Who Advocates For Us?

Because the internet is my happy place (not really, but I’m online a lot), I see a lot of what becomes popular as soon as it becomes popular. I don’t follow trends or imitate them, but I do observe and one thing I observe from the Pop-Mental-Health culture, as I call it, is the individuals who become Insta-famous or YouTube famous for expressing views about mental health.

I click on these advocates with a new hope. And every time I’m disappointed.

The thing about being a pop-advocate is that everything you say is really heard. And when you’re really heard and you say something controversial, you may lose your following and For some of these advocates, an online presence is their lively-hood.

I don’t think anyone advocates for the money–what money? You don’t get money for being positive about mental health. You may if you’re on YouTube with a couple million followers, but how many mental health advocates are there with that status? I do think this gives people purpose though, and combined with the drive to offer support and the hope of wellness to others, it becomes their livelihood.

What makes this an issue though, is if you’re a YouTuber with an okay following, your channel can blow up if you talk for ten minutes about how transparent you want to be with your audience and spill your mental health secrets.

It reminds me of Dave Chappelle’s recent acceptance speech when he won the Mark Twain award. Toward the end, he said something like “And one more thing–I’d like to say that I’m gay. Can’t wait to see what that does for my career here now.”

We almost fetishize this idea of being different. It’s become “a thing” now. The day we truly accept everyone is the day someone doesn’t need to come out and say they’re gay or bi or trans or anything on the spectrum. The day we truly accept everyone is the day we don’t have to feel the need to “film our panic attacks” or us talking to our hallucinations.

In the meantime, our greatest advocates have become a lot of professionals. Which is great–we need professionals. But they’re starting blogs and YouTube channels and talking about what’s good for us. As if they know.

I rarely see a primary source on their social media or their channels or their blogs. A primary source would be a mental health consumer.

I’m not against anyone advocating. In fact, I welcome everyone to stand up and say something about mental health. But to purport that you know what we need just because you have a family member who has struggled, or just because you spent 3,000 hours getting your license (for California), doesn’t make sense. You have no idea what we need.

You can ask us what we need. You can advocate for us by spreading the word that we are individuals who deserve respect and compassion and for the majority of the time are not as helpless as we’re made out to be. You can advocate for research. You can advocate for better understandings of psychosis. You can advocate for women whose anxiety is never taken seriously. You can advocate for men whose depression is never talked about. You can share your own experience. But don’t generalize any of that into “this is how to help someone.” Because you have no idea what’s helped.

Maybe medication has calmed your son down. Great! So you advocate for medication without understanding what that means. Maybe your daughter getting off medication has saved her life. Great! So you spread the word that medication is poison without understanding what that means.

So, let’s talk about what advocacy has turned into lately. I’ll list some things, and we’ll discuss the pros and cons.

What I’ve noticed is that advocacy has turned into two things:

From professionals, we get:

  1. Mental illness.
  2. They’re ill
  3. Mental illness doesn’t make you weak
  4. But you’re sick
  5. Don’t get mad at them. It’s because they’re sick.
  6. Anxiety this
  7. Depression that
  8. Anxiety this
  9. Depression that
  10. Oh, and there’s a bunch of severe ones we don’t advocate for. Because those people are REALLY sick and less common.

From the Pop-advocate world of professionals, Insta-influencers, Tweeters, Facebookers, and whoever else, we get:

  1. Today is another day. Let’s make it a good day.
  2. You can choose happiness.
  3. Here’s a video of me having a -Insert Mental Health Experience-. I just wanted to be transparent #mentalhealth #advocacy; followed by comments of “Omg this is exactly what happens to me, thank you for sharing.”
  4. You are not alone.
  5. We need to end stigma.
  6. Let’s end stigma by talking about how different we are and also saying we need to be treated like everyone else.
  7. #Shareyourstory
  8. #Mentalhealthawareness
  9. Anxiety sucks, but you’re not alone.
  10. I’m not my illness.

The good things about this is that at least there is conversation. Something is started. We have realized that a lot of people deal with anxiety and depression and this can help prevent suicide. We are making an attempt to remind people that pain can be temporary and that a lot of us struggle in the same ways–we’re relating to each other. That’s wonderful.

The bad thing? We’re still tied to this idea that we’re sick. We’re also tied to this idea that other people know what’s best for us. In some cases, this can be true. If you think someone has implanted a microchip in your head and you want to dig it out of your brain, someone stopping you is probably your best bet. But in terms of your care, your treatment, and how you want to live your life? No one knows that for you.

We also negate a lot of topics. We negate the trauma that hospitals cause and ride it off as “I needed to be there”. Perhaps you did. But that doesn’t mean coercion and force is the way to help you get better. We negate research that contradicts a lot of what’s being spread about mental health and these things we label as disorders. For example, the DSM 5 was many years late. Why?

Personality disorders. The only disorder that has been RELIABLY diagnosed (doesn’t mean it’s proven as a disorder of the mind) is Borderline Personality. It doesn’t really have any research backing as a disorder. The experiences are very real. But it’s speculated that has a lot to do with whatever trauma that person was put through, and those experiences being a result of the brain having to learn to process all of it.

The rest of the personality disorders? They’re rarely diagnosed reliably and there is no evidence backing them. And so the committee of old, bald, white men struggled in what to do about this for the DSM 5. In the end, nothing was really done. Subcategories and Axis diagnostic criteria were removed.

But does anyone hear about this? No. No one who needs to, at least. I cite my research professor as my secondary source of information. Could he be wrong? Possibly. But if he’s not, think about what that means.

I think it’s wonderful people want to share their stories. I share mine too. But advocacy is so much more than cheesy positive tweets, some random LCSW on YouTube talking about ways to help someone who is struggling, or people who think it’s cool to video tape their crisis or everyday struggle.

Advocacy is supposed to be about information and support. It’s supposed to be about relating to each other while also showing the general public that not everything they believe is accurate. Advocacy is supposed to also be about lifting each other up, and yet we’re divided in the mental health community right now.

I’ve been questioned on Instagram many times by those who consider themselves anti-psychiatry. I have an article on Mad In America called “A System Built On Fear”. I have labeled myself as anti-psychiatry in the past. I’ve shed all my labels now. I have no faith in the medical model and no faith in anti-psychiatry because neither relies on research or truth or science. Both have sprinkles of it here and there. But the medical model relies on the gullibility of the general public, and Anti-psychiatry relies on personal horror stories.

Both are valid. Neither are helping.

So who advocates for us? Right now, I get the sense it’s mostly professionals and family members. I hear our voices in there too, but they’re drowned out by false perceptions, media distorting research, and labels. They’re being distorted by pop-advocates who are really only catering to the medical model, and extremists only catering to anti-psychiatry.

Where do we go from here?

What do you think? Who advocates for you? How does it feel when you tell your story?

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the like button, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

Quick Post

Hey everyone.

In an effort to keep this blog rolling and the momentum up, I just wanted to send out an update that because of some bad obsessive anxiety and the resulting paranoia, I won’t be able to crank out my usual post for the day. It was going to be about who we let speak for us in mental health advocacy.

As much as I’d love to do that, I need to take some time today and possibly tomorrow to get myself well again.

In the meantime though, please feel free to give a read to yesterday’s post, “What Is Trauma?” And any of the popular featured posts!

If anyone wants to send some positive vibes on my social media accounts or below In the comments, that’s welcome too. I’ll be tweeting and posting an actual explanation on my Instagram, if you’re curious.

I will resume my usual schedule on Thursday, Jan 9th.

Here’s to all of our wellness and the hard work it takes for us to sustain stability. Thank you to my newly dedicated readers and commentators. You’ve truly been another driving force for me these last few months.

