Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For What It's Worth

"I am responsible for everything...except my very responsibility" – Jean-Paul Sartre as cited in Millennium, 522666

On the morning of July 20th (Ramadan) I woke up to the news about the Holmes / Dark Knight Rises Theatre shooting in Colorado, I decided to not bother with following news media spin about the tragedy that morning; it was indeed sickening, but I pretty much suspected it would be the usually ghoulish reporting, the same kind of thing we have seen with Columbine, or Virginia tech, or any number of shootings that have played out in the last decade. It’s interesting to note how the media has ignored another tragic shooting in Chicago, late May, Memorial day, where 10 people died, and 43 were wounded. While it was written about in the press, I recall scant attention with the media. There seems to be a tragedy du jour with what the networks will cover. The last ten years has seen an epidemic of mass shootings, and there are plenty of blame to be assigned as to why that’s the case.

I spent that morning following up on seeing “The Dark Knight Rises”, and tried to remove myself from the tragedy, a somewhat difficult challenge, but I simply wanted to wait for more information, process what I could, before drawing correlations. Within the narrow space of mere days, there has already been too much hand-wringing speculation on all sides, and a premature rush to offer MK Ultra conspiracy ‘False flags’, before the Holmes arraignment by the courts, or the Alex Jones contingent. Such masturbatory conspiracy gossip at an early stage, undermines legitimate conspiracy theory research, and most importantly, trivializes the victims and their families, as pointed out by Christopher Knowles.

What I can talk about at this stage, and something I’m seeing hardly discussed, is the crisis of mental health, and the state of our mental health in America, and an across the board support system that is nil. It has been apparent that the media, and segments of the society celebrate psychosis as a ‘normal’ state to be just accepted. When ever the media reports these tragedies, such reporters feign surprise, as though the news media never itself contributes to the celebration of psychosis. The news media will issue missives and reports from neighbors who express shock about someone like Holmes; that they had no idea that the shooter was that disturbed. While the following point won’t be well received, one has to wonder whenever neighbors / classmates/ co-workers express how oblivious there were about the condition of the shooter, was it just a case that acquaintances of the shooter were oblivious, or were they just too self-absorbed to notice the signs?

A part of me suspects societal self-absorption is one culprit, but the other truth is that in America, we are not comfortable dealing with mental illness, much in the way, many want to turn their eyes away from people with physical disabilities. We have politicians, both on a state and federal level, that have defunded mental health programs and have allowed state mental health hospitals to be shut down. We also have health insurance companies, depending on the state, that won’t cover the mental health costs for therapist’s or psychiatrists, nor the facilities that can offer the resources as a preventative measure.

To some degree, you have patients who refuse to help themselves. My middle-half brother is the black sheep of my family, in some circles he is considered a border-line sociopath who is in dire need of therapy, yet he refuses to seek help. In fairness, he has never been arrested nor committed any violent crime, but there is something that feels ‘off’ about him.

Over the last three years, I have developed a first hand experience on this issue, due to my Mother, who has been suffering from depression / anxiety, it has been a recurring problem for her entire life at various points, and it has resurfaced in her twilight years. There was a period where she was participating with a University department facility, where there treatment worked for about a year, then stopped working, where her doctors were residences that insisted on offering the same psychotropic medication, even when she kept insisting the medication wasn’t working. This resulted with her having to be admitted to their emergency room several times due to anxiety / suicidal tendencies, in spite of being admitted into their psychological program twice, thus illustrating the very textbook definition of insanity – doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.

What was worse; living in a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco, which one would assume would be filled with resources and agencies, and have no one being able to offer referrals to geriatric psychiatrists that specialize in elderly mental illness. While I knew there had to be resources, I had be an advocate, and fight for six months until we found some ideal doctors and a treatment plan that has helped her to be on the mend. But, what happens with people who have no support system? You begin to see the cause and effect of such a broken system.

I recall on one of these Emergency room visits, when my mother was in a very dark place in October 2011, overhearing a young woman in an adjacent room in a phone conversation, whom had stayed over night in a hospital bed, due to some kind of panic attack after being overworked. I surmised from the phone conversation, she knew no one in San Francisco, and was having to call a parent to pick her up after she was about to be released. I don’t know the gist of the conversation, but I surmised she had a strained relationship with her parent, and they didn’t seem to get it, the problem she was dealing with. While I was preoccupied with my own mother, I couldn’t help but feel such empathy, glancing, without trying to glance, as she finished her phone conversation, stopping to eat a hospital meal that was offered to her, while sobbing.

A little while later, I walked by her room, and bravely offered the follow comments; 'I don’t know what you are going through, but believe that things will be get better, and hang in there.' She sweetly accepted the comment, and perhaps putting on a brave face, seemed to cheer up. She was soon released, and I no idea what happened to her. I have no idea if the gesture had any impact on her; I’d like to believe it helped her to feel a little less alone, that someone reached out for a moment. The thought had cross my mind, how many people are out there with no support system? How can this unsustainable system continue where people fall through the cracks, not only professionally, but on an inter-relational level?

I’m probably an anomaly in the sense of noticing a face in public that is in some kind of pain, but I see a lot of self-absorption walking the streets, either from people, out of fear, or assumption others don’t want to bothered, who won’t reach out to a stranger in need. We as a species are hard wired to connect with others, very often when we communicate with peers, we find out they might be facing similar issues in their personal lives to what each of us faces. But connections begin with steps being taken.

To be honest, on a certain level, I’ll never understand mental illness, I have no personal reference for it. I didn’t inherent my Mother’s depression / anxiety / suicidal tendencies, and on my father’s side, and his father’s side, I didn’t inherent his drug addiction issues. At best, due to my Asperger’s Syndrome, I can empathize with the struggle, but I can’t claim to be an expert, just an observer.

This ability to connect isn’t easy for those of us who are introverted, reserved, shy, and whom tend to be loners, but it’s essential for our survival. Perhaps it’s impossible to predict when someone will mentally break and commit a violent act. But shock rocker Marilyn Manson had observed in the Bowling for Columbine documentary, that no one had really sat down to listen to what those kids were going through.

We continue to sensationalize mental illness, while also, we stigmatize it, and place shame on those for seeking help long before someone is beyond help, or we have a system that isn’t set up for preventative measures, only to have a media that continues to feign surprise when these events unfold.

While there’s a lot of blame to go around, the media has played a part in our culture’s desensitizing of mental illness.

On an individual basis, perhaps the first step, the best step, is to ‘listen’ to the needs of a friend, or stranger who is in pain, offer what advise you can without falling into trite platitudes, and when these tragedies befall people, to not become the very thing you despise in others. Perhaps the simple gesture of kindness is what helps that person from falling into that plateau that Nietzsche describes as ‘The Abyss’.

One of the commonalities of sociopathic psychosis is a kind of emptiness, a hollowness inside. I won’t pretend to have any easy answers, and I’m well aware this may seem hopelessly na├»ve, but we are seeing the results of this societal disconnection, and this dehumanization. Perhaps we should reassess the things that are used to distract us, the media, the cell phones, i pads, i phones, laptops, and look around, pay attention, walk away, get some air, read a book, meditate, reflect, tune into our empathy.

One must not give in to the emptiness, don’t let it become your master, reach out, don’t give into apathy in any form. To quote Goethe: "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."

Karmicly, what you put out, does come back, be bold with little gestures.