A little bit mentally ill

For most of us the mentally ill are pariahs, and I believe there is more than challenging behaviour behind the spurning. We are all, I think, a little bit mentally ill, and when we see a fellow submerged in a fantasy world or arguing loudly and angrily with himself or a woman overwhelmed by an anxiety disorder or a fellow in the grip of obsession we fear not them but ourselves.

It is, I suggest, a matter of degree. From time to time I have a strong suspicion that I have one or more elements of a mental illness, and I want to stress as I tell you about some of those now that I am not seeking to trivialise mental illness.

I have my own small obsessive behaviours and so, I'm sure, do you. First thing every morning for 35 years, for example, I wash my face in cold water three times. Not four times or twice. Among my other irrational rituals is an insistence on sleeping straight in a bed square in the room - who said I couldn't lie straight in bed? - and in my column today I explain the latest unfortunate result of that.

I have been overwhelmed by anxiety, but I've always been rescued by the dawn. And I can understand, I think, the panic many people with anxiety disorders endure day and night.

We are all bipolar, and life would be unbearable if we were not. We move between poles on the end of our own mood span and in many cases we will not be at our best when we're at or near either of those poles. A matter of degree.

And while I don't have voices in my head I do have thoughts I'd rather not have, thoughts you would not and I do not see as acceptable. Perhaps, I think, it is my mind rebelling against the conditioning of civilisation! Might this explain my Ulysses column of last week?

Fantasy, paranoia, delusions, I've tasted them all and more, and I manage my life and especially my life inside my head to keep the illusion of 100 per cent sanity alive. Well, 90 per cent.

I do believe that the difference between so-called sanity and so-called mental illness is a matter of degree and I don't think it does me any harm to see it this way. Do you have behaviours, mental contortions, secrets that in greater degree could be seen as a mental illness? Have you been, or are you now, mentally ill?

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