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America the Bipolar

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Message Richard Volaar
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...and the beautiful.

As below so above.

I know wherefore I speak when it comes to “on the ground” experiences dealing with individuals who have the polarized and polarizing mental affliction of bipolar disorder (BPD), also known as “manic depressive illness.”  Recently I have noticed that the heartbreaking nature of the illness very closely parallels the popular themes and the shared experiences of the American people since, at least, my childhood and probably beyond even that limited time frame.

For example, one can clearly observe the traumatic impact of the assassination of JFK in 1963 on the public at large.  The BPD patient’s shock, disbelief, discounting of key matters of fact (only to have them reappear as relevant at a later date) appears and stays present for a good three years after the event.  The earliest beginnings of a need to reconcile the false with the true does not substantially appear in the media until New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison began his investigation in the Fall of 1966.  Garrison’s attempts at reconciliation of the facts of the JFK assassination, like the first attempts of a BPD sufferer to establish a coherent narrative to their unstable personal history, are beaten back and repressed, sometimes fiercely, by an almost obsessive need to maintain control of an out of control reality.

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The marginalization of those who can clearly assess the pathology of the overall experience (and our part in it) can be seen in the very public battles Garrison wages with public personalities who have a substantial vested interest in maintaining the original narrative (that JFK was shot by a single, almost inconsequential, gunman shooting from a building in downtown Dallas’ West End).  The use of CIA-affiliated assets by NBC culminated in a January, 1968 drubbing issued to Garrison by none other than Johnny Carson.

The victimization and retraumatization of the patient, as evidenced in the subsequent murder and coverup in the assassination of the JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, the rolling back of key administrative actions of the JFK Administration, and the involvement of key JFK assassination figures in the Watergate scandal (and national trauma), very closely parallels the feelings of paranoia the BPD patient experiences as an alternate reality begins to wear thin.  Up until this point in a bipolar patient’s awakening, explaining away their disease process to trained outside observers has become a common occurrence.  The BPD patient should feel some paranoia because outside forces are, in effect, about to collapse their world view resulting in, emotionally at least, a strong sense of complete annihilation by figures of authority the BPD patient no longer feels they can trust.

The inability of the BPD patient to reconcile, alone, the duality of their experiences (and, therefore, their obsession with ensuring that only their narratives of any shared experiences are left unchallenged over time) becomes an integral part of a BPD patient’s personality.  One of Richard Gere’s finer performances in the Hollywood movie, “Mr. Jones,” very clearly outlines how the untreated BPD patient literally declares as dead all past relationship partners who dared place his emotional annihilation and his precious personal narrative in the same place at the same time.  If the BPD patient is fortunate, the resolution of all key matters of fact into a coherent picture of meaning and sense are gently and systematically revealed over time. 

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The less fortunate BPD patient – and the American people as a whole, I would argue – continue to be victimized, retraumatized and driven completely barking-dog mad by individuals, sources of authority and seats of power who have a vested interest in keeping a system of identity diseased, volatile and unstable.

Now that a plausible narrative has been illustrated for purposes of explanation, the reader needs some exposure to the issues of an actual psychological fugue as a bipolar patient cycles from a self-destructive, if euphoric, “manic high,” followed almost as quickly (often too quickly, to hear such an experience related by a BPD sufferer) by a devastating and traumatizing depressive sadness.  These depressive episodes are not simple melancholy due to some existential condition that can be easily seen as transitory; these depressions represent, at their most extreme, total annihilations of the personality of the BPD sufferer, sometimes resulting in psychotic breaks complete with auditory and visual hallucinations.  To suggest that the BPD sufferer in the throes of this polarity of the disorder is experiencing a terrifying fright would be a profound understatement.  The sufferer exists in a nightmare where their mouths open to scream bloody murder, but nothing comes out so that no one ever really hears them crying from inside the coldest, darkest most alienating room in Hell.  Observing this sudden crash after a manic euphoria several times, one can easily see why so many BPD patients commit suicide rather than go on endlessly and uncontrollably cycling from a sensationally abundant madness to an abysmally dark nothingness of dust and ruin, equally mad in its bitter emptiness.

The metaphor, and possible social-level analog, of BPD becomes all the more focused when one considers the melancholy and ludicrously dark music of post-Viet Nam and post-Watergate America.  The pain on display and for sale within the media of this period is mindlessly consumed, clearly demonstrating that a mass market identifies with these maudlin emotional, narcissistic overindulgences.

Not to be constrained by the immobility and straight-jacket-tightness of this depression, America goes completely manic over Ronald Wilson Reagan.  This euphoria visited upon the American populace is completely irrational and without substance, as history clearly indicates that Reagan’s physicians were aware of his developing Alzheimer’s disease well before he initiated his first term in office in 1981.  But so hungry, so starved for normalcy after a snootful of mind-numbing sadness, the American population seized on any excuse to celebrate and break free of its self-imposed disillusionment.  Disappointed and ashamed of itself, a real need existed in the American population for hope and reconciliation with matters of fact.  What America feasted on, however, was a complete fabrication generated in large part by those who, by this time, had made a life’s work out of turning popular democracies into knuckle-dragging banana republics.

Enter, as we must, into the present moment of attention; we have ten years of economic excess and euphoria followed by eight years of the most profound psychological torture ever experienced in America.  In fact, one would have to immerse themselves in Pinochet’s Chile, or Ongania’s Argentina, to truly experience something as profoundly humbling, and equally humiliating, a fall from the grace of the French Enlightenment.  From Reagan, perhaps even as far back as Woodrow Wilson to the present day, the United States has experienced the systemic rot of a democracy turned into a banana republic whose fruit has become so rotten and putrid that even Putin’s Russia easily offers more to the suitor countries of the Middle East than the US can hope to provide for at least the next thirty to fifty years.

Individuals and their families can be held to account for much of the criminality that has transpired since 1980, perhaps even as far back as 1963.  But there is no point in a revolutionary blood-letting because for every criminal ponzi scheme sold to the American public, there were millions of ignorant and willing participants eager to obtain something of great value for virtually nothing of value to themselves.

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In short, we deserve to swallow this bitter pill of historical come-uppance.  And we also deserve to reap any consequences that come as a result of our choices, good and bad, social and antisocial.  If there is even one adult victim among us, we are all victims and all equally hopeless.  But my experience has taught me that no such victimization permanently exists for anyone with the stones to reach out and ask for help from their friends and neighbors.

What we have – what we need – are people who know what it means to volunteer their time and their talents in exchange for the sheer joy of feeling a part of a greater whole.  We can listen to tales of victimization and tragedy, but we don’t have the time or resources to spend with individuals who seek to make their victimization akin to a profession. 

The point is not the crucifixion of God’s son, but his resurrection, that must teach us all that wood is meant for bonfires and celebrations of the seasons, not for inflicting fear and loathing on people too exhausted to resist the bullying of fascists who really know not what they do, nor why they really do it.


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Award winning poet, writer and refugee from the educational testing industry. Richard agitates, supports and motivates activists of all kinds, the most well-known being Cindy Sheehan. Web developer and designer by day, writer by night, Richard has (more...)
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