ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Accepting Oneself with Imperfections

By Jack Bragen
Thursday October 04, 2012 - 04:31:00 PM

It can be hard for people with mental illness to accept the idea that there is a "defect" in their brain. This is one reason, among others, why some people are in denial of the illness-there is a conflict between liking oneself, versus acknowledging what seems like a significant flaw. Newly diagnosed people must come to terms with the idea that they may have this biological "difference." 

It is important to distinguish between a: your attitude, which is something you can control, versus b: something you can't control, namely, the fact of having a psychiatric illness. Your rating in life isn't necessarily based on the cards you've been dealt, such as being dealt a human body with some problems, but is instead based upon how you play those cards (in other words, where you go in life despite this circumstance.) Another way of saying this is that it doesn't matter so much how good your brain is, but how well you use your brain. 

I didn't manufacture my brain, my genes or my environment. Therefore, I did not bring my illness on myself; my illness is not my fault. However, I do have a great deal of power over how I behave when medicated and stabilized. The fallout of my actions deservedly comes to me. But I can still accept myself as I am. 

For many people, self esteem is related to a distorted version of Darwinism. People use the idea of "survival of the fittest," as a standard against which to compare themselves. Believing that you could survive if you were put on a deserted island, or that you can propagate your seed better than others, or that you do not need to rely on any assistance from modern medicine to survive, is an arrogant version of buffoonery. Prior to modern advances, people rarely lived beyond age 30, and most died a lot sooner than that due to diseases or to other harsh conditions that once existed. Today, most people rely on some kind of help from modern medicine and modern technology. 

Accepting the help of technology rather than foolishly trying to do without shows maturity and means that I am not a masochist. 

I am not my brain. I am the person, maybe the personality, or perhaps the entity that is using my brain. It is not necessary to believe I have a "spirit" or "an immortal soul" for me to not identify with my brain. I can see myself as an abstraction which is the final output of my brain, my environment and the software that runs my brain. You could call this an agnostic version of spirit. My [agnostic] spirit can recover from the delusions or other errors that my brain produces and can produce reasoning that has common sense. 

I am not "a schizophrenic," or "a bipolar," I am a person, a human being, who has schizophrenia or who has bipolar. It is a form of bigotry to identify us by our diagnoses. This includes when we do that to ourselves.