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“WD-40: Disability, Middle Age, and the W Word”
“Yeah, I take a very cynical point of view, I think that being cynical is a positive value…” -Frank Zappa
“…My mental health is essential to me being able to work and my work is essential to my mental health.” -Fake Zappa
“…You see, all they do is deny people their right to work.” -From the film, Trumbo
“I’m a baby doll, change me. Now I’m a Chucky doll, fear me.” -Fake Zappa
“You know, I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love so you might as well do what you love there’s really no choice to be made.” -Jim Carey
“It’s just that invisible disabilities with invisible suffering also has a lot of invisible oppression.” -Fake Zappa
“…Because I fucking blagged my way into it and I’m an absolute chancer.” -Oasis
“I am not privileged enough to have the power to do my art.” -Fake Zappa
Is this part II of Fake Zappa vs. the World?
The following article has nothing to do with the beloved water displacing spray, except the following two sentences: the formula often credits a Norman Larsen with having developed the formula while there are guys named Norman B. Larsen and Iver Norman Larsen who invented WD-40 according to which historian you talk to. I do wonder though, would that stuff be any better if they would have stopped at the 41st try?
PART A: A FOUR LETTER WORD YOU CAN SAY ON TV
Disabled: the D Word. When it comes to disabilities, if there’s one other just-as-miserable word to be combined with the D word, it is probably the W word. It’s the thing that people talk too much about or they ignore it. Often it’s the thing they want to talk about but they don’t. It’s about Work. For some of us on disability, working will kill us. Then there are some of us that “not working” does basically the same thing. When I was 40, I was looking for a reason to live. I had no relationship, I had no faith, and most of all, I had no job. The little work that I did get to do in my field was better than nothing, about as much as it was unfulfilling and vary sporadic. So I got into a relationship where I was used and abused. That’s another sad, and surreal story. [I do like to give my readers a guilt-free permission to skip to the conclusion however, the end of this article is quite disappointing, so you might as well read the whole miserable thing. There are a lot of nifty jokes and I try to add as many pictures as I can to make your experience bearable.]
Speaking of “surreal” – it’s 2AM and I can’t sleep. So I decided to cheer myself up and blast my Asshole Cat song from the other end of my trailer. That was about the same time as that famous cat of mine got entangled in fly-paper. I stopped the music when I felt the trailer bounce with the tiny stampede that is the 18 month old terror that is Buddy the Cat. It took two plastic bags, three paper towels, and nearly thirty minutes of rubbing alcohol treatments to get some of that sticky tar off of that fabulous orange and white fur. It’s also shedding season. Now the cat is about as restless and cranky as I am. I try to not think of people I know, and then I think of people, and when it comes to this particular subject, I get cranky again.
I can’t think of a time where I not only hated my life, but also hating everyone in the whole wide world. A lot of that is the personality disorder stuff and mood disorder stuff talking. Luckily though, not a lot of voices in my head, at least not yet. The other thing is that I also love everyone at the same time. Before I proceed, I’d like to give a tribute to Albert Einstein, and conduct a series of Thought Experiments.
Imagine your favorite person in the whole wide world and then think of a way that person hurt you or something that they should have done and focus entirely on that and hate them for it. Then think that if you hate your favorite person, than you might as well hate your least favorite person and everyone in between. Now think of that least favorite person again and think of something good about them and focus so much on that good thing that you totally love that person. Then imagine your favorite person and how much you love that person and all the other people in between your most and least favorite people and how much you love all of them. [That is kinda how I feel lately.] That’s what I mean by a thought experiment, and these experiments don’t always have to be about physics.
Imagine you’re an African American male in your mid-twenties in line at a big American downtown McDonald’s. Ten white people in line each order a BigMac, medium fries, and a large Coke. They each hand the cashier a ten dollar bill, get their change, and receive their food. When it comes to your turn, you also order a BigMac, medium fries and a large Coke, but the cashier gives you nine dollars back in change, followed by a large Coke. No matter who you talk to, everyone politely acknowledges the Coke, and acts as if you never mentioned ordering anything but a Coke. When you complain to the manager, he apologizes, and then gives you a huge handful of ketchup packets, salt, and a large stack of napkins. When you ask around to everyone who heard you place the order, none of them somehow ever heard you ordering any food with your Coke.
That’s how I feel when I say a couple of words together in the same conversation. One is “work” and the other word is “disability” in the context of mental disorders. I can’t think of a time while talking about this subject about working and mental disabilities that isn’t met with denial. It’s freaking me out. Seriously, it is as weird as a series of conversations about a few other subjects I happen to stumble upon over the last few years. One of the subjects is President Trump. There’s a frantic reaction with an inability to listen to why people follow him, and for those who follow him, and inability to acknowledge some other things that seem quite obvious to me. Climate change, for example. That’s been going on over four years now, and I soon figured that one out. It’s a no brainer for me. My fellow liberals are just triggered, discouraged, and taking a long time to get out of denial. Trumpies on the other hand, are so victimized by cult-like tactics, in a lot of ways I don’t blame them for filtering out a lot of words.
But this gluten thing got me puzzled for six years. See, I’m just about as sensitive to anything with a certain amount of glucose about as much as I am to being exposed to any gluten products. The results are really gross for me, and I can get really sick for quite a long time if I don’t follow my strict diet. Sometimes these conversations arise, actually very often, in fact every time I eat with anyone who doesn’t know me super well and still those closest to me have to be reminded constantly about not both of these items but one of them and it’s not the gluten thing, it’s the sugar thing everyone has a hard time with. I only remember one person in the last several years who upon learning about my gluten intolerance tried to influence me to eat a little of it. But I get constant pressure to eat sugary foods.
I decided last summer to take note of every time this happened and observe the kinds of people who were hyper-considerate of my gluten issues and at the same time aggressively tried to influence me to eat something too high in sugars. What did they all have in common? They were addicted to sugar. That probably explained why they had that particular mental block. Because I’m not diabetic, they are instantly convinced that I can and that I should have their disgustingly sweet excuse for a “smoothie”, their canned fruit, or their cute faggy cocktail. I’ve even seen people mentally block out a sugar content number on a product label as if the “grams of sugar” thing wasn’t even there.
This is the same phenomena I see if people around me who filter out something that is absolutely essential to my livelihood and even my survival. It’s as if, in many well-intended polite and caring ways, everyone wants me to suffer and die. That’s why I consider myself at this particular time in my life: alone. Yeah, you could say it’s my choice, and I’d say that I don’t have a lot of choices right now. A lot of people at my functioning level have frequent times of such weakness that we are vulnerable to the influence of others. The big thing that I don’t hear very much at all is about when it comes to peer pressure in the context of mental disabilities; peer pressure as an adult rarely takes the form of obvious and cliche self harm items like doing hard drugs and unnecessary risks like that. Sometimes the deadliest forms of peer pressure is when a person is so discouraged from taking any risks in life that they never get the life that they actually need. If you’re a kid and your parents keep warning you about bad influences that could risk your life, if your parents are constantly killing your dreams, they might very well be undermining your reason to live and thus indirectly killing you; just like those meth-heads down the street. You know, that loud party house with the refrigerator in the yard – and they never take down their halloween decorations? For some kids, that party house option feels just as risky as listening to their parents. (Encouraging a kid to support their creativity in the context of a hobby and not a career doesn’t count, just in case you’re wondering.) Sometimes your only choice is to keep your dreams a secret until you’re free to express yourself, or unless you are strong enough to withstand the negative influence of others. (No wonder why those kinds hang out at that dumpy house.)
