November 26, 2010

Every Reaction There Painted

Someone told me recently that the silence of God- that yawning abyss of no "conversation" or "words"- is not a negative thing, as we so often think it to be. Instead, it is a personal, intimate existence and experience.

That struck me as particularly beautiful...

But it's hard to capture the sentiment, the meaning behind it, with mere words. (I guess that's fitting, heh.) But I'm going to try and draw you a rough, charcoal sketch of what I think it means.

I liken it to sitting in an open field with a friend, darkness blanketing the scene, watching a mesmerizing meteor shower tracing across the November night sky. The air is crisp and clean, there are no clouds to shroud your view, and the upper atmosphere is striated with lines of trailed aurora. You don't want the person laying next to you to try and have a conversation with you right then, at that moment- it would absolutely spoil the experience. Just because there aren't any words being said doesn't mean that you are alone, though. You're both there, sitting on the browned, autumn grass with eyes fixed high above the horizon. You're experiencing it, experiencing that impressive and grand glimpse in time, together. And that very fact brings you closer to the person you're with, as it establishes an esoteric sense of intimacy, a feeling that transcends any measure of words you could possibly conjure or devise.

And how much more rude and thoughtless would it be if you tried to talk with your friend when He was actually the one who arranged the very sight that you're tarnishing with your attempts at petty conversation?

However, the very process of a human being living- of our lungs breathing air, of the rhythmic beating of our hearts, of the amorphous and ephemeral thoughts pacing back and forth within the physical confines of our minds- is no less complex or mysterious or marvelous than a meteor shower on a cool, clear night. I would even say it's more so. Just in a way that is harder for us, as terminally human and limited beings, to acknowledge and understand.

It's ironic that the reality of that is too big for us to grasp, yet we take such stock in something like a meteor shower, for being as "big" as it is. We, as humans, cannot even comprehend all of this. It's so difficult (maybe impossible) for the finite to imagine the infinite, for the human to vie for the divine.

So maybe we could be content (no, happy) to just watch the night sky with Him, and pass the time in appreciation of the wonders before us, of the elaborate and intricate masterpiece that He is orchestrating.

In those moments, I like to think that God is smiling, the corners of his lips turned up softly as He watches. But He isn't watching the sky- He already knows what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will continue to do.

His eyes are instead fastened upon our faces, soaking in every reaction there painted.

November 22, 2010

A Not-So-Happy History Lesson

This particular post has not been a “fun” one for me to write.

But it's important. It's vital. It's noteworthy. It's relevant.

And it's advisory, to all of us.

I've been doing some research, on my own, on the history of mental illness- what its path has looked like as its been tunneling through time. And, after realizing the true, tragic qualities of its past, I decided to make a blog post revolving around some of my findings, in the form of a historical piece. It's not pretty, and it's certainly not nice. So, perhaps young children should stop reading at this point.

I wrote this in an attempt to inform others out there (you) of the reality that has faced us over all of the years before now, to lend flesh to the history behind the reality facing us today. Hopefully, you'll be appalled, or simply react, enough to tell a friend, or share the link, or conduct your own research, or just do something to bring awareness to this issue, to help mend that which has been so badly broken over all these thousands of years, to try and heal those who are breaking, who are being broken, now.

This isn't the whole picture, by any stretch of the imagination. But it's a pertinent part of it— of our picture (yours and mine). I just hope this makes an impact of some kind on your thoughts about the matter. And if you have questions, maybe about my sources (or anything else), just email me and I will gladly answer. Or, better yet, if you have doubts, then do your own delving. If you don’t believe a figure, date, name, or detail that I mention, then a mere matter of minutes with Google will settle all of your queries, and probably many more, besides.

It's important, and vitally so, when considering how to deal with mental illness today, to be aware of how it has been "dealt with" in our forefathers' yesterdays...

A History of America's (Mental) Illness
(And How She Turned Away)

The history of mental illness, and the attempted “treatments” for it, across the entire world, is a brutal and ignorant one. Up until the late 18th century, mental illnesses were thought to be the products of sorcery, witchcraft, demonic possession, or other supernatural explanations. Moreover, those with mental illnesses were typically subjected to a broad variety of cruel efforts: absurd and radical rituals, severe abuse and torture (in efforts to “cleanse” their "unholy” bodies), condemnation by their communities as “cursed by the gods,” being forced to consume enormous amounts of dangerous (as well as hallucinogenic, and, sometimes, lethal) drugs and herbs, being put to death, or being cast out completely from their respective societies, ostracized— shunned to walk, live, and, eventually, die alone— all for being too different or strange.

