This could be an interesting film: a billion dollar industry finds they can control people with chemicals that are marketed as medicine, happiness-makers, or designer drugs for the obsessively successful. They have close ties to another industry that produces a must-have for our mouths—Mass Food—who keeps their ingredients top secret while they appeal to our comfort cravings. People get fat and further unhappy that they are fat, tired, and sad. These megaliths control Congress to angle for their big paydays, though most among them know better than to ingest their own wares.
What happens? First the kids and the old people lose their minds, free will, sense and reason (learning disabilities to dementia). Women are particularly vulnerable; they’d been fighting for their rights, and it was only going so-so. Soon enough there is a divided country.
Those who can’t think clearly or learn how to learn, hop on the bandwagon of a demagogue who promises them the moon but is Da Furher in disguise. He manipulates them emotionally and offers scapegoats to ease their awful knowing at some level that they aren’t particularly sharp. He is the Golden White Dad. But those who still have enough wits about them and see through this, well, they must go into hiding.
What happens from there remains to be written. The above scenario grew from a mindset I held about mental health that I regret only because I was so single-minded about it. I missed not only the heart, as I wrote in Part 1 of this post here, but a lot more when I thought I had the one and only answer to the mental health crisis.
Still, it’s worth musing. Would we treat each other so savagely if we all felt better, more fit, little mercury and lead abounding, the rush of daily living less a stress-pressed mess? The environment back in balance, Native peoples not defending water or losing island homelands, species never going extinct, everybody with enough stuff and it’s good, sustainable stuff? What if health was about healing, as in curing, not just managing symptoms with more diversified products promising to be research-based breakthroughs? How could terrorism, racism, vicious elections, banana republics, and the likes of Sandy Hook persist in such a paradise?
Only conflict and Armageddon sell these days, so a utopian ending to the movie wouldn’t fly. Also, it’s not fair to blanket the octopi that are Big Pharma and Big Food with nothing but conspiratorial motives, because I actually think there had to be, somewhere in their history, a few good hearts and minds dedicated to helping and feeding everyone.
But how those powers of Medicine and Food have wreaked so much suffering! Is it so far-fetched to wonder if their negligence about real food and real health contributed to the so-called “alt right,” by dumbing down “consumers” through a war on the planet’s natural beauty and grace? There is an unmistakable new disregard for civility and an outright uptick in aggression too, not just in airports or Aleppo but in once quiet neighborhoods; people are getting meaner, more dangerous, and I hope that doesn’t sound paranoid. At worst, just call me an older person who remembers fondly some sweeter and safer times.
“Be the change you wish to see.” That approach is more basic, yet so much harder, than marking the corporately-connected as villains, which they may yet be. And I don’t even know where those things I wrote about it Part I, like forgiveness, fit here so I’m trying to hash that out as I go along. It could just be that with this post I’m enacting a self-forgiveness ritual for overlooking some important things. Here’s my last mea culpa:
I deleted discussion of race and economics and other forms of oppression from my mental health advocacy efforts during their heyday of 2008-2013, and I regret it. Not that I repressed those topics, I just didn’t go there.
My goal was covering the waterfront regarding alternatives in mental health, especially treatment. But…I didn’t want to alienate anyone! People’s politics are their own business, healing is another! Don’t sully the nourishment with the ugly! Change your diet and ditch the meds, find nature and spirituality, and the cure will follow.
Turns out, it isn’t enough. Because dang it, the better you feel the more you notice others’ pain. As if anyone could fail to notice the collective pain of people rife throughout 2016 and going strong. Nowadays I can’t figure out why we are still treating mental health as if it can be separated from the health of the body politic, or the world soul.
Two primal forces seem to rage: the need to scapegoat in times of collective distress, and the need to secure basic survival. Put simply, tons more folks than ever before are broke or teetering near it, and no less troubling, fearful white people are unloading unprecedented buckets of poisonous racism on persons of color, while the clock turns backwards when it comes to rights for women.
This is how it happens for good liberals in my age group: we went through the civil rights movement and thought we saw change. Figured it impossible that a thing like white supremacy would ever, ever rear up again. We were all beyond that! As with feminism, we knew racism wasn’t obliterated. But we sighed to be living well past the days of horror. People of color had a voice, made their mark, gave us a president! Women were loud and proud and amazing. Gays finally got real-time rights. What happens now? we ask. We are befuddled progressives, our leaders bickering among each other about the whole thing.
Why did a good woman I know, a lifelong Democrat, vote for Trump, cackling with glee at his brazen ways? Is she hurting financially? No. Is she a racist? No. But what exactly IS a racist, in this weird new world? This conundrum itself illustrates there is illness of soul widespread. I believe that “mental health” healers should help out. There is real fear out there that is trivialized by labels like GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and expectations that you leave your feelings about the election outside the door.
A comment to an online article about race-based trauma as a unique form of PTSD says:
Racism has always been exhausting. Being bombarded by the images and conversations and insults and deflections EVERYDAY is beyond exhausting.
I had to dig for this article among many taking African-Americans to task for shying away from therapy due to its stigma. The gist was that so many were at risk from full blown “mental illness” but were just too stubborn to get help. Yet the idea that it’s societal realities that drive us crazy has a long history, spotlighted by the great Thomas Szasz beginning in 1961. Here is an engrossing position on how racism was made, using Szasz’s thought as a framework.
