Since psychiatry has proven itself to be anything but a science, the entire concept of mental anguish must be reexamined. Might the elements of “mental illness” more properly be called personality traits as well as reflections of the societies in which those traits occur? Might those elements even be called talents of a sort?

Psychiatry’s masterwork of pseudo-science, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), once included homosexuality amongst its “scientific” diagnoses. Psychiatry thus reflects the “values” of the United States far more than concerning itself with patients, much less looking past and through society’s existing prejudices.

Even those behind psychiatry’s Shroud of Turin question its validity. Of late, there has been talk of attributing DSM diagnoses by degrees rather than mere labels. Thus, a person would “have” a “mental illness” on a scale, not just “have” it. In such a case, the flatliners who dominate the population would once again establish the “typical American’s” plot-pointed life as “sanity.”

Yet no one who suffers emotional distress would applaud the benefits of that distress. To do so would be to refute its existence and betray oneself as an imposter. Far more likely is it that many flatliners never mention their irregular heartbeats. Could it be a Second Renaissance lies beneath the ever-recycling digital ruins and its constant skies of acid rain?

Consider anxiety. Those with anxious traits are often highly-attuned. To call them “sensitive” is, in this society, an insult. “Sensitive” implies weakness, an inability to “man up.” Instead, the anxious should be viewed as a tuning fork against which society reveals itself — rather than the “patient” — as out of tune. That no one else recognizes society’s discordant sounds only proves the anxious to be society’s musicians. Countless permutations of that metaphor support themselves.

The same may be said about every other “diagnosis.” Schizophrenia might be viewed as a William S. Burroughs’ cutup of “reality” as presented, emphasis on “presented” because, of course, most of our environment has nothing natural about it and is, in fact, a presentation in every sense.

Some conditions do respond to medication. Usually, the reasons remain unknown. In turn, the medication may solve one “problem” while creating many more. Those who take most antidepressants may no longer feel depressed about nothing, but they feel depressed about their diminished sexuality, especially males whenever they try to… express their end of sexuality’s conclusion.

Returning to anxiety, medication does relieve its incapacitating aspect, but the medications that accomplish the effect also accomplish something else, that being the worst addiction known to humankind. This class of drugs, benzodiazepines, includes Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc., the whole lot of tranquilizers, excepting the rarely-prescribed barbiturates. In some cases, antidepressants may relieve anxiety. However, they do so for reasons as unknown as the reasons antidepressants diminish depression. Likewise, they alleviate anxiety but create symptoms that mirror anxiety, such as trembling hands, odd emotional states, etc.

Rather than diagnoses, all of these traits show themselves to be products of society, products of the product society uses to diagnose those personality traits, and the products society sells to treat the products of the product society uses to diagnose those personality traits. That’s to say, they’re products of an environment completely divorced from nature.

All of this enshrouds some rather simplistic facts about a complicated subject. To martyr those suffering in the way biographers now “diagnose” every author, musician and artist “of the ages” as “bipolar” reduces suffering by labeling it, making suffering a product of their products, that being books and, eventually, films based on those books. Those who write memoirs about their “mental illnesses” bend over backwards for sainthood and reveal themselves willing to do endure any humiliation in exchange for profit.

On the other hand, failing to notice the strange talents hidden within the emotionally inflamed creates an even greater injustice. These strange talents do not prove the existence of artistic talent, as many would like to believe, but they do reveal an artistic temperament. No one can suffer emotionally but for recognition of something and, more likely, many things, and their recognitions go unnoticed by the general public. Why does no one listen to them? Who do “doctors” listen only to themselves when they recognize nothing beyond the power of their prescription pads? Is it because they realize their absolute lack of talent, strange or otherwise?

Most of those suffering in the ways described cycle through life in various stages of function and dysfunction, and most have periods of absolute dysfunction. To calls these periods “nervous breakdowns” would be far more accurate than to split the hairs of the suffering with psychiatry’s blunt axe. They must be tended to as they once were, in humane sanitariums surrounded by the true environment. Such sanitariums could — with no joke intended — be established on useless golf courses around the nation.

With that, some proposals:

1) Psychiatry should be abolished. It simply lacks the will, or even desire to have the will, to fulfill its dream of being medicine. Psychiatrists should be stripped of their meaningless licenses and sent on their way to more suitable careers, like accounting.

