Guest Post: New Year Day – Dale Benjamin Drakeford


“Lockdown,” practice and drills and the activation of the same after the real deal of assault is not a cure for mental derangement. It might trigger it however as students are taught to fear, expect the worst, look for danger, recognize abnormal behavior and generally embrace that bus ad: If you see something, say something. “Lockdown” is a prison term and it smacks of desperation to do something. The stress of knowing that they will see something and can do something is an oil and water perfect emotional storm to the ingrained insensitivity many have grown up with. Are we to believe that the adults are immune to this stress? Teaching “Lockdown” (and emotional health) cannot be in the same mindset as teaching math, reading and writing. Insane bureaucrats however, seem to think it is. The solution for some is to teach how to imprison the innocent.

There is every reason to be concerned about the number of shootings we have and the number of mass killings and even the trend towards joy in fake terror acts against the Hollywood citizenship, but we must be equally concerned about the new concern delivering the old results. “Teach Respect For Guns” (as Michael Benjamin advocated 12-20-12) is fine, but the people that abuse guns tend not to take that lesson, or any other of social value. They are temporarily or permanently insane, after-all. Benjamin rightly outlines the “Complexity” of our culture from toys to cut-throat corporate competition and in-between there is the squeezed individual festering mental illness. There are more of these vulnerable people missing among us and less of the people able and willing to turn them around. I suspect the irreparable insane never read Fail Up by Tavis Smiley, Get Over Yourself by Tonya Pinkins or The 15 Invaluable Laws Of Growth by John C. Maxwell. If they ever read any self-help book it was likely a read to find an excuse to carry out their insane thoughts. Insomnia might have more to partner with insanity than stupidity or intelligence. In fact, the insane may rationalize that the mass news coverage of the last mass shooting is justification for the next.

We can put warning labels on cigarettes, alcohol, toys, food, guns and anything else that bothers us, but labels rise to the level of old easy, not new solution to an old problem. I don’t I want to teach respect for guns any more so then I want to teach respect for Santa blowing pipe smoke in my face. From Rupert Murdoch and his insatiable appetite for sleaze marketing, to General Petraeus and his moral indiscretions, back to Governor Spitzer and his preoccupation to master the limelight and Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi with a fetish to control, mental illness is not going away in small or large fashion, in any walk of life, vocation or occupation, due to any single thing we do. In fact, it does visit the people in the mental health profession and more so now that they are overworked and under-valued. More so now that it has a culture of mental illness on which to thrive.

So we are “Walking the Tightrope on Mental Health Coverage” (New York Times, December 22, P. B1) and much of the reason is because we are uncertain about who needs it and what it is. National Rifle Association VP is a candidate in my opinion because he publicly rants (and a private rant would only be slightly better) that schools should have armed guards. Wayne LaPierre obviously knows not of the hairs difference in the personality profiles of those that are criminals and those that are guards. It is not often that we have The New York Post and The New York Daily News on the same page (so to speak) but on this matter we did. The “Gun Nut!” ( New York Post, December 22, 2012, front page with details on pages 4 and 5) and the “Craziest Man On Earth” is certain that he can recognize good guys. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a bad guy with a gun,” he spits out. I look at him and I see insane. I listen to him and I hear insane. It is clear that many who should seek mental health treatment are not, even when they are covered, or could afford it and have access (as in not being the victim of a six month waiting list).

Mental illness does not put itself on hold until therapists are available and it certainly does not recognized titles as a stop measure or uniforms as a cutoff switch. Can you believe that police officers and professional soldiers that we generally worship as “good guys” shoot their spouses, neighbors and strangers in a rate comparable to the general public? Michael Benjamin (“Last Stand,” 12-21-12) half suspects that even a catch phase in a movie (i.e., “Retirement is for sissies,”) can change the mind of the normal neurotic. He is not agreeing with LaPierre, but perhaps he is with me, that even the normal mind can be corrupted by the drop of a hint at a vulnerable moment. Accordingly, normal stress may have a new normal result that is old time scary. Is it because of our diet? Is it because of the polluted air? Is it simply an evil species? The normal is an abnormal second from crossing the line when too many others came just before it.

