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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Posted in Freedom, psychology, Voices

Misconceptions about Schizophrenia and Psychosis

I’ve decided to write this post because these are found all around the internet and they all say the same things: these people aren’t dangerous, they can live and function just as anyone else, and the general public needs to see people for their character, not their diagnosis.

That’s all fine and dandy and true. But I think there’s a big chunk of information missing from those basic ideas.

Misconception 1: People with psychosis/schizophrenia must be medicated for life.

This is even a prevalent belief within the mental health community. Medication is helpful and for a lot of people necessary, and it often becomes a life sentence because that’s how it’s presented. Studies are beginning to show more and more that after a first episode of psychosis, and any subsequent episodes, medication for a specified amount of time (I’ve read some studies that cite a year as ideal) is most helpful if the person can then be tapered off the medication. Remission rate and functionally surpass those who have stayed on medication for a decade or longer.

Obviously everyone is different and the brain is as complex and individual as a fingerprint. This way may not work for everyone, but to insinuate it would work for no one is a grave case of clinical arrogance and lack of insight of recent research.

If you are someone like me whose body struggles adhering to the chemical fluctuations and disruption of homeostasis psychiatric meds cause, finding a proper physician and psychiatrist who are willing to work with you in the process of tapering may be a great step for you. This is a process that can and should take years.

If you are someone not like me and your medication is what you feel is holding you together (independent of your doctor’s opinion) then I am happy for you. Stay educated and invested in your wellness in the best way your body and mind asks for.

Misconception 2: Psychosis/Schizophrenia is more severe than other mental health experiences.

I hate this hierarchy bullshit.

It’s my largest pet peeve about the medical model and it’s the foundation of why some people get care and others don’t.

Psychosis is terrifying and life altering. But so is anxiety, so is depression, so are mood fluctuations. When we start comparing our pain to others pain, we create this competition and divide among ourselves rather than hold space for all of our pains and worries and fears and recognizing that they aren’t very different from each other; maybe in presentation, but not in origin.

There’s really nothing else to say about that shit.

Misconception 3: Those faced with the label Schizophrenia will have children who experience the same pain.

It’s true that heritability is a thing. It’s also true that that means nothing.

There is a chance your biological child will have similar experiences to you. This chance is actually quite small. It’s similar to the risk of alcoholism in children of alcoholics. One study showed (for boys and fathers at least) that sons of alcoholic fathers had a 20% chance of developing alcoholism. But very rarely did those with that 20% chance actually develop alcoholism.

Heritability for mental health experiences follows the same train of thought. Just because your children may have a higher risk of experiencing these variations of humanity doesn’t mean they will. Genes play a very tiny role. What dictates whether experiences emerge is so much more complicated and ranges from life experiences to the way your child thinks; remember, research shows a single thought changes the chemistry of the mind.

If your child does develop experiences, than you’ll be the best person for that child to be around. You’ve had similar experiences. You’ve felt the fear and confusion and grandiosity. You understand how that can take over and you also understand the other side, the way your thoughts change, the way your perspective of the world changes. You can be there as guidance and the patient, compassionate, understanding person your child will need.

Misconception 4: Medication makes the voices go away.

I’ve met professionals who believe this.

It’s a nice fantasy, but not a reality for most people. Medication can make them fainter or easier to ignore. But that does not eliminate commentary or shouts or fears being expressed daily by voices, if you experience that. In the last post I mentioned the possibility, the hypothesis, that psychosis is another way for the brain to express itself. Voices are an extension of that expression, in this proposal.

What does that mean? Well, in this case it means putting a bandaid on them does nothing. It will do what bandaids do best: cover the open wound, reduce swelling, protect it from the elements and any foreign bodies in the skin. The bandaid does NOT do the healing—the body does.

And same goes for psychosis. The medication can be an important step, push people from their crisis moment. But there is no evidence medication repairs anything, nor is there enough substantial evidence to say it permanently harms the brain. I say this because studies show both hypothesis to be true and false. A meta Analysis would be the best way to reveal the most likely option, but I haven’t read any as of recent.

So, screaming at people to take their medication is probably the wrong way to go about talking to your friend or family member or patient. Because medication only does so much. For me, patience, compassion, and the willingness to have a real conversation is what has helped me maintain a sense of stability. Medication pulled me from crisis. But I had to do the rest of the work.