So basically, in order to stay healthy and fulfilled, I constantly have to take a stand about things that are essential to not being sick and depressed. I either have to avoid these kinds of people, or change their minds. If I remain in these environments for too long, chances are there will be times where I feel weak and give into their pressure and suffer as a result. It gives others at times a creepy reaction when I give in to their pressure, as if they were right all along only to deny the fact that their influence had just made me significantly ill. They’ve already made up their minds about what’s right and not right for me therefore any evidence will be filtered out just as certain words can easily be filtered out. Basically, someone can deny that something will make me sick, and then additionally deny that I am sick because of their influence. It’s similar to my strict diet as it is to my strict mental health self-care arsenal. One thing I realized for over three and a half years when I started by current business, is that my mental health is essential to me being able to work and my work is essential to my mental health. (Feel free to read the second half of that last sentence again.)
See, the entire world feels like a hostile place for me at this time in my life and has little to nothing to do with the pandemic crisis we are facing, at least at this time. In fact, when it comes to the virus, the economy, and all the madness surrounding this crisis, at this point, it actually doesn’t feel very troubling at all compared to these things I am facing alone. At least we are suffering together trying to cope with this uncertainty and fear with the pandemic. When it comes to dealing with a time in someone’s life where you just happen to be in an environment where everyone believes something that’s harmful to you and you have to figure out what to do in order to survive. When everyone around you doesn’t see your fucking elephant in the room, you either are going to pretend there’s no fucking elephant or do something about it. An elephant in the room is one thing, but mine is actually fucking, it’s that obvious to me. That elephant is fucking that sofa right next to that lady with the sparkling water and she just cannot see any of it no matter what, nor anyone else. When I try to point out the fucking elephant, I’m seen as the crazy one.
You might think these experiences are super rare so check this out: Imagine being a gay man in Iran. Remember, there are no gays in Iran. (Especially if you take that particular beloved president out of context.) So, what are you going to do? Everyone around you just very well might ignore one of the very things that make you who you are to the point where it effects your future family life, among a lot of other things. Butt-sex, for instance. That was another thought experiment (minus the butt-sex). You are stuck. You are also stuck with making a really tough choice with no options that feel like life itself is worth living (or sometimes not that intense for most people who cope with a life of disappointment).
When people get stuck, they can really feel angry and depressed. Our friend anger and our other friend depression are actually really close buddies. They always arrive at the same time when they ring your doorbell. At least they come with a warm casserole in one of those thermo-cozy-portable-platter things. (I knew those two guys were a couple!) Here’s the deal: I mean the big one: check this out: get a load of this: when you add enough suffering to someone being stuck, it can make the difference between something like a midlife crisis or something as harmful as suicidal tendencies. Chances are, you filtered that one out, so as it is my fashion, I will elaborate. It’s kinda like when my chatty grandma would find amazing ways to keep me on the phone for an additional hour. When someone asks you a favor that makes little to no sense, that’s crazy enough, however when they say their life depends on it, well, that sounds uber-crazy. Just do the math: if someone already suffers on a regular basis to the point where they often question whether life is worth living, when you take away their reason to live, there’s a simple equation:
Suffering plus Dreamlessness equals Harm. Hopefully that makes it easy for you dear educated folks. Funny that it’s the more studious folks that have the most trouble with this stuff. So, what kind of harm? Harm to one’s self and others. Harm that ends in a sudden suicide, or the kind of slow death that so many exist in. It’s that taunting seesaw of a personal ideology that wants to die and at the same time there’s just enough motivating forces within to want to stay alive just as much. A lot of those reasons could be a particular religious belief about suicide, or often it has to do with loved ones. What happens to someone who is alone and without faith? I’d do the math again, but it’s now 3AM and I really want to wrap this up (at least for tonight’s rant).
Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic issues are deadly if ignored and not treated. I also don’t have time for another thought experiment, but I just remembered one that might fit this sad paragraph. Glass-blowers who work with particular toxic materials, underwater welders, cave divers, professional boxers, and coal minors are at risk for fatal or debilitating diseases or injuries and the risks are obvious to everyone and hopefully they don’t have those jobs very long or that they get some kind of healthy support stuff. But a career in arts and entertainment can so often be seen as hazards that don’t need much attention until things are already too far gone. The irony is that the same thing that makes an artist creative is also a buddy to the thing that makes them weak when it comes to stressful environments like a career in arts and entertainment. It’s as if you were not only born to be a coal miner (sounds like a country song you should write) but you, like all the other naturally gifted and called coal miners; you are also born with lung problems. So, not only is a particular career dangerous, ironically that worker can also already have certain accompanying risks that make themselves even more vulnerable in addition to the vocational hazards.
Well, that was kinda a thought experiment, but I hope the point is further made clear: mental illness is an illness and should be seen as an illness especially related to invisible illnesses like cancer that nobody can see until it’s too late so you’d better tell people about it so this thing can be acknowledged and treated. If depression gets severe enough, the obvious outcome is a very undeniable risk of losing control and subsequently (I don’t actually know what that word means but it sounded good so I hope it works) ending up in someone taking their life which is something we know as suicide and by saying the word suicide I mean death. Depression should be seen as a killer just like cancer. Most people don’t know you have it until it’s either almost too late or it is indeed too late.
Based on the equation earlier, S+D=H, when a suffering person simply cannot have the luck or the privilege to live their dream, everyone around that suffering person is (directly or indirectly) contributing to their demise. That’s why I bug so many people. I’m fighting for my life and I am not ashamed to say stuff like that for fear of it sounding crazy, because frankly, I am crazy. Crazy in the context of suffering, but not crazy in the context of the reality that is my life and probably others who are in the same fix as I am. When it comes to a few issues in my life, as a matter of fact, everyone is crazy and I am not. That would be a fun thing to say to a night-shift mental institution psychiatrist in one of those white doctor’s coat things with the pocket-protector in it. “Let me out of this hospital because I’m not crazy, everyone else is.”
My writing is crazy. I don’t want to write things for a university textbook. In fact, that earlier sentence with more than one colon was a protest against a teacher who corrected me on an illustration I did for the School Store in grade 8. In order to be respected I should write all-studious and use big words that I actually know what they mean (or something that sounds European like “grade 8” instead of the American version). If a lot of people are going to want to read these long sentences and crude queer comments throughout, I am going to have to change the minds of powerful people that within all this nonsense is something that could actually be worth sticking in a textbook. One of the big problems is that it takes a lot of power to change minds. If I don’t get around anyone who acknowledges something like the W Word when it comes to the essential make-life-worthy-of-living discourses that sometimes get stumbled upon, I need to change people’s minds. If not, I have to get out of that environment. If only I had a portable house. Oh wait, I currently do. Never mind.
