The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

 

I am a chronic worrier.  I even get worried when there is nothing to worry about.  At age eight, after reading a pamphlet at the local pharmacy, I was convinced I had venereal disease.  I think it is genetic.  My father is convinced if the Bird flu does not get him, the Chinese economy will brings us to our knees and he will be dishing fast food in a Mandarin restaurant within ten years.  My brothers and other men I know suffer from a similar chronic anxiety syndrome.  It does not matter that 99.9% of the time, the most dramatically catastrophic scenario that we have built up in our head does not occur.  It could happen.  And if it could happen, I must do everything I can to hedge against this possibility. 

 

Once I have settled on my anxiety du jour, I have this little movie theatre in my head.  It seats one person.  When things go bad at work or one of the children gets sick, the little man in the projection room goes down to the archive room and pulls out a metal canister with a label on it – Horror Films.  The titles are familiar – How I Lost Everything, The Great Plague of 2006 and my favorite, From The Top of The Mountain to Under a Bridge in a Box.  The flickering film always plays out the same way – – I lose whatever it is I hold most dear to me and end up walking around Central park clutching a bag of string asking anyone if they have seen my car. 

 

I guess the panic reflex is nature’s way of getting your attention.  You end up doing extraordinary things when you are fearful.  You overachieve.  You cram 10 lbs into a 2lb sack. You work until all hours getting something just right.  You go for days without much sleep – – you focus on the task at hand.  You also become pretty selfish.  It’s all about you.  Perhaps if your buttons are really pushed, you might lie, cheat or steal.  In our town, that does not mean you would knock off a convenience store but perhaps you might finesse the edges of the truth or not be the kindest or most thoughtful person. You know, the person you see yourself as when you sit in church ? 

 

It’s interesting to me that a society that has so much seems so fearful ?  Is it because the media pipes us daily images of the chaos that reigns in certain regions around the world ?  Is it that many of us were children of a generation that dug bomb shelters in their backyards waiting for the big one and are still waiting for the Reds to fulfill their master plan ? 

 

In Organizational Psychology, I remember being educated on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The basic levels of the hierarchy – food, shelter, clothing were the building blocks of a behavioral and socio-economic pyramid that eventually led to an apex where one became “ self actualized “. In being self actualized, a person was essentially free of the worries associated with finding food and shelter and was free to ponder the deeper issues in life and the cosmos.  The self actualized person seemed to me to be a sort of cross between Hugh Heffner, replete with robe and slippers, and William F Buckley with Barrons at his left hand and Tolstoy’s War and Peace at the right.  A self actualized person was independent, all knowing and of course, affluent. 

 

My professor never really mentioned fear and affluence being bedfellows.   It is strange seeing those so seemingly immune to the vagaries of a life that happens only to other people, not acting like emancipated pillars of society but instead capable of petty, selfish and highly self interested behavior.   It seems so interesting that affluence turns out not to be an enabler of self esteem, character, or courage, it just obscures the lack of it.

 

Most men do not refer to these issues as causing “fear”.  We were brought up by a generation of dads to pound through fear like a fullback sniffing out the goal-line.  We call it “anxiety”, “stress” or “dog-eat-dog “.  In a society that judges the ends more than the means, the more you accumulate, the more one feels the need to patrol your borders to ensure you protect it.  Ironically, when we are too busy patrolling we are cut off from the real world that desperately needs us – – our kids, our community, our world.   

 

We consider ourselves “blessed” as we survey the beleaguered citizens of Iraq, the destitute in the gutters of Bangladesh and the crucified in Darfur.  We assume that abundance is a sign of divine approval.  Yet, I wonder if affluence also makes one more afraid and as such, makes it that much harder to see the forest of mankind through the trees of self preservation.  

 

Happiness is wanting what you get instead of getting what you want.  Joy is watching those you love find happiness.  It doesn’t say much in that quote book about affluence other than to be careful as it may become the snare that snags the foot of one’s soul. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the house over the cardboard box every day of the week – – my lead soldiers won’t fit in the cardboard box.  Yet, to those that much has been given, much is expected. 

