We tend to think of mental illness as something that only happens to the few. We like to think that way, due to the real difficulty we have of confronting our own emotional and spiritual problems. Yet, from an anthropological point of few, the idea that only a few people will suffer from serious mental illness at some point in their life is absurd.
We all get physically sick. We get chicken pox, german measles and an array of unnamed 'bugs'. We do not treat these with any sense of embarrassment. Human beings, however, have real difficultly confronting emotional pain head on. This, I believe, is a big part of the trouble when dealing with mental illness.
To offer one example, someone in the mist of Romantic Love displays all the traits of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (OCD) The individual can forget about long standing friends, their credit card bills and their course or work responsibilities. Nothing else matters apart from what is in the centre of the obsessive's gaze. In addition to this - is it possible that two people can reinforce each other, both suffering from the same disorder. This 'double lock' - reinforces the compulsion.
At some point, however, 'real life' will click in. Maybe the bills weren't getting paid and the house is repossessed - or maybe a baby is expected, throwing the courtship off course. Three is a crowd after all.
My argument is that all obsession is a devious refusal to get well. When we avoid the real challenges that life throws at us, it is easy to regress into a fantastic fantasy - the rest of the world becomes like a phantom as what persists is a sense of unreality in our everyday lives. This 'unreality' litters the history of western philosophy. To question what is real, is to ask about the nature of Being - the fundamental task of all philosophy. Note that this task is also closely connected with love.
When I say that Romantic Love is one form OCD can take, I don't mean to suggest that all love is an obsession. When we truly care about another person, we are able to look beyond our own needs and recognize that the beloved is a separate human being, with an unique outlook and journey to take. Sometimes, this might mean letting someone make their own mistakes. Or, it might mean letting go of a friend we have known for years.
Nothing ever stays still. Life is painful. By accepting this pain, we learn how to grow and become wise. By rejecting this pain, we try to become children again, playing games of make believe.
We get to choose every minute which path to take.