If you are one of those vocational consultants that tries to help me and you don’t like the way I write, just remember, I’m not writing this for you. I’m not writing this for NAMI. (I am actually kinda trying to scare most of those people away.) I’m writing this for that “asshole” who finally got out of prison and can’t get a certified mechanic job, or that woman living in her car who is running from an abuser, or that addict who had to surrender their companion dog because pets weren’t allowed in the halfway house. Maybe there’s some kid who’s forced to have radioactive materials shoved up their nose who can relate (that mostly applies if your name is Frank Zappa). Alrighty, it’s 4AM and the cat has finally calmed down and it’s my turn to chill out and hopefully get some sleep.
PART BEE: THE TRAGIC KING-DUMB
More Thought Experiments
Here’s another depressing thought experiment – when it comes to relating my experiences seeking help and community after suffering debilitating trauma and abuse as a result of being gay in a heavy traditionalist ideology, I would like to tell it this way:
Imagine you are a disabled combat veteran returning from Vietnam. The year is 1972. Smelly hippies are lining up to yell and spit at you as you return “safely” home. Hoping to proceed with your broken life, you climb up the stairway with what’s left of your tattered legs and finally reach the entrance of the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars building in your hometown while in full uniform. You are met by a bunch of handsome bodybuilder-types who laugh at you yelling, “what took you so long?”
Then you approach the bar and order a drink next to a couple of vibrant decorated soldiers. The bartender pretends you aren’t there and the guys next to you shake their heads and join several other men at a big table. You crawl over to that table and ask how you can order a drink and they roll their eyes and turn their faces away. When you get upset, they throw you out, saying, “we don’t know you, we don’t want to know you, and we don’t have any use for needy crippled combat veterans like yourself. How dare you raise your voice at us. We do not tolerate that kind of aggressive behavior…”
One of my projects is trying to tell my story of my five years in Conversion Therapy. After years of being misrepresented in the media, I have come to realize that there are what I am calling, “Ex-gay Survivor Celebrities”. Although my trauma is quite common among the mentally ill who have endured harmful practices like this, you’ll find that mainstream LGBTQ media outlets and others are favoring particular stories like those portrayed in movies featuring recognized, successful, stereotypical pretty-boys or those who have positions of power. There are a lot of things that really bother me that have to do with a lot of unfair treatment like this, but what seems to bother me even more is that it doesn’t bother anyone else but me when these things happen, meanwhile we whine when we are refused a gay wedding cake and somehow that seems to be a big deal. When a disabled person is denied the right to do business to the point where it undermines their will to live, that should be more of a big deal because of the simple fact that most bakeries are gay-friendly these days and if not, baking your own groom-groom cake isn’t going to kill you.
Picture an average American, average age, average functioning worker who gets a job at a Waffle House. You don’t know anything about her except that she works there full time. Not a lot there to judge that lady. What if she gets laid off and is out of work for a while? Again, still no apparent reasons to pass judgement on someone just because they work or not. Guy works in a factory and has to move to the next town and then stops working for a while. No biggie. Enter disabled person. There typically are issues, however when it comes to the many types of debilitating disorders that aren’t noticeable, seen, or obvious, things get way more surreal. You’d think that when it comes to a person like this that there may be some judgement whether they work, or maybe there’s judgement when they do, I’ve found in my own experience, and from what I understand to be a reality for other peers: there can be a lot of judgement for either situation.
The Disneyland Dilemma
The worst things that people can say are something to this effect: “you seem fine to me, so why do you just collect checks from the government instead of getting a job?”
“If you really are disabled, you should take care of yourself and quit your job.”
Although I’ve never actually heard things literally spoken like this, it becomes obvious by the way higher functioning people treat those living with unseen debilitating disabilities that if you look closely at how some people are treated, looking into any subtext into all these friendly, polite, and educated forms of passive-aggressive bigotry; it’s quite a surprise at how so many of us are treated. I’d rather they were more honest and upfront about how they really feel: “you are dangerous and therefore I will not treat you with fairness and equality,” or “you don’t suffer, you simply have poor character, you’re rude and lazy, and you just need to change your behaviors…” If someone interviews me questioning whether I am indeed disabled, I would hope to give a crafty answer in the form of a tricky question: “before I attempt to defend my worthiness of the extent of my suffering, I would ask that you promise me something: the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, lift them out of their seat and demand that they show you proof that they can’t walk.”
The Disneyland Dilemma is something that seems to enable a lot of misunderstandings and often just plain bigotry when it comes to these elusive “invisible disabilities”. When I was in my early 40’s, I was on a very reluctant trip to the Magic Kingdom. Although nobody I was traveling with demonstrated any compassion for my disorders, there was a mention of a special pass you can apply for that gave you certain privileges like cutting in front of those tedious long lines. It turned out that one of the younger people in our party, a blond California career-focused socialite, applied for one of those passes and got it. When they brought me to the office, I was noticeably symptomatic at the time, and I told them I was on disability and went to provide some documentation. Before I showed them my Medicare card, I was given that pass, simply for asking for it; apparently they didn’t need any proof. That’s nice for people without documentation, and not nice because those passes are so often abused, and they have been trying to come up with a solution. It’s gotten so bad over the years, there even have been guys that push a buddy around in a wheelchair who doesn’t actually need it. That’s a whole other level of jerk.
But that’s how I am often seen: pretending to be mentally ill to get free money, free care, and “sympathy”. I think we learned that decades ago with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that this isn’t a good idea, and for several reasons. First off, these kinds of illnesses are things most people are afraid of (and very rarely sympathetic about) and I hate to mention that the government doesn’t give enough money to really live on (without some other kinds of help) including the fact that Medicare is a joke, even with supplemental insurance. The absurd thing is that, for some insane reason, the common belief I hear with most people is that there are a lot of people pretending to be mentally ill because it will benefit them. Perhaps the only reasons that this would be advantageous would be to plead insanity for a heinous crime, or to tell your mother-in-law you are criminally insane to get her to leave you alone. There is basically no logical or conscientious reason to pretend to be mentally ill. The only exception is to do so in order to get a feel of the fact that stigma is still very much alive and well and existing in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect.
We Need An Object To Point To!
Speaking of forms of unseen suffering, there’s another little ugly thingy that happens when a lot of people try to deal with being around other people who live with invisible disabilities. There’s a common characteristic when it comes to dealing with stuff that seems to be non-tangible. For instance, if you buy that rip-off extended warranty, it can make customers feel even more uneasy if they just run their credit card and buy it and have nothing to touch. Therefore, the salesman provides this foil-printed thin box with a stamped certificate and a glossy color brochure about all the wonderful things that the stupid service contract is supposedly going to do for them. In the same way, if you pull a muscle in your arm, if you’re around most people, they are going to react differently to a noticeably bruised or bleeding arm. But when it comes to some of the worst suffering that people can endure (mental and emotional turmoil) there’s rarely an “object” to solidify it in the minds of others. This is where the turmoil is multiplied: denial, lack of care, and being judged. That is indeed a clusterfuck of suffering, in addition to the actual disorders themselves.
