In a surprise move certain to send shockwaves through both sporting and psychiatric communities, the American Whackadoomious Association (AWA) has declared it no longer recognizes ice fishing as a sport and has officially designated it a form of mental illness. In a press release carefully timed to coincide with closing ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics, AWA Sports Awareness Director, Quimby Entwhistle, announced, “The AWA could no longer sit idly by and pretend that ice fishing is a sport in any way, shape, or form. You might say it became our elephant in the room, and the room was sitting on a frozen lake riddled with ever-widening cracks.
Americans have a provincial view of the world revolving around exploitation; that is to say, other countries exist only to the extent that we consider them useful. Johnny and Ginny Lunchbucket think of China as the place that produces freighter loads of shabby merchandise we consume, India as the place to call if something breaks, the Middle East as a gas station with uppity attendants, Europe as the place with painting, sculpture, and whatnot, and South America (including central America) as our source for drugs and black market plastic surgery. Johnny & Ginny Lunchbucket consider Canada the go-to place for criminals fleeing justice, while Australia, which was founded by convicts, is roughly equivalent to Cuba in terms of inability to hold interest. Africa, the very wellspring of humanity itself, has failed to capture the imagination of Mr. and Mrs. Lunchbucket at all – to them it is somewhere in-between an outsized petting zoo and a sweet background for Land Rover commercials.
Most professions develop technical jargon so rarified as to be virtually incomprehensible to outsiders. However, their impenetrability is simply an unintended consequence of the function served. Other enterprises deliberately employ coded slang so that insiders can secretly communicate with one another in the presence of clueless outsiders. Many of you are familiar with “Cockney rhyming slang” – an amusing grab bag of odd phrases used by English shopkeepers when they want to discuss matters of concern in the presence of customers without letting on what they’re saying. Entertaining snippets include “plates of meat” for “feet” – “trouble and strife” for “wife” - and “boils and blisters” for “sister”. I know what you’re thinking, something like that could never happen in the United States where people are direct, open, and honest all the time.
Unpopular social subsets like illegal aliens (I mean beings from other planets), lawyers, and mentally ill people (MIPs), tend to attract bizarre, completely untrue mythology. For example, have you heard the popular myth that space aliens are lactose intolerant? This is simply untrue, and mean. Maybe you’ve heard the myth about lawyers eating their young. While not entirely untrue, it happens far less often than people believe. When it comes to MIPs (Mentally Ill People), silly rumors and superstitions are rampant, which only contributes to an atmosphere of superstition, fear, and stigma. So, let’s have a look at some of the most persistent myths about MIPs (Mentally Ill People) and separate the square biz from the flapdoodle.
As many of you know, I am a devotee of quotations – those bite-sized nuggets of wisdom summarizing great truths of life quickly and with wit. Some years back, in a cold, dingy room choked to the gills with cigarette smoke, bad coffee, tattoos, and incomprehensible blather uttered badly by battered bikers, businessmen, beauticians and stay at home moms, united in anonymous terror, I first heard this said. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Later I found that this pearl of wisdom is credited to everybody’s favorite patent clerk, Albert Einstein. However… The more time I spent on the Internet the more I realized that roughly half of all quotes found there are bogus. Some are real but credited to the wrong author; others are totally made up and attributed to a famous, credible person.
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!
This is the golden age of political correctness, and for the mentally ill in our midst, it simply couldn’t happen soon enough. Horrible slurs like porridge-head, cracker academy graduate, and el whackadente have been replaced by culturally sensitive terms such as, unreality-enabled, extra-normal, and sanity-challenged. But removing the fangs from common speech is just the beginning. Increasingly there is sensitivity about what questions may be considered appropriate to ask a person wrestling with mental illness. Here are just a few of the most common of them, now considered intrusive, prejudicial, stereotypical, and rude. 1. Why don’t you just get over it? 2. Is what you’ve got really a disease, or it is it just a character flaw? 3. Did you ever try growing up? 4. Why is there a duck on your head? 5. Have you looked into Scientology? I’m glad to report that the use of knee-jerk, judgmental questions like these is on the way out. But my feeling is, why stop there? Now that we’ve built up a little momentum, let’s expand the list of verboten phrases – questions and comments simply off limits when it comes to the mentally ill among us.
For decades, mental health professionals have reminded anyone willing to listen that infirmities of the mind are underrepresented in popular culture. They point to a paucity of pithy portrayals in film, literature, television, puppet shows, and motivational seminars. How, they ask, will maladies of irrationality ever shed their stigma, (to say nothing of the cloudy cloaks of ignorance surrounding them), until awareness, like sunlight succeeding a deluge, warms the landscape? A handful of well-known advocacy groups; YABA (Young American Bipolar Association), DABA (Deranged American Benevolent Association), and DEW (West End Dyslexics), have lobbied tenaciously to insinuate mental health awareness into all aspects of our culture, if culture is really the right word. Recently they scored a major hit in that universally feared arbiter of societal acceptability, the SAT.
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!
Those of us who fit the description “mentally ill” face exceptional challenges when it comes to networking, career advancement, and interviewing techniques. Johnny All-American Lunchbucket probably never had to explain away that year in a Turkish prison to a horrified Human Resources executive. And yet, for the likes of us, that is not even an exceptional challenge. The mentally ill – (extra-normally enabled) – job seeker needs to be ready with plausible explanations for suspicious terminations, demotions, and outstanding warrants. Honesty is always the best policy, but, bear in mind that when you are talking about intergalactic chess tournaments played in five-dimensional swimming pools, your interviewer simply isn’t qualified to understand you. There is a fine art to crafting alternate explanations that might conceivably be true and satisfy your HR representative’s need to fill out a form that will never be read, or even touched, by anyone else. It is your responsibility to make yourself easy to hire, and one of the ways you do this is by discussing your past in terms that do not fill prospective employers with dread.