Posted in Emotions, Freedom, psychology

In Dealing with Death

2020 has seen a lot of this. It seemed my friends and I would make it out alive. One of us didn’t.

I am unfamiliar with the grieving process, very new to it in fact, and along with a whirlwind of instant pain, denial, regret, more pain, and consistent waves of feeling the need to give up, pathetic nihilism has punched me directly in the gut.

New followers (welcome and thank you!) may not know, but for those of you who have been following me for the last few months, snooping through my old posts and wondering if I’ve fallen from the earth, know that I approach things from an excruciatingly logical and philosophical standpoint. I use scientific research as support for and against my own curiosities. And so when my best friend of 13 years passed away from child birth complications at 25 from a pregnancy she thought had ended months ago, I fell into panicked logic: everyone dies. She hadn’t been taking care of herself, very rarely cared for her health. The hospital she went to is notorious for poor service. I listed at least a hundred reasons why this happened, but that didn’t soothe all the emotion: fear. Anger. Sadness. Depression. Some more anger. The feeing of unfairness. A hallow feeling for her alive son, 3 years old. Terror: this could have been anyone. This could have been me.

We were going to go “turn up” at our high school reunion together in three years. I won’t be going now.

We were going to hang out on this vacation I’m currently on. We never got the chance.

Our kids were (eventually) going to grow up together. They won’t now.

We talked every day, and although we had many fallouts over really petty things, we knew deep down we cared for each other.

I regret not making more time to see her. Although we constantly told each other “don’t die” when we knew the other was doing some stupid stuff or was sick, I regret that my last text message to her that she never saw, the one I sent before taking off to Ukiah for a few days and a soak at Vichy Springs, was “Don’t die; if you die, I’ll never talk to you again.”

To give that text some context, she had said she was throwing up from some bad pork, and was convinced it wasn’t COVID.

European studies show the grieving process is different for everyone: some benefit more so from mourning in solitude and immediately returning to their daily routine. This could include work, school, family life. The same studies show if those people attend talk therapy or journal, their grieving lasts longer, the dark feelings linger longer and they effectively get worse. The same study showed others needed the talk therapy and the journaling to process the pain. Despite what people think, and despite what I thought, grieving comes in all shapes and sizes.

Living with anxiety and Schizoaffective while on zero mood stabilizers or antipsychotics means big events like this can yank me into Alice’s wonderland. There are things I do to prevent this: isolate, cry, read, and fall into a pit of existentialism.

Why are we here? What is our actual purpose? If we simply die, and we will at any time, any place, for any reason, what is the point of remaining alive? These are questions we’ve all thought about. They’re basic, kind of petty, and when looked at logically not very scary at all. But I understand on an emotional level now why people run toward faith in something, anything–another human, a god, a monster, a devil. Postulating about our own mortality in the first quarter of life, the supposed meaninglessness of it that is, is enough to bring the strongest, smartest, most emotionally stable person to their knees.

I feel that I’ve crossed into another world, this world, but something’s different while everything’s the same. It’s the same feeling I got when I graduated high school and it’s the same feeling I’ll get when I graduate college: that’s over–now what? Why does everything feel new? I wake up feeling like I’ve never woken up before. I eat like I’ve never tasted food before.

I’ve also felt lost about the afterlife. We always told each other we’d haunt one another if one of us died first. She hasn’t haunted me yet.

So, I turned to Daoism for guidance as I always do, before I turned to depression, anxiety, voices, or thoughts of matrix glitches. In Daoism, death is never focused on, and neither is mourning. Death is supposed to be about transformation and the return of The Being to the universe. It’s a celebration, then, that the one who has passed hasn’t really passed, but has just been redistributed. The absence of them, then, is not absent at all. This gives a more concrete understanding to the saying “she’s still with us.” She is, because she is us and we are her and all of us are the universe.

