We’ve come a long way, crazy…

As recently as the mid-20th Century, psychiatry was in its infancy. A lot of ideas had to be thrown out, shot down and discredited before scientific, medical and therapeutic practice became humane and effective. Therefore it is perhaps normal to note that a few hundred years ago, some pretty whacked out notions were accepted as fact.

Nonetheless, it might surprise you to know just what were believed at the time to be the major causes of mental illness. In 1805, the leading French authority on the subject, Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol published his seminal work; Les Passions considérées comme causes, symptômes et moyens curatifs de l’aliénation mentale.

‘The Passions considered as Causes, Symptoms & Cures of Mental Instability’.

Esquirol essentially believed that all psychological ailments derived from ‘passions within the soul’ rather than from ludicrous notions like hereditary biological conditions or environmental factors. He also was convinced that no form of madness could fully and/or permanently affect a patient’s reason.

Wanna know what the ten most common causes of insanity were, according to this quack?

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TOP TEN CAUSES OF MADNESS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

1. Moving into a new home

Pretty stressful, granted, but would you really believe that such an experience could cause someone to completely lose their shit? Maybe if they’d just moved into the house in Poltergeist, that’s probably the only way this could happen.

2. Squeezing a pimple

So adolescence, basically? Ok, I can buy that. Unless…unless you’re seriously suggesting that the mere act of popping just one spot leads to…ah. That’s exactly what you’re saying. How big would that zit have to be? Is the pus your sanity, in this metaphor-taken-literally? You know what, scratch that. Some things man was not meant to know.

3. Old age

Alright yeah, we kinda still believe this one. Next!

4. Childbirth

Well, there is Post-Natal Depression so…partial credit? Give ya a pass on this one too, Jean-Étienne.

5. The Menstrual Cycle

Not touching this with a fucking barge pole…

6. Shrinkage of haemorrhoids

You just know he was venting, don’t ya; “These things are driving me CRAZY – oh yes, that’ll do…” Only thing is, why would the shrinking, in particular, cause people to go off their rocker? I mean, logically – and I’m using the word ‘logically’ extremely loosely, I know – wouldn’t you become more unhinged the larger the haemorrhoids got? Do…do people with haemorrhoids become insecure if their dangly grapes lose their vim? Urgh. Just… Urgh.

7. Misuse of mercury

Shit, what’s the correct use of mercury? Can you be a bit more specific? I mean, if you eat it then, yeah, madness is probably the least of your worries… Were people snorting the stuff at this time? Using it as an acceptable substitute for salt? We’re talking about a time when lead-based cosmetics were used by fucking everyone, so nothing is beyond the realms of possibility here. Maybe they were using it to beef up their ‘roids…

8. Disappointment in love

D’awwwwwwwwww…

9. Masturbation

Wankers are nuts, no doubt. It probably didn’t help that French shrinks were watching them perform the act, though.

10. Bloodletting

‘Sure’, you might think, ‘Self-harm is a signifier of torment and distress, they were on to something there.’ Ah, but you see, standard practice at the time was to treat individuals adjudged to be of unsound mind…with bloodletting. So you can imagine the confusion this last entry caused, as the medical community still believed that cutting someone and letting some liquid drain out was a foolproof cure for psychological trauma.

Sums it up, doesn’t it? A bunch of nonsense, and the only objection most psychiatrists in the early 19th century had was that Esquirol was being a bit harsh on the benefits of bloodletting.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Raw Nerves

You don’t know what it’s like in my head, living every day afraid. That’s no fault of yours, it’s just a statement of fact. Unless you’re a psychic or something…and I’m reasonably sure that they don’t exist. Given that reality, I’m going to try providing some insight into the total mess of neuroses that is my daily existence.

I don’t know who would read this, or want to read this. Maybe nobody. Maybe a few people, though God alone knows why. Might it help someone? Probably not. Possibly me. It might even hurt somebody, triggers being what they are.

In Carrie, Laurie Piper’s repeated line sums up the main fear of yours truly; “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” Suffering humiliation. Betraying ignorance. Being ridiculed. You get so, so angry when made to feel this way. It’s always there – the threat. You never escape it entirely. You can be on cloud nine and the slightest, most insignificant event sends you tumbling into the abyss.

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You’re in a pan on a cooker, the heat of which is turned up a little more with every derisive look…every verbal put-down…every mocking cackle… You simmer. You bubble. You boil. Eventually, apparently out of nowhere as far as onlookers are concerned, you spill over…into rage.

This is known as the Fight-or-Flight response. Mental Health practitioners and anyone suffering with a wide variety of mental illnesses will recognise it as a common experience of those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Never been diagnosed with that myself, I’m GAD & proud…and in any case, my idiosyncratic response is more Fight-and-Flight; I briefly lash out, then flee the scene. Charming, I’m sure. For all concerned.

