Friday, November 16, 2018

Today is a Good Day To Die


“I do not cling to life sufficiently to fear death.” ― Alexandre Dumas,The Three Musketeers

In a previous posting, I took a piss on the "homeless" people in New Orleans, who use dogs as begging props.  As I noted in that posting, the real tragedy isn't the inconvenience these folks pose to the rest of us, but that they are squandering the best years of their lives on a stupid endeavor:
"The real tragedy is that these kids are throwing their lives away in an orgy of self-pity and drug abuse. They are at the age where, under normal circumstances, they would be getting their first apartment, their first job, falling in love, and getting married - and possibly having children. These are all wonderful things that will be denied to them. That's what made me sad.  It's not that they are needy - in America people don't starve to death. They have enough food to eat, enough drugs to consume, and even a cellphone and a dog."
Sadly, most people, particularly in America, squander their lives in a similar fashion.  Perhaps we all do - none of us lives up to our potential.   But at least most of us manage to support ourselves and achieve at least some of the wonderful things life has to offer - particularly in America.

This tragedy is also problematic for the mentally ill.  As I noted before, having mentally ill people live on the streets or in their parents' basement isn't funny anymore.  Many of these "harmless kooks" attack people - often other homeless people - and injure or kill others.  Or they themselves are killed.  Or the mentally ill son living in the basement starts collecting guns (in one case, his Mom actually bought the gun for him!) and they go off on shooting sprees.

Sorry, but this isn't funny anymore - more and more people are losing empathy for these "less fortunate" souls who are as dangerous as hand grenades with the pin pulled out.

In another recent post, I was whining about how Obamacare is a hassle to deal with.  Getting concrete information on what your plan covers or doesn't cover is nearly impossible to do - the agencies and insurance companies are prime information hoarders and don't want to let out any hard data - by design.   Throw in bug-filled websites, bureaucracies and stodgy company structures, and it is frustrating and induces anxiety. Do I actually have coverage?  What will it cover?  Will I lose my coverage if I make too much or too little?  Will I have to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies if this happens?  Obamacare was supposed to put peoples' minds at ease and relieve us of this stress.  It was supposed to make health care cheaper.   Instead, it cranks up the stress - each year, you have to re-sign up, within an increasingly narrow deadline, on a website that often crashes. 

Anxiety can consume us.  And I thought about this as we were driving into town.  A friend of ours is now a widow.   Her husband was mowing the lawn and he collapsed and died of a heart attack - three months shy of retirement.   I thought about this and it put my petty and trivial problems in perspective - and made me glad I had chosen to retire early and also travel and see Alaska, even if it is just one big tourist trap populated by end-times nutjobs and Sarah Palin (I am being redundant, I know).  I decided to let go and not worry about the health insurance - or anything else, for that matter.

The financial pages (particularly MSN) likes to harp on "you'll run out of money in retirement!" and "you should work until age 70!" which are mantras our corporate overlords want us to repeat. Borrow more, spend it all now, and never retire!   Those FIRE people are idiots!  You need $5M to retire, if ever!

But of course, they are wrong.  Even if my small hoard of cash lasts only 20 years, that would put me at age 78, which is the average life expectancy in America.   Given my health situation and genetics, I think that wouldn't be such a bad deal to live that long.   But of course, I can expect that my small hoard of cash will last longer than that, unless I develop a gambling habit.   And seeing how life is into the 90's, I am not sure I want those last few years, frankly.  As Woody Allen put is, "I'm not afraid of death, I just don't want to be around when it happens!"

Living on retirement island, we see death more firsthand.  It is sad, scary, and ugly.   Kids like to go to horror movies, but old people despise them - they are living them and don't need to be reminded how nasty death is.  My friend the widow not only has to deal with the grief and sadness of losing her husband, she had to deal with the horror-show of finding his body dead on the lawn.   Half of all spouses have to see their loved one die and it ain't pretty.   Then there is the financial nightmare of what to do, now that a big chunk of social security and pension money is now missing.  Being a widow is no Swiss picnic!