Misconception 5: People labeled with Schizophrenia can’t live independently.

I think most people know this is a misconception, but maybe not. Just like many facets of life, living independently depends on way more factors than just functionality. Money is a pretty big one.

We don’t focus on providing open, honest, and understanding work environments, and that excludes a lot of people, not just those labeled with particular mental experiences. A closed, harsh, strict environment really influences how things are perceived but those of us with these experiences, and I didn’t realize that until I started working at the peer respite house where things are generally talked about rather than swept under the rug.

So, a lot of people still recovering from crisis go on Social Security Disability here in the United States. Many of those same people get worn down by the message that they’re disabled and lose motivation and hope in working. That lack of purpose and feeling connected to society only exacerbates the mental health experiences and therefore reinforces the idea of disability and “sickness”.

Not to mention disability pay is about enough to buy a stick of celery everyday, let alone pay rent. A lot of people are homeless because their disability pay isn’t enough to survive on and waitlists for housing are in the thousands here in California.

It takes extra work for us to be independent, but it’s possible.

It becomes less possible when everyone tells us it’s not.

This is my Happy Christmas/Holiday/Whatever-you-celebrate-Eve post.

How festive!

Posted in Freedom

To Be A Mental Health Consumer

Yesterday I said today’s post would be about whether or not psychology is a science and how certain types of philosophy play into the ideals psychologists and M.D’s are trained with, but right now I don’t have access to the notes I made in regard to that topic. So today will be kind of an introduction.

We’ll talk about the importance of education and its scary insignificance.

If you’ve ever taken an introductory psychology course, you have most likely heard the story of “Little Albert”. In using classical conditioning, John Watson and Rosalie Rayner conditioned Albert to have a fear of a white rat. They did this, according to my recollection, by making loud, sudden, scary noises when presenting the white rat.

Now, if you’ve taken a recent introductory psychology course which covered this case, and you are not in California, there is a slim chance you were not told what I was told. I’m betting you were, though.

I took General Psychology 5 years ago and was informed that the experimenters discovered this infamous baby known as Little Albert had also been conditioned to fear white things in general. Fluffy, white, harmless things like a puffy rabbit or a dust bunny. My class was then told this fear persisted throughout this child’s life, and that fears could be unconditioned as well. This example is used as evidence to prove that classical conditioning in humans perpetuates specific phobias.

The study was referenced in a few other courses as well, all with similar conclusions. The textbooks were no different.

So, imagine my surprise when my research course revealed Little Albert had been fearful for ten days. After that, his reactions subsided. When they attempted to recondition the fears, his responses were lessened than the first time and the fears did not stick. My research professor said he had never learned this until he actually read the paper Watson and Rayner published.

And so this brings up many serious issues, one of which I’ll talk about tomorrow.

But for today, we can just focus on one main issue: if we can’t trust our education, how can we trust our practical training? Are they following research or intuition? Are they creating programs and trainings that are based in research topics but finalized by idealism?

This doesn’t mean we flush our meds down the toilet and spit at our therapists. Maybe it means that for some people but for me it means self-research is probably one of the most important things I can do for myself as a mental health consumer. I don’t like to say “question everything” because that implies a lack of trust and in order for people to trust you, you also must sacrifice some vulnerability and offer trust. What I say instead is “research everything.”

Get a new diagnosis? Great! It matters to you, it explains what you feel and how you think and you really identify with it. Learn about it, if that’s something that matters to you. And that doesn’t mean googling “schizophrenia” and reading about how your negative symptoms will take over your life after medication quiets the positive symptoms and how medication is the recommended long-term treatment and how some people can still live meaningful lives (after the author spent six pages ripping your self-esteem to shreds).

Learn about negative symptoms if you want. Learn about positive symptoms. Learn about different medications, different therapies (usually CBT) used to help people cope with confused thoughts. Learn about why the dopamine hypothesis is only a hypothesis. Learn about how medications work and how they don’t work. Learn about support groups. Learn about alternative treatments. Learn about how they work and how they don’t work. Learn about hearing voices (if applicable) and learn about the Hearing Voices Network, and affiliated organizations/movements. And most importantly, be objective.

Don’t just swallow the information you’re provided and internalize it. Not even the information in this post: research it for yourself.

