Let me tell you about the time I was officially diagnosed as not crazy by Navy medicine.
In the Marine Corps, medical support is provided by Navy personnel. Because I was having some problems coping with life in my unit, it was recommended I make an appointment with a Navy psychiatrist. Since I wasn’t a big threat to myself or others, I had to wait about 6 weeks for the appointment.
When the time for my appointment finally arrived and I described my situation to the psychiatrist, he said, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. It sounds like you just have a toxic unit.” Which I knew already.
“I don’t suppose there’s a pill for that, is there?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not,” he replied.
All things considered, I was one of the lucky ones. Yes, the situation at my unit was toxic, but I had a support system that didn’t rely on my unit. Not everybody in my unit was so fortunate.
In the weeks after my non-diagnosis, we had a couple of psychiatric hospitalizations in our unit in a fairly short time period. I couldn’t help but think that while their reactions were obviously extreme, they were understandable reactions to the circumstances. Both of those Marines were constantly criticized to a point that I would definitely consider bullying.
Fun fact: I happened to be occupying the duty desk when one of the hospitalizations happened and got to field a panicked phone call from one of the Marine’s parents. Unfortunately, the best I could do was tell them their child was safe and being taken care of and that I could have someone more senior call them when they got in (this was first thing in the morning).
In the other case, I’m told that the command element told the Marine’s spouse that they believed the Marine in question was just doing it for attention. All I’ll say about that is the scars I saw suggest otherwise.
Insanity is the only sane reaction to an insane society. – Thomas Szasz
A mental breakdown is a completely normal reaction to persistent bullying and isolation from their support system. I wouldn’t trust a person who constantly kept a smile on their face while everything fell apart around them.
Part of this pressure comes from society. Particularly in the US, it feels like there’s pressure to at least appear happy all the time. Something that I’ve heard people from outside the US comment on is that Americans constantly ask each other how they’re doing without actually being interested in an honest answer.
Barbara Ehrenreich examines American culture’s constant emphasis on positive thinking in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Of course, some level of positive thinking is good and can improve your life. But focusing on it to the exclusion of all other possibilities can have some unintended consequences, like victim blaming and magical thinking. Just like pain receptors in our body let us know when we need to stop doing something, adverse mental or emotional reactions can also guide us out of situations that aren’t good for us. Ignore them at your peril.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were happy to realize you weren’t crazy? What was that like for you?