Someone I love (let’s call him RT) is scared he is losing his mind and, given certain behavioral characteristics since childhood, he may be right. He is currently in a psychiatric hospital, a location which, to my naïve and unprofessional mind, is a sure way to speed the process of complete detachment from the wider world.
What is it like to lose one’s mind? Is it like the approach of night, a darkening or blackening of one’s range of perception? Is it like the loss of peripheral vision but with respect to thought, that is to say, you don’t notice it until you attempt to think about certain things or think in a certain type of way? For RT it appears to be more a delusional way of looking at the world together with an inability to cope with the normal activities of daily living. There is a certain tension in the fact that, while RT is unable to function safely in the real world without constant monitoring, it is the real world which seems to provide the only anchor for his mind, which otherwise would sink rapidly into delusional oblivion.
Religious leaders, sensing his vulnerability, have already been circling, filling his mind with their bogus certainties. Told that he would go to hell for failing to adhere to the strict doctrines of orthodoxy, eschatological fears were needlessly added to his daily burden of living. Despite lacking both an aptitude for self-examination as well as certain practical life skills, RT had once had a fine mind, one capable of nuanced judgments based on wide reading although limited real-life experience. However, retirement and the loss of his life partner of many years, seems to have triggered the rapid growth of a range of insecurities that had long been present, but which had been kept in check by the constraints of both work and family life.
When I spoke to him by phone the other day, RT did not know he had been admitted into a psychiatric hospital, but I heard the fear in his voice as he described the strange people he was meeting and the horror he felt at the possibility of being swallowed up in the cavernous depths of such a frightening place. By now he has probably been involuntarily committed because he is perceived as a danger to himself, losing even his legal personhood.
In another age RT would have been simply another member of the extended family, living on a farm and given jobs to do well within his capacity. A little slow and eccentric maybe, but RT would have enjoyed being around the children and other family members, would have enjoyed sitting at the table with everyone for dinner, and otherwise being looked after without being singled out for pity or special help. RT would have grown old with dignity engaging meaningfully with the world around him. Modern urban life, on the other hand, seems harsh by comparison, adding as it does, complexity to even the most basic tasks in life. More importantly, it also encourages the belief that the pursuit of sanity is the job of each individual, and that when we fall below certain standards the only solution is institutionalization, which, by cutting off the individual from the wider community, only hastens the process of mental dissolution.
“Health is a complex, dynamic process that has to do with social relations, land, and cultural identity, which are all linked to quality of life.” Othmar F. Arnold at Ofradix