This is hard to do when you’re in a crisis. That’s when we’re at our most vulnerable. That’s when we put up defenses and refuse help that may be useful. Or that’s when we’re so outside of ourselves that we have no defenses and so we absorb any help, and sometimes that means forceful and hurtful help.

It took me years of mental growth supported (sometimes unknowingly) by the connections I’ve made at the Peer Respite house I work for, and my own inner revelations, my own retraction from society and sanity, to really learn things which I would have never known had I not had a few questions and some hours of research.

And so the second lesson here is patience. While you go through the horror and the terror and wallow in darkness, look around. Touch the walls you’re trapped in. Smell the air that’s tainted and stale. Feel the ache in your heart. Hear your own screams. Explore the desolation because there is nothing more all-encompassing. And when something is all-encompassing, there is no escaping. So don’t run. Melt into it.

Let me give an example.

I was part of a cultural competency training/story telling event for the company which helps run and fund the respite house. There were other providers from within the company who attended, nurses and clinicians from other mental health and housing programs. (For some background, the company runs 100+ other programs and the Respite is the only fully peer program).

I was one of three who was scheduled to tell my mental health story and how I interacted with providers during the worst of my crisis. This was to provide them a view from the other side.

However, public speaking isn’t usually my thing. I used to faint in elementary school when I had to stand up in front of people, and this fear continued through high school and college until about a year ago. It still makes me intensely nervous, but I’ve gotten just a smidgen better at controlling my body and my thoughts during my presentations.

And so my anxiety sky rocketed the moment I stepped into the building. What this usually means is I go sit somewhere quietly and ignore the room and put some music in my ears and try not to listen to my own self-criticism or voices.

What it meant this time was understanding my limits and using my crutch to further develop my own skills. I took some valium I’d been prescribed for my back. This doesn’t last very long in my body with my metabolism, but it lasted just enough to calm my body. I wear a Google Wear smartwatch that tracks my heart rate religiously and I use it as a biofeedback because biofeedback was what helped me see how my mind exaggerates my feelings.

When the medication kicked in, my heart rate went from 109 to 68. And in this period I felt it. I felt my body and my hands and how cold they were. I felt my eyes moving in their sockets and my tongue brushing across my lips. All the while my mind panicked.

And so I focused my awareness on that disconnect. I spoke with my brain and my body and I told my brain: do you see how the body feels right now? It’s okay. This situation is okay. Feel how grounded we are right now? Feel how I’m leaning on the counter top? See, you made that person laugh. You’re having conversations. Do you feel how loose the body is?

And so I didn’t run. I dove into the discomfort and identified the disconnect that perpetuated my fears. I will and do talk quite a lot of shit about medication. It’s understudied and should not be cleared for long-term use in any one human being or animal. It is studied for short-term usage, all of it (meaning 4 weeks to 3 months) and the only medication I am comfortable with my body enduring is as-needed medication for panic. And the only way I will take one is if I recognize I won’t learn anything from the panic if I can’t get out of my body and into my mind. I have to reconnect the two, and one needs to be isolated (calm) in order for me to show the other one everything is okay.

I quite enjoyed my talk. I’m sure there are many things I could have done better, things I could have said better maybe. But it was the first time I spoke to a room of people without pouring sweat, stumbling over words, or fainting. By the time the talk started, the Valium had left my system.

The key notes to take from this post?

  1. Be Objective.
  2. Have Patience
  3. Don’t Run

Posted in Freedom, psychology

The Human Question

I’ve been absent because the pain of sitting with this back injury was too great. I wish I would have injured my back before I started this blog; not writing for days isn’t the proper way to re-build a blog. I know at least that much.

In the midst of all this pain, I’ve been challenged philosophically once more. That seems to happen a lot. You think our minds gets off on presenting existential issues with every little aspect of life?

My drug record is as follows: Marijuana. Psychiatric cocktails.

Marijuana made me feel normal in high school. I stopped when I started college and psychiatric medication. Then 7 years on and off of those medications. Antipsychotics dull your mind, but I wouldn’t call it a high. Benzos knocked me out a couple times. But I’ve never experienced the bliss that is an opioid-based medication.

This medication (which only cost me two dollars compared to the 40 I used to pay for my psych meds each month–there’s your opiate crisis plain and simple) was prescribed strictly for that insurmountable pain I mentioned earlier. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t lay down, I couldn’t walk. I also couldn’t give up going to class and work during recovery, and so the pain med and the valium came into play.

