Just a style or Mentally ill:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

After years of having severe problems coping with physical and emotional agitation, along with an inability to focus, I have been told I have ADHD -attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although I have to admit I feel a lot more functional since I started taking the medication my doctor prescribed, there is something about all this that is disturbing. I have been diagnosed as having a mental disorder and given drugs for my condition; this has a certain stigma to this for me. Yet my cousin Rob who is a flamboyant embarrassment to the whole family, is benignly called “gay” and no one ever suggests that he be medicated. It doesn’t seem fair to me.

Unfair Fred

Dear Fred,

Your confusion comes from a lack of understanding; what exactly is a mental disorder? Today we talk of chemicals and genetics which is the, “you’re broken and we can fix you” model. However, I believe this philosophy ultimately will not be effective. There are nearly seven billion humans, all of who’s brains are formatted a little bit differently. This creates nearly seven billion different realities that constantly intersect and interact.

The culture we live in generally dictates what is the norm and most people can adjust themselves to fit in and go with the flow. But the more you move away from the standard, the less of a fit you get. At extremes ends of the spectrum it becomes impossible for certain personalities to fit in. To make things even more complicated, standards can change within cultural beliefs in any given time.

A person who is today diagnosed as a schizophrenic could have been yesterday’s shaman. There are many serious mental disorders today that served cultural needs in another time and place. The purpose of extreme personalities is to bring change to the standard and also to allow for adaption to extreme environmental variance. The genes that make it impossible for a person to sit through an eight hour school or work day are the same genes that may allow for survival in times of war.

It is a mistake in any population to try to eliminate extreme personalities or homogenize the gene pool. This lessens the ability of the population to adapt as a whole, and shortens life expectancy.

Most innovative and out of the box solutions come from people who can’t fit in the box to begin with.

In my opinion mental illness can be defined as: any characteristic of the personality that impairs functioning, is distressing to the individual, and that has a reasonable means of treatment.

You qualify for this definition. Your cousin, if he is happy with himself does not. What you perceive as annoying flamboyance is really just a style.

There are a lot of politics currently involved in diagnosing mental illness. The book of diagnosis which psychiatrists use, the DSM5, is wrought with political correctness. The diagnoses it encapsulates are not true entities but rather a series of collections of symptoms. They are constructed primarily for the purpose of research and insurance billing. The criteria for specific conditions change over time and are often so broad they are not very useful. It’s like saying that a bicycle and a train are both transportation and trying to generate a one size-fits-all treatment from there. This is why the media sometimes suggests that psychiatric medications are no better than placebo. This is not true but the studies they are basing these conclusions on are asking the wrong questions.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I find it interesting that Fred’s entire family finds flamboyant, gay Rob an embarrassment. Many of my friends are gay and the idea that this should be considered a mental illness or an embarrassment by anyone in this day and age seems archaic to me. But then, I’m an artist, and we have always lived at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

These days, it is big business to diagnose and treat mental illness. As a result, the population at large is fed messages that nearly every uncomfortable emotional state is a disorder of some sort. To me, this is a sign of insanity itself on the part of the medical groups, manufacturers and sheep-like patients.

I just returned from Taiwan, and the concept of mental illness doesn’t seem to exist over there. If you get stressed, you go get a massage. There are establishments open around the clock. If you feel out of whack, you go to the acupuncture clinic or spend a day at the water spa. You do your work, you take care of your home and family, you enjoy yourself when you have time. Life is simple. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mental illness is not viewed as separate from physical illness and is treated in the same manner- return the body to balance.

Fred, I am happy that you can achieve better living through chemicals. Your flamboyant cousin Rob will probably not need medication unless he is so unfortunate as to come to the next family reunion.


About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at dr.brilliantcliche@yahoo.com and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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One Response to Just a style or Mentally ill:

  1. Ken Bryant says:

    Hi Fred,
    the Doc is right about the DSM versions and Granny is right about artists having more leeway with freedom of speech than other professionals. You say that since you started taking medication, you feel more functional. I invite you to reconsider your definition of functionality. Although you may have some improved attention skills, you seem to have some anxiety over stigma. Did you feel a different kind of stigma due to attention problems before you started the meds or is this something new? Also, you seem to have some jealousy over the attention your cousin is getting. Is his behavior causing you some anxiety or agitation. Are you projecting something you are denying about yourself? This is my spin on causality. Its no more realistic than anyone else’s. I recommend reading “The Drunkard’s Walk, How Randomness Rules our Lives” by Leonard Mlodinow.

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