Posted in Late Night Thoughts, Uncategorized, writing

Discovering Purpose

I’m an avid Linked-In user now and follow/am followed by doctors, wellness coaches, and mental health professionals because of my previous career. I came across a post tonight by Chelsea Turgeon, MD, a Career Pivot Coach. Because I’m in the middle of switching careers and educational goals, I thought maybe it would be fun to do her “questions to discover your purpose” journal prompts. I think people here on the blogosphere might find them useful as well. If any of these questions jump out at you, please feel free to answer them in the comments below, or use them in your blog (as long as you credit this site and Chelsea’s Linked-in Profile).

Let’s get to it.

1.What Are the Things You’ve Always Wanted to Do?

This is a harder question than I thought it’d be. I’ve always wanted to travel and somehow integrate that into my career. Not like an airline worker or a travel agent, more like a travel writer, someone who informs others about fun places to be and great places to eat and monumental places to visit. I’ve learned that I love sharing information with people.

I’ve always wanted to be published. I was published once when I was 17 in a Hans Christian Anderson contest, but I just don’t see that as an accomplishment. I want to know people read my work and enjoyed it and they enjoyed it so much that it deserved some extra recognition. I don’t care about what comes from it, if anything, and I don’t care about money. It just warms my heart when people find my work appealing.

I want to ride an ATV, I want to slide down that slide in L.A that’s made of glass on the side of a skyscraper. I want to find happiness and contentment.

2. What’s an idea that keeps coming up for you?

Learning the survey, poll, and statistical results of how many research papers psychologists and clinicians actually read in a year is what started my pull toward science writing. I have an idea to create a research courses for professionals (psychiatrists, medical doctors, therapists, e.t.c.) that teach them not only how to read up on research, but to inspire them to continue to read it. A lot of what you experience in therapy and in doctor’s offices today are not empirically supported methods. Most of them don’t even know that Gabapentin was never, ever, and has never, ever been studied for any type of anxiety. They don’t know that Parke-Davis, the company that created Gabapentin, said he wanted Gapapentin prescribed for everything from bipolar to headaches.

They might not even know that medical science is the most corrupted science to date.

I want to educate professionals and the public. My idea is to combat publication bias without ever going after a single pharmaceutical company.

If you’re curious about Parke-Davis, read The Two Branches of Psychology. If you’re curious about the research stats, read Is Psychology a Science? Part 1. All relevant links to sources are provided in those posts. The stats in Is Psychology a Science came from my research course.

3. What fascinates you?

People, in a sense. I’m fascinated by our greed and by our altruism. I’m fascinated by our ability to complicate the simple things and breeze through the hard things. I’m fascinated by life too, the mystery of it. It’s quite unique; I don’t know if there’s anything else like it in the universe. We are here and then we aren’t and I’m fascinate by finite things, curious about them really, and how hard-pressed we are for answers.

4. What did you enjoy doing when you were younger?

I read more when I was younger. I preferred to read books than talk with other children and hated when people interrupted me. I enjoyed running around outside and being apart of nature. I enjoyed learning new things and I enjoyed appreciating what there was.

5. What are you secretly obsessed with?

Creating things. I’ve had almost five months off now, and in that time I’ve submitted some short stories, wrote multiple songs, revamped my neglected Linked-In, gained a social media presence, worked on my manuscript thousands of words at a time, edited my friend’s memoir manuscript thousands of words at a time, and now I’m starting a podcast. I mean I just can’t stop.

Well, that was fun. I’m not sure what I learned, but it’s a nice reflective practice. What do you guys think of the questions? Were they difficult to answer for you? Feel free to put answers in the comments or post on your own blog (guidelines above).

You’re not following The Philosophical Psychotic? Let’s change that. Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain or Twitter @thephilopsychotic.

Posted in Late Night Thoughts, Uncategorized, Voices

In Moments

I said we would get back to Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments today, but I was sadly mistaken. I’m still halfway through the essay on Altruism and may re-read it before I’m ready to dive into that paradox. I’m also arranging my room to get ready to record a podcast. My boyfriend and I are thinking of starting one together where we talk about the mixture of our cultures and how it relates to our relationship. He is Mexican and I am biracial black and white. He didn’t know to put butter on grits and I didn’t know authentic tacos didn’t have cheese.

Yeah, it’s been a ride.

We have tons of great stories, and we laugh with each other every day. We want to share that joy with others. We’re also going to talk about how being so different creates obstacles for us, how we’ve overcome each of them, and how we’re still growing together. We’re going to talk about places we’ve been and places we go to (as we go to them, once Coronavirus lifts). We’ve got tons of more ideas and I can’t wait to get started on that project.

