She was only six or seven years old when Rosa Montero realized that “something was wrong inside my head.” That’s how directly the journalist recognizes it on the first page of her new book The danger of being sane (Seix Barral), who explains that it all started with a “horrible little copper pot” with which she feared she would die of poison if she ended up sucking on it.
With this curious and endearing anecdote, the journalist and writer begins a literary project that moves between essay and fiction and that goes through episodes of her childhood and adulthood in which she has come to doubt her sanity. “It is the book of my life”, she affirms to The vanguardalso convinced that these confessions will not call her into question since “everyone is divergent in something because normality does not exist”. She further adds that “the most unbalanced people are those who try to cling to control. Those who say they are very normal people are the ones that scare me tremendously.”
Those who say they are very normal people are the ones that scare me tremendously
Montero reflects on how society deals with mental illness and regrets that “there is still a long way to go since there is a lot of fear” and, on the other hand, “Spain is one of the countries with the fewest psychologists per inhabitant”. However, he admits that “the pandemic has removed a bit of the taboo about it” and “if we can get anything good out of this dark period, it is that people are slowly starting to talk openly about mental health. Without a doubt, it is something that has always been there but is now in the spotlight”.
In her text, the author invites the reader to stand in front of the mirror and defend her oddities and peculiarities. For that, she begins by exposing some of her own, such as her panic attacks from which, despite everything, she believes she can extract positive learning. “Without them I would not have known this place, that of mental disorder, and the atrocious loneliness that is suffered, that if you have not been there you cannot know it”, and observes that “perhaps that has given me a certain sensitivity in some aspects ”.
Crises that a doctor already predicted for him when he was only two years and three months old. “The truth is that I was shocked when I found out. When my mother died, I found among her papers a report that says that I have a spasmophilic personality and precisely predicted that she would suffer from panic attacks and anguish throughout my life. He was certainly a visionary to see all that in a baby.”
Beyond these anecdotes, Montero collects part of the life of authors such as Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath, and relates creativity and mental instability, a topic that “Aristotle already said” and that different studies have addressed. He clarifies that “when I talk about being creative, they don’t have to be someone who has done great works. The mind of the good and the bad artist is exactly the same. Nor do I mean that to be creative you have to be crazy, because if you get to drown in a deep mental disorder that silences you as a creator. But we are like first cousins. That is to say that the minds of those who suffer serious psychological problems and that of the people who make creative works are created in the same way”.
According to the WHO, one in four people on Earth will suffer from a mental disorder at some point in their lives.
He cites a study from the University of Iowa that says that “writers are up to four times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder and up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than non-creative people” and concludes with a smile that “this would explain many things, especially all about me.” The book does not forget to mention Jamison and Schildkraut, researchers who maintain that “between 40% and 50% of writers and creative artists suffer from some mood disorder.”
Beyond science, it focuses on figures: “According to the WHO, one in four people on Earth will suffer from a mental disorder at some point in their lives. […] This means that if it is not us, we will have someone very close who does have a mental problem, hence the importance of normalization”. Although she sees a positive future and encourages everyone to face it as the New Zealand novelist Janet Frame did, whom she qualifies as an “illuminator of worlds” since despite how hard a large part of her life was – she was forcibly locked up for eight years in a psychiatric hospital and even subjected her to electroshock therapy— “she managed to take charge of herself and managed to be moderately happy, coming to describe herself as a lucky person, despite everything.”