What Does Stability Look Like For You?

For some of us this simply means having three meals a day, our medication, an income (social security included) and a permanent roof over our head. For others that means a more than comfortable income, a full-time job, a family, and spare time to travel. Some of us haven’t asked ourselves about stability because it feels elusive.

Feeling Lost

This happens. Stability isn’t born out of stability, it’s born out of troubles and pain and the murky mist of a labyrinth; we are lost before we are found. Understanding that this pain exists because it must, because even pain needs space to breathe, is the first step to accepting the present.

It’s true some people are perpetually lost. There are those of us without shelter, without family, wandering the streets at the mercy of our madness. With poor resources and a poor outlook on mental health recovery, not enough people receive the services they deserve. Chances are, because you’re reading this now, you aren’t that person.

This does not mean compare your life. This does not mean you should feel guilty for having food, shelter, and family while still being in tremendous agony–it’s illogical to compare pains. We all struggle, we all suffer, and that’s that. What it means is that you are not perpetually lost. It means you have a greater chance at recovery. That’s a fact.

Because you have a greater chance at recovery, you also have a chance to help those without your advantage. You can give back. You can have purpose and be fulfilled while fulfilling.

In this we see that being lost is not a time to mourn. It is not a sign of predestined suffering or eternal pain. Being lost is an experience to be grateful for. It’s an experience that teaches us to teach others.

A Change of Perspective

Such a change of perspective isn’t a simple jump from “negative” to “positive”, but a deeper understanding of the beauty of pain and the expectations of happiness.

We often have a vain idea of what happiness means. This can turn into us holding ourselves to unrealistic standards, and when that standard isn’t met, we crumble, our self-worth tied up in our expectations.

We can also have a clear but misguided understanding of pain: we disregard it, try to ignore it, hate it, cry over it, damn it to hell. Therefore we glaze over areas of pain that help us grow, that show us what we really want for ourselves. When we break out of the darkness and into the light, we get wary of the brightness in anticipation of pain, completely discounting the contribution pain had made–if it were not for that darkness, we may not have had the opportunity to experience the light.

Rather than try and predict our pain, rather than set unrealistic expectations of happiness, a balanced absorbance of both experiences, no matter how rough or how euphoric, can present a new way of living, one in which we experience the rawness of ourselves.

Where will you go?

And so my question for you all is where will life take you? Where will pain take you? Where will happiness take you? What journeys can you start and end?

Dramatic change can yield dramatic results.

Stability for me is a comfortable income, a travel plan, proper meals, exercise, and a compassion toward my inner demons, without which I would be heavily medicated, deeply depressed, and unrealistically expecting a miracle.

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How To (Gently) Encourage Your Friend to Get On Medication.

Step 1:

Don’t.

It’s that simple.

Why Are We Talking About This?

There are too many questions on social media of people asking Pop-Advocacy sites and people with lived experience how they should convince their friend to get back on medication. Let’s be clear that this is often out of love, concern, pain, and desperation. If you are reading this and have a friend or loved one you believe should be on medication, don’t give up on reading this just yet. This article is not here to bash you, punish you, or guilt you. It’s here for guidance.

We’re talking about this because mental health conditions strike unexpectedly at times, roll in and out of our lives in episodes, and put stress on everyone effected. We’re talking about this because often healthy boundaries get left in the dark when we’re all under so much stress. Those of us struggling can become dependent and feel helpless, while those of us who feel responsible for the well-being of our loved-one feel guilt that we can’t make this pain go away.

We’re talking about this to make it easier on everyone.

Objective Conversation About Medication

One of the reasons pestering your loved one to get on medication is often a losing battle is because there is absolutely zero objective conversation when it comes to medication. Often it is “take this because it’s good for you” instead of “What are the benefits of you taking this? What are the consequences? What can I/we do that can help you with whatever your decision is?”

The “take it because I know what’s good for you” argument is given subtly (or sometimes overtly) in the professional setting. To come home and hear it again, aggressively or compassionately, is all it takes to send someone over the edge, or push them farther away from pharmaceuticals.

There is no consideration of what the person who actually has to take the medication feels. If they feel stable enough off the medication and people constantly tell them they should get back on to avoid the ups and down or voices or anxiety, it creates a lot of self-doubt, a lot of fear, and another sense of helplessness. That can feed depression, it can feed anxiety, it can egg on voices.

If they don’t appear stable, if they lost their job or can’t maintain one, if they are having suicidal thoughts or talking to themselves often, and they still don’t want medication, telling them they should get on some can be seen as forceful and power-hungry. When we’re in the throws of an episode or just having a bad day–those exist for everyone, you know, not necessarily indicative of a mental breakdown–anyone who approaches with concern in the form of demands or a “hero” mentality will seem like an enemy. Rather than feeling the love you have for us, we’ll only feel your disapproval. We’ll feel like something is wrong with us or we’ll feel attacked. That could feed depression, anxiety, and could exacerbate delusions.

Boundaries

This is where having boundaries comes in super handy.

The thing about watching a loved one struggle is that we put a lot of their wellness on our shoulders. The thing about their wellness is that it’s not our responsibility.

That is not meant harshly.

People have choice. They are allowed to struggle. In fact, struggle can result in life transformation. Sometimes if we’re blocked from feeling, if we’re blocked from experiencing what we should, we may not come across that one moment in our lives that tells us: “I need to make some changes“.

You are not that voice for your loved one.

And so a boundary would be limiting your involvement. Resist the urge to help them at any time, particularly if they aren’t doing much to work on themselves.

But, give them space. Make statements like “You’re doing well/unwell today. What’s changed?” and when they answer, listen objectively. Avoid judging statements like “well, if you got back on your medication this wouldn’t be such a big deal” or “look, it’s not my fault you don’t want to do anything to feel better”. Arguing will increase cortisol levels in both of you.

If you feel bullied into helping your loved one, or they often use their condition as a means to exploit your help, stop blaming this behavior on the condition. Most often this is a learned behavior and a result of learned helplessness. Being angry is often a result of feeling like a burden, feeling helpless and out of control, but that doesn’t mean you deserve to be verbally or physically attacked, nor does it mean you need to accept that treatment. Medication will often not stop this behavior.

