In ancient Irish mythology, the deities known as the Tuatha Dé Danann could not be ruled by anyone with a blemish. In fact, their leader Nuada, who lost an appendage after fighting a duel with one of the original Fir Bolg residents of legendary Ireland, was obligated to give up his throne after the contest, as he was “imperfect” in that regard.
I was thinking about this in light of recent revelations surrounding US President Donald Trump’s habits and behaviors, which have been criticized by some as evidence of mental illness, thereby disqualifying him as a leader. He reportedly has a fear of germs. He allegedly eats a lot of fast food. He apparently watches quite a bit of TV.
Let me make a small announcement: I am mentally ill. That is correct — I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. I also have Tourette Syndrome, though my corresponding symptoms have more of a physical than a psychological toll. But the ordeals I go through on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis when it comes to my mental ailments are strenuous in the extreme.
I check faucets, stoves, computers and other items over and over again to make sure they’re turned off before leaving my apartment or another location. I have trouble tucking in my shirt, emptying my pockets or zipping my fly and regularly conduct these tasks numerous times until I’m assured that they are properly done. After leaving my apartment, I often walk back to my door to ascertain whether it’s closed, even though my own eyes tell me it is. I count numbers in my head. I type and retype the same words when writing any kind of text on the computer. I linger at the ATM when taking out money … watching the screen until it “feels right” to leave. It’s all pretty grueling. Perhaps it’s a bit hard to express, but the amount of pain my brain experiences is extraordinary.
Nevertheless, I am a functioning member of society. I hold a terrific job that I enjoy and do well, and that offers sizable compensation. I am married and live in an apartment with my wife. I have a charming, barky dog, whom I walk and feed. I have myriad friends. I have various hobbies.
Should I be deemed unfit for these activities because I am mentally ill?
Look: I’m no fan of Trump. I think he’s incompetent, blundering, sometimes incoherent, more than once-in-a-while abrasive. I think his tweeting habits are in conflict with policy needs and serve as an unwelcome distraction. I think he’s misogynistic. I think he’s racist. And yes — despite his generally pro-Israel stance — I think he harbors the vestiges of anti-Semitic sentiments, as evidenced, in part, by his speech a couple of years ago during which he purportedly lauded a group of Jewish Republican supporters as “negotiators,” a stereotype that hearkens back to offensive representations in the media of Jews as money-obsessed businessmen who would stop at nothing to make a profit. So I’m not defending him here. I don’t think he’s a good president.
That being said, I don’t believe citing the idea that he’s mentally ill is a valid criticism. Mental illness lies on a broad spectrum, and more people have it than we may be aware of. If you have clinical depression, you have a mental illness. If you have OCD, like me, you have a mental illness. Know anyone who has these conditions? You may. Think he or she doesn’t deserve to hold an important job because of these conditions? I doubt you do. Many people with mental health issues do very well in their lives, and oftentimes, they employ a variety of methods, including medicine and therapy, to mitigate their challenges. People with physical afflictions frequently follow similar paths. So we should apply the same standards to those with mental disorders. We can’t use mental illness as a crutch for assessing someone’s skills in a negative way. That’s just a blanket statement. If a person is unable to do a job, that’s one thing. Yet impugning someone for being mentally ill is just wrong. It’s not logical or fair, and it perpetuates a longstanding stigma relating to individuals with these problems. Would you do that to someone you love if he or she has a mental illness. Further, would you stand by while someone else did exactly that to a person you care about?
The 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, reportedly dealt with depression. We’d be hard-pressed to call him unfit for that role. Trump certainly is no Lincoln, but let’s remember one thing: the Nazis during the Holocaust murdered people with physical and mental “deficiencies” because they didn’t mesh with their idea of the perfect Aryan race. By condemning someone with the reason being that he or she is mentally ill, we run the risk of following the same path.
There’s no way we want to do that.
As such, let’s not demonize mental illness, even when it comes to President Trump. He may not be suited for the job he’s in. To denounce him for reasons of psychological health, however, is misguided and harmful. We have to think of everyone else in the same boat.
Maybe the Tuatha Dé Danann didn’t consider that in the ancient myths when evaluating potential leaders. But we can. Let’s make a move to do so… right away. And let’s do away with stigmatizing mental illness until we, as a global community, can conclude that legends about people’s minds are just that — and not truths.