If you’d like to join me on social media, they’re here:

Instagram: @Written_in_the_photo

Twitter: @Philopsychotic

What Is Trauma?

Today I’m switching up the format a bit. I’ve been doing lists and tips for the past few days because I feel the information has been important and also relevant to many of our lives (if this is an inaccurate perception, please let me know in the comments below). But today has a different vibe to it.

For the longest time, I believed trauma could only exist in the form of a sudden, violent, physical instance, like a car accident or molestation/rape or physical child abuse. It wasn’t until I was 21 did I learn consistently being told to shut up, to not speak, was a form of trauma. It wasn’t until I was 21 did I learn the three years I spent homeless during my childhood was a trauma. I also didn’t know that growing up with an alcoholic and an addict was a very specific type of trauma.

So what exactly IS trauma?

Trauma Is:

Any kind of repeated emotional, verbal, or physical abuse/manipulation that has caused lasting effects. This could range from something seemingly simple like your mother nudging you to lose weight and consistently commenting on what you eat, how much you eat, and what kind of clothes you wear, to your father threatening to kill you if you told the teacher he gave you a black eye.

The thing about trauma is that it doesn’t effect any two people the same way. Not every person who has experienced sexual abuse becomes a drug addict. Not every person who was verbally accosted spends a lifetime struggling with their self-worth. Not every person who was physically abused grows up to be physically abusive.

Many people develop their own ways to process (or not process) their trauma. Some people want to pretend it never happened, and there are times where that helps them move on. We hear a lot that everyone should process their feelings, but as a grief study in Europe showed, sometimes people move on easier and still in a healthy way by just getting back to life rather than diving deep into their feelings. (I will put proper citation for that study when I can find a full copy; I learned of it through my previous professor).

Some people relive the events everyday and it cripples them. It invades their relationships, their school, their work, their own sense of peace.

Some people, like me, don’t really recognize where the trauma has effected their life or how. I think I talked a little about the trauma around my learning to speak for myself in this post, On Mental Health and Freedom.

Some people are in the middle and can function well, but are haunted from time to time with flashbacks or residual effects of their trauma.

Where Is Trauma Located?

Maybe that sounds weird.

What I mean is, where do you feel the trauma?

Often with mental health, we’re told “it’s just in your head”, and with trauma that’s not always the case. As a hypothesis, trauma can also be felt in your body as physical memories. Now, I don’t have a research paper sitting in front of me to back me up with this, all I have is my personal experience of certain physical attributes presenting when preparing certain memories for EMDR therapy.

When I find a paper that has studied this with a proper research method, I will update everyone.

But, if you have experienced trauma, you may get what I’m talking about. You feel certain things in your body. You may feel yourself separating from your body as the result of a specific memory–we call this dissociation. There may be certain words or attitudes or body language from someone else that may activate a tightening in your stomach or nausea or hot flashes with seemingly no explanation.

For me, one of these things is the “inner child”. The last therapist who asked me to talk to my inner child pulled some kind of deep seeded darkness into the light and whenever someone says the words or I think about it, I break down crying. I’m not sad, it’s just my body’s response. I’ll get warm and my chest will tighten and I have no full explanation for it.

So, it’s not “all in your head”, from my personal experience.

We talked a bit about this at a Hearing Voices Network workshop a couple years ago. We talked about how trauma can cause our mind to separate from our body and how that relates to and can be a catalyst for psychosis.

What this means is that, in approaching trauma, we must consider the whole body experience. We must consider reconnecting the mind with the body and this is often done with grounding techniques, similar to those used for anxiety and panic attacks: reminding yourself you are safe, feeling your feet on the ground, pinpointing areas of your body and focusing on them, or pinpointing objects in the room and saying them out loud.

Is EMDR A Proven Therapy?

NO. You’d be surprised to find that mindfulness isn’t either.

For those who don’t know, EMDR (Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing) is a type of specific trauma therapy in which a traumatized patient is guided by someone trained with specific skills in asking particular questions about a traumatic memory (some of which can feel like CBT therapy) while they move a wand back and forth or flash moving lights. The hypothesis here is that eye movement helps your brain process the memory as a whole.

What I will say, for EMDR, is that studies have shown it works for the majority of people. The problem with the majority of the studies is that they often don’t separate the actual therapeutic content (the therapist leading you, asking questions, guiding you to feel your feelings) from the little lights and wand and all that.

So, in order for a valid study to prove that this therapy works, it would need to be compared with CBT with no lights/wand, Lights/wand with no CBT, the full EMDR package of lights/wand, and guiding CBT questions, and of course a control group of no treatment. Haven’t yet read a study like that. (If you know of one, please send it to me or put it down below in the comments! Please link the FULL research article or at the very least the abstract, not a secondary source).

EMDR is very popular. But so is Debriefing Therapy done after a serious natural disaster/crisis and studies have shown that actually makes people worse.

So POPULAR does not equal PROVEN.

What I will say from my current EMDR experience, is that it’s brought up a lot of pain but it also helped me process an incident at work very quickly. And had I not done that, I think the incident would have stuck with me in a different way. A hindering way.

What is Dissociation Like?

Dissociation can become a way of life for those traumatized, and it can also be a savior. It can pull you through tough moments. I’ve been dissociating regularly, and heavily, since I was 14 and I can say the first few years it bothered me. It bothered me mostly because I wasn’t so aware of it happening until I was told I walked into four lanes of traffic and 3 miles home without responding to anyone.

A lot of the time it feels like you, your essence, is somewhere far away and your body is stuck down here in muddy waters. Other forms of dissociation make you feel like your body isn’t real or that none of the earthly objects around you are real. This can be terrifying for a lot of people, and upsetting.

I’ve been experimenting with turning my dissociation into a profit. Not a monetary profit, but a mental profit. Dissociating has helped me learn to share power with my voices and given me a space I can retreat safely when needed.

Am I Traumatized?

Are you? I don’t know. If you experience some of the aforementioned things, perhaps. I’m not going to tell you what you are and what you aren’t, though. If you feel that there are things in the past that hinder your daily activities today or effect your mood or how you interact with people, it may be worth finding someone to talk to about it.

It took me years to realize that the reason I struggled interacting with people wasn’t because I was strange, weird, or a freak, but because I’d been taught my words were invalid, my thoughts were useless, and I didn’t have any right to speak. That mentality has continued to follow me into my adulthood, and it’s only been in the past year I’ve been able to rationally confront it.

So, as terrifying as facing pain can be, if it’s something you feel you need to get off your chest, if it’s something that’s been keeping you from living the life you want to live, it may be worth working toward gaining a new perspective and reaching out for guidance.

I don’t think I’ll want to talk about all my trauma for all of my life. I’d get tired of being weary over it. But a couple sessions of half-ass studied EMDR won’t hurt.

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two-second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @Philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the like button, reblog, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

How To Support A Loved One’s Mental Health Journey

Chances are, if your loved one is struggling, you’re overwhelmed, they’re overwhelmed, and you all just want time to stop so you can breathe.

Unfortunately, we experience time in a linear fashion because of our physicality. Sorry.

What we can do is learn, adapt, and have a meaningful existence.

So, let’s start with something simple:

Tip #1: Offer an ear

The easiest thing to do, which can also become one of the hardest things to stay consistent with and have patience for, is be an ear for your loved one.

Understand you are not their therapist, you are not their treatment center and you are not their savior. What you are is a confidant, a safe person. You don’t have to solve any problems and if your loved one is asking you to, kindly remind them that solutions aren’t always the answer: sometimes you just need to ride the waves, feel the pain, and learn to adapt. They will know this instinctually, but sometimes the pain is so great that we just want relief. That’s why gentle reminders, patience, and compassionate words are the best a friend or parent or partner or sibling can do.

