This is a guest post by author, Rossa Forbes. Be sure to check out her website and her own blog!
My son Chris and I have tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld this week and consequently I've been giving some serious thought to the lighter side of life and what makes things funny. My first reaction many, many years ago to seeing a Seinfeld episode was, 'But this show is about nothing!' I was used to watching sitcoms and his show broke that formulaic mode. It wasn't what I was expecting. But once I got it (whatever "it" was), I loved it.
In 2009, Benedict Carey wrote an article the New York Times titled, How Nonsense Sharpens The Intellect. Carey wrote about experiences that violate all logic and expectation. Kierkegaard called it “...a sensation of the absurd.” The article goes on to say that “...at best, the feeling is disorienting. At worst, it’s creepy… Now a study suggests that, paradoxically, this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.”
According to the article, “...the brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns. When those patterns break down — as when a hiker stumbles across an easy chair sitting deep in the woods, as if dropped from the sky — the brain gropes for something, anything that makes sense.
Our minds may retreat to a familiar ritual, like checking equipment. But it may also turn its attention outward, the researchers argue, and notice, say, a pattern in animal tracks that was previously hidden. The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.”
Does that chair in the forest analogy remind you of our groping to make sense out of non-sense that happens to us when schizophrenia is dropped from the sky upon us?
I'm here to make the case that by taking more of a comedian's cynical worldview parents can make the most of the disruptive change that schizophrenia brings about. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld identify and exploit patterns in human behavior. They seize on the absurd and run with it. They make us laugh!
The best comedy is not logical but contains threads of patterns of behavior that are familiar to most of us (fear of being different or inadequate, fear of not being understood, fear of something foreign and new, etc.) You want to make the most of this journey of change? Enjoy it, mine it for the material, become as cynically aware of human nature as comedians are, because, like most of us who find ourselves in this theater of the absurd, fear is what drives us all.
Before I get to the lighter side of madness, I'd like to share a pet peeve of mine: People who put the Serious in Serious Mental Illness.
People who are so Serious about mental illness that they want everyone else to be unhappy. "My neighbor got casseroles when she was undergoing kidney dialysis. Where were my casseroles when my son was in the hospital with a Serious Mental Illness?" I want to scream "this is not about you, sweetie!" The egocentric mother wants a full freezer, obviously, but knows she isn't going to get it so she'll settle for sympathy.
Another pet peeve of mine is the anti-stigma police: people making sure that if I want to go to a Halloween party dressed in a straitjacket, I'll feel ashamed about how offensive my choice is to mental patients and settle for throwing a sheet over my head instead. (Ghosts aren't offensive, are they?)
Must all of life be a teachable moment?
About the only place where you can get away with routinely violating taboos is in motion pictures (comedies) and certain comedy shows. Speaking of straitjackets, when my son was first hospitalized my husband and I took a rather nice vacation, naively thinking Chris was being well looked after in hospital, but more to the point, we were going to a really nice destination. After our beach time was over, we got back on the plane, generously medicating ourselves at the drinks trolley, and watched a really funny French film about an garrulous simpleton (Gérard Depardieu) who acts as a foil to a convict (Jean Reno).
In one hilarious scene they escape from the prison hospital shackled to each other in straitjackets. Tears were streaming down our faces. Insanity has its light side and please don't say that by enjoying ourselves we were complicit in encouraging stigma of the mentally ill. Fear had retreated somewhere far far within me during that memorable movie. Humor helps me stay one step ahead of wallowing in those dark places.
I'll bet that these days when you go to a Florida grapefruit league baseball game as we did many years ago with our family, you will no longer hear peanut vendors moving through the stands singing out "Erotic, psychotic, or just plain nuts." Some do-gooder has probably got to the facility owners to tell them how offensive this is to porn stars, psychotics, and unsalted peanuts. To those do-gooders who want to ruin laughter, my coping mechanism, I say: How well did prohibition work out?
Okay, then, here's a personal example of how to keep enjoying the absurdities of everyday living while simultaneously dealing with problems of having a diagnosed family member.
We recently moved to Florida and after a bit of searching I got Chris an appointment with a psychiatrist who will accept our insurance. Not a big deal, you are thinking. Yes, but what if his name is Jesus? Chris will be seeing Dr. N (first name Jesus) at the end of October. Think about it. Should someone named Jesus be dealing with a person like Chris who is, well, more than a little fixated on Bible reading and who worries (too much in my opinion) about good and evil?
Just about half the male population in Florida is named Jesus, a potentially triggering situation for psychiatric patients if I ever saw one, and who's addressing it? Chris and I discussed the ubiquity of the risen Lord problem here in Florida, of course, and he can laugh openly about it because he's that well recovered.
Someone who believes in SMI might want to make a teachable moment out of this ("Many people are called Jesus, Rossa, and it is disrespectful to their cultural origins to question their ability to carry out their job in a professional, courteous manner.") Me, I'm just going to run with it.
For the material, of course.