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Monday, July 28, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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The Weed and the Chaff
A few weeks ago, the subject of a Guardian article (The Artful Dodger, November 26) whom I happen to know, said, quite blithely, that he used Xanax as part of his daily coping strategy in our sublime republic. It took me back to my own introduction to that little nostrum, and its surprising importance to national security.
Xanax, for the uninitiated, is an anxiety-relieving med. Long story short, some years ago, I had some troubling symptoms, and after brain scans, MRIs, and one or two bush baths, I actually found a competent MD, who handed me a prescription and said: “Take two, and you’ll know what to do”.
Sceptical, but a couple of tabs, and boom: everything’s so frickin’ green. No more brain scans, and UWI-certified butchers with prescription pads pimping their private hospitals. I’ve since recommended Xanax to maybe 50 people (soldiers, taxi drivers, academics), who’ve responded identically: relief, and reports of a good night’s sleep, for some, the first in years.
And here’s a small hint of a large, invisible problem. And it is large. As I filled the prescription a few years ago, the pharmacist nodded knowingly. “If this run out, half of town go be in the road with cutlass in they hand,” he said casually.
I inquired, and it appears that many Trinis suffer from debilitating anxiety—this being a large subset of a larger population suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues. I have no numbers, but a few health professionals I asked have assured me they’re staggering.
A generic SSRI (anti-depressant), Fluoxetine, is on the CDAP list. And UWI’s Professor Gerard Hutchinson did a series of articles a few months ago on the issue, which is congruous with what I’m saying here, in the UWI Today magazine, published monthly in the Guardian.
So this ain’t a fete in here, this is madness. Literally. And we need drugs. Xanax is great, but there’s another drug with fewer side-effects, and a whole bunch of other pluses. I speak of Mary Jane. Gunga (as my forebears called it). The herb. The kush. The ting that bring the jingaling. The green tickle turtle. (I made that last one up.)
I’m not going to waste space touting the scientific evidence on MJ. In the first world, to whose status we aspire, this is beyond debate. In the recent US election, two states—Washington and Colorado—voted to legalise marijuana for recreational use. In Europe, well, steups. (It’s a safe bet, though, that the hysterics and screams of denunciation in Trini at the prospect of legalisation (will) come from people who need MJ the most.)
Most interesting here is the glaring fact of the public health crisis which involves widespread anxiety, mental disturbance, and a series of consequential behaviours which ravage the national quality of life. These are the behaviours that produce the general sense of malaise, fatalism, and the frequent public outbursts of rage—the Beetham, and union uhm, “protests,” and the latest iteration of the genre, the “starving a--” protest. The behaviours also manifest individually, in the brutishness on the roads, in government offices, schools, and so on.
The pervasion of these behaviours, incidentally, makes it impossible for innovation, entrepreneurship, or any form of social progressiveness to emerge. But here’s the kicker: rather than being diagnosed as dysfunctional, the consequent behaviour (hostility, crudeness, apathy) at the individual and mass levels is endorsed and enabled as “culture.” And the enabling environment is nowhere better illustrated than in the noise issue.
If the EMA ads are to be believed, noise, constant and excessive, creates anxiety, nerve problems, and affects mental functioning, and therefore civic life. Yet anyone, anywhere, at any time can blast entire communities for weeks and years, to absolutely no intervention by the state. That is we cult-yere. And the police and the EMA get away with doing nothing. That is we cult-yere too, as is the sense of impotence and helplessness the citizenry feels once they realise that.
The same applies to public urination, littering, cutting into hills to build houses, sexual harassment, statutory rape—you know, “we ting.” An extreme reaction to, and consequence of, the complex is called “individualism”–the realisation that you’re on your own, and the determination to get your own way at any cost, and inflict as much discomfort (revenge) on as many people as possible in the process.
Here’s the other kicker: there is an enabling social ritual for this dysfunctional behaviour: Carnival. Apart from many other dubious characteristics, Carnival now has at its heart the Canboulay mess: a yearly reenactment of a riot, re-imagined as heroism. (Really: You perpetuate this, have costumed clowns yelping it should be “taught in schools,” and wonder why the masses are so determinedly criminal?)
Those intertwined notions (the acceptability and endorsement of dysfunctional behaviour and what constitutes national culture) unfortunately produce the mental environment through which the majority suffers every day. Some who say they don’t mind it have been beaten into submission, and accept dysfunction as normal. And some actually thrive in this environment.
For the rest of us, it’s Xanax, SSRIs, and emigration. Outside this environment, many escaped sufferers (emigrants) wallow in peace and quiet, an unfamiliar sense of personal security, and blossom.
Back on the ranch, some really decadent sufferers live in hope that the politicians would take the very simple steps needed to change the country to a liveable place. Legalise MJ. Stop the noise. Fire Joth Singh. Enforce quality of life laws. Get the police to actually show up at crimes so citizens don’t feel so helpless and criminals so invulnerable. But to hope for that, you really have to be stoned.