Monday, September 06, 2010

James J Lee, Schizophrenia, and the Population Explosion

Old Yiddish Saying:  When things come in threes, it is likely they are blogworthy
 Yes, I made that up

I’m riding my bike to work, pass a woman in her ninth month talking to herself.  Surely she has a Bluetooth in her ear, but from my angle she really looks like she's talking to herself.

And just last week, after shopping, loading groceries into the trunk of my car, a friendly young man parked next to me remarks with a huge smile:
“I swear, I thought you had some kind of mental disorder, talking to yourself like that in the store. I thought, 

Someone should tell her kids! Do they even know!?'

Then I watched you, kind of followed you a bit, and I could see that you were okay, that you had to have been on the phone."
That's reassuring.  Not suffering from schizophrenia, just on the phone.  Thanks for your concern?

When I was a teenager, a mobile phone, or "communicator," was something that Spock used to reach McCoy, the stuff of science fiction,  the technology of Star Trek.  Off television, however, even to an untrained mental health observer, an animated conversation with an invisible other someone, indicated psychosis.  Something very wrong.

And it was a little scary, seeing that psychosis, for every once in awhile a person is going to see a naked person in the middle of the street, or someone walking, gesticulating wildly who is not on the phone. We are afraid of this because intuitively, we tend to be afraid of what we don't understand.

The irony is that the person with a psychotic disorder can be much more afraid, more anxious, fearful of invisible dangers, the voices speaking only to him, shrieking, spewing hate and rage, negativity.  And under the influence of fear, like most of us under stress, that person is capable of lashing out, usually to self-protect.

A couple of summers ago, riding home from work,  I caught the eye of a woman walking toward me.  She was on the sidewalk wearing mismatched brightly colored clothing.  (I'm drawn to bright colors like a moth to a light.)  When she sees me looking at her she flashes a ferocious glare; I feel the fire.  Then she spits as far as she can, misses me by a foot. Violent psychic energy, aggression.  Strike first.

Believe me, as soon as I caught that look in her eye, differential diagnoses were clear in my head.  I didn't need a DSM. 

A person with severe mental illness who is lashing out violently is more often than not doing so in self-defense.  She  might even be hearing threatening voices.  Tell everyone or you will die!  Show the world!  Make a difference!  You scum, prodigy of scum, you filthy human!  Show your worth!  Very rough on the sense of self, having your thoughts interrupted.  Most of us have trouble with our negative thoughts.  Magnify that intensity by fifty or a hundred.  That's how it is with very severe illness.

And we do have to be better at recognizing this, befriending people who are suffering, finding them resources.

James J. Lee, the gentleman who marched into the Discovery Channel building in Silver Spring, Maryland last week,  had explosives on his person.  He listed his demands on a blog.  He demanded that the Discovery Channel  agree to change its programming, that the station become more environmentally sensitive, more green, more inventive, proactive about population control. He thought humans filthy, babies the ultimate source of destructive pollution, the giraffes, the lions, benign.   From his blog: 
Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what's left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture.

. . .  It is the responsiblity of everyone to preserve the planet they live on by not breeding any more children who will continue their filthy practices. Children represent FUTURE catastrophic pollution whereas their parents are current pollution. NO MORE BABIES! Population growth is a real crisis. Even one child born in the US will use 30 to a thousand times more resources than a Third World child. It's like a couple are having 30 babies even though it's just one! If the US goes in this direction maybe other countries will too!

Also, war must be halted. Not because it's morally wrong, but because of the catastrophic environmental damage modern weapons cause to other creatures. FIND SOLUTIONS JUST LIKE THE BOOK SAYS! Humans are supposed to be inventive. INVENT, DAMN YOU!!

In therapy we might say, You sound angry.

Most of us don't need a prophet to know that our world is in trouble. The heat wave across these past two months should tell us something.

Back to our Neo-Yiddish, the threes.  We have:

(1) Many of us seeing schizophrenia everywhere, or so it seems, like new psych students who have just learned about different psychotic disorders,

(2)  Some of us impulsively labeling James J. Lee soon after the Discovery Channel lock-down last week.  It was suggested, in that short post, that students study his blog, Save the Planet Protest, and the news stories that unwittingly review the variables that perhaps contributed to his last selfless act, for he was gunned down before he hurt anyone, i.e., homelessness.

Down came the post before most of you read it, for after all, James J. Lee's disorder did not have to be schizophrenia.  He might have suffered from a different psychosis.  The blogger feared activists and nihilists who might misinterpret remarks, and she had no emotional energy to argue.  The psychic energy that can be characteristic of psychosis, untreated, is remarkable.  The psychic energy that can be devoted to a cause, not all that dissimilar-- without a psychotic disorder.  No need for resistance exercises at the gym.

Mr. Lee will be remembered, at least by me, as the Angry Prophet of Doom.

Then, a few hours after taking down the post, I called a friend for book suggestions, started reading   (3) One Thousand White Women, The Journals of May Dodd.  Libraries are full of good things.