Depressive phrases like “I just want to die” can be startling and sometimes your first instinct is to ask “are you safe?”. Refrain from that. For the love of God, refrain from that.

A lot of the times in my suicidal ideation I needed to vent and get the heavy burden off my shoulders. I needed someone to hear me. I didn’t need someone to panic and make me doubt I had any control over myself.

If your loved one talks about suicide often, concern is valid. Fear is valid. But not everyone benefits from multiple 3 day hospitalizations just because they’re thinking about killing themselves.

Instead sit with them. If they have a mental health team, maybe connect with them. Ask what you can do to help. You’ll probably get a response of “nothing” or “I don’t know, I just don’t want to be here anymore”. And that’s okay. You can’t control their actions or their thoughts and sometimes space for the seriousness and the authenticity of the pain helps release the tension.

Remember yourself in this too. Your loved one is in pain and you don’t like that. You want to help. You want to pull them out. But you can’t do everything, and that’s killing you. Sometimes you get so angry you want to pull your hair out. Sometimes you just want to give up. And so do they. They don’t want to feel like a burden to everyone around them and a way to show them that they aren’t is to make sure you take care of your own mental wellbeing. Show them you will be okay.

Their feelings are not your responsibility. That doesn’t make you selfish or careless. It makes you an individual mind.

So, in short: offer an ear, really hear them, and restrain your panic. Keep firm boundaries—your friend can’t be calling every ten seconds for you to rescue them, they need to find their own footing and be less dependent. You can foster this with healthy support, a compassionate ear, and voicing your own struggle if their pain becomes too much to bear.

Tip #2: Stay Educated

This will be important particularly if your child is affected. There is tons of research coming out every day on all these labels we’ve created and a lot of the real research is in stark contradiction to what you find on your average health website or mental health forum. If this is all new to you, I’d suggest checking out my previous post, How to Read a Psychological Research Paper, so you know what to look for.

It’s nice to read personal stories of individuals who are also affected; that’s often why we tell our stories is so that people can understand where we’re coming from. If your son bursts in your room and says something like “why the fuck would you say that? Get away from me”, you might start to doubt your coping abilities, you might start feeing like you have to walk on eggshells, and you’ll eventually just blame his mental health.

The problem with just blaming the experience is that you lack the understanding necessary to actually be compassionate. You can learn to not take things personal, you can earn to ignore harsh words and phrases, but all that does is discount the experience. Let me explain.

In personal stories you may read that someone once thought his mother was part of the CIA and transmitting his thoughts back to headquarters, commenting on his movements and locations, and so he’d yell at his mom or break things or do strange things to disrupt her telepathy. In the story you might read about the fear he felt, the terror, how scared he was despite how angry he appeared.

And that’s the key. If you don’t understand that your loved one, in this state, is much more sacred and confused than angry, you’ll be more inclined to yell back or try and present evidence in an attempt to break a delusion.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to discuss what’s going on with their loved one in this state. But if you do, if there are substantial moments of clarity, especially in altered states like this that aren’t a crisis, it can be transformative for both to explore some of the fear and terror and brainstorm some ways to help your loved one reality check when things get intense.

In order to do that, you’ll need to know some things about altered states. Read some personal stories, read some valid research, and involve your loved one in all of this. Introduce some stories to them, discuss some of the research if that’s possible at the time, and help them know they aren’t alone. Express to them your fears and your confusion. Maybe saying something like “when you do this, I get confused because . . .” And create a dialogue around confusion. For those of us with anxiety and psychosis and even depression it can be very helpful when we know where we stand with someone.

Tip #3: Be Involved

Maybe you can’t do all of this for just a friend all the time. But if you could join them at a support group or help them get to an appointment, that can really be a great tangible way of showing you care. And, again, boundaries are important; if you take your friend to her weekly appointment once, and she keeps asking for a ride every week, find a time to remind her face to face that you have responsibilities of your own. Offer to help her find a bus pass or teach her how to use Uber/Lyft. But ultimately she needs to find her own way for some of the time.

Ask what kind of involvement your loved one would like. I know when my parents came to my therapy appointments, even if it was just my mother sitting outside, I didn’t like it. It was supposed to be my own personal space, my own personal time to get my own personal thoughts out. Unless your loved one is incapable of speaking for themselves, you should give them as much space as they want so they can develop their sense of being again.

Do not take control. Reach compromises with your loved one. Discuss things. Don’t talk about things with your loved one’s doctor without your loved one present. We have a saying in the peer community: Nothing About Us, Without Us. When this isn’t honored, we feel cheated, betrayed, out of control and this can fuel paranoia for those of us dealing with psychosis; suddenly, you’re working for the CIA again and you have no idea why.

If the doctor insists talking about things without his/her actual patient involved, resist and stand up for your loved one, particularly if they aren’t in the room to do so themselves.

This is important because supporting us in empowering ourselves instead of supporting our dependence or helplessness is what becomes eventual motivation for us to find stability. In fact, it’s essential in finding stability.

You might feel that your loved one can’t do anything on their own, and maybe in a crisis that’s true. Helping has its time and place as all things. But you have to understand that a hospital doesn’t foster individualism. It fosters helplessness. And if that attitude is continued outside of the hospital, and after the crisis, there will be little motivation and little belief that things can ever change.

The belief is the key factor here.

My parents were never involved much in my health or my crises. That may have saved me, because they never treated me any different. They assumed me to be well, they assumed me to be able to feed myself and clothe myself and bathe. When I didn’t, when I went into crisis mode and was in a hospital that did all those things for me—reminders at least—and I came home to zero reminders, zero help, after a while I knew that I wasn’t going to get that kind of dependent support. I never suffered with the belief that I was incapable. Even when I wasn’t showering in a depressive episode. I didn’t believe I couldn’t, I didn’t believe it was “just too hard”, I just believed the pain was too great to pay attention to that kind of crap right then.

So, be involved, but don’t suffocate. Reach a compromise with your loved one. This may take some wrangling, and both of you may need some patience. It takes a while to figure this stuff out. A single conversation isn’t going to be enough.

Tip #4: Breathe

The best thing you can do for your loved one is be well.

There’s not much else to say about that.

And this isn’t to be well for them. This isn’t to be well so you can be their caretaker. This is for you to be well for you. This is to promote your own healthy state of mind and live your life with your loved one. It’s possible to have a peaceful existence. It’s just not possible to have it without some hiccups along the way. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It all depends on how you adapt.

A Final Thought:

These tips are built from things I wished people had done with me. Anxiety crippled me as a kid, and into adulthood; depression buried me my teenage years, and psychosis has given me insight to the universe, and not in a delusional sense. It would have been nice having close family or close friends along that entire journey with me.

And so, my parting word is this: walk with your loved one—not in front of them, not behind them, but beside them.

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two-second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the like button, reblog, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

How To Read A Psychological Research Paper

One thing I notice a lot of advocacy websites falling victim to is citing research without really understanding what that research means. A lot of the time they’re pulling from secondary, third, fourth, or fifth resources because the information they get comes from news reports that are also reporting information from secondary, third, fourth, or fifth resources. A secondary resource, for example, would be a textbook or another article describing the research findings.

The issue with this is very rarely do these articles go into detail about the research procedure, the methods, or any resulting confounding variables. The issue with THAT is the only information YOU receive are the results. And when the results say something like “Eating a Grapefruit Everyday Will Cure Your Anxiety”, you want to believe it. What you’re missing is that the study had 20 subjects, no control variable, and the subjects–by the way–were worms.

