Of Chainsaws and Analyses
The Final Frontier
Mental health doctors and their minions have been telling us for years. They will unravel the last hidden mysteries of the human machine. Miracle pills. Another lie. Side effects: now that is more the stuff of which truth is made. Chemical imbalance -- kind of iffy. Sounds like "got milk?" or "coulda had a V8!" How nice it must seem to the troubled of mind to have ready at hand such a safety net. If I am not feeling well. If I am suffering depression and/or anxiety. If I am having episodes of sadness or anger. If I am feeling disoriented or not myself for a prolonged period of time. If anything. All I have to do is ask for help. Asking for help is the first step toward actually beating the problem. All fairy tales that never come true, except to the relative few, who are earnest, persistent, and able to hire talented mental health workers -- psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, etc.
I thought I might chime in to introduce another book review of a short but pithy book. The Mad and the Bad: A Nurses Story takes account of a twenty year career span by the author caring for the institutionalized. It briefly summarizes in one event described after another just what exactly transpires behind the scenes. It is human nature, after all, to go to town when no one is watching. In this case, it is more the staff, not the patients, who do pretty much as they please. But there is give and take also. The title of my review invokes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the guiding light of the so-called future conquest of the Final Frontier. That is because I am not just skeptical. The Final Frontier refers to the mind, not the body. The latter is well-studied and well-understood, as far as medicine is concerned. That is to say, in terms of the physical, yes, miracles are performed all the time. But to retrieve a good mind from the abyss, from unhealthiness -- this happens only very rarely, I think, on an individual by individual basis.
On the Other Hand
Maybe I do not know what I am writing about.
There was the case mentioned by the author about a woman who roasted her newborn after having been let go by the mental health community. She seemed okay. A beautiful person. it is the mental health clinicians who deal with it. But that is not what I am complaining about. There are incremental degrees of care taking. Understood. For some, the far out is the norm. The book is peppered with more grisly cases, too. But what about people who have less outrageous psychological disorders that impede not only their progress in life but general state of health? It may be that the problem, the main problem, is not internal, but external. Ours is not as civilized a society as we would like to think. Despite education, wealth, careers, families, and established religions, Americans are not particularly well-known the world over for having either polite manners or effete sophistication. Nevertheless, this is my own domain, not that of the book, which takes place in England.
One of the reasons I liked this read was that it actually took my mind off my own problems. I hate to be the one to say it, but lurid descriptions of heightened mental disorder can be riveting. It all depends. I also noticed that the author was a very dedicated worker. He went from one hospital to another, performing his tasks, improving his status, gaining more and more experience, until he probably could have been in charge of any mental health facility. Years ago, there was a company called Community Psychiatric, listed on the stock exchange. Again, I am mixing up over there with over here. But it only serves to show how far mental health came to gaining conventional acceptance. Then, as has always been the case, it recedes into the shadows, beaten back as though with a stick. The hospital-for-profit company was either de-listed, bought out, restructured, or went under. The mental does not have parity with the physical. To be hurting inside is still a condition treated with contempt. For a while, however, it certainly did seem as though almost everyone was going to be all right.
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Once a Ship of Fools, Always a Ship of Fools?
This is what I ask myself. The author is writing within a time-frame leading up to the late Sixties, then going on ahead. It happens only later that these myths with which I take issue emerge. Suddenly, at some point, there is Prozac Nation, and just as suddenly, it is thought that any complete geek can change overnight into a vital, integral cog of society. The idea that progress in the acquisition of mental health knowledge will save quality lives could never have been more than part true. What about the wasted? Those languishing behind walls in buildings who never quite get back on their feet? Obviously, they are not being counted among the successful turn-a-rounds. They are being cared for without much hope for a more pleasant future. I cannot imagine that it is much different today than it had been years ago, but then again, I am not up to speed on the field in question. I am only reading a single book on a rather large and overwhelming subject. It makes me wonder. That is about all I can say without flaunting more of my personal ignorance. A healthy mind is a true asset. How should it be defined? Does it change depending upon circumstances? Is it separated from unhealthiness by only a thin membrane? How subject is it to change overnight?
Never the Twain Shall Meet, huh?
Using the Physical to Correct the Mental
I am fairly certain that this is where the treatment or mistreatment of the mentally ill gets its foul reputation. Fall mentally ill, and you are chained to a wall, shocked with wires, slapped silly, doped up, confined, systematically ignored, or yelled at as though you had been a bad dog. The truth is, despite the intent, what is going on upstairs does not necessarily respond in the hoped for manner. The physically sick get a thermometer; the mentally ill get a chainsaw. Even so, the mind does not in each and every case regard reality as an exclusively physical continuum, extending from any given point to infinity in all conceivable directions. It also leaves space for other factors to gum up the works. The three basic components of the psyche -- namely, the ego, id, and superego -- have no physical correspondence. They are as real as can be, yet totally abstract. Then, there are those who go even farther, maintaining the existence of a soul, which also has no physicality. A funny piece of work is man. But this is not actually the substance of the book. The book is all about people. People who are either in pain or trying to alleviate it somehow. Of interest only to those interested.
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