Friday, June 26, 2009

The Allure of the Comfort Zone

After many years of enduring criticism from others that I am too often indiscreet, impolitic, or insensitive, I am forced to wonder whether or not these observations have merit. The verdict on this score is swift—and sure: those who see me as a brazenly inappropriate envelope-pusher of social norms are spot on correct.

Conformity—or worse yet, behaving like a predictable automaton—is very overrated. Trading witticisms is a poor substitute for meaningful communication. The truth is most people do not want to be nudged from their cozy comfort zones. They go through each day clinging to convention, holding on to the familiar, never daring to be real or intimate for fear that someone might actually give them something real or intimate in return. Then what would they do?

My own propensity to rock the proverbial boat is mild by the standards of the real boat-rockers among us—true artists who live for the opportunity to dismantle the status quo. My personal knack for rattling the sensibilities of others pales in comparison to those who possess the more serious tools of social insurrection—those who are truly creative at the art of fomenting discomfort: the artists, musicians, movie-makers, writers, comedians and others who are obsessed with defying convention and conquering indifference.

What is often perceived as a lack of judgment is ironically a deliberate exercise in a judgment of a different kind, one which challenges the norms we usually hold with dutiful deference. If success comes just once every ten times we dare ask another to peer through a prism other than the one which colors their own comfort zone, it is well worth it.

There are those who are naturally intimate. Possessed of a simplicity of spirit most of us can only admire, they seem a little happier; they seem a little sadder. In short, they seem more in touch with their own emotions, readily giving hugs, kisses and saying 'I love you' as they remind the rest of us to resist—the allure of the comfort zone.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

One Must Want Hept: A Feeble Myth

One of the most erroneous assumptions of mental health care is the idea that until someone is of the mind that he or she actually wants help, nothing can - or should - be done. This notion is inaccurate, misguided and impractical.

The point being missed is that the state of being which compels one not to seek help in the face of serious illness is itself a condition which should be seen as a mental health anomaly worthy of attention. Admittedly, this state can be even more challenging than what is often seen in a crisis. Not only are there the underlying effects of the illness itself, but other factors including denial, pride, and the fear of stigma further complicate matters.

From my own experience with crisis intervention, group therapy, etc., I've come across many people who plainly did not want to be immersed in the infrastructure of the mental health care system. They did not want help, and often believed they did not need help. Judging by what I saw of their symptoms and behavior, however, it was clear these people were right where they belonged.

At the very least, advocacy is always a worthwhile option. Doing nothing is not without consequence. Much as we hate to admit it, we fail miserably in our duty to our fellow man when we stand idly by and watch him self destruct. Sadly, it has become the way of things. A most specious reasoning has perverted our priorities; a self-before-others mentality has corrupted our instinct to give. How ironic and sad that apathy has assumed 'enlightened' status.

In a world where people aspire to indifference, something is very wrong.

Good Bye, Davey

Some people don't make a big splash in life. They meander their way through the ups and downs in a sort of honorable anonymity. Rolling with the punches. Going with the flow. A reserved nature their most telling trait - or so it seems. But beneath their seemingly disinterested facades, the quiet types poignantly remind us that everyone's life is a story worth telling.

My brother David's journey had an auspicious beginning. He was fun-loving, energetic and productive. Dave especially enjoyed the outdoors. So much so he often "commuted" to work at the Connecticut Yankee Power Plant upriver from where he once lived via his trusty old canoe.

Dave's struggles began when the decommissioning of Connecticut Yankee left him without a job. The loss seemed to take the wind out of his sails. He struggled to find his way. It wasn't long before hopelessness set in, and loneliness and despair became his emotional nemeses.

By the most meaningful measure of success, however - the ability to love - Dave somehow managed to excel. He found a purpose amid the turmoil. He seemed to sense that being there - at least for one other person - was one sure way to be there for himself. Dave committed to regular day trips and visits with another person in need, his dear brother Vinny. For every sunset he and Vinny shared at Mystic Harbor, a moment in time became their reason to be alive. In a joyful symbiosis, they sustained one another with brotherly love.

Over matched by life's demands for some time, and living with a loneliness too bitter to even confront, Dave proved all too human in his struggles to cope and survive. Alcoholism is, after all, a most insidious disease. Yet somehow he always managed a smile and a selfless query about the well-being of those who were important to others. And when inquired of his own state of well-being, in the face of ominous evidence to the contrary, Dave always revealed a willingness to put on his best face. "Hey, Willy. I'm doin' great. How're you doin'?" You'll understand, Davey, if I didn't always believe you.

If there was a way to find dignity and purpose amid the chaos and suffering, David surely found it. Such was the resilience of his remarkable spirit.

We will sorely miss you and your gentle ways. Thank you for being such a good brother. Good Bye, Davey.

David Michael Cooney
Born February 20, 1954 • Died June 9, 2009
"Rest in Peace"