 

My good friend and mentor once said to me, “Mike, the day you realize it is not about you, is the day you start changing the films in your projection room.”   My pastor Gary Wilburn reminds us that through serving others, we can find ourselves and be free from fear. 

 

I have to keep remembering that because they are about to start the movie Saw IV and I am one of the stars…

 

Chronic

2D structure of eszopiclone (Lunesta)
Image via Wikipedia

 

Chronic

 

You take the blue pill, the story ends.  You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland.  And, I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  ~ Lawrence Fishburne, The Matrix 

Thirty years ago, chronic conditions were attributed to a much smaller subset of society.  People who had anxious limbs were encouraged to cut down on chocolate and caffeine, get more exercise and perhaps drink more water.  Drivers who became apoplectic at the reckless maneuvers of other drivers were “hot heads.”  People who experienced the occasional down day were considered to be feeling “blue.”  Older men needed to use the bathroom more frequently and people in high stress jobs often found themselves reading books at night, unable to fall asleep.    

It’s taken years for me to realize that I grew up chronically ill.  I had a short attention span, wiggled like a worm on a hook and wheezed when I ran, especially if I hadn’t exercised for weeks.  My penchant to eat too many cookies, tell lies when confronted with a punishment, forget to do my homework, chase girls, suffer the occasional nightmare and routinely punch my little brother when he bugged me – were all chronic conditions that went undiagnosed for years.  I do not have the heart to tell my parents that the punishments they meted out were visited upon a hopelessly sick child.  Thanks to Mike Adams of Natural News and the pharmaceutical industry, I now understand that I suffered from restless leg syndrome, attention deficit disorder, exercise-induced asthma, low blood sugar, chronic denial, irrational attraction, recurring hallucinogenesis, and periodic anger.  It’s a miracle I made it through elementary school.

The medieval treatment for many of these non-progressive conditions involved a leather strap around 36” long, applied vigorously to the afflicted child’s gluteus maximus until the symptoms ceased.  Other therapies were administered with open hands or common household implements.  Supplemental cures included total quarantine or gardening and the sanitation therapy of cleaning latrines. 

Physicians today are generally appalled at these methods, as we now know each of these conditions can be resolved with a prescription drug.  We now understand that our DNA strands are virtual Rosetta stones, revealing myriad predispositions to illness.  As we further explore this final frontier of divine programming, we rapidly develop drug therapies to arrest these genetic troublemakers in their tracks.  You can now travel to Canyon Ranch and, for a small fortune, identify genetic markers that indicate how you might metabolically respond to certain diets or drug therapies.  You can answer such nagging questions as “Am I more likely to respond to a low-fat or a low-carb diet?” and “On which psychotropic drug am I less inclined to gain weight?”  It’s all very uplifting.

While it is exciting to watch the evolution of genetic therapies lead to a next generation of “designer” drugs, we are also descending into an era of increased self-diagnosis – and an expanded definition of what it means to be “chronically ill.”

I can’t watch television anymore without seeing a luminescent butterfly gently raining pixie dust on an entire city of sleep deprived type A personalities.  They awaken after a fresh Lunesta induced sleep, rested and ready to operate heavy machinery.  The Flomax commercial makes me have to go to the bathroom.  I am jealous of these fishing, biking, and rafting crazies who spray each other with water and have not used the rest room in four days.  Going to the bathroom never seemed so fun.  High cholesterol and acid reflux ads show people eating pizza, cookie dough and possibly dirt while dropping their LDL lower than a Marin County vegetarian.  And there are the ads dealing with, well, how should I say, erectile dysfunction.  Everyone looks really, really…really happy.  The men are mischievous and the women are playfully coy.  The mood music is playing when suddenly, 50 of your closest friends drop in.  But don’t worry; you will be on your game, potentially for the next 20 hours.

