Monk and Mental Health

Tony Shalhoub played the defective detective in the police drama “Monk” from 2002 to 2009.  Monk is obsessive-compulsive and has a list of 312 prioritized fears and phobias.  But, as the main character, everyone is expected to see and find his mental health challenges somewhat humorous.  However, I like the show Monk for another reason, all the other mental health issues swimming around Monk that nobody understands or even recognizes due to Monk’s fears and phobias being so over the top.monk tv show cast - Google Search | Monk tv show, Mr monk

Monk started a mental health conversation in America, reflecting that even those with mental health issues can be productive members of society if given a chance.  For example, Captain Stottlemeyer, for the majority of the show’s run, has anger issues, and yet he is considered capable and competent as a Police Captain.  Lieutenant Disher struggles with his identity as a person and his value to the organization.  The supporting character’s mental health problems create the drama.  Monk provides comedy and allows the supporting characters to be accepted for their mental health issues, which is essential in this discussion.

TV Reviews - TV Liveblogging: Some Episode Of Monk - KittysneezesSharona struggled with being a mother, her boss was driving her crazy, and her mental health issues stemmed from both her boss and her nursing responsibility.  Sharona plays a problematic role; does she provide nursing care for Monk or provide living assistance as a counselor?  Concluding that stress can be a mental health issue when taken to extremes.  Natalie Teager struggled with loneliness and a desire to be her own person outside of her family.  Both mental health challenges that many people struggle with silently.  Other supporting characters had substance abuse issues stemming from mental health concerns and personal choices, thus Monk’s subtlety and genius.

When Sharona, his nurse, leaves the show, Natalie Teager provides a lesson on mental health, the difference between coddling and helping a person with mental health problems.  Sharona, for all her care and concern, never saw Monk as capable without assistance.  Natalie Teager saw Monk as competent but needing some assistance.  The difference is subtle but very real.  Monk’s behaviors and mental health problems lessen when Natalie Teager enters the show, and the story becomes richer.

Perception vs. Reality in Care Support

Image result for monk tv show cast | Monk tv show, Mr monk, Adrian monkAre you weak to admit you have a mental health problem?  Per society, not as much anymore.  Per yourself, who knows.  Perception versus reality is critical in the person with mental health concerns and in the care-providing staff surrounding that person.  Now, I suffer from PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression, as mental health concerns; but, I thank God for my support (spouse) and those characters in my life that provide the drama, while my mental health provides the comedy.  Not a single person who knows of my mental health struggles has ever treated me capable without assistance, and this makes all the difference in how I approach the world.

The pattern of admitting the mental health challenges, coping with those challenges, and the consequences of those challenges have been made bearable because my supporters never waiver from the foundation that I am capable but occasionally need assistance.  Monk taught me that it was okay to have mental health issues, to see those issues in others, and a pattern of living and approaching others with mental health issues.  The perceptions of the supporting people become a reality in the mental health challenges of the person suffering.

Monk (S1/F12) im TV Programm: 22:35 - 08.11. - Universal ChannelIt is not easy supporting someone with mental health issues, and while mental health sufferers get the attention, Monk taught the world that the mental health of the family and friends is as important to the cure as well as the problem in mental health patients.  Consider the two different approaches of the psychiatrists on Monk, but never forget two other principles in mental health, change is hard, and change is beneficial.

Change and Mental Health

Monk was stuck in a rut, and a change in the insurance policies spurs Monk to change.  As the show develops, change is witnessed as beneficial and challenging.  When Sharona left, Monk experienced quite a shock; the different care styles provided by nurses spurred complex and healthy changes in Monk. Differences in approaches by the psychiatrists produced more changes and spurred growth in Monk and the other supporting characters.  Hence, as a mental health patient and as a care provider, another pattern is produced: am I looking for changes?  Am I open to helping others engage in change?  Do I embrace both the light and dark of change?

Pin by Smeesmii R on MONK | Monk tv show, Mr monk, Detective monkAdaptation is the only constant in life.  We adapt to the people around us, the social environments, the emotions, and the influences of peers, employers, family, and so much more.  Yet, we often try to control everything to prevent change, even though every new day brings change.  Monk showed he could not handle change, mainly because he and his brother had never been taught to handle change.

Patterns in Family Rearing – Mental Health Challenges

As a kid, I was told that I would never amount to anything since I was raised in poverty and abuse.  I had teachers who made this comment often enough that I got mad!  Nobody was going to curtail my abilities and shoehorn my potential.  Their reasoning was the research that showed those in poverty as children stay in poverty as adults.  That abuse is generational, and that abuse will always influence those raised in abuse to perpetuate abuse to the next generation.