Louder Now: MEDICATION WILL NOT STOP THIS BEHAVIOR.

And if it does, it’s only because of the sedative seffects.

And so regardless, the behavior is never addressed. Your trauma is never addressed. Your loved one can continue to be angry, feel misunderstood and undervalued, and you will continue to feel like a doormat and blame their “sickness”. It’s quite a cycle, huh?

So what DO you do?

You listen.

Understand that this is not your responsibility, nor is it your struggle.

You’re concerned, you’re worried, fearful, angry, confused. So is your loved one.

Maybe they don’t need a solution right now. Maybe they just want to feel supported and understood and heard. And it’s time to consider if you’re willing to be more of a supportive force and less of a hero.

This isn’t debate class. Having a stellar argument won’t result in discussion, it’ll result in fallout. You want discussion. Go in objectively. Go in with the conception that this is not your mind nor your body, but it is the mind and body of someone you care deeply for. Go in understanding that they have the right to choose and you have the right to your beliefs and discuss both. You may have to agree to disagree and just enjoy each other’s point of view.

If you’re really invested, research all the advantages and disadvantages of medication. Read stories of people who have been helped and hurt by medication, read stories of those who have successfully lived off of medication. Read psychology research papers (not secondary sources). If this part is confusing to you, read this.

Think of a time in your life when you made a decision or something happened which transformed your perception of yourself, the world, and the people around you. Now imagine that never happened.

Controlling someone’s choices can block transformative experiences. Life isn’t debate class.

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February's Scheduled Mental Breakdown

I like that I’ve already failed in keeping up with my scheduled posts. If I’m actually consistent with a goal I set, someone call 911 because my identity has been stolen.

This will be a short post and not research based. I’ll try and do these once a month. Again, if I *actually* do this once a month, call 911, stolen identity, yada yada.

I preach a lot about the benefits of self-care and ways to manage different experiences/symptoms. A lot of the time the information is helpful and the tips are ones I use myself. And so I wonder, because this happens to me at times: when none of your coping strategies work, what do you do?

I’ll write a more formal post on this idea later, with actual, helpful ideas, but at the moment I have no conception of supportive thought.

I suppose being aware of what your body and mind are feeling and why is important here. My possible reasons for this scheduled mental breakdown include:

  1. Family stress.
  2. Missing deadlines for an online class because of exhaustion from family stress.
  3. Impending death
  4. Health anxiety
  5. Re-activated PTSD symptoms, related to health.
  6. Loud thoughts/quiet voices
  7. Not believing my life is real
  8. Being trapped between school and work and unable to take a break from either.
  9. Believing my therapist, doctors, and friends believe I am a liar about my mental health. *Side note: anyone else ever felt this? That people think you’re just some fake person creating lies for attention? Anyone start thinking about it so much that you think maybe you are a fake and the last 6 years haven’t actually happened, you’re just confused? But then wouldn’t that actually make you crazy? Anyone? This is really fucking with me today.
  10. Physical health frustrations, including forcing my doctor to give me an EKG because I’m terrified of dying suddenly from Cardiac Arrest because of palpitations I’m not even sure are real (I have a history of feeling things in my body that aren’t happening–biofeedback proved it.)
  11. Feeling blank thoughts.
  12. Wanting to withdraw from people but knowing I shouldn’t and also that I can’t, given I must finish these courses and also go to work like a good citizen.
  13. I’ll never get serious mental health assistance because I live at home, in America, can handle working three days a week (barely), am enrolled in college, and have never been outwardly violent, disruptive, combative, or otherwise non-compliant (other than stopping medication). Instead, I spent months in my room, showering only if I went to work (had been on-call); I dropped my classes, spent all of my time playing Minecraft, did rituals to call the god Thoth for help/wisdom, listened to voices and loud thoughts, slept, had nightmares, didn’t sleep, and held maybe one or two short conversations with my parents who figured I was just “going through a phase”–but because none of this caused me to talk to myself or be disconnected in the way you’re expected to be, I don’t get taken seriously.
  14. Anxiety. Just. Anxiety.
  15. Drinking on the weekends.
  16. Not exercising like I was.
  17. Falling short on responsibilities.
  18. Forget *actually* being sandwiched between school and work. Just the feeling of being trapped.
  19. Falling short on personal expectations.
  20. The potential of wasting my potential.
  21. Financial issues

I think that’s a pretty solid list. The healthy thing would be to work through each issue one by one and identify things which can be easily changed and things which may just need to be felt and moved through. Accept that it could take weeks and that this is a rough patch.

But today I just feel like laying on the couch and being unhealthy. So maybe that’s what I will do. My cat seems to feel it; she’s never this cuddly.

Until next time.

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Distractions: For Better, or For Worse?

One of the popular coping mechanisms most often quoted by self-help websites, short articles, or purported “ways to help your anxiety” is distractions.

Distractions range from averting your attention to a video or a game to focusing on a particular object in the room. It can be reading, running, homework, or even social media. All of these tactics can be considered a way to remove your thought from dark, confusing, or anxiety riddled thoughts.

If you use distractions, I’d love to hear your experience with them. I will base this analysis on my experiences and the trainings I’ve participated in.

Distractions are often used in all states of frustration, but are commonly suggested for anxiety and depression. In anxiety, these are used as grounding techniques. Some distractions, like averting your attention to something in the room, is just that; you become more aware of the present, more aware of your body in the present, and less aware of the circular thoughts or racing heart rate (depending on your level of anxiety).

I have found this can be quite effective in myself, particularly when it comes down to the pre-panic state: you know, when you feel that warm, familiar wave of dread pass from your head to your toes, when your heart rate starts pumping hard, and your first thought is: here it comes. I had that moment in my old car one day. Terrified, I defaulted to what my therapist at the time suggested—look around and describe an object out loud. And so I did. By the time the light turned green, my panic had reduced over 50%.

None of the other techniques worked well for my anxiety. I found when watching a video, the voices in the videos became background noise to my own anxious circular reasonings. I couldn’t gain enough focus for reading, and any quiet activity (including meditation) only made me more aware of my racing heart. Often these distractions served to increase my anxiety.

Years ago I had taken a psychology course and learned more in depth about the executive functioning of the frontal lobe. I learned about the analytical and reasoning skills which often reside there. I also happened to be taking integral calculus at the time, and noticed a stark reduction in my anxiety while immersed in math.

