Thursday, July 14, 2011

At the Interesection of Substance Abuse Blvd., Depression Ave., and Skid Row

This is one of my favorite songs. Listen to this song, and read the post, and think about how the two relate. The ways in which they do can be surprising.

Anyway, the post.

I've often wondered what the impact of being mentally ill has on your place in society. I'm depressed; or, rather, I'm treated but depressed, and I have ADHD. In my particular case, possessing ADHD is the reason why I'm depressed; they were fortunate enough to figure that out, even though I was an adult at the time, and treat the ADHD. Treat the ADHD, free from the depression and the anxieties that go along with it - the social phobia, being scared of dealing with people because you're afraid you'll drag them down and they won't be able to have fun, constantly worrying about whether every little thing you do is going to make you look selfish when really all you want is to just be happy, like everyone else.

There's no doubt it has a huge impact on your economic prospects. If you're depressed, you can't work as hard as you need too. If you've got ADHD, you can kiss staying organized good bye. You lose things, you miss important parts of directions even thought you were damn sure you were listening, and you're at a higher risk of being in an auto accident by sheer virtue of being the way you are (I can vouch. I got in a car accident because of my inability to pay attention. I was terrified of driving for a long time after that). If you can't keep up with these things, what's that mean for your job? It means you get fired, if they even bother hiring you to begin with. If you tell someone you're mentally ill, you become something like a pariah, providing they even believe you and don't think it's you just making an excuse.

Oh, I've gotten that. It's an excuse. You need more discipline. You need to focus harder. Push harder, try this and that. About the only thing I didn't try was narcotics, and even that's only half true - one form of self-medication for me was soda. Specifically, the caffeine in it. When you have ADHD, you're wired backwards. Your brain chemistry is nine kinds of messed up, and in my case, drinking caffeinated things wound me down, it didn't speed me up. I understand it's like that for a lot of individuals with ADHD. Even though I'm being treated, I'm still a bit of caffeine fiend, but it doesn't have any result for me, so it's like drinking water (I don't speed up, I don't slow down. The balls are inert; Shenlong checked out a long time ago).

This actually brings me the next intersection, and the intersection I wanted to discuss for a while. This street is called "substance abuse." Like I said - I tired everything with my ADHD/Depression/Anxiety - except substance abuse (and again, if you want to qualify caffeine as a substance, I readily admit I abuse it, so that's not true, either). Mentally ill people are very prone to substance abuse. If you don't have legitimate medication to help (and even then, that won't work for some people), using alcohol to numb those feelings of depression, or ADHD, or Bipolar, or whatever, is very, very tempting. Using heavier narcotics has different effects on your brain chemistry - obviously your brain chemistry is already screwed over, so what's it hurt? In a lot of ways, these drugs stimulate neurotransmitters that aren't fully working, so for some people, I can actually make them feel normal.

Oh, and speaking of normal. Let's meet Mr. Normal. Mr. Normal might look like a strawman at first, but I guarantee you he isn't. Everyone knows someone like Mr. Normal here, or, even better, Mr. Normal could be reading this post right now (not likely, but you never know). So who is Mr. Normal? Well, Mr. Normal is White (like me), Male (like me), and probably Christian (decidedly unlike me). He probably gets tight-assed at the very mention of government spending. He probably has a house, a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a wife, a dog, two cars, and lives in the suburb away from "those people" (okay, okay... I concede the point. Hyperbole folks, not straw...). He probably thinks Reagan was the best president since George Washington, with Bush II a short third. Hey may or may not attend church; if he does, he's more than likely Protestant although Catholic works sometime too. Most of all, and what overrides all of that, is that Mr. Normal is what we call an "authoritarian." He has that mindset that if someone in power says it, I agree with it. His morality is probably a Level 2 on Kohlberg's scale, which would make him conventional. That's what he likes - to be convention. Not to rock the boat, not to stand out. In short, he's the perfect communist; Uncle Joe just loved people like that. Just don't try to tell him that.

Having met Mr. Normal, let's go back to my original point - what effect being mentally ill has on your economic situation. Don't worry, we'll be meeting Mr. Normal again soon, but for the moment, stick with me here. When you're mentally ill, you're prone to substance abuse. That's a given - as I described above, your brain chemistry is thirty-two different flavors of fucked up. If you are really bad off (and most people develop "coping strategies" as they grow up with these illnesses), then you find that it becomes extremely difficult holding down a job. You can't focus. Or you were damn sure you heard what your boss said but you screw up anyway, because you didn't (my boss actually told me "I thought too much." In retrospect, I lost that job for a great deal more reasons than my ADHD/Depression, but that certainly played a role). If you're depressed, it's murder getting out of bed some mornings. It takes everything you have just to bring yourself around. And if you're in public service, well... yeah. The mask is made of lead and it takes most everything you have to keep it from slipping off. If you have a social phobia, work just became an anxiety ridden nightmare and you're well on your way to speedy mental breakdown. I went through all of that when I did my student teaching. That's actually why I had to get help - I was literally at wits end.