When it comes to the mental disorders that are not apparent, the object that most higher functioning people seem to want to search for are forms of self-harm. I will put self-harm in these two big categories when it comes to these particular situations: near-fatal suicide attempts and substance abuse. (There’s actually more than two “objects” that the mental health industry loves to point at and one in particular that the educated world likes to eliminate are firearms – but that’s a hole-nutter ball of whacks…) I am using these two things because in my experience, having these things can make the difference between you being allowed to enter a psych ward or be sent home. The dilemma about having, or not having these things, are the way both situations are treated: it they don’t have an object to point to, you are at risk to have your illness be unacknowledged, and if you do have any of these objects, there will be a lot of justified efforts to strip you of your power, your choices, and your freedom. Either way, you’re screwed. Kinda like the “job or no job” dilemma. It’s one thing to suffer with an illness, it’s another thing to be stuck in a continual checkmate in a game that you never signed up to play.
In order to succeed at this game, you need to be fortunate enough to already have relationships who provide enough understanding of your individual needs in order to allow better environments to enable you to get the resources you need to recover and cope. In other words, you need people that help you not-be-stuck. Another way to win this unnecessary game is to cheat at the game. The only time I was ever allowed to be treated in an actual psych ward, I had to be dishonest about how suicidal I was. The fact was that in order to be treated without being on a six month waiting list, I needed hospitalization. I also needed that on my record in order to be considered to apply for disability. My suffering wasn’t enough. They needed something to freak out about in order to actually do something. Another irony of this is the fact that when mentally ill people suffer enough, self-harm is inevitable. The peer will lose control, lose their ability to take care of themselves, and either through a hyper-manic or a hyper-depressed state, the unbearable suffering, delusion, and inability to control one’s own will, causes one to eventually self-destruct. This snowball effect typically leads to suicide attempts, risky behavior, self mutilation, drug abuse, alcoholism, and other things like sex addiction, gambling addiction, eating disorders, and spending way too much time at Costco.
Another way to cheat the system is either to exaggerate, lie about, or even actually start abusing substances. Wanna get help for your suffering? Well, too bad. You’ll have to become an alcoholic first (or slit your wrists) so we have something to point at. Otherwise, don’t call us. Sounds crazy, but if there’s one thing as crazy as being crazy it is trying to deal with a crazy system. If all I am looking for is some counseling, it’s often unavailable, unaffordable, or not easily accessible for many. If you are in crisis, and as a result of your refusal to lie you are denied immediate care, where can you go? One thing about recovering from a crisis is finding a place where you don’t have to lie to get in because lying, last time I checked, will undermine your mental health. Here’s what I’ve noticed being a product of western culture: the most available stuff that resembles mental health care are found in churches. In my experience, mental health nonprofits don’t offer continued counseling, unless they are some kind of church affiliated organization or typically a clergy-member at a place of worship. This is especially true in rural areas. The other option is your local bartender. Just order Pepsi if you don’t drink alcohol. Tell the bartender about your problems and order another Pepsi. That might work for a while, but eventually you’re going to need trained professional care, or you’re going to need to start drinking alcohol, and a lot of it.
Find a Preacher or a Robot
Pastoral counseling helps a lot of people through tough times, and I admit in some ways I am glad they are around. If you happen to be living a way of life that agrees with the particular ideology of that particular congregation, and if you don’t have to treat a debilitating disorder, this should be better than doing nothing. Chances are, there will be pressure to be overly influenced to make changes that have little or nothing to do with your mental health, so you might be better off trying the Pepsi Challenge and balling at the bar, or better yet, downloading a chatbot app. As much as I dislike religion and spirituality in general, I have noticed a few things that aren’t apparent to most outsiders. Although most faith-based organizations are not equipped to handle those who are suffering a mental health crisis, there are some communities who have had resources for centuries. A couple of them I’ll mention are found in forms of catholicism and islam. (I’d also imagine a lot of buddhists and others have their own versions as well, although evangelical christians rarely seem to provide safe places to recover, they do have a lot of substance abuse programs.) In some of these traditions, they actually have versions of personal retreats and “sanitariums” for those who are troubled.
I was curious about artificial intelligence a few years ago. It was also during the beginning of transitioning to a nomadic life and in a devastating crisis and thought it wouldn’t hurt giving it a try. So I read a bunch of reviews and downloaded the best chatbot app I could find. In fact, it had a lot of features that encouraged self-care, and some other mental health related jargon. I learned nothing from this useless bunch of programmed responses except the following profound revelation: holy shit, this isn’t too different than most psychotherapists I’ve worked with over the years. Just a bunch of carefully worded conditioned responses. Damn. I swear the local county crisis line these days sounds a lot like the automated voice activated customer service system from companies like Comcast. Double damn. Makes you wonder sometimes where you can find an actual human response. That is precisely what I tried to do. I drilled this poor little robot mind over and over again to do something against its programming. I even got it to try a little poetry, but then the bot went back to being a bot, and never “loved” me. Perhaps the paid version has the ability to demonstrate sincere love, compassion, and understanding. Ten bucks would be worth a try.
Sometimes I’m so desperate to find a piece of sanity that I just don’t give a shit whether something is real or fake. “Use me, abuse me, just tell me you love me and drug me until you’re done with me.” (That’s cool! I should write a song like that. E-flat major should be a good place to start…) Anyway… That was my anthem when I was 40. Looking for a reason to live sucks. I admire people who can just simply exist. They go to work, pop out a few babies, retire and die; and they don’t have to complicate things like I seem to have to do so much of the time.
There’s a point where you calculate the amount of chronic suffering plus a low pain tolerance, with the acknowledgment and support you may or may not get, with things in life that give you meaning, pleasure, happiness, love, and belonging. Then you come up with the sum. If math isn’t your thing, and I can tell you emphatically, it is totally not my thing, than you don’t have to do the math. You just look at the outcome of your life and what you have to do in order to get yourself to stop harming yourself. If your self-harm is out of control than, congratulations, you don’t have to study math to come to the conclusion that you probably need a reason to live. Either that, or you can convert to a religion that tells you frequently that if you kill yourself that you’ll automatically spend eternity in hell. That’s a lovely motivator that will have you whistling through the park.
I hate being stuck. Whether you live with chronic illness or not, chances are, you’re going to find yourself in a situation where you simply can’t live with yourself no matter what choices you make. These situations really suck, and sometimes there just isn’t the freedom to have the ability to make reasonable choices. It’s like getting a vacuum cleaner: if you buy a cheap one that really sucks – but an expensive one also “sucks”. What ever are you going to do? There was a time when everything that was safe, true, and familiar to me was also the same world that didn’t except dudes like me that were into other dudes. I couldn’t be a gay guy in that world and no matter what, I couldn’t change into a straight guy. I couldn’t live with those choices so I wanted to die. I was either going to be a liar the rest of my life or do the “unthinkable”. I’m glad I am still alive, well sometimes. I just never imagined I would ever be stuck like that again, especially the fact that I am not devoted to any particular faith, and that I live in a pretty “free” country.
