383. Counterintuitive

Here’s a disturbing question for you:  When do folks suicide most often– summer, winter, spring or fall? Most folks think winter and the holiday season is ripe for suicides. That may be, but it’s spring that consistently hosts the most suicides in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. (You know they are opposite, right?)According to the CDC April and May show a marked increase in suicides in the U.S. and other northern countries, and that suicides actually decline in the bleak winter months. One study I saw clearly demonstrated Monday as the favored day for suicides to occur. Maybe those folks just didn’t want to go to jobs they really hated. Hmmm, you’d think quitting or calling off might have been more effective.

Not to make light of suicide. I feel deeply for folks who are in such a pain filled state that they can only think of destroying the pain container instead of destroying or managing the pain. It’s the all-or-nothing approach to problem solving, similar to burning down your house to make sure you eliminate the pesky mice that run around your kitchen at night. Undeniably, it works; but this solution obliterates the plaintiff, bailiff, courtroom, reporters, judge and jury. It’s an odd sort of justice that obscures the original injustice.

I recall a local anesthesiologist who offed himself on an examining table at the hospital to protest real or perceived maltreatment. The thing is, we’ll never know what the rest of the truth  was because he executed himself as he executed his strange justice. I do not recall if it was a Monday in spring or not. Doesn’t matter. His job was to anesthetize patients in surgery and to revive them afterwards. It’s supposed to be a round trip ticket not a one way. Which is why single passengers who buy one way airline tickets with cash attract so much attention from the TSA. The guys I know who do this are not terrorists; instead, they are repossessing cars or delivering machinery. In any event, they are coming back… unlike Dr. Doom, who fully anesthetized himself forever.

Sad and disturbing. No one can grasp the unbearable weight that moves a finger to pull a trigger of the cocked pistol at one’s temple. Follow the triggered nerve back to the tortured brain that has been rehearsing this exit strategy. Almost all suicides are completed alone, which reduces the risk of revival or interference. Still, what an airless bedroom closet or bathroom it must be as the suicider sits and builds up the critical and final momentum for the ultimate terminus. Like waiting to vomit and then ride the terminal wave out of consciousness, where the constant is becomes the eternal is not. The pain and hopelessness must feel like giant aliens that must be destroyed.                                                                                 Image result for giant alien pictures

The demoniac self named “Legion” in the Gospel of Mark 5, had so many unclean spirits driving him that he smashed rocks against himself and ran around tombs naked and screaming near the pig herds of the Gerasenes.  His repetitive insanity was ended by Jesus with a command, “Come out of him, you unclean spirit.” The legion of unclean spirits came out and complied. They asked Jesus not to torment them and begged to be cast into the nearby herd of pigs. He complied and they possessed the pigs, leading 2,000 to hurl themselves into the Sea of Galilee and drown. That’s a lot of bacon, folks.

One life was saved, one mind restored. And you’d think that the folks around the Gerasenes would be pleased, but they weren’t. They begged Jesus to get back in his boat and leave. No thank you or praise or worship, nope. Just fear simmered in the melted grease of confusion. It’s been said that miracles don’t produce faith; rather, faith produces miracles. I agree. Despite witnessing the overcoming of supernatural forces, the locals wanted no part of this Savior. Counter intuitive again. If you don’t want the problem nor the solution, then really, what do you want? More confusion, I suppose.

 I recall a story of a young man’s suicide with a pistol. The parents were devastated, yet they gave the gun to the victim’s younger brother.  I’m not a gun hater, but if your older son overdoses on oxycontins do you give the rest of the prescription to his little brother? Or if the one hangs himself, do you give the remaining noose to his kid brother? Seems counterintuitive again. The math of suicide is not that hard to do, if you simply possess the courage to do it.
 semi-colon
Despite the common terminology, no two suicides are identical. Some are grandiose exits with letters full of anger and bitterness. Some are murder/ suicides involving children or partners, parents or pets. Somewhere in the convoluted thinking the perpetrator believes the survivors can’t make it without him/her, or he/she can’t make it without them… and it’s better to make it a package deal. Some are desperate hangings while the family is away. Even when clear reasons are attached to suicides, survivors ponder the WHY? I suppose this question comes from the valuing of life on the one hand, and the incomprehensibility of destroying oneself on the other hand, which is literally no longer there.
Guilt and shame follow suicides as surely as the million WHYS. Yet, if survivors look hard at the evidence, it is usually not their fault. The fault is most often in the suicider’s brain, where he/she solves a temporary  problem with a permanent solution. Overkill is a fair comment, I believe.  Intuitively healthy minds seek survival and generativity. Counterintuitively, unhealthy minds seek death and the cut off of their loved ones. A life well lived is a beautiful thing. A suicide is, no matter how meaningful or dramatic, is a disaster.

