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On Mental Instability...

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An article in the New York Times caught my eye today, on the subject of medicating the children of our society for a range of supposed mental illnesses.

Now, I don’t condemn the benefits of modern medicine, and I also don’t condemn the use of drugs recreationally. However, as odd as it may sound with this stance, I’m actually kind of against the overprescription of psychotropic medications.

For several reasons…

We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.

I’m not an educational professional. I’ve been told I can convey knowledge rather effectively, but educational techniques are not in any of my various professional and non-professional job descriptions.

Be that as it may, I do pay attention to trends in society with regards to the educational methods being used to teach children today. And, frankly, the trend of medicating children this way scares me.

Objectively, it’s lazy. The educators lack the patience to effectively deal with the children, so they fall back on a pharmaceutical solution. Now, I’ll grant you that there may be children who genuinely need these medications just to function in daily life, but from the article above, it seems to reflect the now-obvious trend of seeing a pharmaceutical solution as a way out.

On the Rocafort family’s kitchen shelf in Ball Ground, Ga., next to the peanut butter and chicken broth, sits a wire basket brimming with bottles of the children’s medications, prescribed by Dr. Anderson: Adderall for Alexis, 12; and Ethan, 9; Risperdal (an antipsychotic for mood stabilization) for Quintn and Perry, both 11; and Clonidine (a sleep aid to counteract the other medications) for all four, taken nightly.

I would call it a statistical norm if one of the children in the family described here required medicating, but when each and every child is on a spectrum of psychotropic drugs, there’s clear evidence to suggest overprescription is at work here. Nevermind what Mom and Dad might be on.

To help me focus on my school work, my homework, listening to Mom and Dad, and not doing what I used to do to my teachers, to make them mad,” he said. He described the week in the hospital and the effects of Risperdal: “If I don’t take my medicine I’d be having attitudes. I’d be disrespecting my parents. I wouldn’t be like this.

Listen, when I was 11, I was a disrespectful little shit. I regularly threw fits, pissed off my parents and teachers, and didn’t have that many friends. Yeah, some things never change. However, I was usually lumped in, in terms of intelligence, with the “gifted” children, and the school (which was not well-funded!), sought out non-pharmaceutical solutions to my supposed problems. Now, this was the 1980s, so most of the drugs being prescribed to kids these days didn’t exist, or if they did, it was never considered that they should be given to an 11 year-old child. Basically, the general gist in my case was “he’ll grow out of it”, or “If he keeps it up, someone will set him straight”.

However, at no time were my supposed issues considered abnormal or irregular. If anything, the most my parents and teachers did was channel the energy into different areas where my spontaneity would be maximized. A child today who acted like I did, would be force-fed Adderall and told to get back to crunching away at math.

Joking and humor aside though, I managed to get through it and make the most of my mental attributes. I’ve never been to a therapist, and I’ve never been on a psychotropic regimen (I took Adderall once and it made me sick), and I manage to pay the bills, maintain a home, and have a social life inside and outside of my work. In other words, I’m in the ballpark with regards to most statistical norms in American society.

That being said, I do recognize my own mental quirks. I can’t focus on something for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. My mind is always on fire in twenty different directions at once. Only if something truly engages me, can I get around this. For example, I can “zone out” and shoot for hours on end. I can write on subjects that interest me without deviating from the task. However, even with tasks I find pointless or uninteresting, if they need to get done, I’ll get around to doing it by the time it needs to be completed. Usually.

I have a vague notion of time, and I question 95 percent of what crosses my path, so to speak. I’ll deviate and spend an hour arguing with someone on how pointless something is. For example, a pet peeve of mine is people who take a hour to make a mundane decision, like, what to eat for lunch. My take on lunch or any meal is, “eat it and move on to the next thing…”, since in my head, there’s other things way more interesting than food. Give me a reasonably-healthy buffet or salad-bar style setup. I’d rather spend the time multitasking, i.e. I can eat and bang out a blog article, edit some photos, optimize some code, or be social. Food goes in one way, and it comes out another. Whoopee. I’m sure every foodie in town will want to kill me now.

I also have a hard time bringing people into my inner circle. I’m severely paranoid around new people. Though is it paranoia if they really are out to get you? But, with time, I’ll bring people into the circle. Otherwise I’m pretty a pretty cold customer. Those who know me know the whole “sunglasses and ‘I am smiling’ ” routine.

