The state of the union? Self-medicated.

January 26, 2011

President Obama understandably could not mention everything to Congress on Tuesday night. But to really convey the state of the union, you have to say at least a thing or two about our state of mind.

My fellow Americans, we are one nutty nation.

Just months after watching the economy hit bottom because we hadn't saved enough money, our addiction to stuff has resurfaced. Our spending habit has returned.

What a wacky economic system - where high unemployment is good for the stock market, massive layoffs result in big bonuses for CEOs and we are told to hold our breaths until tax cuts for the wealthy start producing jobs.

Those who weathered the recession without losing a home or a job now tell economists that they are suffering from "frugality fatigue." Apparently, having to watch last year's old 42-inch flat-screen TV caused such melancholia that some decided to self-medicate with the purchase of a new 51-inch screen.

Nothing like a shot of "consumer confidence," which the government reported Tuesday is on the rise.

So is the use of bath salt hootch for that matter. Say you lost your job and can't afford a big-screen TV but are still suffering from frugality fatigue. Do what police in Fulton, Miss., said Neil Brown did recently. He got high on bath salts, which have chemicals that act as a stimulant when snorted, smoked or consumed in a drink.

Such are the signs of just how desperate we are to feel better. But like so many of the solutions we come up with, the cure often turns out to be worse than the illness. Checked out the interest rates on those credit cards lately? Worse than the overdraft fees they replaced.

Back to Neil Brown, though. According to an article in The Washington Post on Sunday, the bath salts caused him to hallucinate, become paranoid, and eventually take a skinning knife and slit his face and stomach.

Still, bath salts are the new craze, especially among kids and young adults. Poison control centers in 25 states have received calls about people who ingested the salts in their misguided pursuit of happiness.

There's also K2, a parsley-like spice that's sprayed with a chemical to make synthetic marijuana. In the District last year, police raided a dorm at Georgetown University and found a K2 lab consisting of dry ice, ammonia, salt, lighter fluid, carbon dioxide canisters and several jars containing a "clear liquid substance."

That ought to be enough to bring out the old skinning knife again.

So what's eating at us?

Our mammoth pharmaceutical industry can't manufacture enough pills. Distillers can't bottle enough booze. Afghanistan can't produce enough heroin, South America can't export enough cocaine and Mexico can't grow enough weed to fix whatever it is.

Now Starbucks is coming out with bucket-size cups of caffeine just so we can feel like going to work.

On the Web site for the National Institute of Mental Health, you'll find a list of the more common maladies that we are dying to relieve.

To one degree or another, the nation appears afflicted with "generalized anxiety disorder," which the NIMH says shows up as "exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it."

And you probably thought the Sarah Palin scare was real.

Anti-social personality disorder is also widespread. The condition involves many disturbing behaviors, including violent acts. But a hallmark of the malady is poor behavioral controls - expressions of irritability, annoyance, threats, verbal abuse.

For example, browse the comment section on any article about politics on The Post's Web site. Reading them, you might wonder whether there was a WiFi hot spot in the dayroom at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Sometimes, though, you need look no farther than the person sitting in the cubicle next to you. Even the sanest-looking people can behave strangely when cloaked in anonymity.

Panic disorder is the real big one, characterized by "repeated episodes of intense fear." How else do you explain why a nation of about 330 million people has more than 300 million privately owned firearms and still wants more?

Neither criminals - nor the criminally insane - will ever have difficulty getting hold of one.

My fellow Americans, ask yourself: How strong can the state of the union really be if our minds are so unsound?

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