mental health

Today Donald Trump called my PTSD suffering a weakness. While there are medical interventions for PTSD, the same cannot be said of stupidity.

As some of you may know, pseudo historian David Barton has said that PTSD can be cured with Bible verses and rebuking Satan. I
originally wrote this piece in 2013, after the Navy Yard
shooting. It seems that we have so many incidents of mass gun violence
casualties that it’s hard to keep track. If just one or two people get
killed it barely gets a mention on the news anymore.

I thought that this would be a good time to re-post this. It is not about
me. I am trying to raise awareness of mental health issues, gun
violence and, sometimes, the unfortunate collision between the two.

I need no sympathy.

In my case, I was shot, point-blank in the back with a .45 in the hands
of a paid assassin — a presumably prohibited purchaser. It took a couple
of surgeries and a total hip replacement so that physically I am not too bad — other than the constant pain. It is the serious mental health issues that cause me the most day-to-day difficulty.

“By the time I got to Florida, I was headed for an orange jumpsuit.”

I was not properly diagnosed or treated for a few years. At one point I
ended up in Columbia Presbyterian’s psychiatric ward after downing every
pill in my home (followed by a perfectly made dry martini). Only then
did I begin to understand that my hypervigilance
combined with serious depression, an inability to sleep, terrible
nightmares, flashbacks, unrelenting anxiety and a volcanic temper are
the constellation of symptoms, the perfect storm of PTSD.
To this day, I can smell the dank concrete floor where I lay and the
cordite from the discharged weapon. The fact that nobody has been
brought to justice does not exactly add to my level of comfort.

By the time I got to Florida I was headed for an orange jumpsuit. It was
just a matter of time before I seriously injured someone for looking at
me the wrong way and then got locked up. You don’t have to be large or
muscular to be a force of nature. Adrenaline and sheer unhinged ferocity
can make up for physical deficiencies. I have had numerous near violent
confrontations. Fortunately the fact that I was so unglued made people
back down. I am very lucky that I didn’t get shot again by some pistol
toting yahoo. In Dade County, alone, we have enough weaponry to invade
and occupy Peru.

Unlike most people, my temper has no rheostat; It’s either on or off.
Therapy has not changed this condition. However, I have gained the
discipline or insight to choose not to engage. It’s better to simply
ignore the noisy neighbor than risk a potentially violent confrontation.
I don’t play well with others. Ignoring that neighbor is no simple feat
because I might become certain that the annoying noise is specifically
directed at me. Nevertheless, I have gotten pretty good at doing so.

Then there are the pills. I have a wonderful assortment of colors, shapes, textures and sizes that I take regularly to keep me reasonably sane. What I don’t
take are pain killers because of their depressive effect. I have a
conscious preference for physical over mental pain. Nevertheless, one of
the problems with my psychiatrist’s chemistry experiment is aphasia, a
loss of effective speech from time to time.

In my prior life I was a cocky guy. 

I was a quality-management and
organization development consultant. I ended my career as the CEO of one
of my larger clients. What I enjoyed more than anything was doing sales
training and I was very good at it. As a consultant, I sold my
services to business owners and CEO’s. To find myself incoherent at a
Publix check-out counter (something that has actually happened) is
rather depressing. I have had to stop worrying about what other people
think.

As I said, I need no sympathy. Nobody need feel sorry for me. I had a
fantastic career and was with my late partner, the love of my life, for
over 30 years. I am getting excellent medical care (psychologist and
psychiatrist working together) and I have found a certain sardonic sense
of humor in all of this. When I write about someone like Alan Keyes
being bat-crap crazy, it’s with a certain cognizance and perspective
that others might not have. I can actually laugh at some of the bizarre
things that I do and the reactions of others. It is something that
teenagers do intentionally. However, PTSD and other conditions are no
laughing matter.

We need to have a serious discussion in this country about mental health.

There are still many folks whose idea of therapy is “just snap out of
it.” Were it only possible to do so. The notion that mental hygiene is
just a matter of self-control, like weight management, is part of the
stigma associated with mental health problems. Many people with problems
don’t seek treatment. They are busy doing irreparable damage to their
families, their career, themselves and sometimes even to society.
Another problem is that many people need some therapy to know that they
need therapy. It’s up to the rest of us to encourage our loved ones to
get the help that they need. We have no problem saying “you really
should have a doctor look at that.” Change that to “you really should
talk to a professional about that” and it becomes impossible to say.

People also need to stop listening to crackpots. There was an article
the other day in one of the Christian publications by a woman named
Jenny Swindall. According to Ms. Swindall there are two keys to curing
depression. Ms. Swindall’s knowledge seems to be the result of her
having a baccalaureate in biology and having been a pharmaceutical sales
rep. I don’t mean to pick on Ms. Swindall. There are thousands of
people who have written books, penned Internet articles or appear on
TEEvee with Drs. Phil or Oz. Burn those books and change the channel. Only a licensed therapist can provide the individualized
care that people really need. Effective psychological and psychiatric
treatment is more complex than open heart surgery because of the
diagnostic challenges.

The real damage that people like Swindall do is that they increase the
stigma associated with mental health problems. If there are just two keys or if you just need to take some vitamins then being depressed or anxious or suffering with a personality disorder is within your personal
control. I am here to tell you that there are no simple answers. There
is no seminar you can attend, TV program that you can watch or book that
you can read that will offer effective advice. Aside from the
fact that licensed practitioners have years of training, they stay
current through the literature and continuing education programs. Therapy that works is therapy that is individualized. Even group therapy is just an adjunct to one-one-one therapy and, possibly, medication.

All of this would be more evident if, as a nation, we improved awareness
of mental health issues. Awareness is also the first step in removing
the stigma. But there is another pressing issue:

Would you want me in your community carrying a concealed weapon?

If you do then you are nuttier than I am. I should be a
prohibited purchaser but I am not. I can walk over to the gun store on
Alton Road in South Beach and buy all the weaponry that I can afford. In
Joe Manchin’s watered down background check bill (the one that failed
to pass the Senate after Newtown), there was a ridiculous exception for
armed services personnel with PTSD. Does Mr. Manchin really think that
the source of the PTSD, or the fact that it was acquired while in
service to the country, makes these people any less potentially lethal?
Why must we politicize common sense?

There are people in the NRA who would actually fight for my right to own
a gun until the state exhausts due process just like there are people
in the NRA who have faught for the “rights” of people on the terrorist
watch list to purchase firearms. When did we become so collectively crazy?

Just like after Newtown, the Navy Yard shooting will get us talking
about gun safety. If it looks like anything might happen to reduce the
carnage, someone will turn the ignition key on the NRA machine and they
will start scaring the hell out of congressmen and senators. Once again,
nothing will happen. There will, undoubtedly, be another tragedy and
another cycle. The only way that we are going to get this changed is if
we only vote for people who don’t take money from special interests. 90%
of Americans believe in universal background checks. Let’s see how many
of those advocates are willing to vote out of office candidates who
represent the gun manufacturers over the interests of their
constituents.

By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.