Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category
Glad Coburn’s leaving the Senate, and his swan song is to block efforts to prevent veteran suicides. What a shit. As the post at the link states, the program is $22 million—not much considering the cost of the Iraq War—and as the post notes:
“This is why people hate Washington. Senator Coburn is the only person stopping this bill from becoming law,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “If Senator Coburn blocks the Clay Hunt SAV Act, an enduring part of his legacy will be killing an overwhelmingly supported bipartisan suicide prevention bill for our veterans. That has real implications. If it takes 90 days to revisit this issue in the next Congress, the statistics tell us that 1,980 additional veterans will die by suicide. Senator Coburn needs to think carefully about that number in addition to his concerns about the minimal financial costs of this bill.”
As William Congreve wrote in the play The Mourning Bride, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” And apparently it also helps some with PTSD. Scott Beauchamp writes in Pacific Standard:
Up until a few years ago, when I returned home from two tours as an Infantryman in Iraq, if I referenced the Grateful Dead, the ultimate baby boomer counterculture band, it was usually as the punch line to a joke about their cult-like army of followers or the hours-long jam sessions their live shows consisted of. I never saw myself as the type of person who would listen to them.
I would have stayed the course, listening to more conventionally “cool” music, were it not for the periodic bouts of anxiety that I had brought back with me from Iraq. There was sleeplessness, hyperawareness, diffuse and undefined anxiety, and depression—the typical mélange of symptoms usually attributed to post-traumatic stress. On nights that I couldn’t sleep—and on days that I couldn’t function—I’d spend hours with music. I began with the songs that I was already familiar with—classic and independent rock mostly. But being able to sing along to tunes I knew from childhood and high school became a tedious comfort, and so, with the help of Spotify and YouTube, I began searching for more options.
I don’t remember exactly when I decided on the Grateful Dead; there wasn’t a Eureka moment. I just slowly realized that they were frequently coming up in my playlists. A majority of the time that I was listening to music at all, in fact, I was listening to the Dead. They made me feel blissful, to put it simply. That may be hard to take seriously in a post-modern milieu that demands every thinking person be a cynic, but for me, healing from the experience of war, the nourishment that I received completely overshadowed any knee-jerk embarrassment.
I’M NOT THE FIRST to make a connection between the music of the Grateful Dead and psychological healing. The much-loved neuroscientist Oliver Sacks wrote about just such a connection in his New York Review of Books essay “The Last Hippie.” In it, Sacks tells the story of Greg, a young man growing up in New York City amid the heady, mind-expanding countercultural apex of the late ’60s. Greg goes about checking all of the boxes of the youth movement experience: He moves to the Village, does a copious amount of LSD, attends live performances of the poet Allen Ginsberg, and obsesses over the music of the Dead. Following a familiar trajectory, he eventually trades in his bohemianism for the New Age and joins the Hare Krishnas; as his devotion deepens, Greg’s contact with his family all but ceases. They had no way of knowing he was suffering from health issues.
When his family was finally able to visit him years later in New Orleans, Greg was completely blind and suffering from severe cognitive impairments. A benign tumor had been left to grow in his brain, wreaking havoc on his frontal lobes. His memories of the ’60s were vivid, fresh, and accessible—but he was completely unable to make new ones. Even simple musical melodies that Sacks would play for Greg were quickly forgotten. Sacks suspected that it might be good to expose Greg to music that he remembered from the past, only in a new setting, and so he took him to a 1991 Grateful Dead concert at Madison Square Garden, where, Sacks writes, Greg came alive. The frontal lobes, parts of the brain that play a role in higher functions like memory and personality, had been damaged by the tumor, leaving Greg in something of a stupor. But at the concert, Greg was thrilled, exuberant … blissful.
THE STORY OF MY own relationship with the music of the Grateful Dead isn’t nearly as dramatic as Greg’s, but my epiphany felt just as real. The chill that I get from a transcendent Jerry Garcia solo isn’t mine alone; it has been proven by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro that music can cause obvious and measurable physiological effects. . .
Very interesting article by Scott Keyes at Pacific Standard:
Living on the cold streets of Seattle—decades after a war left his body 70 percent disabled—John would have never thought of himself as a role model.
