I’m Healthy; You are Sick. Bad for you. Good for Me
Draw a line. On one extreme, write “mentally healthy.” On the opposite pole, write “mentally ill.” Now, make an “X” where you feel belonging. Where are you? Are you part of the sane or insane community? Are you safe or in trouble? Smiling or terrified? But wait a minute! Let’s take a closer look at the line. Where would you mark a separation between the healthy and the ill? Can you locate that breaking point? In the very middle? But to locate that middle point, you would need clear extremes. Then, where is the extreme of health? What is the extreme of mental illness? Difficult, right?
You are Sick. I’m Sick. Good for Us
Though distant in their extremes, health and illness belong to a continuum. No fences or borders separate them. While some will gravitate toward health, others will endure pain. Most of us inhabit the gray terrain between peace and anxiety, functionality and depression, and confidence and uncertainty. In the first year of Covid, anxiety, and depression increased by 25% among the general population. We learned that we stand together by the fragile edges of mental distress. As much as we stretch the line, sanity, and insanity unite us.
Evicted from Humanity
A podcast host once asked me, “Rabbi, what do you fear most about being bipolar?” I answered, “losing my humanity.” Some days I feel like I do not belong in this world. I have a pressing nauseating feeling that my existence is a mistake.
Permission to Be Human
That’s why I ask you to give yourself permission to be human. Remember, you have a permanent place in the continuous line between health and illness. That’s a line without set boundaries—uniting all of us by our shared humanity. We lost our humanity, committing genocides and atrocities when somebody dared to fix humanity at any point in the line.
Is God Inhuman?
You were fashioned in God’s image. And to be honest, if we look at God’s tantrums, irritations, regrets, and missteps, I would not be certain where to place God in our line. One thing is for sure, to be in God’s image entails many imperfections. And once we dispel perfection, we gain ample room to accept who we are, broken and injured.
In his “Images of Hope” (though you may skip the religious and political overtones), William F. Lynch explains when and how the mentally ill lose their sense of humanity. He establishes a correlation between hope and humanity. It is in our hopelessness that we disconnect from our humanity. Despair knocks at the doors of our self-deprecation. That’s great news. Instead of something wrong within us, our inner homelessness emerges from a lack of possibilities. We can deprogram our sense of inhumanity by wishing, dreaming, and acting.
Willian Lynch also speaks of the “psychology of the immediate.” He explains: “One temptation of those who are ill is to think that they must wait until they are ‘cured’ before they can take on the rights of those who are well.” We fall victim to an idealized situation and Self that may never arrive. We condition ourselves to a dreamed perfection that precludes our very fulfillment. The root of this self-defeat lies in “I do not deserve it.” I tell you, it takes some pride to get well. Be proud. If you are waiting for the world to affirm your humanity sit in a comfortable chair and wait for the Messianic times. Again, you are fully human anywhere you feel in the artificial line between mental illness and sanity.
The choice to be human is yours. That’s your inalienable right. I reduced my mental illness inferiority (and still fighting) when I began dreaming. My first hopes were humble. I began dreaming step by step. I hoped to go to the gym. I hoped to write a blog. I hoped not to lose it by angrily replying to e-mails. The more I hoped, the more human I felt.