Case in point: I have a familiar personality in the mirror that has a rare overdue night out alone when his car breaks down on the highway. The state trooper informs him that he can’t call his road service (all paid up) because only one company has the contract for this section of road. The bill is $189.00 and does not include delivery to his mechanic. He has to get a second tow from his service (that will not pay for the first one). His mechanic provides an estimate of about $900.00 to repair the car. For that he thinks he almost has a new car. The mechanic agrees saying when he is finished “it will be like new because it only has 20 thousand miles on it.” The personality in the mirror had been feeling pretty bad, but at least he doesn’t feel any worse (as he had expected). A couple of days later the mechanic says he is into the car now and the final bill will be $1536.00. The personality is feeling bad at the level he had expected and thinks the car had better be like new (especially now that the money he was going to spend on a single cruise to nowhere is now going into an automobile he doesn’t even want to drive). He has the fleeting thought that he is used and abused (by the vague system, his employer, the tax man, charities that just keep asking for more while their executives deliver less) even by those little people who say they love him (because suddenly he is convinced that their love is only about what he gives them). He also thinks that the only reason he has that car is to chauffeur little ones around. The low mileage on a twelve year old car is due to him running and biking most places during the week. He finds some comfort in knowing he is such a good guy to do this for others and the environment (then discomfort in recognizing his model is not duplicated). He gets the car back in time to drive the others around for the holidays. Half way through the trip however, the engine warning light comes on and the little ones are already in his head with inconsiderate noise (you know, like the Ice Cube joint, “Are We There Yet?”). Is this enough to drive the personality over the psycho cliff? Probably, unless he has some positive messages to neutralize the negative messages he just might take the plunge. I have this blog venting mechanism! Are you listening? Others may have a keepsake or a purpose. I have a writing date with Charley, Dodo and Dino. I have a publishing project in sight, Hindsight: Political Conversations with Michael Benjamin (it is all about how two seemingly sane guys foresight enough to stay that way). What do you have? People over the psycho cliff have lingering thoughts that they have nothing. Flirting with negativity is common (part of the argument to dismiss the helping services is that by now people know what is bad for them and how to stay away from it) and fleeting thoughts of uselessness (or the familiar questioning of “Why am I here?”) is like picking your nose, but that lingering negativity that gets stuck is a cliff hanger. The problem is, people do know what is bad for them and yet gravitate to it anyway. That is the hollowing deepness of our mental illness. These familiar people however, I suspect, that choose badly, are not the ones that kill other people, they are the ones that make a mess of their life in such an inclusive manner that they can be the last button for those that do. Am I confusing you? I confuse myself.

“The sky is falling” and the world is ending (again) but the power pundits are still finding new ways to paint it a confusing shade of gray and tie all the evil in human experience to indecision from the distracted masses. Be aware of those cafeteria utensils students contort, those sharpeners that sculpture lead to a pointed distinction and those medal bracelets and necklaces that house potentially life altering weaponry. We rightfully demonize the gun, but what about maniacs with knives, thumbtacks, scissors and sharp pencils? All these items are in schools. Do we lockdown the learning that uses scalpels and chemicals? Should “a good guy” replace the science teacher in the laboratory? The truth is the newest “bad guy” is potentially as close as your nearest mirror. Perhaps closer than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Apairo who wants armed volunteer posses in his Arizona schools. ”Mirror mirror on the wall who’s the craziest of them all? Is it unknown person X or Y, LaPierre, Horne or Apairo? Please, pretty please my beautiful mirror, let me know.”

The proliferation of mental illness is not a conversation about autism, ADD, ADHD or even Oppositional Disorder (all widely documented the last few years). It is a conversation about severe neurosis with a few short steps from disappointing experiences that trigger psychotic episodes, or severe emotional disturbances that is a pushed button short of finding the straw that breaks the bully’s back. How can I say this without certification as a psychiatrist licensed to shrink the brain to the size of a peanut? I am a philosophical doctor and a master political scientist (but the real reason is that I am a thinking human being) and as such I can have a thought about anything. So can (perhaps unfortunately) anyone stressed-out to their last cashew. If your local politician has yet to inform you of his or her thoughts on this subject, it is time for you to solicit it. The conversation will not convert into solutions until citizens stop being spectators and start pulling some social triggers and pushing some political buttons to demand something more.

The conversation does not start or stop with recognized major dysfunction such as schizophrenia. “Our Failed Approach To Schizophrenia” (by Paul Steinberg, The New York Times, 12-26-12, p. A25) may outline that “The link to violence is real, but treatment and awareness is weak,” and hint that the weakness is too often linked to our lazy, yet over-the-top, insensitive, yet charitable and confusingly selfish culture. We need more than hints, we need concrete studies. The individual then is a product of the society that spurns him or her, but this does not mean we let him or her use it as an excuse. “Oh, I killed you Dr. Drakeford because my mommy didn’t breast feed me. I never had that big warm cozy fat tissue floating about my face. Instead she used that new curvy plastic bottle that coldly teased me with measured doses of cow milk and third world formula and the combination of all this foreign matter infiltrated my bloodstream with chemicals that corrupted my thinking and contaminated my brain’s capacity to choose good over evil.”

