I often lament the fact that as a culture we have come to believe that if you’re feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment, that you could be suffering from the disease, and that there is a pill to help you.
I’ve just finished two important and disturbing books that add to this conversation, Saving Normal by Dr. Allen Frances, former Chairman of the Dept. of Psychiatry at Duke, and responsible for the task force that produced the previous edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4). He warns that the explosion of mental illnesses in the new DSM-5 have no scientific validity, and that we are experimenting on adults and children with potentially harmful drugs. The other is by author/psychotherapist Gary Greenberg called The Book of Woe, which made me cringe with its disturbing depiction of the abuses that result when we turn suffering into a reimbursable commodity.
Instead of more diagnoses consider this simpler proposal; all mental illnesses are a manifestation of a spectrum disorder called Life, and in this life we are all Bananas.
Most of us are Ordinary Bananas, we have our own unique personalities, styles, characteristics, and whatever our quirks/peculiarities, most of us learn to live with them and hopefully even learn to thrive because of them.
However, in life ‘stuff happens’ that can throw us for a loop and we become symptomatic (angry, depressed, withdrawn, addicted, etc.). We become Smoking Bananas, and we need help. 11% of all Americans take antidepressants, but there are many other ways to feel better. What it requires is reaching out and finding support… in people/ places/ institutions/ groups/ communities on whom you can depend, who remind us that we are not alone on the journey, and inspire our hope.
Some of us can smolder and smoke for a long time; it doesn’t matter how intense the pain, we choose to hang on to our suffering. If you smolder long enough it’s a short jump to becoming a Flaming Banana. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to tell you who these people are; at this end of the spectrum people are hallucinating and delusional, they can’t tell the difference between what’s real from what’s make-believe…these people need more serious intervention.
Because we suffer on life’s journey doesn’t mean we’re mentally ill. Our suffering is generally time limited, and our potential for joy and blessings unlimited. Lighten up! We are all bananas, and the most important thing in thriving on the journey is to love the banana you are.