Valium is shit, in my opinion. I don’t like that the halflife is up to 72 hours, which can make your body very dependent very quickly if you’re taking it regularly. It was prescribed for muscle spams, which have been plaguing my entire body since the back injury.

The issue I’ve had isn’t with addiction. I’m not crushing the pain med and snorting it. I’m not injecting it, I’m not smoking it. I like the feeling, I enjoyed floating while in class, and in that high I realized how much I missed feeling THIS kind of disconnected. A happy disconnection. And then I wondered if it was really the disconnection I missed. That just didn’t feel right; I’m always disconnected in some way, and often that’s how I make it through my day.

It’s the sense of altering my mind state which I missed. That felt right, until it didn’t. This year has been the happiest year of my life; I’ve lost all the weight I gained from my depression, I’ve stayed off all psychiatric medication, including anti-psychotics, I’ve got friends, I’ve been more open with people. I’ve enjoyed work. I bought a 2019 car. I’m successfully completing the research course which I kept dropping because of psychosis and depression. I’m writing again, submitting fiction again, starting this blog, finished a manuscript draft. I feel mentally and physically back on track. So what is making me want to change this?

I don’t have an answer.

I can look at human behavior and make some guesses, though.

Some of us want to alter our state more than others. For me, it’s not about running from feeling anymore. Now it’s about boredom, it’s about routine, it’s about doing the same thing over and over again and being content, but wanting something more. And I think that’s something everyone can relate to: wanting something more.

People say if you’re satisfied where you are, content with yourself, you won’t want anything more because you have everything you need. Perhaps it’s the ideal case. It just doesn’t seem practical though.

Or, maybe I’m not as happy as I think I am. In that case, what aren’t I happy about? Maybe those who indulge in recreational drugs also aren’t as happy as they think they are. In that case, maybe no one is ever certain about how they’re actually feeling. Freaky.

Maybe the feeling of a new experience is exciting, maybe the devil hooked a Twinkie on his fishing line and we’re all chasing it into hell.

Maybe we convince ourselves of one thing to justify what we know isn’t true. For example, I enjoy the body high. I’m always so tense from anxiety, have been all my life. Marijuana could never take it away, and neither could psychiatric meds. But the pain meds can. And so maybe I’m saying I’m not trying to subdue my feelings or run away from something so I can justify continuing to use them even though I’ve finally made it past the most severe pain.

Seeing as that’s highly likely, although my mind is pushing hundreds of reasons why I shouldn’t admit to that truth, the question then becomes: is enjoying something like a high wrong?

Most people would say yes, if it interferes with your life. If it becomes an addiction and reduces your level of functioning (i.e, using the language we hear all the time in mental health). I would say that wouldn’t make it wrong. It would make it pointless. And pointless isn’t always wrong.

Other people may say yes, it’s wrong, because you’re avoiding life. You can’t cheat like that.

Then people go off on tangents of addiction, of blaming you for “putting your family through this”–similar to shaming you for considering suicide. Then they talk about death–you’ll kill yourself. You can see my analysis on THAT argument here.

I don’t quite know what the point of this post is anymore.

To indulge or not to indulge, that is the human question.

Posted in Emotions, Freedom

Caring For The Shattered Self

I did not post yesterday as I was in too much pain. Today is better, although I don’t really have a set topic for today’s post. Self-care would be a good one.

I’ve learned a lot about what that means in just the last six months. Some of it came from the guidance of others, and an equal amount came from me learning my body and my brain and what connects the two of them back together. In regards to psychosis and anxiety, although they tend to be categorized as separate, they have similar attributes. I’d say the biggest difference is anxiety you still recognize your physical and mental place in the world during your disconnect. With psychosis, nothing has a place and you are the center of that nothingness.

But they are similar in that you feel dissociated from the people around you, from life, from everything. Panic can make you believe you’re dying, psychosis can make you believe you’re already dead. Anxiety makes you think badly about yourself, psychosis is lazy and will just let the voices reprimand you. And the biggest part of all of this is that separation between the turmoil in your mind and the placement of your body. This is where the idea of grounding techniques come from; there’s this idea–quite an effective one–that if you can center yourself in your limbs, remind yourself who you are and that you exist in this moment, you become more aware of right now instead of tomorrow or yesterday or the future. That’s great for anxiety.

