The Big Issue : Edition 454
RAZER THEBIGISSUE21MAR–3APR2014 13 PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND(RAZER)ANDALANATTWOOD(RICKY) Enough Is Enough » Helen Razer is a writer, gardener and a wearer of hats. Sometimes she thinks too much. “Hundreds of years of instrumental thinking have moved many ofustoa point of great affluence, of course. But these years have also given us the idea of aspiration. Or, to put it a bit more unkindly, covetousness.” SOME DAYS WHEN I wake up I wish that I had not. Some days, consciousness is a total drag. Some days, I suspect that this world is nothing but an experiment in total abomination. If I told this to my doctor, he would almost certainly prescribe me medication. He would call me mentally ill. I understand there are those whose lives are improved by medication; particularly those who wake up every day feeling the things I do. I understand that sometimes it is just convenient and useful to call reactions to a chaotic world ‘mental illness’. But what I do not understand is that plain old despair has acquired such a bad reputation. There are those who insist (and not without cause) that there’s a ‘stigma’ attached to mental illness. Equally, though, there’s a ‘stigma’ attached in refusing to have a mental illness. And this, I think, is not at all good. If every negative reaction to life in a world that is overfull with strange lessons like ‘you can make it if you try’ or ‘your voice is important’ is considered mental illness, then no rational criticism is possible. The way we are redeemed out of despair – and a lot of the time what doctors diagnose is just plain old despair of the kind I occasionally endure – is with a diagnosis. And it seems to me this has become a circular reasoning. I don’t think it is wild to claim there are things in the world that would move us to despair. There are the ordinary horrors of living: exhaustion, sickness, death, divorce... But then there are bigger things that have formed over time and are almost invisible. The things we cannot see, I think, are the most difficult to combat. We can grieve a lost love and we can take action to improve our health. What we cannot do, however, is move out of the despair produced by a world that, paradoxically, calls our despair mental illness. Of course, at this point in an account of a nice, comfortable world, people are likely to dismiss this sort of discussion with the term ‘first world problems’. But the thing we call mental illness is an effect of life in an affluent world. Hundreds of years of instrumental thinking have moved many of us to a point of great affluence, of course. But these years have also given us the idea of aspiration. Or, to put it a bit more unkindly, covetousness. So we have naturalised the thought that what we want is always more than what we have. And, look, I’m no psychologist but I think the danger in feeling this desire all the time is that we always feel we are lacking. As anyone who has been diagnosed with depression will tell you, a feeling of not being good enough is certainly central to the state. Itisforme,inanycase.AndifIamnotjust unconsciously feeling that I am ‘not good enough’ or ‘haven’t done enough’ – both aspirational states – then I am consciously giving myself a hard time that I should be sucked in by these silly ideas. And this is when I see the circle. If I seek assistance for this despair, then I am called unreasonable or I am called mentally ill. And any criticism of a world that, in part, has provoked that despair is just evidence of mental illness. And, well, if I give this paradox too much thought I might just stay in bed. But I don’t. The thing that gets me up most days is the love of my own unreason. Sometimes it illuminates the world of despair better than doctors can. So, perhaps if you also have these occasional and frequent days of despair, allow yourself, if only for a moment, to think of this despair as good reasoning. Because sometimes it’s not you that’s ‘not good enough’. Sometimes it’s the world.