Pop a Problem?

It’s perverse that what is hardest to broach is often what is most relevant.

This is now an obvious problem, one that cannot be obviated by acting oblivious. So, a necessary prefatory remark: I mean this not out of spite or in any one person’s direction or with any pretence to know what’s best for anybody at all: these are my observations and reflections, made respectfully but earnestly, of a problem in Guernsey which I mean no offence by highlighting.

That being said: there is terrible trend amongst desk-jockey doctors to throw potent pharmaceuticals of every pretty colour and stripe by the fistful at the fearful, the suffering, the struggling—the vulnerable generally. Gotta problem? Pop a pill! There is such poverty of any real-life advice: just pop these pills. Real people with real problems met—many at first visit—by a doctor armed with some artificial start or stupefaction giving you the desired buzz or blackout. We are no longer about bearing burdens, courageous burdens of time, effort, change, personal toil and advancement. We are all about the quick fixes. Fixes that become fixations, then fixities: addictions. Riddle me this: is a human being cured of depression when they cannot get out of nor go to their bed without a dose? Surely that, as a life, as an instantiation of the human being in all its limitless potential, is more depressing?

Brighton, where I live and study, has a (fair to say, far) more advanced drug problem. “This city’s on Prozac darling”, I hear said in oh-so-poshly Hove. Indeed. I’m sitting and chirping to some friends, and we’re approached by, well, I can only describe him as a ripe Brightonian. “Did you know, you can crush vallies into resin and smoke it?” No, mate, I didn’t. Still less did I know that introducing diazepam-spiked cannabis resin was a legitimate manner of initiating conversation. Actually, total lie: drugs are so normal, syllables used so sparingly, that “Who’s on?”, “White or brown?” (both referring to crack or heroin) and “Any scripts?” (pharmaceuticals) are exchanged expectantly on the street.

I so sorely wish the best for these people, but they kid themselves when they say that they’ll get off it when they’re boxed off. A house doesn’t change your lifestyle; a bed doesn’t teach you shit. It’s the curse of the chimera. If I just had this, if I could just do that, if I wasn’t like this—all poisonous, lifeless, courage-sapping fallacy. You will hear them from kids in college to comprehensive, adults white to blue collar, complaints. Life is hard. God speed their lives of complaint after they complain to a doctor armed with that quick fixity.

There is a disconcerting amount of homeless people in Paris, and this from a (term-time) Brightonian, and in the words of a chirpy Algerian man I met there, “beaucoup de pauvre.” Lying back awkwardly on his elbows in the stone square one evening, in shorts and a t-shirt, carefully shielded spliff in hand, that was the closest that man got to a complaint. Another chirpy dude I met that night, with a big, booming, infectious laugh, was veritably ecstatic to be sleeping on the cold, stone floor with his mix-bag of ragtag friends. I asked from whence he came and how he made it all the way to Paris. He told me from Somalia, travelling by land and boat, washing up in Italy, spending two years in a migrant camp there before coming to Paris, very much intent on eventually making it to England. The only negative thing I heard that man say, was in answer to my asking what the camp was like: “No good”. I will never forget that man’s beaming face and booming laugh.

So what do these piss-poor Paris homeless have that our Guernsey pill-poppers don’t? They don’t have anything materially, other than a pithy amount of hash to sell to buy food; socially, they just have each other. But they did have two things, precious to they and all who can cultivate and cherish them. They inadvertently taught me to treasure, in two days tippling and toking together, two invaluable but intangible human traits which they wrought from shitty lives lived on streets, in a warzone, a prison and a migrant camp between them: courage and chirp, despite and in the face of everything.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he was a giant among men, with unparalleled perspective and courage. He lived through World War II, in which he fought, his Russian compatriots massacring each other en masse, eight years hard labour in a Soviet concentration camp with a cancerous tumour, before writing tens of thousands of pages on the run and then in exile about his and his country’s ordeal, winning a Nobel Prize (for what they’re worth) thereafter. His advice, his perspective on living life, he writes, is to climb “to an understanding of life—and from this height it can all be seen so clearly: It is not the result that counts! It is not the result—but the spirit! Not what—but how. Not what has been attained—but at what price.” (Solzhenitzyn, Gulag Archipelago) 

I don’t seek to demean the toils of those who suffer on our island, for they damn well do. But Solzhenitsyn might well say the ‘result’ of drugging people, a faux-contentment, is not worth the ‘price’, selling souls to drug devils. What I do seek to demean, which we should all desist respecting, and ideally desist altogether, is the fallacious and life-ruining commitment made by feckless doctors to prescribe that one in twelve in Guernsey be sucked dry of spirit in the long haul to make them comfortably numb in the narcotic now. Faux-chirp and artificial comfortability fed of zero courage and value. You can almost hear our doctors speak the words: “You do look glum! What you need is a gramme of soma.”(Huxley, Brave New World)

What do we learn of life, what do we teach ourselves, more importantly our children, in our haste to dope and deaden our short stints on earth? Life is hard! Depression, anxiety, pain: these aren’t our enemies to be destroyed along with the host and their future, they are composite elements of human experience, to be tarried with and learned from, courageously conquered; they are wounds which heal in time, with courage, showing scars—c’est la feckin’ vie. Open wounds don’t heal by applying poisonous pharmaceutical plasters, at the pop of a pill; and we do Guernsey a disservice by countenancing its ubiquity as something in any way normal or healthy—it’s drugging people to get through life. Whoever and wherever you are and whatever your situation: it could be worse, with courage, better. “And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: ‘Bless you, prison!’” (Solzhenitsyn)

You might berate your prison, bash at its walls, lamenting your life’s path, but what good does that do and example does it set for you and your family—fuck that! Confront it head on, ride with it, learn from it, let it teach you so to transcend it, and maybe one day you too will bless it for making you who you become. Prison is no hotel, and life is no waitress: you won’t be handed contentment and happiness on a platter, not without a bar fight first! Quick fixities quell that within you which comes to drive you in this fight, the fight to become who you are and all you should be. The endpoint of this fight, something Friedrich Nietzsche termed “self-overcoming”, cannot be prescribed in pill form. Indeed, the “most shortsighted and pernicious way of thinking wants to make the great sources of energy, those wild torrents of the soul that often stream forth so dangerously and overwhelmingly, dry up altogether, instead of taking their power into service and economising it.” (Nietzsche, Will to Power)

How, though? The question might even be, for some, why? What’s the point? Well you need a reason to live life! Listlessness needs a determinate principle, life needs meaning, a cohering ideal, a meaningful drive, what Nietzsche called an “organising idea”. Without an organising idea, without any purpose or direction, all that pent-up capacity and frustration curdles, it turns foul: kids become restless, teenagers rebellious, adults depressed, middle-agers mad and retirees miserable. Why get out of bed in the morning if you feel you’ve nothing to do so for? Well, I can’t prescribe an answer to that question with these words, and I daresay our medical unprofessionals have no good chance with narcotics, either.

This flee from cultivating courage and honing hardiness in life has led, where I live in England, to a perverse state of affairs: one in which people eagerly play top trumps with their mental illnesses, wallowing in and waffling about their anxieties and complaining about every minutiae of their existences. That staggers me less than the cocktail of pharmaceuticals fed them. Is Guernsey, being that bit ‘behind’, nigh on these sorts of conversations in coffeeshops? Our bailiwick buddies over in Alderney seem eager to have them ASAP. C’est la feckin’ vie.

“Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.” —Rollo May

“From life’s school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger” —Nietzsche


After deleting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which I used to publicise this site, visits dropped considerably. If you enjoyed this article, I’d really appreciate your sharing it on social media. Peace and chirps, Liam.

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