Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why schizophrenia is not a disease

The mistaken and unhappy notion that a man is an enduring unity is known to you. It is also known to you that man consists of a multitude of souls, of numerous selves. The separation of the unity of the personality into these numerous pieces passes for madness. Science has invented the name schizomania for it.

I do not believe there a pathological disease called schizophrenia. If people labelled schizophrenic really have a disease, it begs the question, why aren't neurologists overseeing their care? The state called schizophrenia often strikes the gifted, the sensitive, the creative - people struggling to express something about their world that others fail to see. I began to understand and appreciate the journey my son was going through when I turned to literature for the answers that Western science seemed unable to provide.

Well, okay, I turned to Hermann Hesse and Google for many of the answers. For Hesse, schizophrenia can be a transformative process.

Demian is about a very specific task or crisis in one's youth, which continues beyond that stage, but mostly affects (sic) young people: the struggle to forge an identity and develop a personality of one's own.

Not everyone is allotted the chance to become a personality; most remain types, and never experience the rigor of becoming an individual. But those who do so inevitably discover that these struggles bring them into conflict with the normal life of average people and the traditional values and bourgeois conventions that they uphold. A personality is the product of a clash between two opposing forces: the urge to create a life of one's own and the insistence by the world around us that we conform. Nobody can develop a personality unless he undergoes revolutionary experiences. The extent of those experiences differs, of course, from person to person, as does the capacity to lead a life that is truly personal and unique.

1. Hesse, Hermann, Steppenwolf, Bantam Books, 1974
2. Hesse, Hermann, Soul of the Age: Selected Letters of Hermann Hesse, 1891-1962

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