Although we shouldn’t generalize every single mentally ill person into this group, the two basic reasons why this could happen are the lack of limitations your brain puts on your muscular system to avoid injury and hormones. It may seem like fiction, but there is some truth to this claim. You may have heard somebody say that it takes 5 or 6 cops to restrain a mentally ill person, or maybe you’ve seen a movie where somebody in the psych ward gets dogpiled on by a bunch of nurses, or perhaps there was a commercial on TV where some insane cartoon character was bouncing off the walls beating up children and punching women just to get a bowl of some breakfast cereal. Don’t do drugs, kids. Also, domestic violence is bad.
Power Throttling from the Brain
Not unlike a limiter or speed governor installed in your car by the manufacturer, your brain will simply not allow you to use 100% of the power your muscles are capable of in most circumstances. It may unlock that potential for a moment if needed for survival, but for the most part it will prevent it from happening. Your muscle system is actually capable of pretty amazing feats if it could use all of its power. Unfortunately, that would result in muscle strain, bruising, or even damaged bones. You can imagine why your brain will protect you from that. In a mentally ill brain, this protection could be either completely missing or not functioning at its best capacity.
If you were to go into “fight or flight” mode by being in a situation where your very survival is at stake, you could briefly have full power and speed your muscles to get you out of that pinch. Maybe you’re in a mall when you suddenly hear gunshots, maybe you’ve encountered a lion unexpectedly, or maybe you were dumb enough to tell a woman, “Go make me a sandwich,” and now she’s chasing you with an AK-47. Now, don’t go trying to get into dangerous situations intentionally just to experience your body’s full capabilities. The point is, it isn’t just that mentally ill people experience life with no limits. Any “normal” person could potentially enter into that full-power state in certain circumstances.
Adrenaline, Your Brain’s Version of Peeing Its Pants
So, now that you’re being hunted for wanting a sandwich, you might ask, “How is my brain removing the restraints from my body?” Well, when you are in a heightened emotional state caused by fear, stress, etc., your brain will send signals to some glands to release hormones to ramp up your body’s performance. These hormones could include epinephrine and norepinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones make your heart pump HARD, which increases blood flow to the muscles and brain alike. They relax your airways so you can breathe and start burning sugar like if your body was some big corporation guilty of criminal sugar acts and the sugar auditors were banging at the door.
For most people, entering this fight or flight state is rare. Some go for years without incident. That’s not to say that we don’t have ups and downs but going into adrenaline pumping mode for most of these cases is not necessary. Not so for someone who is mentally unstable. The overreaction by the brain to something that might seem normal stress is not normal stress to someone with a mental condition. Mentally ill people can go in and out of fight or flight more frequently and for lesser provocations.
A Word About Mental Illness
Mental illness is a seriously difficult and trying thing. It is a constant fight every minute of every day. Medications help, but when those medications are off balance, you can imagine it makes everything that much more difficult. Most of us have a hard time simply living life without any extra difficulties thrown in. Imagine trying to function in daily life while continually battling with emotions, thoughts, or even hallucinations. It is very admirable and commendable to see a person that battles with mental illness continue to show up for treatment and continue to fight the good fight time after time after time. My heart goes out to those who deal with these conditions.