A reconsideration on what is “crazy” and what is “normal”

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June 15, 2015 by Cláudia


This is a movie about those people, usually homeless, always inadequate, who are completely marginalized from our society. They mumble things we don’t comprehend and act in a way we don’t accept: they may get naked in the streets, do things we consider “strange” or “crazy” and certainly don’t fit in the patterns our society defines as “normal” – they are the mentally ill, the crazy.

I watched the movie yesterday and was so inspired by this thought stimulating movie that had countless discussions in my head untill I went to sleep. Unfortunately, the inspiration has faded a bit but I will try to transmit what I retained from this movie last night. The movie/documentary sets in an asylum and brilliantly lets us in these people’s minds and hearts. In the beginning I felt a strange feeling, like a distance, why is their voice so strange? why do they make strange gestures?, but as it went on that feeling faded. That feeling is our trouble in responding to what is different, what goes out of the pattern in society, what is not socially acceptable even if it means no harm to anyone.

After watching this movie, I believe everyone would agree that mentally ill people (even severe ones) have psychological density and individuality just as each of every society-approved person does. Some of the things they said were so deeply genuine and wise that I think it is impossible to reject these people as “crazy” or merely incapacitated.

What I want to suggest is that we ought to counteract the mental illness stigma and don’t despise and scorn these people when we see them. I have had several conversations with homeless people who spoke more wisely than any other citizen I have spoken to. One of them staggered in my direction and asked me what I thought about the pavement on the streets. I had several times thought about that and about how the pavements were keeping nature from arise and for the first time in my life I saw that he understood, he didn’t say “but how would we walk without pavement?” but nodded and said something about how unnatural is our society. One man in the movie said he didn’t want to go in a bus because he didn’t want people to look at him like he was crazy and call him ugly names. The awareness broke my heart.

Other man explained very coherently how “crazy” people really were only marginal because the society is not inclusive but exclusive. He recognized he wasn’t fit for how this society works but had a deep awareness of how his mind works “I saw in a tv-show a man stripping in public and then in an anxiety crisis my subconscious led me to do the same”.

I could easily write pages and pages about the movie but it would hardly be as good and as informative as the movie would be. It is not available online and, unfortunately I’m not sure it will be because it is a Portuguese production, but I will put it here in case it gets uploaded.

What I want to expose is our conception of what is normal. What is normal after all? We have a concept of normality that is supposedly the “right” way to be and to act, and opose it to a concept of difference. This difference is not usually positive and  is only acceptable as long as it doesn’t collide with the boundaries of the oppressive normality. Normality is what keeps society going, what prevents anarchy, what inserts all individuals into a pattern and keeps a certain system going. There is not much freedom to it, we all fit into a specific form, although none of us really knows what that form really is, it is implicit in every interaction we have as a society member.

So, what is being normal after all? There is no such thing. People in community tend to create a pattern of behavior and dismiss what they don’t understand. It is a way to perpetuate peace and harmony.

Is it?

How can a society which only advocates one way of living be the way to peace and harmony? A society in which everyone who doesn’t fit the system is condemned to exclusion is an oppressive and exclusive system that suppresses the individual in favor of the collective. We exclude people who say things we don’t understand and act in a way that somehow bothers us but casually live among cruelty, indifference and injustice everyday.

Conformism is destructive.

I have been considering all the stigma around mental illness and have concluded that people who suffer from these diseases are always somehow different or nonconformist. Speaking for personal experience, I am used to be looked at like I am a bit crazy and like I should suppress the part of me who doesn’t quite fit society. It has been quite a lonely existence, I haven’t found many people I can relate to, but I know I am not crazy. Sometimes I feel like I am crazy just as much as those people in the asylum and that I really belong there. Constantly people make me feel crazy. But I know I am not crazy. I am lucid, not alienated. I feel sick because the world is sick so I am sick with it. I see so many wrongs around me that I feel I am going crazy. I feel crazy because people say my ideas are stupid and don’t believe in what I believe in. I feel crazy and inadequate and as I don’t belong here.

But I am not crazy! I am slowly realizing no one is really crazy. This Manichean view of crazy=bad and normal=good says I’m crazy. Crazy means not integrated, not socially acceptable. I used to think crazy meant not ethically correct but now I see it means only not correct in a social point of view.
In this sense, I would like to preach a world with no social judgement, an inclusive way of living, where one’s way of living doesn’t overlap the others and where everyone realizes they can learn with everyone. A society in which we don’t have a dictatorial attitude and exclude everything we don’t understand or don’t agree with.

That said, I would like to set a challenge for those who are willing to take it: next time you see someone you would call “mentally ill”, go towards them, look at them kindly and ask, if he/she seems open to conversation, what he/she thinks about something. Do not diminish what they say for those words are probably the most genuine, not influenced-by-society words you’ll ever hear.

'What's wrong with you?'

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