Maybe it sounds cheesy, unbelievable, and scientifically invalid, but we know very well that energy cannot be created or destroyed. In fact, we don’t even really know what energy is other than “a capacity to do work.” I’ve taken so many classes where that’s been drilled into my head that I have no other way of saying it other than that very definition, quoted from every physics, chemistry, and math professor. We also know that matter, down to it’s truest form, is tightly condensed energy. We are energy. We cannot be created or destroyed, in a particle sense, and so in some way we are redistributed: whether that be into soil, into the mouths of maggots, or any other disgusting decomposing terms you can think of. The one thing we haven’t really understood yet is consciousness. What is it and where does it go? It’s chemical of course, we all are, but it’s something else too. I wonder if one day we will identify a similar “spooky action” of consciousness.

Daoism also sees death as life, meaning they are both one. Neither can exist without the other, obviously (we wouldn’t have a concept for either if that were the case). But philosophy is philosophy and our observation of things, our mathematical understanding of things, can only go so far as long as we’re trapped in this physical world. Perhaps there is nothing after this life. And what’s wrong with nothing?

If there is nothing, then there is something. Our nothing will be the something, and something tells me we’ll feel that in the nothingness.

I will always miss her.

Posted in advocacy, Community, Emotions, Freedom, Late Night Thoughts, Peer Support, psychology

Civil Rights Movement 2020

NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.

This is the slogan circulating social media as I speak.

Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, NYC,Atlanta, Minneapolis, Memphis, Louisville. The list continues.

I posted yesterday about the importance of African American mental health support in a time when we are watching ourselves get killed across social media, in a time that is eerily similar to the civil rights movement of 2020–except that now we have video.

Now we have PROOF.

We can watch the brutality, watch the racism, watch the hatred.

We can see the anger, the violence, the threats that result from hundreds of years of oppressive social states.

I think popular opinion is that protesting is okay but looting is overkill. I refuse to take a stance on this because the level of internal anguish that comes from generational trauma cannot be overlooked because a Target burned down.

I do not wish harm on anyone, be it protester, officer, or store clerk. We must keep our focus. We MUST remember the message and focus less on the damage we can cause. Every human can cause destruction. It takes someone truly enlightened to channel that hurt and anger into a passionate, effective message.

I have been crying for hours.

A 19 year old man was killed by officers in a San Jose protest. I live 45 minutes from San Jose. Our protests will be happening this weekend.

I have been crying for hours.

I wonder what George Floyd sees, if he can watch us from the other realm. I don’t know much about him other than community members describing him as a kind, generous man. Was his death what we needed? Is this what transitions our country into a time of healing? We thought change would come with Trump and it indeed has: it’s brought disorganization, divide, and racism to the forefront of our consciousness. This is the 2020 vision we all thought it would be.

I have been crying for hours.

There are videos of eight year old african-american children crying for equality in a room full of people, speaking to adults in charge.

I have been crying for hours.

I don’t think the feelings can be properly explained. I have been feeling invaded and attacked, my paranoia surfacing strong. I am feeling that Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram have been hacking my cell phone because of the message I am spreading. I am trending in social media on Instagram for videos I have found online of necessary violence against protesters who AREN’T looting.

There is an undeniable connection between all of us African-american’s right now. It seems we are always united in pain.

That’s painful.

When this ends, will we go back to killing each other in the name of “honor” or “reputation” in the streets? When this ends, will our style, culture, and way of being in the world be imitated and copied still by musicians, influences, and celebrities who have been SILENT in the face of this revolution? When this ends, will we encourage our kids to be more involved in politics? When this ends, will we still have to identify ourselves as black Americans? Or will we be called simply “Americans?”

When this ends, will we still be united?

What can we do to lift each other up after this? We can’t just destroy buildings and black-owned businesses.

We are always united in pain. How can we maintain our unification in revelation?

I am 24 years old, my birthday in 2 weeks. My father is 61 years old, and was just a kid during the 1960’s civil rights movement. He has been arrested illegally for a robbery he didn’t commit and spent a year in jail until they found out they were wrong. He’s spent his life fighting racist citizens and cops and community to the point that he sleeps with a hunting knife near and is always worried about getting into a fight or someone bursting in our door.

