Thursday, July 01, 2010

An Undisciplined Mind

There is a young woman from Minnesota who enjoys talking with me, via the marvels of communications technology, of this age and the last. If it were not for the telephone and Internet, it's unlikely that she and I would have ever met. But they do, and we have. As a result, she has been a positive force in my life simply by being a part of it. I can only hope that she feels the same way about me.

Not many people are a part of "it" anymore. I've chosen to keep some people away, but many times that number (whatever it is) keep away because I'm not an easy person to be around. Failure. Weakness. Pain. Poverty.

Have you ever taken a razor blade and cut yourself so deeply that stitches are required? Statistically, not very many people have. But enough people do that the phenomenon has a name, and the name, cutting, inspires a modicum of sympathetic attention, which the cutter finds efficacious. It also provides a distraction from emotion pain. Much is made of the former motive, and that leads to mockery and disdain of the victim. Weakness is as much a failure in our culture as it was in ancient Sparta. And not the Sparta depicted romantically in the very successful, but awful film 300.

My education was insanely expensive, and a lot of money was spent to educate me about the ancient world, as I minored in Ancient History. I'm aware that this means nothing except, perhaps, that it indicates my natural curiosity about the world. But time, an undisciplined mind, electro-shock therapy (ECT) and psychiatric medications have rendered my intellect broken and scattered. This is a reality that I regard with acceptance and freedom from regret. Self-pity is for my present state, not how I got here. We are all somewhere on a continuum between birth and death. The most we can hope for it to die in stages that are widest in the middle of life, providing enough time in between the borders of one stage to the next to allow us to feel a sense of permanence. It's why many people talk about death as if it were something possible to avoid, if careful. It's a delusion.

But I digress. This sort of writing is indicative of what I referred to earlier as an "undisciplined mind." These digressions represent the gallows fruit of a lazy mind.

A point exists, and here I make it. So many otherwise healthy young people cut themselves, become addicted to a substance, commit suicide and take psychiatric medications and/or attend therapy that a thinking person has to consider that the post-post industrial age is a harsh place to be. Oh, the things we've gotten used to! Those ancient Spartans had to have an eye on compassion in order to avoid it. We are worse, as our cruelty to those who can't "compete" in a world of endless hurdles is dressed up as kindness. If we are kind to each other it is by accident. Different roads take a mentally ill person to "functionality." To stop me from being a burden on the government and my family. To end the Age of Entitlement. Again, sometimes kindness is present. But with Seroquel being advertised on television, and private insurers shoe-horned superfluously into an otherwise efficient health care finance system (Medicaid through MassHealth), it looks a bit like I'm making money for others, as well. Thus I'm tolerated. Would I be receiving aid if nobody made money off of me by proxy?

What the hell am I talking about? Well, we have no room for failure in our society, except in prison or on the street. If you can't keep a job because of a pathological mental or physical state, you may then be labeled "lazy." In the very least, you must keep trying to succeed in work and/or school. But trying gets you accolades only if you end up succeeding. If you are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of trying and failing, then you are seen as doing something wrong. The possibility that you may simply be up against something impossible to overcome is considered only in the abstract.

I'm defined as "mentally ill," and receive health insurance paid for by the state. I'm poor, but enjoy heat in the winter and a small, shaded and cool flat in the summer. Obviously, I have cable and Internet access. There is even a dog, which I'm allowed to have because of my "total and permanent disability." She keeps me company, and is called a "companion dog."

What an act of kindness in an otherwise harsh world. It speaks to me like music. There are people in this society who don't want me to be alone, even if no one wants to be near me for long. A pillar from a temple, otherwise razed, that runs through our modern world like a vein of gold. The priests and priestesses of that temple are scattered and mostly gone now. The magic they used was called social welfare. Their compassion and wisdom, contained in hieroglyphics, are letters of the alphabet; WPA, CCC, FDR, etc. If it were not for the cornerstone they set, I'd be on the street, pure and simple.

Weakness and need is met with incredulity by most today. If you cut yourself, you're seeking drama and attention. That you're also a person in extreme pain is an afterthought. I've not cut in a very long time, but I have the scars. The thoughts and feelings that put them there are better controlled but still very much around. I try and I fail endlessly to get back to work, to find the person I used to be, years ago. For three years, I worked and went to school full-time. And I didn't do it thinking that I would end up stuck where I am. How I am. Why would I?

Yet so many harshly criticize me, and have done so to my face. Most of the people in my life are kind to me, of course, but I'm frequently reminded that I'm on the government tit. As if I'm working an angle like a confidence man. Or I'm indulging my weakness. Try and try again, but when I fail I must be doing something wrong.

Am I doing something wrong? No. I take my medication and go to therapy and carefully try to increase physical exercise and keep my mind active. Still, my mind rages against itself. Thoughts move through my mind like rain, and in the rain is a familiar voice. The voice speaks of suicide, of being a drain on society, of being useless, or worse. This endless self-loathing leads to acts of self-destruction and rage, which scare loved ones away. And to stop the voice (which is my own inner monologue, not someone else), drugs are needed.

Absolutely no amount of self-discipline can overcome the weak need (weak knee'd) for chemical help.

It's nice to think that if we focus and work hard enough that we can find our foundation, soul or spine. Whatever. Our center. And in doing so, find strength that will make mental illness go away. That myth fuels the cruelty I spoke of earlier. It's hard to accept that such a place isn't within those like me. Because if it is in me, it's in you, as well.

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