Monk (TV Series 2002-2009) - Posters — The Movie Database (TMDb)Monk showed me differently, proved that individual choices could change preset patterns, and end captivity.  Sure, Jack Junior and Ambrose are typical examples of the generational nature of abuse, leading to mental health issues.  But, Monk overcame, chose, and in choosing and sticking with his choices, he endured and conquered.  Monk overcame even with his mental health challenges, not because of, or as an excuse, but with his mental health challenges as a companion.

While it is true how a child is reared, does dictate how that child will approach the world as an adult.   Individual agency, moral choice, and the choice and consequence cycles also play fundamental roles in that person’s life.  Thus, one cannot, and should not, place blame upon how one was raised for the failures in one’s life; this position negates the agency inherent in each person, and shifting the responsibility of choices is not healthy mental health practices.  More lessons learned from Monk about how to face the world, even if you might not have had the best family environment as a child.

Did you notice that when Jack Junior makes his appearance, Adrian (Monk) has changed enough to know not to gratify and indulge his step-brother in his poor decisions?  Despite the differences in mental health problems, Ambrose, Monk’s other brother, was also not pampered, although he was given special care.  Cementing the theme that people with mental health problems are capable, have potential, and need only the opportunity to show who they are and what they can become, just like everyone else.

I am not my handicap

I have disabilities; disabilities do not have me.  I am not my handicap!  Monk taught me this lesson in spades.  When Monk gets his badge back, he realizes he has learned this lesson as well as learning what his abilities as a disabled person are.  Another subtle theme in Monk worthy of exploration.  Adrian Monk was not “Obsessive-Compulsive, Mentally health challenged, Adrian Monk.”  Adrian Monk was Adrian Monk who lived with obsessive compulsion, fears, and phobias.  The distinction is subtle but essential to living with mental health challenges as a companion, not a ruler!

I am forever grateful for the lessons learned and still being learned from Monk!  I encourage you who read this to ponder the themes herein; change is beneficial and hard, but critical; family and family life is not your life; you are not your handicap or illness.  These themes and more can help open your eyes and mind to new possibilities, freeing you from your captivity of mental health challenges, but only if you choose to open your eyes and mind.

Finally, remember your support staff.  Have you thanked them lately for their support, care, and kindness?  If not, start there, express gratitude to and for the care received from those who live with you, work with you and desire your success.  Never forget, on your bad days, your support staff is still there trying to help, and they need support too.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Revisiting A Powerful Tool – Humor

GarnerCamden, Maine, I am wandering through a bookstore and randomly select a book, “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories,” authored by James Finn Gardner.  I laughed so hard; people chose to become offended.  From 1995 to the present, I have read and re-read these books, and they just get funnier!  Yes; I own all of Gardner’s books on being politically correct and read them often for a good chuckle!

I was visiting Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu, South Korea.  I stopped at the Post Exchange (PX) just looking and tripped across Robert Fulghum’s book, “It Was on Fire When I laid Down on it.”  I had never heard of this author, but after reading about the birdbath fire, the hose, and the burning mattress, I was hooked!  Another author who delights in telling stories that make me laugh.  If you have never read his books, make some time to read, then you too can enjoy the ultimate “Mother of the Bride” and the “Naked Lady and the Gorilla” stories.  Don’t mind me; I am laughing at the memories.

LinkletterHere I am, a person without memory for names, but I can tell you the details of these events like they happened yesterday.  Heck, just thinking about that bookstore in Camden, Maine, brings back the smell of the bookstore, the wood fire stove heating the place, and the person who suggested I visit that particular store.  Thus, the power of humor and the adventure of a good book.

When my wife and I first married, I read to her the Robert Fulghum books I had collected, we spent several evenings laughing merrily, and those memories I cherish!  I laughed so hard when I discovered that my wife could not understand the humor of politically correct bedtime stories.  Still, I rejoiced mightily when she discovered how funny Robert Fulghum was to her.  The best part of the Robert Fulghum books is how you can read them with a Hudson Bay mindset and enjoy them in small pieces or large equally.

I was traveling from Federal Way to downtown Seattle by bus and needed a book.  I grabbed my wife’s copy of Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things!”  I laughed all the way to my job interview.  I discussed the book on the bus ride all the way back to Federal Way.  Great bus ride!  I have no idea who I sat beside, but we had a great conversation about books, kids, life, and humor.  “My Dad is a Stupidvisor!”

Why is humor so powerful?

Sword and ShieldHelmy and Frerichs (2013) pointed out the first and most significant role of humor “both as a sword and a shield.”  The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was some dark days in the Middle East, but the terror of a revolution was significantly reduced through the use of humor, and “Egyptians laughed themselves into a democracy.”  Quoting Orwell (1945), Helmy and Frerichs (2013) related, “Every joke is a tiny revolution,” “humor is at its best when it is upsetting the established order.”  “Whatever …. brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny!”