You could hypothesize this was because the activity of math is very distracting; your focus is not on your thoughts or the world around you, your focus is on using the extremely helpful acronym ILATE (Integer, Logarithmic, Algebraic, Trig, Exponent) to decide how to tackle an integration by parts problem.

I tend to hypothesize that the brain activity that requires math can ease a flight/fight response. I tested my hypothesis a few times only on myself (that means, don’t take this THAT seriously, it’s an IDEA, not a FACT, and I had no control to PROVE that the brain activity required makes a difference). In my pre-panic mode, I did some calculus. Twenty minutes later I had finished my homework and forgot what I’d been so anxious about.

I didn’t just test it with calculus. I tried puzzles too, like Sudoku. It had a calming effect, but not with the same intensity. I used Algebra and easier, grade-school level math. The effect seemed equal to that of calculus. I hypothesized that something about the structure of formula, organization, and arithmetic calmed that flight/fight/panic sense more so than just the logical part of the activity (as we’d see in the solving of puzzles like Sudoku). If you’d like to read a little more about arithmetic, brain development, and implications, you can check out this study here, and browse the references too. I’d like to study this for real one day.

But for depression, this didn’t seem to be the case. I couldn’t muster the energy or the cognitive functioning required for math when depressed. In fact, I couldn’t muster either for any task and found myself lazing away, not bathing, not working, not seeing hope in a future.

Distractions for depression seemed illogical to me, even when I sat contemplating suicide. I didn’t want to put a bandaid on a broken leg, I wanted a way to fix the leg, I wanted something to snap the bone back in place so I could recover properly. Distractions never seemed to do this. Even when a distraction, like zoning out on YouTube, kept me from thinking about dying, I had to watch the videos constantly to get rid of the thoughts. And even then they’d sneak in.

Distractions for depression come from this ideal, I think, that thoughts of suicide and other painful things are inherently wrong. We shouldn’t be having them, so until we can get rid of them indefinitely, or as a way to stop you from acting of them, we put you in front of a screen or a book or the internet. Rather than encourage an exploration of the pain, we must remind you how wrong your pain is by suggesting you do everything possible to stray from it.

But if your pain is a Cougar, the last thing you want to do is turn your back and run.

And so we come to this conclusion similar to many things in psychology: both are right. Distractions can be useful until they become a life-line, until they become the only coping mechanism.

We could also safely say that there isn’t some finite list of coping mechanisms. I didn’t learn how precious math was to me until I experimented with my own inferences; a therapist would have never said, “hey, try math!”. This highlights something important about our mental health journeys, I think, and that something is: explore. There is no limit on what will or won’t help; try everything until there’s nothing else to try. And then try something else, because there’s always something else to try.

We get trapped under this idea that because something works for one person, it should work for us too. Problem is life doesn’t work like that. Distractions may save you pain. Distractions may cause you more pain. Medication may work, medication may not work. There is no perfect treatment because we understand maybe 1/6886th of the brain and its complexities. That should put you at ease, right?

If you have a particularly unique coping mechanism you’d like to share, pop it down below or find me on social media (also below).

I send updates on posts on Twitter and Instagram. I’ve also started a Writing Schedule: new posts will be on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. If an idea can’t wait, I will post on a Sunday or a Monday (follow my Social Media accounts for that).

And as always, thank you for reading.

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A Broken System: What We Can Do.

I cited an alarming statistic in my post Is Psychology A Science Part 1 (which you can read at the given link) that one of my research professors cited: there are about 40,000 psychological research papers published each year, and, on average, clinical psychologists read about 1 a month. That’s .03% of all research papers. I unfortunately don’t have a statistic for psychiatrists. I’ll work on getting one.

If our doctors are not keeping up with current successful treatments, it means they are also not keeping up with current unsuccessful treatments, which get weeded out in research as well. Remember, the whole point of science is to prove ourselves wrong so we may find what is right. But if we go around thinking we know what’s right (i.e, relying solely on intuition and clinical arrogance), we’ll never investigate what’s wrong. And that’s so backward.

And so the question becomes what can we do to make up for this deficit?

Possible Options:

Educate Ourselves:

This requires us to think differently. Many of us are deep in our pain, and that’s okay. It’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to lack the ability (right now) to do everything you need for yourself. Your goal, at this very moment, is to be kind and compassion to your needs.

Part of being compassionate to your needs is caring for your health. And in order to do that, we often rely on the knowledge of our doctors. This can be more unhealthy behavior however, because it’s giving up our sense of independence and ability to navigate our mind by ourselves.

Some of us don’t have any other option at the moment and I recognize this. When I got released from the hospital, I needed my doctors to listen and manage my medication. They at least managed my medication. This was productive for a crisis. But not sustainable as long-term treatment. It’s not studied for long-term treatment.

Educating ourselves and participating in our treatment can enhance our wellness. If you have access to a college student, or are a college student, primary sources are the best form of knowledge. If this is unfamiliar territory to you, take a quick glance at one of my other posts How To Read A Psychological Research Paper.

If you are not a student and don’t know a student or professional with access to journals, contact me if you want articles on a specific topic. I can provide some.

Secondary sources like textbooks and articles online (including mine) can be okay as long as you take careful note of their references and click on the primary sources they’ve cited. If they haven’t cited primary sources or don’t include references, there’s a good chance the information isn’t reliable.

Any researched information you can present to your doctors and psychologists as ways to participate in your treatment.

Social Media:

This is a strange option because there’s a lot of unreal, invalid information on Social Media. But there’s quite a large mental health community on social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram. Facebook, I’m sure, has one as well. There are researchers who post relevant articles and information which you can investigate.

I don’t suggest spending a lot of time on social media if you are prone to depression. There has been lively debate on whether people spend more time online because they are depressed or if being online too much makes people depressed. Studies are showing more and more that feelings of isolation are increased by online use, not the other way around. Here’s one study. I’m sure there are many more.

If you can balance your health and internet usage, I’d suggest finding people online who model wellness. Not only can you find people who have experienced what you experience, but you can find people who have tried different avenues of treatment and have other perspectives. One of the worst things we can do for ourselves is allow our mindset to be fixed on one perspective.

