Heads or Tails?

Clichés, almost by definition, are oversimplifications: “There are two sides to every coin,” or “There’s good and bad in everything.” But, for the purposes of this post, I will make use of such an oversimplification.

This week I was reading a news article about creativity and mental disorders. According to whatever the latest studies are, there seems to be some sort of link between the two. Really? Wow. I never would have guessed that. What I found interesting in this article was that it claimed not that one causes the other, but rather that the two are linked by sharing one or more precursors in one’s brain/mind. I take that to mean that one or more traits in a person results in some particular type(s) of creativity and some particular type(s) of mental disorder. A small distinction, but one I find interesting.

If a shrink asked me the classic, “Are you troubled by persistent, nagging thoughts?” I would answer with something like, “Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah I am. Definitely. I am. I’m troubled by persistent and nagging thoughts. It’s like they’re stuck, in my brain. I can feel them, right here (*pointing to some place on my skull, and pressing my finger down hard*). What’s up with that? What does that mean? Should I be troubled by the fact that I’m troubled?” And, fifteen minutes later, “Can I ask a question about the persistent and nagging thoughts again…” and, days/weeks/months later, “I was wondering if we can talk about persistent nagging thoughts. I’ve been thinking about them constantly, and, uh, is there like a persistent meta-nagging meta-thought about persistent nagging thoughts, ’cause I’ve been thinking constantly about it since the moment you mentioned it…” Yeah. And of course there’s worry. Anxiety. Guilt. All that stuff. I like the official word for it: Rumination. Having thoughts go over and over in your mind, never being settled. It’s like your brain isn’t satisfied, refuses to be satisfied, unless it’s grinding its gears on something it knows it shouldn’t be worried about. It’s a very hungry monster who serves no purpose but to produce fuel and then consume it in a tight and never-ending cycle that produces nothing but pollution. It’s not very fun. I often wish I wasn’t this way. But then again, how else would I be? If I were different, what would I gain, and what would I lose?

I remember writing once many years ago in a journal something to the effect of: “My mind has never been empty. Not once has it been without thought. Perhaps this is my strength. Perhaps this is my weakness.” So, it’s not like I haven’t thought of this stuff before (and yes, that statement is both ironic and unsurprising). The core of the issue, for me, is that not all of the activity in my mind is an endless loop of fear/worry/anxiety/guilt. A lot of it is composed of those things, but on the other hand a lot of my mind’s behavior results in outside-the-box, inspiring, emotionally moving, compassionate, extremely positive perceptions of the world. So one has to ask, if me, would getting rid of the former result in losing the latter? If so, would the loss be worth it? Would getting rid of mental “disorder” be worth giving up the way one sees and dwells upon beauty? I tend to think, over and over and over and over and over again, not. Which leads, because I say so, to part two of this post.

What is a mental “disorder?” As I understand it, a “disorder” is something that affects the quality of life of a person or those around him or her. In other words, a person is disordered if he or she feels disordered, and/or a majority of people close to him or her feel it to be the case. So, if a guy firmly believes he’s a parakeet, eats grain all day, sits on a perch instead of a couch, and chirps a lot, but neither he nor anybody in his life is bothered by it, he doesn’t have a disorder. He has aberrant behavior traits, but not a “disorder.” (I should say at this point that I am not legally nor professionally—nor educationally—qualified to make any of these statements, in case one of you readers might have inferred something other than the obvious. I’m just stating my personal take on the issues.) Conversely, if a gal is pretty much “normal,” but is somehow so displeased with herself that she can’t function, then she has a disorder. She may even appear to others to be the most well adjusted person in the world, but still be disordered. So there is a whole lot of grey wiggle room here. My point? I think we call a lot of people “disordered” who aren’t. We don’t like their behavior traits, or they themselves think they are disordered because people tell them they are, but they aren’t disordered in actuality; we just decide they are. We take our personal feelings and opinions, and reify them by claiming, as if it’s concrete, “That dude over there has a serious problem.” Maybe we shouldn’t be so harsh and arrogant. Maybe the breadth of what is “normal” is much, much wider than we think. Maybe there is a large continuum of human psychology, and the continuum itself is what is normal; not just a narrow, boring band in the middle of it. And on the other hand, maybe some of the folks we consider normal are actually quite disordered.

And finally, there is good and bad in everything. There are two sides to every coin. Perhaps nearly all of us are normal and judged too harshly. Perhaps we are all disordered in some sense—all of us broken in some way or another. But I prefer this view: that both are true. That being broken, being disordered, being in some way impoverished, is normal. Heads or tails? You get both when you hold a coin. I suggest we pray to understand and see that the two are inseparable, and that this is what makes us human—worthy of being, and able to be, loved. “Normal”, “well adjusted”, and “perfect” are in no need of Love and Grace—but disorder, brokenness and poverty are. In this way, the latter are greater than the former. This is a Grand Mystery the Kingdom, and I choose to live within its walls. That’s my view. And I think about it all the time.

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