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 naïve, 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.


heidi said...

Very well written, Konrad. I don´t think simple acts of empathy or inclusion are naive. It all adds up, just like every little nudge in the opposite direction adds to the sense of disconnection that a person must feel in order to carry out a shooting like this one. Having a gun available is only a small part of it.
People are harsh, our way of life is harsh, fast paced, and fragmented, the winner/loser lines are drawn hard. It leaves little room for those who are less thick-skinned, mentally ill or not. It´s "get with the programme or get lost". People don´t depend on each other like we used to, you are no longer considered "worthy" by default, it depends more and more on your own ability to excel socially, professionally, academically, 16 hours a day. Many can´t keep up and drift towards the fringes without any alarm bells going off, I think. Digitalization and self-service adds to it in that you can now go for days without having to talk to anyone. Less and less human contact. It all adds up.
As for the psychiatric system being understaffed and underfunded - the mentally ill are not a big or powerful voter group with a powerful lobby organization behind them so cut-downs in this and other "soft" areas in the social system will not have much consequence at the election booth. Shootings like this are IMO symptoms of more complex problems than tighter control with guns or with people can fix. It´s not exclusively American either. Breivik in Norway July 2011 was another example.

heidi said...

OOOPS!! Sorry Matt for calling you Konrad :-/
*bows head in embarrassment*

Raj said...

Good stuff, Matt.

I think an increased awareness of the indicators of mental illness would go a long way towards stopping these kinds of tragedies. But also, increased awareness would help to remove some of the social stigma attached to mental illness. People usually don't want to look at the Shadow, at what's wrong in our society. I agree wholeheartedly that we are all ultimately responsible for our actions, but I also cannot ignore the fact that our society is very toxic and can warp fragile psyches into sinister shapes. We need to do everything we can to hold on to our lucidity, empathy and our appreciation of each others humanity - otherwise these types of violent crimes will only increase.


The X-Files Lexicon Blog said...

Raj, as always, very astute, thank you. And Heidi, thank you for your great comments and really getting this.

The X-Files Lexicon Blog said...

And no problem Heidi, I've been called worse on occasion. :)

Eziliveve said...

Brilliant piece, Matt. Thanks for your insights into an aspect of the latest tragedies that's largely ignored. I can empathize, mostly from because of a beloved cousin who suffers from depression/anxiety and psychosis ( a danger to no one but herself) and my experiences while advocating for her with the various agencies and institutions she needs to deal with. It's been an education. The array of medications alone is staggering and the apparent goal is not to help her feel better but to make her feel nothing. Even the most understanding family members have a hard time seeing why she doesn't cheer up. And, as has been said already, society ain't helping.
One bright spot:
A few months ago, I got her to try acupuncture and it actually seems to be helping. I was lucky enough to find a Community Acupuncture clinic where they charge on a sliding scale so they can bring it to people who can't otherwise afford it. It's no cure, but it really seems to be helping her cope, especially with the anxiety, and I see that as a win. She was open enough to give it a try despite totally understandable doubts and it's paying off.

Rhiannon Elliott said...

Just a thought to add in reference to a well written piece, and a different window in which everyone can view this tragedy:

I've suffered from depression and anxiety and at times when the combination of the afore mentioned were at their greatest, a sense of paranoia. By paranoia I don't mean the quasi loveable sort like that of a certain Fbi agent who had just cause for his. I'm referring to the type where due to the media, our friends families and neighbors being so uneducated about mental illness that we try so hard to just be normal, without our medication or psychological help. Its a world where one is always wondering what everyone is thinking about them and whether or not they are successfully keeping their shameful mental problems hidden well enough. Then after an interminable amount of time, could be days or even years something triggers us to the point where most relent to their disease and seek help while some, unfortunately and sometimes tragically snap. Those who seek help still to an extent are hiding, due a lot in part to the medias distortions of mental illness. They don't want people to know they are diagnosed with anything but the same ignorance as anyone else. I used to be that person hiding and living a very painful existence and it took a decade of closeting emotions and parts of who I was, parts that make me unique, from ignorant friends, family members, co workers even strangers. All I thought about was what others were thinking about me because in my mind everyone around me was thinking something about me. My thinking constantly of the thoughts of others over came me and everything I tried to do. I finished nothing I started. I most definitely removed myself from any social existence and withdrew from everyone. I had been on every medicine I'd ever heard of and had some other more radical forms of treatment performed. I was hopeless and tired of trying and being disappointed when things didn't work. This wasn't the kind of disappointment one gets when their lottery numbers weren't pulled or that blind date didn't quite pan out. This is the hollowing disappointment that leaves you empty and alone like you referred to Matt. I decided one more try and if this doctor couldn't help I would hole up inside my head forever resigned to my fate. I told this doctor this. Continued

Rhiannon Elliott said...

I laid it on the table that he was my last try and that I didn't have much hope. I told him I hadn't meant to offend and he just smiled and said none taken he specializes in such cases hears my sentiment often. He told me he does his practice one day a week because he was the head of washington university school of psychology and wrote books and did private practice the one day because his true poison was helping the hopeless. Something about what he said and how he said it broke down my resistance. The remedy after everything I'd tried was ridiculously simple that it almost made me angry no other doctor had tried it before. Effexor which treats both anxiety and depression and ritalin for the lack of concentration. So simple but without that trust the doctor built in me instantly I would likely still be in the same boat I'd always been in. its not just media and ignorance to blame either. Its the doctors. They see you for two minutes and are convinced they know what your problem is and toss some generic script your way and advise returning every six months. It makes you feel groupped in with everyone who has mental illness when the truth is there are too many kinds to ever conceive of grouping all their sufferers into one. The media, that's what their famous for, their repetitious ” it has been learned the suspect was suffering from some mental illness.” while it shouldn't be accepted or even tolerated the media's ignorance has become accepted, not that its okay but it has. The doctors doing the same thing in a different way is just outright dangerous and irresponsible and I have no doubt partially to blame for senseless tragedies. It would do wonders for the public to realign with their empathy as you stated but think of what it could do if psychiatrists would do the same. Your ideals at far from nieve. I was just one step, one small step, one life saved. But by reaching out to others, telling my story, empathizing with others that are suffering hopefully my paying it forward reaches at least one person if not more and then someday they can do the same and so on and so on. So see, sometimes the power of just one is stronger than the millions of masses such as the media and impatient doctors. In closing education amongst society is a must to raise much needed awareness about all the varying degrees of mental illness. however education amongst those suffering is a must as well. Ask doctors to spend more than one minute with you before reaching for a prescription pad. Let them know you are more than a generic condition or a generic pill. And one last thing to Ezilivive see if she will try auricular therapy. I used it not for depression but a knee injury and I was shocked and pleasantly amazed at what the tiniest electrical stimulation IN MY EAR could do for pain in my knee! It is used to treat all kinds of illness as well. And obviously the mind over matter didn't affect me cause I thought it was downright dumb, . . . Till it worked!

Eziliveve said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Rhiannon. I'm so glad you found a good doctor. They are rare. I'll tell my cousin about auricular therapy and have her check out Effexor and Ritalin as well. In a lot of ways I think she is where you used to be. She has a lot to share with the world and really wants to be able to do it.
Many blessings,

The X-Files Lexicon Blog said...

I want to thank everyone for the great response, and the great dialogue this post has triggered. It warms the heart to know that this has had an impact for some people. We'll be doing a little editorial clean up with this thread.

We also are about to publish a new series of "Ophiuchus Code" articles, so stay tunned!

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