On social media, there are advocacy groups and pages. You can find programs near you, conventions near you (if that’s something you’re into you), and you can get involved. Giving back can restore a sense of purpose for us, and that is a step in renewing self-esteem.

Think Outside of The Box:

Investigate different perspectives. Build the courage to try new things, not only in treatment but in your everyday experience. For example, my hair was always long, curly, frizzy, and a nice shield between me and the world. I hid behind it in grade school, along with bundling in thick sweaters and baggy jeans, even in the summer. I needed to protect myself because I felt unsafe everywhere and around everyone. When I started shedding sweaters for T-Shirts, I gained a sliver of confidence from it; I was more open and people could sense that. Because people sensed that, they were more likely to smile and/or talk to me.

This month, I chopped off all my hair. The sides are shaved, and the top is a cute, curl-hawk. For me, it symbolized my need to stop hiding. I have to put myself out there, experience new things, make rash decisions, make planned decisions, and enjoy my life. It took 8 solid years of mental health work, psychosis, depression, and deep pain to reach a point in life where I had enough confidence to do this.

And so I encourage all of us to remember if something isn’t working, don’t keep doing. If you are someone who wants to stay on medication and your current medication isn’t working, the next logical step is to try a new one, correct? Treat other therapeutic options the same way. If one type of therapy or therapist or psychiatrist isn’t working, try a different one. If no medication has ever worked, try another option. If you’re tired of living one way, live another.

There is nothing that says we must stay stagnant. There is nothing that says we must endure the same pain over and over again. The only people placing limitations on us is us.

These are only a few things we can do as consumers to promote our own wellness while navigating a system filled with cracks. Feel free to post your own ideas in the comments bellow, or contact me on social media/email. People seem to like DMs on Instagram the best.

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About Mental Illness

I recently learned in a personality psychology course that the effect size in regard to how much words make a difference to people is very small. I’m currently trying to find studies which either argue for or against this, but in the meantime I decided I’d write a short blurb about it.

I’ve found nothing becoming about the term “mental illness”. It feels defaming and self-deprecating. I don’t really consider myself disordered and I’ve been ambivalent about the term schizophrenia and schizoaffective. And if I find these studies accurate, verifiable, and reliable, than I suppose none of this really matters.

I’ve been hung up on it since I was 14. In the CCMD, one of volumes, I remember reading schizophrenia was labeled as “Integration disorder” or something similar. I read a lot of books describing mental struggles as strengths, describing medication as poison, describing this idea of “illness” as bad. I agreed, and to some degree I still do.

But I’m learning to drop the words, really. It’s not about what you want to call it. Call it Schizophrenia, call it Integration disorder, call it Mental Illness, Disorder, Disease (even though there’s not enough actual scientific evidence to prove the disease part), call it whatever you want to call it because regardless we’re all talking about the same experiences. We’re all talking about the same pain, the same beauty, the same horror, the same frustration. The issue comes when people internalize the concept of illness.

The issue comes when someone loses sight of the rest of their future because they’re being told they need to take medication for the rest of their life and they can’t work, they won’t be normal, and everything has to change now–for the worst.

This is a problem because us humans are infamous for letting go of alternative possibilities when we’re provided an answer. This happens to be scientifically proven.

What I mean is, if our answer is: “take meds for the rest of your life”, our brains don’t automatically respond with “I need to find some stable ground, heal myself, and maybe find a way to not take so much medication/taper off. Or maybe I won’t. I need to explore all my options”.

When the answer is: “you’ll have this for the rest of your life”, our brains don’t automatically respond with “I may have this for the rest of my life, I also may not. What are other options?”

No, we say, shit, I have to take these meds. If I don’t, I’ll be unwell again. This is my life line.

We say, shit, I’m doomed. This has ruined my life. There’s nothing I can do.

Sometimes life experiences and therapy and friends and support forces help us see that our life isn’t ruined. Sometimes we can get off medication, and sometimes we can’t. What’s hard for me to swallow is that a lot of us don’t ever get to the point where we can consider either point of view. What’s hard for me to swallow is that when we try and advocate for each other, we do so from the perspective of “illness” instead of “wellness”.

We glamorize this idea that “I live with a mental illness and I’m doing well.” We have that weird AA group mentality of powerlessness. Studies show AA is actually quite ineffective and having been in both AA groups and Al-anon, I find them very cult-ish. I’ve also met countless people who have been saved by AA, NA, and other support groups based in “higher-power” thinking.

But essentially, if all our power comes from us being powerless, then we’re not actually powerful. We’re not anything really, but a pawn. A puppet, maybe. We let ourselves be pulled by the strings of our “disease” or disorder and we find no other avenues of compromise because we are powerless. Sometimes we feel because we made a choice to be powerless, we are empowered. Other times we argue against this adamantly, that we “manage” our illness, and “we don’t let it control us”. But the thing that all these black and white views have in common is fear. The fear, and knowledge, that we can’t control anything.

Why do we need to? That’s the question I ask everyone who presents me with this argument. Why is control even an aspect here? When you are in a healthy relationship or friendship with someone, and you have a disagreement, do you let them decide everything for you, your thoughts and feelings, because you’re powerless against them? Do you shout back and yell and scream and punch them? Hopefully not! Hopefully you don’t engage in either activity. Hopefully you engage in compromise.

When you’re in an unhealthy relationship, if someone is abusive, the partner often submits, terrified, hopeless in an uncontrollable situation. I am guilty of trying to force my thoughts and my mind into submission: I abused myself. My mind is guilty of trying to trap me in madness; my mind abused me.

But if we can engage with compromise with others, if we can strive for balance, if each person can have equal say and equal pull, if I can influence my mind and feel safe allowing my mind to influence me, then the issue of power and control is eliminated. We are free.

Is the healthy opposite of not being able to control anything absolute submission? Is the healthy opposite of powerlessness absolute power?

And so I don’t subscribe to the concept of being mentally ill. I accept that I experience moods and delusions and hallucinations indicative of what we’ve categorized as schizoaffective. But I am not a pawn. To be submissive, to feel I either need all of the control or I shouldn’t have any control, is ill to me. And so I don’t consider myself ill.