Why would anyone put themselves – never mind others, the potential unwitting victims – through this?

Vent over.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters… ;

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Nostalgia for the Never-was

(Inspired by the work of Laurent Kronental, in particular this photograph)

Dregs. Scum. Rabble. Undesirables. Canailles.

Guillaume hated them all with a dour passion. His hatred had not made him become a gendarme, but it had kept him one through the subsequent years of thankless state service. When he achieved the rank of Inspecteur, he paid lip service to the notion of going after the power behind the streets – the organised criminal hierarchies who played the common thugs like marionettes – but such idealistic claims were far removed from his real aims. In short, he wanted to lock up every single clochard and malfrat he could get his hands on. It was they who he blamed for sullying the alleys and boulevards of his once-spotless locality. It was they who would draw the full force of his ire.

Glumly mulling over such feelings, Inspector Guillaume Ouvrier was unaware that the thoughts of loathing had painted an expression of sneering disgust across his face. Thus, any passers-by who walked past the towering flats and happened to look up through the second floor window would catch a glimpse of a most intimidating visage. Ouvrier was pushing sixty, and his work had aged his features so that he looked at least a decade older, but he wore a fearsome countenance underneath his dark brown fedora with its thick black hatband. His messy mop of white hair was just visible around the tips of his ears, and though eternally clean-shaven he had the craggy, lined face of an old sea dog. Though blessed with big blue eyes, his permanent squint of disdain lessened their attractiveness quite a bit. To call his demeanour ‘frosty’ would be akin to describing the Antarctic as ‘cool’.

The dull-witted Lieutenant Student rushed back into the living room, as if burdened with explosive news, but Ouvrier knew the rookie well enough at this stage to know that this was simply down to the naive officer’s inability to discern information that was useful from that which was useless. Snapping to attention – as if on the parade ground, noted Ouvrier derisively – he began to speak, before being immediately interrupted by his superior.

“Sir, I’ve just-”

“I’m sure you have, garçon. Any chance at all that whatever-it-is that you have just done has any bearing whatsoever on our case?”

Mouth agape, eyes wide, cheeks blushing… The inexperience – or was it incompetence? – was writ large on the youngster’s face.

“Dismissed.”

“But sir-”

“GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!”

With his superior’s roar hot on his heels, the Lieutenant Student fled, cursing once more his misfortune in being seconded to this crazed detective.

Inspecteur Ouvrier turned back to the window, resuming his rumination. Though barely taking in all that was before him, he nonetheless gazed out over sights of utter magnificence. These buildings were architecturally daring, inspired by visions of the future that were extraordinary in their originality, and fearless in the unbound nature of their construction. Even the parks weaved around as if designed to mimic the rolling waves of the sea, while the apartment blocks surrounding them resembled grand cruise-liners from the age of steam. Futuristic novelty was everywhere, and yet…and yet…

Yet the inhabitants looked more like him; old, cantankerous, grizzled, aching. Nouveau et ancien. You would think that it would be the young, the bohemian, the artistic, the energetic…that those would be the ones drawn to such a unique environment. Mais non. The elderly and the frightened came to live here…because, in this district, they could depend on the police to uphold law and order with an iron fist. An iron fist that, in the case of Inspecteurs like Ouvrier, meant zero tolerance towards anyone who disturbed the peace.

Given that all the residents in the Victoire apartment block had been discovered dead that grey morning, it was fair to say that Guillaume Ouvrier’s peace was now thoroughly disturbed.

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Solidarité, fréres et soeurs…

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Shopping in Ancient Times

Excerpt from ‘Final Stores: Consumerism in the Pre-Internet Age’, Pietro Mulligan & Sascha Bordstrøm (eds.), 2150

In the era before ubiquitous home delivery services and DroneDrops™ made leaving the home to purchase goods an unnecessary inconvenience, consumers had to travel into a certain district, known as Retailia, in order to obtain the items they desired or required. Retailia was made up of numerous structures, called ‘shops’, which each specialised in a unique area of commerce; home entertainment, pharmaceuticals, plastic surgery, and so on. In these urban markets, people could purchase a variety of commodities with relative ease.

However, it soon became apparent that this was not enough. This was spotted by the great industrial entrepreneur Walton Debenham, who in 1955 invented the first ‘shopping mall’; the giant building, constructed out of necessity in the badlands of Beverly Hills, contained an array of boutiques under one roof. The idea, simplicity in itself, was to provide customers with a cathedral of capitalism, a prison from which the only escape was earned by the spending of cold, hard currency. Everything a person needed could be found among the various outlets, along an impressive amount of pure, unadulterated tat.

Often, these malls would have two or more levels, in order to increase capacity and choice, and the levels would be connected by moving staircases or ‘escalators’. These mobile steps would travel at soul-crushingly slow pace, and this in turn would induce a kind of mania in the mall-goers unfortunate enough to find themselves aboard.

