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Natural Disasters–mental and otherwise

I’m a bit of a statistical oddity.  I guess some people just are.  I heard of a guy who won a lottery not just once, but twice.  My luck never runs in that kind of directions, though.  I won a lottery of a different kind altogether.  You see, in 1995 I found out that I had hit a statistical health marker that most Americans manage to miss.

My last year of college I was struck by Multiple Sclerosis.


The term multiple sclerosis comes from Latin meaning “it sucks to be you.”  That’s what sclerosis means.  Multiple is merely an adjective meaning “over and over again.”  If you’ve got this disease, you know it frequently pops up whether you want it to or not.  Sort of like the annoying friends who come over unannounced when you are in the middle of something incredibly important.  The moment you’ve gotten the house all alone and you’ve finally convinced a hot chick that you were house sitting for your parents and not that you still lived with them, for example.


No, I don’t live at home with mom and dad.

But I do live in my body and this disease does, too.

And unlike annoying friends who have a knack for showing up at the wrong moment, MS never leaves.  It just takes a vacation and when it’s rested up can come back even worse than before.

I did know a couple of guys in college once who came to my dorm room just as I was about to make out with a really cute sorority babe.  They were so into Dungeons and Dragons that they could have led Tiamat through a Soviet Gulag blindfolded without ever having to roll two D 10s.  When the two of them walked in, they were actually debating whether dark elves were acceptable crossover characters in a Star Trek roll playing game.


And they wouldn’t shut up.

Thanks to Dan and Eric I never got to third base with Cindy McArthur.  They did find out that their natural armor class didn’t protect them from being kicked the hell out of my room, though.

And the following Friday I found out when Dan’s dark elf appeared on the bridge of my starship that my helmsman wasn’t all that immune to a chain lightning strike.  I had to create a new character.  I also found out that weekend that Cindy thought I was a bit geeky and decided to go out with a Pike instead of me.

I was pretty lucky in the end because the Pike ended up admitting he contracted Herpes from Cindy.


The fact that I was diagnosed with a neurological illness that produced hard plaques in the brain and spinal cord (the sclerosis) was a random roll of the dice.  A statistical oddity.

I’m an oddity in one other thing that doesn’t happen to most people, even once in their lives.  I have survived not one but two encounters with tornadoes.


Have you ever noticed that Hollywood makes forces of nature seem like loads of titillating fun?  Think about all the glitzy characters picked in leading roles for movies like Volcano, Dante’s Peak, Twister, The day After Tomorrow, and 2012.  I have it on first hand experience that there’s absolutely NOTHING glitzy about a tornado.  There’s just a lot if running, screaming, and praying you don’t get lifted with the roof of your house into someone’s else’s yard three neighborhoods over.


And not a single one of the people with me looked like Tommy Lee Jones or John Cusack.  Nor was there a cool heroine babe like Linda Hamilton or Helen Hunt to impress as I stood my ground against Nature and showed the green goddess who was in charge.

Actually, she was.

And it turns out that Nature didn’t really like the farm I lived on or several nearby sub developments.  I also think Nature had a taste for mainline Protestants, because when the tornadoes were finished vacuuming everything that wasn’t tied down, a Baptist church had been blown away.

Both tornadoes were rated as F3s.

I like the rating systems we use for natural catastrophes.  Tornadoes get the Fujita scale.  Hurricanes get categories and earthquakes get Richter scales.


I think we should have a personal rating scale for other types of natural disasters in our lives.

Like neurological diseases.  My MS has remained relatively mild for 20 years.  For the most part, what I would classify as an F1 in what I call the Personal Fujita Scale of Social and Life Disturbance (or just PFS for short).  It has hit me a couple of times at higher levels.  Like the morning I woke up and couldn’t talk.  That little joyride lasted about a week.  But since MS can render even the best people para or quadriplegics, I give a week without speech a low F2 on my PFS system.  Last month my uncle died of ALS, which is always fatal, so it automatically gets an F5.

I’m all for using the rating system in other areas, too . . . hence the part I added about social disturbances.

I’ve heard from a number of people who’ve had bad experiences with family and loved ones suffering with mental illnesses.  Borderline Personality Disorder seems to be the one I’ve heard about the most.  I’ve written about the girl who broke my heart.  I give her an F3.  I’ve also heard others who’ve been through far worse than me.  One friend is married to a lady from India who dumped his pain and heart medications down the food disposal and then went on a rampage destroying his computer and calling his little daughters “whores.”

She gets an F4.


I like my rating system.  It helps me make sense of my own depression.  Most of the time if I’m on my medication I hover around a nice, level F0.  But if I miss enough doses my mood turns dark and I can be so passive-aggressive that when someone pisses me off I spontaneously lie down and take a nap.


I only wish the passive part worked that way.

When I cut my wrist and ended up in the nuthatch for a week, I’d say that was a solid F4 event.  But that’s only happened once.  And for the record, the nuthatch wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been full of actual nuts.

I love Brazil nuts.

If that had been the case, then maybe cutting my wrist would have been mitigated by lots of crunchy, hard-shelled goodness.

I’ve always thought Hollywood totally missed the mark on mental illness just as much as it’s missed the mark on natural disaster movies.  On TV, Monk is OCD, and being OCD never made anyone I’ve known look quirky in a cute kind of way.  And not a single one of them has solved a murder.

Everyone I know with OCD says it sucks.


I saw a show once about a schizophrenic professor who heard voices and talked to people.  The voices and visions helped him foil criminals as well.  In real-life, my ex-wife’s uncle dated a girl who was schizophrenic.  When her illness was at its worse, life for her was a nightmare.  She became the criminal.  And actually, she had a lot more wrong with her than schizophrenia.  One day she arrived at a friend’s house upset over an argument with someone.  She had a gun.

Her friend locked his door and called the police.

If her life had been a movie, the gun would have actually been for a homicidal psychopath hiding in her friend’s pantry, ready to kill him for stocking the kitchen with the boxed macaroni instead of the kind that comes with cheese in the squeeze packs.

Instead, what they found was a 24-year-old lady, a mother of two, who refused to put her gun down.

The police had no way of knowing that they were dealing with someone in the middle of a psychotic break, more than likely drug induced, or that if they had given her enough time, the episode might have passed.

They shot her.

Her name was Anne, and she died on the way to the hospital.

I really do wish for once that Hollywood would pay attention to my PFS scale and get mental illness right.  After all, the hobgoblins of the mind are little mini-natural disasters in their own right.

And the people suffering through mental illnesses deserve better.

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