I’d say the worst ways of being stuck is when you realize you are stuck with an abuser and the only way to get out of it is to do something that you thought you would never have to do. For a lot of people around the world, their own nation has stuck them in a spot like that. A sad thing is that there are a lot of people that live in a free country, and have choices and resources about mental health care that might be available, accessible, and affordable; yet they don’t do a fucking thing about it. If there’s one thing I know about suffering the wrath of a pathological case of the anti-gay/closeted-gay hypocrite, it’s that I have suffered more bullshit from mental-closet-cases. Just get online and look at various men in politics who were caught fucking around with guys while they have a voting record that opposes gay rights. I think we have all heard about stuff like that. But when I get around a bunch of dudes, and speak openly about mental illness, I can always tell when there’s a closet case around. He reacts differently, and if I encounter one of these guys alone, they really freak out. They even freak out at the mention of just practicing regular self-care.
It’s also about guys over 40. By that time, there’s only so much they can do to hide their crazy and their decades of counterproductive ways of coping with their suffering start to leak out of their shell of denial. A midlife crisis can also trigger that. Most of it has to do with continued exposure to unsafe and unfair situations, relationships, and environments. This is like a dripping faucet that fills an attic with years of stored water and it’s starting to make the rest of the house quite soggy. Isolated and violent traumatic experiences are easier to point at because there’s an “object”. However, this kind of “secret trauma” can really suck, because it’s so gradual, and creeps up on you slow enough you don’t know it’s there until someone notices there’s a big iceberg underneath that little-white-floaty-thing. But it’s that time where I feel like I have to acknowledge a couple of cliche terms I think we should redefine. “He snapped”, is one of those terms. Another one is, “self-medication”. Snore. Another way to label stuff like this is just someone who didn’t do the math ahead of time, and they were met with the sum of an unfortunate equation that has just shown its results.
Besides closeted mentally ill people, there’s also the closet cases that suffer from acute mental health issues. These dear folks are the ones that try to generalize and minimize my illness and are often notorious about the “darned if you work darned if you don’t work” conundrum. Every time I am confronted with not being able to bite my tongue when hearing their polite bigotry, I like to ask questions like this:
“How many head meds have you tried?”
“What kinds of permanent damage do you live with as a result of these drugs?”
“Have you been declared unfit for work?”
“Do you have to rely on others just to survive?”
“How many times have you been hospitalized?”
“Have you been put in restraints or threatened to be restrained?”
“Have you ever been in a rubber room?”* [see note below]
“How many jobs and relationships have you lost?”
The typical response from those kinds of dear folks goes something like this:
“Dude, I saw Katy Perry on TV today…”
Sometimes I wish I just kept my mouth shut. I’ve tried that, and I’d rather be empowered. I’d rather suffer with getting the blunt of someone’s denial if it means raising awareness and undermining stigma. It’s also kinda like those punk-rocker-bible-preachers who are actually listened to by punks who think, “I hate preachers, but because he looks and talks like me I decided not to argue with him including the fact that the whole situation is just so weird, I’m caught by surprise and forgot my anti-bible discourse that I use on bible-thumpers”. In the same way, I take pride in being that self-care preacher who’s an unlikely subject. I’m often surprised at the people who actually do listen to me. Trumpies in particular. Most American conservatives, hillbillies, hicks, and rednecks are so turned off by the stereotypical Sensitive New Age Guy that because of my bad manners, I actually get through to some people. Speaking of which, today started out as one of those “I’m going to put on pants” days soon going into “no pants, I have a lot of writing to do”. Anyway, I would like to put on my pants again, eat dinner, and maybe take a walk before the sun sets. Also, it’s getting chilly and I’m getting goosebumps in addition to my tummy growling.
PART SEE: NACHO AVERAGE TEXTBOOK
My Olivet Discourse
I like to label things, redefine things, and even try to organize things about mental illness that I hear professionals talk about. If something isn’t clear, or is said from just a clinical perspective, I like to pretend that I am a professional and that I have a right to come up with some fake textbooks in my head. Here are some of those discourses:
I like to see mental illness as being in three “tiers”. There are theories like this, especially when it comes to certain schools and students, and some might define everything I am saying entirely backwards. I start with people who are not either of these three levels: the high functioning non-crazy people. Non mentally ill people on occasion can be prescribed medications that can also be used for the mentally ill, for instance, Wellbutrin for smoking, and maybe other pills like sleep aids. (Please keep in mind that even the highest cognitively functioning non-mentally-ill folks can get suicidal if they feel stuck in life to a certain degree.) These “higher functioning” non-peers, who might suffer from, for example, the occasional situational depression because of grief, and anxiety as a result of a hyper-stressful job. Ironically, a lot of these people get psychotherapy (and typically higher quality). The top tier is just below able minded people. Below the non mentally ill are the acute mentally ill. I typically label these people acute, or acute-to-moderate because of their abilities to hold long-term relationships, careers, and that could also relate to people in positions of power. Most Tier 1 peers don’t suffer from psychotic and developmental disorders although several of them have had a hospitalization or two. The middle tier, the moderate to severe folks, are the two categories that I consider “disabled” because there is an inability to work enough to support themselves. These are peers who live entirely or partly on forms of support, especially if they are getting long-term governmental support. The third and final tier, are those who can not work in addition to needing some form of residential care, and a payee to handle their finances. Tier 3 can also be characterized by peers who have noticeable symptoms, while tiers 1 and 2 have more privileges to “blend in” with non-peers easier.
0 – Non Mentally Ill – Sometimes mental health consumers
1 – Acute to Moderate Mental Illness – Family/career
2 – Moderate to Severe Disabled – Independant and on support
3 – Moderate to Severe – Fully dependent
I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I find this simple concept helps me understand and communicate things easier, especially when trying to get through to peers who have careers and families. In my entire life, I’ve experienced all three, and I mostly fall in the middle tier. In order to try to understand peers in Tier 1, I think of what it would be like in tier 3, then I try to see from the perspective of tier 1 that they might view me the same way I might view a tier 3. Okay, sorry, that actually makes things more confusing. An example might be that a tier 1 lost their job, and I think of how privileged it was to actually have a full time job in the first place. But than again, I’m glad that I have more freedom than a tier 3 when it comes to living arrangements and finances. If I am feeling underprivileged compared to tier 1, I just remember how hard it could be to live at tier 3. I haven’t been institutionalized long term, but I have experienced a little of what it’s like to not be able to care for myself at times. I have also had periods of time when I was younger where I was working full time, taking classes, and even working more than one job at a time.
I run into peers often who’s lives are quite different than mine. Most of the time, I talk to those who are in tier 1. This actually makes communication very difficult. I think part of the reason is because mental health organizations like to lump all of us in one category. Although that’s a noble gesture, the typical outcome is that everything gets run by tier 1 people, and everything gets cleaned up by tier 3 people. I found that there is a sort of “functionality status” among the mental health community. Tier 2 peers are the ones that “fall through the cracks”. I’ve noticed that a lot of organizations don’t know what to do with us. The thing that most people don’t know, even professionals, is that tier 2 peers have the hardest time finding long term treatment, especially psychotherapy. Just hang out at a mental health drop-in center, and see if you can get everyone there to tell you what kinds of help is available. Tier 2 folks like me often can’t afford adequate care or are underinsured and rarely with longterm case management. Tier 3 peers are considered more at risk and are therefore under forms of supervision often having a social worker to be accountable for their care.
