A Note on Madness

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Madness is not all nature, nor all nuture. In my generation of the family, I am the only one that can be classified as Bipolar. One of my sisters seems to have a touch. Out of six nieces and nephews only one shows any promise of being one of the lucky ones. A genetic predisposition can have a social trigger. After all, as a matter of survival we have evolved the behaviors that make us social animals. But a gene does not code a behavior; it codes a protein. The things we call madness or mental illness are on a spectrum that bleeds and blends together to produce a unique biochemical/behavioral combination in each affected person, and every person on earth carries within them the elements of madness. That’s why it’s scary. Labels like “Bipolar” and “Schizophrenic” are terms of convenience that serve bring order to a disorder, the way tidy minds organize disorganized minds. Categorize and rule. Labels are also a way of saying to the shadow of madness “not me, I’m not like that.” All mental illnesses are social constructs built on real behavioral and biological phenomenon–built to contain messy, unpredictable reality.

Nature, nuture. Nuture, nature. Born that way, or driven to it? Some serial killers were abused as children, but the vast majority of abused children do not become serial killers. Many serial killers had perfectly normal childhoods. Schizophrenics can be annoying and scary, and thus become targets for abuse, the milk of human kindness runs so thin, but I believe a preexisting organic, biological factor (or factors) is most likely the first piece of the puzzle. What enviromental or behavioral trigger or triggers is the catalyst for the biochemistry of a serial killer, schizophrenic–or someone like me? Do we share some of the same triggers and some of the same biochemistry? Probably. I would be quite dangerous if I enjoyed hurting other living things, because I feel no fear and certainly no moral compunction when I am manically obsessed with acting out some idea I’ve latched onto. Fortunately for all you innocent bystanders out there, I don’t enjoy the torment of others.

Have you ever heard of a founder mutation? The founder is the first person who had the mutation. Every human being who has that gene mutation is a descendent of that one person, the founder. If I understand correctly, a founder gene is usually, maybe always recessive. If you carry one copy of the gene from one parent, it is either benign or could even have some survival benefit. If you get a copy from both parents, making you a descendent of the founder on both sides of your family, then symptoms of disease and disorder appear. Sickle Cell Anemia is caused by a founder gene.

When I read about this in Scientific American, I found the idea of the founder gene intriguing. What if Bipolar Disorder and its associated mood disorders were caused by a founder gene. Then all the maniacs and melancholics would be, literally, one big family–cousins if not brothers and sisters. Whenever two or more of us are gathered, it’d be a family reunion! Shall we toast (or curse) our great-great-great to nth power grandparent? I say, “Prost!”

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One response to “A Note on Madness

  1. Fascinating speculations. Shades of R.D. Laing and David Cooper, now so discredited by the prevailing wisdom which has mental illness as an electro-
    chemical phenomenon.

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