Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crazy on Planes

Yesterday’s cursory review of the news was full of mental illness stories. If by full, I mean there were several. There were also the old standbys: War, famine, the economy, politics, but there were also stories of people lost in their own minds.

There was a video of a flight attendant losing it on a plane, before the plane was in the air. I clicked on the video, and watched several minutes of passengers holding up cell phones to capture the activity and the screaming as the flight attendant was restrained in the front of the plane. The passengers were avid to capture anything on their cell phones that they could, and occasionally they’d comment on what was going on. Also, occasionally, they’d laugh, as if something particularly amusing was happening.

Because there’s nothing funnier than witnessing a person losing their mind. I use the term “losing her mind” loosely, because I don’t know if she was, I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know what will happen to her. I do know, having witnessed such breaks myself, that for the person that it’s happening to, it’s pretty damn horrible. It’s frightening, it’s scary, and when it happens one can’t really imagine any other reality than the one that is happening right then, at that time, in that space. It is their reality, whether it bears any relation to reality as the rest of us would define it.

We are a wonderfully compassionate people.

We’re certain that sort of thing won’t happen to us because, after all, WE’RE not crazy. It only happens to crazies. Only other people. Is that why some of us laugh? Because we’re so safe in our own reality that we don’t need to consider those in pain as people just like us?

Sometimes when I’m in an uncomfortable situation I’ll laugh. If I’m nervous it relieves the tension, or it’s a nervous habit, or it’s one of the ways I cope with pain. Stew and I often laughed about his mental illness, but we were in the thick of it, not watching from a distance.

I don’t know why people laugh when someone else is in obvious pain. That’s what mental illness is, after all – it’s pain, and because it affects who we are, how we act, what we do, it scares us. It should scare us. it’s a scary thing. But it’s scariest for the person experiencing it, that much I’m sure of, as certain as I am that one should never end a sentence with a preposition.

I’d like to say we shouldn’t laugh at people in pain, but then I’d be accused of telling people how to act, and I don’t have that right. That’s true. But I would like to know why we laugh. As someone who has looked out over the precipice, I can’t imagine having the certainty that I would never have a loss of mental health. Maybe I’m missing something because of my brain chemistry (and here someone will tell me that there’s no such thing, but they can believe what they want and I’ll believe what I want), and maybe if I had that absolute certainty that crazy people are always someone else, then I  would understand.

As long as I’m on the subject, as much as we pity the mentally ill and tell ourselves we’re not like that, why do so many then want to characterize themselves as crazy? We try to  one-up each other with stories of how our family and friends are crazier than your family and friends . . . Maybe crazy is cool? As long as it doesn’t manifest itself as seeing things that aren’t there, magical thinking, major depressive episodes, mania, paranoia, psychosis . . .

We want to be crazy, but in a good way. But with crazy, you don’t get to choose, do you?

Should I ever have occasion to suspect I may become psychotic, I shall send out notices in advance in the hopes that everyone will gather round and capture the moment with their smart phones. So there’d be proof, because what fun is it being crazy if you can’t prove you really went there?

It’s like having your passport stamped when you’ve been to a country you didn’t really want to visit, but did anyway.

Do make sure I have your contact info on hand. You’d hate to miss it. 

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