But I couldn't have done that if I didn't have healthcare. Now, odds are, Mr. Normal (remember him?) gets a severe case of the vapors when we mention "national healthcare" and will say something about how Canada had one bad year, therefore we don't need it, or how it's not the government's job to take care of people, or how forcing him to donate to charity is immoral, or that it means doctors won't be working as hard, or some such. So what's this mean? This means that people like me are extremely thankful I got the help I needed when I did, before my dad's health insurance ran out. For people not like me, you don't get that help. You don't even know where to turn. There are free services, but you know what's not free? The medication. That's what's not free. And that's decidedly unfree, because I would spend something like 100 dollars a month for the generic brand. And if you can't get that help, what's that mean? That means you can't hold onto that job. You get to watch that slip away, and in this economy, that can be devastating mentally.

Conservatives like Mr. Normal have a very popular meme they love to spread. They say that people who get on welfare will stay there, and not find a job. I've never been on welfare, but not having a job is devastating. I'm sure there's more who would agree with me than disagree. So, you don't have a job. You have no purpose in life. You've got kids you're trying to take care of. You're mentally ill, so you're already unhappy, you loose your job, so now you're even more unhappy, and you certainly aren't getting any help for your problems. Welcome to the downward spiral. Government assistance will play a role somewhere, because there's no other way you could survive in this society. And that makes the problem worse, because of all the negative associations that go along with it. Do you see that last road over to the left? It intersects with Depression Avenue. That's called Substance Abuse Boulevard. Not all mentally ill people turn to substance abuse. But I'm sure there's more substance abusers who are mentally ill than there are mentally ill who are substance abusers. Substance abuse can help right that scrambled brain chemistry. Various drugs have different psychotropic effects; some of them lift you up when you're feeling blue. Others, like alcohol (probably the most widely abused substance in the country after caffeine - but only if you consider caffeine a substance), help you forget. You drown your demons. It just happens to be your misfortune the demons life saddled you with came with built in water-wings and took several swimming classes in high school, because they aren't going anywhere.

Let's return to Mr. Normal here. Mr. Normal, like I said, is like a good hunk of Americans in that he's authoritarian (a sick irony, if you ask me, considering we're a country built on the bones of rebels). Mr. Normal wants things, well, normal. Odds are, he probably is all for the war on drugs. After all, those people deserve it. Every drug dealer is Black (Oops. Shame on me for reaching for the stereotypes) is rich and drive around in pimped out Cadillacs. They're all sporting mountains of bling, and worst of all, they're stalking around the suburbs trying to seduce his children into taking drugs. Drugs are evil. And those who do drugs are parasites, right? Of course. They're Black (oops. There we go again with the stereotyping. Why, you'd think I was almost as bad as Mr. Normal here,) welfare queens with thousands of children running around that they don't take care of. They're dead-beat dads. They're losers. Why else would you take drugs? Certainly not because you've got a major problem that you can't fix, so you've turned to self-medication, right? Of course not. After all, those people are just making excuses for poor behavior. As we all know, everyone is just like Mr. Normal here, because, well, he's normal, and if you're not like him, it's because you're an abstinent fool who is actively trying to hurt themselves.

So, Mr. Normal looks at these people - these parasites on society who attach themselves to narcotics because they're deadbeats and they don't want to do anything with their lives. And what's worse, they're using his tax dollars! They're living off of his hard earned cash, and they aren't even doing anything! And it's that damn Federal Government, that damn State Government, forcing him to pay these people! You'd be upset too, if it were you! You'd think, with the life these people lead, they were sick or something! But of course, it wouldn't be the job of the Federal Government to help them any. Mr. Normal would die before he saw that kind of Socialism come into America. He'd rather seen them thrown in prisons, where he has to pay for everything, and then complain how their useless asses need to be shot. After all, they're parasites. They're welfare queens. They do absolutely nothing for society, and the only reason for that is because they don't want too.

Meanwhile, those sick, those ill, and those uncared for are left with what little solace they can get. They're only dead on the inside because their life is dead. The perpetual poverty is exacerbated by the fact that they're constantly thrown in jail, which further ruins their chances at future improvement. They're ostracized by society even more, and eventually, they die alone, usually from an overdose or murder because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now, is every drug addict mentally ill? No. But I would be interested in knowing how many of them are. I'm sure that's a substantial number who overlap with the homeless people, which includes that crazy bag lady who smells horrible and goes around with the shopping cart full of God only knows what that everyone points and laughs at, because it's convenient to swing at the low hanging fruit.

Ah, and Mr. Normal. Well, Mr. Normal will swear up and down that he isn't against helping these people. But they need to be punished for breaking society's laws. The need church; they need Jesus (they need his church, and his Jesus).  They're in the wrong. And because the world is black and white to Mr. Normal, he has no way to distinguish. It doesn't matter to him if they're mentally ill, attempted suicide three times because they don't want to live this life, or if they're utterly incapable of living on their own and this world is scary. They turned to drugs to ease that pain. And drugs are bad, m'kay? They become a segment of the population that Mr. Normal is happy to overlook, so long as they don't pollute his little suburb living. Mr. Normal considers himself a true patriot for defending America against those who would give into such a life. Because American isn't for those people; these law breakers, these parasites who live off of welfare and are addicted to drugs because they can't get the help they need - they couldn't even begin to know how. America isn't for the people who crash-landed at the intersection of Substance Abuse Blvd., Depression Ave., and Skid Row.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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