I’ll cover some basic ways to judge whether or not a paper you read–and you should be reading the actual paper–is a valid result or something that needs a lot more investigation.

First, if you haven’t yet read any of the series Is Psychology A Science posted here on this website, you can find the first in the 4-article series right here at this link. It will give you background information on why this is important from a scientific perspective.

Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to be a seasoned researcher to read these papers. You don’t need to know how to do an ANOVA test or a Chi Squared test. You don’t need to know what p <.05 really means. You don’t even need to know a lot on the subject the paper reports on. All you need is some basic knowledge. Let’s go step by step.

What does a paper consist of?

What’s great about research papers is that you always know what to expect. There will be the first paragraph, which is called an Abstract that tells you what the paper is about and often contains one sentence describing the results.

Often a full-length introduction is followed. This is important when the study is backed by, or has a lot of reference for, other experiments. Here you will find the importance of the subject and what other researchers have found and how this study will differ.

Next commonly comes Methods. This is where all the materials are listed and the procedure (including participants) are described. This is done in great detail so that peer review and (if/when published) practitioners and psychologists and everyone who SHOULD be reading the study, can determine validity. Here, you will learn the ins and outs of the experiment and/or the outside resources used to gather data.

The Results follow. Here you find the final statistics. You will find step-by-step results for how each participant (or group of participants) and sometimes you will see charts, graphs, info-graphics of all types that represent the data.

Discussion comes last. Here you find what those results mean and any recommendations for further research. This is where you will find confounding variables (discussed below) and another place to scrutinize the validity of the study.

Afterward comes acknowledgements, often who financially supported the research. This can be particularly important when reading studies about medication; if the pharmaceutical company that makes Risperdal (Johnson & Johnson) is providing funding for Risperdal research, the paper is subject to publication bias. This can be harder to detect and won’t be discussed here. I will be writing a separate post on this.

Then the reference list, which are other studies cited in the paper.

This layout is important. If the paper you’re reading isn’t like this, it’s not a research paper and what you’re reading is a secondary source, meaning a summation of the original research. This could be so far from the actual research finding, that it’s completely useless.

Is this studying what the researchers meant to study?

When reading a paper, it’s important to sniff out whether what’s been observed is what was actually meant to be observed.

This is known as construct validity. Research in psychology can be tricky because most of the time you’re observing behavior and behavior can be caused by many factors. For example, if we’re trying to study whether or not television violence influences real violence in young children, we need to define what violence is and what constitutes aggressive behavior. If we don’t, trying to find a relationship between behavior and the amount of violent television being watched will be hopeless; you won’t see any relationship, you’ll just see aggressiveness and violent television as separate entities. They may look correlated, but when properly studied you may see different results.

If a paper related to television violence and children do not have operational definitions (the definitions of the behavior we’re looking for), than it’s safe to say that paper isn’t really showing much.

A lot of the time this gets twisted in the media. For example, you’ll read statistics everywhere that those labeled with schizophrenia have a shorter life span of about ten years. A lot of people take that as “schizophrenia kills”. But is that really what reports and studies are saying?

No. There are other factors: taking hardcore, organ-destroying medication for decades is one of them. Less access to proper healthcare–many with the label are homeless and struggling with drugs or just at the mercy of their mind. Disability money doesn’t necessarily fund a heart healthy, body healthy diet either; most organic foods and healthy foods are hard to sustain for those on limited income and no support. Suicide rates are also higher. So this idea that some mythical chemical imbalance causes some mythical disease that slowly kills the brain like some kind of hallucinogenic Alzheimer’s is incorrect. Or rather, it’s never been proven.

This leads us into:

What Are The Confounding Variables?

These are factors which could muck up research findings.

For example, a lot of the papers I referenced in Is Schizophrenia a Brain Disease? had their confounding factors clearly listed. They said blatantly that much of their research has no definitive results. One paper even urged people not to take their results as proof that a chemical imbalance explains what people experience. So where does this idea that this label is a disease come from?

From people taking the one line of results and posting it in the New York Times or a CNN reporter giving a brief run-down of the study on national television. Belief is where this idea comes from. Science says otherwise.

I think one of the most famous incidents of this is the idea of the schizophrenogenic mother.

There was a time doctors and patients believed it was the mother’s bad parenting that created the experiences now labeled as schizophrenia. To test this, one researcher took a group of mothers who had children who matched the diagnosis and studied how they interacted.

She concluded a mother’s behavior can create ‘schizophrenic behavior’. Then she listed that in order to be an official and valid study, she would have to also study mothers who don’t have labeled children and their interactions; her confounding variable was no control group.

So what happened? The results were taken and spread to newspapers, to doctors, to psychologists and psychiatrists and for a while people really believed the mother was to blame for madness.

Because the general public, and even some doctors, didn’t understand how to read research papers. And also because it was an answer and they didn’t have any other answers. Rather than be scientific, they followed their intuition. It’s something that still plagues psychology today.

That’s why

Control Groups

Are super important.

Say you’re reading a paper on the medication Abilify and its relation to a reduction in psychotic symptoms at a dosage of 20mg. You read in the procedure section that thirty five people (an okay sample size) were recruited and given Abilify and you read in the Results section that 89% of the participants reported a reduction in symptoms within the four week time period. You also read in the discussion section that the researchers conclude Abilify has effectiveness at the dosage of 20mg on psychosis.

This sounds legitimate. And any average person who read that paper would probably feel that Abilify really does have an effectiveness on psychosis at 20mg.

What would be some problems with this, though?

One striking thing would be–where is the comparison? In order to see any level of effectiveness, we need to compare it to a group that doesn’t receive the treatment, a group that isn’t manipulated. This is a control group.

We’d also need to know how the participants were randomly chosen. We’d need to know the symptoms which were reduced and whether that was sustained. I’d criticize the four week trial period. Was there also a follow up? If so, what were the results? And, if you are like me and extra-critical, you’d wonder why they didn’t cite all the research in the introduction which says there is no efficacy for an Abilify dose over 10mg.

This can make certain things hard to study ethically and practically. There are many ways around that, but we won’t discuss all that here. If you are reading a paper and have trouble finding what they compared their manipulated variable to, or if their comparison group seems shoddy, search for some more research.

I’d like to point out had that research example I gave above actually been published, hell would have frozen over. There are some shoddy papers out there, but a lot are caught in peer review.

Last but not least:

Results are results. Interpretation is interpretation. Secondary sources are not results.

Media attempts to get things right. But often they don’t.

If you are on an advocacy site for mental health and you read a sentence that says “research shows”, and they don’t list a reference, ask for it. If they do list a reference, click on that reference. If that reference is another secondary source, and that secondary source doesn’t list a primary source, like the actual research paper, than you can’t be sure how accurate that “research shows” statistic is.

I’m not saying we should start mistrusting our fellow advocates. I’m saying as advocates the information we should put out must be backed by facts, not opinion or interpretation. Most of us who advocate are peers, meaning we have lived mental health experience. Great! We already have an advantage by having inside knowledge on experiences that most doctors don’t. Let’s boost that advantage with also having scientific knowledge and thinking critically.

Even I’m guilty of saying “research shows” in previous posts on my old blog and perhaps even this one already. It’s hard work finding these papers and reading them and citing them and analyzing them. But did anything come from soft work? No.

If you want to advocate, help empower us by criticizing research, reading research, and sharing research. Open a discussion about what’s being studied. Push clinical psychologists and psychiatrists to actually read what’s been coming out.

Together, we can change the perspective of mental health in society.

