Asylum Androgyny

Hysteria, from the Greek word hysteros, meaning womb.

Bethlam Royal Hospital. London. 1889.

I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. My femininity was revealed prior to introductions, leaving me prejudged. Prematurely diagnosed. Exposed as a reincarnation of Anna O., they scribbled vapid notes, making a fool of me and shaming Dr. Breuer. Lacking both elegance and perception, they scratched pencil to paper, summarizing my being into regurgitated medical terminology. Vomit – a hollow medical degree laced with privilege and void of philosophy.

I was overshadowed by my uterus, condemned to a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ by virtue of my physiology. No discussion, no assessment of the functionality of my organs, no mention of the possibility that, if it truly were hysteria from which I suffered, perhaps the solution may be found in biology, not psychology.

Female. Uterus. Hysterical. 

No regard for the complexity of human anatomy, no consideration given to the intricacy of the endocrine system. My body, forced into a rhythm of menstrual regularity, revolted. I am a woman. I am hysteria incarnate. A silk gown drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood and bones. A medical experiment.

A week later, I presented myself in my masculine form. I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. With no uterus to cloud their judgement, they scratched pencil to paper: Possible negative reaction to serious outside stressors or a malfunctioning of a pivotal physiological system. Endocrine system should be thoroughly tested. 
And it was, for no man would naturally experience symptoms of hysteria without a womb to cause them. I am a man. A silk robe drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood, bones… and flesh.

How does one suffer from having a womb? Simple. You become seen through it, overshadowed by it, understood amateurishly by virtue of possessing it.

I was once a man who suffered from hysteria, cured by denying the simplistic approach of a gendered body.

© Leila Chammas, March 1, 2017.

You’re Not Mentally Ill, You Just Perceive Things Differently

There’s a blurry line between what constitutes mental health and mental illness and the line is constantly shifting. But all mental illnesses have one thing in common: they alter a person’s perceptions and the greater the alteration in perception, the more severe the illness is considered. But what if that’s what a lot of mental illnesses really are? Not illnesses, but alternative ways of relating to the world, neither bad nor good, just different.

Take, for example, a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s not uncommon for someone with OCD to have ‘intrusive thoughts,’ thoughts that could either be considered philosophical in nature and implication, or medical. There’s a grey area in which the thoughts could vacillate towards either spectrum depending on their content and frequency. In this grey area, where one is considered either ‘in remission’ or ‘susceptible but not ill,’ the philosophical aspect of the condition greatly surpasses its clinical aspect. It’s here where a thought can be seen as an indication of a perception, a relation to the world.

What if a strand of my hair falls into the socket and starts a fire that burns down the building and kills the people in it?

From a purely clinical perspective, it’s a type of intrusive thought that is common amongst people with OCD and should be addressed as such. From a philosophical perspective, however, the question indicates an underlying recognition of several magnificent things: (1) absurdity and the possibility of unavoidable accidents occurring, (2) preemptive guilt, (3) a need for control and understanding that one does not possess it completely, (4) an almost counter-evolutionary concern over the wellbeing of others as opposed to oneself, and (5) the existence of an at-minimum duality of the human mind.

The question itself may be irrational but the sentiment behind it is deeply philosophical. The grey area that people often fall into offers a valuable opportunity to view what would otherwise be taken as a sign of illness as an individual’s relationship to and understanding of the world. All thoughts and actions inarguably offer glimpses into the mind’s complex perception of the world it inhabits.

© Leila Chammas, November 22, 2016