Every now and then somebody trots out a phrase like, “It’s a fine line between madness and sanity” (or words to that effect). It makes me cringe a little every time I hear it.
This version of “It’s a Fine Line” paints an unrealistic and unkind picture. It creates an impression that anyone who is “sane” (whatever that is) could, in a random moment, cross a line and become “insane” (whatever that is). It also creates an impression that jumping back across the line should be just as quick, just as fateful. This version of “It’s a Fine Line” is a dopey dichotomy – it divides humans into two tribes. It creates an illusion that you can only be one thing or the other, but could not be a bit of both or somewhere in-between.
Rubbish. It’s a passé cliché. It’s a myth.
There is not a fine line to cross. There is a fine line that we all slide along – first one way, then the other.
When it comes to mental health all of us travel somewhere along a fine line that connects the extremities of “very well” to “very unwell”. We all are on the same line; we are not all on the same section of the line at the same time.
If we are lucky we will spend most of the time somewhere along the continuum between the middle and the “very well (thanks)” point at the end. 100% “sane” (whatever that is) is not achievable. If it is achievable, it’s not achievable 100% of the time. Even the Dalai Lama would have bad days.
Nelson Mendela seemed better put together than most of us (in a healthy-mind-kind-of-way, that is). Was Nelson Mandela 100% sane 100% of the time? Nope. None of the heroes of humanity and none of us ordinary peeps are 100% sane 100% of the time. We are not statues on Easter Island. We are human. We all change. We are all affected by what we experience. We all have good days and bad days.
I have worked with people who have been really unwell psychiatrically. People who have experienced “3D” in a not-so-good way. That is, these 3 Ds:
1. Dysregulated emotions
2. Disordered thoughts
3. Disturbed perception
When this combination happens people are prone to experiencing psychosis (ie: loss of contact with reality). I have not kept count of the people I’ve worked with who have experienced psychosis – certainly hundreds, probably thousands. However, I’ve never met someone who is 100% “insane” (whatever that is) 100% of the time.
People who experience mental illness are on the same line as everyone else. On occasions they spend some time closer to the difficult “very unwell at the moment” end of the mental health continuum than they would like. They are not statues on Easter Island. They are human. They all change. They are all affected by what they experience. They all have good days and bad days.
Of course, these things are true of us all. Don’t believe me? Try substituting “they” with “we” in the paragraph above.
The “It’s a Fine Line” Myth divides us. The “It’s a Fine Line” Reality is much different, much better.
There is a fine line. It does not separate us, it connects us.
We are all sliding along the same fine line.
Thanks for reading this far. As always, your comments are welcome below.
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Paul McNamara, 1st October 2014