“The mind…can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” ― John Milton
It’s hard for people to empathize with you when you’re going through chemo. I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not saying people don’t try. It’s just one of those tough subjects. There’s always that specter of death that hangs over the conversation. This possible prognosis, correct or not – supersedes any discussion of “how you’re doing.”
It’s hard to explain that things just change. And it’s more than just physically. The nausea gets all the attention, But that’s never been an issue with me. It’s a lot more than that. My senses has changed. I don’t smell, or hear, or taste or see like I used. Whether or not they’ll come back remains to be seen. After my first “rodeo” my senses recovered some, but not entirely. And I’m sure with this latest group of treatments (I hate that term) this sensory wet blanket that I’m dragging around will probably be my new companion for the foreseeable future. Linus has nothing on me.
Mainly what people can’t understand is the mental changes that occur. I guessing it’s not unlike what PTSD sufferers deal with. Around every corner, there’s a trigger that can set off a memory that’ll send you into reactionary tailspin. In a wonderful book by Debbie Hampton, she re-accounts her recover from a suicide attempt where she injected over 90 pills. She literally fried her brain. It was so damaged she had to relearn how to live and with that her impulse control was severely impacted. Because of her frequent outbursts, her friends and family such had hard time dealing with it many just stayed away – including her mother. She had to rebuild her life mentally and physically, block by block, encumbered by this new uninhibited broken brain as its foundation.
By no means am I dealing with anything like what Debbie did, or probably still is. But I do get the brain change thing as my patience and tolerance level has been affected … big time. My world has triggers everywhere now. Most of time we go through life and just let irritating things pass us by without much notice – at least not letting it affect us. Such is not the case with me since chemo has fried my brain. I like to describe it like an archipelago. During normal tide, only a few of the islands are visible. But now I’m in a constant state of low tide. Everything is visible and everything affects me.
All this being said … it bring us to the insane asylum on the east coast, better know as Washington D.C. What’s happening in our political wasteland is having a big effect on me right now – culminating with the latest antics of the Republican Congress and the clown boy in the White House. For many the healthcare legislation ramrodded through the House by Paul Ryan is nothing short of a bus hitting us. I try to get my head around all of it and inject some reason into their decision making process – but I can’t. The group think that has reared its grotesque head is a modern-day tulip mania of Sherman’s March to the Sea (how’s that for a mixed metaphor). The insane mindset that has taken over this party is completely void of any compassion, empathy or even basic humanity. The days of Bob Dole and even Ronald Reagan are long dead. The zombie that has taken its place bares little resemblance.
Unfortunately I can’t just turn off the television, quit looking at my Twitter stream or let my newspapers pile up on the front porch and wait for it to all go away. I’m front and center on the preexisting condition issue. If all this comes to fruition (as in the poison fruit), I’ll be at the mercy of my greedy insurance company. Combine this with the crazy state my brain is in right now, and I’m spending time figuring how to stockpile and freeze chemo drugs from my current treatment sessions while I’m still covered – to be used if I need them in the future, if (more probable when) my insurance company drops me or prices me out of the market. Welcome to life in Montana, land of cowboys, guns and extremely limited healthcare options. I have to constantly remind myself of the John Milton quote, “The mind can make heaven of hell or hell of heaven,” to keep from digressing into obsession.
The man on the white horse, the man in the white hat … well, neither one of them are coming.
Running of Trump’s Lemmings
Regardless of my personal situation or more accurately, my perception of it … we can’t dismiss reality. If the picture couldn’t get any clearer – looking to these clowns in political zuit suits for the answer is pure insanity. Even someone with chemo brain can tell you that. Yet Trump supporters still support him and Republicans are, and probably will always be Republicans.
But not to be left out of the delusion soiree, Democrats still think that if they put someone of theirs in the White House, the federal government will magically become a bastion of implementation prowess. Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office – our country’s, and more importantly our individual problems will not be fixed.
Last Thursday night, I had very disheartening conversation with my daughter. Now Alex is a bright young woman in the midst of a very successful career with tours of duty at Apple and Amazon. She is grounded and informed, but her logical mind is having a very hard time understanding how this country, one that she has always felt even in times of craziness – will do the right thing. But after Thursday, those assumptions have been shattered. For her it was like realizing there’s no Santa Claus. With the this healthcare legislation, the Republicans have not just targeted the “outsiders” – but rather the very people who worship them and put them in power. The level betray is unprecedented. At least Hitler didn’t kill the Germans he viewed (in his demented mind) to be his true countrymen.