Even when it comes solely to America, the tale of mental illness, and those who have suffered, is a tragedy. The Colonial American society labeled those suffering from mental illnesses, of any kind, as "lunatics," a word that was derived from "luna," the Latin word for "moon." Due to "astrological reasoning," it was a widely-held belief that "insanity" came into a person if a full moon had been present at their birth, or if they had slept under its light for a full night as an infant. The American people declared that these individuals were possessed by the devil, and they were generally removed from society and locked away in prisons. As long as the troubled and unsettling "lunatics" were out of their streets, the colonists did not care, in the least, about where they went, or what happened to them.

The tremendous ignorance and indifference on the part of the American people continued throughout the years, and nearly everyone of the time did nothing but harm to those who were already suffering. Among the myriad of failed attempts at "treatment" were ritual ceremonies (exorcisms), bleeding (typically resulting in either death or the need for lifelong care), invasive and unnecessary surgeries (normally resulting in either death, unnecessary trauma, or severe and permanent disability), induced vomiting, forcibly submerging individuals in ice baths until they lost consciousness, massive shocks of crude electrical current to the brain, imprisonment, or, in some cases, execution. It wasn’t until after the Civil War, with many of the soldiers coping with post-war trauma, that America paid any attention to the topic of mental illness.

That isn't to say that things actually improved after that, though. Even well into the 20th century, things were beyond grim, on the American scene, particularly, for those years also brought a procedure called the "trans-orbital lobotomy." The first time it was ever conducted on a live patient was in 1946, by Walter Freeman, an American "doctor," who developed it for its ease, brevity, and lower level of after-care, much to the satisfaction of his medical peers and the public community at large.

Here is a copy of the instructions for this "medical procedure:"

  1. To induce sedation, inflict two quick shocks to the head.
  2. Roll back one of the patients’ eyelids.
  3. Insert a device, 2/3 the size of a pencil, through the upper eyelid into the patients’ head.
  4. Guided by the markings indicating depth, tap the device with a hammer into the patients’ head/ frontal lobe.
  5. After the appropriate depth is achieved, manipulate the device back and forth in a swiping motion within the patient’s head.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Freeman would come to have his own twisted national campaign, driving cross-country in his "lobotomobile" (as he came to christen his vehicle) and performing the procedure for as many doctors as humanly possible. For his initial lobotomies, Freeman used an actual ice-pick from his kitchen. Sometimes, to demonstrate his "procedure," he would show off by "ice-picking" both eye-sockets of a single patient, simultaneously, using two ice-picks, one in each hand.

Because of the new-found ease of the procedure [and Freeman's personal, perverse drive and dedication to circulating his unique practice], its use and employment spread like a wild forest-fire in the heat of summertime, across the nation. Freeman, alone, performed almost 2,500 lobotomies in 23 different states, and was heralded as "the traveling lobotomist" wherever he went. The lobotomy became a morbidly common procedure in asylums across the United States, in many cases being carried out on patients without, or even against, their assent.

The public lauded Freeman for his invention, watching in approval as they read headlines in their papers, which stated that many patients were finally returning home “safely” to their families. What the papers did not mention, of course, was that most of those returning were also now devoid of personality, coherency, and even any interaction, at all, in many cases. The allure of the procedure was that it was easy, quick, and cheap— individuals without license to perform surgery could, and did, perform it. But it also made “troublesome" patients markedly more compliant, effectively silencing their “abnormal” behaviors, their complaints, and their unsettling speech. Were patients returning home? Yes. But only because they were no longer a danger or risk to themselves and others— since they were no longer much of anything at all— not because they were actually cured, or even better.

Eventually, though, because of the vast number of complications and deaths that resulted from the procedure, people familiar with its practice came to refer to it as "psychic mercy killing" and "euthanasia of the mind."

[Ironically enough, the USSR officially banned the lobotomy, early on, in the year 1950, because doctors in the Soviet Union declared it as "contrary to the principles of humanity." They stated that it transformed "an insane person into an idiot." But America did nothing until the late 1970s, when Congress finally decided to investigate the lobotomy, as well as other forms of psycho-surgery.]

