It seems that whatever you do, there’s someone out there ready to stop you because it might be dangerous (to you) or offensive (to them).
I remember riding my bike without a helmet till I was in my late ’20′s. The wind in my hair felt good. I ate whatever I liked without fear of consequences and it felt good. I came home and lit a hardwood fire in the fireplace and watching it gave me comfort and a sense of peace…it felt good (Montreal has banned the installation of new hardwood-burning fireplaces and stoves in order to reduce pollution). Once in a while, at a party, I smoked a few cigarettes, and, wait for it, yes, it felt good! I never became a smoker and my use was limited to 3-4 cigarettes maybe twice a year. No big deal. I loved telling jokes but occasionally made a gaff and told a joke that was off-color and even offensive. No one sued me or gave me a lecture about being politically correct. They forgave me without my having to take a 12-step program! I tanned in the sun without sunscreen, and it felt good. I was however smart enough to listen to my body’s natural signals that I’d had enough when my skin felt somewhat hot. Instead, today we slather on all kinds of carcinogenic chemical shit so we can stay out for hours in the sun. And then we take Vitamin-D pills because the skin can’t generate it through the sunscreens! Sometimes I had more than 1-2 drinks at a party and it felt good, even though next day I felt like shit. But even feeling better after having felt like shit felt good. Vegetarians were something you ate. I could photograph kids playing in the park and not get arrested as a potential pedophile (Quebec has made it illegal to take anyone’s photo in a public place without their written permission – a death-knell for street photography).
This morning’s Montreal Gazette carried the first of a five-part series on the pending release of the latest diagnostic reference standard for psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM), the fifth edition of which has been in development for the last ten years and is scheduled for release in 2013.
A concern expressed in the article is that the slew of newly identified “disorders” will once again open the floodgates of pharmaceutical treatment for a variety of behaviors and experiences that for the most part have no objective reality in any biological marker (e.g. a blood test, MRI scan, etc.). Since Thomas Szasz wrote The Myth of Mental Illness in 1960, mental health professionals have struggled to define what that “illness” is. With the exception of the various psychotic disorders, much of what we define as illness is subject to a pretty broad societal interpretation around what is “normal”. Until gay activists brought down the hammer in the ’70′s, homosexuality was classified as a disease in that generation’s DSM.
The article does however bring up an important statistic that I have referred to on several occasions in these posts, and that is that psychotherapeutic drugs are now the second largest drug category after the cardiovasculars and closing in fast for the top-spot. We may speculate that this incredible use is partly due to new “diagnoses” driven by the evolution of the DSM, along with subtle and not-so-subtle pressures from the pharma industry to “treat” these new disorders. On the other hand, we may also speculate that some of that use is also driven by a genuine demand from consumers (patients) for “treatment” of their painful experience of life.
I don’t like simplistic answers; they underscore an intellectual laziness that I find offensive, so I will not try to provide any. On the other hand, I also find a strange parallel between this exploding need to medicate life, and a growing societal tendency to suck the pleasure out of life. It seems that at every turn, every single activity is somehow deemed threatening and in need of mitigation. Sure, there are scores of people engaged in dangerous activities, and many even wind up with reality TV shows where we can vicariously share their experiences. But, I’m talking about the day-to-day grinding away of the small pleasures in life that used to “take the edge off” and give us some brief respite without the need for psychiatric drugs.