Strong content warning: mental health crises, suicide.
Strong content warning: mental health crises, suicide.
Sometimes you realize how dire someone’s circumstances are only when you share what’s supposed to be a placid update on how they are doing. While I always knew mental health issues persisted in my family, I didn’t think much of it because it just seemed like all families dealt with this shit. I mean, right? So I write soberly about what we call “mental health” because I suspect nothing will surprise you.
In the past week, I’ve learned that two unrelated uncles (maternal and paternal) have been institutionalized. My father has discovered that his brother has been institutionalized after being ejected by a religious cult that has left him penniless but for a member’s outfit. He’d been homeless or untraceable for several years but because he was in Okinawa we knew it wouldn’t be as dangerous as say, Los Angeles, where my dad lives. There’s a third Ishii brother, but he refuses to talk to the other two, which I find ironic: none of the Ishiis want to be found or bothered.
I tell my sister all the time: let’s never let that happen to us, though I’m barely on speaking terms with my father. News of his brother comes to me through her, and has made me more open to the idea of conversation with Dad. Let’s make sure connections aren’t lost, you guys.
My mother’s brothers do not talk to each other either—OK wait seriously, what the fuck is up with Asian brothers? Just get over yourselves and talk to each other. Shit. You leave the women in your families to hold all this sewage when you refuse dialogue. Anyway I digress—I’ve just learned that Mom’s youngest brother has finally been institutionalized after being on lithium for the better part of the last decade. Everyone speaks of his depression the way we talk about physiological disease in America. Depression was why he had dandruff, it was why he couldn’t drive straight anymore, it was why he lost twenty pounds and then gained thirty. Suicide and alcoholism have taken most of my mother’s siblings. Now we have another one locked up. Thankfully, actually. At least he’ll live. Those who survive have barely done so.
I am of sound mental health. I don’t tempt fate with terrible habits or hard drugs, and I have a conservative understanding of what makes the world go around, even though I write a lot about the magic of feelings. Clinically speaking, the third generation of our New Japanese families may prove to be “the everything is fine generation.” We’re doing great. Shit. I just remembered my schizophrenic cousin. He might be over fifty though.
I have not read the book but have read the NY Times review of “Hidden Valley Road” by Robert Kolker: about the Galvin family of Texas, of whom six of twelve children were diagnosed as schizophrenic. The synopsis reads like a horror movie. Harrowing shit. The Times also ran a long feature last year about a famous psychiatrist who wrote the book on happiness only to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of the building where he held office hours. Another kind of harrowing.
If we are all mad, then none of us are mad.
I toured a Japanese author who told me a statistic I haven’t verified but believe: that since the diagnosing of “shut-in syndrome” (hikikomori), schizophrenia statistics have dropped dramatically in Japan. My cousin is both a shut-in and a schizophrenic. I bet that’s pretty common, too. I wonder if it makes more sense to treat depression with the severity of oncological diagnosis like they do in Japan, or to understand its living conditions with such mundanity as to make it almost forgettable, as we do in America.
In Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, we learn about the hyper-ascetic Jain sect of Hinduism. Jains have to give up all their worldly possessions and connections to people, including emotional ties to family and personal names, affiliations with children and parents. Some Jains, though, take the oath to escape old identities for criminal reasons (bad debt, political mischief), but all must abide by the rules of relinquishment. This happens in a lot of religions I guess, though with less reported diligence. I wonder if my uncles would benefit from absconding to India. It seems to be a pretty popular solution for idle liberal white Americans. Speaking of which…
Art is created on a different plane of mental habitude, and much of past art has been ascribed to journeys through madness. I hope we’re journeying responsibly.
With all due respect to Sun Ra, are we really getting away with believing he came from (and returned to) Saturn? I barely register a blip when famous artists die (as mentioned yesterday), but repeat praise for his journey back into space with such a facility as to make me question my own mental health. I must be an idiot to think an alien lived among us that long.
I get a little sad when I think about the musician Wesley Willis. A confident but strange individual; talented. And yet, I always thought…he might have been exploited by people who didn’t understand what they were watching. I feel weird about his popularity because I notice it was a predominantly white collegiate crowd that went to his shows and came back laughingly reciting his absurd lyrics. It’s a really thin line between laughing with and laughing at someone. I’ve never seen him live though so I just wouldn’t know. I have similar questions about Kanye. While it seems he’s processing some really difficult issues, I’ve been in healthy debates with many people now about whether he is responsible for the heinous drivel coming out of his mouth now at this point, and actually, does his rhetoric negate the beautiful music he has created?
Describing mental illness in an immigrant family feels almost like a spiritual stereotype of a people. Why of course madness runs in your family. With all that trauma? With all that alcohol? Not unlike when we bury our talents and treasures in similar cliches. Ohh, an Asian who plays violin really well. Ohhh, an Asian who knows math.
We are from Jupiter and will return to Jupiter. It’s really up to you whether you come with us or not.