Der Schrei der Natur, 'The Scream of Nature' by Edward Munch
(Image by Ibiblio Museum Norway) Permission Details DMCA
In the Heart of Madness
By Richard Girard
Today--July 5th--is a bad day for my depression. Listless, unconnected, fighting off a panic attack without much success. I have these days three or four times per month, and my only solace is I know that if I can endure these feelings of frustration, anger, inadequacy and self-loathing for a day or two, I will get past my crisis, and once again be a somewhat functioning member of this society. Not that simply functioning in this society is any great achievement.
Among the people I know, when they inquire, "How are you doing," my usual answer is "Just trying to stay sane in a world gone mad." Most of them nod their heads in agreement, understanding the basic concept, if not all of the implications, that go with my statement.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same things over and over again, and expecting a different result. For some of us, we have no choice: the biochemical imbalance from which we suffer makes episodes like the one from which I am currently undergoing inevitable. Certain drugs help: SSRI"s and drugs such as Lorazepam make my worst days somewhat tolerable; and writing makes me feel useful, contributing to a society which really wishes that those who suffer from mental illness would either: 1) Just go away; 2) get over it, pull myself up by my bootstraps, or find God (strange, I didn't know God was missing), and be like everyone else.
As if I had somehow chosen to be this way. No one consciously chooses to be this way. Trust me on this. Besides, who wants to be like everyone else?
Jung said that the cause of all mental illness was the avoidance of necessary pain. With the exception of those whose illness is due to genetic defect or traumatic brain injury, I believe that Jung is correct. But I also believe that sometimes the pains that we avoid in life--such as those due to childhood traumas--are not, at least initially, intentionally avoided, but left unresolved because--for example--a child is not equipped to handle the pain. Worse still, the adults around the child are usually so busy with their own pain in these situations that they do not notice the child's suffering. It is not a question of the adult not caring; it is a question of being human.
Generalizing the Problem
All of us have little neuroses and character quirks that direct our lives much more than we care to admit. Whether it is wearing a "lucky" shirt when we are watching a favorite sports team on television, avoiding stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk, or never wearing the color purple, these habits help to define us as individuals from all of the other people on this planet. Sometimes, our quirk is to do nothing to make ourselves stand-out from the crowd, applying the old Chinese adage that the nail which stands above the others will be the first to get hammered. While this might be a "safe" way to live, it is not a good way to live, because while it is a way to avoid the pain that is necessary to live a full life, it also creates a life without the possibility of finding not only happiness, but moments of pure joy. It is a fearful and restrictive way to live, and the only ones who benefit are: 1) the pharmaceutical companies who happily sell you their latest panacea when the depression and anxiety caused by your unlived life become too much for you too handle; 2) the control freaks who prefer a flock of sheep to a group of free human beings.
All neuroses and character disorders--what used to be called psychoses--share a single trait: selfishness on the part of the sufferer. When I am in a state of depression, my suffering makes it difficult for me to think of anyone other than myself. Yet, I do my very best to save myself from becoming trapped by myself and my illness, because I have learned over the years that the best thing I can do is to seek out other human beings and interact with them--even if they are total strangers. So, if I can get myself out the door of my apartment (not always easy), I coo and ooh and ah, and make funny faces at infants and small children, strike up conversations with their parents, as well as total strangers who I meet waiting for or riding the bus, and otherwise throw myself into the maelstrom of life, even if it is with strangers. (PS--I do not consider any child a stranger, I'm just the uncle they didn't know they had.) I ask strangers who are out walking their dogs if I can give the dog a skritch, and then pet them nose to tail, while alternately talking to their owners and to the dog, asking the owner about the dog, and telling the dog what a good puppy-dogger they are.
I try to teach, by example, the importance of love and relatedness in everyone's life. John Donne was correct, no man is an island, independent and self-sufficient in and of themselves. I hope that the people I interact with feel a little bit better about their existence because a stranger took a moment to notice them.
Selfishness is At the Root of Our Problems
The selfish, the self-absorbed, all of those who have been told that narcissism is something good, that it is nothing more than "enlightened self-interest," are dealing with a severe and potentially debilitating mental illness. The "Me" generation, so many of who have turned off their emotions to avoid being hurt, are beginning to discover the error of their decision. As Jung said, all mental illness is caused by avoiding necessary pain. Not interacting with other humans in any but the most superficial manner, and living in a world where your relationships are mere transactions rather than an honest giving and receiving of emotions; is it any wonder that we have seen a rise in depression, anxiety disorders, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as well as the long overdue recognition of the prevalence of Antisocial Personality Disorder over the last forty years. (See George Dvorsky's 11 June 2014 AlterNet.org article "The Fascinating Truth About Narcissism," Donald W. Black MD's book Bad Boys, Bad Men, Oliver Bunkman's book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, Melanie Greenberg's 2 April, 2014 AlterNet.org article "5 Reasons It's So Hard to Combat Anxiety and Depression and What You Can Do," and Bruce E. Levine's 15 April 2014 AlterNet.org article "Drug Company Dominance Makes Some Shrinks Very Rich, and Many Patients Overdrugged," plus the numerous articles that OpEdNews publisher Rob Kall has written in the last year on the psychopaths and narcissists who are apparently running our largest corporations, as well as parts of our government, for more information on what is really going on.)
I have written before of the quote I found on a poster on Facebook last month that states, "People were created to be loved, things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is that things are being loved and people are being used." For those who are motivated by selfishness, other human beings are things to be used, pawns to be played. This is unhealthy, morally wrong and inherently evil. We must end this way of thinking, especially at the highest levels of our society, while we still have a society. We must recognize this state of mind for what it is: destructive, and in the long term, harmful to all of us.
Do not think of other people as things, and do not use any human being, without first considering the potential ramifications of your action. We all deserve each others' love, not our inattention and lack of consideration. The alternative is too horrible to imagine.