The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification and diagnostic tool. In the United States the DSM serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis.
A friend of mine sent me a public tweet listing the DSM 5 criteria for one of the borderline personality disorders, with the wry observation that Tony Abbott’s public behaviours seemed to fulfil them all.
I thought this was pretty good on several levels, the most imaginative being that I know both my friend and I regard the DSM 5 as a frightful load of bollocks, and using its criteria to categorize Abbott, whom we also think of as a frightful load of bollocks, made a satisfying little irony.
However. Within hours we were set upon by two blokes who stridently accused us of using mental illness as a political tool against an opponent, and in so doing, being unbelievably disregarding of other people’s pain. One of them was a psych student. The other said we had no right diagnosing Abbott when we hadn’t ever treated him. Which is true, of course, except that my friend wasn’t diagnosing Abbott, she was pointing out the self-evident truth that the DSM 5 criteria bore a striking resemblance to Abbott’s way of being in the world, a way of being we can all daily, even sadly hourly, observe.
I am very sorry that I have never treated Abbott. I would give my right arm to treat Abbott, and to what, I will not, at this point, say.
I should say here that both my friend and I have our battles with mental ill-health, and we both feel comfortable with finding certain characteristics in the DSM 5 that seem to scream at us: Abbott. I do not feel using such criteria to describe Abbott is a personal insult to my mental health or lack thereof. That everyone will not share my view is inevitable, as I pointed out to the angry blokes, and I see no reason why they should. However, I insisted, I do have the right to express a differing opinion without incurring abuse, as do they.
What I understood afresh after the increasingly abusive exchanges we were treated to on Twitter, is that there is apparently an expectation that everyone with, say, a mental illness, will feel the same as everyone else with a mental illness, react to stimuli in the same manner, be offended by the same things, and that if you don’t you either aren’t really suffering mental illness, or you are a traitor who cares nothing for the suffering of others. In this mindset, there appears to be little distinction between mental illnesses: they’re all the same, apparently.
This, to my mind, is offensive. The assumption that there is a stereotypical mentally ill person offends me profoundly.
It doesn’t matter to which situation this totalitarian perspective is applied. I’ve heard it used about survivors of child sexual abuse, and survivors of all kinds of trauma. If this has happened to you, you will think, feel, and behave in these ways. At its source, it is a typical right-wing nut job argument, and Tony Abbott employs it better than anyone: if you don’t think like we do you aren’t one of us, ergo you are bad because we are good.
The totalitarian mind cannot bear variation: what offends it must offend everyone.
Defending against the mindless stupidity of this argument is what got me embroiled in the Twitter fight in the first place: one cannot, in this zeitgeist, pass up any opportunity to take on these hive minds who believe that if you do not think as they do, you are a very bad person in urgent need of re-education. These minds turn up in the most unexpected of places: they are as common amongst the so-called Left as they are amongst the Right. They are why the victorious revolutionaries always become the bourgeoisie.
While there are definitely characteristics common to certain human experiences, reactions to those experiences are as individual as the human beings involved in them. Even within the individual reactions to trauma will change over time, and what brings us to our knees initially will, hopefully, lose much of its force and its ability to hurt.
Everyone has, to my mind, the inviolable right to deal with their mental illness, or trauma, or physical illness in ways that best suit them, within the parameters of everyone’s safety. So I sat in a cafe with my friend who’d just lost a testicle to cancer and we told one another cancer jokes someone else might very well find extremely offensive: does this mean we can’t tell them, even though for us, black humour is a central part of how we cope with our circumstances?
I understand you are offended by my friend’s tweet, I told one of the angry blokes. I am not offended. I do not have to be offended to please you. Are you intending to attempt to bully me into pretending offence, because I will not do that. I have the right to not feel offended. I have the right to be true to what I feel, and I do not feel offence. Would you like to shoot me, because this is where the continuum you are on eventually leads.
We have a terrifyingly secretive government, and a useless opposition. We are, as citizens, being controlled and silenced to a degree many of us have never before experienced. Our freedoms are being eroded, bit by little bit. There is no freedom without the freedom to offend. There is no freedom without the freedom to decide what is offensive to you, and what is not. I can imagine a future in which if we are not overtly expressing offence at circumstances the government decrees we must find offensive, we could well find ourselves in all kinds of trouble.
There is no I in team, yet without I, the team is nothing more than a herd.