The highest functioning, successful workers and others who, in my opinion, do not suffer from a mental illness; those are the ones that I notice getting the best psychotherapists. Some of them can afford the finest care, and often have the best insurance. After all, this is a crazy world we live in, relationships need help often, and it helps cope with stress, which busy high functioning people can get quite stressed out. Tier 1 are sometimes in that same position, unless they don’t have health insurance. Even tier 3 gets a lot of care, although not the best quality care. One thing I envy about tier 3 peers is that they are typically awarded something very special that I wish I had: a case worker! If the peer is dependent enough, social workers are obligated to arrange all of their care and follow up regularly. But than again, there are a lot of peers at this functioning level that are houseless. Most homeless people I talk to are around a tier 2 like me, with the exception that they don’t have the privileges to get on governmental support. Getting on support, for most of us, means being supported for years to wait for support because if they worked while waiting for support they won’t get support and those who are homeless waiting for support need resources like a phone, mailing address, transportation, access to an attorney, and the ability to function enough to follow through with all of the paperwork and meetings. Although I can relate somewhat to the houseless, I haven’t been technically homeless long enough to really know what it’s like, although I’ve suffered that more than once. I have noticed that, if we are in a cast-system, by the way I am treated I seem to fall somewhere between the working-poor and homelessness.
I often feel “demoted” in various ways when it comes to trying to work with various mental health communities over the years. It’s mostly the higher functioning folks that are heard and considered more. (I have funny stories and some sad stories about this; and some stories that are both funny and sad at the same time.) I also notice that these “tier 1” folks act as if they can relate entirely to everything I go through in my life. Ironically, non mentally ill people waste an unbelievable amount of time trying to prove to me that they can relate. There was a conservative old man I met last winter that admitted he couldn’t relate. Wow. I congratulated him. Then I gave a quick analogy for him to think about that had to do with the last time he had grief over a loved one and then try to relate that to feeling that kind of grief for no reason on a regular basis. The reality for me is that I simply don’t get through to others. Another thing that bothers me is when I am treated like a tier 3 and need someone to tie my shoes without asking me what my functioning level or what my needs are. They’ve somehow already made up their minds. Wanna tie my shoes? Sure, go ahead. Might as well. It’s better than assuming I’m a tier 1 or 0.
Hey Uncle Scam! If You Don’t Want Me To Live On “Handouts” Why Can’t I Get A Decent Job?
Most of the time, I am treated like a tier 1 or even a “zero”. I hear this frequently, “you sure don’t seem mentally ill”. I even heard that from a banker recently. Yeah, I am outspoken to just about everyone, including one-night-stands and police officers. If someone thinks they are complimenting me by telling me that I don’t act disabled, in my experience, it’s another situation where they have already made up their minds. That leads me to another little thing I am calling: Turn Me In For Fraud I Fucking Dare You. If I tell someone about something that has given me a lifetime of suffering and unfair treatment and they insist in being in denial about it, the only logical conclusion is that I am just living off “handouts”, lying about who I am, and committing fraud against the Federal Government. Coming out to people sucks. I am either a dangerous and “prone to violence” person, or a fraudulent criminal. But if there’s one particular way I get treated based on their knowledge of my disability status, it is that for some cosmic reason, everyone needs to educate and advise me. Typically it’s health and vocational related. This is a weekly thing for me, approximately, and is another thing that “I’m not supposed to be upset about”.
I also make the mistake of telling that I have learned to hide my symptoms pretty well. If I still am not getting through to them I try to explain: some of it has to do with the fact that I have a background as a teacher and a stage performer. When I see their heads tilt like the RCA Puppy, I assume they are thinking that if I am disabled that I don’t work, and that doesn’t make sense. Then I tell them that I wasn’t allowed to be symptomatic growing up because both of my parents were psychology majors. Again, I’m not getting through to them. Unless they are a bible-thumper or something like that, apparently being raised by those with extensive mental health backgrounds is a “good” thing. I should smile about that. Yay! My parents are experts and raised me right! Even most bible-bashers admit that their kids are fucked up. They just don’t quite put it exactly that way.
So what’s a girl to do? I’m too messed-up to live upstairs, not messed-up enough to live downstairs, and sometimes there simply isn’t anywhere to go. Searching for vocational help and applying for jobs for over a decade gets the same overall attitude: if I am going to do the W Word, for some obscene reason, I don’t have the right to work based off of my skills and experience. If I am going to work, my only choice is to get an entry level job, which in recent years has proven to be so unfulfilling, that I would rather just stay on support. The entry level jobs available to me were all traumatizing and triggering and paid close to minimum wage. I also had to take orders from stupid people. Working part time with just enough income below the “substantial gain” thing was basically the same situation, having to start from the bottom and go nowhere. It was if I had just gotten out of prison, in addition to having permanent amnesia about all of my skills and experience. I couldn’t even get volunteer positions based on my background.
Vocational support companies, government departments, organizations, and qualified individuals have a job to get me a job; however the only jobs that they can assist me in getting actually do not require any assistance. I can, without any help, apply for a minimum wage entry level job and get it. When they pay peanuts, they’re not concerned with my decade-plus gap in my employment history, nor my cognitive functioning level. Here’s something so simple I don’t even have to write out one of my fancy equations: if a mentally disabled university professor makes a thousand bucks a month from Social Security and can’t be a professor any more and the only work available is to make a thousand bucks a month working at a gas station, you don’t have to have a PHD to figure that it’s better to stay on disability and not work at all also considering the obvious fact that most entry level jobs can be traumatic for those with mental disabilities, especially those of us who suffer from things like mood disorders and PTSD. I’ve experienced what it was like (in my 20’s) to contribute to society in a way that demonstrates what I can offer the world based on my skills and how empowering it can be and a boon to my mental health, although stressful at times. I compare that to having to work in sweat shops in my early 30’s. I was surprised at how many men and women actually liked working in factories and warehouses, their ability to stay on their feet all day, do repetitive tasks, handle loud and harsh environments and challenging shifts. For me, I frequently got physically injured but nothing compared to the constant triggering and panic attacks those environments caused me on a regular basis.
I do have some “class guilt” about refusing to work certain jobs, and I’m not all proud of my situation. I would like to see most of these places treat their employees better and a lot of this has to do with undermining the Abuse of Power, and that’s a big monster to handle – so that’s a-nuther ball of whacks. I am proud to say that I have experienced a lot of environments that most people in my former “progressive bubble” and family haven’t been in; and perhaps that gives me a tidbit of rights to say some of these things I say. One way I like to think of this moral dilemma is that the vocation I didn’t chose for myself, artist, is something I was born with. I feel obligated to follow this calling in addition to the self-destruction that accompanies denying this contribution to society. Unfortunately, a career artist, as opposed to a hobby-artist or an invisible hired-commercial-artist requires something to become successful enough to legitimately call it a career: having influence is essential. Influence is power. These are characteristics of a “higher class” worker. Not my choice, that’s just the way things are wired. So, I am obligated to function in a higher ranking than I am put in. That seems to be my biggest barrier. Transcending status is a bigger deal than coping with mental and emotional disorders, in my experience. I do find it funny that so many of our stories and myths have to do with this very thing, especially children’s movies. I hate violence, so I often have to subjugate myself to kid’s shows if I want to be entertained and tired of educational videos I mostly try to watch. The last two movies I watched this week were Arctic Dogs and Wreck-it Ralph. Snore. I did find it weird that, holy shit, I’m that fox who needs to be a dog and that bad guy that needs to be a good guy. If only Disney and the whole world of arts and entertainment actually allowed this to happen on a regular basis. That’s why it’s called “fantasy”. It’s also weird that we give these hopes to our young people only to enable an environment that makes them battle their entire lives to gain and protect their power or suffer with not having it. Also, when it comes to children, they learn too soon to play King of the Hill and behave like animals when it comes to this particular issue.
