A little while back, I was talking to a friend of mine who's a nurse, who'd done a rotation on a psychiatry ward as part of her training. She was telling me how she and her colleagues would read the formal diagnoses of the officially crazy people, and then notice that they - the officially 'normal' people - also had a lot of the same tendencies and characteristics, albeit less obviously.
"You have to be really careful with all that stuff," she told me, "otherwise you can start to think that everyone's crazy…"
I smiled. I nodded. I thought to myself: "She's probably right." Then, I thought to myself: "Maybe everyone really is crazy…" But that thought was too radical, even for me, so I shelved it. That was about six months' ago.
In the intervening six months, G-d in His mercy and kindness has shown us very clearly that a whole bunch of people I know really are certifiably crazy. If the 'outside world' really knew what was going on on the inside of all these apparently 'normal' people, the formal diagnoses would be flowing thick and fast.
But they don't.
I have to say, having this knowledge of what's really underneath a whole bunch of people that I know, and being unable to share it with anyone, is a formula for going round the bend.
Because on the 'outside', so many of these people are so charming, and so nice. So why don't I want to have anything much to do with them anymore? Ahh, that would be telling… But I definitely have my reasons. Good reasons. Reasons that I checked and double-checked with my spiritual guide. But I can't tell you - or anyone else - what they are, as that would be loshon hara, or evil speech.
Which means I'm stuck in this surreal situation where a lot of the people I know really are bonkers - but I look like the crazy one. I'm the one 'not speaking' to them anymore. I'm the one going to great lengths to avoid them in the street. I'm the one who looks like I had a nervous breakdown, and I've spun out into 'Crazy Land' because I've changed all my phone numbers. But I'm actually spiritually and emotionally and mentally healthier now than I've ever been in my life.
Talk about the 'upside down' world.
I was pondering all this when I reached the chapter on mental (or really 'spiritual') health in Rav Arush's latest book, called in Hebrew Hashem Rofecha. Breslevers don't believe in a separation between body and soul; they teach that if you have a physical issue, it's because you have a spiritual issue. If you have sick body, it's usually because you have a sick soul.
The number of 'soul sicknesses' a person can have are astounding, particularly today when G-d is out of the picture for millions and even billions of people. Rav Arush lists a whole bunch: anger, worries, fears, jealousy, spite, sadness - and that's just for starters. (Let's not even talk about drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, or the sort of immoral behaviour that lands you in prison…)
And he says that these soul sicknesses are usually much harder to bear than physical problems, for a couple of reasons: Firstly, the 'soul sick' person usually refuses to recognise that they are ill. Whatever their problem is, they believe it's actually everyone else's problem. Other people are making them angry! Circumstances are making them worried! Bad luck is making them bitter and twisted and jealous of everyone who in their warped view 'has it better' or 'has it easier' than they do.
We all know that a good diagnosis is half the cure. When people outright refuse to accept that they are soul sick in the first place, it makes curing them next to impossible.
The second reason it's so hard to tackle is that it appears that there is no way of curing these soul sicknesses, so even if you admit the problem, you're stuck with it.
That's not the emuna way. In fact, Rav Arush writes that the main reason people are soul sick in the first place is because they don't have emuna. The more we work on our emuna, the less 'soul sick' we are. The less paranoid. The less hate-filled and spiteful. The less hysterical and selfish. The less hypercritical and superior.
According to Rav Arush, for as long as a person doesn't have complete emuna that G-d is running the world, that everything comes from Him, and is good and for a good reason - he's soul sick, to one degree or another.
And the further away from G-d and emuna you get, the bigger the problems get, and the more the soul sickness manifests itself in all sorts of horrible, evil, anti-social behaviour.
In short, we are all bonkers. But again, this isn't a chiddush (original idea) in Breslev circles. Rav Natan wrote about this 200 years ago, when he said that everyone in the world is mad, but once he met a man who was sane… (that was Rebbe Nachman, in case you're wondering.)
In the meantime, the more I act like a lunatic, the happier I feel. So I'm going to continue to 'talk to myself' in public view for an hour every day; I'm going to continue to listen to the 'voice in my head' that's telling me that certain people are very bad news, however respectable they look to everyone else; and I'm going to continue to make appointments to visit a man who died more than 200 years' ago, because I get insights and 'advice' there that I just don't get anywhere else.
Am I mad? Definitely. Is everyone else? You betcha. But to quote another Rebbe Nachman story, at least I know I'm round the bend - and that's a definite advantage.
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Check out Rivka Levy's new book The Happy Workshop based on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush