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The Pretty Little Pill
Black hair dye, Chuck Taylors, grey eyes, crooked teeth, and a cigarette tucked behind his ear—I’m not totally sure whether or not ‘the Jordan Catalano’ comes naturally to every boy who contemplates the meaning of life under the bleachers. You know, daddy issues, crusty razor blades, soda in glass bottles, Ritalin.
The special edition Lisa Frank clock radio (yay for the Salvation Army) reads 3:17 AM. Long, skinny fingers painted mint green grasp a round mug. Black tea with vanilla and cinnamon, plus one packet of stevia and some almond milk fill the aquamarine colored glass. iPhoto selfies—new LimeCrime lipstick (this real pale shade of lavender) and bejeweled cat-eye glasses and scrolling through Tumblr looking for this one GIF of Courtney Love spitting on a Pearl Jam fan. Reblogging an Instagram Polaroid of someone’s orange Ambien prescription bottle filled with snowy glitter and plastic diamonds. Something to talk about with her therapist—it’s cool—she has nice eyeliner and quotes Heathers a lot.
Kurt Cobain, Magic Johnson, Emma Watson, Jim Carrey, Russell Brand, Britney Spears, Robert Downey Jr., Demi Lovato, Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath, Axl Rose, Edgar Allen Poe, Amy Whinehouse, Vincent Van Gogh, even our favorite pint-sized fashion blogger, Tavi Gevinson—I could have just named every celebrity I could think of off the top of my head and still come to the same conclusion. That list I put together makes up an itty bitty percentage of famous people battling with ~mental illness~. It’s perfectly normal and as I’ve just illustrated, not terribly uncommon. Why are these ‘disorders’ so apparent in society? What does that even mean? How do we go about hiding them? (I’m sorry—treating them.)
Are there just some things that make you feel a little, you know, uncomfortable? I don’t mean itchy Costco Halloween costumes and plastic tulle—I’m talking about scarred wrists or people talking to themselves on the street or that one kid at school who giggles and skips around in the hallway or that girl that you’ve never seen eat anything besides that one stick of celery. These actions could be considered disconcerting. You might feel compelled to point your finger and say, ‘He doesn’t belong here,’ or ‘She should go see someone about that,’ or (this is my favorite) ‘-insert derogatory word—preferably having something to do with female genitalia—here-, YOU NEED A THERAPIST.’ (Oohhh burn.) I like that the way over twenty-five percent of people’s brains are wired isn’t suitable for society.
Having a doctor look at your mind as opposed to your brain does seem a little awkward. Well, awkward enough to be considered an insult unless you write a blog with stills from Harold and Maude and pictures of cheerleaders with smeared make-up and period stains on their skirts. People who stray away from the norm haven’t always been considered ‘sick’ because there was no norm or, I guess, abnorm. There weren’t such rigid rules as to who you’re supposed to be and who you’re not supposed to be and what clichés to fit—but now it would even be weird of the school psychopath to be on the football team unless he’s trying to pull a Kurt Cobain and lose purposely to piss off his abusive redneck father. Once upon a time, the list of these seemingly random and pointless things deemed not okay or unacceptable or even undesirable was nonexistent. Obviously, when we (as a people) were all born out of ash and lava and orange stuff, just how glamorous the girl next rock’s snow leopard tunic was wasn’t something people were too concerned about. It’s not like other males didn’t want to mate with her because they thought she had an annoying laugh or was too flat-chested. Tyra Banks didn’t have to do her little ‘REAL BEAUTY’ PSA’a and we didn’t need RuPaul to tell us to love ourselves. Broody goth kids didn’t have to carve out their stomachs because NO ONE WOULD CARE IF YOU PREFERRED POETRY OVER FOOTBALL! The philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that in the past few centuries, the world has created a universal, penultimate perfect that everyone yearns for in some way, shape or form. However, nature isn’t very selective of who lives and who dies anymore, so we’re all super diverse and the less than perfect people aren’t weeded out. There are an astounding number of different body types, hair colors, skin colors, and even personality traits and hobbies/interests, but only a select few well-known combinations are ‘okay.’ If you don’t have the ‘correct’ dress size, be ready to find yourself sitting in a support group at the back of a church with your fellow laxative addicts and peeling pink paint and rusty folding chairs. According to the girls in your class, that’s pretty low. Instead of nature choosing what’s desirable and what isn’t, our society does.
