Of all the months, January surely lays claim to the title of, “redheaded stepchild". Is there any month with such an image problem? The icicles which only weeks ago seemed to twinkle magically in expectation of fun, food, festivities, frivolity, and convivial camaraderie, now appear like menacing, pointed teeth in the jaws of a hideous beast intent on devouring us with short days, cold nights, bitter wind, and impassable roads. These are the days when you realize that watching your microwave oven heat a burrito is more edifying than watching TV. You gaze upon the walls of your home expressionless as a doll, unblinking eyes the size of pie plates, looking for anything, anything at all to relieve the ennui and postmodernist dread.
Obscure Psychological Conditions
Years ago I was traveling from Philly to L.A. on business and found myself seated next to an unremarkable gentleman – mid-40s, clean-shaven, tall, closely-cropped hair, dressed casually but in all regards neat and presentable. One is captive on a plane and I hoped he understood the difference between friendly and intrusive.
All good things must come to an end, according to the sage of old, but did you know this also applies to bad things? That’s right! Here’s the shocker; when it comes time to bid a fond adieu to your particular mental health challenge, you may find yourself dragging your heels, gnashing your teeth, dotting your tees, and crossing your eyes. Ridiculous, you say? Stifling the urge to cough derisive laughter up your sleeve? Well don’t let a little counter-intuition embolden you overly; allow me to share a personal vignette for illustrative purposes.
For decades, academics from various disciplines have sought to identify a quantifiable link between manic depression (bipolar disorder) and artistic creativity. Admittedly it is not possible to do a comprehensive work-up of Beethoven, for example, and consequently a diagnosis of bipolar disorder based on the second-hand descriptions of bill collectors, cleaning ladies, and piano-tuners would seem like reaching – at best – and twaddle, at worst. However, the idea’s tremendous appeal has caused it to persist despite overwhelming improbability. Perhaps this is because true artistic genius is so difficult for squares and apple-pie eaters to understand that the only plausible explanations are divine inspiration or, something equally incomprehensible, madness. Since artists are almost universally disliked, it may also be a convenient way for Jim & Joanie Lunchbucket to belittle their accomplishments. Extrapolating a bit further, it might support the idea that art itself is an essentially pointless exercise since it is frequently the product of people so far short of a full deck that a game of solitaire would be a love song to futility.
Like it or not, mentally ill people need to find employment just like everyone else. This leaves many of us wondering – precisely where might a mentally ill person slip into the workplace undetected? Indeed, what kind of jobs are mentally ill people even capable of performing? Well, the answer might surprise you! Obviously, even the most seriously impaired in our midst are qualified for positions in The State Department, House Ways & Means Committee, Senate Sub-Committee For Overseeing The Oversights Of The House Oversight Committee, and Halliburton. But, beyond the rarefied world of insider politics - where nothing consequential occurs and receiving money simply for demonstrating the ability to appear busy while basking in incompetence and indolence - is a world of real labor, populated by skilled professionals accomplishing meaningful tasks. It’s true!
Much has been made about the relationship between mental illness and artistic creativity. To test this theory, I’ve assembled some of the most famous first lines in fiction. Your challenge is to match them with their book of origin, the author of that book, and – this is the important part – the mental illness that prompted the passage. For example: First Sentence: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Author: Hunter S. Thompson Mental Illness: Chemical dependency & narcissism. Easy, right? Okay, here we go. Good luck!
As Tiberius said to Caligula, “It is better to be feared than to be loved.” You history buffs out there will recall that Caligula took these sage words to heart and ruled ancient Rome with a flamboyant accent on intimidation. Was Caligula crazy? Frankly, it’s too soon to tell. But one thing is certain, in fairy tales, foreign films, comic books and ballads – crazy is way scary yes indeed. Even bad guys – (guys so bad they would tear the tag off a mattress – so thoughtless and cruel they would blabber away at the top of their lungs in a crowded Starbucks – so insensitive to the fate of our dear mother earth they would purchase and drive a Hummer!) – are frightened by the whackadoomious among us. Speaking as a card-carrying resident of Cookoopantsatopolis, I am here to tell you that all of us have been overlooking a significant strategic opportunity! Instead of feeling contrite and embarrassed about our disabilities – (or “differences” if you prefer) – let’s flaunt them! Naturally we would all prefer to be loved for who we really are, but candidly, will that be happening soon? I thought not. So, in the interim, let’s find ways to make fear of the mentally ill a wedge in the door that opens up into social acceptance.
I’ve been getting my mail in Cookoopantsatopolis for a very long time now, and the fact of the matter is, I like it here. The people are nice, you laugh a lot, it’s never boring, and, frankly, you have experiences unavailable elsewhere. Another thing. My fellow Cookoopantsatopolis-dwellers are special, they have been through astounding trials and voyages which have given them depth, soul, and character. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Cookootoplians are better than square white bread eating mayonnaise-loving Johnny and Jane Lunchbuckets; but I wouldn’t stop you from saying so. I guess my point, assuming I have one, is that we all must struggle to know who we are, accept who we are, love who we are and enjoy being who we are. This goes double for Cookoolians who have had to endure harsh judgment not merely for what they do, but for their very being. I Just Want To Be Normal As you move through the various levels of recovery, you may begin to identify with “normal” people, you may even start to believe there is something desirable about being one of them. If left unchecked, this slippery slope will dump you on the doorstep of Squaresville, man – in peril of losing your identity altogether. Don’t let this happen to you! Be on the lookout for these warning signs.
Q: What is the definition of a split-second? A: How long it takes the idiot behind you to honk after the light changes. We all know him; the ill-mannered dolt snarling behind the wheel of a late-model luxury import, razor-edge aggressive, always at the ready to ensure that others make the sacrifices so essential to his success. He lives in the passing lane, climbing up from behind, riding bumpers, and flashing his lights. This is the guy who enjoys calling colleagues for no other reason than to put them on hold. While none of us know him personally we do have the sense it would be easy to spot him at a party. Rude, impatient, obnoxious and tiresome! We all agree he’s a scourge, a menace, and a self-indulgent narcissistic cad – we love to hate him. However, our wrath may soon be coming to an end as we revise our opinion and assume a kinder, gentler attitude. Why? Because, according to the AMA, AAA, AA, AARP and AAMCO what we are witnessing is no mere random amalgam of anti-social habits but symptoms of the latest in a long string of newly isolated illnesses.
"Why raise the bridge when you can lower your expectations of the river?" Taz Mopula You may be surprised to learn that even the irrational, off-kilter, cattywhumpus and – yes, I’ll say it – whackadoomius among us gaze upon the vast, blank canvas of an unused year and think to ourselves – how can I do better? Of course, in our case this means – how can I be an even shinier wing nut, a more twisted slinky? Way back when, Mark Twain reminded us, “It isn’t easy being eccentric.” This observation is as true today as it was when he said it – which is why I’ve had a good long look my own shortcomings and failures in 2011 and put together a list of resolutions which – with luck – will make my humble blog even funnier in the weeks and months to come.