Only callous individuals find it amusing to make light of others’ misfortunes, and it takes extra callousness to mock mental illness. This is at least something most of us instinctively feel – most of the time. The condition of flataelalia, though, would appear to rupture this rule.
In Mental illness is never a joke, but there are circumstances in which it is funny before you find out its real and debilitating effects. One condition to which this rule would seem to apply is schizo, the embarrassing condition where you hear voices when your burp. When we were all children we’ve probably all had silly competitions based on how loud we can burp, and they ended by and large amicably, the winner being decided on length and grotesqueness of timbre. Imagine a similar scenario but with one of the kids suffering from schizoflataelalia: how’s that going to end? Amusingly in many cases.
But no, in fact it’s not a joke – very far from it – which fact is acknowledged by the dedication the medical and psychiatric profession has devoted to treating it. Early biological treatments, consisting of medication used to retard oral gas expulsion and encourage voice-free, ahem, bottom-end release, have now, after decades of research, thankfully lost favour to approaches that finally admit the role the mind has to play in finding flight on the winds of liberty. CBT-based mindfulness procedures can now, by themselves, be used to train the body to reroute gas safely downwards.
Dinner at Bellini’s
And yet, even these more enlightened approaches are hit and miss i.e. we need to do more. David Ennsenadi (above), diagnosed with the condition in his mid-twenties, thinks he knows what that ‘more’ should be. Inspired by the new generation of activists for social change, increasingly successful at silencing the most unpleasant voices on UK and US university campuses, David wants the voices in his burps similarly met with formal recognition and opposition. Speaking to me over skype David outlined his logic:
‘If we can devise legislation to formally deny the legitimacy of the horrible ideas I hear (after lunch and breakfast most often), it would I think go a long way to defeating those voices.’
How can we do that?
‘Petition the government. With legislation backing me and the many people like me up, our rational minds are weaponised. It’s pumped up to fight the evil ideas trying to take me over. I would feel I can go to war on them, guns ablaze.’ He pauses with an uncertain smile. ‘Now I know what you’re thinking,’ he says, getting up from his chair and returning a moment later with a drawing pad.
‘You’re thinking some of those horrible, disgusting far-right ideas are themselves all about war and weapons, the right to bear arms etc, so wanting to go to war with these ideas, guns ablaze, is a bit contradictory. But actually it’s ok, because in my mind those weapons are only imaginary. Like in computer games.’
He shows me a sketch of how he imagines his internal war might look:
‘On the left is me, or my rational mind – ‘Spem’ – Latin for ‘hope’. On the right is ‘Allium’, my helper, the one who keeps me going. She keeps hope alive. Partly through what she wears, haha.’
So how does David see himself proceeding?
‘I’ve been very impressed with a woman called Anita Sarkeesian and others like Zoe Quinn – and a whole host of groups cleaning up social media, clamping down on harrassment and abuse. Ultimately they went to the UN with their ideas and I think I can too. We could make it a UN resolution for the wicked, irrational mind to cease harassment. UN resolutions are often used in this way to draw a line and act as a legal basis for wars in real life if it has to go that far – why not imaginary wars as well? Sometimes being the hero of your own imagination is the best thing you can be.’
We wish David the best of luck.
(Aware that Anita and Zoe might find some of the imagery David plans to use in his head problematic, we tweeted them (@femfreq) to find out where they stand:
The two women haven’t replied yet. We’ll update you when they do.