No, I'm not scared of my dog, or the moon... I'm annoyed at United Blood Services.
Like many people, I've been wondering since Katrina how I can help in my small way. I decided to give blood. Yes, I'm in New Mexico, but if our region's supply is maintained, then blood from here can be sent there without putting our own people's lives in danger (in conceptual contrast to, say, being unable to control domestic forest fires because too much of the National Guard is in Iraq...).
This afternoon I changed my mind. Someone extremely dear to me was not allowed to donate due to having previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a much maligned and misunderstood condition. The reason UBS will not allow schizophrenics to donate, I learned, is not because they mistakenly believe that the condition can be transmitted intravenously, but simply because individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are viewed as a "liability". In other words, "people are dying, and you want to help, but you can't donate because you might suddenly snap and kill us all." When I found out about their policy, I walked out the door. An agency that ignorant and paranoid isn't getting my blood.
By the time I'd learned of their prejudice (which, in their defense, doesn't make them any more ignorant in this matter than the majority of our nation's citizens), I had already sat through a pre-donation interview to determine my own eligibility to donate. The interviewer began our conversation by bitching about how busy she was, which just seemed so jarring coming from a representative of an organization that constantly begs the public to donate, even when there hasn't recently been a horrific natural disaster. And here we are responding to that call when - I'm assuming - they need it the most, only to be met by someone who'd rather we just left her alone. Having vented, she proceeded to careen through a series of questions, hitting "N" on her keyboard after each without waiting for me to answer. If I'd said yes when asked if I'd ever accepted money or drugs in return for sex, I couldn't help wondering, would she have even noticed? Apparently crack whores really aren't the demons they've been made out to be, and it's the schizophrenics among us that we really should be watching out for.
It must be frightening to be "mentally ill" in this town right now... two weeks ago a schizophrenic was accused of murder. Well, I hate to downplay this, but people get murdered all the time in this town, and it just gets tuned out. But somehow it gets noticed when:
- Five people are killed the same day, allegedly by the same person
- Two of them were cops
- The suspect's last name just happens to be Hyde, which gives anchors the only excuse they need to crack "Jekyll & Hyde" jokes on the evening news in reference to the change in schizophrenics' mental state and behavior when they go off their meds... you think I'm kidding? This actually happened. Thanks, KOB.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting a boycott of United Blood Services, and I'm not denying that the murder of five people is a grievous offense. I'm simply making an observation: our society has severe lunaphobia. The Indexed Phobia List actually includes three terms for fear of insanity, or of dealing with insanity: dementophobia, lyssaphobia, and maniaphobia. But none of these are in the dictionary, so I was hoping to champion lunaphobia as the first term for fear of insanity to make it into the hallowed pages of Merriam-Webster. Alas, a quick search showed that lunaphobia is already being used to describe fear of the moon, although none of the listings I found seemed complete; each had a few that no other list did, and was missing a few that others had. So there's still hope that eventually lunaphobia will be the official term.
There's a reason why that would please me.
Merriam-Webster presently defines the word phobia as "an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation". Ergo, if someone is afraid of the moon, but only if that fear is exaggerated - especially if it is also inexplicable and illogical - then they have lunaphobia.
But the moon - "Luna", originally in Latin, and now in Spanish - has long been associated with insanity, hence our word "lunatic". All superstitions originate from some observation, and in some cases not without merit. The cycle of the moon has been proven to affect tides, but also appears to have some impact on our bodies (i.e. menstrual cycle) and perhaps even our moods. So it's not surprising that the ancients believed mental illness to be connected in some way to the moon. But modern medicine would seem to have dispelled that myth by offering alternate hypotheses that are more agreeable to our so-called sensibilities. As a result, anyone who still believes lunacy to be directly caused by the moon would be considered a lunatic. So would anyone still convinced that the earth is flat or the center of the universe.
Delusion itself is fascinating, when you consider that the key element of its definition is not simply that the idea held by the deluded is incorrect, but that the incorrect belief is specific to him who holds it. If enough people share a belief, it is called religion. The fact that each religion holds beliefs that contradict those of other religions implies that, on each conflicting point, one of them must be "wrong". And although the possibility exists that none of them is "right", the belief is classified as religious and not delusional, because the belief is shared by many. Therefore, a delusion cannot stay a delusion forever, because eventually one of the following will occur:
- The individual who maintains the belief dies, and, being the sole champion of that belief, the belief dies with him.
- The individual convinces others of his belief, at which point it becomes a doctrine, either of an existing religion, or the basis for a new one.
- Information becomes available that proves him to have been right all along, at which point the delusion becomes fact. At least, until additional discoveries demonstrate that the assumptions upon which its newfound factuality is dependent have themselves become outdated.
Humans are not only social by nature (admittedly, some to a lesser extent than others), but also persistent in their search for meaning. The combination, in my opinion, is the cause of our fear of insanity. To be deluded means, quite simply, to be completely alone in one's misconception of meaning. We perceive a need to feel certain of how right we are, and have that feeling validated by others; the sight of delusion in others presents the terrifying possibility that everything we believe to be true could be nothing more than our own delusions, and - even more terrifying for many of us - that our religious beliefs are validated because they are shared by others, but are ultimately untrue.
So I suspect that the need many people have to demonize the mentally ill is the same as any other prejudice: the chauvinist or homophobe's need to reassure himself of his own manliness, the racist's need to feel genetically superior. Once we admit that those we look down on aren't quite as different from us as we'd prefer to believe, we have to confront within ourselves the very weaknesses that we had hoped to draw attention away from by pointing out what we feel are weaknesses in others.
I would submit that the only way to true growth, integrity, and happiness is to embrace the possibility that we can be wrong. I'm not suggesting that we abandon all trust in our own instincts, skills, or beliefs, merely that we remain open to finding new and clearer ways of viewing our world. According to Albert Einstein, "reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."