He wasn’t just an alcoholic. He was the type who was so committed that he’d earned a reputation around town. After drinking for 25 years on the Seattle streets, alcohol had consumed his life. He’d survived Vietnam, but it seemed that he might wind up losing his life to the bottle.
In 2005, a new kind of housing unit for homeless people opened up in downtown Seattle. John was one of the first people to move in. The building, named for its address 1811 Eastlake, specifically targets homeless individuals who are dependent on alcohol. Unlike most shelters, however, 1811 Eastlake permits residents to continue drinking, even in their rooms, if they so desire.
So John kept drinking. Why wouldn’t he? There was no rule prohibiting it. And just because he had a bed and a roof didn’t mean he craved alcohol any less. But over the next 12 months, John’s life gradually improved. He no longer had to worry about violence or finding a place to sleep. He met with a counselor who encouraged him to drink less. By his second year at 1811 Eastlake, John decided he was going to stop drinking, and he did.
“He became a role model,” says Bill Hobson, the executive director of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center, which runs 1811 Eastlake. After all, John had been drinking on the streets for decades. Most other residents knew him and had likely shared drinks with him. “He could tell people they looked like shit today, and that he didn’t want to see them that way,” Hobson says. After more than six years, John moved out and got his own apartment. 1811 Eastlake had saved his life.
MOST SHELTERS AND HOMELESS housing units would have turned John away, though, employing the same reasoning with alcohol that conservatives use to block sexual education: abstinence-only. In 1997, when the idea for 1811 Eastlake first arose from a meeting of Seattle and King County officials, “everyone was still locked into the idea that the way you cure an addict is to demand they stop doing drugs/alcohol,” Hobson says. . . .
Amazing story, but it shows how cops can be pressured into brutality by their peers—and fired if they don’t join in. Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:
Here at The Watch, we’ve looked extensively at how difficult it can be to fire cops who use excessive force, even when independent bodies have found that they’ve done so on multiple occasions. So what can get a cop fired? In the case of one campus police officer in California, it was his decision to not use force on a possibly suicidal student.
According to local news reports, an unnamed officer with the California State University, Monterey Bay Police Department responded to a call in February about a troubled student at a university dormitory. Jeff Solomon, president of the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), the union representing the officer, told The Huffington Post that the call came from a student’s father who was worried his son might hurt himself or attempt to commit suicide.
The student was black, according to information the officer’s lawyer shared with the Monterey County Weekly.
The officer was working alone, so he called the municipal Marina Police Department for assistance in calming the student down, according to accounts given to local news outlets by both Solomon and Marina Police Chief Edmundo Rodriguez.
The situation escalated when the CSUMB officer stepped away to get the student a glass of water, Solomon told HuffPost. The student became agitated again, stood up and raised his voice, prompting the three Marina officers to restrain him on the bed and use two stun guns on him. They reportedly asked the CSUMB officer to use his stun gun to control the student’s legs, but Solomon says the officer refused, saying it was neither justified nor in the student’s best interests.
The complaint against the officer was filed by the Marina officer who came to assist. Rodriguez, the Marina chief, claims that the officer “froze,” putting the other officers at risk. Solomon, the union head, told the Huffington Post that the officer had a 20-year history with no disciplinary actions. He also questioned why three officers would need stun guns to restrain a 150-pound student. The student’s father, the one who initially called the police, has also defended the officer for not Tasing his son.
In a statement in a SUPA press release, the student’s father, who also remained unnamed, expressed gratitude for the CSUMB officer’s actions. . .
This is happening right where I live. I really do not believe that police officers have the training and experience to help those with mental illness, though the police have certainly demonstrated that they can be brutal to them. That is not, however, the optimal approach.
The five personality traits that have been identified as being relatively stable in people are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Melissa Dahl at New York Magazine‘s section “Science of Us” shows word clouds based on Facebook posts from those that score high on each trait and those that score low. Here, for example, are the word clouds for high predicted neruoticism (cloud on left) and low predicted neuroticism (other cloud):
And high agreeableness (left) contrasted with low (right):
That seems about right—certainly it’s consistent with what one would expect.
Others are in the article, including high and low predicted extraversion (and I’m right there with low extraversion):
Fascinating essay, and I was thinking how well it was written (and, presumably, edited), when I realized it was an excerpt from a book. Say what you like, a book gets more work than a blog post.