Indeed, due to the trans-orbital lobotomy (and other similar procedures), along with the cruelty of crude shock therapy, countless other forms of abuse and neglect, as well as overcrowding, the early/mid-1900s are considered, by many, to be the darkest days for mental health treatment.

[On an interesting side-note, you know what happened to Walter Freeman? While performing his macabre procedure on some poor patient, he backed up to pose for a photograph and bumped into the instrument he was using, still protruding from above the patient's eye-socket, and killed the patient. For that, his medical license was revoked. He spent the remainder of his life driving his “lobotomobile” around the country, until his death from cancer in 1972.]

But, thankfully, things improved from those depths and dirges.

In 1954, the revolution of psychotropic medication began, as "Thorazine" (a powerful anti-psychotic) was introduced into the mental health system. After that, more and more medications began emerging, left and right, leading to the gradual discontinuation of more barbaric and inhumane procedures. Also, in the 1960s, new U.S. government policies concerning mental health were enacted as the centerpieces for John F. Kennedy’s congressional program (mostly in regards to insurance coverage), and those helped the mental illness community as well. As more people began to glimpse a clearer picture of mental illness’ history, and the legitimacy, as well as severity, of the issue, circumstances eventually started to become more accommodating.

Even now, though, even today, we're not there yet. People faced with mental illness are still ashamed of it— ashamed of themselves, ashamed of their family or friends, ashamed of their thoughts and struggles, too embarrassed and fearful to seek out the treatment required. And “mental illness,” itself, is no less a threat than it was in the days of old. As a matter of fact, it seems that we are just now becoming aware of the breadth of its scope. We may have reached a point (finally) where mentally ill people are treated with a measure more of dignity and respect, but that old fear and alienation are still there, prowling alongside the blood.

What we all need to realize is that the true “monster” here is not the person who is suffering. Nor will you find the monster in the faces and actions of our history, even if it is a history that has treated the sufferers monstrously. The monster is not a human being, it is not an institution, and it is not the mistakes of our heritages, histories, and houses.

The monster is the disease.

If you ask me, I think it’s about time we all realize that we’re on the same side…

This post, this account, is near its close, but this tragedy, this story, is far from over.

History has a funny way of catching up to the present (in that it always has, and forever will). But the rest of history (of what will one day be history) is up to us— it’s up to you, it’s up to me, it’s up to our neighbors, our families, our friends, our co-workers, even the complete strangers we pass every day on the streets. It’s up to the kids in our classrooms as much as (if not more than) the politicians in our offices.

Even if we are not dubbed “the winners” by history’s backwards glances, even if we’ll never be the ones "writing" it, if neither you nor I will ever have a voice that will sound outside of our respective lifetimes, even if we’re not suit-and-tied lawmakers, legislators, hand-shakers, or powerful CEOs with outstanding offshore bank accounts, or charismatic military leaders, or writers who will be quoted and called the "voices of their time"— the fact remains:

We're the ones who are living it.

This is our Time, our shared sense of existence, our "now," our precedent.

Let's make it one that matters.

November 11, 2010

Leg Weights

My whole life, I've felt like it's all a race.

Like everybody experiencing the same sense of Time that I am is running against me, in their own numbered track, spiked feet slapping the same compact tar or rubber underneath mine. But the catch, I've always felt, has been that I've had monstrous leg weights strapped to me ever since the second lap. And I don't even know how long I'm supposed to run for; but it's been a while, and I have yet to catch a glimpse of the finish tape.

In a situation like that, I found it easy, or even effortless, to lose faith- lose faith in myself, in God, in my friends, and the other racers who were outrunning me. Lose faith in everything I've thought was the Truth. But the fact is, the Truth isn't dependent on whether or not I have faith in it. If it was, then it wouldn't be "Truth." It would be "opinion."

But it is Truth, and there's no changing that, there's no fighting it. It's not like a political platform, that you have to defend, advocate, advertise, and persuade others to believe. It's independent of us, independent of the thoughts that swirl around in our tiny brains about it.

So what is the Truth?

The Truth is that someone out there knows what He's doing. He knows what's going on- why everything is the way it is. He's seen all of Time, transcends its very form Himself, and knows it all in a thought. He has seen what was, what is, and what is to come. After all, He created Time itself, as a construct. And He's okay with it. So maybe I should be too.

