Staying Sane in Insane Places

I noticed something recently.

A while ago I was stuck in the company of a “friend” whom I find particularly aggravating. I find her behaviour controlling and contradictory whilst her endless rhetorical negative remarks seem to demand constant agreement.

Family loyalty and civility demand that I entertain her.

She’s driving me nuts, I found myself saying out loud to another long-suffering friend.

Then the thought occurred to me. What if she succeeded and really did manage to drive me nuts?

What if I lived with her and was unable to escape or she was my mother or was my boss, my manager or my daughter?

What if the unvented emotional reactions to this woman wore me down, finally got to me and in desperation, I visited my doctor and reported my anger, insomnia, mood swings, frustration and despair?

I might enter the GP surgery with just a problem “friend”, manager, or neighbour but I might leave with a clinical disorder and a prescription for some chemical mind salve. I am sure such a situation has arisen more than once in the history of mental health care and treatment where a person is medicated in order to better cope with an impossible relative.

What then of the clinician or ancillary worker working in the psychiatric field? The world of work can be a challenging one at the best of times, and the world of work in psychiatry certainly comes complete with plenty of frustrations, big and small, that can accumulate over time. Is it possible that such situations can actually drive people mad?

Several years ago whilst working in a particular clinical department that was renowned for its stress-inducing qualities, I did a quick straw poll to see how many of the staff on my shift were taking anti-depressant drugs. I was astonished to learn that I was the only one who wasn’t medicated and believe me, I had often contemplated it.

Various staff jokingly suggested that you don’t have to be mad to work here, but medication certainly helps!

I asked everyone on the following shift and the pattern was the same. Everyone was medicated.

I started asking more questions and again a familiar pattern emerged without the medication, people felt that they were depression-prone, or prone to serious stress and so forth.

In short, the majority actually thought that they had a condition.

Maybe some did, but somehow I doubt that only depressives would be employed by one department.

Staying sane in insane environments certainly isn’t easy, and by definition, a psychiatric ward must be considered an insane environment.

In an age of political correctness, I have heard too many psychiatric professionals ask me cynically, Well, what is normal anyway? with the suggestion that all madness is relative and no one should put themselves in a position to judge another.

Whilst this might be a gallant idea, from observation it usually fails. I find that by the time a person is expressing this ideal, generally their own personal boundaries and standards of what is normal have started to seriously falter.

“Judge not others that thou shalt not be judged” are wise words I once read, but it does help one’s own sanity if one has a way of measuring any deviance from what one considers normal.

Whilst it can be hard at times to measure where the problem actually lies – is it me, or is it this place?

Possessing a strong sense of self and an ability to measure what is normal for me can help keep things in perspective enormously.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *