Sport of Nature

Sport of Nature

Hi Matt,

I’ve wanted to converse with you and share some of my ideas about mental health for quite awhile now, but I thought it best to wait until the OT fireworks died down. Several posters really got under your skin in the Fraud thread, especially those who challenged you regarding the safety and reasonableness of your dream and chosen state of homelessness – some even questioning your sanity. I wanted your anger to pass before I engaged you, so you could consider my take with an open mind and heart.

I’m going back to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” as a preface and olive branch. These two lines are my offering:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too

which together mean to me, “Trust yourself, but listen to others, because you may not see or know all.” (Really, no one can.) Please consider what we have to say.

You and I agree, I think, on the basic idea that normality – whether cognitive, social, sexual, or psychological – is a construction, one based on the mathematical normative principle, which, in a social or psychological sense, simply defines normal as those things which most people do. Society conforms to and supports the cognitive styles, social inclinations, and behaviors exhibited by most of its members, responsively. This is reinforcing and accommodating and protective of those who fall under the norm, yet not necessarily harmful to those who live at the margins, or even outside the bell-shaped curve. Small variations are commonplace and go unremarked, but even exceptional people find ways to either accommodate the system or ingeniously adapt the system to accommodate them, at little cost to individuality. Most people who recognize their own differences also see that the much much greater number of those unlike us are the same to each other, so we don’t require or request a wholesale overturning of norms on our behalf. We defer to the good of the whole, and adapt. How much a society can tolerate difference probably is tied to how communally dependent that society is, in terms of survival. I see difference as an evolutionary stressor. Only very stable apple carts can be jostled without being upset.

This understanding depends completely on my own experience with difference, and on those of people close to me. Knowing myself and others with special talents for spatial thinking puts me at loggerheads with people who can’t navigate using maps, or who can’t parallel park. I am astounded, but in the main grateful (on their behalf) for GPS, and all manner of assisted driving apps. I would be much more upset, though, if I couldn’t turn all the functions off. I feel the same way about religion. It’s nothing I need, as a community sustainer, or moral compass, or solace for the inherent tragedy of mortality, but I am happy it is there for those who do need it. As long as I am safe not to practice.

Someone very close to me has ADHD, and one of the journeys of his adult life has been to mediate the social handicap this cognitive difference burdens him with. He has, for the most part, developed a kit of coping skills that let him participate fully in the world – to both his and the world’s benefit. There are perspectives and ideas unique to him (his way of thinking) that are not lost, but rather gifted to the community of ‘normal’ thinkers. He does rely on the goodwill and patience of those around him occasionally, but because he is good-natured and even, smart and capable and inventive, accepting and responsible, we can all be generous. I think the same can be said for people with Aspergers/autism, Down’s syndrome, and the many other sports of nature whose differences nonetheless do not inhibit participation in the social order, and whose desire to do so assuages the challenges their differences present.

This is a long way around to the topic of mental illness, but it helps me to define it. Rather than label cognitive, psychological, or social exceptions as disorders, I think instead in terms of behavioral consequences. I use two simple rules to assess mental health: do the behaviors in question interfere with daily living? Do they expose anyone to harm?

You are in so many ways outside societal norms, and this is the basis for all OT concern. Those who are loving and kind, and also those who are blunt or aggressive, believe that your behavior and thinking patterns are so outside the bell-shaped curve as to be unhealthy. OT-ers worry that you put your present and future self in real danger with your perceived-as-flawed decisions and actions.

Of course, societies and communities can be dysfunctional, and discussions of abnormalities must allow for the possibility that behavioral aberrations are sometimes exactly the expression of mental health. But I’m not sure this is the case for you.

For me you fall into a gray area, so I worry too. Choosing homelessness, and pursuing your dream of walking across the U.S. could be rational, positive choices for extremely capable, self-sufficient, and intelligent people. While your smart insights and rational takes on so many OT topics indicate keen intelligence, you can be an emotional and impulsive decision-maker. I think your history with Goodwill is an example. Let me stipulate that I do believe you were the object of Goodwill’s underhanded “CBT”, and experienced it as gaslighting. Clearly, there is a company policy of psychological intervention, ostensibly to support Goodwill employees in living fuller, richer, safer, and more stable lives as part of a larger community. What concerns me is not that you were offended or annoyed or angered by the company’s attempt to intervene in your life. Rather, it is your response to their exercise of their mission that troubles me.

You didn’t find another job. Having decided to stay at Goodwill you did not avail yourself of the many avenues available to address your grievances: you did not challenge Goodwill in their practices, nor did you document your complaints. You did not ask HR/management to stop their ministering, or establish a paper trail with supervisors, HR, and upper level management. In other words, you did not stand up for yourself, either to make your needs known or give Goodwill the opportunity to discipline co-workers and change their remediation plans. Instead, you let everything smolder, and fumed until you couldn’t take it anymore, then quit on a pretext (as you admit). Your subsequent futile attempt to engage the courts on your behalf is equally off-kilter, displaying a lack of understanding of how the world really works. It is apparent through subsequent posts that you understand your errors now, at least those pertaining to the proof needed for legal remedy. But you aren’t questioning your core behaviors or beliefs. So many seem maladaptive rather than lifestyle alternatives – ways of being you developed to survive your awful childhood, that don’t serve you well now.

What all of us see is that you put yourself in harm’s way, homeless without income or savings, having done no forward thinking and made no preparations for any of the consequences you chose. All the while expecting deus ex machina or magical reality to bail you out. I hope you can see that your unregarded actions – and the flawed belief system they imply – is the source of all our collective concern. For many OT-ers, the choice to be homeless is enough to call into question your sanity. For you to be winging it, out on the unstructured and unpredictable path of your dream is alarming. Your drug use is another warning sign.

My suggestion for you goes deeper than the simplistic fixes espoused by Powers, AshMads and other posters, i.e., to grow up, get a (real) job, and/or medicate yourself. Your inability to effectively stand up for yourself makes me think you have not completely overcome the horrible abuse you suffered. Maybe you could start there? Find your voice; reclaim your power. Take small steps like learning to say no, learning to speak your needs. Recognize – and grieve – what you have done without. Find ways to get it now. Open yourself a bit, to let others care for you a little, parent and mentor you a little more. As you learn to parent yourself. We at OT are offering. You have done without love for a very long time. Open yourself to it.
Health and fulfillment will follow.

Wanting all the best for you,

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