Going to a shopping mall was therefore both unavoidable and incredibly distressing, as those who disliked crowds had no alternative but to brave the irksome throngs of fellow shoppers…

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ALL HAIL RETAILIA

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Dinner Improv

Cooking is pretty alien to me, and I avoid it if at all possible. However, circumstances have challenged me to concoct some sort of soup dish from the various odds an’ sods that are lying about my kitchen, so I guess I’d better get on with it. How does that Mercutio quote from Romeo & Juliet go again? Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me bent double over the toilet bowl.

As you might have gathered, I have no idea to make soup. So I just start with a pot of water on the stove, into which I pour a dollop of vegetable oil and hurl in a liberal amount of salt too. Definitely seen somebody do it on the telly for some reason, so it’s probably legit. We had some apples so I chopped ’em up an’ flung ’em in, then did more or less the same with an onion.

This didn’t really look like much so I chucked in sprinklings of any and all spices I could find in the presses; nutmeg, cayenne pepper, dill, paprika, you name it. On the basis that garlic hides a multitude of sins I ground up a bulb of that – do they come in bulbs? It looked pretty bulbous anyway – and tossed it into the bubbling brew.

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Yup, that looks fine. I’m almost positive it’s supposed to do that.

By this stage the mixture tasted impressively revolting, so I boiled the absolute shit out of it. None of that pansy-assed ‘simmer’ bollocks in my food preparation. Trusted strategy: If something tastes bad, cook it back to the stone age. Best case; the flavour is improved. Worst case; it becomes tasteless. Both would be improvements on my efforts.

The contents of the pan now appear to fix me with an accusatory stare, in a manner I imagine is akin to that of an unnatural abomination regarding its creator. What I’m going to have for dinner remains a question unresolved, but at least I now know exactly how Dr. Frankenstein felt upon bringing his horrendous creature to life.

Knew I should have ordered pizza.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Not Quite Sanguine III

My head was pretty messed up after facing up to that freakish intruder, so after a night of fitful almost-sleep I gathered my belongings and set off. ‘Fuck this town’, that’s the condensed version of what was going through my mind. Uncle Jurgen had a farm upstate, and I figured spending some time with his family might be just what I needed to lighten up and put everything behind me.

What’s that saying about bringing the weather with you?

The colour of the sky right beforehand, that’s what I recall the clearest. It had been a few days since my arrival and the TV forecast had mentioned nothing untoward, but that afternoon… The horizon was ablaze, the heavens all aglow, the Sun had almost set so you could make out the stars shining with ominous intensity. The whole world seemed to bask in the glory of a brilliant display of light an’ colour. It was breathtaking.

If you’d told me that this vista heralded an apocalyptic storm event, maybe something mighta been done…but then hindsight’s 20/20, ain’t it? Maybe I couldn’t have reacted properly event then. Maybe there really is nothing you can do in these circumstances… Fuck that – I can’t let myself off the hook with bullshit platitudes. Even a city boy like me shoulda recognised the warning signs in that skyline and, at the very least, run inside to tell Jurgen what was up.

Maybe then his son would be alive today.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Not Quite Sanguine II

Nothing happens the way you think it would.

It wasn’t the local authorities or Feds who figured out my condition first – how could they? There’s no paper trail or scent to follow; a one-hundred proof immune human doesn’t leave any marks to let you know he’s special. Truth be told, I didn’t even think I was that special. So I couldn’t get sick – so what? That underestimation of my uniqueness, along with the apparent unlikelihood of detection lulled me into a false sense of security.

I’d been out drinking, as per usual. Drinking without getting drunk. I don’t mean sodas, I mean…well, you know. With such a maddeningly efficient circulatory system, the alcohol could barely manage to get me tipsy before being wiped from my body altogether. Cheap date, huh?

Anyway, I heard the sound of bumping and crashing before I set one foot on the apartment block stairs. I’d been burgled before – it was a crappy part of town – so I knew the drill; you burst in, you yell, they curse, they drop everything, you throw ’em out, you realise they took any cash ya had around the place, you curse, you yell, everybody wins. Not this time.

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This time, the second I open the door, I see a feral woman – girl, really – on her knees, rummaging through my stash. That’s the syringes an’ whatever brown I still got lying around, kept underneath a floorboard behind a chest of drawers. She stopped and looked up with wild-eyed surprise, twitching and unkempt. She may have been startled, but this brazen broad clearly wasn’t interested in the drugs – after all, she’d found all my shit but was still diggin’ through my stuff.

I can’t tell how long we were frozen in place for, staring at each other. It felt eternal, kinda surreal too. It was me that flinched first, blurting out a, “What the hell – ” before she was on her feet an’ out the window in a flash, dropping two storeys like it was fucking nothin’, and BAM! Off running down the street like a jacked-up Olympic sprinter.

I never saw her again…but I’ve seen many like her.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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