But I thought about this - how the realization of my eventual death put my present anxiety and depression (over spending a half-day on the phone and Internet dealing with Obamacare) in perspective.   My problems were trivial compared to the ultimate problem.   And once you accept this - and your inevitable demise - life is a lot less stressful.   Things we think are important are, well, less important than they seem.  In fact, much of what we obsess about, really isn't important at all.

And I thought about the people I've known in life who have mental illness.  Many have anxiety disorders or place undue importance on their emotions and feelings and as a result, squander most of their lives worrying about stuff when they could be enjoying stuff.  And maybe a chemical imbalance makes it so they can't help themselves.   Or maybe it is a spiral of negative thinking.  And maybe this spiral is aided and abetted by the press and the politicans, who wants us to obsess about "the news" and politics and the economy and jobs and terrorists and migrant caravans - or fill-in-the-blank on the outrage du jour.

Think about it - how many of these nutjobs who go off with a gun were obsessed about politics or their inability to get laid, or their general anger at other people who are actually happy and successful in life?   They are so "in touch" with their emotions, they fail to see the larger picture - that none of what we think is important really is all that important, in the greater scheme of life.

A friend who has anxiety attacks - panic attacks - relates that when they occur, they feel they are choking and can't breath.  They have this feeling of doom hanging over their head - that they are going to die.  And they freak out.   This fear of death is so intense, it prevents them from living.

And it is weird.  They are afraid of something that is inevitable.   And yes, panic attacks are no joke, and no, you can't necessarily control these electrical storms in your brain (except perhaps with medication).   But again, I am not "mad" at the mentally ill for being mentally ill.  I merely respect the fact that they can be as dangerous as a loaded handgun (and particularly so when carrying one) and even dangerous to your soul, if you try to form a relationship with a mentally ill person.  Sadly, when that person is your parent or sibling (check, check) you often don't have a choice in this matter, until you turn age 18 and can move away (sadly, many folks don't, caught in a long-term dance of death with a mentally ill family member.)

I also "feel sorry" for them in that they - like the "homeless" beggars on the street (who are often in the same subset) are missing out on so much in life.   I don't feel sorry for their condition, but for what they are missing.  To be mentally ill is to mean you may miss out on happiness, love, relationships, forming your own family, having an enjoyable vocation, or indeed, having anything.

Now granted, some succeed in spite of this handicap.  In fact, some of the greatest achievers in the world often have some mental handicap to overcome.  But these are often the exception, not the rule.

Another friend has a daughter who is mentally ill.  At an age where she should be starting her career and dating and maybe thinking about having babies and buying a house, she is locked up in a halfway house - denied access to the Internet or even phones.  Her own parents have restraining orders against her.  When off her meds, she gets violent and makes threats or even attacks people, including family members.  Sort of reminds me of my dear old Mom, who got quite stabby when she went into a fugue state.

Whether she will ever be able to live a normal life remains to be seen.  It is a familiar pattern to me, having seen it in friends, roommates, boyfriends, girlfriends, and family members.  They go on their "meds" which make them behave more normally.   But once on the "meds" they feel fine and think, "I don't need this medication anymore, I'm cured!" and also the meds often have side-effects, so there is incentive to stop taking them.  So they stop taking their medication and the paranoid delusions start coming back, and before long, there is some sort of incident where the the Police are called, and with any luck, they are re-institutionalized, put back on their medications, and the process is repeated - yet again.

And many spend their short lives (and they are often foreshortened) doing this again and again - maybe a dozen times or more.   It is nothing short of cruelty.   They get one step ahead and then fall two steps behind.  Only in a controlled environment could they advance any amount at all.  But today, once a "client" is stabilized, they are handed a pill bottle and let go onto the streets.

And that, in short, is where a lot of these homeless people come from.  And it is very sad, for them, and for the rest of us as well.   It is sad to see life squandered and potential snuffed out.

UPDATE:  While I was typing this, we received a text message from another friend, who has had to take her husband off life support.   And to think I was upset because I had to deal with a shitty government website!  Life is short.  Live it to the fullest.  It doesn't last forever.  Stop fearing death and start living life.