Rousseau didn’t like our new world where everyone has to fit neatly into a certain category—and I’m guessing the one million plus people who take their own lives each year don’t like it very much either. He believed that humans were peaceful in their natural state, before too many sloppy technological and emotional developments. To me, it makes sense. Our brains got bigger, but not our muscles. We needed more juice to saturate our mushy pink (well, apparently they’re white or something) swirls and grooves. This complexity couldn’t be evenly distributed throughout our biceps and thunder thighs (or lack thereof) and we couldn’t burn it off by hunting mammoths. We had to dream. From these dreams, we’ve created things to take us to that world of possibility and wonder or at least a make-shift version of it. The combination of abstract, wishy-washy-sparkles-and-hot-tub-ness and intellectual thinking and problem solving caused us to materialize basically everything. Life isn’t determined by the practicality of the weather or the availability of food because we’ve used our smarticles to build ourselves out of that world and it wasn’t just for the better.
We live our whole lives for this sense of order we’ve invented for ourselves. Do you ever stop yourself on the street and just get totally overwhelmed about the way everything is? All the buildings were meticulously designed by some gawky salt and pepper architect wearing Buddy Holly glasses who worked his butt off in high school to do worthless extracurriculars to get into a good college and have the sleep deprived and malnourished opportunity that’s commonly referred to as ‘success.’ Every tree had a precious little hole dug up for it and a one-brick-and-one-slab-of-cement-after-another planter. Like, what if the bricks aren’t lined up correctly? WHY IS A CONFINING BARRICADE OF ROCK TO SHOW OFF DIRT AND LEAVES EVEN REMOTELY NECCESARY? Because it won’t look ‘nice’ without it! The planter must be made according to the blueprint; architect guy did what he did every day after school because of the “How to Get Into MIT and Afford Organic Greek Yogurt” handbook; the rules cannot be aren’t made to be broken.
In our omnipresent system, everything is compared to everything else. We all make judgments of ourselves and others based on the little ubiquitous model image we all have implanted in our minds. Everything has some formula to it, like an algebra problem. We want a tangible value for x—a simple and recognizable integer we can comprehend. For example, when you’ve been sitting in front of your computer for four hours and you haven’t gotten any homework done due to British vloggers drinking fish sticks and custard, you might put one and one together and decide, ‘Okay, I’m ADHD.’ Congratulations, you are now officially a badass, right up there with Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted, smirking at her yellow silk pajama clad former psych ward inmate hanging by her neck, all purple-faced and dead.
I’m not saying that everyone should just ignore something that could seriously be jeopardizing their school performance because that determines where they’ll be in ten years. What I’m saying is that not being able to focus on dumb assessments of ‘intelligence’ (whatever that means) should not determine your fate. I’m not criticizing teachers, either, or school, in general. I’m criticizing the whole system built around narrow judgments that dictate our entire lives and identities. School wants to quantify things like intelligence that are way more abstract than a number on a piece of paper. Still, we do it this way because it’s exponentially easier. It’s too complicated for humans to fully understand each other intuitively by touching and feeling. When Steve Martin has his hair in a braid, burns incense, and invites you to sit cross-legged on top of a table with him and press your forehead against his, you can’t help but be put off or even offended by his “ridiculousness.”
You might find the scenario I described above amusing because I illustrated the familiar ooey-gooey hippie stereo-type. That’s a perfect example of how we use categories to make sense of everything. There are sexualities, cliques, genres, et cetera. However, there’s something else that tells you who you are. I believe the word is ‘disorder’—when you make a wrong turn or when your “perfect daughter” project does not go according to plan.
We’re caught off guard when things deviate from what we already know. Sometimes x is a crazy irrational number that hurts to look at. It’s isn’t pristinely pieced together like our iPads or table cloths and chairs. Doctors hastily go through the scrap paper to see where the mistake was. Did I multiply by two? Yes. Did I add four? Oh wait—I see—when she was nine, she saw one of those gory vegan propaganda pamphlets. That’s why she won’t eat anything that hasn’t been ‘properly disinfected’ in front of her face. Ah, a classic case of Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. You can get a PhD to validly say it’s as simple as that.
A lot of the time this crazy irrational number doesn’t have much use in the material world. It’s advised to be rounded up to a friendlier number for lucidity’s sake. This cleanliness issue can be easily solved with a handy dandy Zoloft prescription! A few milligrams of chemicals and powder compressed into a small pellet will make someone affected by the taints in our society not appear too tainted to society. People are exposed to some corrupt truths, but then have to mask these truths in themselves, which shows how rigid and misleading our society’s values are.
We’ve created a world that’s too big for such a vast number of people to thrive in and they’re being told that who or what they are is an anomaly. They are supposedly a kink in the chain, the squeaky of the supposedly well-oiled machine. We have to somehow get it into our heads that human beings are more color and less math. You can’t just be x or y or 3 or 14 or even red or blue. Everyone is a different shade, aura, feel, or spirit at any given moment. ‘Normal’ and ‘abnormal’ are made up things that unnecessarily get in the way and screw things up for us. We have to learn to break these barriers and just be our truest selves and not just two-dimensional acronyms.