Shame and Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma

First posted in August 2012 Shame And Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma has more of a wallop five years later than four years earlier. We as a race must get something out of persecuting the disenfranchised and marginalized friends, family’s, lovers, idols, and heroes. Maybe we ought to look inside ourselves and find that kernel of fear. Then erase it. And then get back to being compassionate brothers and sisters.

 

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Why are we ashamed by what we do?  We do what we choose to do because we stand to gain something.  Yes, some people are forced, say at gun point, to compromise; some are coerced through drugs and alcohol; and yes, some actions are purely altruistic (ashamed of philanthropy?).  It’s my opinion that consciously withholding or denying or lying about our actions is caused by fear.  Not a generic fear, but a two-tier fear.  The first tier-fear: judgement by others is beyond your control; but the second tier-fear: consequence sits squarely in your lap, and which, by the way, you’d already equated as a potential cost of your unprecedented action.  We all know this simple truth: We have absolutely no control over the actions of others.  That said, we can remove the first tier-fear: judgement by others; we now find ourselves staring down the steely barrel of culpability: we encountered a situation, measured consequence against benefit, and toed the line or stepped across it.  So shame and regret were considered well before we pandered to our hunger, thirst, or warm body (emphasis on warm).

The best possible precursor to a mental illness diagnosis was, until 1973 its own mental illness: homosexuality.  Coming out as a gay man taught me the valuable lesson that there will be people who can’t distinguish between my sexual orientation (which places me in a specific group) and who I am (in general terms) as a fellow human being.  Having learned that lesson years ago I was well prepared to face similar discrimination based upon my mental orientation, i.e. mental illness, e.g. bipolar disorder.  And yet, what is there to be ashamed and regretful about?  Don’t carry the burden of Shame or wear the shackles of Regret; never apologize to anyone irritated by what you have, especially if what you have is a medically recognized disease.

Recently I conducted a thoroughly non-scientific giddy-up poll which asked: What diseases do you think you’d be ashamed to admit having?

Answers?  Anal warts, vaginal herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea. . .what?  Anal warts? Venereal diseases? According to our non-scientific poll of middle-aged men and women, they said that carrying a sexually transmitted disease is the only other human affliction besides mental illness that they would be ashamed of having and which also carries with it a damning social stigma.  STD’s are the result of risky and unsafe sexual activities engaged in by choice. Does mental illness really belong in their company? Really?

Shame and Regret are burdens that those who choose to remain ignorant and judgmental should shoulder.

Not me.  Not you.  And certainly not the neighbor, best friend, Richard Dreyfuss rdreyfuss2
parishioner, bowling buddy, Ryan Phillippe, phillippeprom date, recipient of the first kiss, Girl Scout, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, really), Girl Scout Leader, Sinéad O’Conner, full back,  Metta World Peace ,
mettapeace offensive line coach, movie star, Burgess Meredith, Opera Star, Ronald Braunstein, famous orchestra conductor, infamous commuter train conductor or any one of the other 25% of our world’s population. How about the other 75% of the world’s population loosen the reins of their prejudice.

Thank You, Doctor . . .

There was a time, oh, not so long ago that friends Michelle and Peter and Nick would remember that I sat in a chair in a public forum and wept because I never became a doctor.  Friends recommended nursing, but on my first day my instructor, wearing one of those origamitized hats mentioned the adjective caring in hundreds of examples.  By the end of the day I’d grown so weary of the word caring I returned my shiny new mules and knew I didn’t have the dedication to the lives of total strangers simply because your unyielding care and uncompromising affection for humanity seemed as close to grace as most of us will ever know.

I’ve been very lucky to have been able to continue my 20 year relationship with my primary care physician.  In 20 years we’ve both learned a lot about each other: he more so of course, especially with those physician distributed x-ray glasses (and we thought they were some manifestation of a cartoonist’s imagination) because how else could doctors have the degree of insight simply by engaging in an innocent conversation.

I’ve been thinking lately that all these men and women who voluntarily step up to education and raise their hands so strongly, so surely, and so hopefully that witnessing that depth and degree of service to strangers must be one of the most moving examples of humanity stepping into a life where their life is secondary.