Call it fate, call it sovereignty, call it destiny or fortune, but it's how this is all going to work out. And the destination justifies the journey, in God's plan. Who am I, to think that I know how things will turn out, or what is for the best? It's like a little kid who gets all pissed because he can't have candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sure, it'd be sweet, but no self-respecting parent is going to let it happen. Because the parent knows what's best- not the child. The parent has the experience, the wisdom, the knowledge, the responsibility, where the child hasn't even begun to taste the "real world" yet. And the breadth of the developmental gap (for lack of a better phrase) between human beings and God is so much larger and more infinite than the one between parent and child. So who am I to question why things come about, or why I can't have what I want? I'm just being spoiled, and naive.

But, at the same time, I know it's not as easy as that. If I can't even comprehend the Truth and Reality of God, then how can I be expected to operate my life on the basis of just that- a mystery? So much of Life is a mystery, though. Everything is, actually. This whole concept of Existing, of Living, of being pushed through Time along with the other Souls around me, is just so strange and utterly complex to me. It's so much bigger than I can express in simple words on a blog. It's so much bigger than what's going on in my head.

It's so much bigger than me.

My point is, though, that I shouldn't get so worked up at how my Life goes. I should be, not just tolerant, but thankful for everything that comes to pass (good or bad, in my eyes). Because it is all part of the inherent mystery and intricacy of God's plan for my life, and the lives of everyone around me- of everyone on this entire earth.

But I hardly ever do that.

I fight His love and sovereignty every inch of the way, kicking and screaming, like a small child, just because I can't have my candy...

So thank you, Abba Yahweh.

Thank you, even for the leg weights.

Maybe You just wanted me to be able to run faster...

When I finally kicked them off.

November 1, 2010

A Blurb of Mice & Men

I've always thought of Life, of Reality, of this Existence, as an aggressor- like some schoolyard bully who sees the happiness, dreams, and hopes of other children and decides to trip each and every one simply for the joy of watching them fall. Because it seems like every time I have some semblance of control, some sense of orchestration, or scintilla of personal power, something happens to knock me to the ground. It completely invalidates all of the effort, time, and willpower I've put into getting all my "ducks" in a "row." And I hate that.

But it just seems to be how this thing called life works.

So what are we supposed to do? What am I supposed to do? If I can't control my life, how am I supposed to live it? Should I just put down the remote control and settle with watching whatever happens to be on? What if it's a soap opera? I can't stand soap operas. I'd prefer pretty much anything to a soap opera, aside from "celebrity news." Although the two are more than a tad synonymous, to be frank.

I'm talking about more than a mere TV show, though, obviously. I'm talking about the powerless feeling I, and many others, get whenever things are beyond my control. When I feel shoved around by the bully named "Life," when he pushes me down and rubs my face in the dirty gravel, shouting, I imagine, in triumphant and violent victory. No matter how far ahead I try and look, something always happens to spoil that vision. Nothing seems safe- not my vision for my career, not my vision for my family, not my vision for love, not my vision for my friends, nothing. This whole deal of simply existing is already strange and foreign enough without external circumstances and situations jarring my carefully-crafted balance.

So, I ask again, what should I do? And who am I expecting to answer that question? Is there even an answer?

I guess it's something I will be perpetually be coming to terms with... The energy I lend to planning, as well-intentioned and orderly as it may be, is so often rendered useless by the inevitable entropy and changes of leading a human life. In that light, in the reality of that truth, maybe the energy I devote to the future should be redirected to, instead, coping with the present. Maybe I should spend my time and investments on dealing with what actually happens, not on dealing with what I want to happen, or what I think will happen.

But that's easy to say- not to do. What does it even look like? I mean, to a certain extent we have to plan ahead, we need to organize our future... Right? But maybe I need to stop finding my value in my ideas for my future. Perhaps I should appraise myself by who I am now, and not who I could (or could not) be. Maybe I can change my relationship with the present, with this existence that we have been forced to wear. Maybe "Life" isn't the bully I so often picture. It could be that life is more like a seeing-eye dog leading a blind person. Yes, it's unexpected, even alarming, when the dog moves abruptly, when it jerks or stops suddenly, but the blind person can rest in the knowledge that the dog is able to see and navigate where they cannot. And there's no point to a seeing-eye dog if the blind person is trying to pretend it isn't there. Maybe I could try and be appreciative of those adjustments, instead of attempting to anticipate them.

After all, the plans of both mice and men are, equally, naught but haphazard to the divine eye, to the grander sense of actuality, to the all-discerning and truly perfect will of God.