Eric Arauz’s Struggles With Mental Illness, A Review
“Now brutally aware this was not a dream, I demanded my death. Not figuratively. Actively and wholeheartedly, to the limited resources of my fractured mind, I sought my demise. My thoughts screamed: Die, die, die... (Eric C. Arauz, 2012, p. 6).”
A GENERAL INTRODUCTION
No mental illness is innocuous in its symptomatic manifestations if not aggressively tamed through the active channels of therapeutic and pharmacological therapies, although it will almost amount to an unforgivable scandal and childish naiveté on our part to assume every mental illness is absolutely treatable through the ennobling largesse of pharmacological and therapeutic therapies.
Moreover, depending on what form(s) it takes on, mental illness can be an unsparing haunting specter, even deadly, when it gatecrashes an individual’s mental homeostasis and takes control of—and reorients—its operational, organizational dynamics. Eric C. Arauz’s An American’s Resurrection: My Pilgrimage from Child Abuse and Mental Illness to Salvation provides that rare insight into the phenomenological mercuriality of the complex landscape of mental illness, of some of the latter’s intimidating, crippling panorama of symptomatic manifestations, and of the disruptive nature of mental illness itself.
Mr. Arauz’s mental illness invested him with the implicit powers of psychosis, mania, and delusion, producing a sort of magical schism in his otherwise fecund consciousness thereby destabilizing his lived productive experiences, including, but not limited to, his dating opportunities and friendships, sociality, academic prowess, and family intimacy.
As a result, he became a dangerous, threatening doppelgänger onto himself, onto his family and friends, and onto society. This in turn reinforced the Manichaean contrasts that came to characterize his fractured consciousness whenever the minacious interwoven variegated symptomatology of his mental illness made a bold presence in his relative psychic comfort. Nevertheless, he humbly acknowledged and appreciated his humanity in the daring, complicated facts of his mental illness, and of his difficult life. “I was not evil. I was sick. I had two chronic and lethal diseases interwoven with severe trauma, and my thinking was killing me and destroying my relationships,” he writes (p. 228).
Mr. Arauz was an academically gifted individual (Arauz, 2013). He acquired an Associate in Arts in Psychology (Middlesex County College), a first degree (B.A) in American Studies (Rutgers University), a professional master’s in Labor and Employment Relations (Rutgers University), and was admitted into the Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education at Rutgers University to pursue a doctorate in American Studies. He would have liked to use this opportunity to work on a doctoral dissertation, which looked into how historical religious portrayal of penal instruments in the afterlife affected moral choices in contemporary America, among other related topics (p. 246). He was a gifted writer and had a way with words.
This review will attempt to capture the substance of Mr. Arauz’s courageous battle with mental illness.
SOME IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The biochemistry of mental illness is painstakingly complex, not to mention the added dimension of neurophysiological and neurostructural convolution this brings to bear on the underlying biochemistry of mental illness and its symptomatology. Yet, whether mental illness is a spiritual or mystical disease, was a daring question that did not seem to have considerably piqued or arrested his interest (p. 67).
It appears that the etiology of mental illness is insidiously latent and that its overt explosion is possible when the forces of genetics, or biology, and the environment intersect in a conscious matrimony. This appears to be the special case of Mr. Arauz. Indeed mental illness would plague and haunt his father until he died from it. “My family has psychiatric disease rooted in its biology,” he notes. “My biological father, Einar Gasper Arauz, a first-generation immigrant with a Basque surname who came to America from David, Panama, was a person with mental illness” (p. 11). He goes further to reinforce our working hypothesis (p. 33):
“Bipolar disorder is a biogenic disease. It sits in your head. Often it needs the proper psycho-social stressor to bring it out to the forefront of your mind. But once it is out and gets a taste of freedom, it will never retreat back behind the door voluntarily. The disease has many manifestations and faces (our emphasis).”
The psycho-social stressor in Mr. Arauz’s example “was the act of saying good-bye to my step-daughter…that pulled the pin on my mental grenade” (p. 34).
Though Mr. Arauz strongly believed “life is a choice” (p. 266), the seeming inevitability of the environmental and genetic predispositions underpinning the experiential journey of his mental illness and its crushing symptomatology may point to a formulaic deterministic pathway, which is that the intrinsic character of biology or genetics is such that it is not always lenient in organic response if and when it is confronted with the serious question of choice. Elsewhere we had forcefully argued that (Kwarteng, 2017):
“On the other hand, in so far as we are concerned double consciousness is a matter of conscious, rational—and even deliberate—choice, the kind of choice not rooted in the existential biology or genetics of our ontological realities.”