Grounding probably won’t stop you from believing your dead. But it may help ease the anxiety of the idea of being dead, and in that process you learn to accept death. In learning to accept death and the terror and trauma which may be circling death, you accept the idea of being dead. Once you’re there it becomes a little easier to put some weight to both sides: maybe I’m dead, maybe I’m not dead. Either way, I accept what is. That can take some power from the psychosis.

Professionals talk about wanting to break people from their delusions by presenting facts or evidence or saying “well, if that was true, why is this happening?” but that makes zero sense because in delusion everything has a place. And if it doesn’t have a place, we’ll make it have a place with “I don’t know how it works, but that’s how it works” and you won’t have any evidence (to us) against that solid argument.

And so breaking is an illogical step. Telling your loved one that this can’t happen because of that and then getting frustrated at them because they don’t believe you only adds more stress.

The power of unifying the mind and body, accepting uncomfortable thoughts and ideas, giving Anxiety a place to disperse is my greatest form of self-care. Giving my mind a chance to feel how my body is affected by certain thoughts, giving my body a chance to react to my fear and anxiety my mind tumbles through, gives me a chance to tether the two back together and gives me a sense of being a whole person. Because one thing about both anxiety and psychosis is that you feel shattered. You feel like a million pieces being pulled in a million and one directions and none of the directions make much sense. Or they make perfect sense and in that, make no sense because nothing can be perfect.

Self-care doesn’t always mean “doing what makes you feel good”. Sometimes it means doing what you need to in order to grow. And that can be quite uncomfortable.

Reconnecting your physical and mental selves doesn’t just have to be through mindfulness or meditation or mindful-meditation, I’ve learned. Although those ways are quite useful. For example, music reconnects my mind to my body, especially if I’m in my room and playing it on speakers where I can really feel the vibration of the sound and move with it. Japanese Karaoke, the Karaoke in the private rooms, is one of the best ways my mind and body sync up again, my mind riding waves of emotion and my body, my diaphragm and stomach and throat specifically, capturing those emotions into vocalization.

People wonder why medication doesn’t take their mental pain away and that’s because it can’t. We all know this, and if some of us don’t, well, get comfortable with the idea that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. Medication is a bandage. It will do nothing for your thoughts but numb you from them. It will do nothing for your trauma. For a lot of us, it will do nothing for voices besides make them fainter and easier to ignore (which isn’t a bad thing, it can be quite helpful). But, if all you do is throw some chemicals at your brain and roll some dice, you’re essentially allowing yourself to shatter. You’re blockading a chance to be whole again and maybe that’s because the idea of being whole is so foreign to you. Or maybe it’s too terrifying. Maybe it’s too real and too raw and it’s much easier to hide behind numbness than to face sharpness.

And that’s okay too. If that’s where you are your best, if that’s how you function best, if it’s not going to bite you in the ass ten years down the road, great. For me, I didn’t function being a shattered person. And so I listen to myself. I listen to every pain, every ache, every burst of happiness, every drop of sadness, every small voice, every screaming voice, every immovable belief, because all of it means something. It’s not random and useless. It’s annoying and tiring, but it’s a reflection of turmoil and an indication that I’m separating from myself again. That’s a warning sign.

What happens when we bury those warning signs? Or hide from them? Well, they just seem to multiply. And for me, I’d rather care for myself and nurture one warning than feel trampled by thirty.

Posted in Freedom

You’re Not Allowed to Die

Jumping from the physical sciences (biology, physics, chemistry) and into psychological research methods is quite a leap. I am no expert in biology, physics and certainly not chemistry, and I never finished a degree in any of them, but I’ve taken enough to get a general understanding of proper research principals. Applying that mindset to people, however, is quite strange.

My professor quoted determinism as the most distinctive philosophical quality of all science. He also went on to (proudly) mention psychological research has 20% more accounts of replicated studies than physics and I resisted raising my hand and snapping back with a “well, no one in physics fraudulently fabricates a picture of a black hole the way psychological researchers fake prescription medication research for their own profit.”

But, that’s beside the point.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, and the further you go in science the more determinism becomes a question. It’s nestled deeply in psychology as well, which is probably the most terrifying place it can rest.

In a very basic sense, determinism is the thought that everything, every event/state of affairs/decision we make has been determined by events previous to that state. Some hard-lined determinists argue this is reason to scrap free will, while others insist free will exists within the parameters of determinism.