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRL

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the like button, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic on WordPress or with email notifications. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

A Different Way To Hear Voices: Tips and Tricks

We ask doctors what we’re supposed to do about them, how we’re supposed to manage them, how we can make them go away and often the doctors don’t have a very good answer not because they aren’t book-smart (because they’ve certainly proven time and time again they are VERY book-smart) but because they have no idea what they’re dealing with. That’s the truth.

Medication works for some of us—makes them fainter, or less intrusive at the least. But rarely will you hear someone comment their voices have gone away completely.

Couple that with fleeting thoughts that seem to come from that one area of your mind you never open the doors to, and your ability to focus is reduced to the attention span of a goldfish, literally.

What are some other ways we can deal with this?

Get Involved!

I hear that Support Groups can be helpful. You meet people who you can form (perhaps) life-long friendships with, people who understand where you are and meet you there rather than try and pull you where they are. I’ve personally never got much from group therapy or support groups. I find it difficult to be truly open with people, even after a year of acquaintanceship, and so I stray from this option.

But if it sounds like something which may be good for you, I suggest looking into your local NAMI chapter (if you’re in the United States). I would also suggest searching for alternative groups and using other language besides “mental illness” or “disorder” in your search engine. By doing that, I found a list of wellness groups 45 minutes from me with names like “Support group for those with voices and visions”. These kind of groups offer the same type of peer support, but through a different lens.

It can be transformative to engage with people who have different perspectives. Through them, you learn more about your beliefs and form a more solid understand of yourself. I find this to be pertinent in getting grounded because we lose part of our identity when falling through a crisis. We have people telling us what to do, when to do it, how do it it, how to get healthy, why we are aren’t healthy, and kind of become the property of those around us and the terror in our head.

We want to reclaim some of who we are. Sometimes that means discovering ourselves for the first time. Sometimes that means reinventing who we once were. In either scenario, solidifying your beliefs, your passions, and remembering what it feels like to be respected and give respect are all things which help us build ourselves outside of others expectations.

Explore the Unknown!

This is probably a less sought-after option because it doesn’t involve immediate relief. If anything, you’ll be in more pain for a while.

What I mean by explore the unknown is actually listen to the voices. Don’t abide by them or agree with them (all the time) or allow yourself to be convinced of something you know for a fact isn’t true. That sounds a lot easier and more practical than it actually is. But it’s worked in many ways for me.

Stop yelling back. What does yelling usually do? Make them louder, right? Your voices aren’t some shy kids on the playground who you can bully. Most of the time, they won’t submit. And maybe they don’t need to submit. Maybe they’re there to teach patience and understanding and resiliency. Maybe they’re there to teach you life lessons your parents couldn’t. Or maybe they’re just there to be assholes. I think most people you know could fall into one or all of these categories. The point is, you’ll never really know the correct category (for both people and voices) if you don’t listen.

I explained in my previous post, How Philosophy Helped Me Process Psychosis, that I lived under the impression that my voices were demons from a hell I didn’t believe in, here to prevent me from serving my one true purpose. I didn’t just snap out of this one day from medication or extra sleep or hospitalization. It took a couple years of exploring and pain and horror for me to come to any coherent realization.

Seeing how others dealt with their voices was helpful, which is why I recommended support groups at the beginning of this post. In giving myself a chance to hear others, I also gave myself a chance to hear myself. I heard that I was wanted dead. I heard that I was doomed. I also heard I was the light of the earth and I was protected. I got a lot of mixed messages.

What does listening to these messages do, besides cause you more distress?

Well, what does listening to your friend do when they’re stressed out? Sometimes, if you’re attentive and listening closely, it escalates their pain and they scream or cry and they get it all out. Then they’re quiet, they’re thankful, and they might even ask how you’re doing. This leads me into my next tip:

Start a Dialogue!

Let’s be clear here: when I say listen to them, I don’t mean ignore them. Let them vent, yes. Let them vent the commands, the violence, the sadness, the happiness, the grandiosity, whatever their M.O is, and then ask a question or two. Make a reflection. If they are telling you to kill yourself, ask them why. If they respond with an answer that sounds reasonable to you in the moment, something like “no one loves you” or “they all hate you,” consider a compassionate response like “you’re in pain; I am too. Can we figure this out together? I don’t really want to die.”

Why?

What I kept hearing over and over again was the importance of showing yourself compassion. It’s no different than what people with depression or anxiety are told: be kind to yourself.

And if you don’t believe your voices are apart of you, if you believe they are outside of yourself as I believed, remember that we’re all an extension of the universe, and that’s not some mystical hippie stuff, that’s science. We’re all made of the same material, within the same cosmos. We are all each other. Be kind to the earth because earth is an extension of you. Be kind to your children because your children are an extension of you. Be kind to your voices because your voices are an extension of you.

No therapist or friend has (hopefully) ever supported you by screaming back at you and swearing to end you, even if you yelled first or insulted them, or threatened them. And so don’t support yourself that way. Support yourself with compassion and patience and kindness, and remember that you are sharing a space with these things, these voices. You’re all in this body together. This brings up the final tip:

Create A Space for Them!

This is better illustrated with a quick story.

Last night a wave of confusion hit me. My thoughts circled around my impending death and nothing I read made sense. I could barely respond to text messages. I knew something was upsetting my system, and a familiar voice told me to go for a drive. So I did, for two hours.

I headed to some cliffs. I realized I was fighting a lot, fighting the confusion, fighting the voices telling me this drive would be my last, fighting the belief that they’d trigger a heart attack if I parked by the cliffs, and fighting the fact that none of my fighting reaped any benefits. And so I checked out.

I gave them some space. I stopped arguing with the thoughts. I also stopped being fearful of them, and I stopped feeding them with attention. I dissociated and only remember a few snippets of my drive. I did reach the cliffs, but didn’t park partly because of fear and partly because I didn’t want to sit near other cars.

While weaving down some roads I didn’t know very well, I realized my body felt a little lighter I wasn’t as stressed, and some of the thoughts of death had gone away because I’d faced my fear. One of my more familiar voices told me, “See? We know what’s best for you.”

Did they know what was best for me? I didn’t think so. I disagreed and asked why, then, do you keep telling me I’m going to die? Why do you keep feeding my anxiety? His answer?

“Pain is necessary.”

We all know that pain is unavoidable in life, but this struck me so deeply because of all the duality I mentioned in my previous post, that they were here to both lift me up and pull me down and that’s what makes them no better than me, no better than any human. That’s what makes us able to relate. That very duality is what makes us able to share this body and live with each other.

This took a few years of confusion and talking and different types of therapy and 8 years on and (finally) off medication. This took a lot of anger and frustration and fear and maybe some risks. But it’s possible.

And in The End…

There is no textbook on how to deal with your voices. There is no doctor or therapist or friend or family member or self-help stranger or medication or amazingly insightful philosophical blog that can tell you what the right path is. The hardship and pain and joy is in finding that yourself.

You do have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. Might as well figure out a way to do so peacefully.

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @Philopsyhotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLtho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the like button, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic on WordPress or with email notifications. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

How Philosophy Helped Me Process Psychosis

This will be part of my story but also a tribute to the power and destructive properties of thought.

I started cracking up shortly after I took my first philosophy introductory course 5 years ago. We covered everything from determinism to Cogito Ergo Sum to relativisms and categorical imperatives. I suppose I should specify this was a Western Philosophy introduction class.

Mortality and ethics, both western and eastern thought, were the subjects I focused on after that. Why? Well, debates intrigued me and the confusion on whether we’re born with an innate sense of what’s right and wrong or whether it’s developed based upon laws, society, and culture struck me as a paradox; we can’t know what we knew (or if we knew anything) when or before we were born, and therefore have no variable to isolate—we will never know which influences us more; instinct or culture.