It’s safe to say “we the people” are on our own. We can only hope we have enough resolve individually and collectively to fend off the daily assaults waged on us by those we’ve entrusted to look after our interests. May today be the day we take our institutional naivete′ and bury it with the illusions of Santa Claus and the blanket we slept with when we were two years old.
Since Trump has taken the reigns as leader of the free world (theres’s so much wrong using those words together in one sentence), the mental health industry has seen a dramatic rise is suicide calls and psychiatric activity. Bluntly speaking, people are depressed. Normally optimistic people are seeing their world view might have been based on flawed assumptions.
Personally I’m not ready to throw in the towel on humanity. I’m still an ardent believer in David Hume’s philosophical premise that people are intrinsically good – not that of Thomas Hobbes and the need for a Leviathan overlord. I believe we just need to reset our social and civic perspective. No white anything, hat nor horse, is going to pay our house payment or make us healthy. That is up to us. The sooner we admit to this, like the alcoholic or the ten a hydrocodone a day housewife – the sooner we can get onto fixing what needs to be fixed.
Self-Efficacy and the Road to Recovery
In the past I’ve been accused of assuming people have too much control over their own destinies. Upbringing, environment, genetics or even belief in a higher being I’m often told are the determining factors – no matter what their own efforts. If you’re not white, probably male and connected – the deck is stacked against you. Getting dealt a “bad hand” is grounds for government intervention and assistance. Most recently, the in vogue means of this assistance is basic income – getting paid for basically existing and being a member of society. I’m all for the betterment of all people. Anyone who knows me or has read any of my 200+ posts on this blog will attest to that. In fact, that’s probably the one common tenet that runs through the entire site. That being said, I can’t believe a reward with no incentive to accomplish anything is the best way to achieve it.
Shouldn’t the road to our Perfect World be paved with the something that will produce a longer-lasting effect than just a monthly sustenance? Shouldn’t we base our societal actions around the assumption if we better ourselves good things will come for both us and those around us? It’s the “giving a man a fish vs. teaching him how to fish” thing in the Bible. And I don’t believe this is even a political issue anymore. Regardless of your ideological affiliation, relying on the government (or any other institution for that matter) to actually deliver is naive at best.
Shouldn’t we strive to create communities and social constructs that move us in a direction that empowers people? Shouldn’t we be teaching people how to fish – working with them to obtain the physical, mental and social tools they’ll need to not just persist, but flourish on a long-term basis? At the core of this empowerment is building a communal sense of self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The key is to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity and engagement – personally, socially and civically. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.
In America there is little effort put into getting people to engage directly with their health and personal well-being on the part of the established healthcare industry. Maybe providers are reluctant to relinquish control. Maybe it’s they just can’t be bothered. Regardless, the country lives by a healthcare methodology of reaction and “fixing things” … not proaction and “maintaining things.” It’s no big stretch to believe that transferring some of the responsibility for our own health to the ourselves will prove beneficial to us. And it’s not just focusing on the physical that creates impact. Developing one’s mental acuity is not unlike getting into physical shape. Having a stronger mind is the key to having better resolve and making better decisions in the first place. And schools should not have exclusive rights to that. Opportunities to learn and strengthen our minds are all around us all the time. We need to engage with our surroundings (people, places and things) to take realize the benefit though.
We can’t leave out the social component of well-being either. Using altruism and benevolence as a cornerstone by doing good things for others takes your mind off of your own ailments and gives you purpose. And even if you can’t actively participate in hands-on volunteer projects, you can at least feel you part of the solution by experiencing the joy of giving vicariously through passive attendance and moral support.
What we need is not a society where we look to institutions for the answers – whether it be the government, the healthcare industry or any other. We spend all our time and energy arguing over which institution and which version or it is best for us. And even if we agree, we never even discuss whether our interests are best served by any institution. The thought of responsibility and by association, self-efficacy, is too often mis-interrepted and dismissed as heartless libertarianism. While the personal responsibility calling can go a bit far … so can and has the leviathan of the institutional overlord.
We need to resist the extremes. Full-on libertarianism isn’t the answer anymore than being beholden to the keeper of the keys of the Ivory Tower. We need to decentralize and deconstruct our current support structure but yet be vulnerable enough to depend on our neighbors and communities. We need to reach out and grab those close to us where we live and help … and allow ourselves to be helped. To do that, we need to engage. And the perfect model for this type of engagement may be only as far as our backyards.
Part 2 will take us into the “life of plants” and how patterning our lives around a model of engagement designed after a rhizome root structure found in our backyards might be the solution to the personal, civic and political malaise we’re presently immersed in. Out on May 16.
If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo that will inevitably take anyone and anything down with it … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and the well-being of the populace is priority. Or even better email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up time to have a conversation.