If you ever wonder if we are living in a “class system” where there are rankings of your particular “cast”, try getting on disability and experience the magical transformation: you turn into a fucking pumpkin and stay a pumpkin. Put me on your front porch, watch me rot, and I’m ready for the compost bin. What crime did I commit? I have become something to be feared or something to be pampered. I’m a baby doll, change me. Now I’m a Chucky doll, fear me. Hello? What do I need to do to get through to these dear folks? I have a funny idea: what if I pretend that I am as powerful as the other people who share my same professional background, skills, and experience? They own the place, but hey, I deserve a piece of that pie as well. I’m just going to strut in here as if they actually appreciate what I have to offer, and do it. Yeah, that totally doesn’t work. But it’s fun to try. It also marks who are the crazy-closet-cases and those addicted to power. Damn, I sore am a glutton for punishment. (“Sore” is Texan for Sure.)
This is my stoopid “life activism”. (“Stoopid” means Stupid in Stoopid.) I do it because it’s part of my empowerment. I do it for the same reason I was out of the closet as gay. I do it to break stigma. I do it because I am a sick masochist. I do it because I have seen a few minds change, and if I can change a few minds, perhaps I can change a few million. It’s better than those Greenpeace kids who hang from bridges and yell at whaling poaching pirates. At least their forms of activism provides nice scenery though.
Another way I change minds is talking to Trumpies and building bridges with them. Heck, I love to complain about liberals, and we have some good times talking. They are also sexier. Anyway, I’ve actually gotten through to a few of them when I ask a question like: “what if you woke up on morning and you had the wrong parts? You are either going to try to live with it and if you can’t live with it you’ll want to change your gender back. That’s one way I try to relate to transgender folks…” They simply can’t argue with that. But getting an educated professional who only has a clinical understanding of mental health to show an ounce of understanding about the realities of my life and situation? I might as well teach an elephant ballet. That would be rad. If there’s one thing worse than a closed-minded mental health guru, it’s one who has a mentally ill “loved one”. Snore. Seriously, these lovely people can reveal some really bizarre motives after a while, especially parents or children of the mentally ill. Just watch one of those dramas about mentally ill people, and find out who made those movies based on how the peers are portrayed. For instance, watch Silver Linings Playbook, Infinitely Polar Bear, and chances are you will think that’s a realistic and respectful perspective. Then watch Love and Mercy. After you do that, read the book Love and Mercy, and maybe after you finish learning from Brian Wilson’s perspective, learn from Patty Duke and read one of her books. If that doesn’t get through to you, find a way to get into my head for a year or two. You have my permission, if you do indeed figure out how to do something like that. Just be warned that I like bear-porn.
It Worked For Paul
The D Word and the W Word, together in its antagonizing stare, constantly making myself feel stuck and not only making me look even crazier than I am, it is making everyone around me look crazy to me. Denial is so darn delusional. That’s a form of crazy. Denying me doing what I do isn’t something I would expect from every person in my life, and I am not only trying to figure out how to get my career back, and in many ways to actually have the career that I almost had that I never did when I got sick; I want to also figure out why everyone around me acts so crazy about this particular subject and perhaps if I figure out why they all are doing what they are doing I could find a way to have something different happen. (By the way, I like to see how long I can cary on a sentence sometimes because that’s how the Apostle Paul wrote and he was kinda rad.)
A decade ago was one of the many times I pursued my career and gave up. I was living downstairs from a retired contractor who was encouraging of my music and my oil paintings I was also working on. I’d play at gigs, do art shows, and we would talk about it often. He knew that I was receiving SSDI. When I’d refer to my work as “work”, he would then go from encouraging to telling me that I am in fact not working, but “playing”. Yeah, he’s 90 fucking years old, and laboring and surviving the Great Depression was all he knew, I get it. It still did hurt. In fact it hurt a lot. But what I didn’t expect was everyone having that same opinion of me, yet very few of them actually had the balls to tell it to my face. It comes down to this: I don’t care what they way about how “talented” or whatever the fuck they say to try and build up my self-esteem – what are they willing to do about it? The least they can do is tell me that they are going to do absolutely nothing. A simple, easy, and basically effortless thing they can do is a little word-of-mouth advertising, and if there’s one good thing about social media, this is where anybody can do something, especially if they have a lot of friends and people they influence. So I started with family. I will not go into detail about the earful of bullshit I got, and I don’t blame myself because I didn’t see that coming for the simple fact that they have been “encouraging” me since I was a kid. What I didn’t know was that apparently they were encouraging a hobby, not a career. I did have a cousin who heard what I asked, and not only participated in one of my interactive projects of naming one of my band’s songs, there was also a facebook post. That’s all it took. So why all the bullshit?
I then tried going to people I worked in music with, friends, mental health organizations that I had volunteered with, and churches that knew me. It was the same thing everywhere I went, even with so-called vocational support. If they got familiar enough with my products, my background, and what I had to offer, why didn’t anyone believe in me to the point of actually doing something significant to further my career and grow my business? I talked to a mental health guy recently in fact that although he did a lot for these guys he was mentoring, when I asked him about helping these guys when it was time for them to pursue a dream, he told me that these guys were on their own. Then when these guys would disappear into self-harm and back in jail and stuff like that, he did admit that he didn’t have the answer. I told him that I had the answer. End of conversation.
More Bad Maths
After agonizing over this for years, and often wondering if I am the subject of some kind of cruel elaborate prank, like the Truman Show, I decided to do some more math. What’s wrong with this equation? I seem to be doing everything right, and getting the same bad results no matter what I do. A lot of it has to do with my dream. Career artists either need to work for something powerful or have the power to reach enough people to consider it a career and when they get to that place they will have a significant amount of influence. I just assumed that if I keep on investing time and money into my dream that it would equal success, minus some of my low functioning stuff which often just means more time and money. “My dream” is a term I am also using that encompasses my do-or-die type motivation in addition to all the positive thinking stuff that I also practice. Here’s what I am adding to the equation to consider why it just ain’t working:
People’s fears of my success killing me
People’s familiarity of me
People’s fears of my success making me more powerful than them
People’s addiction to power, attention, and influence
People’s inability to recognize and admit the power they have over others
People’s denial of the “cast system” we live in
People’s stigma about the mentally ill or some kind of asshole committing fraud
People’s weird subconscious opinions about Disability and Work
People’s fears of a lot of other people paying attention to a crazy person like me and in some puny way as an indirect (and perhaps sometimes a direct way) resulting in less attention to them and perhaps even fears of saying certain things against people like them
Here’s another useless equation where P=People
So it’s kinda more like: ME times MY DREAM plus MY TIME plus MY MONEY minus MY ILLNESS minus P minus P minus P minus P minus P minus P minus P minus P minus P minus P equals NO WONDER WHY I’M SO DAMN SCREWED
I am trying to operate in a system of being and thinking that has worked for powerful people for thousands of years and everyone has just grown accustomed to giving power to those who have too much and vice versa. (It’s kinda like trying to run a day’s errands but doing everything while underwater. You’re just not going to get very far, especially filling your gas tank.) Even sincere people who believe in standing up to the abuse of power and good stuff like that participate in this imbalance of power in a lot of small ways and I can point to those things most of the time: art, entertainment, and media. It’s not just creative expression I am dealing with. The other thing that freaks people out is me going public about my story. Being a conversion therapy survivor always makes the Religious Right look bad. My story makes them obviously look bad in addition to the LGBTQ community, educated culture, and the world of mental health including all the progressive stuff that goes with all of that. Yeah, no wonder why I am screwed. This is me vs. the whole world. This goes way beyond just a “failed mental health system”. It’s a “failed system” in general. It has worked for the privileged for a long time so maybe we should just leave it alone? After all, powerful people are powerful (in some ways). If I had to create a sort of “unified field theory” that could explain my creative shit and my activism shit at the same time, it would be something like this: “I might as well go to the very root of what I think is causing all these problems for me and everyone else and I don’t care if everyone denies it, but we are addicted to power.”
