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Going Feral: When Stress Takes it's Toll

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 9, 1999


Over-crowding here in coastal North County can be experienced in a myriad of ways. Both seen and felt, individuals respond differently to the growing pressure resulting from the mess we call progress. Some folks rise to the challenge, confronting what they see as injustice, this type draws strength from fighting the good fight, refusing to give up hope in the face overwhelming opposition. Outnumbered, and out financed these people never-the-less refuse to succumb to the apathy that permeates all corners of our society. This column is not about them.

The majority of people, too set in their ways and brainwashed by the media and other agents of the inevitable, have settled into a complacency, that while comfortable, is more about lack of alternatives than anything else. The paradox is that when given a choice, they will stay with the herd, protected, if not safe. These are the folks you see everyday sitting in gridlock, cell phone permanently attached to one ear, oblivious to the chaos around them.

We also see these people flocking to the mall, movies, and other diversions that assuage their anxiety. Herd mentality is quietly comforting to the majority of Californians, unwilling to rock the boat, they seek comfort in the fact that they are not alone in the madness. Believing in a system that has chained them to an automobile, forced to work themselves to death, these people justify such an existence with a continuous procession of shiny baubles and gadgets, always believing that the next consumer good will fill the void inside. This column is not about them.

Who this column is about is the walking wounded. Although the homeless, runaways, and others who exist on the fringe of society certainly fall into this category, they are easily identified as feral people, allowing the rest of us to disassociate from them, as if our existence is not connected to theirs. The walking wounded I refer to are the neighbors next door. The ones, who at first look seem to be as grounded as the rest of us. On second look however, you see how they are slowly unraveling.

I would suggest the majority of these people live their lives, as Henry David Thoreau first described, in quiet desperation. Medicating themselves with drugs, alcohol, food, television, sex, or money. Most of these people never progress to the next level, that of feral behavior, and easily mix with the masses, going about their daily lives, unnoticed in the general rush to oblivion. The question is what happens to the folks who can no longer keep up the facade of well-being, yet have just enough sanity to keep it together once they realize the wine and prozac is nothing but a panacea.

The majority of Americans are completely oblivious to the fact that as we drive other species to the edge of extinction, some of of own are being driven to madness. Wether it's a neo-nazi shooting up daycare centers in the suburbs of Los Angeles, unstable day traders taking out family and associates in an Atlanta business park, or a San Marcos women murdering her four sons to get back at the men in her life, it is obvious society is beginning to breakdown.

The reason I bring this up is because a friend of mine is slowly sinking into a private world not unlike that of Ted Kazinski. Unable or unwilling to pretend any longer, misanthropy is twisting this individual into knots that leave no room for light or love. Alone except for a few cats and even fewer friends, the number of the former rising, as the latter decreases. Isolation becomes a self-fulling prophecy, and like a feral cat she avoids nourishing human contact. Having stricken hope from her vocabulary, far from wild she lives in a cage of her own making.

We have all heard stories of drowning victims taking their would be rescuers down with them. Sensing that I too am vulnerable to bitter resignation, I have come to the conclusion that good intentions are not enough. So instead of trying to save my friend from herself, the best thing I can do is leave her to make her own way in a world that leaves little room for those without the emotional stamina to cope with too many people, driving to many cars. With so much stress warping our lives, eventually something has got to give. Sadly, a sense of community is the first to go.

Do I think my friend will resort to violence? Absolutely not. Behind the walls she has constructed to protect her fragile psyche, is a kind and gentle women refusing to acknowledge that joy is still possible. I write this column because I don't know what else to do.

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