffeine. I’m agitated, my head feels weird, and I have the concentration span of a distracted gnat. And like the addict I am, I’m craving the thing that’ll bring me back to normality.
It’s in that state- agitated, irritated, jonesing for a fix of SSRI- that I read this, and find out that, according to Irish law, I am a lunatic. You couldn’t make it up. Check it out:
On International Day for People with Disabilities (today, Monday 3rd December), Irish law still calls people with disabilities Lunatics – despite repeated promises of change.
People with intellectual disabilities, those with mental health problems and older people with dementia, are all termed ‘Lunatics’ under Irish law.
I think about the meaning of lunacy and how little it applies either to myself or to most of the legal lunatics I know. Here’s the definition of ‘lunacy’ according to Merriam Webster:
1a : insanity
b : intermittent insanity once believed to be related to phases of the moon2: wild foolishness : extravagant folly3: a foolish act
Since my diagnosis- in my case depression and anxiety, the dullest and most common of mental illnesses- I have worked my ass off to be aware of and own my mental state. CBT ain’t for everyone, but it’s changed my life. I know my brain. I know what it’s doing. I know when I have to step in and take steps to change that. As a person with a mental illness I am far more aware of my emotional state than most mentally healthy people I know. Even this morning. Especially this morning. Everything gets put into perspective when I can feel my brain teetering off balance. I turn on the backup systems I’ve worked my ass off to create, and I compensate the hell out of it.
Most of the people I know with mental illnesses do something similar. We’re masters of grappling with the kind of mental and emotional states that used to paralyse us. While sometimes things are too much to deal with, we have a hell of a lot of coping mechanisms. We work out ways to live happy and fulfilled lives when our brains are fighting against us. Lunatics? Are you nuts? Most crazy people are as sane as anyone. Probably more so.
You know, I normally wouldn’t publish anything I wrote today. I’d was planning on writing like I was Spider Jerusalem, popping it all into a drafts folder and editing the hell out of it later. I’m not going to do that. This lunatic wants to prove herself, so this is coming to you unedited. It’s not surprising, really, that I feel the need to show that even in a state like this I’m not insane. I’m writing this on the Dart into town. Somehow I manage to sit here and type while attracting precisely zero attention from my fellow passengers. Not bad, for a crazy person. It is, by the way, a gorgeous afternoon with crisp, bright winter sunlight streaming through the windows and on to Dublin Bay. The sea is a choppy blueish black and the sky a light pastel, like watered-down watercolours.
I wonder what we mean by ‘crazy’, or by mental illness. There is an idea of mental illness as some kind of discrete thing. Here is a person with depression. Here is someone with bipolar. As if ‘depression’ or ‘bipolar’ or ‘anxiety’ were specific things that happen t oa person. But when we are diagnosed our doctors don’t look for specific changes in our brain chemistry or structure. Diagnoses come from conversations. Is this an experience we have? Is that a way that we feel? Does this happen? And every single one of us experiences these things differently. Ten people with the very same diagnosis will give you ten completely different stories. For some it is very much a matter of brain chemistry. For others it is a response to experience that becomes unbearable. There are reasons why members of oppressed groups tend to suffer more from mental illness than their privileged counterparts, and why rates of these illnesses vary between cultures, and it is not because we as individuals are fundamentally broken. We live in damaged societies. Our illnesses often don’t arrive out of nowhere. Sometimes lunacy is the only sane response to a world that demands we reject so much of our basic humanity. Sometimes it’s the only sane response to a world that values competition over compassion, economics over health, morality over empathy.
My name is Aoife. I’m a lunatic off my meds, sitting on a Dart on a beautiful sunny winter’s day.
- The Shame Game – Mental Illness in the Profession of Student Affairs (thesabloggers.org)
- The nasty babble which stigmatises depression | Tanya Gold (guardian.co.uk)