Hareth Al Bustani | January 29, 2014
I want to discuss a topic that is often misguidedly deemed too taboo to talk about – psychological disorders.
Of my ever–shrinking list of friends and acquaintances, I know people who are openly coping with psychological disorders, people who thrive despite psychological disorders and people who haven’t received treatment at all nor know they have psychological disorders. To be honest, and this may prove a bit divisive, I would contend that almost everybody in the world has unhealthy psychological processes – albeit, in varying degrees. As they say, nobody’s perfect, right?
“Outrageous,” you may proclaim. “Honey, close that ridiculous website,” you might demand.
Now, now, hear me out, folks. I’m not talking about ‘those’ psychological disorders, I’m talking about unhealthy psychological patterns, mechanisms and behaviour. The ones we do repeatedly, despite the damage they cause us or others. This is a lame example but I often hear people say things like: “I know, I have a terrible temper, it always gets me into trouble. But that’s just me.” That’s someone who is aware of a flaw they would like to overcome, but are resigned to not overcoming it.
I like to observe. Increasingly, I find myself catching people behaving in odd ways, or presenting odd views, and asking myself “What’s that about?”
Let’s look at a highly metholodogical case study. This morning I saw three cars parked outside a cafe, each tooting their horns repeatedly for a waiter to serve them. One of them grew so impatient he held his hand down on the horn for about 10 seconds, as I was walking in front of his car. Perhaps those drivers believed being attended to in their cars was a basic part of the service, rather than a luxury. But that noise is a nuisance. Not only is it the equivalent of screaming at a waiter from across a restaurant, but there are few sounds as shrill and distressing as a loud car horn. From a non-professional perspective, I would define that kind of behaviour as an antisocial disregard for the wellbeing of others.
At the same time, I saw a man open the door of his parked car, throw out the bags his food came in and drive off. Again, how about we don’t make the street cleaners job unneccesarily more difficult? Also, maybe we shouldn’t be throwing rubbish at the planet?
And we all know how I feel about the way people drive in the UAE. Don’t go there, girlfriend. Everybody has their own war stories from the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. But on my walk back to the office, I had to cross an empty road. Waiting until the road was quiet, with no cars nearby, I decided to cross. However, the driver of an enormous four-wheel-drive, 50 metres away, had a different idea. As soon as I stepped onto the crossing, he floored it, forcing me to step back and let him barrage past, only to slow down again once he’d “made his point”. Lovely.
The point is: it’s very hard to categorise psychological disorders. Some are purely psychological, some neuropsychological, some caused by chemical imbalances, and then there’s infinite combinations, and degrees, of each. Again, I’m no expert, but I’ve done a lot of casual research; and I’m the kind of person who encourages people to speak openly about such things.
We all know about the ones that do seem to be frequently diagnosed: eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. So too, do we know those that are slightly less clear-cut, but still given convenient labels, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
However, even when we can tick the boxes and diagnose a disorder, peoples’ experiences of each vary wildly – they’re completely unique.
To demonstrate my point though, I will refer to ‘clear-cut’ examples to highlight how many people are silent about their psychological disorders, not just in the UAE but the rest of the world too.
Take eating disorders, for example. I wrote a piece on eating disorders last August, and it was such a challenge finding anyone willing to speak about their illnesses. However, go for a one hour walk in Dubai Mall and you’ll find swathes of people on both ends of the body spectrum, from the severely malnourished to the obese. Speak to a psychologist and they’ll tell you it’s definitely an issue over here.
It breaks my heart to see, although I know people wouldn’t want me to pity them. It must be so hard to have to deal with something that painful, and its causes, all alone. Or to live in denial of it.
Eating disorders aren’t easy to categorise. Of course you have anorexia, bulemia and binge-eating, but then you’ve got people with other unhealhy relationships with food. Some systematically starve themselves all day and binge all night, others may eat normal quantities but feel shame and over-exercise to compensate. There’s such a range. And nobody wants to talk about it. It’s considered socially unacepptable, and damaging, to do so.
I have many friends who’ve been to therapy and truth be told, they’re usually the most together and in control people I know. It helps for people to be able to address their issues, whether over something as common as sadness over a divorce, or as extreme as bi-polar disorder. And it helps for people to replace unhealthy processes with healthier ones, and the help they receive is tailored to them. I’m often told that simply having a non-judgemental stranger listen to your most vulnerable thoughts, and your ‘darkest secrets,’ provides an enormous relief.
Instead, the societal message is that only the weak need therapy, that it’s shameful to admit to having a problem. But that’s the key point here; we all have problems. If you’re doing something about yours; well done, I applaud you. Tell me about it, maybe we could all learn from your experiences.
Surely it’s healthier for us to deal with our issues openly, in a constructive manner, than to ignore and stuff them all into a cupboard until it explodes.