This week ended with a nice surprise. Friday, I got a call from our son who lives on the East Coast. It seems that he had to come to Houston for work. While he had been in the area several days, his work schedule was such that he had not been able to call. However, his work was complete now, and he was flying home the next day, so he was wanting to come by and see us and (especially) his mom. To be fair to him, he wanted to come by the house and wave to her through the window. I told him that his mother needed a hug from her son and that whatever (minimal) risk might be involved was worth it.
Now there are those who would say, “No way! The risk is too great!” But what exactly is the risk of his seeing and hugging his mother? Well, in theory she could catch the virus, and she could be a part of the tiny percentage of people (here in Texas) for whom it is fatal. But maybe we should look at the other side of the question as well – the side that no one likes to talk about: What are the risks associated with Janet not getting a hug from her son?
Interestingly, the people who claim that any non-zero risk is too great, are often the same people who see zero risk in refraining from – in this case – getting a hug. Apparently, conditions like despair, depression, anxiety, addiction, overdoses, and suicide don’t deserve to be included in the “body count.” And what about the terminally ill who don’t know why they are dying alone to protect them from a virus that effectively has no impact on them? Or what about those with dementia who die in despair thinking they have been abandoned by everyone? And finally, what about the children and the psychological violence that is being inflicted on a whole generation? While it would be potentially instructional to find out why these things are so, I want to get back to Janet and not waste my time or ink on speculation.
The way I see it there were basically three options:
- Just don’t tell her about the call and pretend he was never here and never said he wanted to visit.
- Let him come by, but maintain “social distancing.”
- Let him come by, and let them talk, hold hands, kiss, and hug. Let them express their mutual love and say their contingency goodbye’s.
Clearly no negative impact on Janet, but how about our son? His mother is dying and he knows there might not be many chances left to see her. Assuming that his emotional and/or mental state matters, let’s mark him down for depression and anxiety. And then we have to wonder what happens if this visit turns out to have been his last chance to see his mother, and he didn’t? Let’s add some guilt into the mix too.
Probably, the worst of the three options, as Janet and our son are both susceptible to additional depression and anxiety. Neither one knows when or if they will see each other again – at least on this side of the veil. Moreover, they can’t even express how they feel towards each other because there are some things you can’t say with words, even with perfect diction – which Janet no longer has.
According to the experts, there is some chance of cross contamination, and a very small (but non-zero) chance of a bad outcome. Although, we should probably have a discussion of what “bad” means in this context. On the other side of the scale, there’s a much larger chance of avoiding additional depression and anxiety – especially if this does turn out to be the last chance that they have to see each other.
So there are the three options. What would be your choice, and what does that choice say about who you are?
Have you ever had one of those moments where you look at something and wonder when did our world go completely off the rails? For me, the most recent case was when I ran across a paper (I don’t remember where) that the US National Institute of Health published in 1992. The original author was one Dr Richard P Bentall who was at the time a professor at Liverpool University. The paper’s name is A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder. From the link, you can read the abstract, or you can download a PDF of the entire paper. When I read it, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Basically, the good doctor’s position as expressed in his paper’s abstract is that: “…happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system…” The author even came up with a name for the proposed condition:
Major affective disorder, pleasant type.
Ah well, as long as it’s a “pleasant” type, that’s something I guess. On the whole, the piece reads like a script for a Monty Python skit. For example, after the paper connects the dots between heavy drinking, obesity and happiness, it’s all too easy to visualize John Cleese using his BBC newsreader persona to intone a line like:
“Given the well-established link between both alcohol and obesity and life-threatening illnesses, it seems reasonable to assume that happiness poses a moderate risk to life. The common observation that happiness leads to impulsive behaviour is a further cause for concern.”
In short, being happy can kill you.
The problem, of course, is that this paper isn’t the script for a Monty Python skit. It’s real, and so it is very very frightening. The author’s fundamental assumption is that if you are happy (or want to be happy), you are basically out of touch with reality. A sentiment that you hear echoed daily on the evening news in 2020.
By the way, in case you are wondering how you can tell if someone is “happy,” apparently many happy people exhibit this strange physical affect or symptom called “smiling.” And no I am not kidding, that bizarre statement is in the paper, quotes and all…
Although the author’s assumption about “cognitive abnormalities” says a lot more about him than it does happiness, if you take this assumption, combine it with society’s belief that reality is whatever you think it is, and then stir in the inability of the psychiatric profession to even precisely define what a psychiatric disorder is, we are left in a state where anybody can be diagnosed as being mentally ill simply because they don’t agree with the majority opinion – a point that was made many years ago by the author’s countryman, George Orwell.
A major benefit this approach offers is that it allows any ruler to appear as, “An Angel of Light.” It sounds so much nicer for the overlord to say, “These troublemakers, these ‘happy’ people, aren’t really bad people, they are sick, they are mentally ill. After all, if they were sane, they would understand the hopelessness of their situation and would appreciate their need to be cared for by the government. If they were sane, they would understand that bettering oneself is at best an illusion, and at worse a psychopathic form of selfishness. If they were sane, they wouldn’t be putting hope in something that they can’t see or touch or sense, like some ‘God’ person. However, We are always benevolent, so We aren’t going to punish these poor hurting people, We will help them come to a proper understanding of reality. And rest assured that only the most troubled, or the most delusional will suffer any negative consequences at all – and even then it will be for their own good. We promise.”
But what does any of this have to do with being a caregiver? Or for that matter, being someone who needs a caregiver? Simply this: Who do you want making important decisions for you? Or even simple ones – like who you are allowed to see, or who you are allowed to visit? Someone who cares about all your needs, or someone who is simply pushing their own version of reality? Besides, I don’t know about you, but I have too much stuff on my plate already. I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to worry about someone else’s mind games.
Finally, does any of this sound far-fetched? Does it sound like some bizarre conspiracy theory? I would have thought so too – six months ago…
In Christ, Amen ☩
A prayer for when you are feeling surrounded …
“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the protection You give to Your people. But today I want to bless you especially for standing by me when the times are darkest and the way is the least clear. Thank you for being my protector and my guide. Amen”