An author, a character and the nature of madness…
James Lee Burke, Dave Robicheaux and Madness…. SNAFU
One of my favorite authors is James Lee Burke. I don’t know off hand how many novels (not counting non-fiction and short stories) he has written and published but it’s a lot. One of his main characters is a Vietnam veteran turned local Sherriff’s detective by the name of Dave Robicheaux. The setting is almost always New Iberia, Louisiana. Anyone who has any knowledge of Louisiana beyond the drunken bacchanal of the French Quarter knows that Louisiana is almost a nation state in itself, both legally and culturally.
I suspect that Dave Robicheaux is largely biographical, although the author doesn’t say. I have corresponded with his daughter a few times in an attempt to talk to Mr Burke. Smart man, Burke. He doesn’t talk to guys like me and he doesn’t fool around with email. Bully for him.
Robicheaux is a complex character with a history of violence and boozing. Largely, this is suggested to be the result of Southeast Asia and the mental demons that permeated his soul while there. By the language and images conjured as he describes rage, booze and the Van Gough, I can tell that Burke knows from where he speaks. I know it too.
A few pages caught my eye last night reading his latest book, called simply “Robicheaux”. This situation is that he has “gone out” and looked up his old buddy Jack Daniels, for various reasons. Now, I can personally attest that Jack Daniels and his cousin, Jimmy Beam, remain undefeated. Lots of people think they will be the one to beat them, nobody comes close. Go into a bar that opens at 8 am and tell me. No, Jimmy and Jack will kick your ass, every time, end of story.
What interested me, and does interest me, is affective disorders of the mind. Most notably I am talking about depression and its cousins, thing like anxiety.
Burke starts one page by saying that unless you have experienced clinical or agitated depression married up with psycho-neurotic anxiety you can’t square with the knowledge at one time the medical guys used lobotomy. I get that, it is that fucking bad. Burke calls it a motherfucker. Call that word profane and filthy, but you know exactly what he means.
Since we are well down the plagiary path, no need to try and gloss it over now. He describes the depression (I call it the Van Gough, sometimes the vortex of sadness) as having blood in your sweat with your head feeling like a basketball wrapped in razor wire. The drinking is almost always an attempt to medicate and there times you would chew razors for that drink or that drug. I get that too. Your only other choice is both barrels under the chin, just like Earnest Hemingway. Yes.
I cannot describe it in quite the literary flourish as Mr. Burke. But I can expand on it a bit. You wake up one day and as your eyes open you can tell something has descended upon you that is not of your everyday reality. Often, it’s like your forehead is a great window shade that blocks out the light and diffuses everything with a strange hue and glow.
Body movements become laborious and slow. Most times, you feel like you’re in a movie that has some familiarity, but it is somehow played sideways, it’s too jumbled and surreal. You walk around in this hazing mist and while you see things around you, you are not where you are supposed to be. Think of being in your home but behind some sort of invisible barrier only you can see.
Many people have at least one major depressive episode during their lifetime. Usually these are caused by situations, like the loss of a family member. This is categorized as “situational depression”, yeah I know, piercing title. Anymore, as we have allowed our health care system to be coopted by the large corporations like Blue Cross, HCA and Big Pharma there are resources like the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. This is the reference guide put forth by the American Psychiatric Association. It began is the mid 150s at 125 pages, or so, and now you just have to weigh it. The list of disorder is mind boggling (yes, I intended that), so much so that it doesn’t make any sense, or much anyway. A friend of mine is a practicing psychiatrist and he and another professional, a friend, published 2 articles in some reference journal 10 years apart. Their thesis was that they could employ linear regression to predict the next edition’s color, weight, length and number of newly discovered disorders. Here, reader, is 2 shrinks giving the high, hard one to the establishment. I know the one gentleman and I can tell you he is the finest psychiatrist I have ever met and talked to. His 2 biggest assets, besides being very smart, is his empathy and his common sense. You know, people can be brilliant, highly educated, or both and have no sense. This is a common problem and one written about by Descartes in the early 1600s. I’m sure he got the idea from both watching and probably earlier works, so we know it’s not a modern problem.
I know Van Gough up close and personal. I have tried to pull myself up by my bootstraps many times. That is bullshit made up by people who like dismissing any medical condition they can’t see. Hard to see your brains going in fucked up circles on an x-ray. In the western world, the treatment of choice, the modality, is to administer neuro-chemical drugs. This is consistent with a theory called chemical imbalance and one that, I believe, has no clear science driven, proven basis. That’s not to say that neuro-transmitters like serotonin are not in play but to what degree and exactly how all that works is unknown. Even Big Pharma admits that, look on the insert sheet on, say, Prozac and it will say somewhere that the mechanism of action is unknown.
This leads me to believe that Big Pharma found some compounds, figured out what they appeared to have an effect on and then built a disease model around them. Depression meds and their extended family, drugs like atypical antipsychotics, are huge business. Huge is the billions of dollars, yes, the big B. The class of meds like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are routinely prescribed and yet we see these affective disorders doing an upward exponential spiral upward like the incidence of Breaking News on Cable TV. I mean, watch any cable news channel and the crawl at the bottom reels off breaking news non-stop. So and so got fucked up and smashed his fancy car or groped his assistant, big news there. That’s not to suggest those are good things, not at all. But that kind of thing hardly constitutes world shaping events, come on now.
This leads into a bigger rant, one for another time. A conversation of how the United States, the richest and most powerful country on the planet, has somehow allowed its healthcare system to be raped by a few large and powerful interests. It’s basically the insurance companies, the drug companies and the large hospital companies. Illness and death are big, big money. So big that there are those large interests that routinely kill people for money. Health cannot be patented and the only way to grow the industry is to have more things to take drugs for and treat and to sell drugs to healthy people. Again, for a later time.
I believe that a lot of what we see is the result of psychiatric drugs being introduced to children at younger and younger ages. Since nobody knows the ‘mechanism’ of action, what are those psychoactive comounds doing to kid’s brains? The only thing you can quantify there is how many units were sold and how many dollars where transferred to some big pharma company. The second largest contributing factor is the ever increasing over whelm we have in our wireless, electronic society. Email really produces nothing and used as an excuse for actual progress. With a simple click, people can bug the shit out of thousands of other people and then lean back with the smug sense of accomplishment.
That’s depressing. Coming soon is a continuation of how America got the blues and living and dying in the USA is one big ATM for a very few moneyed interests.
Until then, stay away from Jack and Jimmy and turn off that smart phone, at least for a few hours a day….