As we enter the 21st century, we must not let up.  We must push for new therapies.  Research is already underway for the following progressive conditions:

• Combat Disassociation Disorder – CDC affects millions.  It is characterized by a complete disregard for the fact that your nation is at war.  Symptoms include lack of concentration on issues relating to foreign policy, energy or deficit spending.  In extreme cases, a CDC sufferer may attempt Richard Nixon impersonations.

• Situational Narcolepsy Syndrome – The drug industry hopes to eradicate this crippling condition that impacts one in two adult males worldwide.  To quote an industry insider, “The market for an SNS cure is huge!”  The condition is characterized by men absorbing less than 50% of information conveyed to them by their spouse or significant other.  In clinical trials, a combination of drug therapy and super amplified hearing aids has shown remarkable success.  A typical SNS sufferer might hear, “Honey, I need you to…Stamford…Johnny and Timmy…don’t forget…5 p.m.”  After clinical trials, the same respondent was able to absorb the following: “Honey, I need you to get to Stamford by 4:30 to pick up Johnny and Timmy.  Be sure to tell Carol that Timmy does not need a ride to soccer and call Sarah and tell her to walk to Starbucks at 5 p.m.  I will pick her up there.”

• Vicarious Delusion Syndrome – The Fairfield County Athletic Association has recently contributed venture capital to JSU (Just Shut Up) Biosolutions, a biotech research lab focusing on therapies to treat individuals who attempt to live vicariously through the athletic careers of their children.  VDS is characterized by fits of anger and limited peripheral vision.  Hearing is often impaired and public outbursts may be followed by periods of profound social and personal alienation.  Clinical trials have shown the experimental drug Justagame to work on the most advanced cases of VDS – parents who hang out at the local fields even when they have no children playing. 

Thankfully, our friends in the biotech and pharma industries are hard at work to attack these and other illnesses.  Imagine a future of malleable teenagers, attentive spouses, cooperative coaches and civilized spectators.  Consider a life where you can sit through an entire episode of The Hills with your teenager without feeling nauseated. 

It’s just around the corner, and I can’t wait.  In the meantime, I will have to deal with anxiety, uncertainty, stress and anger the old fashioned way – through exercise, traditional medications and eating right.  Tomorrow can’t get here soon enough for me.  Actually, I’ve been told my constant preoccupation with the future is an undiagnosed case of Random Anticipatory Anxiety Syndrome; soon it, too, will be treated. 

Better living through modern chemistry. Thank heavens!

The Noonday Demon

The Noonday Demon

Happiness itself can be a grand labour …Charlotte Bronte

On December 7, 2004 34 year old Carson Spencer took his own life.  It was a shocking and unceremonious exit from the world in which he excelled and touched so many lives.

His disease, bipolar disorder, had pursued him like a relentless phantom, unseen by friends and family but a familiar specter since he was first diagnosed at the age of 17.  Like, many manic depressives, his symptoms were subtle at first and disguised by enormous accomplishments and popularity that a visceral society interpreted as achievement and success. Carson was the embodiment of all that was right.  Yet, his manic swings and struggles to cope with an illness that he hid like an ugly scar, conspired to overwhelm him.

In his book The Noonday Demon – Andrew Solomon leads us much like Dante’s guide in The Inferno into the harrowing hell of depression.  As he pushes us forward, he attaches a rope to the outside world so that many of us might find our way back to the light of day and out of the blackness that occupies the uncharted parts of our brain chemistry.  In reading Solomon and hearing the story of Carson, I was struck by how common bipolar disorder is in America and the terrifying statistics around suicide.  Last year over 500,000 people attempted suicide in this country.  Suicide amounted for almost two percent of deaths worldwide in 1998, according to Solomon, ahead of war and homicide.  Half of those with bi-polar disorder will attempt suicide. The most likely suicide attempts are those who are experiencing their first depressive episode.  Those that have had multiple episodes have significantly reduced risk, particularly if they have maintained a treatment regimen of cognitive therapy and medicine.

Carson’s life and death left footprints to follow and lessons to be learned.  Not unlike a suicide bomb, the carnage that ensues is not limited to the bomber.  In this case, it’s unintended consequences ravaged the lives of friends, a sister, a wife and 2 year old daughter and loving parents.  This successful husband, father, athlete and businessman was by all accounts dynamic, driven and compassionate.  As he struggled through the massive roller coaster ride of a brain whose chemistry would not cooperate, his ability to understand and master the less traveled and veiled road of those with bi polar disorder created doubt and confusion.

Shame, prejudice and lack of understanding around mental illness have all been passive accomplices in the rate of suicide in our country.  I have seen in my own industry, healthcare, a reticence to consider mental health parity as a cornerstone to a healthy society and adequate healthcare coverage.  Timothy’s law, recently passed in NY, was named after Timothy O’Clair, a Schenectday boy who completed suicide in 2001, seven weeks shy of his 13th birthday.

As a society, we are now discovering and understanding that these illnesses are created by imbalances in the brain chemistry and uneven release of serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine.  Life events, profound trauma, body chemistry, genetics can all conspire to create the demons.  A bi-polar individual may unwittingly receive massive doses of their own neurological chemicals during a “high“ propelling them to incredible accomplishments and great heights.  But like a plane that expends all of its fuel to reach its highest possible altitude, the engine runs dry and crashes to earth in a shattering collision that leaves the individual cut off from a world and deadened to any overtures of love, affection or compassion.  In many cases, the only logical alternative for this purgatory of nothingness is death.

Carson did not realize he was in such a common club of tortured souls:  Buzz Aldrin, actors Jim Carrey, Patty Duke, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Art Buchwald, Francis Ford Coppola, Mozart, Emily Dickenson, Daryl Strawberry, Agatha Christie, Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, JC Penney – – all struggled with bi-polar disorder over the courses of their lives and all fought the noonday demons who would appear without any sound and tug at them trying to pull them back into that “dark place”.

The lack of knowledge, the fear of confiding something that society rejects as mental weakness or the trap of one’s own mania can conspire to drive a person further from help and in to stop-gaps efforts to blunt their symptoms through alcohol, drugs or inconsistent use of one’s prescribed medication.  Our ability to raise awareness enough to destigmatize this disease and to educate not only those afflicted but those effected, is paramount to stitching together a social safety net that catches everyone who falls.  If Carson were alive, he would have wanted to help create awareness and understanding around the disease of bi-polar disorder.  In the end, the noonday demons took him from us too soon and robbed the world of yet another person whose capacity to love and be loved could have healed our society just a little faster.

Out of the ashes of this terrible tragedy, a small phoenix emerged in the form of the Carson J Spencer Foundation.  Carson’s friends and family established the fund to support further bi-polar research.  2 million Americans or a little less than 1 percent of the population has diagnosed or undiagnosed bi-polar disorder.  This translates in a town of 20,000 people to over 180 adults and children in this community suffering from this disorder and five fold who are impacted by its potential radius of pain.

On Saturday, May 5th, 2007 Carson’s friends and family, Genesis Gallery and Digizip, Inc will hold a benefit in Port Chester, NY to support the Foundation.  The admission is $ 125 per person and will feature a live auction with world class vacations, art, jewelry and a few surprises.  The money raised by the Foundation will support the continued work in the fight against bi-polar disorder.  Tickets  can be purchased as well as donations received on http://www.carsonjspencer.org.  The foundation is a lifetime memorial to a beloved son, husband, friend and brother.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “we can either light a candle or curse the darkness.” The noonday demons dwell in the darkness and prey on uninformed and unsupported people.  Through our efforts and energies we can cast a light so bright that we can banish them from our town, our country and from the minds of those whose lack of defense makes them vulnerable.  For more information about the Foundation, or the event, please call New Canaan resident and Digizip CEO, Greg Schneider at 866-375-8324 (X 201).