Critical Condition

Dying Gladiator Resents Critics

If a debilitating mental illness like manic depression, schizophrenia, or republicanism has stolen your ability to make rational decisions – you’ve gone through a confidence crushing emotional sea change.

For many of us, it can be months, even years, before we regain the ability to observe, analyze, and evaluate the never-ending stream of input with clarity, agility, and unwavering authority.

Today’s recovering lunatic must contend with what I shall refer to as moral and emotional relativism and the insufferable twaddle known as political correctness. Anti-intellectualism is the height of fashion; claiming truth affords one as much credibility as being able to prove it. Sparing hurt feelings now takes precedence over honesty.

Fuzzy-headed social engineers would have us believe that everything is awesome, there are no losers, and all it takes to fulfill one’s wants and desires is the ability to visualize and wish with a level of naïve sincerity most frequently encountered in the puzzled expressions of unsuccessful prize fighters struggling through the final days of regrettable careers.

Faculties at last back where they belong, shoulders squared, you will gaze upon the rotting remains of what was once, at best, a mediocre culture and wonder – is this bullshit or is it me? At that precise moment, the extent of your recovery will be determined by your ability to say – this is bullshit – with confidence.

Like a muscle gone weak from neglect, the courage required to repudiate social stupidity must be rebuilt. To help you do so, I have prepared a diverse assortment of questions that call for snap judgments. Remember to trust your visceral responses. Good luck!

QUESTIONS

1. The meek shall inherit the earth. True_ False_

2. Quentin Tarantino once had an original idea. True_ False_

3. Everything happens for a reason. True_ False_

4. Harmony and joy will return to this troubled world of ours only after Garrison Keillor has been pecked to death by a duck. True_ False_

5. You are unique. True_ False_

6. Sacha Baron Cohen is funnier than syphilis. True_ False_

7. All men are created equal. True_ False_

8. In hell, all elevator Muzak is by Pink Martini. True_ False_

9. Creationism should be taught in high school science classes as a legitimate alternative to evolution. True_ False_

10. In Narcotics Anonymous, describing The Grateful Dead as – “a hideous shambles of talentless wing-nuts I can no longer endure” – is considered a pivotal breakthrough moment in recovery. True_ False_

ANSWER KEY

1. Sadly, this is not true, except to the extent that they will be buried in the earth.

2. False. No evidence supports this, although there is a remote possibility that he had one and kept it to himself.

3. True – frequently a bad reason.

4. True.

5. True. You are indeed unique; it’s one of the few qualities you share with everyone else.

6. True. Sacha Baron Cohen is a tiny bit funnier than syphilis.

7. False. Nobody believes this.

8. True. While no one has returned from hell to validate this, the force of logical deduction seems irrefutable.

9. True. In addition, Bozomism (clown worship) should be preached in all churches as a legitimate alternative to Christianity.

10. True. There is no record anywhere of a person listening to the Grateful Dead while sober.

I Know Why The Alligator Hides

Writer Reads Rejection Slip

I began writing INVISIBLE DRIVING in 1990 and ultimately self-published it in 2007 – that was 4 literary agents and 100s of rejection slips ago. I learned that there is something harder than surviving Manic Depression, harder even than writing a book about it – that is publishing a book about it. The torrent of abuse and rejection was epic – at times – even comical. (My step-grandmother founded and owned W.W. Norton – a very prestigious publishing house – even they wouldn’t publish it!)

The process was at once humbling and character-building. I knew what I had was good, I knew it surpassed the competition, I knew these unimaginative, lazy publishers were the ones missing out. I came to truly “get” that life is not a meritocracy, and that acceptance does not flow naturally from quality and hard work. I grew accustomed to the feeling that jazz musicians must experience when they see Kenny G in a Ferrari; a mélange of rage, envy, frustration, mystification and absolute certainty that there is no God.

I Know Why The Alligator Hides

After a long hiatus, I began writing poetry again during this period and was being published in one of the country’s most celebrated – and bizarre – online literary journals – EXQUISITE CORPSE. One day a friend said, “Your stuff is really getting good, you should send it to The New Yorker.” Against my better judgment I finally did send them one of the best. Weeks later I got the obligatory rejection slip. Without a moment’s hesitation I turned it over and wrote, “Dear Sirs: I was saddened to learn of your recent loss. Sincerely, Alistair McHarg” and mailed it back to them.