Racism touches our family, since our youngest daughter is adopted from Vietnam and like many from Southeast Asia her skin color is darker than other Asians. We anguished for her when she came home from kindergarten one day and took to the sink, rubbing furiously at her skin with soap and cloth to wash off the brown hue and hopefully discover white beneath. We heard later of the peer-teasing about the slant of her eyes. We watched her grapple with a dawning truth when she asked her Dad, “we’re white, right?” and we had to explain a difference to be celebrated that she already experienced as a consolation prize. No, she has not suffered as many persons of color do. But even these events, loving her so much, made me feel so powerless I wept.
Shift now to those angry white voters, their communities decimated by factories leaving or environmental regulations or poor governance, or just plain greed. My mind is pulled apart because I want to feel for them, but when they start in on immigrants I get nauseated. As I referred to in Part I, my family has taken a fall financially and it reverberates, liberates, frustrates, and ultimately, I sense, will open my mind to why we need to speak of things that you just didn’t in polite (white) society. I’m also cringing at all the privileges I have long taken for granted, but also how I subtly rationalized having them. It makes the fall even more of an ass-kicking.
I’ve no credentials here to speak from a life of poverty, even though my husband’s illness and disability created a scaled-down lifestyle due to the loss of his profession. We’ve had family help us out to the tune of many thousands of dollars, or it might have been a different story. But whatever happened to the idealistic me, I ask, now scrambling for survival and nearly losing my mind with the strain? Because prior to this marriage and becoming a parent, I always lived as one of the “privileged poor,” a person who sneered at Affluence and romanticized “simplicity.” Still do, it’s just that those fine values rub so much differently when there are children involved, and I kind of…um…lost my way. Now, I’m playing Publishers Clearing House games on my phone, dreaming of the big win. Sheesh!
Back 0to mental health, here’s the kicker, and it’s a serious problem. The long list of supplements and diet changes for healing the body-mind that I’ve extolled persons toward is EXPENSIVE. It’s like I had no idea, when I wasn’t hurting to buy them. Now these items are just as necessary as ever to us, yet I see how difficult it is to do alternative medicine when you are really very sick, as are my spouse and autistic daughter, and those not-paid-by-insurance nutrients hold the line between recovery and failing. I am saddened that I was blithe about this economic reality in the past, and not more sensitive to persons’ struggles to add one more set of things to the budget.
There exists some straightforward research about poverty and mental health worldwide. The World Heath Organization calls depression a global crisis. A couple of psychiatrists from the UK, reviewing all the studies, made no bones about it. Psychiatric conditions in lower social classes are more prevalent, and cluster together, especially in inner cities–they looked at schizophrenia, mood disorders, substance abuse, personality disorders, and childhood disorders. No, the labels are not my favorite, but some yardsticks for real suffering had to be used.
What was refreshing was that their remedy was not to drum up more mental health services. Rather, it was to eradicate poverty! The how-to included educating more girls and women, and increasing access to safe water and sanitation. Now we’re talking!
But allow me to slither from the political to something more personal. There is a knowing I use that helps me keep the heart open and perspective wide. You see, when I was in my twenties I had a phobia of death. I knew I needed to get a grip. I came across the idea of reincarnation and felt intrigued. I studied all I could lay my hands on, such as the gazillions of reports by children and others with knowledge they could never have possibly faked: knowledge about a past life.
I became convinced: we’ve all been here before. More importantly: we’ve all been EVERYONE before. Female, male, dark, light, disabled, overweight, svelte, rich, poor, parent and childless, moral and immoral, genius and dumbshit. We really are one, because nobody is immune from having been-there-done-that. There are just too many accounts and too much careful research for reincarnation to be a mass delusion based on wishful thinking. (I am indebted to Dr. Margarete Birmingham for discussions on this topic as well.)
Reincarnation is often tied to religion, and it’s not the Christian norm. But it doesn’t have to be a faith-based or faith-shunned “belief.” Could there be a secular understanding we could use to break down barriers and treat the other as if he/she were the self? Whether you “believe” or buy it, here’s something to try. Look in the mirror and visualize yourself a different race or gender, age or level of ability. What comes up for you?
Bottom line, we need to bring front and center a discussion about how poverty can drive you insane, racism can drive you insane, being a woman up for grabbing can drive you insane. The list of the slighted goes long, so much humiliation borne for the body, its permanent fact of skin color, the wrong genitalia, a yearning for same-sex love. Maybe as violence becomes the norm we should talk more about how mass societal humiliations based on body-facts shape these tragedies. So much more vivid and immediate these simple truths, so ripe to replace the posturing of diagnostic manuals charting suffering as a family-systems glitch or genetic defect.
I see now it’s imperative to add the world’s sorrows due to bigotry into all discussions of the body-mind, even those about nutrient levels, allergic foodstuffs, or the dirty work of toxic metals. Rather than clinging to my favorite root issues, I’m seeing the more realistic approach: a circle of painful causes, but a circle of options too.
We who find our fascination with the elusive goal known as mental health need to be very clear. Was the good Dr. Szasz right after all: there are no diseases known as mental illness, just “problems in living?” What is the treatment? Reach out, speak up, take action for justice before you take the Abilify. And keep looking in the mirror for all those faces you lived in before (and will again), their body-felt sense a treasure chest waiting for you to sort through.