Peter Toohey in Salon, an extract from his book Jealousy:
Jealousy, common at work, has an unexpectedly close relationship to creation. Like family jealousy, this is not much admitted to, even by the sufferers themselves, but it appears and reappears in mythological stories. Perhaps it’s through these that the human anxiety surrounding this uncomfortable emotion is best enunciated.
A lesser-known story concerning Daedalus, the mechanical engineer and inventor who created the wings for his overambitious son, Icarus, is instructive. In his MetamorphosesOvid describes how, after Icarus’s death, Daedalus took on his sister’s son, Perdix, as an apprentice. The boy was as good an inventor as Daedalus. In no time at all he’d devised the world’s first saw and the first pair of compasses. This was too much for his uncle:
‘In jealous rage his master hurled him down / Headlong from Pallas’ sacred citadel’. Daedalus tries to do for Perdix what Icarus did for himself, because he did not follow his father’s advice. Both boys fall because, in the eyes of Daedalus, they overstretch themselves. Neither, in different ways, heeds the superiority he insists on when it comes to invention. ‘Master inventor’ was the position that Daedalus jealously guarded. Luckily (or unluckily) for Perdix, Pallas catches him and transforms him into a partridge (perdix in Latin). As Ovid says, ‘this bird never lifts itself aloft, / . . . dreading heights for they recall / The memory of that old fearful fall.’
Daedalus and Perdix are locked in an intergenerational jealous battle between teacher and pupil, as are Athena and Arachne. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is again the source of this chilly tale. The goddess Athena taught Arachne spinning and weaving. Arachne became very good at it, so good that ‘often to watch her the nymphs would leave their own vineyards on Tmolus’ slopes, and the water nymphs of Pactolus would leave their waters’. She denied the goddess Athena had had anything to do with it, and ‘took offence at the idea of such a teacher’. Athena was furious that a mere mortal should presume to deny a god her dues. Bold Arachne simply challenged Athena to a contest in weaving. The offended deity gave Arachne a second chance, disguising herself as an old crone and advising her to ‘seek all the fame you will among mortal men for handling wool; but yield in place to the goddess’. Arachne responded arrogantly: ‘Why doesn’t your goddess come herself? Why does she avoid a contest with me?’ Athena threw off her disguise at once and the contest began. Athena’s tapestry depicted the power of the Olympian gods and the punishments suffered by human beings who were arrogant enough to challenge them. Arachne, soon to earn just such a fate, chose to create a tapestry prophetically depicting the suffering of humans at the hands of jealous gods – including Europa being deceived by Athena’s father, Jupiter, who, disguised as a white bull, abducted her and raped her, which can be seen in the background on the right of Rubens’ painting. Who won? Ovid tells us that ‘Not Pallas, nor Jealousy itself [Livor, in the Latin, accompanies Athena] could find flaw in that work’ by Arachne. ‘The golden- haired goddess was indignant at her success, and rent the embroidered web with its heavenly crimes; and, as she held a shuttle of Cytorian boxwood, three times and again she struck Idmonian Arachne’s head.’ Arachne couldn’t take this beating, and slipped a noose around her neck, but Athena took pity on her, after a fashion, and transformed her into a spider. ‘Still from this she ever spins a thread; and now, as a spider, she exercises her old- time weaver- art.’
Some have claimed that Arachne is Ovid and that this story is a fable about the difficulties he experienced in his own creative life. What the story does show is that the older, established generation can be just as jealous as the younger newcomers. Jealousy cuts both ways, and it is centred on both the position as ‘the creator’ and the act of creativity.
There are many examples of this kind of intergenerational clash between creators. One example of the younger lashing out at the older concerns Michelangelo and Leonardo, . . .
It seems highly probable that the low place was the result of PTSD, and his account of what it was like to endure it, how he got past it, and how it changed him is well worth reading. Blog readers may know of my respect for Ricks, and my occasional recommendations of his book Making the Corps, which describes not only how a civilian becomes a US Marine, but also how the Marine Corps made itself a learning institution—the contrast with the Army is quite remarkable.
Ricks’s account of his descent into a grim place and his subsequent emergence will be gripping, I think, to men of a certain age. It’s in the New Yorker and it begins:
I fell out of time in the summer of 2004. I fell back in about seven years later, on September 11, 2011.
