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Self-Knowledge • Fear & Insecurity

You Might Be Mad

It’s a long and arduous game we play with others, pretending not to be mad. We summarise our weekends in bland and general terms, we edit out the crises, we say nothing about the sobbing, we forget the breakdowns, we disguise the things we’ve done alone in the bathroom late in the night, the combination of things we’ve wolfed down in the kitchen and the habits we have at our desk when no one is looking. We gloss over the strangeness and the folly, the extremity and the agony, in order to don the mantle of that most respectable, estimable and in reality wholly unknown species of human being: the normal person.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, illustration by John Tenniel from Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland.
John Tenniel, Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

Of course, we would be so much wiser to give up the act and square up to the truth with as much grace and good humour and as little shame and self-laceration as we can manage. Of course, we’re going out of our minds: with sorrow, wickedness, confusion and pain. Of course, we’re barely grown up most of the time. Of course, we can’t stop thinking of certain sick and sad things, of course we have compulsions (to stick something in our eye or run under train), of course if a transcript of our thoughts were published on the internet, we’d need to end matters fast. 

It would be impossible to remain solemn-faced if we really focused in on the number of absurd ideas we’ve proposed and believed in before realising – normally very quietly – how deeply and shamefully wrong we were. Were a documentary team to keep a close eye on us and edit the footage with even a measure of realism, life would look very different. The only people who can continue to think of themselves as normal are those who insist on not getting to know themselves very well. We should recognise how comedic we sound whenever we attempt to be authoritative – as if we knew even a modicum of what was going on. We should humbly remember the distortions we picked up from our equally benighted and unstable parents – and how many quirks we retain, despite all the therapists we have dutifully visited (and still should). How quickly we would need to put up our hands if anyone were to ask: ‘Who here is not quite all there?’

The mark of a good person – given all this – is someone who without a moment of hesitation could bravely and good-naturedly confess: Naturally, I may be mad, naturally I might have got this wrong, by definition, I’m a fool and by necessity, I am worthy of laughter; a person who knows full well that they are extremely difficult to live around, that their childhood has left them deformed, that they’re far angrier than they should be, that they keep making accusations in the wrong direction, that they’re paranoid and cowardly, craven and corrupt, over-excited and wayward. 

John Tenniel, Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

The mark of a good person isn’t not to be mad, it’s to know as far as possible how and why one is so – and to be entirely open in letting a select few in on the secrets before one has done too much damage.

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