There’s thought that Quantum Mechanics has solid foundation for undermining determinism, and while it does present issues determinism cannot provide answers for, it’s been pointed out there are a few ways it could in fact support the idea of determinism.

I haven’t spent years studying Quantum theory, I can only know what I’ve learned from friends who went further than me in physics, and from research articles I’ve read in some journals. But, the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy has a great, short section on the multiple ways QM supports and doesn’t support determinism. (No, there isn’t a ton of incomprehensible math or professional jargon you can’t decipher). If you are also skeptical, I’d take a look at that link. There’s also discussion of naked singularities and probability.

That article concludes there can be no definitive conclusion–not in the way of empirical, mathematical support for determinism as a way of the universe. Instead, it postulates the universe be made up of both deterministic and indeterministic variables (i.e, proper randomness, proper chance).

This is one philosophical topic we can actually gather data for. But what does this have to do with psychology? Fucking everything, as it turns out. Let me reiterate some of B.F Skinner’s words and warnings from an excerpt of his (deterministic) book Beyond Freedom and Dignity:

“The appeal to reason has certain advantages over the authoritative command. A threat of punishment, no matter how subtle, generates emotional reactions and tendencies to escape or revolt. Perhaps the controllee merely ‘feels resentment’ at being made to act in a given way, but even that is to be avoided. When we ‘appeal to reason’, he ‘feels freer to do as he pleases’.”

In terms of the behavioral sciences, he’s referencing controlling unwanted/unruly behavior not with threats or anger or obvious statements (i.e, you’re going to hurt yourself jumping off that curb like that), but appealing to reason (look at how likely you are to get in an accident drunk driving! You could kill someone, or yourself!), disguising the control so that the person believes they have a sense of freedom. Skinner is not too fond of freedom. He insists “we must accept the fact that some kind of control of human behavior is inevitable . . . we are all controlled by the world in which we live, and part of the world has been and will be constructed by men”.

Appealing to reason is considered more compassionate than threats, but it can become unnecessarily coercive as it has within America’s mental health system. For example, if someone tells a professional “I can’t take it anymore, I want to end my life”. Often fear triggers a response of “how would your family feel? Would you want to do that to them? Think about how much you’d hurt them.”

And while on the surface that seems logical and effective, it’s shaming (how dare you consider doing this to your family). It’s refusing someone a decision and leading them into your preferred decision. And it’s also is a quick tactic to believe you have removed the crisis, to feel good for removing that crisis, to fulfill your quite well-intentioned need to save someone. It also often doesn’t allow us to explore the feelings behind the crisis in that deep, profound moment. But, it offers the question that is often debated of whether we have the right to tell someone “you have to live.”

This, of course, is rooted in the idea that if the benefit outweighs the risk, the benefit is worthy. The risk here would be removing someone’s freedom; the benefit, that someone continues to live. This, then, presents the question: is living chained (without knowing you’re chained) better than dying free?

It’s where the APA comes up with their experiment guidelines: if the scientific benefit is substantial, pain (human participants) or death (animal subjects) is warranted.

It makes us feel weird to think about all of this. It makes us feel bad too, for all the families who have lost someone to suicide, all the pain and horror that causes. As someone who was frequently suicidal, and attempted once, it makes me feel extra weird. We don’t want our friends or families or ourselves to feel that pain. But philosophically, that doesn’t remove the question of whether it’s our right to tell someone when they can live and when they can die.

And so, Skinner foreshadows many things really, with “The danger of the misuse of power is possibly greater than ever”.

The summary of his book, offered by one of my first philosophy texts, says he lectures on this idea that “behavioral scientists can and should be given the power to ‘engineer’ human behavior in accordance with an agreed-upon set of ideals (social harmony, individual happiness, and productivity)”.

Some form of control does seem inevitable. Is it because we like order and organization? Is it because we’re all power hungry? Is it because we can only see the world from our perspective and so absorb things personally/take them to heart? Or do we control out of fear of no control and therefore will never know if there is a version of constructive chaos?

I don’t have the answers. But, if we’ve created our mental healthcare system based on the idea that behaviorists should engineer human behavior into what they believe is the proper standard behavior, than I dare say we’ve actually lost some control.