346. Learned Helplessness

We all know someone who revels in victimhood, who burrows into their miseries like a tick on an old mangy dog, and won’t let go, sucking their toxic sustenance from the sick host. If you try to create some daylight between the host and the parasitic sucker, the career victim says, “Yes but my childhood, my schooling, my family, my lousy birthdate, my skin, my height, my hemorrhoids, etc.” It’s hard to spend time with these folks because after a while you realize that they are sucking whatever optimism you came with right out of you. They deflate the bouncy beach ball of joy into a flat inner tube of despair. The longer you are around them, the more your mind wanders toward making nooses out of inner tubes. Being compassionate, however, you decide to make two. You would not want to inflict this pesty pessimist on any other human being after you hang only yourself. Any optimism on your part is met by the Elite Red Guard of Defeatism and utterly destroyed. After all is said and done, Dark likes it dark.

Learned helplessness is behavior typical of an organism (human or animal) that has endured repeated painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it was unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn escape or avoidance in new situations where such behavior would be effective. In other words, the organism seems to have learned that it is helpless in aversive situations, that it has lost control, and so it gives up trying. Such an organism is said to have acquired learned helplessness. (Wikipedia, support them, blog dogs! I do.) No successful outcomes can be imagined in the dark land of stinking thinking.

A buddy of mine from way back in the day was a functional depressive. He expected to be crapped on in life and just rolled with and in it, never pushing back. His wife dominated him totally. His kids played him like a fiddle. His dog peed on his refrigerator grille just because he knew no consequences were coming. I remember once talking with him about seeking treatment for his depression. He explained,

“Oh, I’ve thought about it, sure. But, see, as bad as my life is, I figure it would take several years of therapy and medication to get better, and by then I’ll be in my early sixties. I don’t expect to live past 70, so I’ll just about be dead by the time I figure out my miserable life. So why bother? I keep a calendar in the basement. Every night I write ‘Life sucks’ in that square, cuz every day life sucks. Month after month after month, life sucks. Then you die. The only question is this: how many more ‘Life Sucks’ boxes between here and ‘Then You Die’?”

I had to agree with him. The matrix he had constructed to insulate himself in misery was a concretized reinforced bunker of resistance. He had grown comfortable in his cell of despair, carpeted it and had cable installed. Why move now? Just have burned pizza delivered to Apartment B, 333 Hell Avenue, Tartarus, until you owned the deed.

I know of an experiment where fatigued swimming rats were rescued just as they were about to drown. When placed in the same cruel water tank again, these rats swam longer than control rats, suggesting “learned optimism”, the reverse of learned helplessness. Apparently, some lab rats want to live more than others.And if a rat catches a break, it will try harder next time.

Learned optimism was defined by Martin Seligman and published in his 1990 book, Learned Optimism. The benefits of an optimistic outlook are many: Optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health. Pessimism, on the other hand, is much more common; pessimists are more likely to give up in the face of adversity or to suffer from depression. Seligman invites pessimists to learn to be optimists by thinking about their reactions to adversity in a new way. The resulting optimism—one that grew from pessimism—is a learned optimism. The optimist’s outlook on failure can thus be summarized as “What happened was an unlucky situation (not personal), and really just a setback (not permanent) for this one, of many, goals (not pervasive)”. (Wikipedia, again.) That’s a long, marshmallow crème sort of prescription. Steve with a V  from Coffee Nation would summarize it succinctly into this:  “Growaset!” I would set up business somewhere between Steve and Martin Seligman.

Falling in love with your excuses is just as weird as dressing up rats and squirrels that will one day chew through your electric wires or your face.  “Aren’t they cute? tick, tick, tick. Look at them in their little Santa suits. Oh, they’re climbing up the Christmas tree. No! Don’t chew the lights!!! Zap. Doggonit!! I paid good money for those Santa suits.” See? I am a chronic loser. I can’t even control pet squirrels.