The first fall was slow, more of a slide than a drop. It began as I moved around Baghdad, in the summer of 2003, with a growing sense of unease. On Memorial Day, while reporting for the Washington Post, I went on a 1st Infantry Division patrol in western Baghdad with another Post reporter, Anthony Shadid. I talked to members of the patrol, while Anthony talked to the Iraqis in the neighborhood. “Everybody likes us,” Spec. Stephen Harris, then twenty-one years old, told me. Anthony heard a different story. “We refuse the occupation,” Mohammed Abdullah, a thirty-four-year-old Iraqi, told him. “They’re walking over my heart. I feel like they’re crushing my heart.” (Anthony, who had been shot in Israel, in 2002, and was kidnapped in Libya, in 2011, died while covering the rebellion in Syria in 2012.)
The rest of 2003 brought a series of bombings in Baghdad—of the United Nations office, of foreign embassies, of the Red Cross—that clearly were designed to peel away potential allies from the United States. (The U.S. responded to these attacks with flailing and with moral errors, such as the torture of prisoners—and not just at Abu Ghraib.) In the spring of 2004, there simultaneously was a Shiite uprising on one side of Baghdad and a Sunni one west of the city, in Fallujah. Yet, the Americans seemed to think that all that was needed was a positive attitude.
In the back of my brain, an unconscious thought was growing, whispering, insisting on being heard: something is very wrong here. It hit me hard; it was a personal feeling. This wasn’t a matter of policy, this was a matter of my life: This war is going to be very different from the other conflicts you have covered, I thought, different from Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan. Something here has grabbed ahold of you. You have lost control of your future.
For reasons that I still don’t understand, my mental elevator-ride down accelerated on a trip home in early August, 2004. It began with a daylong flight on an Air-Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane. We flew from Baghdad, but, instead of going directly south to Kuwait, we first went north to Mosul, then sat on the hot runway for what felt like three or four hours. It was probably about a hundred and twenty degrees inside the plane. We took off dripping in sweat, froze in our wet T-shirts while in the air, and finally landed in Kuwait City late at night.
Kuwait brought an unhappy bureaucratic surprise. Because I had arrived on a U.S Air Force plane, I did not need—or have—an entry visa. But I was flying out commercially, and for that I needed an exit visa. Yet, I was informed at the airport that one could not be given to me because I was not officially in Kuwait—that is, there was no stamp in my passport. I hired a Pakistani taxi driver to help me make the rounds of government offices. The Kuwaiti officials seemed to delight in tormenting me. The cab driver, seeing my face as I emerged from the third Kuwaiti office of the day, said to me, sympathetically, “Sir, I told you these guys was sons of bitches.” He shook his head. I felt awful, panicky, as if the walls were closing in.
Looking back now, I realize that all this bothered me more than it should have. On the British Airways flight from Heathrow to Washington, the stewards, half on strike, were a bit rude, but it felt like they were poking me with sticks. When I got home, my house was in turmoil—a much-needed renovation was underway. It all seemed like a conspiracy to make my life more difficult. When my wife handed me an avocado-and-tomato sandwich for dinner, it tasted like ashes.
I left to go whitewater kayaking on the Youghiogheny and Cheat Rivers in West Virginia, a few hours west of Washington, D.C. I paddled hard for five days. On the sixth day, I was tired. On that final day, I was near the takeout—that is, the end of the river trip—when I came to the last hard rapid in the Cheat Canyon, where a three-foot-long pillar of rock juts out like a thumb from a clenched fist, angled over a small waterfall. At this Class IV rapid, I should have taken a right stroke, to edge the boat a bit to the left. I had been through this rapid a dozen or more times before and had executed that move successfully each time. Instead, this time, inexplicably, I took a left stroke, and the kayak shifted ever so slightly to the right. At the drop, my bow leaned off more toward the right, propelling my torso into the edge of the rock projection. It hit me so hard in my ribs that I felt almost lifted out of the boat, even though I was wearing a tight, heavy, rapid-proof sprayskirt. Just writing about it brings back an ache in my ribs.
I’ve never quite known why that accident happened. But I wonder now if it wasn’t completely unintentional.
I was able to paddle to the takeout but awoke the next morning . . .