My uncorrected eyesight is terrible. I started wearing glasses in second grade and contacts in third grade. My optometrist had me wear rigid contacts in the mistaken hope that it would keep my eyes from continuing to degenerate. At this point I am nearsighted enough to need nearly eleven diopters of correction. Without my glasses the world looks like something Monet painted while staggeringly drunk.
In all the time I’ve been wearing glasses and contacts, no one has ever suggested that I should go without them. No one has said, “You should let your genetics have their way.” Sadly, that’s a common attitude towards mental illnesses and the like. Today’s example is fantasy author Robin Hobb, whose view is “You have to be who you genetically are.”
To be blunt, that is a stupid, damaging view. It minimizes real problems, discourages people from getting help, and adds external disapproval to an already large reservoir of internal anguish. For instance, look at the third comment on her post. “Do I panic and put my daughter on Ritalin to avoid a similar path? I am not going to do that.”
Hobb expresses a number of problematic views in her post. She buys into the romantic myth of artistic temperament including depression and bipolar behavior. She’s not comfortable with people taking drugs long-term to fix brain chemistry imbalances. As an aside, she dismisses ADHD, placing Ritalin on the level of chugging cans of Red Bull to stay awake. She’s even peddling “don’t meddle in God’s domain!” in new genetic clothes.
Mental illnesses are real, and it doesn’t help when people dismiss them by saying that they’re just fine and dandy. Being depressed is not the same as depression. Being scatter-brained is not the same as ADHD. Depending on artificial aids for the rest of your life is not a sign of failure, and to claim otherwise is to do real and lasting harm.
Consider Type I diabetes. It’s likely got a strong genetic component, and you have to monitor your blood sugar levels and administer insulin for the rest of your life. Should we expect diabetics to do without insulin, then, in order to be who they genetically are?
Look, mental illness isn’t something you can think yourself through. You can’t will yourself better any more than I can will my eyes to work normally. Just because you can’t necessarily see the effects of a mental illness doesn’t mean the illness doesn’t exist. It’s nice that Robin Hobb has been able to live with the minor mental quirks her genetics have provided to her. But shame on her for deciding that everyone else should then be able to get by without treatment.