Helmy and Frerichs (2013) add another aspect to humor, the paradox between playfulness and seriousness.  Consider this for a moment, how often has the environment been serious, but you have felt a desire to laugh.  I had this occur at a funeral for a dear friend; her grandson was being a typical boy and did something right in the middle of the funeral.  I laughed.  Totally not appreciated by the family and friends gathered, but it was funny.  My first command and staff meeting in the US Army, serious business, lots of high-ranking officers, lots of junior officers practicing seriousness, something was said, I laughed.  Few others followed, but the rest of the crowd’s disgusted looks soon stifled the humor out of the situation.  I learned a valuable lesson that day, when serious, be sure to laugh!

WWGDThus, bringing Smith (2009) into the mix of humor and seriousness by understanding the audience’s role in humor.  Smith (2009) writes about the Danish Cartoon debacle from January and February 2006, calling this event a grim series of events that proves humor is not a trivial matter.  Hello, the audience, for the most part, found the cartoons funny, and the only thing shown by those events in 2006 is that humor is also a choice.  Choose to be offended, and you can justify your offense by acting like a rube.  It happens daily when people choose offense, and then they start acting like a tantrum-throwing child in the grocery store cereal or candy aisle!

Yes; the audience does play a role in the humor level, but choosing to take offense is not allowed.  There are comedians out there who say outrageous stuff; I decide not to listen to them due to their vulgarity, which is okay with the vulgar comedian and me.  I am not the targeted audience for indecency in comedians and have even given some thumbs down to favorite comedians who have used vulgarity.  But, I do not go out and throw a tantrum just because I chose to be offended.

Why discuss these aspects of humor?

Semper GumbyHelmy and Frerichs (2013) explained best why these aspects of humor are important, “humor is both a sword and a shield.”  Political cartoons are one of the highest forms of humor, representing both a sword and a shield.  I have seen political cartoons cover the entire spectrum of human efforts and find them priceless examples of how to protect (shield) and attack (sword) the cartoons’ subjects.  For instance, I saw an “Iraqi SCUD Missile Launcher” political cartoon that has kept me chuckling for years.  The camel in that cartoon has the absolute best face.  In the US Army, a picture hung above my desk of a loon trying to swallow a frog, captioned,  “Never Give Up!”  A humorous reminder to me while working in my job at the time.

I currently have a picture of Gumby with the caption, “Semper Gumby” (Always Flexible), another humorous reminder of what I want in my mind and life.  When the WWJD wristbands came out, a friend spoofed them with WWGD (What Would Gumby Do?), and I laughed and laughed.  The sword and shield of humor are essential to personal health, group cohesion, team building, and much more, all because of what humor does in our brains.

Never Give Up!Watson, Matthews, and Allman (2007) remind us that humor relieves stress, facilitates social bonding, acting as an intrinsic reward, and powerfully activates significant portions of the brain, helping humans navigate complex social environments.  Chemicals are released in the brain when we laugh that mellows moods, opens possibilities for problem-solving, and generates goodwill.  As a nerd, I find the fMRI imaging used in Watson, et al’s. (2007) research fascinating.

In a “Liberty FIRST Culture,” laughter is both anticipated and acceptable.  Laugh!  Enjoy the humor in situations, for I can tell you a well-known truth, humans are funny!  Watching humans interact is hilarious.  Want to blow a cashier’s mind when they ask, “How are you?” tell them, “Breathing.”  Then stand and watch their face.  Hilarious!

Leap DayI was behind a person in line; with my sense of humor, the cashier asked, “How are you?” The gentleman said he was “pooping square turds.”  I laughed!  I still laugh.  What a line!  But, the cashier’s face was indescribably funny!  The gentleman paid for his groceries and left, as the next customer, the cashier, was still off her mojo during our transaction.  I was there for her next customer and witnessed the cashier still was off her mojo for that customer.  I have no idea what that cashier thought about this transaction, but I found it an incredibly great break from the ordinary.

ResilienceLaughter is good!  Use it, know it, and practice it.  The best tool in the world is to make someone else laugh.

Non Sequitur - Carpe DiemReferences

Helmy, M. M., & Frerichs, S. (2013). Stripping the boss: The powerful role of humor in the Egyptian Revolution 2011. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 47(4), 450-481.

Smith, M. (2009). Humor, unlaughter, and boundary maintenance. Journal of American Folklore, 148-171.

Watson, K. K., Matthews, B. J., & Allman, J. M. (2007). Brain activation during sight gags and language-dependent humor. Cerebral cortex, 17(2), 314-324.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.