Somehow my last post on mental illness ended up in a Facebook discussion about love. Well, I know how it happened. My friend asked if love was a mental illness and informed me that cocaine and love release the same chemicals in the brain.
This is an intense question for a hungover Monday morning, but what the hell.
I must admit that sometimes love and cocaine benders are strikingly similar. Amazing highs. Horrible crashes. Always wanting more. Knowing if you don’t stop you will fuck up your life for sure. And yet you keep going.
That might seem mental, but it depends on what you think love is supposed to be.
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in a personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace- not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth – James Baldwin
I think what Baldwin meant by “the infantile American sense” is that most Americans define love as, not just being happy, but being safe. It is the kind of love that people want to give to children, doing cartwheels through fields of flowers with not a care in the world. People crave a sense of security and calm, a refuge. Maybe that is why so many people marry someone like their parents and try to recreate their childhood life, or the childhood they wish they had.
And when intense emotions end up bringing anything but calm, security, and happiness people don’t know what to do with themselves.
We all need a refuge sometimes. But a refuge is a place to hide. You can’t hide forever. Security is mostly an illusion. Spending your life seeking security has awful consequences. That infantile American definition of love may actually explain a lot about our foreign policy.
If love is quest, daring, and growth then it isn’t about safety – at least not just. It is also about risk. Calm and turbulence. Highs and lows. Permanence and change. Pain and pleasure. Struggle and surrender. It is fucking things up and starting over again. It is whatever experiences you need to have. In short – LIFE.
And love doesn’t just apply to “romantic” or sexual relationships. In fact, it doesn’t need to apply to relationships at all. As much as we learn from our relationships with other people, even the most casual ones, we learn so much more on our own. And that is also a kind of love.
So no, T. I don’t think love is a mental illness. If anything, avoiding love/life in all its extremes might actually be the mental illness. But next time you should really ask me this kind of question on a Friday. Or when I’m drunk. Or both.