I am smiling.
Filtered with Lo-fi through Instagram

Atlantic Broadband
Taken at Atlantic Broadband

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Sidebar: I had to deviate from writing this article to derive the media_id of that Instagram photo. It took a minute or two since I saw something that caught my eye along the way. Which made me think of something else, a way of getting that ID without having to kick the Instagram API. Which brings me to my point.

My point is, is that my mental quirks make me who I am. I’m a paranoid, random sort of guy who can’t focus on things for long periods of time and I’m always going off in twenty different directions at once. But, I believe it is those aspects of my personality which enable my creativity and ingenuity. If my parents, or later on, I myself, chose to medicate those quirks away, what would be left?

Basically another BlackBerry-wielding drone in the machine, in my opinion.

Listen, I’m no revolutionary. I fill out the forms when I have to, and I have “normal” things like bills and household chores and so forth. My life is actually pretty mundane sometimes. Though the point is, I was never medicated or told outright to stop acting a certain way. I figured it out as I went along, and I manage to maintain a semblance of a healthy existence, while still retaining the characteristics which make me who I am. All without the modifying effects of psychotropic medications.

And yes, I’m well aware that just about any substance consumed could be considered a mood-altering substance, but I’m certainly not dependent on any of them. I love my energy drinks but I don’t require them to stay ahead. I’ll get through the day. Comparing a Red Bull to an Adderall regimen is like comparing a 9mm round to a cluster bomb unit though. Same idea (boom), but a huge degree of difference in said boom.

Plus, beyond the poorly-understood detrimental health effects upon the children of our society caused by these substances, it’s coaching society into a habit of medicating our mental quirks away. Already, there’s generations of people my age and older who regularly medicate themselves to “stay ahead”, and “stay competitive”. And these habits are passed down to their children. In the pursuit of the almighty dollar, people drop a panoply of psychotropic medications on a scale to make the ghost of Elvis envious. College students deal in pharmaceuticals just to get that A on the final. Here’s a clue on that, hotshot, the answers are usually found rather easily, and cheaper than scoring some of Merck’s finest. Yes, I’m saying that you can pay off a TA to get the answer key, pretty much.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning modern medicine. If I get shot or otherwise grievously injured, I want the best technology that the medical field can provide to patch me up and make me better. I’m just not so sure we should be medicating away our supposed mental quirks, since it seems that we, as a society, are bent on numbing and erasing the individual features of our psyche that make each and every one of us unique. Do we really all want to be on this statistical norm? Is the goal in life to tap away at Excel spreadsheets all day under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights? The paranoid part of me says that the overmedication of society is conditioning for just that. A pseudo-state of complacency found in pill form. Blissful ignorance, if you will.

Sure, society needs fiends tapping away at Excel and crunching numbers, but you know what? I’ve met people, whom I consider crazy, who legitimately get off on that sort of thing. Enough that even without medication, there’s plenty of people who are motivated by their own personal thrill of solving a complex statistical problem in order to better optimize the interest rate on someone’s savings account. There’s enough “natural” accountants out there, is what I am getting at. I think we’re all capable of harnessing our own mental quirks to our benefit, and neither we, nor our children, need to be doped up on Adderall all the time.

And, it’s the crazy ones (yes, I know, I know, we’ve all seen the old Apple ads…) who are usually moving things forward for us as a society. Einstein wore the same outfit every day. Steve Jobs was a tyrant and yelled at people a lot, Leonardo was borderline anti-social, Van Gogh cut off his own ear. But these people left lasting positive impressions on society. If they had been medicated into submission, where would we be?

The long-term effects, beyond the physical, are that we are merely medicating away the effects of a sick society. We’re not getting at the root causes of the pressure to use these medications, we’re just merely masking the symptoms.

I’m not here to condemn anyone’s use of any drug, legal or otherwise. It’s your body, it’s your choice. Just consider that you may be snuffing out what makes you unique in this world. I might be a whirlwind of random ramblings and crackpot schemes, but that’s what makes me who I am. If I adhere to a statistical norm and toe the party line all the time, there’s really no point in me, as a unique individual, in sticking around. And that, my dear small audience, is a fate worse than death.

Footnote: I’m not a medical professional, either. I’m just calling it like I see it.