Childish? Perhaps. Passive/aggressive? Most definitely. But let me tell all of you out there – I know why the alligator hides and I know why he needs his hide. If you are mentally ill, you are going to take some abuse, even if you are trying your best to get better. If you are an alcoholic in recovery, don’t expect a parade. And if you are a committed artist, you can hope for the best – that’s good, even necessary – but plan for the worst and expect it. Remember that the rain falls equally on the just and unjust and the biggest mistake you can make is looking up at heaven and shaking your fist. The answer to the question “Why me?” is always “Why not?”

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Stigma Is A Two-Way Street

People Are Always Finding God Prison Gift Shop

As a long-term professional writer, I am very careful, and selective, about what I do and do not say. Like a spy, I know how to offer only the appearance of self-disclosure. As a mentally ill person moving incognito among “sane” citizens, one becomes a skillful actor.

However, I am temporarily discarding this policy. Shamelessness has been a wonderful byproduct of my recovery and there is little I am not willing to do in the battle against mental health stigma.

When I began writing Invisible Driving in 1990, I realized there was no longer any room for privacy, anonymity, and secrets. Terrified, confused, and completely overwhelmed, I painstakingly recreated the bizarre and harrowing odyssey, thereby taking charge of my own healing. That, dear friends, was transformational.

The journey lasted many years; I worked hard. In diverse settings I received kindness, guidance, and wisdom from a wide spectrum of wonderful people. Triumph over fear and shame, acceptance of life as it is, celebration of self, and peace of mind, grew gradually through the incremental process of recovery.

I began life at the very top of the food chain and learned early that – when everything is designed to fit you, and society itself is doing backflips to please you, it is easy to succeed. It is easy to believe you did it yourself. It is easy to believe you are entitled to it. When the world is beneath you, everybody carries just a whiff of stigma, and the mentally ill are at the very bottom of the heap.

But life beat me down, way down, all the way down to the streets, the prisons and of course, the madhouses. There is no lonely like the lonely of a madhouse. Everything was taken from me and I had to rebuild from zero many times. It was a process that might have killed me, but instead, it made me. Today, I live a life beyond my wildest dreams; I am the only person I envy.

Madness took me places most folks could not spell, much less imagine. I had every stupid scrap of entitlement, superiority, and prejudice ripped away – I was reeducated in the realities of life, of being a moral person, of daring to be the very best me, the me that finds joy in contributing to this world without the expectation of benefit. Of all the unexpected blessings of life, ironically it was mental illness that gave me most.

At this point, I regard the desire to stigmatize as a public admission of fear, insecurity, and unapologetic idiocy – like a self-administered learning disability. (We fear what we do not understand, and, to be fair to the apple pie crowd, insanity really is hard to fathom when viewed from the outside. Of course, that’s why I wrote Invisible Driving – to give a name to the unknowable.)

My problem today is an intense desire to stigmatize those who actually believe they are superior to people suffering from an illness. This cruel illusion is revolting and ludicrous; almost like believing one person is better than another because of their skin color. I mean, can you imagine?

Shame On You

Be Nice To Enemies You Are One

The earliest phases of recovery are characterized by denial; you try to distance yourself from the mental illness that has wreaked havoc in your life. Gradually you acknowledge the catastrophic messes you’ve made and claim ownership, your signature is unmistakable. The guilt you experience is not altogether unhealthy as it provides the foundation for action, your determination to not repeat these steps. However, guilt is best consumed in small doses, too much at once can be toxic and counter-productive.

Courage increases as you see the hurt and damage within exposed, perhaps for the first time. The mirror you have finally faced tells an unflattering story, all roads lead back to you, unintentional behavior has blazed a trail of self-destruction and abuse…people and property show the cost of being associated with you. At this point, shame – that most counter-productive of all emotions – arrives with a custom-fitted iron maiden. The self-loathing begins; you fully understand the source, and consequences – of your illness. You are ashamed of being you.

Right here is where you will lose whatever mojo you once had; cool, swagger, confidence will all abandon you.

You will see how the illness is hard-wired into your system – body and soul – and come to understand it not as a flaw but a fact. Work like a demon, shine the light on your miner’s helmet, and you will get to know yourself like never before. Then, forgive yourself – really forgive yourself – and the shame does not have chance. Hide nothing from yourself or anyone else and your beloved attributes will return; cool, swagger and confidence. But now it is different, now you no longer wear them like suits of armor – now they emanate from within.

Eliminate shame and you are free from the curse of caring about the opinion of others.

“Guilt is when you feel bad about something you did while shame is when you feel bad about something are.” Taz Mopula