Are We Ill or Not?


The process of diagnosing mental illness is generally finding the way in which the sufferer has deviated from what is considered to be normal behaviour.  The cure is then manipulating the sufferer’s symptoms in such a way that they return to compliance of, perceived, normal behaviour, or at least appear to.  Normal behaviour is, in our current quasi-Utopia known as neoliberalism, often psychopathic in its tendancies.  Success and greed are celebrated, to struggle or fail is frowned upon.  I say it is fair to say that “normal” behaviour could be the most severe form of mental illness that there is.

If we look upon ourselves as the animals that we are, how much of what we do in our lives could be considered normal?  It’s surely fair to assume that most forms of mental illness are a healthy and predictable reaction to the environment we live in.  Why would we not feel anxious when we’re down to our last few quid in the bank and the car could break down or we could be made redundant from the failing business we work for or our landlord might sell the house we live in?  Why would we not feel depressed when we see homeless people begging for change in the street or animals tolerating miserable lives so they can become food for us or families drowning while they run for their lives from war zones?

The normality we are supposed to live in is generally a facade created by various forms of media, by companies who want to sell things to us and, of course, by the financially elite CEOs, board members and politicians who need us to comply if they wish to keep being financially elite.  The joy filled families you see shopping for a sofa at DFS on a bank holiday weekend or the girl who always has beautiful flawless skin because she uses the right moisturiser never have to concern themselves with the with the darker sides of modern existence, like we do, because they are fabricated for a purpose and aren’t real.  And, yet, we try to emulate them!  Our whole lives are spent trying to fit into an almost standardised set of criteria that we believe constitutes normality and it’s easy to feel a little alienated if you fall outside those borders.  I’m a single man with no children at 42 years old and although I’m quite happy with that arrangement I definitely feel an appreciable sense of detachment so I can only try to imagine how life must feel if you are disabled or alcoholic or unemployed or homeless or worse.  The mental pressures must be unthinkable and then on top of that many of the people in these kind of situations who are already suffering are mocked, persecuted and made to feel subordinate.

The unsustainability and destructive nature of our modern existences has to play a role in feeding our negative feelings.  While we can enjoy our trappings of luxury and wealth I think every one of us is now uncomfortably aware of the fact that this – while enjoyable – is causing our own inevitable downfall.  The depletion of the Earth’s natural resources, the extinction of many different species of animal, huge amounts of pollution and the increasingly obvious symptoms of climate change that are all directly attributed to us.  How can we not suffer mentally when we know that our very way of life is killing us and negatively affecting everything around us.

I would like to put it to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that nearly all forms of recognised mental illness are just our brain’s natural responses to what is happening around us and that treatments, including medication and therapy, are just patches to gently ease us back on the path of earning and consuming and behaving in a conventional manner.   If you stop for a moment and really think about how we live, what we are happy to tolerate and what we seem able to ignore it is very easy to see how all of us could quite easily slip, mentally, into a world of dread, anxiety, paranoia and depression without too much difficulty at all.



Too Much Choice

choiceBack when Steve Jobs first told us that we could have a thousand songs in our pocket it seemed like a music revolution.  I suppose it was.

I bloody hate when you’re in a room full of people, telling you to put some music on, and you stand staring blankly at Spotify unable to decide what to play, and sometimes even worrying that I play a few favourite songs too often, when the choice available to me is (give or take) about thirty million songs!  Or when a customer asks,

“Is this all the washing machines you have?”,

while they look at the thirty, or so, on display or when you decide to buy a new pair of shoes or a new set of pans.  There is an infinite array of stuff to buy, download, eat, listen to, watch, smoke, drink, date, adopt, shag, marry…etc

On the surface this seems brilliant but a quick flip through any book about buddhism will tell you that a clean uncluttered mind is the path to contentment and, maybe even, enlightenment.   I don’t think we even asked to have this much choice, a lot of it is forced upon us by our culture of nonstop consumption and the need for economic growth.  If there were only a few things out there for us to buy soon everyone would have all that they required and the only necessity to buy again would be when something needed replacing.  This isn’t going to stimulate growth.  We shouldn’t just be buying one item.  We should be buying the item that we like in three different colours and with all the additional accessories that are available to go with it and then when we’ve got better at what ever activity these items were bought to assist us with, we should upgrade the items.  Entry level stuff is no good if your now an intermediate and as you upgrade things become more expensive.  Not so easy to make the purchase now, you don’t want to waste a load of money on the wrong thing!  Enter people like Revoo, Which, Trivago, Trusted Traders and others to help you make the ‘right’ choice.  Is there a ‘right’ choice?  Is it possible to find a washing machine that is custom designed for your specific needs and out of all other the options out there you must to pare it down to this one?  Or is there a song on your IPod that will fit this moment perfectly, if only you could find it?  We convince ourselves that the answer is ‘yes’ and that having every single option immediately available to us will make it easier to find.

The brain, like any other part of your body, becomes tired with over use and by pondering so many choices all the time each and everyday what we are actually doing is fatiguing our brains which eventually exhausts us, makes us angry and, ironically, makes us make bad choices.   This mental fatigue is also what makes you put stupid purchases into your trolley when you are walking around places like B&M where you see things and think,

“That looks like a good idea!”,

even though it is something that you will never use and never wanted.  Our brains are busy enough and throwing a wall of a thousand options at ourselves every time we go looking to buy trivial shit or want to relax with some music is making it do work that is wholly unnecessary and leaves it with less energy for the good stuff.  Is it just coincidence that many times when choosing something we go back to the very first option we looked at?  Maybe instinct is as strong a tool now in modern society as it ever was.  Many animals depend on it.  Maybe we are stifling instinct with too many choices and fear of making the wrong decision in the same way we are stifling our immune system in our over sterile society.   Your instinct learns if you use it regularly and when you make a choice with a positive outcome you get a positive feedback.  The natural reward your brain gives you when you overcome obstacles by yourself.

Having lots of different things to choose from certainly seems great but it has reached obscene levels and is certainly impacting on our mental health and our ability to feel content and happy with the choices we make and – very importantly for some – other people’s opinions of the choices we make.  There is even an argument that people who are given fewer options are more creative as they have to be able to do more with less so as well as making us feel tired, angry, inferior and confused, too much choice can, also, make us less creative.