Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Everday Insanity

A story is told about a small village where the sap of an exotic tree fell into the water supply. It soon became clear that anyone who drank from the water lost their sanity. The villagers tried filtering the water, cooking it out, and diluting it, to no avail. Anyone who drank the water became crazy. Having no choice, the villagers stayed away from the water. For a day or two, all was fine. Everyone remained normal.

Water, though, is a necessity. People must drink. We need water to live, and our bodies give us this message through feelings of acute thirst.


Parched for some water, some of the weaker villagers succumbed and took a drink. They drank only a tiny drop, hoping that the small amount would prevent any adverse effects. By the next morning, though, they were all certifiably meshugah.


The rest of the villagers redoubled their efforts to stay away from the water supply, but humans must be hydrated to remain alive. Once again, some villagers succumbed and they, too, lost their sanity. Before long, the entire village was inhabited by crazies. Only the governor and his closest advisor were still normal. They had availed themselves of the village emergency water reserves and thus managed to keep their sanity.


After a few short days, though, the two saw that their sanity no longer mattered. At least not in this village! In fact, the villagers, being all completely insane by now, looked at the normal governor and his adviser as if they were loonies. Neither the governor nor his advisor was willing to go along with any of their crazy shtick. Before long, an uprising seemed to be in the works. “The crazy governor and his advisor must go,” proclaimed the villagers.


Sad and defeated, the governor and advisor met. “Apparently, we have no choice and we must drink from the village water supply as well,” the governor said. “If we don’t, we’ll both be killed in a coup.”


The advisor agreed. It was insane, but there was no choice.


“Just one thing,” the advisor begged, trembling at the thought of losing his sanity. “It’s one thing to lose one’s mind. It’s another thing to not even be aware that one has lost his mind. Let’s make a pact. We’ll drink the water and then place a mark on our foreheads. The mark indicates that we’re batty. We’ll look at each other and we’ll see the mark on each other’s forehead and we’ll remind each other that we are, in fact, insane. In this way, although we won’t be normal, at least we’ll know that we’re not normal.”


– – – – –


In the past, we’ve covered the way our society increasingly labels any and every shortcoming, failure, difficulty or bad day as being associated with some sort of mental illness, disease or syndrome. The world, of course, keeps going down that path, society with it, and we, in the enamored frum community, seemingly join along for the ride. Our children have gone from “being chutzpahdik” to “experiencing behavioral issues” to “suffering from Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder.” (No, we did not make that up.)


 By now, there is basically no such thing as someone being normal but simply going through a difficult time. Any difficultly or challenge that we face – whether from within or without – is simply an illness or disease that has “struck” us. We are victims of fate rather than normal humans faced with challenges and opportunities for growth. Even the very community of mental health specialists and liberal university professors who dragged us down this path all these years now admits that they’ve created an illogical monster of ludicrous proportions.


In the words of the chairperson of the task force which wrote the previous book on mental health illnesses, what we’ve done now is “medicalize every aspect of life and turn everyone into a patient.”


Last month saw the release of the long-awaited DSM-5, The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-5 replaces the DSM-IV, which had been used until now. DSM-IV was ridiculous enough in the way it turned every rebellious teenager, restless child or distracted student into a “mental health sufferer.” What the DSM-5 has done is take the insanity not only to the cliff, but over it. In the words of Ryan Ross, writing for The Guardian on June 1, you are “inducing yourself with a mental disorder by simply following your daily routine.”


Felt a need for a coffee this morning to help you function optimally? According to the DSM-5, you may hereby suffer from Caffeine Use Disorder or from Caffeine Intoxication. These are mental disorders. We kid you not.


Trying to quit drinking coffee but find it difficult? Another sure sign of mental illness: Caffeine Withdrawal is right there in the authoritative American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders.


The joke, of course, is on us, because we are the ones running to the parenting and behavioral courses and specialists who spout all this lunacy. We are the ones who insist that our rabbeim and teacherstrain not only from experienced and esteemed menahelim and mechanchim/os, but from those who parrot the mental health madness of the day as well. We tell ourselves that, of course, we don’t take the crazier aspects of all this psychobabble seriously. Still, we’re convinced that the majority of today’s methodologies and ideas are surely important, if not indispensable, for one who wants to be a responsible parent or educator in today’s day and age. After all, they are backed by studies, and chochmah bagoyim ta’amin, isn’t that so?


Well, let’s see about those “studies” and that “chochmah.”


Though many new, heretofore unheard of syndromes and maladies have been added to DSM-5, one syndrome that had become part of our cognizance of mental suffering has been removed. Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer a recognized syndrome. Officially, Asperger’s had been part of the “autistic spectrum,” typically applied to those with no intellectual disability or language deficit. However, as articulated in a 2012 New York Magazine feature, Asperger’s (like so many of today’s “syndromes” and “disorders”) “has evolved into a cultural shorthand for eccentricity and social awkwardness.”


Why was Asperger’s completely removed from the list of recognized mental disorders, though?