Posted in Freedom

On Mental Health And Freedom

I don’t know about the rest of you, but one thing I struggled with a lot in the worst of my mental health was feeling free. Not just from myself and my own judgments, but from other people’s judgments and the judgments of life; I talked a bit in the previous post about how it feels life has a standard of living we should be striving toward.

Growing up with anxiety meant every little thing made me cry. I felt kinds words reprimanded me, I felt harsh words reprimanded me, and silence or confusion around my actions or word made me feel “stupid”. That’s been a big hurdle for me: feeling stupid. Let me give you a recent example.

I decided to quit a second job I had acquired about six months before. One anxiety I still battle is approaching people, and a series of events lead up to me ghosting the job (as I have every job I’ve quit for the last 7 years). Their incessant calling my phone, my mother’s phone, and my primary job sparked paranoia; I heard the workers talking about me, their voices, their thoughts, and had the first panic attack I’ve had in 2.5 years. At the end of it all, friends seemed to reflect that I’d felt bad for ghosting my employer. But that wasn’t the case.

The things I heard were them discussing how stupid I’d been to do this. I feared looking stupid in the eyes of people I’d probably never see again.

There’s no guarantee had I quit “properly” I wouldn’t have experienced the same things. I always thought they considered me stupid, and that is in relation to how little I speak. That’s traced back into a childhood of selective mutism and gut wrenching anxiety and people actually thinking I was slow.

So, freedom felt hard to come by. Unobtainable. Non-existent.

My first realization came some months back: I needed to give myself permission to speak. I had never been given the chance or the encouragement as a child; at home, I was bullied into stifling my voice, especially around “grown folks”, and at school I was reprimanded for never talking. My child brain didn’t know how to reason through that contradiction. And so my first step as an adult was to remind myself I’m allowed to speak.

My second revelation came as I thought about the meaning of freedom. Could I do whatever I wanted? Murder without a conscience? Disregard consequence? Revel in havoc and embrace chaos? I dabbled in heavy partying for a brief period, mixed medications and alcohol hoping to feel alive and free in debauchery and carelessness. I didn’t feel trapped anymore, but I didn’t feel free either. So chaos wasn’t freedom, it was just a localized, appealing version of pain.

If recklessness wasn’t freedom, than what was? I thought back to the days I berated myself and physically hurt myself out of confusion and some underlying need to be noticed. I didn’t consider myself a bad person, but I didn’t think I was very good either, and then I learned.

I learned I judged myself (and assumed other people’s judgments) were based on whether or not I saw myself, or they saw me, as a bad person, a stupid person, an awkward person. I wanted to be good with the assumption that good meant genius, perfect, social. Being smart wasn’t enough for me–I needed to be smarter than everyone or my intelligence was worth nothing. I needed to not have acne or be so tall or wear unflattering clothes. I needed to not isolate. I needed to not need isolation. I needed to meet people and have friends and be normal. Normal was good. By those standards, I was very, very bad.

I spent time cycling around town, hiking in mountains, and thinking. I learned bad was pretty good.

I don’t mean this in the cliche sense of “in every bad person, there’s a good heart”, nor do I mean “not being normal is also good.” I mean, quite literally, we wouldn’t understand this concept of “bad” without good, and visa versa. Both are within each other, and created from each other, and therefore to label myself one or other, I labeled myself both. And I don’t mean that in the sense of “yes, everyone has a good side and a bad side”. Again, I mean this quite literally, and in a concrete sense, separate from the outcome of actions or thoughts. I.e, starting a riot in the middle of the street is called bad and therefore also called good. One concept can’t exist without the other in every form of life.

It didn’t mean that because snorting coke was both good and bad I should indulge. It meant I could acknowledge the duality and weigh my choices based on the outcome I wanted. I don’t not do drugs because it’s “bad”. I don’t do drugs because it would serve no purpose in the way of freedom.

That brought a lot of comfort because I no longer logically needed to live up to an invisible standard.

Being content with and understanding the connective duality of life gave me freedom from myself. It allowed me to allow space for those voices in my head, including my own negative thoughts; we were all now equal in our non-equality. Their darkness, and my own, was now also light. There was freedom in not fighting, and by not fighting, I fought. It’s similar to breaking an enemies resistance without fighting, which I believe is a central theme in Doaism teachings.

None of this stopped the pain. But all of this let me understand pain, and what I understand, I don’t fear.

It’s refreshing to understand yourself.