Recently, I’ve noticed how many of the books I have read for pleasure are on science. Most of them have been Psychology; then there are the Ecology and Political Science texts…in addition to Library Science. As I almost majored in Sociology in Undergrad, there’s that, too. I have been flirting with ideas of the further pursuit of it, now that I’m older and much more stable than I was at 19-20, when I was first introduced to the idea that people are fashioned, not born.
Sociology is the study of the dispersion of power over groups of people, and how this power can be resisted. Although there is a particular emphasis on how the individual can resist power without being destroyed by it (using what is known in the field as agency), this is not always the case.
A framework suggesting that a great deal of who we are has to do with societal, familial, and other daily, mundane pressures upon us, and how we learn to grow in certain directions because of them, would stress even a well person’s mind and sense of self. In my case, this corresponded with realizing that I did not have to agree with the rest of the world when it told me who and what I could be, based on visual correlations between myself and others who were not me.
There is a difference between seeing a person as they are, and seeing a person to be as who one thinks they must be, from the sheer fact that one can observe their external presentation. The latter is the major factor which causes me not to want to go back to working in Public Services. As a person of mixed race, and a person of nonbinary gender identity, I can clearly state that what a person looks like has no bearing on who they are. It does, however, influence the experience they’ve had.
What a person looks like, and to a lesser extent, what they sound like, how they dress, and how they comport themselves, directs others who see them to make assumptions about them, which then influences how those others interact with them. To put it concisely, one’s appearance changes the way one is treated by others. The way one is treated by others, acts as conditioning to encourage or discourage a person from acting in a certain way…though I suppose in normal terms, this is known as socialization.
In having access to libraries, and in building a library of my own, I’ve found written accounts of other people like myself. In Undergrad and since, I’ve met more people like myself — though even there, it has been difficult to find others unless they choose to identify themselves.
The best way to find kindred spirits, seems to be to speak one’s truth. Staying silent doesn’t mean staying safe. It does mean, more often than not, remaining isolated…and isolated people are much more vulnerable.
Outside of the viciousness of childhood, the ways I have found myself to historically fail both other people and myself, can at least partially be explained by the impact of biological factors. A very large non-biological factor, however, has been ignorance. As a young adult, I had little understanding of mental illness (or mental health), and so was blindsided when my own illness struck me. I didn’t know how ill I was, and nor did I know how little I understood (or how much was possible to understand).
No one, that is, taught me to watch for prodromal symptoms; what they might look or feel like; or how to understand them.
There does appear to be a biological basis for a lot of this; for example, my past (and sometimes present) similarity to the Geschwind Syndrome profile I mention earlier on this blog. If my own symptoms had no biological basis, it would strongly appear that psychiatric drugs targeting specific, known neurotransmitters should have no effect; but they do.
This points to an underlying, biological core. It doesn’t point to an underlying soul — I’ve been reading (and thinking) way too much about the nature (and cultural construction, and to a point, biological basis) of identity to think that I will be, in any other life but this, the same essence — but it points to a biological foundation of what I have to work with. On top of this is culture. If biology is the foundation and raw material of the building, culture gives the basic housing plans. Self-determination may have more to do with becoming one’s own architect, than anything else.
If I hadn’t taken my first skirmish with Sociology so seriously (just because something is written, doesn’t make it true), maybe I simply would have changed majors (earlier than I did, at least). Instead, I critically reassessed who I was and how I had gotten to that point.
A little bit of knowledge, however, is a dangerous thing: Sociology is nightmarish without a fundamental knowledge of Psychology — however that knowledge can be learned. In my experience, it is also rare for mental health specialists to actually explain, in depth, what one’s mental problems entail. We live it; they study it.
It is not really an equal power dynamic.
Also a factor, however, is the giant stigma attached to mental illness and mental problems, in general — even if they are not the fault of the client. There is a difference between having problems and responsibly doing one’s best to deal with them; and having problems so bad that one can’t control themselves, sometimes getting to the point of refusing help. But how can a person understand that they’re out of control? How can a person understand what it feels like to be out of control? If a person can’t understand that they are unwell, and doesn’t want to entertain anything to the contrary, how can they make the step to engage help? Why would they?