There is an oddly positive takeaway from chronic depressives, however, that is  similar to being released from a cramped sauna where you have been smashed up with eight sweating sumo wrestlers for an hour. When you hit that clean, cool, dry air outside the cabin, man it feels better! You feel free and light and dry and safe and less awkwardly naked. Yeah, you can’t really reason with over weighted emotions. Like the sumo wrestlers in the sauna, they will just crush you. So here’s a note to self: never sauna with eight sumo wrestlers at one time, or with one depressive.

Oh, the self anointed Realists will tell you that your optimism is silly, naïve, and irresponsible. Better to be prepared for the worst than surprised by it. But the sun never shines on their side of the street. It’s always dark in that mindset because that is the original premise. At best they swim with half inflated life preservers… you know, cuz reality is hard and you have to swim or sink on your own efforts. So why did God give us positive emotions if  we aren’t supposed to expect good things in life or celebrate when something like victory occurs? Again, my depressed buddy’s philosophy– “I think God will punish me if I have a good day. He’ll give me a bad one to keep the score even. So I just hope for mediocre.”

And not surprisingly he hits the target every time.

 

 

321. Grief, Loss and Elvis

Grief… breathing feels like air slowly passing through holes in the lungs and entering the stomach, causing a loss of sensation throughout the gastro intestinal tract. Bloated emptiness feels nothing. Digestion stops flat. What is food to a dead man but mockery?

Hunger becomes only a hazy memory from another vague time period when food connected to flavorful living. The last taste of vinegar lingers on the back of my tongue… or is that formaldehyde? Fumes hover across the exhalations. Surely these expirations would ignite with a flame.

Each breath is like a ragged flagged mourner’s car in a funeral parade that gets waved through intersections while other bodily functions wait out of respect. The race is over. Only jerks cut into funeral processions because their lives are so much more important than the one whose memorial they are interrupting. Ironically, Death often gets priority when and where life is not respected. Still, everyone is merely passing through this life’s lens at different rates. Movie extras disappear unnoticed. Life is lived in the foreground, right? Front and center, here and now. All the leads are the loved ones in our lives. The anonymous dead fall breathlessly and remain inert behind the breathing.

The heart slows. It seems only an echo of a heartbeat, mere white noise, though that sounds too clinical and optimistic. This drum beat comes from an abandoned well at the bottom of which an abandoned child slaps an empty water bucket weakly, hopelessly waiting for no one to come. “Bump a bump… bump. Ba bump.” Mud oozes up between his toes.

My brain like plump ice cream scoops melts and drips off the cone until it all collapses on the baking sidewalk, leaving an empty cone for flies to devour. Butter brickle Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Dogs lap up his liquified face. He was a good egg.

“He just died, that’s all. All the cardio problems finally won. His torso was a sharpening stone for scalpels. Scars every which way. He showed them to me once with an odd angry pride. ‘I’ve been carved more than a Christmas turkey’, he said.”

“I can handle death. It’s just that eternity is so long”, he told me later, quietly. I think he knew his time was near.

My body feels weighed down by concrete blocks under leagues of dark water. My executioner knows where.  Elvis resonates through the thick water in my ears…

“Are you lonesome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

“…Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there
With emptiness all around
And if you won’t come back to me
Then make them bring the curtain down.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?”

So many questions, Elvis. No answers needed. He is lonesome. All those questions can be turned into statements, you know. ‘ I am lonesome tonight. I miss you. I am sorry we drifted apart.’ A plaintive man taking accountability for his failures again just doesn’t sell so well, however. Elvis is hoping that his ex-chicky lover is grieving, hoping to hear her say “Yes, yes, yes” to all these speculative questions. But wait!

Elvis: “Shall I come back again?”

Chicky: “No. Finish the ending. Bury the corpse of our love.”

Elvis: “But, but, but Baby!! I’m feeling a B side in this love of ours.”

Chicky: “Before its un-embalmed putrefaction gags us all.”

Elvis: “But Baby, all my horses and all my men can put the King’s pieces back together again. Jest, uh, trust me.”

Chicky: “No they can’t, Elvis. The pieces are not all here, and some are too tiny. Pulverized to dust.”

Elvis: “But, but, but Baby!! Baby! You aint seen nothing yet.”

Chicky: “Actually all I have seen is nothing.”

And it fades to a looping nightmare where you go searching for a bathroom that works in a world of broken plumbing. Long corridors of faceless folks who cannot tell you where the water lines are.  From leagues above your nightmare ears comes a bubbling Elvis through a wall of green Jell-O,  “But, but, but Baby.”