AN EMPIRICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL UTILITY OF CHOICE IN THE HUMAN CONDITION
In a sense the utility of choice becomes indispensable—perhaps—only to the extent that the numbing mystery of biology and the blatant fickleness of the environment conspire in the secret womb of a deterministic matrimony, and when the product of this deterministic matrimony, an illness or disease, gives birth to a vista of treatment options—even if these treatment options include experimental ones (p. 265-266). This submission takes into account the fact that when the cold stinging and poisonous eye of inevitable death penetrates one’s façade of hopelessness, one has no choice but to wholeheartedly embrace the blind uncertainty of experimental pharmacology in the absolute interest of self-perpetuation.
On the one hand, some aspects of the preceding paragraphs may partly explain Mr. Arauz’s pathological or paranoid hatred of his late father—and why he may also have wanted to kill his father “with my own hands” (p. 252). On the other hand maturity, frank appreciation for and deep understanding of his own mental illness and its haunting symptomatology—from the viewpoint of his father’s—and the desire to be at peace with his inner self, himself, would eventually drive him to replace this entrenched paranoid hatred of his father with an aura of filial ambivalence toward the same father.
This aura of filial ambivalence would eventually turn into an unadulterated filial piety—an unadulterated filial love—for the father as he grappled with the ideas of penance and forgiveness. Mr. Arauz would eventually come to grips with the idea to make peace with his late father (Chapter 18).
COMPLICATING VARIABLES IN THE MULTIVARIATE EQUATION OF MR. ERIC ARAUZ’S ENVIRONMENT
“Active mental illness is a selfish, hateful disease in that it allows you to live. With its symptoms, it has the ability to kill your mind and spirit and leave your body to continue on (Eric Arauz, 2012, p. 187).”
None of the foregoing paragraphs, however, even begin to unravel the profound convoluted variables that made up the constitutive character of Mr. Arauz’s mental illness, of his perennial suffering. He was an drug-addict/alcoholic (p. 203, 217-218), he was abused as a child by his father (p. 228, 247), he was a victim of substance abuse (cocaine, p. 53; marijuana, p. 34) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he had asthma and allergies (p. 32), and he suffered from hip and nuchal and neck pain, including pain from his surgically repaired arthritic toes (p. 110). “The combination of reconstructed toes on my right foot, mangled toes on my left foot, and low arches made walking barefoot unbearable,” he would write.
Mr. Arauz, a disabled veteran who previously served in the US navy (p. 29), had been drinking alcohol since 15 (p. 217). He was also born with Poland Syndrome, about which he wrote almost poignantly: “I have no left chest muscle, pectoral major and minor, and my left forearm, wrist and fingers are all slightly smaller” (p. 172). Finally, Nadine, his mother, had Stage 4 cancer (p. 175) and Bud, his step-father, died from cancer following the failure of chemotherapy to treat the cancer that developed in, and progressively bloated, his belly (Chapter 21; p. 216, 265, 272-274).
Mr. Arauz was in effect an embodiment of accumulated flora and fauna of pain, of suffering, of disappointments, of sadness, a courageous man who also inhabited the center of active volcanoes of acausal and anthropogenically-driven adversities.
The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-4), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2000, assigns three chronic diseases to Mr. Arauz (p. 32): "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, bipolar disorder and alcoholism/addiction."
Bipolar Disorder 1 was his primary diagnosis. And, though he did not experience auditory hallucinations, the following standard delusions accompanied his primary diagnosis (p. 36): "Grandiose, Somatic, Religious, Nihilistic, Persecutory and Reference." He also experienced what he labeled as “bizarre delusions” (p. 36): "Thought withdrawal, Thought broadcasting, Thought insertion and Thought control. Finally, in his delusional condition he suffered from Ideas of Reference."
ADDITIONAL VARIABLES IN HIS CHARACTER
Mr. Arauz admitted to being an indiscernible spendthrift, to being hyper-sexual in speech, and to experiencing breaks in his sleep pattern (p. 40). Good sleep hygiene therefore became a luxury for him, a predicament that negatively impacted his physical, psychological and emotional health. As well, pathological lying in his architectonics of chameleonic behavioral arsenal took on a flowery life of its own. He pointedly described this shameless behavior of his thusly (p. 227): “My mom and sisters told me what I had put them through with my lying…They wanted me to stop lying…My brother-in-law told me not to lie to him anymore, that it was disrespectful.”
We shall, however, drive the point home that it is almost impossible for us to establish with any convincing degree of forensic and intratextual exactitude whether his lies are technically confabulations. Other than this caveat, the yawning dialectic between his tendentious lies and medication administration began to gnaw at his medication adherence. His failure to stay off drugs and alcohol fed on the dialectic to his detriment, culminating in a relapse of his disease and his subsequent hospitalization (p. 187). Even so, acknowledging that failure to remain sober as well as not staying off substance abuse could lead to a relapse of his condition, was a step in the right direction. Of course, noncompliance and nonadherence are both antithetical to health.
