Beaumarchais was a manic character, of the sort who would now be diagnosed at a young age with Attention Deficit Disorder or something similar, and placed on medication designed to ensure a long life of obscure mediocrity.
So there you have it. ADD is not a disorder, but a mark of non-mediocrity. Medication prescribed to people diagnosed with ADD does not help them to manage their symptoms. In fact, it isn’t even intended to do so. Far from it: this medication is designed to take exceptional, gifted people and drag them down to the level of obscure mediocrity.
This isn’t, you understand, the result of valid research being deliberately manipulated by pharmaceutical companies who have a commercial incentive to identify all forms of childhood behaviour as a disorder that can be treated with a pill they just happen to manufacture. On the contrary, the medication has been deliberately designed to have this effect. A cabal of researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, paediatricians, teachers and parents conspire together in a system of ‘diagnosis’ and ‘treatment’ with the explicit aim of taking the happy faces of exceptional children and bludgeoning them into mediocre submission.
Never mind the rather inconvenient fact that, far from trying to suppress their kids’ abilities, most parents suffer from an unshakeable delusion that their precious little Tabithas and Timothies are geniuses of the first rank, and that every finger-painting of an unrecognisable cat is proof that they have already surpassed Michelangelo. Never mind that, in the very next sentence, Bell provides evidence that refutes his claim that Beaumarchais’ behaviour would attract a diagnosis of ADD:
When the first performance of The Barber of Seville unexpectedly bombed in 1775, he re-wrote the play in less than 48 hours and audiences hailed the second performance a triumph.
Someone who is capable of a sustained period of directed concentration like that can’t possibly have had the symptoms that these days get labelled as ADD. The clue is in the name – it’s called Attention Deficit Disorder – and, far from displaying what he hoped would be an urbane, man-of-the-world wit, Bell has demonstrated that he’s prepared to write about things he simply doesn’t understand. And anyway, just how ignorant do you have to be not to realise that ADD implies an inability to concentrate?
What has particularly annoyed me about Bell’s ‘contribution’ to the ADD debate, I think, is the air of patrician contempt it implies – that it is not necessary for David A Bell to consider that he might be wrong about something, for he is David A Bell, and thus is always right. The same attitude permeates his whole article, and while it’s irritating when he’s writing about subjects he understands, it becomes maddening when he assumes certainty on subjects that fall way beyond his expertise. Bell may provide a particularly egregious example of the phenomenon, but the truth is that this kind of misplaced certainty is everywhere, especially when it comes to talking about mental illness, and you know what? I’ve had enough of it.
I’ve had enough of people blandly asserting that, because some normal-but-naughty or normal-but-excitable children get wrongly diagnosed with ADD, that means all diagnoses are equally false. I’ve had enough of people on BBC comment-boards who refer to Prozac as Soma, and assume that the reference makes them sound witty and well-read, and not like people who don’t understand the first thing about antidepressants. (Hint: if you’re not depressed and you take antidepressants you don’t end up extra-cheerful; ADs are not ‘happy pills.’) I’ve had enough of anonymous web commenters who say that all mentally ill people need is a little bit of love in their lives, and maybe the occasional hug. I’ve had enough of people who have no experience of mental illness, who haven’t read anything about it, who often haven’t even thought about it, deciding that they understand all about it, and that it doesn’t really exist.
I’ve had enough of people who once had some bad experiences in their life and felt sad for a while, and think that this means that anyone who has been diagnosed with depression is experiencing the exact same thing. I’ve had enough of people who can’t recognise that feeling bad when bad things happen is a sign that your emotions are functioning as they should, and that depression is feeling bad when there is no cause, and is a sign that your emotions are malfunctioning. I’ve had enough of people who can’t understand that there is a difference between clinical and sub-clinical symptoms. I’ve had enough of people who sometimes feel a bit down telling me that they ‘know what I’m going through’, and that their experience proves that all I need to do is give up wheat and dairy/ take more exercise/ become a flower-arranger/ accept their preferred flavour of inane supernatural bullshit and I’ll be magically all better.
I’ve had enough, because I know they’re talking bullshit. I’m not a child, I’m 36 years old, and I’ve had some experience of negative life events. I’ve watched as dementia took my father away a piece at a time, and seen him cremated when the end finally came. I’ve watched my mother slowly disintegrate from the effects of a progressive physical illness; I’ve seen her – the strongest person I have ever known – lie down on the floor and weep because she was so scared of the place where her illness would take her, then been forced to stand passively by while she went there, and watched her buried when the end finally came. I’ve endured the break up of relationships, including one that had lasted for getting on for a decade. I’ve been fired from my job, and seen my flat repossessed because I couldn’t pay the mortgage.
I’m not trying to pull some miserabler-than-thou stunt – I’ve never buried a child; I’ve never buried a partner; I’ve never fought in a war; etc, etc – all I’m trying to do is make the point that I’ve experienced some negative life events, and I have some idea of the feelings and emotions they conjure up. But as well as the misery that follows these kinds of events, I’ve also experienced the kind of misery that strikes out of a clear blue sky, and – you know what? – they’re not the same, not remotely. Not a-bit-similar-but-worse: they’re utterly different.
Ordinary sadness is an active feeling, you feel it intensely, desperately, overwhelmingly, even. Depression isn’t like that, it’s an utterly passive feeling, a total hopelessness, a depth of despair and stillness and silence it is beyond my ability to articulate. Just because everyone has experienced an ordinary low mood once-in-a-way, they think they know what depression is, but the truth is they don’t.
I’ve had enough of the kind of people who, because they’ve experienced the slightest whisper of mental distress, think that they understand exactly what’s going on in the mind of someone who’s mentally ill. I’ve had enough of these people telling me that I’m not really ill, just suffering in the way that we all do. I’ve had enough of witless commentators who say that antidepressants are ‘the latest remedy for that incurable condition called life’. I’ve had enough of the people who – commenting on Incapacity Benefit – will say that depression is nothing but a made-up condition to let the work-shy con money out of taxpayers. I’ve had enough of the self-same people who – when they find out that Gordon Brown might be taking an AD – will say that depression makes him incapable of doing his job.
Wittgenstein put it more elegantly – whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent – but I’m going to be more blunt because, like I say, I’ve had enough:
- If you think you know what mental illness is, even though you’ve never suffered from it, or talked to anyone who has, or even read a book written by someone who has – then STFU;
- If you think mental illness is just another name for normal experience – then STFU;
- If you think you’ve suffered from mental illness, even though you were able to carry on with your life in the ordinary way – then STFU;
- If you think you know how to cure mental illness, even though you’ve never actually suffered from it, or been involved in treating people who have – then STFU.
Remember: everyone may be entitled to an opinion, but opinions formed in the absence of knowledge aren’t worth jack-shit.