He’s got to stop doing that or my bla-bla-bladder will bu-bu-bu- burst. Self serving promises are embedded in his strumming questions.

“Am I lonesome tonight?” Less so without you. I can handle Death it’s just that Eternity is such a long time.

 

279. Wired

It wasn’t quite like this picture but it was close enough with the wire mess in the upstairs closet of my office building. It looked like a bear had eaten a small pig that had been wrapped in fine electrical wires, and left. When I got settled in after moving, I determined that I’d fix the mess, which I assumed was all the wiring for a former security system. See, my building had been an outpatient drug clinic for a while, so every window and door had an electronic sensor wired to it. There was also a fire alarm system built in that no longer worked nor was it necessary. I’d been told by the fire department inspectors to actually remove the fire alarms since they did not work and were not required.
Officer Dewey Duty: “We don’t want folks to have a false sense of security by relying on fire alarms that actually don’t work.”
Me: “Sure, no problem. It’s like relying on Social Security in your retirement.”
Officer Dewey Duty: “Uh, yeah. Just remove them, smart aleck.”
Me: “Roger that, sir.”
Officer Dewey Duty: ” It’s Dewey, Dewey Duty.”
Me: “Yes, sir, Mr. Duty. Officer, sir. But what about my obsessive neurotics? Do you want to steal their imagined rescue?”
Officer Dewey Duty:  “I’ve had about enough of you, jerk face.”
Me: “Rogerrrrrrrr, okay. Sorry. Please just pass me. Take the $100 and leave.”
I set about doing the code conforming immediately, but I overgeneralized in my enthusiasm. I over-identified the dead wires. There were actually phone lines and high speed internet lines that all bundled back to this messy wall panel. I was undeterred and defiantly ignorant. I took wire cutters and cut till every last skinny wire was in two  pieces. I unscrewed the metal and plastic panel and tossed the wire clump into the dark land above my ceiling tiles. I cleaned up the wiry mess and carted off the plywood backing plate. Heck, it seemed as neat as a fresh grave.
The next day I noticed that my land line was not working. No signal at all.
“That’s weird,” I thought, not making any connection to the wire cutting frenzy of the day before.
So I called the telephone company, who sent out a technician. After just a few minutes and obvious checks, he asked me, “Have you had any recent construction in the building?”
“No. I just tore out the old security system wiring.”
“Uhhhh, where is that wiring harness?”
“Back here in this closet. It was a mess and I put it out of its misery.” I opened the walk in closet for his inspection. “Right here is where it was; I put the bundle end up above the ceiling tile. Now it’s tidy and neat, dontcha think?”
“No….you didn’t.  These are all telephone lines. There must be a hundred wires here.”
Gulp. I saw big money signs and the word STUPID tattooed across my forehead. “No kidding?”
“You cut all your telephone lines.”
I started laughing. “I guess I did. Yep.”
He looked at me as if I did not understand English. “No, I mean you CUT all of your telephone lines.”
I laughed a little more. “Yeah, crazy, huh?”

“You cut ALL of them. Every one of them.”
“Yup. What can be done?”
“I might be able to find one line, but it will take hours to connect them all back together. You cut them all.”
“Well, I really only need the one to my land line. Do you think you can find that one?”
“I’ll try. I have this sensor that can show me a match, but you’ve got at least a hundred cut wires here.”
[ By now I was fully aware of how many wires I’d cut, but apparently Bob the technician was flabbergasted by my work. He had never met a village idiot before.]
“That would be great if you could. You know all the rest of the outlets don’t really matter anymore since we have Wi-Fi and cell phones. Weird, huh?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he muttered as he weeded his way through the chaos I had created.  About 20 minutes later he found the correct green wire combination that restored my land line’s dial tone.
“Awesome!  I’m back in business, Bob. You are my hero.”  If I’d been the hugging type, I would have given him a crisp, professional hug, but I’m not so I didn’t. Plus I don’t think Bob was nearly as pleased as I was and he still thought I was an escapee from the local mental ward.
As Bob was ready to leave he said to me with what I believe was disgust, “I’m not even gonna charge you for this visit.”
And he didn’t. I think he felt that I was probably too stupid to open my own mail, let alone write a check and mail it. But I felt validated, prophetic even. Ahead of my time. When the Wi-Fi era archeologists exhume my old building and find no hardwired telephone or computer lines intact, they will gasp, “This guy was either a genius or the luckiest village idiot there ever was.”  I will let history judge me.