Thursday, November 6, 2008

All Aboard The Midnight Crazy Train

Mental Anguish. It’s a term used to indicate in Psychology and modern parlance to indicate perceived pain or discomfort arising from the mind and one’s emotions. Alone, the term anguish is used to indicate immense pain and suffering. This previous connotation colors the term “mental anguish”, causing most people to bring to mind mental suffering on a biblical scale when the term is used. In most cases this is not so.

In reality many people experience a low level of mental anguish as a result of day to day stress. It’s so minor that they usually do not even realize it, but it manifests itself in their behavior.

You may wonder why someone snaps at you in passing or commits some petty act of vandalism or destruction. Littering for example, or kicking at a small animal as they go by. If you were to stop that person right then and there and ask them why, the odds are that they would not know. It’s because they are in pain.

There are also people out there who are either better able to perceive this pain, or experience it to a greater degree. I became one of these people as soon as I was old enough to express it.

As a child I developed both mentally and physically very quickly, though still cried often. I also could not bear to be separated from my mother, the poor woman, for any length of time. At that age one’s mother is like unto a God to you. I guess I thought she would be capable of banishing the evils lurking in the corners of my mind, waiting to pounce. To some degree she did, the power of belief lending credence to her presence via placebo effect.

As soon as I could formulate the words, I complained about the “hurt and badness in my head”. After several CT scans turned up nothing, they realized I was referring to mental pain. Cue the child psychologists, padded stage left.

For the longest time I wondered why I was being taken to see these people, no one ever told me what they were supposed to do. I didn’t know why I was going to see them, and no one would give me a straight answer why. It was always “He/She is going to try to make you feel better, sweetie”. Thanks for the sentiment and all, but that’s not really a helpful answer. I thought I was going to get a backrub, I remember that the last time I had one I felt much better; too bad it did nothing for my head. After I my first visit I felt cheated, I sat listening to that man prattling on for an hour, answering all of his inane questions about my “life” and I still hadn’t gotten my backrub! What was I supposed to say to the guy anyway? I was less than a decade old; I didn’t have a “life”. I had no friends because I lived in the arse end of nowhere populated by non English speaking immigrants and rednecks with family trees that didn’t branch. As such my social life was restricted to my own family. I knew nothing else, so I was content with it.

The bottom line was that I was in mental anguish without cease, and I still am. The child psychologists never discovered any issues worthy of dealing with, so they did nothing, though they were happy to take my parents’ money regardless. After that came the psychiatrists. For those unfamiliar with the difference, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who prescribes medications to deal with mental illness; a psychologist has a PhD and seeks to treat his patients through reason. I’ve been on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds since I was ten. I’ve got nothing to show for it save minor nerve damage from being given adult doses of medications that had not been extensively studied, meaning my hands and entire body shakes and twitches endlessly, completely destroying any ability to play a musical instrument or shoot straight. For someone who dislikes other people as much as I do, the latter is a real crime.

The truth is that I don’t dislike people in theory, but am in too much mental pain to put up with the requisite social niceties that seem to tie everyone’s lives up in knots. When I see two friends talking, I listen. Not for gossip, but because I’m curious about what they have to say. The vast majority of the time it’s nothing of value or interest, to myself of those parties involved. So why bother, I ask myself. If anyone would care to explain the allure of social interaction I am all ears. If you’re serious with me, I will take everything you have to say just as seriously.

Anyway, I’m off on a rant. Let me get back to the matter at hand. On a daily basis, I am very short with others and myself. This is not out of any anger, though most people perceive it as such. Mental pain is no different in it’s affect on behavior than physical pain. Though it is not addressed with such importance because it is not accurately perceived or identified, by the sufferer or those around him. For most of the day I’m able to get by through focusing on the important matters; money, work, household upkeep, personal upkeep, and entertainment. During the night, when the rest of the city sleeps, I have no such distractions. That’s when the pain gets through my mental defenses.

I’ve talked it up so much but have done nothing to describe it. Personally I experience several sensations. The first is a pressure in the solar plexus, not painful, but binding. The second is a heaviness in the skull, like a fog or wad of cotton cluttering up my brain and slowing my mind. The third is an infuriating itch at the center of the forehead, just above the bridge of the nose. But it’s not on the skin; it’s on the inside, behind the skull, where it can’t be scratched. I understand that this is not at all uncommon among Americans.

On a side note, I thought it pertinent to say that many cultures perceive mental pain differently. During my attempts at graduate school I learned that most Africans experience mental anguish as a prickly heat in the chest, while the Japanese feel it is a burning pain in the legs. Interesting how something entirely psychosomatic manifests itself differently, based on values and beliefs apparently.

In any case, the final and worst pain which only appears at my darkest moments in the small hours of the nights is the screaming. It’s difficult to describe in that there is not sound and nothing which was perceived. It’s like being woken from a sound sleep from a sudden loud noise. The noise itself is not registered; we never hear the sound that wakes us unless it continues whilst we are conscious. However we are aware that a noise did occur. It’s like that; somehow I know it’s screaming without actually having heard it.

The echoes of unheard screams ring in my mind, having ignored my ears entirely. It is ceaseless and maddening, and increases in intensity when there is no work to be done. That’s why I write. Not because I enjoy it, though there are times when it is very satisfying, I must admit, but because it’s the only thing which keeps the screaming from getting to me. It’s still there, it’s always there. I cannot change that. It’s similar to the way people in the military have been trained to resist torture, by placing their minds elsewhere for a time. Writing is the best way I can distract me from myself.

Before I learned this method I was a screaming nightmare, I would pace like a caged animal and press my hands to my ears until my skull creaked. I drank and took all sorts of pills. Thanks to the psychiatrists there was no shortage of those. Unfortunately I am a very big man with an Irish/German/Scottish constitution. I metabolize chemicals obscenely fast. The only time I’ve ever been dead drunk was when I drank the entire bottle of Jack Daniels. I don’t have the money or the wish to do that every night as I am of no use the next day. I pounded my head into the walls in a frenzy, trying to drive out the pain or crush my skull, I cared not which. In truth the only reason I’m not doing that now is that I’m focusing on writing this.

I have noticed in recent pop culture the startling interest in depression, mental illness, pain, and suicide. Some call it emo, though frankly I don’t care what it’s called. It may be popular, but it’s not healthy. To all those who act like they are depressed or pretend they have some sort of mental disorder, this is a warning. You play along the shores of a vast ocean. It roils and rages indiscriminately. Madness can be infectious. Those who are not in mental pain should not pretend otherwise, lest they be lost to that ocean without the knowledge of how to swim through it unharmed. Most people with mild mental illness that have not been institutionalized are still alive because they have learned coping strategies over many years of hardship and pain. This does not lessen the pain; it simply allows them to function in a world which cares nothing for anyone’s suffering. There are far easier ways to get attention; just asking for it for example.

To all those who are truly emotionally ill and in need of help, you will not find it in the form of a doctor or a pill. Taking yourself out of a functional situation and placing yourself in the stasis of a treatment facility does not work as it does not address those functional issues and problems you will face in the real world. This is the biggest reason that people who are institutionalized, either by force or voluntarily, experience relapses. Those facilities which actually attempt to treat their patients rather than simply medicate them, rendering them docile but unable to care for themselves, do not have individualized treatment procedures which account for the necessities of daily life and its routine. The bottom line is that people who go into mental hospitals tend to stay there. It is up to you to find a viable alternative. Good luck, and remember you are not alone, though you will always feel as if you are.

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