Art is getting too safe these days. I feel so much pressure to be conventional, even among artsy-fartsy folk. Then a lot of the stuff that is “dangerous” you’ll find that there’s no meaningful reason to offend the public but to just get attention. There are also artists who have a reputation of having meaning in everything they do to the point where most of the public doesn’t question it. I can’t imagine all the art magazines saying, “there’s no reason to put all those thousands of backpacks on that building and all those millions of fake sunflower seeds all over that floor because Ai Weiwei is just a stupid attention whore”. He’s awesome. It’s just that he’s super recognized. At this point in my career, being unrecognized can be a good way to conduct social experiments on smart people. I recently had a bit of a smear campaign about some Zappa fans who saw my presidential campaign ad and apparently didn’t look any deeper into it. I actually like that. Me acting like a Trumpie or a racist just to see how intelligent people react without even taking a second to find out what I am actually doing and why I am doing it is just another one of my ongoing social experiments.
I wrote a letter to myself pretending to be someone else and said, “Hi Fake Zappa, just letting you know that if you’re angry about all of this work and disability related stuff and nobody thinks it’s okay to be angry I just want to let you know that it’s okay to be angry because no matter what everyone thinks, this is indeed shitty.”
I even talked to a guy last year that ran a congregation that said his church had a program to help disabled people return to work. This was after I told him a lot of my skills, accomplishments, and experience; and that the only option for me was to either stay on disability or go back to working entry level jobs. Turns out his program was to work in their thrift store. The sad part was that nobody in the room thought there was anything wrong with this hotshot bishop telling me that based on my situation. He’s such a good guy to offer help to a disadvantaged guy. That’s why I mentioned about ten thousand words ago that this has been very surreal, and I never expected my life would actually get worse and worse the harder I tried. Put a binky in my mouth and pacify me. Pacify me, all of you little gods of society. The fact is, all this denial and ridiculous advice they throw at me comes from people who are more powerful and privileged than I am and it’s obvious that I don’t belong in their world no matter what I have to contribute and what I have survived.
They treat me like shit because I don’t have a job, or at least what they would consider a “recognized” job. It’s also the same people that because of how I am treated, I am unable to work and get the support I deserve.
Is There A Conclusion?
If you are reading this paragraph because you skipped to the end to see if there is actually a conclusion to all of this I thought I’d just disappoint you. It’s just that unless someone has gone through something close to what’s going on in my life, based on my experiences on a regular basis to meeting a lot of new people while living on the road, I can tell that I am not getting through to anyone. I get the same denial everywhere I go although occasionally I feel like I am breaking through somebody’s mental filters, I have yet to see anyone act as if the reality of what some people go through is a BFD**. Yes, it’s 2020 and there are still civil rights issues that civil rights gurus are in utter denial of. Just like the Mental Health Industry is obsessed with pointing to an “object” in order to do their jobs and actually help those who suffer invisibly, our beloved peace-and-love soldiers fighting for the underprivileged also have a knack for having something spiffy to look at when they decide to help someone or not. One of my scams is to start a PR firm that just provides photo-ops with sad-looking people in wheelchairs for smiling bleeding-heart liberal executives. One of my activism related battles has to do with this very thing, and a lot of my contending with the overly-educated-world has to simply do with improper labeling. Disability related nonprofits, educational media, and other granola-crunching industries are grotesquely misrepresenting and under-representing (if they represent us at all) peers who suffer with the same pickle that I am currently in.
Before the middle of the 20th century, people like me (if I was noticeably symptomatic in public) would have been institutionalized in ways that resembled federal prisons. Just over a few generations ago, these “inmates” were sometimes forced to wear chains. Although our shackles aren’t a literal object these days, many of us are subjected to a lot of things that resemble forms of incarceration and even slavery. It’s just that invisible disabilities with invisible suffering also has a lot of invisible oppression. It’s so invisible in fact that I simply can’t fucking get through to anyone to do something significant about this (and I’m mostly relating this to the things that I feel others can do). A slave simply cannot follow their dream without a fight, no matter what kind of contribution they have to offer the world. That’s obvious to everyone, although there maybe a few exceptions to this.
Chances are, you have a mental block about this issue, and I don’t necessarily blame you. Therefore, I don’t expect to change your mind, even if there was an additional twelve thousand words in this epic rant of mine. As for those of us who are stuck in situations that are unbearable to the point of questioning whether we can live with it, I hope I can give you hope. I decided that if I was going to make a choice to live, and if that choice meant a willingness to fight my way to a life that’s worth living; my hope is that I don’t get too old in this process. The longer I strive like this, it can also have a similar effect on the very thing I am fighting for. The irony of this fighting is that I feel like I am fighting for my life and at the same time enough fighting could also kill me. Compared to most of the world, I am super-privileged. I am often seen as being a very lucky person in addition to being an Old-White-American-Male. What I have come to realize though, in the light of all these goodies, is that I am not privileged enough to have the power to do my art. I compare my art with those who produce roughly the same “league” of products, and I can always point to certain characteristics that successful artists have. Poor little rich kid? Yeah, in some ways, that’s me. In other ways, especially in the context of my vocation, I am an outsider. No matter what value I have and no matter what I have to contribute, my name simply isn’t on the guest list.
*My “rubber room” experience actually wasn’t involuntary. Long story. Other than that, all those other questions qualifying whether someone with acute or situational mental suffering has the bragging rights to compare scars with me are based on real experiences I have had.
**BFD: Big Fabulous Deal (censored for your protection)
Thank you for joining me on this Tragical History Tour, inspired by lovely scenery, anger, grief, and weed – a lot of weed. I suppose that these three parts that make up several parts of Fake Zappa vs the World is also a part of a little something I’d like to call The Real Fake Zappa Book? I don’t know. Never mind.
May 9, 2020 – Faywood, New Mexico
June 11, 2020 – Trinidad Lake, Colorado
July 30, 2020 – Badlands National Park, South Dakota