I’ve tried very hard to avoid the term “mentally ill” because of this. But hearing about these studies and their small effect size has got me wondering if any of it really matters. It’s got me wondering if the actual concept of mental illness can be looked at differently now.

It’s got me wondering if we will ever get away from this “sick not weak” hashtag.

It’s got me wondering if we will ever see ourselves as having potential for balance, for real vitality again, for health and wealth, without also having to mention the name of our disorder.

I honestly don’t care if you’re a writer with schizophrenia. I just care that you’re a writer, and a damn good one. I care about what you write. I care that you’re living well and are happy. If you have schizophrenia, great! If you don’t, great!

Let’s empower each other’s wellness, not our illness.

PS: I never said this was a site of popular opinions, or popular science.

I stray from popular for a reason. Popularity usually invalidates authenticity.

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Where Research In Re-Framing Our Thoughts Could Take Us

We get consistent word from our therapists that if we re-frame our thoughts, we can change the way we think, the way we perceive things, and that will ultimately help us cope with life. This is often done with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a very proven (as in scientifically) therapeutic method.

There are people who praise this method for saving their lives and others who don’t, and CBT takes a lot of work–a hell of a lot of work. You won’t see results if you don’t take it seriously, and if you’re anything like me, it’s hard to take it seriously when you’re heavily depressed or so anxious you want to jump from your skin. Let me give some background on why this topic is so interesting today.

Amidst all the anxiety this morning, I spiraled down with thoughts of failure, pain of where I am in my life right now versus where I could be, and felt out of place in the classroom; other students whispered about me, and thought very loudly about me. I lost focus in the lecture and I felt bad about that.

The professor popped a meme up on the screen of some woman with a stack of papers at work scribbling maddeningly and saying “this is a two-cupcake Friday”.

I don’t remember what this portion of lecture was about, or if the meme was even relevant, but through all my cloudy thoughts and thoughts of the students around me, one of my voices said calmly “you’re having a bad day.”

And I was. But the significance of this is far greater than just that realization.

Another thing therapy shoves down our throat is that our problems which feel permanent and hopeless are often temporary and malleable. In the moment, I felt miserable. I thought I was falling into another depression, that I’d spent the last year and a half off meds and this day, today, was going to be the day I decided to go back on them because I just couldn’t take the pain anymore.

It’s been a hard three weeks, and to ignore all of those factors and conclude “it’s just my brain making me mental again” would be foolish. I’ve been stressed, and today has been particularly difficult: I had a bad day. There’s nothing else to look at.

Multiple things came to mind as a result of this voice presenting his softer side. The first was–I tell myself the very same thing all the time. I’ll say to myself, “Ugh, today is a bad day.” And I’ll recognize it, but the reality doesn’t always sink in. And so I thought, as I sat through my second course more invigorated and positive, are we more likely to believe others about our true state of self, of being, than we are to believe ourselves?

Let’s look at this through two lenses:

The Theory Behind It All:

  1. Personality Research Shows that friends/family are more accurate in describing things we may be good at, like school/work. (Look up INFORMANT JUDGEMENTS and studies by Connolly (2010).)
  2. Research in this area also shows friends/family are better than us at predicting our personality traits like contentiousness and openness.
  3. Some personality researchers focus only on showing how much we DON’T know about ourselves (like WHY we think the way we do, or WHY we did something/feel something).
  4. Researcher Carol Dweck studied growth/fixed mindset and the influence on intelligence. In her study, children were influenced with praise on their intelligence versus praise on their effort. The study didn’t have anything to do with the effect of the words, but the outcome. Still, the words had a great effect on the thoughts of the children.

The Questions That Now Arise:

1.We are our largest critics, so they say. Why does it seem we doubt the POSITIVE things we tell ourselves, but are convinced of the NEGATIVE things about ourselves?

2. Can we use this possibility to our advantage?

3. For those of us who hear voices, can we train our voices to re-frame their approach, or do they naturally mature as emotional stability improves and coping mechanisms enhance state of living/being?

4. What makes us more likely to believe NEGATIVE things about ourselves versus POSITIVE things?

5. What makes us put more weight on OTHERS words versus our own?

6. How could research in this area of behavior and cognition help further treatment and therapies for psychosis?

These are passing thoughts I had during my second and last lecture. I wondered about it because I had been soothing myself all morning, giving myself reminders that my anxiety is bad, I’m not having a heart attack, that I’m just having a bad day. The moment my voice reiterated that, relief washed over my body. Suddenly, my heart rate slowed and I could focus in class. My head wasn’t as clouded and I went to my second lecture in a great mood–partly because I was fascinated at the effect he had on me.

And so the wonder continues: there is no argument that when a voice tells you you’re worthless, or stupid, or that you’re going to die, you feel immediate dread, sadness, anger. Therefore, were one to tell you something positive, it seems reasonable the same intensity, but positive (happiness, comfort, contentment) has the potential to flow through you. The problem is there isn’t a lot of research in helping people unite with their voices, nor with themselves, regardless of whether they hear voices or not.

When I attended a Hearing Voices Workshop in San Francisco, the man in the couple leading the discussion heard voices and had just been diagnosed with dementia. They’d been spending time training his voices to remember things for him. According to his self-report, and his wife’s informant judgement, it had been working.

This would be regarded as a case study and we can’t put a lot of weight on those scientifically. But it can be a catalyst for real research and potentially a new therapeutic avenue for soothing psychosis.

It seems that we need affirmation when it comes to positive things about ourselves. It seems we need someone to agree with us, or remind us, that yes, we are safe. Yes, we are okay. Yes, this too shall pass. Yes, you are strong, yes you are this, yes you are that. It’s as if we have the inability to create that foundation for ourselves and truly believe it.

But when it comes to the negative things, our failures or short comings, we take them at face value. We don’t need someone telling us “yeah dude, you failed”, for us to think of ourselves as a failure. In fact, someone affirming our negative beliefs about ourselves seems to make it more likely we’ll believe that in the future, whereas someone affirming our positive traits/beliefs doesn’t.

What could this mean? How could we study it?

Many of us may internalize what trauma we’ve experienced as children or adults and so the automatic sense of “everything is horrible” may influence our natural thought. But even among memories of trauma and experiences of trauma, we had moments of great fun. I grew up with my dad being violent and using drugs, terrorizing my house. But I have equally intense, positive memories of being out in the garden with him, planting tomatoes and helping him work on his cars.

