Insane in one language but sane in another

My mother tongue is Swedish, but since I started moving countries at the age of 16, I have lived most of my life in English. It’s the language that’s established my adult self. It’s also the language in which I went insane. Before I woke up from a psychotic break convinced we were all living in a computer simulation (which, all being said, is actually a likely possibility) I’d spent weeks using a form of deductive reasoning that led me to believe there was a massive conspiracy to destroy western civilization.

After a few weeks locked up in a Czech mental hospital, my boyfriend got me on a plane to Sweden, where I got proper help. It grounded me straight away because as strange as this may sound, I was not insane in Swedish. Don’t get me wrong. I still had delusions. But somehow, being surrounded by Swedish calmed me down. It brought back the safe memories from my childhood of sitting in quiet caf├ęs with giant cinnamon buns while my mother smoked cigarettes. My father and I, fishing in a small boat on the lake. I now had to confirm my crazy ideas with my Swedish personality, which was far more rational and down to earth than the English one.

They say that if you speak a second language, you have another soul. There’s some truth to this in that the cultural experiences you reference are different. My personality instantly shifts into a more politically correct and serious mode when I speak Swedish. My sense of humor is underdeveloped, and the feeling of being a helpless child returns. I can not express my political opinions anywhere near as well in Swedish as I can in English. On the other hand, Swedish me is still a 16-year-old searching for the meaning of life. The reasoning that drove me insane does not exist in that language. So, if you know someone struggling who is bilingual, consider shifting the conversation to another language. It might do nothing, but it might also offer perspective, where the insane person remembers what it means to be sane again.

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