2) The “mentally ill” should be educated to understand their conditions as also encompassing strange talents, until they begin to believe the fact that their recognitions are true even when masked by the wildest hallucinations.

3) Medications should be dispensed by doctors who have achieved certification in dispensing those medications. They should know, and prove that knowledge by required yearly testing, that they understand prescribing medications and the facts of addictions that may occur to any such medication they dispense.As it stands, psychiatrists receive eight hours of addiction “education.”

4) Medications known to cause addiction should be removed from any policing or government surveillance whatsoever. Those subject to mental anguish should not be criminalized for trying to relieve that anguish, including and even especially when relieving the added anguish of addiction to a prescribed medication.

5) All those suffering from the acute perceptions so well described in Rumblefish should ultimately determine their own treatment, including beginning or continuing use of addictive prescribed substances, even when addiction has established itself, for the suffering caused by eliminating that addiction will likely lead to more dangerous and illegal addiction.

Flatliners already receive society’s benefits. Those who benefit society without society knowing it — those with strange talents — deserve just as many benefits.

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PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

8 responses to “Strange Talents: Nervous Breakdown on The Nervous Breakdown”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Well, you know, I’ve long held that, under most circumstances, whatever you hate about someone is, more likely than not, also their single most unique and redeeming trait.

    It usually takes a willingness towards purposefully altering one’s own perception to see it, and then once you’re willing, you have to also succeed at it. Easier said than done.

    But it’s all a fancy way of saying that the sources of people’s best behaviors/qualities can also be responsible for their worst and vice-versa.

    Everything is a trade off, no yang without yin and so on.

    I don’t see why the same concept wouldn’t carry right on into mental illness, real or perceived. But, then again, I WOULD sit here hopefully asserting that my particular neuroticisms were my best characteristics. I mean, who wouldn’t want every one of their shortcomings to be some kind of secret superpower, right?

    I’m not anxious, I’m perceptive.
    I’m not aggressive, I’m tenacious.
    I’m not manipulative, I’m persuasive.

    I’m not deluded, I’m creative.

  2. pixy says:

    whoa. this is awesome. this is what i most associated with:

    “Consider anxiety. Those with anxious traits are often highly-attuned. To call them “sensitive” is, in this society, an insult. “Sensitive” implies weakness, an inability to “man up.” Instead, the anxious should be viewed as a tuning fork against which society reveals itself — rather than the “patient” — as out of tune. That no one else recognizes society’s discordant sounds only proves the anxious to be society’s musicians.”

    my problem is that no one who has seen me for this issue diagnoses anxiety specifically. they ALWAYS think its depression mainly because i go through periods where i just don’t want to leave the house because everything else is too much. so i get prozac. and turn into an angry tigger-like phenom. i took myself off of that after 2 weeks because i couldn’t live with myself.
    conversely, i happened upon xanax when i got laser eye surgery (they gave me 6) and i took one the night before the surgery, as prescribed, and within 30 minutes thought to myself, “oh! so THIS is what relaxed people feel like!” as i started melting into the couch. i immediately recognized that i could VERY easily become addicted to xanax even though i don’t have an addictive personality otherwise.

    i recognize that there are a LOT of people out there who benefit from prescription medication for their “illness”, but i also feel like there are a lot of people who are more ok with being a shadow of their true selves via medication than they are with figuring out and embracing who they are (lazy in my opinion).
    i don’t think i have an illness. i don’t think other people think i have an illness mainly because i’ve learned through observation what ticks i have that people generally don’t like and i curb them until i’m comfortable with the person/people. to this day, there are only two people that i don’t censor myself around in any way, shape or form. i don’t necessarily LIKE that i have to censor myself 99% of the time, but i’m also cognizant enough to know that’s what i need to do (unfortunately) to live as fully as i can in our current society.
    but tell one… two… seven doctors that you just don’t like to leave the house sometimes because the “traditional” ways of meeting new people don’t appeal to you in the slightest and they ALL think i have an “illness” and want to give me something that i preface every visit by saying i don’t like. it’s like they forget what SOMETIMES means.

    finally, i had what i termed and what others would term as a “nervous breakdown” fairly recently and, while it was shitty in oh-so-many ways, it’s the best thing i ever let myself do.

    i really hope i am one of society’s musicians. that would be lovely.

    sorry for the ramble.

