Are you mentally ill? I see a lot of heads shaking.
How about members of your family? Hmm, not quite so many heads shaking but still a big majority.
Your friends? A bit more uncertainty here but people are saying “A tad eccentric maybe but not completely bonkers.”
The fact is though you may not be aware of it yet, you and everybody you know, is probably suffering from some kind of mental illness.
For years now the criteria defining mental illness have been steadily expanding. This has resulted in more and more people who were previously considered to be sane are now capable of being diagnosed as mad. Not so long ago it was necessary to be a danger to yourself and others (but mainly others) before you’d get help. And the help was often of a dubious quality, being delivered by large, muscular men with shaved heads and tattoos on their scalp. Now every minor foible has a mental heath condition attached.
One of the strangest of these new mental illnesses is orthorexia. After bombarding the public for years with propaganda that tries to bully us into changing our unhealthy eating habits, we are suddenly being told healthy eating is a metal illness.
Yep that’s right, if you take care to stay on a healthy diet you are insane, suffering from orthorexia nervosa.
“OK, extremes are bad,” you might think, “vegans are a bit crazy — that’s why so many of them are in California — but surely having a bowl of oatmeal porridge for breakfast instead of waffles and syrup, or a salad sandwich instead of a buger at lunchtime is a wise and healthy move?”
No, apparently it’s a sign you have an unhealthy obsession with your health.
And of course if you are the kind of organized person who stores your CDs in Alphabetical Order you are afflicted with OCD. On the other hand if you don’t store your CDs in Alphabetical order you have issues with authority and need cognitive behvioural therapy. Do you see what is emerging?
Everything you do is a sign of some mental health disorder.
“But that’s ridiculous, how can it possibly be so?” you might well ask, telling yourself this news cannot be true..
According to the list of newly discovered mental health problems in the latest edition of the shrinks and trick cyclists bible, the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it certainly is. The manual identifies a new mental illness called “oppositional defiant disorder” or ODD. Defined as an “ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior,” symptoms include questioning authority, negativity, defiance, argumentativeness, and general unwillingness to conform.
I have to admit this is the one that fits me, but I’ve known I was odd since I was about twelve. It wasn’t that I felt like an outsider or a misfit, and it certainly didn’t cause me any anxiety, I just went my own way in life (and did very nicely for myself thank you.) The only thing I’d disagree with in that list is negativity. A negative response can sometimes be a very positive thing. You know your own mind, you do not follow the herd simply through fear of standing out.
I remember and incident years ago, while working as an external IT consultant for an American company that had a very strong corporate culture which led professional staff, male and female, adopting an unofficial uniform, navy or charcoal suit, white or pale blue shirt and a self coloured dark tie, I was the one in a plum, teal or bronze suit (I had a navy one as well, but you can do wonders with a navy suit and a bright red or bright yellow shirt, and a psychedelic tie.) At one point the management introduced some new system which meant we would spend as much time managing our time management diaries as we did getting stuff done.
When asked to comment I said, “It’s crap.”
Can’t you find anything positive to say, I was asked.
I said, “OK, I’m positive it’s crap.”
My family are the same. Dad was never an SSC (Suburban Slave Class — there’s another definition but Medium is a bit too prim for it.) He was a newspaper reporter, always a somewhat disreputable profession. Grandad Thorpe was an engineer, respectable enough, but her redeemed himself by marrying an Indian woman, (we don’t know if she was Hindu or Zoroastrian, I suspect the latter,) and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his heresy. I’m rather proud of that.
Grandad Redfern was a bookie. Now that’s a totally disreputable trade to be in, right up there alongside pimp, slave trader and politician.
All this adds up to make me an ODD case. However I will not be seeking ‘professional help’ any time soon, I am not a conformist, never have been, I don’t have to think what everyone else thinks. When Brian, the title character in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian addressed the multitude and told them not to let priests or Kings or Roman prefects tell them what to think, but instead think it through for themselves he might have been reciting my philosophy.
We are all individuals, we don’t have to do what self styled authority figures tell us. If we are ODD that’s fine, someone has to challenge authority and ask difficult questions. If you like your CDs arranged alphabetically that’s very sensible, so long as you don’t go crazy with a chainsaw because some hapless house guest has put REM between Beatles and Black Sabbath. Have a burger and a couple of beers, enjoy life.
Be happy being who you are. And if you are not happy, find out what needs changing and change it.