Since I began doing social work post-undergrad, in 2003, it hasn’t been unusual for my work to adversely influence my sleep. Either the quantity, in the form of insomnia, or more commonly the quality, in the form of peculiar dreams and nightmares. There are many reasons to not blog, and a number of the classics have applied to me these past days: busy with work and fun, educational and social commitments beyond the usual, and distressing, difficult, complex material percolating in my head.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM, in the standard text on the subject in America. I use it daily, irrespective of the qualms I have and its efficacy, because my work is paid by Medicaid, and Medicaid requires a DSM diagnosis to approve what I do. There are many peculiar things to be learned about the DSM if you read closely, one of my favorites being the “clinically significant” qualifier. It is possible to read the DSM as saying, in virtually all cases, that someone could have enough of the symptoms (6 of 10, etc) for a given disorder, but not experience clinically significant manifestations of those symptoms, and thus not merit a diagnosis. This segues nicely into one of the more wide-reaching and substantive criticisms of the DSM, that it reinforces the extent to which mental illness is class, race, and gender biased. In other words, clinically significant symptoms are often those which get one arrested, noticed by neighbors and passersby, or generally confound contemporary mores. (Which is not to diminish the personal distress which precedes and follows from such public incidents.)
So then, not blogging for a while may be of interest, diagnostically, but isn’t clinically significant. Until I stop going to work and start shooting the squirrels in our yard.
USFS avy workshop at Big Mountain yesterday. A full house.
The source of my nightmares lately has been my perceived inability to break the intergenerational chain of trauma, neglect, violence, criminality, and mental illness. At Eilis’ wedding this summer I was talking with her brother, who teaches in the LA juvenile corrections system. He corroborated a theory that’s been solidifying in my mind for the last half-decade (and is perhaps not so profound); that the whole system of mental illness and criminal behavior (and it is remarkable how often the two are inextricable) is hereditary. He said that, were a half dozen families in the greater LA area done away with, crime would drop off dramatically. At my present place of employment, which has been around for a long time, something similar can be seen in two or three generations of a family receiving services and being in the system for comparable reasons.
There are ways to prevent this, the simplest, most effective, and most illegal being a mandatory vasectomy for all 12 year old boys, with applications for reversal being accepted beginning no sooner than age 25. The black market in reversals would not doubt be ferocious.
Instead, I traffic in damage control for the present generation, in hopes that they will then have a more stable life by the time they choose or stumble upon parenthood. I’ve yet to meet someone who has been in my field for more than 3 years and is not an ardent advocate for birth control, if for no other reason but that our work is hard, most of the time almost impossible. I don’t have unrealistic expectations for what I will and will not be able to do, yet I have and will continue to have nightmares about my work. I think I’d worry more about myself if I didn’t, given what I see some days.
There are of course many reasons to be fearful of, exasperated with, and even to feel contempt for the world in which we exist. Avy danger is high this weekend, after a hard warm snowfall on Thursday and some strong winds. Patrol at Big Mountain set off some small slides with charges yesterday morning, and rumors of burials yesterday are flying. I did find stable, steepish, high quality powder in the sidecountry, highlighting the futility of generalities. The C Team is headed out to find low-angle stuff today.
The world is full of such things, which we would be foolish to think of controlling, yet insane to not want to change. My yesterday at 4, wending my way back down the Big Mountain road, I had already spent a week being pickled in this axiom. My immersion was brought to its zenith, and my already enhanced tendency towards silent, depressed navel gazing further heightened, by M calling me with news of the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords. One of the more infuriating things about political media coverage is that while the low approval ratings of Congress are thrown around whenever convenient, the idea that such low ratings have been the historic norm is rarely if ever mentioned. Even more rarely mentioned is that the vast majority of Senators and members of Congress have high individual approval ratings. Giffords is the paragon of why this is so; she is an extraordinary person and public servant. I’ve been a huge fan ever since her first national election in 2006. More states need more people like her.
To complete this maudlin tour, and end on an appropriately ambiguous note, I leave you with a Camus quotation:
The absurd merely confers an equivalence on the consequences of those actions. It does not recommend crime, for this would be childish, but it restores to remorse its futility. Likewise, if all experiences are indifferent, that of duty is as legitimate as any other. One can be virtuous through a whim.