Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lots of ways of stuffing up

The DSM IV TR is the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual for psychiatric illnesses. It has its origins in the 19th century and has grown over the years. There is now a sophisticated taxonomy with explanations of each disorder, and weighted symtoms. i do like taxonomies. One of my favourites is the Bristol Stool Scale. True! There is a scale for poo that goes from water to bricks. And some medical person actually thought it all up.

Anyway, i remember the old DSM III R as it was back in the day when i was at an alcohol and drug rehab centre. Each morning we would have a reading from the DSM III R as if it was the Bible. i was amused by some of the disorders. Intermittant Explosive Disorder is so visual (am i back to the Bristol Stool Scale again?). ASPD is Antisocial Personality Disorder - a good name for a heavy metal band, ASPD i mean, and we used to describe a certain style of clothing as ASPD. Now, the DSM IV TR is huge - many more disorders, 800 odd pages long, and the new DSM V is due out in 2013 and will be even bigger. Lots and lots of disorders, lots of ways of stuffing up, being sick, being unhappy. Woo - hoo.

Here is my version. This is the DSM VI.

1. Loneliness
2. Fear
3. Sadness
4. Boredom
5. Trouble.

There you go.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Whole families of beneficiaries!

Here in New Zealand UNICEF's ambassador is Hayley Westenra, a young popera star. i know people who are allergic to Hayley, but she is rather cute really and yes, i know it isn't real opera and only fit for Mother's Day CD's, but it sounds pleasant enough.

Anyway Hayley shows us how she is a Global Parent for UNICEF, and how she digs wells and buys bicycles and school books for children in the South World. There are some ads on TV.

i also do this Global Parent thing and i give enough regular money to support a village well. So far i am disappointed in my well. In the time i have been sponsoring it, it has never written me a single letter, and it must be about due to go to college by now. However, i persevere because UNICEF seems like nice people and they don't phone me all the time asking for extras like some of the other charities i support. And hopefully the well is far too busy having fun to write to me. So i am proud of my well and my contribution.

i would like to think about paying taxes in the same way. i am quite well off. i work overtime, penal rates and statutory holidays and i pay a lot of taxes. i would like to think i am generous with them. The last time i and my family were on a benefit, we got $350 a week.* Now, i support whole families of beneficiaries with my taxes! People who are unable to work, who are sick or elderly. i help! i am a National Parent! And i build roads and hospitals and schools. i rock!

There are other less straight forward things such a rehabilitation for criminals, and conservation, and R&D. There are quite a lot of things i have mixed views on. There are also some things i really don't support, such as junkets for politicians, or administrative waste. It would be quite nicer to have some choice about where my tax dollars go. We could have tick boxes. Certainly taxation is a complicated business.

However, i am not rich enough for taxation to be optional, and i have decided to be thankful for my status as Parent to the Nation. i am rich enough for that.

*This post is someone i know, who when i told him what people got on the unemployment benefit, told me in a jubilant fashion that he spends that much in a day. You should see his shoes!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Permanent solutions and temporary problems

Suffering is one of humanity's great questions. The larger shifts in our thinking have often been inspired by periods of great anxiety, an excellent example being the great defining of Jewish spirituality by the Hebrews exiled in Babylon.

For some time i have been wondering about whether or not individuals in today's western societies are as emotionally robust as they used to be. i suspect our attitude to suffering is of interest here. We often start by denying and avoiding suffering. It is natural and adaptive to avoid suffering but i wonder if we go nuts with that. We seem to think that suffering is somehow wrong. We should never suffer, we have a right to be perpetually happy, our lives must improve over time, and if we do suffer we must blame soneone else and seek to fix it so that the suffering stops. We forget that disaster is all around us and that we walk through the valley of the dhadow of death. Only a hundred years ago we kept a special baby outfit for the baby that died. We expected our environment and and workplaces to kill us. We knew our young men were expendable; they died taking the big risks for us. We understood famine and disease.

In between times we have been driven to make life better for ourselves and we have in part succeeded. The demand to stop suffering has led to better health care and to a rightful expansion of human and civil rights. But we may also have left ourselves more emotionally vulnerable.

One worrying sign is an inability to tolerate any bad feelings. People have always felt suicidal over the more unusual life crises - financial failure, terminal illness, being caught for a major crime. But people attempt suicide in the wake of transient stress - exams, relationship breakups, feeling insulted. They do not have the insight that tells us we will get over it. Signs posted on the Golden Gate Bridge (where about 30 people a year still jump) say 'Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem'. Will i ever get over it? Will i still feel like this tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? Well, for now, i feel bad and i can't tolerate it, not at all, i never thought i would feel like this and i can't stand it. Nothing prepared me for this. It is incomprehensible and impossible.

We conflate mental illness and suffering. Maybe we don't have a mood disorder, we are just miserable and reactive. Maybe it is OK to grieve and rail and sulk for a bit. We might not need fixing. We might be best leaning into our suffering, talking back to it, asking it what message it has for us, learning and caring for ourselves. Thinking of ourselves as mentally ill denigrates our suffering and distances ourself from it. It is also moncultural, not taking into account forms of suffering that clearly don't spring from mental illness, or mental illness where people aren't suffering but just living their lives and maybe damn well enjoying them. Let us have some discernment and some practical care.

Of ourse we do not want to blame victims of adverse circumstances or discriminate against people who have mental illnesses. i don't think we unconsciously cause all of our suffering or that everything bad that happens to us is somehow our fault. If anything, i want to emphasise the sheer random weirdness and universality of suffering. Stuff happens. It's how we respond that counts. We are all in this life, all doing our best with what we've got. At times in our big history, suffering has united us. The suicide rate declined during the London blitz. We have undergone great shifts in our thinking about ourselves and our world when we have been challenged by social and environmental shifts. Maybe it is time to think about suffering again, if it helps teach us about our place in our world.