At fifteen I sat on a bed in my aunt’s house in Las Vegas. It was the summer of 1995. To my right was a window overlooking the construction of the Stratosphere Casino. In front of me was a wall-length, floor-to-ceiling mirrored closet. I stared at the reflection of my facial expression, which was masked by a synthetic formula designed to mimic a conglomerate’s idea of how a healthy human brain should function. I was high on Paxil, a psychoactive prescription medication with the molecular formula of C19H20FNO.HCI. I could not see myself in the reflection of that Las Vegas closet mirror door. Instead, I saw a teenage girl on legal government dope. Now, 24 years later, with a total of 12 psychotherapeutic prescriptions ingested throughout my lifetime, I’m still examining what our culture deems as mental illness.
Every human being in the United States is born into society with set guidelines for the allowance of acceptance and love. Our livelihood is dependent on our personality, gender, sexual orientation, mental condition, beauty, income and the color of our skin. Success in America is—and always has been—a rat race. However, the mirage of the American Dream masks a modern death trap. Within the last decade, wealthy celebrities such as Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Chester Bennington have fallen victim to suicide. Leelah Alcorn, an American transgender teen, walked in front of a truck in 2014. Kaleif Browder took his life in 2015; he was held at Rikers Island for three years before his case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.
In 2018 the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 19.1 percent of the American adult population of 327.2 million underwent treatment for mental illness. I find it unfathomable that a fifth of the national populace is deemed mentally ill. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM, is the psychiatric bible used by the medical and mental health field to diagnose and assign treatment to those believed to be suffering mental affliction. Its most recent edition was published in 2013 and is still being utilized by mental health professionals around the globe. It does not account for vitamin deficiency, brain injury, diabetes, thyroid health, brain tumor, the psychological trauma of emotional abuse, the throes of modern society or the trauma of rape or violence in those experiencing symptoms of mental illness.
Every morning, a fifth of our country’s population wakes up and pops a legally prescribed psychotropic pill that reminds us that the problems we face are all in our own thinking. The rest head down to the corner to score nearly the same molecular form of synthetic psychotropic in the form of street drugs. Both are mirrored methods of easing the symptoms of madness. Meanwhile, we’re led to believe that the drain on society is the person copping dope on the corner. In a world that has grossly restricted the societal parameters of human acceptance, one must ask if suicide is self-harm or more accurately death from above, a method of self-executed murder at the hands of those financially, morally and ethically in charge of the well-being of every citizen in the United States.
I hear frequently that all of contemporary society’s ills stem from a loss of faith in God. When you step back and trace the events of American history, however, you can’t help but ask yourself, “What god are our political leaders worshipping?” I’m not sure I know anyone who isn’t quietly reeling from a loss of hope while we examine the reality of political trench warfare here at home. The business of American death by suicide is a lucrative commodity because the business of mental health has turned into a very profitable venture globally. The tribal Native Americans smoked a peace pipe, danced and sang spiritual songs while a medicine woman cured what ailed with plants grown in the earth. And the tribe held each other up and walked through grief while they wailed together. Where is your tribe?
The basis of religion and spirituality around the world is kindness, both to people and to the earth. Kindness is free. You will not find it in tithing, or tax levies or paychecks. Kindness is a conversation. Kindness is a meal. Kindness is the word “love” spray-painted on a city overpass. Kindness is a courtesy wave in heavy traffic. Kindness is Saturday evening, when you invite all of the neighbors over for a barbeque simply because they are your neighbors.
There is no joy in the emotional taxation of being human. Our government overlords are too busy chasing a paper dollar to notice that the most mortal sin is making a commodity of people and the earth. We are all simply in need of a heavy dose of acceptance and love. Only when our leaders begin to make a soul effort to promote unity and to completely overhaul the methods of addressing mental illness will we begin to see the world spin in the right direction. Until then, turn on some music, go outdoors, and say hello to a neighbor. Mix it up tomorrow and repeat. Because that, my friends, is soul food.