With winter dragging here on Martha’s Vineyard and holding back early signs of spring, I wonder what is the Islander’s overall mood these days. Lousy? Upbeat? Fair to middling?
I’m asking because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 10 per cent of Americans suffer from FMD — Frequent Mental Distress. That’s defined as having “14 or more bad days out of 30.” If the snow pile on Edgartown’s Post Office Square is any indication, these statistics may be a lot worse on the Island.
I’ve never kept a log of how many days out of 30 were FMD days for me. Nevertheless, I can confidently say that there were a lot fewer than 14, no matter what the weather. That would land me in the IMD, the Infrequent Mental Distress slot, I guess. The CDC diagnoses it as RTOMD — Rare to Occasional Mental Distress.
Not that I’m the happy-go-lucky kind or want to make light of the subject. I do seem to suffer from instances of VOMMD — Very Occasional Mild Mental Distress. This affliction strikes at odd moments, say, when my shoelaces snap. Or when I remove the cap from a full milk jug in one swift circular motion and some milk spills onto the kitchen counter.
If I’m in a hurry, the Very Occasional Mild Mental Distress loses the “Mild” and becomes VOMD — Very Occasional Mental Distress. In the case of the milk, the VOMD deteriorates further if the phone rings just then and I happen to expect an important call. This ratchets the distress up another notch. But chances are, I’m going to cope with the situation without crying over spilled milk. And how often do shoelaces break, especially if you wear loafers?
On top of all this, the Centers’ definition for FMD, “14 or more bad days out of 30,” is a bit fuzzy. Suppose the days of Frequent Mental Distress balloon to 28 days. That’s four weeks straight, and they still call that frequent? How about persistent or chronic? We could be talking basket case here.
Which brings us to the issue of how to define distress. Depending on people’s disposition, it could be caused by anything from a minor bump on life’s road to outright disaster. That’s why we should find a way to categorize people according to the DIOPID — the Disposition Index of People in Distress. In the U.K. it would be called the SULI — the Stiff Upper Lip Index.
During World War II, Britain listened to Churchill’s rousing tough-it-out speeches to counteract FMD. With characteristic unflappability he promised “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Today, that’s no problem at all. For blood we have Band-Aids, toil is taken care of by undocumented workers, tears are dabbed with Kleenex tissues, and sweat is held in check by antiperspirants.
So, as far as Frequent Mental Distress is concerned, bring it on.
Peter Dreyer is a year-round resident of Edgartown.