  3. Paul A. Toth says:

    Good point, but that wasn’t my point. Perhaps I should have made this clear: I assumed anyone with neuroticisms or worse already knows all too well the weaknesses and limitations caused by those conditions. I was not, and never would, propose that anyone live in some state of perpetual and delusional optimism. As I always say, the glass IS half empty by the simple fact of osmosis and, therefore, pessimism is the scientifically-accurate viewpoint. Instead, I was trying to balance the scales a bit, to say that, yes, anxiety is horrible — ask me and I’ll be the first to say I can’t stand it and would gladly be rid of it. In other words, for all those who wish to “go mad” thinking they’ll become creative geniuses, think again. There’s no reason to want any of what you call neuroticisms. That doesn’t mean they serve no purpose. The purpose may not be that of the person suffering from them. And I don’t mean those with these conditions simply “feel more.” I mean they feel or perceive things differently, or feel or perceive different things, or both.

    I also don’t view what I wrote as some kind of cure-all, except, perhaps, where I state the eradication of psychiatry would cure one big part of the problem. If mental illness is a medical condition, then it should be treated by physicians. If it is a mental condition, then it should be treated by psychologists. If it is somewhere between, and the majority of medications are essentially experimental, I would far rather have a physician who went to an actual medical school dispense those medications than someone who attended the quasi-medical school of psychiatry.

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad to clear that up because I agree with you.



  4. Paul A. Toth says:

    @Pixy: Sorry for the delay; for some reason, I wasn’t notified of your comment.

    Glad you found the essay resonated. You’re right about anxiety. It’s nearly always associated with something else. In the worst case, a person can have anxiety misdiagnosed as mania of the agitating type. This is one of the idiotic aspects of psychiatric diagnoses: Even something so relatively common as anxiety can lead to such outlandishly-stupid miscalculations, mostly because the “doctor” doing the calculating stopped taking math lessons upon entering psychiatric “medical school.”

    Yes, be careful of the Xanax. I only say that out of experience with Valium and other drugs of the ilk. Eventually, if a person isn’t careful, they stop doing anything except stopping withdrawal. Why don’t drug manufacturers concentrate on creating a non-addictive sedative that works without resorting to suggesting people take even riskier anti-psychotics? Follow the money.



  5. dwoz says:

    Not sure how old you are Paul, but back in the ’70s there was a movie titled “King of Hearts.” It was basically a play on what “normal” is vs. “insane”. Good flick, and speaks to your point here.

    I agree that there’s a growing trend toward the pathologising of behaviors/thoughts/emotions that are more than one standard deviation from the norm…but I think it’s important to recognize the continuum, at the tail of which is the person who is truly off the reservation in the deep weeds.

    I think it isn’t exactly out of place to declare that the very concept of “creativity” is actually the act of surfing the interference patterns that form between our individual realities. It’s true, I think.

  6. Paul A. Toth says:

    Dear Dwoz:

    Forty six years old… And thanks for the film note; it’s just the kind of movie I love and is now awaiting the money with which to buy it, which should arrive some time within a hundred years after my death.

    Your first point is one I would never dispute. Still, I would say that even those in the deepest thickets, in the eternal howl, if you will, have simply surpassed the ability to signal, much less communicate, anything, which is not to say they’ve nothing to signal or communicate. They’ve gone beyond language, it might be said, and so in line with the article, I would add that they may well be reacting to language itself…unwillingly so, I can only guess. We can never know. And I do not in any way condone looking to such people with some kind of ridiculous admiration, as if any sane person would, beyond speaking such sentiments, for a moment actually trade places with the “insane.”

    I can also agree with your second point, except that I see our interference patterns themselves subjugated to interference, until a person can never know where the “true self” begins and ends. When I claim this, I’m immediately called a determinist. However, it’s not an either/or proposition. Certainly much is determined about our selfhood before we have the reason with which to challenge what we’re “taught.” For instance, born a Catholic, I rejected that religion in adulthood, but it affects me no less than if I had accepted it. More broadly, when I was misdiagnosed as bipolar, I began to perceive myself in those terms. Even more broadly, advertising penetrates us no matter how wise we consider ourselves. These I call impositions, and they are, to varying degrees, inescapable, with one exception…

    That would be those in the deep weeds. They may be the only ones who transcend impositions, but they do so through a negative transcendence that cannot be breached, interrupted or cured. It’s not a goal for which anyone would strive. In other words, it’s the only state of mind that cannot be absorbed by profiteers, though, of course, they still manage to sell it.



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