What is this?  One Thousand White Women is a novel by Jim Fergus about life in the United States in 1876 (really 1854).  The Cheyenne, determined to make peace with urban sprawl and the pollution of white men, offered Ulysses S. Grant an option for assimilating the red-faced with the pale-faced. 

Suffice it to say that it is a biological solution and I just can't spoil it for you.  I just started the book, but it is captivating and very funny.  And then there's this quote!

Little Wolf, the Sweet Medicine Chief , is speaking to a specially appointed commission of Congress on behalf of the Cheyenne:
The People are a small tribe, smaller than either the Sioux or the Arapaho; we have never been numerous because we understand that the earth can only carry a certain number of the People, just as it can only carry a certain number of the bears, the wolves, the elks, the pronghorns, and all the rest of the animals. For if there are too many of any animal, this animal starves until there is the right number again. We would rather be few in number and have enough for everyone to eat, than be too many and all starve.
He goes on to say that for this reason his children must become members of the white man's tribe, thus offers his modest proposal.

His ideas about population growth, actually, are not all that different from Mr. Lee's.

So what makes Little Wolf an environmentalist and Mr. Lee a person suffering from schizophrenia, a man who just thought he was an environmentalist?

Little Wolf contains his anger, is very controlled, even when the men on Capital Hill practically throw him and his entourage on a train back west, rejecting his amazing suggestion.  He's tried to be empathetic, to give the white man the benefit of the doubt.  He is educable, this white man.  An empath, Little Wolf is highly evolved.

The Sweet Medicine Chief reaches out to a culture clearly foreign to him, a people who leave a wake of upheaval and destruction, who ravage fields and the habitat; a people out of touch with the balance of nature, uninterested in learning, particularly, capable, the Cheyenne believe, of empathy and change.

Quite a book.

Unfortunately, without that-- lose empathy, lose the ability to intuit the feelings of others, and lose the sensitivity it takes to look within, to see the enemy inside, rather than blame, and we're all clueless, out of touch.  Or more to the point, sick like  James J. Lee,  spewing hatred and negativity on his blog in an insular psychotic rage. 

We don't know if Mr. Lee had been treated for the illness, or even if he heard voices. We don't know and never will, probably, if anyone told him to call attention to the problem of population growth and the destructive nature of human beings, or not. But he probably had it, 295.30, Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type. A tough disorder to live with, or another delusional psychosis.

I know it like in the same way that I know why that woman spat at me when our eyes met.

And what that means, I guess, is that as a society we've got to be doing more to recognize and help people who have mental illness.  No, I don't know how.  But we've got to try to do more.

Lee's website:

And the Discovery Channel, Discovery Communications



Isle Dance said...

I've not seen anything about this Mr. Lee situation yet, so this is interesting to read.


Because what he said in his blog, I've heard some (angry, abusive men) say. But they didn't strap on explosives or hear any voices in their head. Well, except for their own ego.

Does this just mean they were angry and abusive? Spewing their baggage around?

Isle Dance said...

Or were they schizophrenic??

therapydoc said...

No, no, no. And part of the reason I hesitated to write about this subject is that I worried people would over-diagnose schizophrenia.

There's a post on the side bar under diagnoses that gives a much broader outline of the disorder.

Ricercar said...

Loved the story about the chief. Interesting point you made about the energy of psychosis. I shall go off look that up now :-)

Isle Dance said...

Oh...I should have looked that up in detail before asking. Oops. Thanks. :o)

Anonymous said...

My best friend is Schizophrenic and finally this year he has found the help he needs but it took a number of crisis events to convince him to accept help fro m medical professionals and he is now enrolled in university .

CatatonicKid (aka Kate White) said...

Neo-Yiddish! Doc, you crack me up. ;) Yeah, yeah, I was there already. LOL

"we do have to be better at recognizing this, befriending people who are suffering, finding them resources."

Yes, I like this word befriending. For as you say, there is a certain kind of warmth missing in their hearts, in their knowing, and they can't find it again without us.

Have been wandering along to UK Mental Health Blogger meet-ups of late. We talk about these things:

How important they are. How they've saved our lives, and how the lack of such has claimed too many others!

DaMomma said...

Therapy Doc -- your blog is awesome and I like the new format. You don't have a contact option. I am following you on Twitter and would DM you there if you follow me back. Alternatively, you could go to my contact page: Of course, maybe you don't correspond with readers, and I get that too.

Thanks for the great posts!

DaMomma said...

Therapy Doc -- your blog is awesome and I like the new format. You don't have a contact option. I am following you on Twitter and would DM you there if you follow me back. Alternatively, you could go to my contact page: Of course, maybe you don't correspond with readers, and I get that too.

Thanks for the great posts!

Mound Builder said...

I remember quite a few years ago, when I guess people started using ear buds, talking on invisible phones. The first time I was in the grocery store and my thought was wow, someone talking to herself, maybe she is mentally ill. Yet there was nothing about the way she was talking that seemed mentally ill, other than that she appeared to be talking to herself. Over the next couple of months there were a few others I saw and then I started figuring out that people were talking on a phone that was invisible to me. I thought it was funny when I realized that's what was going on because up until then I'd thought there was a real spike in the number of schizophrenics around and couldn't figure out what accounted for it.