It’s my turn now to experience a racial revolution, to participate, and to find my identity. I am a light-skinned African-American who has been profiled by police, given unjustified tickets, had back-up and four cops called on her while she was simply sitting in the car, hands very visible on the steering wheel. I did not breathe. I grew up in a school with maybe 4 black students, and went on to a college that catered only to Hispanic students (for the record this wasn’t a problem, many Hispanic students need the help, but so do the black students who are systematically underprivileged compared to even Hispanic students).

My chest is tight. I can’t imagine living in the 50s, the 20s, the 1800s.

I’m mixed race; I would have been a product of rape and an eventual sexual object used for humiliation and, in my adulthood, a symbol of rape.

I can’t imagine living in the United States in any other time than this one.

I’d be dead.

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Posted in advocacy, Emotions, Freedom, Late Night Thoughts, Peer Support, psychology, Supporting Friends/Family, Uncategorized

Mental Health And African-American LIves

There was not a Mental Health Month post on Thursday for Somatic Disorders as I anticipated, not because I ran out of time but because my mind has been engrossed in other disturbing realities and going-ons in America. I will do a post on Somatic Disorders soon. But firstly, we need to discuss something.

For all the mental health websites and advocate pages on Instagram who are American-run and have not mentioned ONE DAMN THING about the riots in Louisville, Kentucky and Minneapolis, Minnesota right now, you should be ashamed of yourselves. ASHAMED.

How dare you claim to be an advocate of mental health and not bring to light the racial issues that are not only causing MORE trauma for today’s generation of colored folks, but is fueled also by the generational trauma of our ancestors.

I am a mixed race individual; my father is African American and my mother is Caucasian. I am light skinned, often mistaken for Mexican, and my mental health and physical health has been impacted by this. Doctors are less attentive. They don’t listen properly. They accuse me of drug use in the middle of my panic attacks.

For African American people in America, there is a lot of grief. There is a lot of trauma, a lot of loss, a lot of pain. We feel unsafe, unheard, tossed aside. That births anger, rage, and perpetuates violence. With the recent murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Abery and Breonna Taylor (George and Breonna murdered by police; George was already on the ground with three cops on top of him and Breonna was IN HER HOUSE), all of these feelings and this connection we have to each other is growing stronger. Violence is happening because of the angst of hundreds of years of BULLSHIT.

So the fact that so many pages are claiming to talk about Mental Health and are avoiding this issue for political reasons I suspect makes me sick to my stomach. Until this is addressed in all facets, nothing will change. As social media has been circulating: No Justice, No Peace.

Not only does blatantly ignoring this subject aide in the problem rather than the solution, it also sends the message that those of us in the american mental health system who are dark don’t matter as much. We don’t need to talk about this collective pain we feel right now because your page can’t afford arguments in the comments.

I say affectionately, FUCK YOU.

Get off your fucking high horse.

Remember when I said I have made very frank posts on my previous blog? This is one of them.

Get off your fucking high horse and recognize that the deaths of these people, the murders of these people, affect African-American people across this nation. My anxiety, my grief, my voices, my paranoia have all doubled because of what I see happening to the people who are part of my ancestral family. I feel the same for the Native Americans who are hit the hardest with COVID-19 and receiving absolutely no help, except a box of body bags rather than PPE. Part of my family is Native to North America and their suffering has only added to my grief.

This IS a mental health topic. Racism IS a mental health topic. Not because racism is a disorder, but because how it effects people dictates their mental states. To advocate at this time for mental health without reminding followers and subscribers that people of color are collectively struggling mentally with this, to the point that VICE has to be the one magazine to offer self-care tips for African Americans, IS SELFISH.

It’s SELFISH to ignore this as a mental health topic.

I’ve been sick to my stomach all day, lost in my thoughts and my pain and watching Minnesota burn down their police station.

If we truly are all in this together, then where is your support for the black community right now? Where is your acknowledgement of our mental health in a time when we are watching ourselves get killed? Somewhere up your ass?

Good Night.

Posted in advocacy, Freedom, Peer Support

When We Can’t Stop Thinking

People say secrets keep us sick.

