Bobby McFarin’s infernal song tells us that no matter what goes wrong, you can always just be happy.
(🎶You landlord says your rent is late, he may have to litigate,
Don’t Worry, Be Happy🎶)
Oh, okay fine, here's a link for you youths.
And with a single song, Bobby created an irrepressible earworm, and managed to troll an entire world of people with mental illness, an entire world of Crazy.
BOBBY: Suffering from depression? Be happy!
BOBBY: Be happy!
CRAZY: Oh my god, I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. Hold on – gimme a sec. [concentrates] Done! Happy. Psssh! Depression is easy.
Think this is oversimplified? Think I’m being absurdly obvious? You’d be shocked how many times I've heard something like this from a Norm. If not directly spoken, the implication is definitely there. Through some form of verbal or non-verbal communication, a Normal has expressed to a Crazy, “Jesus, why can’t you just relax and not worry? Why can’t you just cheer up and be happy??”
It’s even more pointed if, as most of us do, a Crazy manages to function in most daily activities. We appear “normal”, even cheerful. We perform, even succeed at our various occupations. Socially we seem engaging, possibly even delightful. Seeing this, a Normal looks at a Crazy and asks themselves, “I see you being all cheery and functional. I know you can turn it on. So just keep it turned on!”
Okay, maybe MOST of you considerate people understand that it’s not just a switch that we decide to turn On or Off, just for the sake of being Crazy. As if, given the choice of fixed or broken, we consciously choose to stay broken, keeping our “Cheerful” switch in the OFF position. But even the most sympathetic supportive Normal can still be guilty of a linear way of thinking. They watch an action or attribute of their friend/loved one whom they know to be a Crazy. They witness that Crazy accomplish a step that previously had thwarted them. If it was something that was specifically blocked by the Crazy’s illness, then it’s especially notable when the Crazy overcomes said obstacle.
Imagine an athlete who has it in their head that they just can’t beat a certain score or time or whatever. Despite constant training and striving they struggle mightily to surmount that barrier, until one day they beat it. Their coach praises them, but doesn’t let up. It’s not enough just to set a new benchmark, a new best time around the track or a new height on the bar, you see. Constant training never ends once that benchmark is passed. The old benchmark becomes the new expectation, and an inability to reach it again signifies regression or worse, a lack of effort.
When a Crazy overcomes some hindrance, Normals might praise them, maybe even congratulate them. They might say, “Hey great job. That was a big step for you, and I know you want to keep going! Reach the next level! Onwards and upwards!” (No one speaks like that, but it’s to illustrate a point). Like the athlete, their expectations rely upon ideas of steady, metered progress.
We want to apply logic and order to everything we see in life. If we desire a goal, we map out a logical itinerary to reach that goal, be it a training regimen, a step by step plan, or even an actual map. Mental illness subverts all of that. It’s not a journey from A to Z. It’s starting at A, maybe getting to point D, going back to B, feeling the next day R sounds like a nice place to visit, but having reached R deciding that A is really where things are happening, so let’s stay there a while, when all of the sudden for no reason you pop up in point V not quite sure how you got there and why is everyone so happy you’re at point V saying you’re so close, close to what, well isn’t that strange today I’d rather be here at point C, wonder how I got here, does it matter how I got here, let’s just stay at C for awhile, why is everyone acting so disappointed in me? A map? It’s more of one of those “Family Circus” drawings when Billy says he’ll go to the store. (Sorry, youths, you're just gonna have to Google this one).
So yes, most caring folk understand that a Crazy can’t just flip a switch and be Normal. But I still encounter people on a regular basis who have the linear thinking I’ve described. Smart people, too. Even some with medical degrees. Heck, sometimes doctors are worse. They take the two months they spent on a Psych rotation 3rd year med students. They take that tiny bit of exposure, and apply their "medical knowledge and expertise" to the situation. Every doctor likes measures of progress: the oncologist measures the percent of the tumor that has been destroyed; the cardiologist measures how efficiently the heart pumps; the ophthalmologist measures, I dunno what, but they do it by asking “Which one is better, number one or number two or both are about the same.” But in mental health it doesn’t work with such discreet metrics. My therapist (not an MD) understands this. She knows that some days I’m two steps forward, 1.99 steps back. Despite this being only a 0.01 step forward, this is good, BUT it is not really the important measure. Because sometimes it’s not about steps forward. Sometimes it’s about whether I’m a little bit country or rock n’ roll; sometimes it’s what color do I sound like or what flavor is my speech; and sometimes, sure, it is about numbers and measures, but the numbers involved are square roots of negative numbers.
New runners have those "Couch to 10K" programs. Step by step, day by day, you start by walking then eventually build up to running the 10K. We Crazies have "Therapist's Couch to Getting Off The Couch"
With all due respect to Mr. McFarin, his advice to not worry and be happy is a non-starter and a non-sequitur. It doesn’t work as an yes/no proposition. It doesn’t work as a step by step process. It doesn’t show up plain to see on a map. It doesn’t work because his song catapulted an emoji into future stardom. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to put my headphones back on and listen to Crazy Train. Ahhh, much better…Now Ozzy, he got it.