In my neighborhood, there used to be a woman I'm reasonably certain was paranoid schizophrenic. She wandered the neighborhood talking to herself, scowling. Sometimes she stood on a main street near my home, hurling small rocks at passing cars, sometimes wearing a metallic silver trenchcoat and a sombrero, other times waving a Greek flag. One time she stopped and talked to me, all about a white cat and apparently feeling persecuted by it. I did feel sympathy/empathy for her but I also felt very cautious. I'd had just enough past experience to know that whatever was going on inside her, I didn't want to inadvertently trigger her, make her afraid, have her lashing out at me. In general, when I walked and our paths crossed, I tried not to look at her at all. She was usually spewing a lot of very negative stuff, angry, swearing. I haven't seen her now for about three years. I used to sometimes see the police at the home where she lived with her family. I've wondered what happened to her.

Years and years ago, way back in the early seventies, I had a boyfriend whose brother was paranoid schizophrenic. He'd been diagnosed at a very young age, around 14. And there were periodic crises during the four years or so I was a part of that family's life. One of them was particularly scary, a psychotic break. He was threatening to everyone. My then boyfriend's mother directed me to take her two young daughters and go to my apartment with them to keep them safe while she called the police who came and took him away. My boyfriend and I visited him in various places over those several years--state mental hospital and private psychiatric units. A few years ago, after spending a number of years managing to say sober, he apparently went back to his drugging and drinking ways and either accidentally killed himself or did it on purpose. It had been hard to keep him on medications, I do remember that, that he'd get better enough that he'd decide to stop taking them. He might have been a danger to others but I think the more common thing with paranoid schizophrenics is just what happened to him, that he was most likely to be harmful to himself. It's a pretty sad illness. Wish there were some way of knowing why it happens and then stopping it.

And thanks for the book suggestion. Sounds interesting. I've added it to my list of books to read.

therapydoc said...

Thanks all, and Ricercar,sure, look it up, and thanks for the idea, DaMomma, I think I added the contact info on the side. The whole page thing, however, threw me.

Any Yiddish, Catatonic, preferable to none.

Moundbuilder-- you really did a lot to add to this post! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen Whale Wars? It's a TV program about environmental militant/terrorists who are on this bizarre mission to save the whales by engaging in violent actions. It's a ridiculous show because it oks terrorism at sea.

There is no talk about mental illness on the show, however the adults filmed talk in depth about how they have been 'called' to protect these animals/save the earth. Perhaps they hear voices, maybe they feel related to the whales, maybe they are just out for their 15 minutes of fame, we'll never know because that question is never asked. They are often angry and filmed hurling bottles of stink bombs onto suspected whaling vessels, they have been filmed physically attacking both the ships and crewmen of other vessels, and they are seen screaming tirades about their cause. In short, their behavior is not much different from James J Lee.

I know you were fearful of overdiagnosing paranoid schizophrenia, but would you also call this type of behavior symptom of a much larger mental disorder such as schizophrenia?

Syd said...

What James Lee wrote is pretty much the truth. But he acted on his rage because of mental illness, I suspect. The planet will still be here. We as humans probably won't be, or will be very different, a thousand years from now. Who is listening though? Most people just care about today or next weekend. Most simply shrug and say, I'll be dead in a thousand years so who cares? Maybe he was an angry prophet.

therapydoc said...

Right Syd, that he was. I wish people cared more, too.

Kellen said...

I love what you say about the tortured psychotic. This is so, so true. New research is also starting show a very high correlation between extreme trauma as a child and Schizophrenia as an adult. This makes your point even more salient. The demons in their minds are incredible - and usually aimed at themselves.

Regarding Lee, I have to wonder if he was not simply a self-righteous fanatic. The energy behind self-righteousness can be enormous, and venomous. I'm thinking of other suicide bombers who would not be called psychotic, but perhaps fanatical.

I agree we should avoid diagnosing every person and every action, especially when we weren't there and didn't know him.

Anonymous said...

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Is this possible?

Marie said...

I can identify with several points in your post, although not, thank goodness, with schizophrenia.

When this incident occurred, all I could thing was how much pain that man had been in. It is a miracle that he did not kill anyone else and thank God for that. To us he was 'crazy' but to him, he was suffering horribly. Like so many of these often deadly situations, it demonstrates the huge gap that the seriously mentally ill fall into in this country.

On a light note, the first time I saw a woman talking on her hands-free phone in the supermarket, I also thought she was psychotic. lol

And when I was in nursing school we did our psychiatric rotation in a huge state mental hospital. I used that "you sound angry" line on someone who was beginning to melt down. It did not go over well. As a matter of fact, he lunged for my throat. lol Looking back all these years later, I don't blame him. Talk about stating the obvious. lol

I found your blog through Brass and Ivory and I am glad I did.