Chronic disease

24 Aug

I would like to give a new meaning to chronic disease. The usual one is, roughly, an illness that cannot be treated and does not go away. But I would like to redefine it as a chronic unease, a refusal or incapacity to remain impermeable to reality. Today I listened to a radio interview with Susan Rosenthal who does not believe in mental illness. She says that the mind cannot be sick, but rather, social relationships are sick. The effect of a sick society on an individual is mental suffering, not mental illness. The fact that health problems are strongly related to oppression and social unequalities has been known for over a century and basically ignored. Systems of domination create anger and intense suffering, which cannot be treated at the level of the individual.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire says that “When their efforts to act responsibly are frustrated, when they find themselves unable to use their faculties, people suffer”. How often do I find my efforts to think for myself and act according to my convictions censured? I will soon write about some of these situations and why I react so strongly to them, but the fact is that I see a desperate need for social change, for social justice, for equality, not only on a global scale but in the all-pervasive structures of dominance which institutionalize violence and oppression, thus preventing us from truly connecting with one another, from expressing our creativity and our humanity, and from having a real effect on the world we share.

And it makes me sick. I am physically sick and it’s not because I cannot deal with stress, it’s not because I haven’t meditated today, it’s not because I need therapy,  it’s not because I should pull myself together, it’s not because I’m bourgeois and lazy. It’s because the world is sick, because I confront that fact every day and am asked to stay calm and let things follow their course while I wait for them to change in small increments, over time, in ways that will appease public opinion without challenging the status quo until, one day soon, we can all be happy in a wonderful world. I cannot believe in this mythology. In a situation like this, believe me, it’s only healthy to be sick.

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