A Summer to Celebrate
The summer Olympic games held in London like always were a celebrated event. The spectacle of watching the world’s elite athletes push the boundaries kept the heaving crowds on the edge of their seats. On the heels of the premier sporting event, the Paralympics also took place in which physically challenged athletes displayed amazing feats of sportsmanship to the world despite certain limitations. Athletes through the help of bionic legs sprinted with as much finesse as their more able bodied contemporaries, bionic arms oared kayaks past the finish line.
The Paralympic games are both a welcome reminder of the amazing potential of physically challenged athletes as well as the innate human ability to transcend our physical boundaries. These athletes prove time and again that mind does take precedence over matter in the end. The brain is unlike any other organ in the human body. There are trillions of neurons whizzing by at near light speeds in billions of synaptic nerves in the brain flooding us with the information about the outside world. It really is the supreme achievement of evolution as a whole. Our whole idea of self begins to collapse when this little organ the size of a grape fruit starts to ail.
People may function with physical disability, the body may even compensate for loss in one ability with amplification in another function, but nothing can compensate when the central nervous system starts to crumble. That is the most troubling fact about mental illness. People with a firm determination can lead normal fulfilling lives despite their physical hindrances, but with mental illness, any semblance of a normal life is shattered.
For thousands of years we have tried to make sense of the origins of these diseases. Before the advent of science, many of these confusing and often violent episodes of mental imbalance were attributed to evil spirits, demons or other supernatural causes. People who were in the throes of these diseases were thought to be possessed by demons and were often subjected to painful exorcisms. The afflicted were shunned and cast out of their communities to fend for themselves. Mental illness not only reduced the chances of leading a normal life, it literally endangered your life in pre-modern times. The prejudice associated to people afflicted to mental illnesses still persists to this day. They are treated as pariahs shunned by society in many parts of the world.
Coping with physical disability is not a bed of roses either. Physically handicapped people are also subjected to derision and discrimination in society. They find it hard to get suitable employment, they also find it exceedingly difficult to find spouses among the many innumerable hindrances that come through disability. But the mind plays the most potent weapon in the arsenal of anyone who has the will to brave the odds. A sense of identity, self-respect and drive act as a ballast for physically challenged people to reclaim their lives.
Yet what of the ailments that radically change the very self that is the seat of all our emotions, aspirations and thoughts? When our central organ starts going haywire, our chances of leading normal lives become almost impossible.
What better illustration of the fact that physical illness can be conquered by a tenacious mind than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who after contracting polio was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. Yet this physical incapacity did not deter him to lead America through its most difficult years. Not only did he lead America through the most destructive war the country had ever experienced, he also made possible The New Deal policies, which enabled the government to be the biggest guarantor of welfare programs to the citizens of America.
His immense popularity made him the first and the last president in American history to be elected 4 times in a row, the law limiting presidential terms to two terms was enacted thereafter. His legacy still exerts a huge influence on the politics of today. The very fact that he accomplished all these marvels while being confined to a wheelchair should be a source of hope that with a sound mind, people can conquer their biggest obstacles. It is highly unlikely that the same president that we have come to love and admire would have been so prolific, had he been afflicted with a mental illness of some sort.
It is doubtful even if his opponents would have let him contest for presidency, had he been physically impaired. That signifies all the more that mental illnesses are potentially more devastating to the people who suffer from them and need the support, care and consideration to make them cope with their predicaments.
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Thornicroft, G. (2011). Physical health disparities and mental illness: the scandal of premature mortality. Retrieved on May 20, 2014, from http://bjp.rcpsych.org/
Kaye, R. (2012 March, 17). Marriage and Mental Illness: For Better or Worse? Retrieved on May 20, 2014, from http://www.healthyplace.com/