MEDICAL TREATMENT MODALITIES
Mr. Arauz took three major medications at different times, 1) Thorazine (chlorpromazine), an antipsychotic, 2) Lithium, a mood-stabilizing medication, and 3) Haloperidol (Haldol), an antipsychotic.
Most importantly, he distinguished between Thorazine Shuffle and Haldol Shuffle. The exegetical juxtaposition focused on the side effects of Thorazine and Haldol. The former phrase describes a situation where a patient taking Thorazine for an extended period of time is deprived of the facility of ambulating with strength and purpose, while the latter phrase points to circumstances where a patient on Haldol becomes non-sedentary or restless (p. 187).
It is worth emphasizing that while Thorazine may have aggravated his condition, Haldol appeared to have done the exact opposite. Haldol re-introduced the light of self-awareness and relative clarity into the wobbly immanence of his dichotomized consciousness. This life-saving medication made it possible for him to both acknowledge and identify with the self, an important step toward self-recognition and self-embrace. He came into his own, relatively speaking, when his immediate surroundings came alive in his conscious reckoning for the first time since his institutionalization (p. 187).
Admittedly, Mr. Arauz owed his sudden psychic transmogrification to the diligence and eidetic memory of his mother, Nadine, who recalled his relative wellness when he was on Haldol during his first hospitalization. She then brought the relative success of Haldol with his son to the attention of her son’s provider. The provider began administering Haldol to him and his manic metamorphosis, as he put it (p. 187), transformed itself into the seeming actuality of his immanent transmogrification.
THE RESURRECTION OF MR. ERIC ARAUZ: A PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENT MODALITY
“I had a terrible inferiority complex, and I was sure everyone was better than me…But I decided to learn once and for all what I was all about…Because I still had so many doubts about my future and such a limited view of my potential, I had to work closely with friends and therapists to make sure the lies I told myself about my own failings did not make it onto…(Eric Arauz, 2012, p. 221).”
It is said that a problem openly acknowledged is one that is also half-solved. This is truer in Mr. Arauz’s unique case. He accepted the fact—though this grudging acceptance did not come so easily—that he had a problem and that this problem, however he looked at it, demanded his absolute cooperation in terms of honesty and of his determined personal efforts to be aimed at some form of effective non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic resolution.
He may have realized that there was no use hanging onto the stubborn armor of grudging denial. Fully coming to terms with the fact that self-validation from without was central to internal peace, that is, the road to recovery, paved the way for self-recovery and mastery of the self. Thus, he needed the solemn acceptance to serve as a complete break from his ready predilection for pathological prevarication, from his unnecessary avoidance of tactical and strategic issues germane to his potential recovery from the prison of his mental illness. Decongesting and decompressing his clogged mental house was therefore necessary for effective therapeutic accommodation.
We shall submit that a sick head is equally capable of healing itself. There is some truth in this outrageous, controversial irony. We see this in the dichotomy of anti-venom and snake venom, or of matter and antimatter in particle physics, for instance. In other words the snake is an answer to snake venom. Mr. Arauz’s steeled determination to achieve compliance therefore constitutes a stark affirmation of this irony. And yet, pharmacological therapy does not hold the exclusive key to recovery. The fact that he saw Lithium as a blessing rather than a curse or that Lithium was both a blessing and poison, spoke directly to his evolving maturity, although he had gone without it for a couple of years or so. This represented a sharp departure from his defeatist thinking (p. 281).
SOME CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES: A CRITIQUE
“Tethered to the restraining bed, I have lain in my feces and pleaded with God for my death. But the God I asked to relieve my suffering was a power I no longer trusted or even feared…(Eric Arauz, 2012, p. 32).”
Mr. Arauz no longer trusted or even feared God because he became that God, himself, who could not save him in his dying moments of institutional crucifixion, when he was physically restrained to a hospital bed for a minor infraction he had committed, for which he was abandoned in a bed without food and denied access to his bathroom. Rather, he looked up to what he preferred to call Occupational Divinity, a transcendental ontology which he defined as “a god with utility, a god of action, one that could give him power…and transgress my fears” (p. 231).
This is interesting because his step-father impressed upon him, that one does not need God and religion if one does the right things in life, when he said, “I did the right things in life, Eric, because they were right” (p. 273), in response to a question about making peace or re-establishing a relationship with God in his last days.This constitutes a profound philosophical statement. Still, without the omnipresent oversight of this Occupational Divinity, self-stigma, shame, social stigma, poor hygiene, seclusion and restraints, self-hatred, suicidal ideation, inferiority complex, and the side effects of medications killed him, devoured him and buried him alive in the grave of his fractured consciousness.
