Most of us will experience several crises during a lifetime. Insanity as a result of sudden shocks that life provides can manifest in different forms. In this article we examine life crises and how to handle them. How do we relate to the Shock of it all? What distinguishes those people who come out stronger from the crisis, and what about those who never really recover?
Insanity as a result of sudden shocks that life provides can manifest in different forms. Neely and Murtry describe the hallucinations that Mrs. Lincoln underwent after her husband was assassinated. Having lost two of her children prior to her husband’s death and one more after it, she started to feel afraid about her last living son. Their book details how the signs of Mrs. Lincoln’s weak mental state were apparent long before her husband’s death. The sudden availability of money when her husband came to power, led her to splurge on inanities – eighty four pairs of kid gloves, lavish draperies and furnishings – at a time when the economy was under severe distress. She seemed to find solace from loneliness and grief by shopping outrageously.
Her condition went on to become hallucinatory, she was convinced she heard voices, was about to be a victim of murder, and feared excessively for her last living son – who was successful and in good health. At some point, she concluded that her son was out to kill her. Over time, her condition became apparent to the observer. Reckless spending alternated with extreme hoarding. She hid her money from possible robbers by sewing large sums in the hem of her dress.
The young star
Media reports provide rampant coverage of the bizarre antics of young stars who get famous early and lose themselves. The constant attention, the need to be in the public eye and the varying reports that touch all aspects of a person’s life are addictive and stressful. At the same time, the media and the public outrage over the slightest misdemeanours and the assumption that the star is an icon or a guiding light to other youngsters places the person on a shaky pedestal – one that will fall at the first mistake. The move from rags to riches, the bliss of being in the limelight after years in obscurity can often be too much of a shock to the mind. Add to this, the use of mind-altering substances that warp the sense of reality and toy with judgment can lead a person severely astray.
Answers from religion and philosophy
How does one deal with the shocks that life deals to them? Religion and philosophy provide answers to those with faith – the answers lie within, but a troubled mind becomes less and less able to depend on itself and seeks alternate avenues on the outside. The search leads to extreme religious rituals, willingness to forgo the routines of normal life in order to appease an invisible entity and the development of a rigid fundamentalist attitude towards people of other beliefs.
Losing a child
Deborah’s two year old slipped out of her grasp and ran into the middle of the road with her mother screaming behind her. A speeding car knocked the child dead and left Deborah a weeping mass. She was quickly reduced to a childish, waif-like existence who no longer knew how to care for herself. She remained in this state through her lifetime.
Denise, on the other hand, nursed her infant knowing that it would not survive. In those times, a blue baby had little chance of survival. She wept, she ranted but when the end came, she accepted it as a lesson in faith. She continued with her life and went on to bear two children. She always bore the memory of her lost child but returned to normalcy.
How does a family cope with these situations?
Mac had a job with an IT company. He had grown up the ranks and was now a respected director in charge of manufacturing and quality. One day, he reached the office to find that the offices had been sealed. He was taken by the tax authorities for a grueling round of questioning. He was disallowed from calling his family or even going to relieve himself. At the end of the interview, Mac was left a shriveled and shivering human being. He had no access to information about the fraud that had been perpetrated by the owner of the corporate or that he had been an unwitting signatory to a document that directly placed the blame of the wrongdoings on him.
He found himself hauled off for further rounds of questioning in a state of increasing confusion though it was becoming clear that his meteoric growth had in large part been due to his blind loyalty and whole-hearted agreement with anything that the owner of the company wanted. This was his undoing. After a week, Mac was allowed to meet his family. He wept bitterly as he recounted what he was beginning to understand about the whole situation.
His wife and children watched helplessly as Mac was hauled over the coals for his implicit involvement in the illegal actions of his superiors. It took more than a year of incarceration before Mac was finally allowed to return home. He returned to find that his family had now shifted to a smaller house, his children were in a public school and his wife was working to keep the home running. Fortunately, Mac had the support of his family. He found a job but soon lost it. He found it difficult to retain a lower level job that paid a fraction of his earlier earnings. He talked too much and worked too little and worst of all, he talked badly about the senior management though he knew nothing about them.
Mac started sleeping – a lot. His wife was exasperated at first but decided to let him be. When he slept continuously for three days, medical help was sought. The pronouncement was Depression. Mac’s condition continued to deteriorate. He slept excessively, ate excessively and cried excessively. He did not want to live, he felt miserable and he could see the financial strain he was causing to the family. Yet, he felt helpless.
The shock of losing his job, status, social standing and finally his lifestyle had proved too much for Mac. His family survived with an internal strength that they had not realized was available to them. But Mac lost his mental bearing. The shock proved too much.
The extent of our personal identification with our successes and failures is directly related to the extent of shock we face in the event of sudden loss. Deborah had no time to steel herself for her loss while Denise did. Mac’s loss was compounded by the shock of deceit and the later realization of lesser value in the workplace.
Talcott attempts to explain the possible pathology that has shock leading to insanity. Physical exertion, excess worry and wine and even excess luxury or poverty can lead to the debility of the nervous system. A weak nervous system is unable to withstand the shock of a sudden event with the consequence of temporary or permanent insanity. Sully explains shock as an extension of surprise or wonder. When an event occurs, the understanding dawns slowly as surprise and in case of an unpleasant occurrence, quickly transforms into fear and shock.
Neely, Mark E. and McMurtry, Gerald R. (1993). The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln. SIU Press.
Talcott, S.H. Mental Diseases and their Modern Treatment.
Sully, James (2000). The Human Mind: A Textbook of Psychology.