Scientifically, as of today, this is impossible to study. Philosophically, the debate rages. And no, your opinion on whether or not morality is innate is not scientific evidence. You could create a viable hypothesis, just know it’s probably not testable in a way that will provide valid results. But, nurture your beliefs anyway. Beliefs keep us alive.

On the journey into the murky, grey waters of morality, I got a sight of hell. I felt the hot breath of demons. They told me I was a dead man walking every time I stepped. They hunted me. And I couldn’t figure out why.

It started with possession. They invaded my body and others near me. This happened, I reasoned, because it was finally time. They’d been watching me all my life, I’d felt them as a child, and now they were trying to throw me off my divine path. I was here to influence the world, thwart their plans. Dead celebrities wrote through me; they’d also been watching me since I was a child. Still, when I hear of deaths, I feel them joined with me.

I turned to ancient Egyptian beliefs and amulets. I felt Thoth on my side, and spent nights creating rituals to talk with him.

Classmates were possessed, armed against me in this spiritual warfare. I dropped classes.

I didn’t believe in hell though, or God, not in the sense of “white Jesus”. I didn’t believe spiritual masters controlling our fate. And because I didn’t believe in any of this, the creatures possessing me, massacring people, were not demons. I realized I’d labeled them as such because I had no better words to do so. They never called themselves demons. And that lead me to Eastern Philosophy.

Unity is what saved me. The unity of all living things, of all emotions, of all concepts, of my body and my mind. There are forces that unify particles and molecules and atoms. Matter is just condensed energy, in the simplest terms, after all. This realization turned me toward The Tao Te Ching specifically, and Daoism; The Way. True Daoism isn’t interested much in this physical world or the conundrums that man spends so much time trying to reason himself through. As someone who was and always has been very logical and scientific, this thought confused me. What else was there in life besides reasoning?

What’s great is that a lot of mystical ideas within Taoism, ideals which could have been scientific had the philosophers not seen analysis as such a waste of time (in a lot of ways it is, though), have been and continue to be paralleled with modern science, particularly physics. The Tao of Physics by physicist Fritjof Capra is a great book to read more on this subject. I read it a few months ago, and it’s the book pictured at the top of this blog.

The Daoist way acknowledges and observes the natural transformation of things in nature, like the blossoming and decaying of a flower. Yes, this is where the T’ai-Chi T’u diagram comes in: it represents the unification of these polar opposites: one must exist for the other to exist. We’re talking, of course, about Yin and Yang. A consequence of life is death (or cellular regeneration if we’re talking freaky single cell organisms) and you cannot have died without once having been alive. In fact, we would have no concept of being alive or living if death did not rear its gentle head. And if we were always dead, well, we wouldn’t know it and words for it wouldn’t exist.

Both Yin (the darker element of existence representative of the earth) and Yang (the creative, heavenly—meaning not of earth—element of existence) have equal importance and balance everything. The symbol’s flowing movement, according to Capra, represents continuous cycles; in other words, these opposites are constantly within each other, influencing each other, and being each other because if they were alone, neither would exist.

This isn’t a Western way of thought. Here, someone is either guilty or innocent. Something is either right, or wrong. The flower is either alive or dead, and we see these things as separate from each other in the same way we see ourselves separate from each other. You can see this disconnect rooted in things like in segregation, in P.C culture, and in Mental Health. And because we don’t ascribe to the idea of fluid existence, of fluid transformation, because everything for us is so hard lined and linear—which is only logical because we experience existence in a physical sense despite knowing Time isn’t linear—we’ve developed an individualist and autonomous society.

That’s not to say it’s wrong. In fact, I stopped believing in the hard sense of right and wrong a long time ago.

And so how can something so abstract apply to life and how in the world did it help me balance madness?

Chuang Tzu explains this beautifully:

“The sayings ‘shall we not follow and honour the right and have nothing to do with the wrong?‘ and ‘shall we not follow and honour those who secure good government and have nothing to do with those who produce disorder?’ Show a want if acquaintance with the principals of Heaven [not of earth; cosmos, spiritual universe] and Earth and with the different qualities of things. It is like following and honouring Heaven and taking no account of Earth; it is like following and honouring the yin and taking no account of the yang.”

Chuang Tzu. Also quoted in The Tao of Physics.

And suddenly life made a lot of sense.

Suddenly I understood why conclusions of morality always felt so contrived. I understood why “staying positive” never worked, and never would. I understood separation and dissociation and, most of all, I understood the fluid duality of everything, including my demons.

They weren’t demons after all, just as I’d suspected. I call them false angels now, because they are good in their badness and bad in their goodness. They couldn’t be demons because according to this natural, fluid transformation and existence of all things in the universe, everything has a polar opposite. Yes, classical physics tells us this, but not in terms of fluidity.

A demon has no goodness. But because I looked through this lens of consistently being unified with all opposites, these voices and spirits had no choice but to be both good and bad. They struggled with the universal order just like every particle, every force, every human.

This concept I have brought into the novel I’ve been working on, and I’m not mentioning how much I processed these thoughts through a first draft years ago, so whenever it gets published and you read it (and you WILL read it) you will see the similarities and thought process. You will think back to this post and say hey, I remember this! I was there! I. Was. There.

I could empathize with being torn apart by duality. I often found myself between sanity and madness. Between the right decision or the wrong decision. Between living and dying. Between happy and sad. And so I empathized with these damaged, clever, and now exposed beings. I saw the path they carved, the fork in the road that they drove me toward, and saw that this was never a battle between light and dark like I interpreted. They were always both protecting and hurting me; it’s the natural order of things.

That’s the real reason I stopped fighting. Not because I couldn’t anymore, not because I was too tired or because a bunch of therapists told me to, but because I recognized the pain and confusion and duality that radiates through the waves of the entire universe. I saw myself in it, and slowly my fear dissolved.

I get frustrated sometimes still at things they say or things I feel they’re influencing. I get swept away sometimes still, too. I mentioned before I thought of voluntarily committing myself some weeks ago. So this has not eliminated the struggle. What it’s done is give it purpose. It’s given it a place in the universe. It’s given me a reason not to feel sorry for myself or tortured or scream “why me!” Into the sky. It’s helped me learn to share my body and mind and the power of thought with whatever it is in my head, whether that’s a few misguided chemicals or actual spiritual contact. Neither are different from each other: they both follow that natural, fluid rotation. They are bound by the chaotic, ordered, unity of opposites.

This is the reason not referring to myself as “mentally ill” or “sick” has always set me free. This is why listening to my body and choosing to stray from medication was the right decision for me.

Philosophy saves lives.

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the star, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic on WordPress or with email notifications. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

This Is How We End Stigma

If there’s anything I’m leaving behind in 2019, it’s the teenaged, damaged version of me. I’m leaving behind immaturity and replacing it with realistic observation and contemplation. I’m respecting the graves of my trauma, enough that I can finally leave the cemetery. I’m not looking for anything in 2020. I will understand myself better and I will reach the potential I’ve always had. I will be turning 25 in 2020.

I started my old blog Mental Truths in July 2015. My last post was sometime early 2019. As I read through old posts, I realized how lost and confused and disconnected I was. It was mental health rants sprinkled with a hint of actual coherent thought.

And what I’ve learned between July 2015 and December 2019 is that the complexities of life are not only beautiful, they are terrifying. I learned there is nothing inherently wrong with terror and fear. I learned we often allow ourselves to be controlled by these primal reactions to life. I learned how our body and mind respond to life is dependent on more factors than neurotransmitters or trauma.

I went from an anti-psychiatry extremist to someone who sees more division within the mental health community than in those outside of the community who move against us or refuse to accept us. I learned Stigma is real and also bullshit.

