Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What IS Sanity?

I was thinking yesterday, what (or who) determines what is "sane" and what is "insane"? There are many definitions. Sanity is defined by many people in many different ways.

Sanity: Noun
1. the state of being sane; soundness of mind
2. soundness of judgement.
(Reference: Dictionary.com)

Insanity: Noun 
1. the condition of being insane; a derangement of the mind
2. Law.-such unsoundness of mind affects legal responsibilty or capacity
3. Physicatry-physocsis
4. extreme folly, seneslesness, fooldhardiness
(Reference: Dictionary.com)

Don't these sound rather subjective? I Googled "society determining sanity" to see what others were thinking and saying about the subject. I came across a Yahoo page (www.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid20090506210347AAtECK5) discussing this exact topic. Jake had a very interesting post:

 "Sane and Insane are set by societal standards. A man walking down the street naked to wash his clothes in a river in Anytown, USA will likely get arrested. Yet a man who does this same actions in some parts of India is seen no more awkwardly than we might view the mailman doing his job (or something else mundane)."

 How true. Everyone has their own, personal, unique definition of sanity and insanity. When I go into the psychiatric ward I don't look at those patients as "insane". I look at them as unwell; people that need help, support and treatment. Yet many do not feel the same way, otherwise "crazy" wouldn't have become such an insult (similar to how "gay" is now used). Many people simply aren't exposed to unwell people-they think of One Flew over the Cuckoos’ Nest. Even a recent (within the last month or so) episode of the TV show House showed the main character of the show (known as House) in a psychiatric ward that was COMPLETELY unrealistic and not at all what a ward is like (in fact, a ward probably hasn’t been like that in at least fifty years!). But because these wards are SO often shrouded in mystery and SO often understood, the general public doesn't understand that the psychiatric ward is just another part of the hospital. It's (most of the time) a homey space, with doctors, nurses, beds, and all sorts of people-just like the rest of the hospital. The difference is that instead of having a physical illness, the patients in a psychiatric ward are mentally ill. Does that mean they should be locked up or stigmatized? But I'm getting off track (I plan to have a post just about hospitals to help everyone understand what REALLY goes on inside a psychiatric ward).

 In a perfect world, no one would judge any one, and labels wouldn't ever be used. But as we all know, we live in a far from perfect world. So as a mentally ill person do I embrace this "crazy" or "insane" label and give it my own spin? Make fun of it, make people realize how truly ridiculous it is? Or do I stand up to it-tell people that just because someone has a mental illness doesn't make them "crazy" or "insane"? Do I tell them that the world is full of "insanity" if that's how you choose to define it? The examples I would define as "insanity" (just from my own life and the people I know)-moving across the country for someone met on the internet; spitting out babies when having absolutely no money to care for them; staying in a relationship for years simply because of laziness; thinking that money will buy happiness; pushing away friends and family because of fears of being hurt-and that's just some of them. But, as you can see, these are just life experiences. The actions may look insane to others, but to them, it's just living. I bring you back to the example of the man walking down the street naked. "Crazy" and "Insane" in Canada......."Normal" and "Sane" India or Africa. Let's drop the labels and judgements. We will never, ever get respect as the mentally ill without taking control of all the misconceptions and labels that are thrown at us. Throughout the many, many years on this Earth people have fought against each other because they were "different"-black, white, gay, straight, Catholic, Buddhist.....the mentally ill is no different. We are not understood because we aren't fighting to be heard. Let's MAKE them listen.

I'd love to get some feedback and hear what you all think. How do YOU define insanity?

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