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.
Funny in the Head
I am happy to be associated with the Stand Up For Mental Health campaign that HealthyPlace has launched; and I am very proud of all those brave individuals who have helped stamp out stigma by going public with the details of their mental health challenges.
Today, Funny In The Head is taking a break from the usual frivolity to help my dear friends at HealthyPlace roll out their “Stand Up For Mental Health” campaign. I believe this subject is absolutely essential to all of us who, in one way or another, have been touched by mental illness.
Mental illness is usually not visible to the naked eye, or the private eye for that matter, or even the naked private eye, although, candidly, if you’re being followed by a naked private eye he’s the one that needs to be concerned about mental illness, not you – but enough about me. My point, which is moving across the landscape with the alacrity of a Tasmanian sloth, is this: Whackadoomians have the option of keeping their mental state a secret, a mental state secret – if you will – and if you won’t, I will, so it works out. This seems like a tremendous relief, and in many ways it is, after all this is personal information, often awkward, which we might prefer to keep to ourselves.
It’s been a long time since I had a manic episode, but I certainly remember them vividly. One of the hallmark components was an intense sense of urgency. I lived entirely in the moment, a state of being at once exhilarating and terrifying. It was as if I had been cut loose from the restrictions of time; I had no past or future. My existence resembled the reality described by William Blake – infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour. When one is strapped to the nose cone of a rocket one does not think much about time – one thinks about each instant as it happens. An essential element of living successfully through every manic moment, for me at least, was the ability to move wherever, whenever, I wished. Boundaries of any sort were anathema to me. I was always ahead of the moment, faster than reality, pushing life along so it would catch up with me. I was ready for whatever came next even though I had no idea what that might be. I flicked the ashes off my cigarettes before there were any. At bars and restaurants I always paid in cash – using exact change – so that I was free at the exact moment anxiousness set in. To fully embrace the feeling of absolute freedom I felt it was necessary to believe I was already prepared for what was to come. I was hyper-vigilant.
Here’s a heart-felt Happy New Year to all of you in Whackadoomia and points beyond; and keep an eye out for what points beyond what’s out there because my point is usually even beyond that. Let’s hope this brand new year, replete with pleasant promise and fearsome foreboding, is kind to us and ours, ceremoniously serving circumstances far superior to what we deserve. Yes, it’s that tiresome time once again, when pundits, wags, and bow-tie wearing after-dinner speakers bloviate ad infinitum as they summarize by-gone events and predict what will soon come to be or not to be.
Americans are obsessed with fame, which they see as a passport to emotional well being, validation, respect, better tables at restaurants, wealth, improved dating options, and immortality. This perspective is jejune, puerile, naïve, and stupid. Fame is very different than what one imagines, as I have discovered since joining the Healthy Place team and penning my delightful weekly mental health humor blog, “Funny In The Head”. Prior to joining Healthy Place I was an aspiring poet, novelist, memoirist, cartoonist and Taz Mopulist marooned in obscurity; stitching and unstitching my agonized, overwrought, self-indulgent verbal constructions with the sort of doom and fatalism usually reserved for reading novels by J.P. Sartre. Family members frequently posted my first driver’s license photo on milk cartons with the melancholic question, “Have You Seen Me?” I could have made a tidy sum consulting for the FBI’s Witness Protection Program.
One troubling symptom of mental illness is an unsettling belief that one is receiving communication from an unknown other wrapped with the utmost subtlety in various coded communiqués. What did he mean by that? – you might ask – indeed – if I know you – and I don’t – you did – or did you? You see my point. The universe itself, steered by some invisible hand wrapped in a cellophane glove, is apparently stirring symbols of every description – words, pictographs, numbers, sounds – into a bubbling stew that is very, very you – and yet – there is no way to be certain what, if anything, it all means. Thus we confront the central challenge that mental illness presents, which is – am I one frog’s leg shy of an entrée at a chic French bistro, or, conversely, is the world simply bonkers whether or not I am in it? One may labor over this debate at great length and come up empty.
Have you heard this one already? Three clinically depressed high-jumpers walk into a bar. They lower it. I’m kidding of course. Then again, I’m not kidding, (as always), because if there is anything that will help today’s mentally ill individual survive the three-ring-circus of psychological torment and emotional Armageddon known by that deceptively sweet euphemism – the holidays – it is lowered expectations. Why? With every layer of tinsel, every rehashed Christmas chestnut mangled by Beyoncé, every eggnog-infused martini, every promise of no money down and no payments for the first seventeen months, every drug-addled midnight greeter at Walmart scratching his most recent tattoo, every ill-considered fax at every office party, and every other cliché of Christmas cacophony and tintinnabulation comes the rising tide of truly ho-ho-horrible inevitability – the hopes, the joys, the fears of all the years, reindeer and pain dear – that Grinch-ish thief of all that is merry; expectations.
As you would imagine, the management of HealthyPlace rewards me handsomely for penning Funny In The Head which weekly tickles America and beyond with a droll mélange of insouciance, absurdity, and je ne sais quoi, whatever that is. This lavish remuneration has enabled me to purchase a weekend house on the Cape, a weekend cape for wearing around the house, and a meticulously restored 1933 Hispano-Suiza J12 cabriolet. Well and good, you say, but man cannot survive exclusively on dessert! Your point is well made. Despite the almost embarrassing tsunami of wealth bestowed by the Internet’s leading, (and most decorated), mental health website, I must, on occasion, venture out into what I shall refer to as – the valley of the shadow of K-Mart - in order to supplement my income and pay for the mundane necessities of life such as spats, plimsolls, and Fred Astaire biographies. Like so many writers before me, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, and Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint Exupéry, to name just the most universally familiar, I take to the lecture circuit where I beat my gums, and remaining teeth, in hopes of drumming up revenue.