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