The days between Christmas and New-Years are the season of gift returns and after-Christmas sales. Many people casually discard their holiday congeniality during this time. Some people suffer from the boxer-day blues. Some people give way to Seasonal Affective Disorder when they realize that the days may be getting longer, but are doing so at an incredibly slow pace. Whatever the reason, agitation is palpable at some venues. 2010 provided both seasonal agitation and snow during this time.
Snow is more lovely when it is not seen from a moving vehicle. Footfalls are muffled in fresh snow. As snow gets older it crunches like some delicate confection. In a parking lot snow becomes a grayish slippery insult. Slipping wheels whine. Shoppers trudge awkwardly using wet flop-slop-fop for footfalls. There is a little bit of sublime agitation available for anyone who visits a slush coated post-holiday shopping-center parking lot.
I received a gift-card to a national chain of recreation equipment stores and ventured forth into this madness to score a big sale-fueled discount on something I could not live without. All I had to do was to figure out what that something was, and get myself safely in and out of the store.
In Utah there is a popular way of dealing with agitation. Here we use antidepressants; lots of antidepressants.
Utah leads the nation in antidepressant use. The antidepressant use per capita here is three times higher than some other states. Doctors had reported higher than normal rates of antidepressant use in Utah for years, but when Express Scripts published their prescription drug atlas for year 2000 drug prescriptions the suspicions were officially validated. We use a truly phenomenal amount of antidepressants in Utah.
When the prescription drug atlas was published there was quite a bit of speculation about what effect the Mormon church had on the high rates of antidepressant use in Utah. Some statistics from the Mormon church set the percentage of Mormons in Utah at 70% of the state's population. There was rapid response from the Mormon church.
A “sociologist” from Brigham Young University by the name of Sherrie Mills Johnson apparently presented data gleaned from “national” surveys to show that Mormon women were “less likely to be depressed than American women in general”; she was widely quoted for this work. Daniel K. Judd (also from BYU) was also widely quoted as stating that Mormons are better off than anyone else. Other experts were trotted out to provide Mormon-supportive data.
Just who are Johnson and Judd? Just what authoritative works on the demographics of mental illness have they penned when not responding to information the owners of BYU might find inconvenient? There might be something, but I have not found it.
I did find the study by the National Mental Health Association (now called Mental Health America) that raked Utah as “the most depressed state”.
So either Mormons are somewhat more depressed demographically or those people living amongst the Mormons are almost universally depressed. However you slice it there is some heavy-duty correlation happening here.
I know that correlation does not equal the causation I imagine when dealing with other drivers in a icy post-holiday parking lot. I ultimately did not discover the item I could not live without, and so I was attempting to leave the parking lot empty-handed. The fellow in the BMW who was idling just behind my Corolla's parking space was talking on the phone. I think Mr. Parking Vulture was calling the pharmacy to order up a jumbo bottle of Prozac.
I have seen a truly jumbo bottle of Prozac once. The previous owners of our house had dropped one behind the kitchen stove. The bottle was as big as a gibbon's head and could not have fallen behind the stove without first pulling it out from the wall a bit. The cap was off the bottle when we found it. Several dozen pills had spilled out.
I picture the bottle being lost in the confusion of a spirited breakfast ritual. Mom is shaking the stove in her furious attempt to pump out pancakes for her enormous brood (there were 11 resident people in the family that sold us the house) . “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” she lovingly calls to her children. Suddenly she hits upon an idea, but should she open up the little green and white pills to invisibly blend their contents with the pancakes or should she just throw in a handful and tell the kids they are “special blueberries”? I think she just throws a handful in. Then, without noticing she has pulled the stove away from the wall in her energetic pursuit of breakfast, she tries to place the bottle on the back of the stove, and it falls.
I often find a breakfast of warm waffles is comforting, but I just can't get them made with the love Mom put into them.
After I carefully examined my apparently blocked-in situation in the parking lot I realized that I could leverage the amazing turning radius of my tiny sensible Toyota and squeak out. Sure enough I was able to pull out of my slot with way more than six inches to spare. Mr Vulture noticed my driving skill, and it looked to me like he was telling me something about it.
Unfortunately it did not appear that he was impressed by the slim margin which I had missed hitting his BMW by. With phone still held to ear it looked like he was yelling. I could not make out what he was saying. Maybe it was in French? Perhaps he did a mission for the LDS church in France. Elizabeth Smart is doing a mission in Paris. Maybe they know each other.
I did not notice Mr. Vulture's hypothalamus pumping out oxytocin and vasopressin. It is very difficult to determine the amounts of neurologically active hormones produced by a living brain. Much of what we know about the chemical nature of emotion or mental illness lack good empirical corroboration. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had known about the state of Mr. Vulture's glands.
Several pshcyo-active chemicals are prescribed because they have a known effect on some of the neurotransmitters sloshing around in our skulls. Prozac affects the amount of serotonin. We think that incorrect serotonin levels contribute to clinical depression. We confirm this by giving serotonin modulating chemicals to people who are experiencing the symptoms of clinical depression (interestingly enough rage is a symptom of clinical depression) and seeing those symptoms decrease in intensity. Unfortunately the chemicals sometimes increase the symptoms.
Michael McDermott was calmly sitting an a chair on boxing day (December 26th) 2000. Three weeks earlier he had increased his Prozac dose by a factor of two, and had finally been able to contact god. God had told Mike that he had no soul, but that he should not worry because he had a plan for Mike to earn one. All Mike had to do was travel back in time -with his AK47- and kill Adolf Hitler (and as many other Nazis as he could find). God would take care of the pesky time-travel details. All Mike had to do was gather his weapons and enough ammunition.
Eventually the nice people explained to Mike that Hitler and the six other Nazis looked a lot like his co-workers at Edgewater Technology. They did not understand the divine transformation Mike had undergone.
I was not understanding the transformation the Mr. Vulture was undergoing. The oxytocin was stimulating his pituitary to release large amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone.
Since my conversational French is embarrassingly poor I chose to simply drive away from the now gesticulating Mr. Vulture. I may have reached a top speed of 5MPH when Mr Vulture shot out past me, and made as if to cut me off. The slick surface of the parking lot made the “cut me off” move more of a “Slide a little sideways” move, but I got the gist. I cranked down my window to get a better understanding of what he wanted to say. His passenger-side window rolled down automatically; the BMW had electric windows.
It Seemed that Mr. Vulture wanted to discus my parents for some reason. I responded with my best “I feel your pain” look and said: “You know, if you did not try to talk on the cellphone and drive at the same time you might be a competent driver”.
Mr Vulture lapsed into French again. I think his adrenal cortex was now busily pumping out corticosteroids in response to his pituitary's messages.
Perhaps he thought I could understand his French better without the car in the way. Whatever the reason Mr. Vulture decided to exit his car. I pulled a bit forward.
“I would be happy to get out and discuss your poor driving habits with you, but I am sure you will not like what I have to say” I told him calmly.
I then drove off.
I was not yet out of the parking lot when I began to wonder if Mr. Vulture's car had one of those little fish icons on the back of it. A couple of months earlier I had been confronted by a wildly gesticulating angry person in Washington DC; they had a little silver fish outline with cross-eyeballs on the back of their car. I decided to see if Mr. Vulture's BMW was similarly decorated. Instead of pulling out onto the feeder road I circled back through the parking lot.
Mr. Vulture was already back in his car, and he was maneuvering into a couple of spaces. I think he was going to do one of those “park a little skew in two spaces so nobody will park too close to me” parking jobs.
I pulled up close enough behind him to see if he had a fish.
I think he noticed me in his rear-view mirror. Instead of taking the two spaces he simply sped off and left the entire parking lot, and me, behind. Maybe his prescription was ready?
I did not see a fish, but he did speed off pretty fast.