Many years ago, I began analyzing what it truly means to be a misfit.
I have always considered myself a misfit because of my difficulty adapting to societal structures. I had always been aware of the connection between our mental states and our environment. The importance of how people embrace misfits became evident. Traditional psychology does include the environmental factor in its study. However, a patient is said to have clinical depression when his biochemical processes are thought to be imbalanced in a certain way. The perceived symptoms of imbalanced serotonin levels in the brain are always the determining factor for mental health professionals to diagnose depression. The diagnosis is never made from an understanding of the client’s environment only. It is always about the client’s inability to adapt to it. In other words, professionals consider the client and his environment, but their focus is on the client himself. They don’t focus on the environment. And that is quite understandable, because they’re not going to start a therapy with every single person the client encounters. The traditional treatment for mental illness is always person-specific.
What if depression was actually the other way around? What if Joe’s depression wasn’t caused by his inability to adapt to others, but by other’s inability to accept him? What if Joe’s depression wasn’t really his? What if it was actually society’s depression? Joe would simply represent the part of this societal organism trying to help the whole evolve. Let’s ask ourselves this question: whose illness is it?
This leads to a broader question: what is the best treatment for mental illness? Is it in the form of person-specific therapy? Or is it in the form of educating the masses about alternate ways of being? I believe that most mental illnesses are the product of an alternate way of functioning that is not accepted by others. Society is more comfortable seeing difference as “illness” rather than accepting the possibility of being happy through a radically different way of life. Mental illness represents the growing pains of a society. Everyone agrees on the fact that we are all connected. What varies is each person’s level of understanding of that truth. Some vaguely understand it but continue to point fingers and play the victim. Each member of society is part of the same organism. Affirming that another’s depression has nothing to do with you is as ridiculous as the following image: a person having lung cancer and that person’s legs being thankful the cancer hasn’t spread to them. If the body dies, all parts of the body die also. The cancer isn’t just the lung’s cancer. It is the whole body’s cancer, expressed in the lungs.
Misfits are the growing pains of society. There’s no such thing as “this person has depression and this one does not.” When an individual goes through physical growing pains, he doesn’t feel pain in every cell of his body. He feels it in specific areas. It is the same with bigger organisms, such as a society. Societal growing pains are felt through specific people. These people are often ostracized and left to deal with “their own problems.” Their differences in adaptability and thought patterns are the expression of an organism wanting to transform. By putting the “mental illness” label on them, we are actually slowing down our own evolution. We are fearing our own progress as a society. This comes from our incomprehension of societal transformation. A person’s inability to conform is an invitation to study different ways of functioning. It starts with a glimpse. One person has depression. Then, a second one. If the societal organism refuses to learn from this collective symptom, it becomes louder. When society continues to see these symptoms as “people who are broken,” more people “break down.” Until we accept to see difference as our own growing pains, more and more people will suffer from depression. Until we accept to see that these people aren’t ” breaking down” but actually “building us up”, we will have to face the proliferation of these growing pains. These pains will continue to expand until it becomes absolutely evident that they affect the entire organism and not just a few cells.
A misfit represents an incompatibility with the present structures. This can represent two different things: a malfunctioning element of the present structure OR a functional element of the future structure. Since most people are fixated on the present way of life, they see incompatibility as a malfunctioning element, as something that is broken. What if these misfits are actually trying to show us a better way? What if they are the symptom of our societal organism transforming to a better structure? How can we get there as a collective if we continuously judge our misfits according to the present way of life?
I would like to speak in the name of all misfits, for a brief moment. Us misfits are your neighbors, your brothers/sisters, your friends. And we want you to know one thing. There is a big difference between fear and incompatibility. A fish isn’t AFRAID to live on dry land. He’s just not made for that. He would die if he attempted to. Us misfits are those fish. You see, there are dry land creatures and water creatures. This is a known and accepted fact. Dry land and water represent a medium, a platform on which one lives. Each creature is compatible with certain platforms and incompatible with others. A societal structure is one such platform. Whether you believe it or not, some creatures cannot breathe on that present platform.
We are the fish that you judge for not living on dry land. The science behind why a fish cannot live on dry land is simple: he physically isn’t built for it. But when a creature is psychologically, emotionally and spiritually not built for “living on dry land,” this creature is called fearful or, even worst, lazy. No one has ever been insulted as much as us misfits have. Sure, we can physically jump out the water and end up on dry land. We can stay there for a little while. But at some point, we start gasping for air. Other dry land creatures encourage us to not jump back in the water because, unlike fish, we physically look like them so they think we are compatible with the same platform. They say, “Stay here, you’ll get used to it.” With all that social pressure, we stay there. We end up with anxiety, but not because we are fearful. We end up with depression, but not because we are unhappy beings. We end up with psychoses, but not because we are crazy.
These are simply symptoms of a fish being out of the water for too long. We start doing therapy to understand why we have all these symptoms; why we’re so ridiculously bad at living compared to other dry land creatures. We get prescribed all kinds of pills that are supposed to make our “dry land” experience more comfortable. If only we had fins, the doctor would stop this well-intentioned madness. But the only fins we have are the fins of rebellion and anger. Throughout the years, we go back and forth between water and dry land, accumulating the depressions. At one point, our integrity says, “I’ve had enough.” We decide to stay in the water. We are called lazy and fearful. And many times, we believe you when you indirectly call us that. But it bothers us because, deep down, we know that we are fish. We are fish criticized for not being normal dogs.
Today, give the misfit in your life the most beautiful gift he could ever ask for: the gift of comprehension. Stop criticizing the way he barks and runs; and start honoring the way he swims and floats. You will realize that, this whole time, he might have been trying to teach you how to cross the river.