Why they do this happily, proudly, compassionately in order to be in the presence when most of us aren’t gussied up for prom astonishes me and thanks God for loaning humanity a few hundred thousand angels to leave Heaven and come to earth (by way of unimaginable hours pouring over manual after manual after manual and I can’t even remember 3 things to buy at the grocer’s), then share their own type and degree and experience of the comfort they know to be true once we let go and become fine examples of colorful balloons rising higher and higher and out of sight but not out of mind.

To all those selfless and defenders of the weak or ill or mentally compromised or children or any other of the millions of disenfranchised a mere thank you will never repay your kindness. But maybe God’s set up a 401(k) for you in heaven.

 

 

Percolating Happiness

 

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What is Happiness?

Are we aware of its presence or absence?

Is it organic?  Meaning it percolates within us, bubbling to the surface, and expressed through facial expression?  Or is it environmental?  Meaning it is outside of us, an experience we find pleasing and therefore are happy?

Is Happiness found in things?  The greater the thing, the greater the Happiness.  Where can Happiness be found?

Many great thinkers hypothesize that Happiness is an emotional state.

From 1958-2008 I’d always had a fairly good idea of what would/could/should make/keep/prolong my idea of Happiness.ahappy1

And yet its achievement was surely impossible: my Happiness hung inches out of reach like that carrot on a stick, the absence of it’s possession was goading, taunting, irritating; what was at first a quest for joy, soon curdled, and its promise soured.

The greek philosopher Epicurus emphasized that Happiness meant being untroubled and absent of pain.

Aristotle, the father of modern drama said of Happiness, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer “The two enemies of human Happiness are pain and boredom.”  He also said that humans have high expectations.  Man should lower his expectations and remember to aim low.”

If Schopenhauer is correct, then depression is percolating cup after cup of Happiness!    ahappy3

 

 

A Recent Visit With An Old Journal (July-September, 2008)

astormI do know how it happened, this convergence of the perfect storm, but the why I set it in motion is still a mystery to me. My feelings of absolute worthlessness have been building for years; starting much like the birth of a tsunami deep in some crevice in the ocean, a shifting of my inner tectonic plates, natural I suppose in the grind of life, but this shift caused great, unpredictable movement of the seas of my life which, by all accounts rose higher, and deeper, and soon engulfed the tiny town of my life, built, I suppose foolishly too close to the shore.

And then it came, this huge wave and friends and lovers fled. I on the other hand, all too well aware stood steadfast in its path. It washed over awaveme, this wave, crushing me against the only world I knew now, that which was beneath my feet. Gripping the sand I held firm, never certain that as it receded, that it would not pull me far, far out to sea.

Gradually it did retreat and once again the sun broke the surface and I lay gasping, choking on air which days before had given life and now condemns me to deal with this devastation.

I had a deep sense that not all was okay with me. I often complained of a dark gnawing I had felt, or heard in my mind. I always thought that it was my creative self scratching to get out in the form of writing. But now I wonder if indeed it was my inner self pleading for help. I could never articulate it sufficiently to those around me, nor did I ever think it was truly a cry for help. Until this week when, what I thought was my tidy little world fell absolutely apart. It was this week when I was diagnosed with major depression.

aquietzone2And from what I now understand it is taking a very predictable course complete with dark patches, rough zones, drifting away from reality, but the one part which I cannot fathom is my inability to be stimulated by more than one thing at a time. For instance, I cannot tolerate music playing and talking; I cannot tolerate stress; I cannot tolerate anger or anything except calm. If I sense more than one thing at a time I shut down and go to a quiet place.

I suspect it all fell apart when it all came together; a perfect storm as I have said; a convergence of three wholly separate, yet tumultuous events which I set in motion.

I had been in a loving 23 year relationship. We had all the trappings of a solid relationship: jobs, cars, cat, home, garden, money, retirement. But something was sorely lacking. Me. I wasn’t in it any longer. I couldn’t be in it. Being in it was too painful for me. The hurt which started as aloverskissingsuspicion around my drinking and drug abuse quickly cascaded into a kind of secret identity which I couldn’t share with him for fear of reprisal. I needed the drugs and alcohol to buffer the deepening sadness of my life. I didn’t want to face, didn’t know how to face this gnawing, this scratching which would never quiet on its own. The only way to silence it was through sleep, inebriation or a Vicodin high.

