The Life Raft

I’ve rewritten this post probably four or five times in the past week or so. Trying to express my thoughts on this one has been difficult. And what is normally relatively easy for me to do has been, for lack of a better word, elusive. Truthfully, I’m not even sure I’ll get this right. But I will do my best.

An extremely quiet child, they called you in your school report
He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught
So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive
To notify your parents of the manner in which you died?

At St. Patrick’s every Sunday, Father Fletcher heard your sins
Oh, he’s unconcerned with competition he never cares to win
But blood stained a young hand that never held a gun
And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son

“Now you’ll never get to Heaven”, Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking, grow up straight and true blue
Run along to bed, hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

The above lyric is from a song recorded about forty years ago. It was recorded by Elton John, and the song, entitled “Ticking”, is a disturbing and very sad story about a young man who struggled with mental illness. Indirectly, he lost his life to it. The story, as the song goes, is that this man went into a bar somewhere in the New York City borough of Queens, pulled weapons, and took hostages. He killed two. There was a stand-off with police. When he was called out, he was shot to death.

While not necessarily based on a true story, it could be. And as tough as the story told in the song is, it is also too common, especially now. If anything, circumstances are worse today than when the song was recorded. Look at the news stories that are published on a daily basis: shootings, bombings, terror attacks, the Presidential race…

Okay – the Presidential race may be a little bit of a stretch, but certainly the cast of characters in this election cycle lend themselves to unease, no matter who you like. But I think you get my drift.

Even today there are still people who marginalize mental illness. It is frustrating to see and hear it when it happens, mainly because I understand all too well what it is like to suffer. To an extent, I still do, but not nearly as much or as badly as I used to. I think mainly that is because I have a good support system and access to excellent healthcare. It doesn’t hurt that I am reasonably well-educated, either. You also have to remember that professionally I see it also; many people I deal with regularly have their own mental maladies, whether they are due to organic causes or not. What I mean by the term “organic causes” are illnesses like Schizophrenia, Bi-polar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, ADD, etc. There are others which are not necessarily organic in nature, as well. Addiction certainly comes to mind, and there are many who would say that addiction falls into the organic category. Whether or not I agree with that is up in the air. And it is best reserved as discussion for another post. But I will talk a little about it later on, just the same.

Why am I writing about this, anyway? Well, since the post I put up a few weeks ago about the anxiety attack I had, it got me to thinking. And I did a lot of thinking about it, which is why this was so difficult to write in the first place. The question I came up with was this: is it just me, or has the whole world just blown up and gone totally crazy? And is mental illness real, or is it an excuse for some people to wreak havoc on others?

To answer that question, you have to consider what has changed in the world we live in. Some would say that nothing has changed; things have always been this way but most people haven’t noticed, mainly because the way we interact with each other has changed. I would submit that this is only partially true; much of what has changed is societal, and I’ll touch on that shortly. As an example, I remember as a child growing up about 25 miles west of Boston thinking that the city was so far away. In reality, you can drive from downtown Boston to Maynard, the town I grew up in, probably in about 45 minutes by taking Route 2 out of the city. Driving through Cambridge, into Arlington then Lexington, through Lincoln, into Concord, then turn onto Route 62 and follow it through West Concord, a sliver of North Acton, and into Maynard. For my friends who are from the area, and many still live around there, not to mention family members, they can relate to what I am talking about. It is a blink of an eye, in a manner of speaking, to make that drive now.

Then there is the development of technology over the past 35 or so years. Prior to my becoming an EMS provider, I worked in the computer and telecommunications industry for a little over 17 years. I remember the first computer I ever put my hands on; it was a big system that filled a room and used 8-inch disks and tape for storage. It ran the VAX/VMS operating system. It took hours to run programs that today can run in fractions of seconds. And it was self-contained. Today, your smartphone has probably 100 times the computing power, and it can communicate with devices all over the world. That, in itself, if you think about it, is hazardous, mainly because you don’t necessarily know at the machine level who your phone is handshaking with. Not to mention those who would try to find ways to hack into your phone, or PC, or tablet, or whatever device you use, either to steal your information or just to destroy what you have stored on your computer. Simply because they can.

Because of the changes to technology that we’ve seen, so much more information is available than ever before. Bear in mind that a good portion of that information is not necessarily either accurate or wholesome, but it’s out there just the same. Then there are the human factors to consider. Much of what many of us grew up with, in terms of how we were raised, societal norms, and traditions – all gone or changed so much as to be unrecognizable. People have little or no respect for authority: look at the attacks on Police officers nationwide. Or others who work in public safety; Fire and EMS personnel are not safe, either. Then there is organized religion; Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, has taken a big hit, mainly due to its shooting itself in the foot – certainly a story in itself that has been told over and over again. Islam, in some parts of the world, has gone totally radical, and this is causing fear in places where it is not, especially in the West. Jihad is seemingly everywhere, if you subscribe to what the media says. Substance abuse is another consideration; from alcohol to marijuana to LSD to crack cocaine and crystal meth to the massive heroin problems that exist, all have contributed in one way or another to our overall mental health as a society. And it is not getting better. There is not a day that goes by, especially now, where reports of people dying from overdoses, or stories about people being chemically resuscitated with Naloxone (otherwise known as “Narcan”) are commonplace.

I’ve managed to pack a lot into about 1400 words. The obvious question that should come next is “so where do we go from here?” To be honest, I don’t know. I do know that most, if not all, of the points I’ve made should make anyone question their own sanity. I also know that there has to be a way to survive, because the world we live in is a hard place, and it’s enough to make most anyone suffer the fate of the subject of the song I referenced at the beginning of the post. At the same time, there is no shame in getting help if you feel you need it. While many wouldn’t admit to needing it, there are many resources available. But you have to start with yourself. Don’t be afraid to climb into the Life Raft.

I did.

The Life Raft

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