From Sean Ré
3/2/09 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ J. Krishnamurti
Denial and excess
My step-father is baffled by my current interests. He has, as of late, become interested in alternative energy. He, like many others, thinks that there is a singular technology that can save us all. In a previous career, I was an engineer, and he wonders why I don’t use those skills to pursue something that will serve humanity. Humanity has all the solutions it needs to solve its problems, I tell him; what it lacks is the will to exercise them. My stepfather, his body ravaged by the excess of his life and denial of his disease, diabetes, has lost half of his left foot, and most of the toes on his other. He is on dialysis three days a week. He tells me almost every time I’m on the phone with him about some new substance he has discovered that will restore his health, that will turn back part of the excess of his life. Excesses that he indulged in with denial. A denial that raged, even as he watched his siblings destroyed by the disease. In him I see an allegory of our whole modern way of being.
Charlatans and false solutions
I have these days concerned myself with issues of the exercise of will. I listen to community radio every weekday morning, and much of what I hear is denial, speculation, opinion, and false hope… dancing around the gorilla in the room. Fill the void with noise, but rarely utter the truths of our lives. We work so hard to fill our lives, and yet a feeling of emptiness seems to prevail. We feed the guard dogs of our way of life with our own flesh. A truth is before us but remains unfocused in our vision; it’s a dream we are told, it can never happen here. Stay the course, these things are just cyclical: things will return to normal soon. But what is normal? We refuse to look to the lives of others who show us a better way, as we cling to the lies that serve to make only a few prosper… for a while. Normal has come to mean common, as opposed to a state of well being: sustainable homeostasis. Sometimes I hear credible solutions to our problems, but I fear they won’t be realized. As with any addiction, delusional thinking prevails. But the truth lies within us if we can remove the barriers that have blinded us to our own truths.
Barriers: Signs, symptoms, and false diagnosis
In my profession the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) is the psychiatric profession’s attempt to legitimize themselves as a player in the scope of medical science. It is the fundamental tool at the core of the counseling profession. The DSM-IV (brought to you by similar minds that brought you the DSM-III, which listed homosexuality as a mental illness) presents clusters of symptoms which represent behaviors that lie outside the norms of our current culture. Symptom is the key word here. Webster defines a symptom as, “a phenomenon experienced by an individual as a departure from normal function, sensation, or appearance, generally indicating disease or disorder.” A sign is defined as “a bodily manifestation indicating the presence of a disease or malfunction.” The difference being, one is perceptual and the other is empirical. For example, if you go to a doctor and complain of pain in your arm, that is a symptom. If she takes an x-ray and observes a fracture, that is a sign. Imagine you went to your doctor and complained of leg pain, whereupon she snapped to a diagnosis (without the x-ray) and said, “your leg is broken” and then laid out a course of treatment saying, “and you’ll have to wear a cast for eight weeks.” You would look at her sideways and hop out of her office as fast as you could, as this would amount to malpractice. She made a diagnosis with only a symptom, and no signs, and then suggested a course of treatment. To understand this is to begin to wrap your head around the common standard of practice in the mental health profession: treatment (often medication) for a diagnosis made on symptoms alone. The actual causes (observed by signs) that can make the symptoms manifest are many. For example, the symptoms we associate with ADD can be caused by trauma, neglect, in-utero drug exposure, allergies, poor diet and the immediate environment just to name a few. I suspect there is not a child out there who is suffering from a deficiency of Ritalin. Yet that is a standard “treatment” given for this “disorder.” Something is a disorder if it impairs the individual from some area of life functioning: relationships, work/school, and self-care. Let’s look at two common mental “disorders” common in modern society.