I also had a very romantic side which died when my partner no longer accepted my tokens of affection. It’s not that he didn’t want them, but they grew silly or unneeded or immaterial or expensive or, even I suppose worthless. Aren’t these tokens of affection best saved for times of seduction or apology or bereavement? And so into the roll-top desk of my life I placed this need to “show” my affection in the drawer called “get to later” right next to my sexual desires, overwhelming need for affection and self-worth. I simply closed the drawer and drew down the lid patting those things adieu. I knew they’d be withdrawn at some later date, when the amour would willingly accept my advances.

Should I have simply ignored his requests to cease and continued my gifts? Perhaps. But our finances had become so entwined that he would have known how much I had spent of these trinkets and he would’ve been cross. Could I have paid cash? Of course, I suppose, but when tokens of affection aren’t valued, the value plummets, the surprise ebbs, the feeling I get wanes. I learned to simply file it away.

I knew that our relationship had weathered many storms; it was built strong; based on honesty and open communication. But shouldn’t every abiggameman have a secret or two? A trinket of conquest placed deeply into a suit pocket? An amulet to ward off demons? A trophy? Hung handsomely on the wall? Hadn’t all my friends had trophies? Yes! Oh, yes, they had! Not one friend that I know has ever been in a relationship as long as ours without the occasional dalliance; but mine was different. Mine was a manic affair, built on a foundation of bogs and swampland and prone to sink.  A manic affair is a very dangerous liaison often resulting in collateral damage and repairable of which I did not fully anticipate it’s consequence.

 

 

One More . . .

3-One

5-One

1-One15-One

One more trip to the doctor.

One more admission of humiliating symptoms.

One more physician‘s persevering uncertainty.

One more hunch about drugs even after repeated failures of 6 week trials.

One more hopeful bottle of toxins to ingest.

One more set of side-effects to endure.

One more crippling debility: Illness’s strong swing of a sharp ax into the pulp of my dignity cutting deeply.

One more intentional assault leaving me with a staggering and teetering propriety.

One more debility before I’m disqualified from sovereignty; stripped of my liberty, freedom, and independence, my self-reliant character reverts to childhood, a time of absolute dependence for survival.

One more obedient abdication of my extinct identities and forthcoming dog’s age.

One more no more.

 

My Letter To The President of the United States, Barack Obama

LETTER SENT VIA EMAIL: Tuesday, December 18, 2012

 

Dear President Obama:presidentseal

I’d like to propose four ideas in the wake of the Newtown slayings:

  1. Dispense Ammunition like Rx Medicine: Our Bill of Rights protects ownership of firearms. It doesn’t include ammunition.  Using the pharmacy model dispensing Rx, apply similar laws to dispensing ammunition. If you wanted bullets, you’d go to the police station where you’d be screened and hand you a “dispense order” for thirty rounds monthly. “Munitions Depots” watched by the ATF like the DEA watches pharmacists and pharmacies.  Also added is the “Dangerous Possession Tax,” levy a hefty “Deadly Weapon Permit,” require high annual licensing fees for all gun owners.

    veteran
  2. Protecting All Freedoms: Redeploy returning veterans to patrol “gathering places” i.e. schools, churches, movie theatres.  These veterans are highly trained and experienced gorilla/urban conflicts. Two or three armed soldiers in combat fatigues is a significant visual deterrent. Local police could put cops back on the street. How many conflict prepared and experienced veterans are coming home jobless? Highly trained, disciplined, and responsible veterans provide visible safety at gathering locations and employing them to secure gathering places provides professional safety. What if one armed veteran had been at Newtown?
  3. Get Tough on the Supply Chain: Levy high taxes on manufacturers of deadly weapons, munitions manufacturers, suppliers to the making of deadly weapons and hold them accountable for the inventory and retail sa
    glockles of objects designed to kill. If they sell both military-grade and street-grade weapons, insist they cease the manufacture and sale of street-grade weaponry. And if they resist, terminate all military contracts.
  4. Implicate the Supply Chain as Accessory:  Any gun store operator, salesman, vendor, supplier, manufacturer, gun show producer, gun show exhibitor, enthusiast, or owner are subject to the following: Any firearm used in a capital crime traced back to you, you (and others in the retail supply chain will be held proportionately responsible for the weapon’s retail availability and will face prosecution resulting in fines, civil action, and may include prison terms.gunstore

Mr. President, the Bill of Rights protects ownership of firearms meant to kill or massacre. But what about my right to safety free from deadly harm? It appears that owners of firearms enjoy a greater degree of Constitutional Rights than us sitting ducks.

Thank You!

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