Wednesday, March 12, 2014

This coffee made my brain explode!

Usually you can't copy and paste gifs from online articles, but for some reason these worked. It was an article about the effects of caffeine on the brain, and the illustrations moved, wiggled. This one, if you really look at it, is kind of disgusting, though it's something we all do many times a day.

Now here is an interesting thing: brain as neon sign. Before you have your coffee in the morning, your brain is, well, sort of greeny and dull red. After you have your coffee in the morning, it turns blue. And kind of black. I have never seen the inside of my brain, which I know is defective anyway, so I can't say for sure this is accurate.

This one's way cute. Little brown coffee beans are throwing things up in the air, things that look sort of like tiny Milk Bone dog biscuits (which, as a kid, I used to eat).  I know about caffeine, though I have to strictly limit my intake of it to keep from flipping into hypomania, but adenosine? Sounds like an ingredient of a household cleaner or the byproduct of a lab experiment gone wrong. Harsh.

Now we KNOW adenosine isn't a good thing, because it's full of spiders. Not only that, we seem to be looking at the insides of a twitching, jerking frog. Maybe this is a vivisection. But it ain't very attractive.

Quite simply, this is disgusting. I feel like I'm watching a remake of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum. And what are those two little chocolate things on the fly's face? Deformed frogs? This is a still picture rather than a gif, and it's just as well, for if this started wriggling and squirming I'd feel pretty sick.

I feel an attack of Ricardo Montalban coming on. Pre-Wrath of Khan, he moved a lot of Maxwell House. He had that smoooooooooth voice. It made you want to drink some. "Arabicas!" I look forward to the day when your Facebook profile picture can be animated like this. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

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Let's not "reduce" the stigma: let's throw it out!

Let's not "reduce" the stigma: let's throw it out!

Every day, and in every way, I am hearing a message. And it's not a bad message, in and of itself. 

It's building, in fact, in intensity and clarity, and in some ways I like to hear it.

It's about mental illness, a state I've always thought is mis-named: yes, I guess it's "mental" (though not in the same class as the epithet, "You're totally mental"), but when you call it mental illness, it's forever and always associated with and even attached to a state of illness. You're either ill or you're well; they're mutually exclusive, aren't they?

So the name itself is problematic to me. It seems to nail people into their condition. Worse than that, nobody even notices. "Mentally ill" is definitely preferable to "psycho", "nut case", "fucking lunatic", and the list goes on (and on, and on, as if it doesn't really matter what we call them). But it's still inadequate.

There's something else going on that people think is totally positive, even wonderful, showing that they're truly "tolerant" even of people who seem to dwell on the bottom rung of society. Everywhere I look, there are signs saying, "Let's reduce the stigma about mental illness."

Note they say "reduce", not banish. It's as if society realizes that getting rid of it is just beyond the realm of possibility. Let's not hope for miracles, let's settle for feeling a bit better about ourselves for not calling them awful names and excluding them from everything.

I hate stigma. I hate it because it's an ugly word, and if you juxtapose it with any other word, it makes that word ugly too. "Let's reduce the hopelessness" might be more honest. "Let's reduce the ostracism, the hostility, the contempt." "Stigma" isn't used very much any more, in fact I can't think of any other group of people it is so consistently attached to. Even awful conditions (supposedly) like alcoholism and drug abuse aren't "stigmatized" any more. Being gay isn't either. Why? Compassion and understanding are beginning to dissolve the ugly term, detach it and throw it away. 

"Let's reduce the stigma" doesn't help because it's miserable. It's the old "you don't look fat" thing (hey, who said I looked fat? Who brought the subject up?). Much could be gained by pulling the plug on this intractibly negative term. Reducing the stigma is spiritually stingy and only calls attention to the stigma.  

So what's the opposite of "stigmatized"?  Accepted, welcomed, fully employed, creative, productive, loved? Would it be such a stretch to focus our energies on these things, replacing the 'poor soul" attitude that prevails?

But so far, the stifling box of stigma remains, perhaps somewhat better than hatred or fear, but not much. Twenty years ago, a term used to appear on TV, in newspapers, everywhere, and it made me furious: "cancer victim". Anyone who had cancer was a victim, not just people who had "lost the battle" (and for some reason, we always resort to military terms to describe the course of the illness). It was standard, neutral, just a way to describe things, but then something happened, the tide turned, and energy began to flow the other way.

From something that was inevitably bound to stigma in the past, cancer came out of the closet in a big way, leading to all sorts of positive change that is still being felt. But first we had to lose terms like "victim", because they were unconsciously influencing people's attitudes. We had to begin to substitute words like "survivor" and even "warrior". 

One reinforced the other. The movement gave rise to much more positive, life-affirming, even accurate terminology. That's exactly what needs to happen here. We don't just need to "reduce the stigma": we need to CAN that term, spit on it, get rid of it once and for all, and begin to see our mental health warriors for who and what they really are. They lead the way in a daring revolution of attitudes and deeply-buried, primitive ideas, a shakeup and shakedown of prejudice that is shockingly late, and desperately needed.

Why do we need to do this so badly? We're caught and hung up on a negative, limiting word that is only keeping the culture in the dark.  I once read something in a memoir that had a profound effect on me: "Mental illness is an exaggeration of the human condition." This isn't a separate species. Don't treat it as such. It's you, times ten. It's me, in a magnifying mirror. Such projections of humanity at its finest and most problematic might just teach us something truly valuable. Why don't we want to look?