Not convinced yet? Consider “Storm Weakened A Fragile System For Mental Care” (The New York Times, Nina Bernstein, 12-27-12, P.1 and A20). “When a young woman in the grip of paranoid delusions threatened a neighbor with a meat cleaver…they took her to Beth Israel Medical Center, the only comprehensive psychiatric E.R. functioning in lower Manhattan since Hurricane Sandy…The case was one of 9,548 ‘emotionally disturbed person’ calls that the Police Department answered in November…” Then there is “Doctors Warned on ‘Divided Loyalty’” (p.A18) where the Hippocratic Oath is challenged by the hypocrite’s creed for the mighty dollar. Whether it is for a heart condition or a head condition we must serve notice of intolerance for lacking service or selective service that provides a disservice. “Hospital employment agreements [a growing trend because more doctors prefer not to be independent private contractors] often include provisions that discourage doctors from sending patients to providers of services that are not with the hospital…even if doctors found they got better results or better service elsewhere.” Surely we recognize by now that when you suffer fear because of your physical care, your mental anxiety shoots way up (no pun intended). In an unrelated story (yet related in my mind’s eye) we discover another trend that speaks big on our cultural movement to the mental, psychological, social and philosophical abyss. “Emily Posts for a New Age” (Matt Richtel, Ibid, p. D7) responds immediately to supposedly well intentioned parents that have neither time or nerve to teach manners. It goes further, because “It turns out that this concept is connected to science from a group of seemingly unrelated researchers: criminologists. They look at what is happening…through a very different lens called ecological psychology, or its subset, broken-windows theory. It suggests that when an environment is dilapidated, it gives permission for people to misbehave. When the proverbial windows are not broken, neither is the behavior, or so the theory goes.” You thought teaching manners (and etiquette) was high brow. It is actually psychological health. Maintaining good manners is actually maintaining psychological health. I have done this (for the most part) but my environment is a mess. I am actually comfortable with walls that feature the amateur art of little ones and my poetry, holes that scare guests away to early exits and a front handrail that screams to the unsuspecting public: Do Not Enter. Symptoms then, like solutions, are no one horse carriage down the perfect path.

Frost spoke on the decisions we make in his famous poem The Road Not Taken and I answered in The Road Taken. One decision can change our lives forever, change our health forever. We chose not to love that person that loved us, but love that person that did not. We just had to live in the suburbs but now that commute is giving us road rage everyday. The city excitement could not be abandoned but now we are addicted to staying up to 2AM each night partying and can’t hold a job. Psychological health is not a one-horse carriage. The baggage is packed high and the bumps in the road can disable the packing and the smooth trot of Trigger. We often veer right when we should have gone left, but going right just seemed so right and left so wrong at the time. Sometimes we just steer straight, deciding to stay with what is easy, visible and familiar (and wasn’t that a bone head move?). God does not make junk but the Almighty did make us with the capacity to exercise freewill to remake ourselves. Sometimes that has not gone well.

When the dream is right
the mistakes are slight,
but when the decision is wrong
the fall-out is strong.

No matter that most of us have skipped poetry from minors such as Drakeford or majors such as Frost, because the alliteration, oxymoron, metaphor and simile is of no concern next to what we have been told point blank (no pun intended) that we need to adjust to the flow of things. The sane listens and replays the message, the insane does not. The sane will adjust because that is commonsense. The insane does not (within the mainstream sense of things) because commonsense mainstream values just doesn’t make sense anymore. Crazy does. Is crazy happening across our nation (i.e., make teachers psychiatrists, put munitions in schools and arm principals)? Sane people can have a heated unfriendly disagreement without wanting to kill. I once wrote a poem that that played with the word “insane.” As in, if one is insane, they are out-of-sane. Was it an in-sane person or an out-of-sane person that coined that phrase? If the person was insane does that invalidate the concept of what insanity is, or is it the other way around? Sometimes I think too much and drive myself crazy. Let’s not focus on that however, instead let us focus on coping—as in finding something worth holding on to in the face of adversity (a working definition of not being crazy).