Why is it that the negative becomes the basis of my emotional foundation? And can we use what we know (and can still learn ) about this very automatic bias to creative equally positive, habitual thoughts?

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that since one of my False Angels reminded me I’m “just having a bad day”, I haven’t heard anyone else talking, my anxiety is at a steady, manageable level, and I’m more motivated than ever to finish this degree and research.

And to think: I’ve ignored them for SO long.

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My Experience With Schizoaffective

I did not talk in school. Violence, arguing, and substance use permeated my home. I wet myself multiple times because my anxiety wouldn’t let me raise my hand to ask to go to the bathroom. I fainted in fourth grade when asked to solve a math problem on the board. My demeanor was spotted, as far as my knowledge goes, in Kindergarten. It would have been in the years 2000-2001. My parents were informed I’d “grow out of it”. I didn’t.

I started self-harming (cutting, burning, hitting) when I was 11, just a few months before we wound up homeless. The last time was two years ago, about age 22.

Marijuana made things tolerable in high school. If I smoked all day, I wasn’t anxious or depressed. I smoked from 7am until I went to sleep. I’d leave school to smoke, cut class to smoke, and if I didn’t have it, I was thinking about it.

My internal world was very rich, and I hypothesis my severe withdrawal is why many of my voices are internal.

Cars were the first thing to talk to me. They told me jokes and had very different personalities. I’d sit on the floor of our studio, right in front of the door and just laugh and laugh. I learned I didn’t have to talk out loud to them, they could hear me when I thought my answers too.

But, I was a kid. Many kids are imaginative and I was particularly so.

The first time I heard an external voice that startled me was sometime in my freshman year of college. I’d been through psychiatrists and therapists already for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This voice wasn’t much of a voice. She just screamed. She’d scream at night in particular.

I didn’t sleep a lot, and in high school this was because of anxiety. In college, I just didn’t need to sleep. I spent some time conducting fake studies and believing I’d cured all illness with a simple frequency level. I took physics, calculus, and chemistry to learn more and lost sight of my actual major. I knew I had a path, and with each new direction I took, a new feeling would tell me THAT, that right THERE, THAT’S my path. I’m being guided.

I dipped in some more depressions, on and off. Severe ones. They landed me in crisis units. I didn’t bathe, I quit jobs, I wouldn’t clean my room and by the end of an episode, my ankles would be buried on my floor in junk–clothes, paper, scribbles, drawings, poems, trash, trash, and more trash.

I’d hear voices, the screaming woman still, and a male. He told me I was a dead man walking. He’d call my name and laugh when I turned to look for him. I also had voices interrupting my thoughts. I didn’t know they were voices then, and they’d tell me I wasn’t crazy.

Things took a darker turn quickly. People started being possessed–my classmates, my new coworkers. This was around the time I started working at the Peer Respite. Possessed by demons, the voices, and it was their talking I fell asleep to at night.

They didn’t just communicate with me externally or internally. They left signs around the world for me: messages with news casters, trash, online ads, television shows and commercials. Then they showed me hell.

I don’t believe in hell, but I didn’t have another word for what they showed me, so I called it that. They showed me torture boards where they stood beside my latched body, laughing, turning gears so my limbs could be pulled from my body. They took the form of clowns in my room at night and my childhood fear of sleeping in the dark returned.

I believed they manipulated my dreams as well. They were there with me sometimes, I could hear them, and they sent the Day Walker after me. This became a reoccurring dream for me: a man who killed in broad daylight. He chopped off his victims heads and stuck them on stakes, which he then scattered around town as signs to me. The last dream I ever had of the Day Walker (named so by my voices), he’d found me hiding underneath a car. I smelled the mud on his boots. I never saw his face.

I awoke drenched in sweat and tears. I was used to my dreams being permeated in blood, rape, murder, mutilation, dismemberment, and terror. But something about this one was different. The voices said he was coming for me, and so were they. I then determined they were demons.

When the Las Vegas shooting happened, and the investigators couldn’t find a motive, I knew my demons were right: they’d possessed that man and killed those people as a message to me. The message was: we’re going to thwart your reason for existence, because your reason for existence is light and our reason is dark.

I don’t remember a lot about this time. I’d entered a silent war, a war whose outcome would determine my fate and the fate of the earth, given my future importance. I was constantly told I’d be killed. This scared me. I was anxious all the time, withdrawn, confused mostly, losing track of time, school, and work.

At home I stayed in my room. I’ve always been withdrawn from my parents, and this time was no different for them. It was when the sheriffs showed up to their door, though.

Eventually I threatened I kill myself because the demons wouldn’t stop. This prompted a 911 call, unknown to my parents, and I was taken away in the back of the sheriffs car in handcuffs to the hospital I hated being in.

I called home incessantly, demanding to know what they were telling my parents–which was nothing. I paced and paced and was sent an hour from home to a new hospital. A better one, in my opinion.

I got sleep there, something I hadn’t had in so long. And when I came out, sedated and still very confused, loopy, I followed butterflies who told me I should follow them. I spent hours walking without knowing I was walking. I took up a habit of wood burning and carving.

What I find most interesting about my journey is how it is to put into words all the things I experienced, so many of which I only have snippets of clear memories of. I have vivid feeling-memories of pain and voices and confusion, mostly. I tried to kill myself again, this time actively, but was saved. That was the loudest my voices ever became, and that was the result of stopping (all) my medication too quickly–a SSRI, an antipsychotic, and some anxiety med.

I have another voice, usually external but sometimes internal, who will ask me how I am. He’ll check up on me when I’m having a particularly hard day. That was the beginning of me seeing the benevolent side of these so-called demons, who I now refer to as false angels. He emerged when I started learning how to get in touch with my feelings.

So, I didn’t do anything drastic. I never ran down the street or screamed at people or openly talked to myself or to others so incoherently. So much of my experience in early life was internal, as protection, that my mental health expressed itself internally as well. It was rare my anxiety showed, or my depression. I have people to this day tell me I don’t “look” anxious, or behave anxiously–there are some people who I can see it in; they walk into class shaking or tapping as a soothing technique. They ask clarifying questions constantly or confirm their answer constantly, fearful of being wrong.