“There wasn’t any evidence after 17 years that [the DSM-IV diagnoses] reflected reality,” says Bryan King, director of Seattle Children’s Autism Center, who served on the APA task force charged with revamping the diagnosis.


So, after seventeen years of being told that any enlightened and well-educated person understands that Asperger’s is a real disorder, we are told that there is in fact not even a shred of evidence that such a disease exists or ever existed. From here onwards, either someone is on the “autism spectrum” or not, but there is no specific disorder diagnosable as Asperger’s.


Even so, we seem incapable of recognizing the mental health kookiness for what it is. We convince ourselves that most of these studies must reflect some kind of reality. It can’t all be baloney, can it? Besides, we’ll look backwards and outdated if we aren’t “current” on all these new methodologies and notions.


So we read articles and attend classes where “professionals” teach us about Parental Alienation Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and Mild Neurocognitive Disorder, and we seek counseling and therapy for what was, until now, the simple challenges of life as we grow, mature, and strive to be better people. No longer are any of us simply faced with challenges. Nowadays, we’re all mental health sufferers, struck down by one mental disorder or another.


It’s gone so far, though, that many in the secular world are finally gathering the courage to wonder aloud if this isn’t all a bunch of hooey. As we’ve noted, the chairperson of the task force that wrote the impossibly ludicrous DSM-IV had to acknowledge that DSM-5 is surely beyond the pale! Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, writing for the Huffington Post, notes that “the wording of Mild Neurocognitive Disorder is so impossibly vague that it includes me, my wife, and most of our friends. It will cause unnecessary worry and a rush to useless and expensive testing.”


He writes, as well, that “DSM-5 dramatically loosens the definition of ADHD by requiring only the presence of ‘several symptoms before age 12’… Because so many children show impulsivity, inattention, or hyperactivity as an expectable part of growing up, DSM-5 will increase what is already an excessive and careless diagnosis of ADHD.”


He notes, as well, that “Intermittent explosive disorder lacks needed exclusions to rule out the many other much more common causes of violent behavior,” and that “the wording of the criteria set for Autistic Spectrum Disorder is impossibly muddled, allowing for multiple interpretations that will lead to inherently inaccurate diagnosis.”


This from the person who presided over the last major revision of the DSM! It seems that even he thought that while it was fun labeling certain everyday challenges as mental health disorders, he never meant to imply that we’re all mentally ill. After all, isn’t anyone normal anymore?


Guess not.


Take bereavement and grieving. Is there any person who would not experience intense grief following the loss of a loved one? We’d think that a person not grieving would be suffering some sort of mental block or disorder. Indeed, even the DSM-IV included a “bereavement exclusion” clause, which recommended against diagnosing major depressive disorder in mourners for eight weeks following a death.


This should be common sense.


DSM-5, though, removes the exclusion. In other words, after losing a loved one, one who is grieving is codified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders as suffering from a mental disorder, while one who does not grieve would be considered normal.


What will happen, says Lisa Cosgrove, a psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, “is that, after two weeks, people going through the normal grieving process would then be prescribed an antidepressant” (The Wall Street Journal, June 5).


The world turned on its head, and we are the ones helplessly enamored of all these new behavioral methodologies and ideas. Open any frum publication and read the endless ads detailing who we are running to for our behavioral, social, parenting and educational advice. Are we normal?! Do we want people educated in all this buffoonery telling ushow to bring up kids and deal with life’s normal challenges?


It seems, as certified by the DSM-5, that nobody is normal any longer, so we might as well drink from the village water supply and join the rest of ‘em.


It doesn’t seem as if we have much of a choice nowadays. The younger generation – parents, teachers, teens – speak a whole new language and their worldview is through the prism of that language, a prism of circus mirrors. We know it’s ridiculous, they know it’s ridiculous, but no one seems capable of stopping the train and getting off. Like the governor and his advisor, we’re afraid to remain normal and come across asignoramuses in our village where everyone else has imbibed from the psychotropic cool-aid. It doesn’t pay to preach normalcy anymore. Normal? I mean, are you crazy?


What we think prudent, though, is that, in the way the governor and his advisor did, we should make some sort of mark or sign. If we must remain current and up-to-date; if we must begin recognizing our daily struggles and challenges for the mental health disorders we are told they are; if we must join the insanity of labeling everybody as insane simply because they sometimes gets sad, mad or act bad, at least let us know that we’ve given up our hold on our minds and on our common sense.


There’s no fighting it. It’s in the books and it’s only going to get worse. Gevalt, we’re all meshugoyim. Let’s at least remember that we’re crazy.




(Note: As noted in earlier columns, we are, of course, addressing the notion that everyday challenges and struggles, that a hard day, a difficult middah, that normative childrearing and social challenges are signs of mental health imbalances, syndromes or disorders. Of course, just as people do get struck with physical illness,r”l, many do suffer from serious mental health challenges as well. Such challenges, when they are not part of the normal struggles of man, must be addressed by qualified individuals. Failure to address realissues is wrong and misguided and is not the discussion of this column.)



My Take on the News

  Hostility in the Court This week’s top story, without a doubt, was the Supreme Court hearing this Sunday that dealt with the draft of

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated