Ask a stupid question

In the What-Were-They-Thinking Department I’ve come across a headline fit for Jay Leno’s late night comedy routine. What do the homeless want for Christmas? I don’t know, but I’ll take a few wild guesses. Does it have windows and a chimney?

Actually the article is about a non-profit organization, Homeless Partners, that helps the homeless people draw up wish lists for Christmas and post their requests on line. On the more down to earth, meaning tent city, side of the matter, these lists are mainly of practical matters. (As if a house wasn’t practical.) The lists contain items such as “bus passes to get to work, grocery gift cards, personal hygiene items and clothing.”

While the lists contain practical items–shoes, backpacks, coats, etc.–in some of the letters to which the lists are attached these homeless men and women also ask for prayers, prayers for a job, prayers for an end to sadness, and prayers for a return of hope.

The problem with people who write about haunted asylums

A writing professor has a Psychology Today blog, and she’s using it in her practice of bringing psychology into literature. Okay. I don’t suppose there’s a lot wrong with that endeavor in and of itself, but my view is that its better have your fiction grounded in historical fact rather than getting lost in the bog of material you have absolutely no knowledge about. This is the problem with Carolyn Kaufman’s The Problem With Haunted Asylums blog post.

She is reacting to NAMI campaigning against such exploitation.

“Haunted” places are popular Halloween attractions, but seasonal haunted asylums in particular draw fire from mental health advocacy groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI argues that such attractions “contribute to the stigma by encouraging false stereotypes and barricading the path toward an educated society” and asks the sites to remove the displays.

The reasons why a person wouldn’t exploit an abandoned asylum for crass commercial purposes have been boiled down to a couple of lame platitudes. She throws out those overused clichés, stereotype and stigma. These clichés have become ways of not seeing what’s right before your own eyes.

Let’s look at both sides.

On the one hand, asking a highly popular, entertainment-oriented, money-making attraction that’s already in full swing to tear it all down in hopes that people will realize that the depictions were unrealistic may be overly optimistic, at least for this year.

On the other hand, haunted asylums do play up scary stereotypes: that the clinical staff uses patients for ugly experiments; and that people who need to be hospitalized are radically different from everyone else, completely out of control, and savagely dangerous.

Dr. Kaufman apparently needs a lesson straight from the horse’s mouth.

One of the worst periods of times when it came to mental health treatment in this nation was in the early part of the twentieth century. The practices of shock treatment and lobotomy, in fact, came out of this dismal period in our mental institutes. People labeled “mentally ill” were being sterilized as people who were deemed unfit to breed. It was feared that having “mentally defective” peoples breed would have an unfavorable effect on the survival capacity of the species. This practice, begun in the USA, was readily adopted by the Nazi Reich in Germany. Sterilizing gave way to exterminating, and the German Reich had found the population to practice on in preparation for going after the Jews. This process of deleting certain targeted segments of the population from the gene pool in a misguided attempt to “improve” the species, with all its pseudo-scientific pretensions, was referred to as Eugenics.

The facts shouldn’t be glossed over. The Victorian monstrosity of the mental hospital was and remains a place where many bad things took place. The community treatment that comes of deinstitutionalization is a vast improvement over those bad things. The mental hospital is, after all, the rug that certain people get swept under when other people don’t want to deal with them. You need go no further than the state hospital cemetery to see how this is the case. What will you find there? If there is any marker, it’s going to bear a number rather than a name and dates. Why? Because it would reflect poorly on the family for folks to find out that one of their members was out of his or her head, and that he or she had died in an institution. I certainly don’t think that the fact that a person had a corporeal existence should become a matter requiring utmost confidentiality. The patient is not being protected by having led an existence only as a hidden and secret record.

Mental asylums should be remembered the way concentration camps are remembered. Nobody would dare make Halloween entertainment out of Auschwitz. For people who have been there, for people who have done time in a state hospital against their will and wishes, for psychiatric survivors like myself, the state hospital system is to be remembered as our holocaust. We want the mental hospital to become a relic of the past. It would be better to make museums out of them, so that people would never forget, than it would to make a child’s diversion of them. Horrible things went on in these institutions. Some of these things are still going on. Let’s do things differently in the future. We need to show people the absurd kind of therapeutic treatments being used in the past. We need to show people that we are above resorting to these tortures today. We don’t want people to ever forget, for if they do, it could happen again.

Introducing Gelotology

There is a school of thought that suggests laughter really is the best medicine.

Yesterday was April fools day, and on that day, Richard Mullen, a humor therapist from Georgetown spoke at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts according to an article, No fooling; local humor experts says skip the pranks and just laugh, in The Daily News Online.

One small criticism, I wouldn’t be so hard on pranksters as the reporter of this event apparently is. Pranks are valuable learning experiences for all involved. Pranks pull the rug of pretension out from under high and low alike. Pranks can be used to re-humanize an increasingly mechanistic world. Pranks offer hope for the future.

Mullen is a self-prescribed gelotologist — itself a funny word — who has studied humor and laughter and the effect it has on the human body. And that part’s no joke.

Gelotology has, as do all sciences, a history.

He also talks about two pioneers in the field of humor therapy, Norman Cousins and Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, and shows videos of old comedians such as Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny, who were notorious for getting people to laugh, not necessarily for their material, but for their approach.

I imagine this is only the tip of the history iceberg as Kings and Queens of antiquity kept jesters and fools to keep themselves in good humors. It should be noted that fools and jesters often kept Kings and Queens for their amusement and good health as well.

Laughter has its health benefits.

Richard Mullen says the health benefits of laughter include:

• Stimulates the immune system
• Lowers blood pressure
• Increases blood flow to the brain
• Clears lungs and airways
• Reduces pain and depression
• Strengthens core muscles
• Feels good

I imagine there are additional mental health benefits to be gained from laughter beyond that of merely lifting depression. You can’t be serious, after all, about your so called mental illness if it is the source of much laughter, and if you can’t be serious about it, how serious can it be?

Love, The Disorder

Today being St Valentine’s Day, I thought I would turn to the theme of the relationship of madness to love. I used wikipedia to come up with the disorders listed below. Having said this, I encourage people to express their own opinions on the subject, and not to leave the final word to wikipedia.

Hypersexuality is the elevated desire to engage in human sexual behavior at a level high enough to be considered problematic and clinically significant.

Love sickness is a non-medical term used to describe mental and physical symptoms associated with falling in love.

Historically, love sickness has been viewed as a short-lived mental illness brought on by the intense changes associated with love. Universally acknowledged polymath Avicenna, a Persian, viewed obsession as the principal symptom and cause of love sickness.

Obsessive love is a form of love where one person is emotionally obsessed with another.

Love addiction is a human behavior in which people become addicted to the feeling of love. Love addicts can take on many different behaviors. Love addiction strikes quite commonly in the modern world, however most love addicts do not realize they are addicted to love at all. Love addiction can be treated with many different recovery techniques and ways, most of which are similar to recovery from other addictions such as sex addiction, and alcoholism, through group meetings and support groups.

I prefer to ignore psychiatry’s attempts to translate behavior into pathology. The sin of most concern to the behavioral order and other psychiatric sects is apparently that of the diagnosable condition. I imagine that if it gives a person pleasure, displeasure, or no pleasure, psychiatry will find a drug to treat it. When the doctors office is right in front of you, my advice for you is to go in any other direction.

There are good things to be said about what some would call pathological love. If only fools fall in love, then such folly must represent a route towards eventual wisdom. There are those, I would hope, who have learned to soar to love after previously having fallen in it. If we learn by trial and error, corrections of errors come out of those trials. Some people, after all, do learn from their mistakes.

If they don’t learn, well, maybe they had a lot of fun making them.

Wanted! Williamsburg Lunatick Reenactors!

All sorts of historical reenactors are strolling the cobbled streets of Williamsburg, Virginia, and playing personages of importance to the founding of this great nation. Free negroes (this is before they were black), and slaves even, are getting to have their say, but one voice is still distinctly silent and noticeably absent from ye antique scene. Williamsburg was also the site of this nation’s, then colonies’, first public lunatic asylum (state mental hospital).The old state hospital building is in fact one of the featured buildings at the end of the historical section of town.

Some talented historically minded thesbian might think about playing the original asylum supervisor, too. The hospital in fact was run by members of the Galt family until the time of the American civil war, and his face would have been a familiar one about town. He’d have his perspective, of course, but what I’d really like to see are a few ‘lunatics’ strolling the grounds, and giving tourists and townspeople their mad world view such as it must have been back in the 1700s.

At one time the asylum itself was the life’s blood of the town, and I think it only fitting and fair that such fine wastrels of humanity as those who resided therein should also receive their, albeit long suppressed and delayed, due.

Further, perhaps, we could get back to the business of deinstitutionalizing our nation’s mental hospitals that had been progressing rather well until quite late. I think it would be terrific if every state hospital in the country were completely demolished, and, no, not rebuilt anew with state of the art torture devices, but rather consigned to the archaic place on the junk heap of antiquity to which it belongs. When these reenactors are an example of what was, no longer what is, then I, for one, will feel a whole lot better.

Year’s Zenith

Celebrations can be said to be mad in that they represent a lapse from our typical everyday sane way of life. Many Christian holidays, having a pagan basis, allow the shadow of the cross to be lifted from our shoulders for a few lost hours. When the occasion bears no such Christian pretensions, our conventional way of existence is even less valid, and anything goes.

Today at Stonehenge 35,000 people showed up to celebrate the summer solstice.

“There has been a great atmosphere and where else would you want to be on midsummer’s day?” said Peter Carson of English Heritage, the body in charge of Stonehenge.

Summer solstice, of course, must represent for some people much the same things as New Years Eve does for others. Given these heights, in terms of social mania and mass hysteria, what can the rest of the year be by comparison but doldrums and regrets? (For some people, read depression.) On a more mythological level, isn’t New Years Eve the Christianized Saturnalia? Still, I haven’t time to go into that at the moment. (I’m also refraining from lamenting the crackdown that just started in a certain Middle Eastern country due to this event.)

What’s left for the rest of the year? Should a drag develop we could always throw our own little bacchanal, or following Lewis Carroll example in one of Alice’s Adventures, we could celebrate un-birthdays. Hold on, all is not lost…13 more days, and American’s have their independence day to celebrate. Wouldn’t it be mad for people in other nation’s to join them in this celebrating! Especially those living in totalitarian countries!

This leads to the next holiday, and a reminder, Mad Pride is celebrated around the world on Bastille Day, and that is only 23 days away. Do you have your own personal Bastille to storm!? Well then, why not join us as we celebrate on July 14 our release from the bedlams of this world. The more the merrier, and so on that day you’re under no compulsion to gather your thoughts, or succor a hangover, before the 15th. Alcoholics can do so metaphorically, and only after consuming non-alcoholic beer, punch, or beverages. Let substance abusers, unless they are incorrigibly obese, or it contains an illicit substance, eat cake!

Excuse me, no offense was intended. You can do as you want. Should it lead to an early demise, well, those things can turn legendary, and thus keep the celebration going. If it doesn’t, we won’t need extra bodies to do your celebrating for you. Anyway, it all works out, and the next mid-summers eve is as fit for romance as any other might have been if you missed out on this one.