I didn’t know how to put my childhood into words, particularly not as a child.

One of the misconceptions about psychosis is that we’re all the same level of “obvious”. But that’s what we see in the news, or read about in people’s stories. It’s how we get killed by police using improper force out of fear. But not all of us go kicking and screaming into the hospital. My terror petrifies me, and so being fearful only paralyzed me. I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t fight the nurses, I sat in my corner of the hospital and listened to my brain rampage.

I wanted to share this so everyone knows where I’m coming from when I write these posts. It’s a place of understanding and also a place of not understanding; I’ve never been thrown on a cot and injected. I’ve never walked down the street with no shoes, homeless, talking to my voices and being arrested for trespassing. I’m still very disconnected from the very people I share so much in common with.

I think it’s worth celebrating the differences in our experiences, not just the similarities. Psychosis is notorious for taking over. It’s notorious for being unpredictable and obvious. It’s got some subtle undertones in some of us though, and sometimes it feels wrong to express this, given the hospital trauma–like cot injections– so many of us experience.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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The Tie Between Physical and Mental Health

In pursuing a degree in psychology, a couple depressive and psychotic episodes interrupted my original plan. In that, I’ve discovered I never really wanted a degree in psychology. In that , I discovered I’m stuck with it and must make the best out of it because starting over sounds excruciating.

And so I make this post in honor of all the adamant advocates who insist on equating mental health with physical health, despite the fact that they need very different treatments, have different levels of valid (or invalid) research, and that one is ostensibly more tangible and reliable than the other.

What’s the point?

I think sometimes when we are caught up in our head, we disconnect from the flesh and organisms which keep us breathing and conscious. Our body becomes a poorly oiled machine, and we creak and groan getting out of bed in the morning, and groan and creak getting in the bed at night. One thing which was missing from my mental health treatment in the past was a consult on my physical health.

One sleep doctor told me I needed to lose weight. That was the extent of the care given to my body after my last psychotic episode, even under the watchful eye of my psychiatrist, therapist, and physician.

And so I notice this huge disconnect in ourselves as well as in the health field. There is a reason many of us diagnosed have a higher percentage of eating highly processed foods, calorie dense foods, and refined sugar/corn syrup filled foods–it’s not just because these foods become a comfort (because they do), but also because dealing with voices and visions and mood swings take our focus away from the rest of the world, the rest of us, and without some gentle pushing and encouragement from the team around us, we’re not able to hop on the physical health track.

I did not gain one hundred pounds until my moods were so unregulated and my psychosis was so encompassing that I forgot my body even existed. This is after being a very fit, very active teenager and young adult. Medication with weight side-effects didn’t help.

What bothers me now is that doctors prescribe medications without also setting us up with a nutrition coach or a dietitian or whatever we can afford/our insurance will pay for, who can help us balance those debilitating side effects with healthier options.

I lost the weight because I was ready and because I did all the research about what foods start up metabolism, how restricting and counting calories is horrible for weight loss, and the importance of regular exercise. Within 6-8 months, I healthily lost half the weight and gained an incredible amount of mental stability for being off medication.

This has kept my depression at bay for the first time since I was eleven years old, wishing I could kill myself. I’m now 24. It has significantly reduced my anxiety, and has helped me manage paranoia. When I reintroduce a steady, less healthy diet for a couple weeks (such as a ridiculous amount of carbs, high amounts of refined sugar, and large portions), my paranoia ramps up, my panic attacks take over, and I feel miserable both physically and mentally.

Food isn’t just fuel for our bodies, it’s medicine for our minds. It keeps our blood sugars level, our energy converting, our organs functioning, and our serotonin happy–let’s not forget the abundance of serotonin that lies in our gut.

When we stuff ourselves with foods that raise our sugar levels and our dopamine levels, we crash and want more sugar. We get a lesser high each time, and a lower low each time; it’s like cocaine. The higher weight we get from fatty foods, the less movement we enjoy, and the more anxious and insecure we feel. This keeps us from experiencing the world, withdraws us from social activity, and that alone can ramp up experiences of any mental health condition.

And so pop-advocates are right: mental health and physical health should be treated the same in that both must be addressed in order for the whole person to be healthy. When we are so lost in our mind, we need something to ground us back in our physical body, and one way that can be done is relearning how to show compassion through healthy action toward our physical form.

It’s mistaken to believe what you put into your body doesn’t effect your mental health. It’s mistaken to believe that the majority of our struggle comes from chemicals; the fact is there are social factors, economic/financial factors, genetic factors, and physical factors. Some of these we have more power to change than we think, and physical factors tend to be the easiest, as hard as it is. When I stopped telling myself “well, there’s nothing I can do about it” in regards to my experiences, I found there was a whole hell of a lot I could do, not just to cope, not just to exist, but to heal and nurture all the undressed wounds I’d left bleeding for so many years. One of those wounds was my physical health.

What can we do?

It’s evident that changing eating habits is not a simple feat. It takes a lot of discipline and motivation and readiness–readiness being key. If discipline and motivation aren’t your thing, a good support team around you which you trust may work to gently encourage progress and give healthy reminders when your progress falters (because it will falter).

If you don’t have much of a support force, and your doctors aren’t much help, starting slowly will be your best bet. If you feel you aren’t ready to embark on that kind of a journey, don’t. Starting before you’re ready will only make you falter in your discipline. That will disappoint you and the discouragement will eventually convince you to quit.

So, Are you ready?

1) My first suggestion would be research. Read some stuff about food. The good stuff. Stuff about why carbs are good, why sugar is good, why certain fats actually help you burn stored fat in your body. I say start with this kind of research because it’s a reminder to you that food is good! There is nothing you need to avoid, only things eaten in moderation and with careful consideration. Things eaten for fuel, not out of emotion.

2) Next, find some foods that kickstart your metabolism. Foods like kale, spinach, raspberries, and blueberries, or spices like Tumeric. These are great pre and post workout snacks (and seasonings) that will help your body use up some of its fat storage.

3) Plan your meals. When I started my weight loss journey, I ate a kale, spinach, tofu (seasoned with tumeric) salad, topped with raspberries and blueberries for lunch. For breakfast, I ate an avocado and two boiled eggs, or two fried eggs in olive oil. For snack, I’d have a banana or protein drink, generally after a workout. For dinner I’d have a lean meat (99% lean turkey, or baked chicken, or baked fish (cod usually), a veggie, and a perhaps a cup of rice or other programmed starch/carb.

I thought I’d be hungry with this meal plan, as I was used to eating 3000-4000 calories a day easily, but I didn’t go hungry for a moment. The exercise utilized the fuel I put in my body, and the fuel properly energized my muscles and my mind. I gave up sweets only because I’d been heavily addicted and knew I’d compromise my health plan if I allowed myself to eat two cakes in three days as I had before.

4) Set a consistent workout schedule. I worked out 3-5 days a week, all around the same time. I started with bike riding again, and graduated to the gym, and eventually high interval training workouts. The thing to remember with exercise is that the more weight you lose, the toner you get, the more intense your workouts have to get in order to maintain the same loss. Starting slow can ease you into the mental and physical pain.

5) Remember your mental health. If anxiety or depression tells you not to go one day, and you really can’t convince yourself otherwise, don’t go. You still have an obligation to be compassionate with yourself. This doesn’t mean give yourself an excuse. This means accept that this day is painful and that you need rest. It means the next day may be painful too, but if your rest is productive and useful, the next day can be easier and you can return to your routine. If you take a restful week, that’s not a failure either. It’s you doing what you need.

With those five little things, I lost 56 pounds in about 6 months. My paranoia was much more under control, my blood pressure went down, my heart rate went down, my anxiety went down, and I haven’t seen my depression in almost two years.

This is not a cure. It’s an understanding that our physical health plays into our mental health, and if one is ignored, the other is sure to deteriorate.

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Hearing Voices: Internal versus External

Something people who don’t hear voices misunderstand about hearing voices is that it’s not like sitting next to a party of five in a restaurant where you can generally tune out all the giggles and unrelated conversation and focus on the person in front of you. It’s more like that party of five arranged their chairs around you and take turns commenting on your posture, your date’s violent sexual thoughts, your wants you didn’t know you had, while also occasionally blurting a sentence that doesn’t make any sense, like “put that burrito on reservation.”

My point here is that ignoring it isn’t always the easiest or most necessary option. And to understand why this is a fact, we need to understand a little more about this.

Some people are really obvious about their inner experiences. They’ll be talking out loud or gesturing to no one. They might be laughing or crying or whispering. This is what scares people, both people, and what can make getting acquainted with our voices such a daunting experience; we’re aware (some of us) how we appear and that judgement is enough to warrant withdrawal. This tends to make things worse.

But let’s be clear: screaming at yourself at 3am probably isn’t the best way for your roommates to get to know you, nor is it a good way to get to know your voices.

It’s kind of a novel idea, to promote the “getting to know” process of things that don’t exist. But they do exist; they speak, they can have names, we can even have images to describe their non-existent physical features. They may not exist for your little brother or your mom or dad, but they exist for you and that’s still valid.

Psychiatrists and therapists aren’t trained in helping you with this process because school will tell them not to entertain delusions and to teach their clients how to cope with voices by ignoring them. This may be helpful for the clinician so they have a reason not to feel guilty when their client doesn’t remarkably improve, but it’s not always helpful for the client.

Ignoring needs to happen sometimes. But as a primary coping mechanism it sucks.

And so there’s something called “dialoging”, which I didn’t know about until attending a hearing voices workshop put on by the Hearing Voices Network. This is essentially someone on the outside speaking with your voices, getting to know them, their motives, their personality, and validating their existence. It’s for the voice hearer as well, so they can participate in a conversation instead of a shouting match. Because, again, what happens when you shout at someone? They shout back.

It’s also a common misconception, especially in clinical practice, that everyone who hears voices hears them externally.

I read a report of an experiment which examined this. They say that external voices have always been thought to represent more “severe” psychopathology, and to be more common, but that “empirical evidence has been equivocal”, meaning ambivalent. You can read for yourself at this link.

To summarize their study:

  • Some people experience only internal (coming from inside the head) voices
  • Some people experience only external( perceived as outside the head) voices .
  • Some people experience both.
  • In 1996 it was thought external voices were more severe. This project suggests, from observations, that internal ones can be more “disturbing, negative, persistent, involving, and commanding”.
  • Voices commenting and conversing observed (reported as) more internal.
  • “…no differences have been identified between internal vs. external hallucinators in other symptoms or levels of overall psychopathology.”
  • Another study, (cited Stephane et. al 2010) “found that schizophrenia patients with only internal hallucinations performed more poorly than those with only external hallucinations on an internal ‘say/think’ source memory task, suggesting that internal hallucinators may be less able to discriminate between internal versus externalized stimuli…”
  • Those with internal voices were observed to have more insight into the self-generated nature of their voices.

Why is any of this important? Well, it’s important for clinicians to read these kinds of findings and realize that experiences vary, and that one-shot generalized treatment WILL NOT work.

But it’s also important for those of us who do hear internal voices. First of all, it’s validation. Maybe you’ve been disregarded in the mental health system because your experience is perceived as “lesser”. Remember when we talked about the Soggy Boxes and the hierarchy of the mental health system? If you don’t, take a quick read at an older post of mine entitled The Soggy Boxes and The Variation of Us.

I’ve personally been reluctant to ever tell anyone about the internal half of me, because I knew the standard the system held. I also didn’t know they were voices. I did, but I didn’t.

So all this really does is remind us how different and similar we can be with each other. It also proves that the stale mental health system needs to readjust its understanding of life, of humanity, and experience in order to catch up with where we are. They’re behind US. It’s not the other way around.

If you are struggling with this currently, I’d encourage you to reach out to someone you can trust. If you trust no one, find the person you can trust the most. If you know someone who has been through similar things, reaching out to them may be the most helpful. If your options are limited, feel free to email me (info here). People seem to like connecting on Instagram better lately, so you can also reach me via my social media handles (info below).

People are fearful because they don’t understand. The nice thing is that there are many people who will make an effort to understand if you can have the patience to teach.

If you are a voice hearer and are comfortable with sharing your experience, pop it down in the comments below. If it’s a long story and you’d like a guest blog post spot, contact me! I’d love to feature your story on here.

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