In a comment on a recent post, forum member Alan Smithee commented something I thought should be brought to the front of the discussion. The comment included the following sentences:
“I do not like the idea of ‘functioning.’ I do not like the idea of being on meds for the rest of my life. I do not like just getting by.” (Follow the link above to read its full context.)
This forum’s very name asks that we challenge what it means to “function,” but perhaps we should also challenge the implications and rhetoric of “functioning.” Briefly, the term itself comes to English from Latin via Middle French. Despite any contemporary connotations toward mechanistic working, etymologically speaking it implies an evaluation of performance and execution of a given task at hand, usually involved in fulfilling some purpose.
Here’s where I start spouting off, expecting no one to agree with me but eager to read your opinions and interpretations: We, in the mental illness community, whether to our faces or not, are classified in terms of how well we perform in society. (The ramifications of this classification system are immense and often tragic.) I interpret my diagnosis with both sides of an individual-versus-collective coin. On one side, I was diagnosed because I was destroying myself (that’s the individual side of the coin). On the other (collective) side, I was diagnosed because I run with scissors and don’t play well with others. I didn’t function (i.e. perform or fulfill my social purpose) well. I would like to define “functioning” for myself, because I find this social performance criterion destructive. How well I execute the task of being one among many does not correlate with how well I execute the task of being the healthiest, happiest version of me.
So, I’m bringing Alan’s comment to the front hoping it presents an opportunity to assert some individual control over the “idea of ‘functioning’.” Although this probably repeats themes I’ve touched on before, might there be definitions, criteria, metrics, ideas, or expectations, that operate without pandering to external judgments of performance? Might there be ways to reclaim the language of “functioning” with respect and sensitivity and specificity? Might “functioning” be synonymous with “thriving” rather than “just getting by?” Or might this post be semantic esoteric bullshit without pragmatic application?