We self-stigmatize more than others stigmatize us. We hold our struggles against others, as if the entire world doesn’t suffer in some way at some point. As if our personal struggle is so great that family, friends, partners, should put our health before their own, and if they don’t, they’re being “unreasonable” or they “don’t care”. As if everything revolves around us.

As if we must force people to accept us. We don’t.

People won’t accept us until we accept ourselves. Until we stop pretending the experience of voices and visions hold more pain and torment and severity than the experience of anxiety and panic. Until we recognize we all hurt.

This holds true for any inequality. I am mixed race, my father is African American, my mother is Caucasian, with her family having immigrated from Poland. Much of my life has been dictated by a cultural identity crisis. I didn’t fit in with the white kids, I didn’t fit in with the black kids, and I felt like I had to fit in with one of them. I was the only non-Hispanic in a college prep class that was supposed to be specified toward low-income, first generation college bound students. Instead, it was geared toward brown students who had a pretty good home life and high income. It took four years for them to integrate other races. And by other races, I mean two white kids.

And so I was very angry. I was sick of watching movies and documentaries in my college prep class ONLY dedicated toward brown students. I was sick of teachers handing me Spanish instructions for my parents and looking at me weird when I said I didn’t speak Spanish.

I felt erased. I felt degraded. Invisible. Ignored. And this is the result of a culture believing pain has hierarchy. A culture that thinks every little mention of skin color or inequality is fulfilling a racist culture. A culture where “you don’t look/act schizophrenic” is actually a sentence that’s uttered.

I had a right to be angry. But looking back, I placed myself on a pedestal. That “I’m more disadvantaged than you” type of superiority that seems to plague every ethnicity and every culture in some way.

Fear is a strong emotion. And psychological research has shown in countless studies that we often misinterpret our own feelings and signals we receive from our body. What may be fear may register as anger or sadness or even arousal. Looking back, I know now that I feared everything not because I didn’t fit in, but because I didn’t know myself. Sometimes arrogance and superiority becomes a barrier against the world.

And that’s happening in the mental health community. We fear our experiences often, we fear the thought of never “getting better”, we fear rejection and misunderstanding. And so we strive to prove we are sick. We strive to prove we are in pain, that we suffer, and in the middle of that battle we engage in friendly fire.

I’ve spent the last three years working on my fear. I was tired of being a prisoner and being sick meant I was a prisoner. Being “okay against my will” as one singer puts it, meant I was a prisoner. And so I dove into fear and terrified myself. I stopped being okay and in not being okay I became even better than okay.

What the mental health community needs right now isn’t stupid stigma campaigns.

What changes would we see in our wonderfully versatile, talented, and strong community if we were to stop seeing ourselves as the broken branches on the tree of society? What changes would we see if we stopped calling ourselves sick and instead called ourselves varied? Experienced? Raw? If we see ourselves as fully human, fully capable, intelligent, fierce, and in a lot of pain, the world will follow.

The world can understand pain. Let’s not make it any more complicated than that.

Would you like to continue the mental health conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photographs, or nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the star, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic on WordPress or with email notifications. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

The Advantages of Pain

Let’s have a discussion about the power hidden within struggle.

After the loss of control that a crisis brings, it feels impossible sometimes to regain a sense of self and place in the world. You doubt yourself, you doubt your beliefs, your happiness, or any chance that this darker side of life has anything other than despair and mental anguish to offer.

I see a lot of #mentalhealthawareness tweets and posts on instagram that talk about how hard it is to have anxiety or how depression stops people from living life or how their mental torment holds them back in some way, and because of that the general public should stop using mental health terminology as adjectives, or the general public should “educate themselves” on what it means to have this devastating “mental illness”.

Then, there are other posts which are meant to encourage people stuck in these dark times to remember that they are strong for dealing with the pain that they deal with, and no one can tell them otherwise.

I’m never one to silence a voice, or voices in this case, but I do think we miss the mark a lot. It’s not really about how hard everything is, it’s about what we’re taught from that hardship. If you feel you haven’t learned anything, I encourage you to dig until you hit water.

It’s also not really about you being strong. Everyone struggles. Every single person in the world. And this isn’t to compare pains to one another. This is to say that if there’s one thing the human race shares across borders, it’s pain. We’re built, physically and mentally, to endure a lot of shit. The struggle worsens, though, when you lose faith and trust in your body and/or your mind. When you believe you’re inept to face a challenge, you’re basically telling your body “I don’t trust you to handle this”, and your mind “I don’t trust you to make it through this”.

The problem with that, in my completely hypothetical and unscientific proposition here, is that your body and mind start mistrusting you too. And when you’re out of sync with the two major systems keeping you conscious and alive, than you’re existing in a void.

I think the greatest lesson I have learned in experiencing psychosis is how important my body and mind are to me. I felt such a strong disconnect from my entire self. Nothing made sense. My body had aches and pains I didn’t understand and my mind told me things that didn’t make sense, things that came to me like an idea for a short story and ended up as a first, incoherent draft of a horror manuscript.

Making a decision to come off medication became a catalyst for reuniting myself with my body—the first step in my real recovery. But it wasn’t the physical act of getting off the medication that saved me. It was the fact that I made a decision based on what my body told me. I sat for some weeks and listened to my internal system until the cries were finally recognized. Hearing those cries and abiding by them restored a lot of trust between my body and myself.

My mind came next. I plunged into utter darkness. Voices said I should kill myself, and I tried. I was tackled into safety. No, I was not hospitalized that time.

But for the first time in this darkness, I let it sweep me away. I didn’t shoot arrows or fill my moat. I let evil overrun my castle and I shook its hand. It pulled me down a spiral of agony and I saw the deepest, rotted pits of my mind. I didn’t cry because I was fearful of that. I cried because darkness lead me around these pits and showed me the decaying feelings I’d neglected. The traumas I’d abused. I cried because I’d been hurting myself and I never knew it.

It’s been over a year since my descent, since I stopped taking the medication, since I got back into the gym and nurturing my body. I’ve made space in my physical self and mental self for aches and pains and darkness. I have a voice who reminds me when I’m not okay, or asks me if I’m okay when I feel a little rocky. In fact, with all of the thoughts and voices in my head, I’ve reached a compromise: we either live in this body together or none of us live at all.

I want to live. They want to live. And so we leave space for each other.

“Recovery”, or whatever you’d like to call it, for me isn’t about being strong or resilient or tweeting about how much my life has changed or instagramming paragraphs about why hope should never die. It’s about a willingness to be terrified. It’s about reconnecting myself with what I’d been too fearful to face. Granted, I didn’t do this all on my own. I had friends and therapists and some bad group therapy experiences, all of which lead me back to looking inside of myself.

This is why you will never catch me on social media telling people what they want to hear. What they want to hear is the same script that’s everywhere: you can live a normal life. Take control. Be your best you. It’s possible to live with “mental illness”.

That’s all fine if you just want to exist. But it’s deeper than that for me. Giving up control gave me more freedom than fighting for control. I don’t “live with mental illness” because I’ve been labeled schizoaffective. I just “live with myself” like every other damn human being.

We think we’re so different from others. For some of us, that makes us feel entitled, like we deserve special treatment because “we’re sick”. And then we turn around and demand we also be treated the same as everyone else. Classic identity crisis if you ask me.

For me, that mindset just never quite cut the cake.

So, there is deep beauty in suffering, and deep agony in happiness. Our minds and our bodies are built for adaptation. They’re built to endure. Trust in this.

Would you like to continue the mental health conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photographs, and nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, share it, hit the star, sign up for email notifications, or hit the FOLLOW button. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.

Tips for being in a relationship with someone and their mental health struggles.