I’d like to relate this to mental health, but in order to do so, we must read this post with the understanding that I don’t consider our experiences a product of illness or an expression of a sickness. We also must assume this only has to do with secrets in-part. So I suppose it has nothing at all to do with that saying.

What I’m getting at is that there are things we do for ourselves that exacerbate or substantially perpetuate our experiences, and there are things we do for ourselves that foster alleviation. Identifying these things is one of the best ways to care for yourself.

For example, diet plays a huge role in my mental wellness. In one of my most upsetting states, I was eating over 200 grams of sugar a day, an unknown amount of fat, and at least 200-300 grams of carbs. Alongside antipsychotic medication, my weight ballooned. After getting off the medication, radically changing my diet, and implementing a structured exercise routine, my depression lifted for the first time in my life, my anxiety lessened, and heavy psychotic experiences were less frequent.

If I skip meals and eat foods rich in sugar or carbs, my experiences worsen again.

Some of us don’t realize what we put in our body effects our mental state. Some of us know, but struggle in the transition. Some of us just don’t want to transition. None of those ways are right or wrong. But they have different consequences.

Some people have learned to take care of themselves through other peers, others with lived mental health experience. I mention this specifically because it’s what I attribute a lot of my own learning to, and also because it’s part of awareness and advocacy; we’ve been on that kick for a couple days now on this site.

What I’ve noticed is that telling your story can be both freeing and suffocating. There are some people who are able to write a blog about themselves, or speak about themselves, or start a small non-profit advocacy program and live a healthy life. There are others who do the same, but are engrossed on the internet and social media, who tell their story so much that their entire life is dedicated to mental health.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either. But what I notice is that it doesn’t seem healthy for everyone. I think it becomes detrimental when all you talk about is your bad days, or your good days, your experiences, what makes life difficult, and all these things that only serve to remind you how different and/or limited you are. The more that mindset is fed, the less life is lived.

What I mean by that is when you separate yourself from the whole of society, in a good way or a bad way, you start forgetting you’re apart of that society.

I remember being so engrossed in my depression and anxiety, before I experienced any altered states. And it wasn’t just the experience taking up all my time, because depression and anxiety are both all-encompassing, but it was the fact that I spent all my time thinking about both. I’d think about it in a positive light too. I’d blog my experience and talk to others about it; we’d relate and it was a positive moment in a lot of darkness. But it kept my thoughts trapped in this bubble.

People also like to say in mental health that “We are not our illness”. Again, assume that for this post, and for any post on this site, I do not adhere to the terminology “illness”, “disorder” or “sickness”, but the fact is if you spend all of your time talking about your experiences, in a positive or negative light, you are basically your “illness”.

NOT being your “illness” would entail you living life. It would entail you understanding that yes, sometimes things are hard, but that doesn’t make you special.

That’s another thing about certain advocates. Everything is about mental health–everything. Why focus so much on the hardships? Why not focus on the things you’ve been able to do because you’ve gotten support and found a healthy path? Why not show people what they could potentially do were they to also find their path? That would encourage me, at least. What doesn’t encourage me is people saying #depresssionfeelslike.

I gained a lot of freedom from getting involved in other things besides mental health and from hanging around friends without mental health struggles. Every once in a while I’ll talk about things, express views, but I do it at appropriate times and if people are willing to hear.

Sometimes people think I don’t blurt my diagnosis or experiences because I’m ashamed. Really it’s because I’m not a sum of any diagnosis or any experience. I don’t need to say, “yes I graduated with schizoaffective”. I just graduated. And that’s the whole of it.

Travel. Show yourself you can do something unrelated to the terror in your mind. Volunteer. Find a passion. Reignite a passion. Meet people. If people are too much, maybe a hobby. I’ve had to push myself away from reading fiction books with mental health characters because I want to remind myself I’m still in the world, even when I feel like I’m not.

I want to remind myself there is so much more out there than what’s just in my head.

I think we often forget that.

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Posted in Freedom, Peer Support, Therapy, Voices

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.

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Posted in Emotions, Freedom, psychology, Voices

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.

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Posted in Freedom, Peer Support

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.

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Posted in Freedom, Voices

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.

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Posted in Emotions, Freedom

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.

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