However, his true resurrection arrived at the doorstep of his mental oasis when he unconditionally forgave himself and his late father, and made amends with his family and everyone else he believed he had hurt, a staggering number in the upper neighborhood of 150 (p. 227); when he diligently sought creative answers to the challenging queries of life in literature, in human relations, and in Eastern philosophy (Hindu, Buddhism, etc.); when he made a determined effort to stop smoking and drinking (twelve-step recovery program); when he finally decided to make compliance an integral fixture of his new-found identity of self-recovery; and when he remarried and had a new daughter who filled the mournful yawning vacuum his step-daughter left behind some years back following his painful divorce from his first wife.
And then he seemed to be at peace with himself—finally. His inner peace and renewed interest in his recovery derived from non-pharmacologic therapy, support groups, the innate goodness and fallibility of man, family support, and the power of touch. He discovered redemptive power in the rich resources of his own mental capital, of the powerful language of self-definition and self-recovery and rebirth in the sheer narrative power of the writings of America’s first urban sociologist, W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (Chapter 12).
He found in Du Bois—who is buried in Ghana—the noble language of metaphor, of the veil and double consciousness, of the redeeming power of what Du Bois called Sorrow Songs, the so-called Negro Spirituals. He found favor in the suffering and resilience of enslaved Africans in what would later become the United States and used that as a sound track to his meandering journey of recovery. These metaphoric tools eventually deflowered him, tearing and separating the umbilical cord of his sufferable hymen of inner contradictions and demons from his irksome shadows of dichotomized consciousness, and in the process lifting the heavy scales of his self-stigma, hopelessness, inferiority complex, suicidal and nihilistic tendencies, self-defeating thoughts, and self-flagellation off his mournful eyes.
Alas, it is interesting that Mr. Arauz did not feature female writers in any critical sense of comparative evaluation with their male counterparts, forgetting that women know as much about the human condition as men. Thus, women who appeared in his immediate institutionalized or hospitalized orbit did so as symbols of domesticated affective softness in a Victorian sense. We are comfortable at home with patriarchal literarism.
Coming to terms with the outrageous idea that he had been—all this while—buried alive in the labyrinthine coffin of the veil and of double consciousness was a long-awaited relief, an eye-opening revelation coming at a time he probably needed it the most. The transformative power of this revelation did his existential illiteracy in!
Mr. Arauz’s struggles with mental illness came at a prohibitive cost to himself, his family, his first marriage and pre-marital relationships, and his friendships. In spite of this, he worked tirelessly to contain his mental illness through the active pathways of compliance and adherence, of advocacy (via mental health education), of getting himself involved with extensive reading and research activities, of remarrying and birthing a daughter who gave him hope, of becoming sober and avoiding drugs, of coming to terms with his limitations, of putting a complete stop to his prevaricating proclivities, and of educating himself in the tricky ways of his mental illness.
In fact, he appeared to have done more than his fair share to bring about his relative success. This is exemplary. It is, however, disappointing to know that antipsychotic medications do not work for many. This may have been why he and his care providers complemented pharmacologic therapy with non-pharmacologic therapy, an optimal strategy aimed at effective treatment. For instance, he mentioned how changes in his biochemistry correspondingly affected his particular pharmacogenomics.
Still, he was smart enough to bring the literary weights of Ernest Hemingway, Herman Hesse, Albert Camus, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Melville, Joseph Campbell, St. Augustine, Carl Jung, Maria R. Rilke, Ralph Emerson, Dante Alighieri, Hannah Arendt, Fyodor Dostoevsky, J.M. Coetzee, Reinhold Niebuhr, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walt Whitman...,—nearly all of whom this reviewer has read—to bear on his life vision and tortuous, torturous journey.
These writers taught him he was merely human with all the trappings of fallibility—although Shakespeare may not have existed! That said, it is our submission that this book should be required reading in nursing schools, medical schools, social work programs, social policy institutions, psychology schools, the behavioral sciences, think tanks, cognitive science, and research ethics.
A SPECIAL NOTE FOR OUR INTERNATIONAL READERS
We just learned through our research for this article that Mr. Eric C. Arauz had passed on since March 25, 2018 (Psych Congress, 2018; source: https://www.psychcongress.com/news/psych-congress-remembers-eric-c-arauz ). Our deepest condolences to his family. The world has indeed lost a great mind, a great soul as well as a great, resourceful educator of mental health. It will take a whole generation to have his replacement. May he rest in absolute peace.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Arauz, E. C. (2012). An American’s Resurrection: My Pilgrimage from Child Abuse and Mental Illness to Salvation. E Past Brunswick, N.J.: Arauz Inspirational Enterprises, L.L.C.
Arauz, E.C. (2013). Trauma Institute of New Jersey. Retrieved from http://ericarauz.com/curriculum_vitae
Kwarteng, F. (2017, April 28). Revolutionary Pedagogy: Primer for Teachers of Black Children. Retrieved from https://www.modernghana.com/news/771664/revolutionary-pedagogy-primer-for-teachers-of-black-childre.html
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Francis Kwarteng and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.