As someone labeled Schizoaffective (although I don’t consider myself disordered, disabled or “mentally ill”), and having read a few other articles online about relationships and mental health, I decided to weigh in on this with a little logic, rationality, and perhaps some harsh realities.

Paranoia, depression, and anxiety ruined a relationship with the person I am currently back together with. I won’t rehash everything. But my paranoia and anxiety wedged a wall between his family and me, and still does. It eventually wedged a wall between us as well. What I’ll share in this post is what we have learned.

Tip number 1: Your Partner is NOT Your Caregiver.

Unless the both of you have formally agreed to one person bearing the weight of taking care of appointments, reminding you to eat, reminding you to shower, reminding you to take your medication, moderating moods or behavior or trying to control behavior, and anything else a nurse or worker would do, this is NOT your job.

This is a harsh reality for many people because the first thing you’re told is your partner struggles with certain things (perhaps some of the things listed above) and may need gentle reminders or constant reminders. And there’s nothing wrong with a little help. The problem arises when this help reinforces the idea of helplessness, the concept of utter disability, both of which further the mindset which fuels depression. If your partner believes they can’t do something because their doctor says it, because you say it, or because all of the family says it, than your partner isn’t going to feel there’s a point to managing independence with their experiences.

This DOES NOT mean support isn’t vital. Support is vital in any relationship. But one person does not deserve to carry the weight of two people. Let’s explore this further.

Tip number 2: The health of both partners is more important than the health of one.

This sounds like “the majority outweighs the minority”, with some residual beliefs utilitarianism, which I’m not a huge fan of, but what I’m getting at here is that both partners must be healthy in order for the relationship to move forward as a whole. And it’s not enough to use that age old excuse of “my partner didn’t ask for this, it’s not fair.”

You’re right. Your partner didn’t ask for this. Who the hell asks for anything that causes struggle in this life? I suppose one could argue that by simple living you’re inviting and encouraging pain, but I have a feeling my readers aren’t wanting to go down that philosophical rabbit hole right now. Just because neither of you asked for this doesn’t mean milk the struggle. It doesn’t mean one persons health and well-being is more important than another’s. What it means is that balance is key. It means you, as the well partner, has a responsibility to care for yourself and your being, just as your partner struggling with their mental health has a responsibility to care for his/herself and his/her being.

In all of my crises I relied a lot on my partner. I was starved for understanding and wanted someone to pull me out of my head. I had psychiatrists, hospital visits, medication, and none of it seemed to make a difference. The weight I placed on his shoulders wasn’t fair. It’s important to communicate feelings. But not when you’re unloading those feelings like you’re a dump truck and he’s the landfill. That’s a classic case of me not having proper outlets or other areas of support. My health is my health, not his health.

Tip number 3: If your partner is the one struggling, be understanding but know when you need space

Know that you are not a savior. You are not there to pull us from our pain. No one expects you to. We have to feel our pain. We have to adapt in ways that work for us. Answers do not lie in you.

Now breathe. Doesn’t it feel good to not have the weight of someone else on your shoulders? Know that most of us are capable of taking care of ourselves the majority of the time, and also know that if we aren’t right now, most of us are capable of learning with a little firm encouragement from the entire mental health team (not just you) and with a little confidence in ourselves, which can take time to build when you’re constantly being told you’re sick and disabled. Remember: research shows thoughts have the power to transform the physical chemistry of the mind.

That being said, ask your partner what are some ways that you can support them in a crisis. Do not be offended if one the answers is “stay away from me”, or something of the sort. It’s not always someone dangerously isolating. Sometimes it’s a necessary space we need to really absorb our feelings, feel them, and help them pass on to the next life. If that causes you to feel ignored or unloved, discuss this with your partner.

Ask your partner when the proper time to get authorities involved is. Hospitalization is often another added trauma, as helpful as it may be. Handcuffs, cots, restraints, unwilling shots, all of it is trauma and can build a lot of mistrust in a lot of ways. If your partner is willing to go for hospitalization, make sure they are able to line up their treatment. Get a Mental Health Advance Directive if hospitalization is a common thing.

Empowerment is key to a confident, independent partner. They are in control, no one else. When they cannot be in control, brainstorm ways with them where their wishes can be honored (that’s an advance directive).

Tip number 4: If you are the partner who struggles, expand your support system.

This can be really hard. I’ve yet to get a steady support system around me that doesn’t involve friends from work or my therapist. And a support system doesn’t always have to be people. It can be things you use when you feel emotions taking over or a crisis budding. It could be a retreat if you have money. It could be a day at the animal shelter, petting animals. It could be local peer support groups, where you can foster connections with people who understand what you’re going through and are there specifically for mutual support.

When I feel I’m struggling, I alert my partner but I also take steps to process the pain. I’ll drive an hour or so away to some woods and a state beach and walk and contemplate and process and dissociate. It seems dangerous to some, and maybe for some people with certain struggles it would be. But for me it’s exactly what I need. To be away. It’s much less likely that I’ll be paranoid about a mountain. It’s much more likely I’ll be paranoid about that group of people across the street taking about my death. I often feel mountains intercept on people’s thoughts the way they interrupt cell phone service; their blockade stops people from hearing my thoughts or me hearing their thoughts.

If you don’t have transportation, which a lot of us do not, see if there are things within walking distance. If you’re comfortable taking public transportation, map out a route that could be helpful for you. Update your partner—remember, communication is key—but don’t send out distress signals unless it’s necessary. It’s important to reconnect with yourself, to learn your limits and push them just a bit, and to get comfortable juggling your pain without reaching for a life raft all the time. It’s the only way to learn how to swim.

Tip number 5: If you really love your partner, remember things will never be perfect and that healing takes time. A lot of it.

A partnership needs balance. It needs compassion and understanding and patience from both people. It needs trauma-informed processing from both people. It needs both parties to really see, hear, and feel each other’s perspective.

Struggling sucks. Trying to deal with other people’s struggles suck. Maybe you feel your partner will never be as independent as you hope. Maybe you feel your partner will never understand you. Maybe you feel your partner isn’t trying enough. Maybe you feel you’re trying your hardest and still not progressing; maybe that makes you feel guilty. Maybe neither of you know what to do.

And that’s okay. There’s a huge learning curve with this. And once every avenue has been exhausted, if either partner isn’t growing in a way that benefits the both of you, that’s okay to. You know why? You have the option to walk away.

No one, except your pain and fear and sorrow, is keeping you with someone who consistently hurts you.

Sometimes time apart is what fosters real growth. And sometimes it doesn’t. The point is you deserve to be happy. If you’re happy with someone who isn’t understanding or you’re happy with someone who is needing constant supervision, great! No one said that’s a bad thing. But the moment it becomes overwhelming, and growth has stopped, its time to reconsider what you’re putting yourself through.

I know

I’m aware this isn’t a typical perspective that’s written about. I’m also aware that everyone is different. There are different skill levels, different levels of lucidity and different levels of tolerance. Love is blind, I also know that.

I know that whatever satisfies your heart and your happiness is the choice for you. This article is not intended to shame or hurt or insult anyone. Its intent is to offer alternative perspective from someone who struggles with mental health issues and is learning to grow with a partner she never wants to lose because of some stupid unrealistic thoughts. It’s also coming from someone who refuses to let any mental health anything prevent her from living a full life.

Everyone is different. The point is to learn how to balance those differences so you can enjoy the best parts of sharing your life with someone.

Would you like to continue the mental health conversation, see silly photographs and nonsensical two second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, share it, hit the star, sign up for email notifications or hit the FOLLOW button. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me reason to continue this joyous hobby.

%d bloggers like this: