An Introduction to “Original Sin”
With an essay titled “Original Sin”, I thought it might be appropriate to provide some background on my latest piece. Some of you are aware that I have bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). To the rest of you, here’s a quick run-down on how and when the first episode happened. In the spring of 2002, while getting married I had a nervous breakdown (mania) leading up to the big event, as a result of, experiencing great stress and pressures. At the time, I had been sober for thirteen years and the lack of any alcohol or other drugs in my system gave me no wiggle room to temporary escape that house of mirrors.
During my bachelor weekend I experienced brief, but unfamiliar sharp piercing pains in my head and the following week, I was on a resort island off the South Carolina coast for parties, the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony on Saturday night. The wedding and reception went off without a hitch under clear blue skies overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. On the other hand, as the main attraction I felt overwhelmed by the attention and I became unhinged.
The affair was too much for me to handle being sober. While I didn’t know what I was experiencing at the time, in hindsight, the presenting symptoms of the breakdown during the wedding weekend and my honeymoon included an elevated mood, pressurized speech at times, sleeping less and one crazy decision to take the plunge into the calm, rolling waters of the Pacific. The swim was a celebration or a victory dance for a successful billfishing trip out the back of our 25’ chartered fishing boat along with my new bride.
With only one life preserver in tow, we jumped into three thousand feet of water, thirteen miles off the towering coastline of Costa Rica and according to the boat’s navigation system we were only nine degrees north of the equator. How cool! Once in the water, my wife instantly panicked and started flailing in the realization that we were now in the teeming water along with all the sea life as our sound boat slowly drifted away from us. Her overreaction and fight for the only orange life vest almost caused one of us to drown as she commandeered my grip on it. My idea was a poor one and under normal operating procedures I don’t think that I would have even fathomed it. That incident was the start of many irrational thoughts and questionable actions to come in our first year. We did survive that afternoon dip and cruised back to our resort on the coastal hillside with a great fishing story to tell.
Within weeks of returning home, the symptoms continued to manifest and accelerated. I began requiring and functioning on less than four or five hours of sleep compared to the usual seven to eight. I lost all interest in my sales job, began having racing thoughts, experienced instant rage towards my wife and making extremely poor financial decisions including tipping a Waffle House waitress one early morning on a five dollar meal with ninety-five dollars in cash (an insane act no doubt, I did happen to know her from a downtown private club where she served and I was a member before and during my initial sickness).
All caution regarding finances was “thrown to the wind”; I simply believed that more cash would appear in my bank account, as I needed it. Just like magic. (It’s another common symptom of the active illness.) This great high lasting for weeks must be the equivalent or even better than some two or three hour cocaine rush. The high is heavenly; all the music playing on the computer or on the car radio was like having surround sound in your head. The music and lyrics just flooded my mind.
The feeling is so incredible and is a major reason why manics repeatedly get off their medication to reclaim this ecstasy. For me, the roller coaster ride lasted for several weeks, but would always come to an end in an ugly psychotic crash filled with sheer paranoia of a government conspiracy fueled on virtually no sleep. The brain chemistry gets so out of balance when chemicals are depleted from all the missed hours of sleep. By July, I had landed in the local hospital twice in a one-month period.
On my second visit and no longer fighting my family’s wishes, I actually spent a night (three to be exact) in the psychiatric ward before being discharged. Sadly, I was just as sick when I left the hospital as when I first arrived. It’s a common example of bad and dangerous medicine being practiced in the under funded and undervalued mental health field. It kept me in denial and fueled my volatile illness for another year.
Under my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy, I had thirty days per calendar year of mental-nervous treatment according to my summary of benefits, but I was discharged still insane as ever after seeing my psychiatrist only once over the four day course of treatment and I privately spit out almost all of my medication behind the nurse’s back. I left never wanting to return to that psyche ward due to the poor quality of care and lack of personal attention. A bad hospital stay is a very dangerous situation for every sick mentally ill person and their families when it’s almost certain that another episode will certainly occur. My treatment was botched.
The prevailing attitude by administrators, doctors, nurses and dayroom staff alike, to us – “the unstable,” “if we make this facility [a nuthouse] too comfortable you won’t want to leave.” I have heard those exact words spoken. That’s a sick and troubling thought. This uncompassionate fear-based attitude breeds misunderstanding and a tense environment for all involved, it’s totally unnecessary. No one wants to sit in a hospital any longer than they have to. Now, tell me who is running the asylum? It’s the inmates with the keys and they get to leave every night.
If the mentally ill refuses to go back to the hospital because of a bad experience you might have a possible life and death situation. Mishandling of the mentally ill becomes a dangerous business when attitudes like this prevail in the mental health community. I speak from personal experience having fought law enforcement during a meltdown after refusing to go get help at the family and friends’ urging.
After my first year of marriage and sickness, my tally included two sleepovers at county jails leading to two more pit stops at psychiatric hospitals including a dreaded stay at the old state hospital known Searcy through the commitment process started by my family and finalized with a judge’s decree. To area residents, this figment of one’s imagination is well known as a place that you don’t want to see under any circumstances. Searcy previously served as an U.S. Army post that once held Geronimo, a Native American and the military leader of the Chiricahua Apache, who was captured while constantly fighting with Mexican and the U.S. troops in the American West, in 1887.
This insanasylum is located only thirty minutes upriver from Mobile. The probate judge’s order of five months cracked this “nut” wide open and got me complying immediately with the doctor’s orders at the local psych hospital. His declaration I would later learn was the maximum amount of time allowed under state law. It’s my understanding that this judge gives every committed the maximum term. Had I known about that little tidbit of information the impact on me may have been uneventful. I might still be in deep denial and bouncing in and out of hospitals like so many others I have since met. According to the judge, “It’s a revolving door in his courtroom.”
After two weeks in that madhouse, I was discharged early, in July 2003. Fortunately, I have only had one more episode since when my marriage deteriorated triggering another manic-psychotic breakdown, in 2006. Once again, it was another ugly-ending affair. Since 2002, I have spent over ten weeks in captivity in four facilities in two states, I consider myself an expert on how these sorry excuses for infirmaries really operate. A class action lawsuit on the entire system is greatly overdue. It’s second-rate care only because the illness involves mental, emotional and spiritual issues and scares the dickens out of the rest of the U.S. population.
During the summer months of ‘02, I began writing for the first time ever in my life, at the age of 32. Due to the untreated mania, my mind was flooded with thoughts and feeling inspired I began writing like a fish takes to water. For once, I was able to connect the dots in my head something that dyslexia denied me all throughout my school years including college and causing me to flounder terribly for seven years more while working at several different companies. At four in the morning and sitting in my office for two or three weeks, I began typing out three decades of pent-up frustration on my computer screen.
One of my earliest pieces was a religious one. I have no clue as to why this topic entered my mind except during the mania – the high made me feel close to God, touching his face and in Heaven, if not feeling like Jesus Christ, himself. I had never given this theme much thought in all my previous moments walking around Earth, sitting in religion class or people watching every Sunday morning at Mass for years. I “checked out” at an early age.
Raised Catholic and an education to boot I never once cracked open a Bible to my recollection, I am not even sure that our family owned one until I received a copy as a gift upon completing the Sacrament of Confirmation during my eighth grade year. It remained neatly in its box, its coffin, sitting on my bookshelf carefully preserved as an ancient artifact that was never to be touched. If you are Catholic this experience may ring true and my words are probably not a great shock.
Now, if you are Protestant or of some other faith, you may be thinking that I have just “spilled the beans” and given you some fresh ammunition for your next “impromptu” religious debate with the Catholic-side of your family over Thanksgiving dinner or across the fence-row with your neighbor. Having a discussion with a Catholic about the Bible is like watching concrete cure. We, Catholics don’t have much to say on the topic of the Bible because we have never actually studied it much less toted the darn thing into Mass. This tradition or our earned exemption goes all the way back to the origins of the Roman Catholic Church and its founding centuries before the invention of the printing press and the limited numbers of this Great Book.
The priests were the educated ones and they told their congregations what Rome wanted them to know and sometimes as I have previously written the message wasn’t always the truth. To Protestants the lack of an understanding of the Bible just might sound like outright heresy and it might even be. However, I have met and have gotten to know a few self-professed, self-righteous Evangelical Christians with heads full of the two thousand-year-old Scripture trying to navigate this ever-changing Twenty-first century world. They always come across as being certain, but sometimes appear contradictory.
In my case, I have come to conclude that less is more. In addition to recovering from alcohol and other vices, I am also a recovering Catholic. Today, my only reason for attending Church is for someone’s wedding or funeral and not much else. I have come to believe that God’s house well beyond man’s little version. I bear no guilt or shame for my decision. The outcome has gotten me a step closer to tasting freedom.
Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, author has written several books on the subject of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). Currently, Dr. Jamison is a professor of psychiatry, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and is considered to be a foremost expert on the issue and interesting enough she also happens to have the diagnosis herself. Kay has been named one of the “Best Doctors in the United States” and was chosen by Time magazine as a “Hero of Medicine.” Jamison has written extensively about her own experience with the illness in her critically acclaimed memoir, An Unquiet Mind. She has written several other books including Touched with Fire – Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament about the role this mental illness has played on the lives of the gifted.
Last year, as I became a dedicated writer, I purchased Touched with Fire at a Barnes and Noble curious to know what role my mental illness played with my new ability to think and to write. I was aware that throughout history there have been some famous mentally ill artists, writers, poets, musicians and political leaders such as Vincent van Gogh, Lord Byron, Virginia Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Abraham Lincoln (melancholy), Sir Winston Churchill…just to name a few.
Struggling to find my place in this society with a twice-crushed reputation at the hands of this cancer and a shipwrecked resume due to dyslexia, I began reading Touched in search of some answers. It didn’t take long before I hit pay dirt on something that I could sink my teeth into of this three hundred-page book. Jamison’s entire effort is thoroughly cited. On page fifty-one, in discussing the connection between madness and genius, Jamison refers back to recorded evidence during the Grecian days. In a speech given by Socrates on divine madness in Phaedrus, he had this to say:
Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings…the men of old who gave things their names saw no disgrace or reproach in madness; otherwise they would not have connected it with the name of the noblest of all arts, the art of discerning the future, and called it the manic art…So, according to the evidence provided by our ancestors, madness is a nobler thing than sober sense…madness comes from God, whereas sober sense is merely human.
The world still knows this famous Greek philosopher and his works after being dead for over 2000 years. How was [divine] madness O.K. with this great one, a genius in his own right and yet there is such an embarrassment and no interest by our “modern” society and even among the medical community? How many mad geniuses have been slapped with this label of shame and knew all to well its cruel cousin – stigma? Only to be thrown away in some dilapidated state-run hospital, jail, and prison or locked up in the family’s basement to live out the rest of their days removed from civilization with an unknown, untapped gift stored away in his or her mind and heart.
Our shallow society is too ashamed, too embarrassed and too foolish to even ask the first damn question that might lead to a quantum leap or breakthrough for the benefit of mankind. The only difference between then and now is the Socrates looked beyond the illness and saw the asset. Today, we are too vain to stop and look. Our lives, our world hangs in the balance and the solution might be tried up in the great mind of some troubled homeless or unemployed person who has been touched by God and not among society’s elite expounding such obvious nonsense to each other over cocktails or while pontificating on the world’s stage.
This wonderful statement of Socrates captured by Dr. Jamison helped me to reframe my position relative to everyone else on our great totem pole. With my bipolar disorder label, was I going to be suffocated, murdered at the hands of my very own family and friends, on the behalf of society’s sake, from finally living out a full life and reaching my potential using my new God-given talents? Was I going to remain a second-class citizen tucked in life’s stowaway compartment as to not upset the insanity that is taking place in first-class?
Was I to simply sit back and join the rest of the insane, unemployed, down and out and watch this American circus, this merry-go-round of denial continue to spin out of control? No, I have chosen to break the silence, to break through this barrier – this mental, emotional and spiritual iron ceiling trapping this entire society in a twenty-something perverted state of mind with absolutely no wisdom to showoff.
Last April, I began writing my essays and sharing them with friends and family, adding business executives, attorneys, locally elected officials, state and federal lawmakers, professors, Washington-based policy institutes and two foundations. Today, my audience stands at over four hundred and thirty contacts across the southeast U.S., in and around the Washington beltway, in NYC and dotted throughout the country all the way to the west coast plus one friend practicing medicine in remote Honduras. It’s an international audience! This group continues to grow.
With that earlier rebuke, I give you my latest work.
“Genius develops in quiet places, Character out in the full current of human life.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
January 21, 2008
According to the Book of Genesis, the story of Creation began in the Garden of Eden with God creating Adam (the first man) and from Adam’s rib came Eve (the first woman and Adam’s wife). As the story goes, God warned these two naked humans not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because it would cause them to die. According to the story’s author, Eve became curious of the tree and its forbidden “fruit.” Eve defies God’s command and takes a bite into the “fruit.” She then entices Adam join her. I have never once heard of a satisfactory explanation as to why every human subsequently was born of Adam and Eve’s sin. Why are we all tarred and feathered at birth and seemingly for life? Here’s my take…
Today, there are six billion human beings on the face of this Earth and even a few orbiting in space right now. There is not one other person who is exactly like you from your facial features, eye and hair color, weight and height, down to your unique fingerprints, dental impressions and DNA. You are one of a kind in God’s likeness and image – flaws and all by His design.
The notion of the forbidden fruit is the belief that you are not good enough, as you were when born into this world and currently are. If you “bite” into this idea you immediately become aware of your nakedness, your defects of character and in shame you turn your back on God and towards yourself. Embarrassed you go running for your fig leaves, for your cover and begin a life’s work of building a façade to project to the world and to yourself.
It’s a choreographed act, faking every bit of it – down to changing one’s hair color, botox injections for wrinkles, bleached veneers, silicone implants, piercings and tattoos. It’s all window-dressing, while keeping everyone at arms length to protect this appalling secret from the world and most importantly from us. You are all alone and on your own to navigate this now lonely, terrifying and cruel world. Running from yourself is an expensive, lifelong quest until you either breakdown and give up or literally die, whichever comes first. Most people spend their entire life, or a brief one, living out this nightmare never knowing that there is a choice.
Amid the intense feelings of guilt and shame, your authentic self slowly dies and a phony one is born, an inflated Ego driven by constant fear, rationalization and addictions take over. Lost is one’s natural faith in the daily process, spontaneity for life and intuition essential for making critical decisions that leads to emotional and spiritual growth on the journey of life. Without following one’s gut instincts and trust in our Higher Power living a full life and up to our potential is all, but impossible.
We build a life by our willpower and not by God’s. What is originally natural becomes awkward, unnatural and what is unnatural and artificial is called natural by psychology – driving us all crazy. Our lies replace our personal truth. Our reasoning overrides our intuition and never-ending fear replaces simple faith and courage. We are operating upside down and don’t even know it. The blood has rushed to our head, to our enlarged Ego and there is little for our heart and soul. Only by having a mental, emotional and spiritual death of the Super Ego and our resurrection can we reconnect, have communion once more with our Heavenly Father and our fellow man.
I believe we are all born with – faith and intuition to survive. These very important attributes help to keep our compass needle pointing towards True north, doing the next right thing, discovering our purpose in life, our destiny. If we are cutoff from these traits then our needle spins out of control, we feel and become lost until we reclaim them once more. Left to our own devices we are doomed to fail, to self-destruct taking everyone we love down with us. Going down this path, there is no way to be whole or to achieve inner peace and serenity.
Regain your faith and courage, follow your intuition, drop your fig leaves, your cover, your façade, and your addictions. Accept yourself, right now, warts and all. Rediscover your authentic self and seek out your hidden talents. Stop running from yourself and face your life. Stop running and start living. Our country, our values, our daily experience could change tonight. Our world could be different tomorrow morning. It will be faith and courage that changes your life and this world for the better and not an obsession driven by more fear.
In closing, I will remind you of the late A.S. Neill, the founder and headmaster for over forty years of renowned Summerhill School in Great Britain. Neill had this to say about the unwanted children that he accepted from the state-run schools, (I ask, “Aren’t you the unwanted child that you still reject and wish to abort?”)
“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mold the child will turn the god into a devil. Children come to my school, little devils, hating the world, destructive, unmannerly, lying, thieving, bad-tempered. In six months they are happy, healthy children who do no evil. And I am no genius, I am merely a man who refuses to guide the steps of children.” What about original sin? “I let them form their own values and the values are invariably good and social. The religion that makes people good makes people bad, but the religion known as freedom makes all people good, for it destroys the [inner] conflict that makes people devils.”
I suspect the children at Summerhill have shared values are based on their daily experience, faith, courage and intuition and not by fear, rationalization and procrastination. Happy and healthy humans don’t spend a lifetime feeling self-loathing thus being self-destructive, why do you?
The belief in original sin is the source of our neurosis and all addictions. According to Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest, in his book Original Blessing he argues that original sin never existed. He points to the original story of Creation in the Hebrew Bible – The Torah. This facet is simply nowhere to be found in the Book of Genesis. Fox fingers St. Augustine with its origins for the purposes of establishing, both, power and control or some perverse misinterpretation. For centuries, this myth has served its master well at the expense of its many slaves.
“The concept of original sin is alien to Jewish tradition” – Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor and best-selling author of Night
It is all a myth and nothing more. Drop the belief. You are no longer a sinner because you have to believe, to be. Therefore you no longer have a reason to attend this manmade institution next Sunday or ever again, except for weddings and funerals. Instead, I suggest you make plans to spend the Sabbath at one of His handcrafted Cathedrals out on a lake, up in the mountains or in a forest, in the wide-open desert or down at the beach. Go wherever you like, its between you and God. It always has been. Reclaim your birthright.
“Every creature is a word of God and is a book about God.” – Meister Eckhart
“Divinity is not outside us. We are in God and God in us.” – Matthew Fox
“God is the good and all things which proceed from him are good.” – Hildegarde of Bingen
Peace to all,
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog @ http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. All essays are available in a MS Word format upon request. I can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008. All Rights Reserved. “Original Sin” by Ted Burnett.
Fox, Matthew, Original Blessing, Copyright Ó 2000, 1983
Jamison, Kay Redfield, PhD and author, Touched with Fire – Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Copyright Ó1996
Morris, Betsy, Fortune Magazine, Overcoming Dyslexia. Sir Richard Branson quotation. May 2002
Wikipedia.com, Time Magazine quotation on Kay, Redfield Jamison
Wikipeida.com, Geronimo, a prominent Native American leader of the Chiricahua Apache (Introduction)