My opening sequence for The Simpsons goes like this:
Homer is on the couch pining over his children, because they think “Itchy and Scratchy” are “Too funny.” He is jealous and dreams up “Charley, The Chimp” a far more mentally ill character (of my making, mind you) then his TV cartoon world companions. When the chimp goes nut with his buddies “Dodo, the dimwitted bird” and “Dino, the illiterate dinosaur,” (yes, also of my mind) Homer wakes to his familiar yelp, but still jealous. Now we fade in for an awake backyard scene where the nightmare is befriending Homer’s children: Charley who never met a prank he didn’t like, Dodo who never tried to fly and Dino who skipped school in favor of playing with meteors falling from the sky, are all up in the business of Bart, Lisa and the baby Simpson being pushed in full 360 swing circles by the trio of misfits. Homer doesn’t much like it, but another yelp seems to be enough to satisfy him because they are all insisting that “Itchy and Scratchy are just too funny and parents are just too not.” Bart and his sisters survive the swing fling into the next segment—they have survived much worse from their non-funny, yet hilarious parents. They are cartoon characters after-all. We are not (except for, I trust, a minority of folks like NRA VP LaPierre, AG Horne and Sheriff Arpaio). Feelings stepped on at the wrong time can have serious consequences for non-cartoon characters. Even the fear of being stepped on creates consequences. Consider Marlboro country (not the maker of legal health hazards, but the school district that started employing armed police at every unit starting today).

Let us not be naïve. “Solutions” do not promise zero crazies. Some “solutions,” may be part of the problem. What solution is there for one person pushing another off of a subway platform into an oncoming train? Obama got it right in his press conference: It is about cutting back on the number of crazies and the slaughters they produce. John Lennon wrote and many of us wanted to believe: Give peace a chance…Love is all you need… Then a crazy slaughtered him and any chance we had of being naïve died with him. These many decades later (with MLK, the Kennedy boys, Medgar and Malcolm already in the rearview mirror) we have Tupac…Columbine…Sandy Hook…and fifteen other known mass shootings in 2012, or the same old dialogue with warmed over inflection where even crazies (yes, we are back to LaPierre and Arpaio again) have solutions that will never happen (unless you vote for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne who wants to arm each principal!). Mirror mirror on the wall who’s the craziest of them all? Is it unknown person X or Y, LaPierre, Horne or Apairo? Please, pretty please, my beautiful mirror, let me know.

What will work? I like what the New York Daily News is doing: Sign Our Assault Weapons Ban Petition (p. 4, 12-28-12) the tabloid promotes. I also like the civic action of MoveOn.org demanding citizen promise as opposed to a petition (which was already completed) to “stay active until something is done to reduce gun violence.” I like what David Gregory did on Meet The Press (NBC, 12-23-12) when he whipped out a magazine (not the kind with words, but the kind that can hold many bullets for a weapon of multiple rapid firings) on national television to show what death looks like before the fact and challenge any pretenders that such a thing is needed in any household (although the law says he may have to go to jail and pay a fine for doing it). These are parenting like leadership roles that all children large and small can be witness to and supporters of in great measure.

Parenting is a difficult job because there is no one way to get it right or get it wrong. Question: When we teach “lockdown” are we teaching future attackers how to unlock our safety? In a myriad of disciplines, “Fail Safe” has been proven invalid over and over again. Hollywood got that right. There is no safe against calculated crazy. Planned massacres are not in the category of gut wrenching spur-of-the-moment crimes of passion. There may not be a defense against them either, but they lack the cold reasoning of long thought to do greater harm to a greater number to which emotional connection is remote. Calculated crazy is far more complicated with the heat of passion under the radar. It is higher on the scale of mental illness and it is not necessarily temporary (unless, from our perspective, it includes suicide). So what can you do about it? First demand that your local politician work to keep mental health clinics and services open. If they go “Duh,” to this demand, then once again they prove they are not needed and you must do it yourself.

Some people never read Frost’s “Birches” or took to his concept that all of us must somehow sway and swagger like fragile branches on a tree vulnerable to the changing wind. Some us just won’t read the signs or bend to adapt. Some us just break.

We are confused, undiagnosed bi-polar functional time bombs, but enjoy the noise in your head and break it down to something clearly discomforting. Then get help with those non-fleeting exclamation marks that clang too loudly and just won’t go away:

I want my drama on TV
not in my living room.
The Big Bang is for my textbook
not school “lockdown” each noon.
Give reason for fear to decrease
unselfish joy to boom.
I seek to respect my teacher:
gun totting goon of doom!

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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One Response to Guest Post: New Year Day – Dale Benjamin Drakeford

  1. Dale Benjamin Drakeford says:

    I like what this Drakeford guy writes, but that just might be my bias crazy leaking out. I wonder if that double “that” is reference to the democratic mess of free choice as in “You can choose this or you can choose that…” the simple rap classic that says so much with so little or a Fruedian slip suggesting the underlying flaw in the human species that makes all wrong regardless of individual rightness. My confusion and questioning might have something to do with the likes of Sen. Barbara Boxer reportedly turning over her political intelligence in support for schools managed with guns. The lessons in such an environment will surely be uncharacteristically life changing.

    Like

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