What I’ve learned from all the time I have off is that life tastes better when lived. I’ve spent so long living in my head, chasing grandiose ideals that don’t exist, that I never learned how to just BE. Now I’m learning to be. I’m making connections on Linked-In, I’m learning what I really enjoy is teaching people about science and learning science and communicating scientifically, and find that science writing pulls to me more than anything I’ve ever considered. The possibilities are endless.

If you haven’t yet found your niche in life, don’t worry. It’s there. It’ll come to you when you need it most. If you have, reflect on your journey. Appreciate the pain and the agony and the joy. We only live in moments and we only see in memories.

I’ll have more on the podcast coming relatively soon. If you have a podcast you like or one you run, link it in the comments below! If you guys think this sounds like a good idea, let me know in the comments too!

Until Next time.

Don’t forget to follow and share The Philosophical Psychotic. Join me on Instagram @alilivesagain and on Twitter @Thephilopsychotic. I don’t have friends IRL Fr Fr, so I need internet buddies. Please.

I’m begging.

Posted in Late Night Thoughts, Uncategorized, writing

Can’t Sleep? Read This.

You guessed it. It’s another 5 a.m shit-post.

I decided to stop by before I started working on my manuscript. The best time to write, I think, is when the world is dark. It really gives your thoughts nothing else to work with and that’s exactly what you need when focus is your priority.

It’s fascinating watching word count increase, and simultaneously terrifying. We know there are long novels like The World According to Garp or War and Peace or these monumental novels like East of Eden. We also know people have computers and cell phones and the 2021 attention span of half a goldfish.

Half.

The dead half.

And so publishers follow suit. Short, simple, to the point is the way novels are these days, and while that forces writers and editors to learn new skills, it also takes away from what stories used to be. They used to be journeys. The used to be full of depth and motifs and while books these days still have that potential, not many live up to it. Long novels are now “boring” and you’re limited really in what you’re allowed to do unless you get published by a small publisher with a lax editor, or you self-publish.

I’m not against self-publishing, I’m just a horrible self-marketer with a small social media following and while even one or two people reading my novel would be enough for me to buy a $500 dollar bottle of champagne and drink it with my pinkie up, it wouldn’t be enough to break even for all the time I put into my work or pay my car off.

What’s more important to me than money, champagne, and pinkies though, is readers. I didn’t write the book for it to sit on my shelf in hoards. I already have hoards of books. I wrote it for people to read. I wrote it to spark discussion and curiosity and disgust and fear and smiles and laughs and many conflicting emotions. If I just cared about the title of an author, I’d have self published three short-story anthologies and two novels by now.

I’m not bashing those who self-publish. I’m just saying my goals aren’t conducive with self-publishing.

I’m also very interested in what an editor would rearrange if given the chance.

I submitted my short story to two separate, small magazines. I’m still looking for beta readers though (can you tell I’m anticipating rejection?), and if anyone is interested, just leave a comment below! I see some are jumping on that bandwagon and I’m more than appreciative.

There’s nothing wrong with anticipating rejection, by the way, because if you’re familiar with submitting pieces to magazines, you’re probably also familiar with disappointment.

Thank you readers. You all have made my week with all the views and likes. I’m surprised my banter hasn’t scared a few of you away. Next post we’ll get back into Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments.

Don’t forget to follow The Philosophical Psychotic and join me over on Instagram @alilivesagain or on Twitter @ThePhiloPsychotic. I’m a lonely female bastard in need of internet friends. Feed me.

Posted in Community, Late Night Thoughts, Uncategorized, writing

Late Night Show: Let’s talk about cliche characters.

Hey everyone, welcome to another rendition of “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing up so late.”

I do know, actually. I got three hours of sleep the previous night because of a bad dream, went through the day normally, worked out, came home, and fell asleep at 5pm. I awoke at 2am, refreshed, to find the dark world at my disposal, and I must say I’m not disappointed. There’s a quietness in night and early morning that swells my soul sometimes, in the same way one swells when the smell of good food passes by.

What do you enjoy most about working on your manuscript or short stories or poems or whatever it is you pour your heart into? Sometimes for me the editing is tedious, and then I read little snippets of my work that make me say “damn, I wrote that?” and the process feels worthwhile.

I’m trying to figure out how to sum up my work-in-progress without sounding cliche. I’ve purposefully chose to write with a typical character base in mind for irony. Eventually I want some beta readers, so I’ve finally decided to come out of the writer’s closet and tell people I’m writing a novel. The first question out of everyone’s mouth, with their stupid, curious little eyes twinkling, is always “what is it about?”

I don’t know, stuff happens, people exist, what more do you want me to say?

That’s going to be the description on the back. I’m obviously brilliant.

If you’ve written a book, or are writing one, how do you give people a synopsis without giving away too much or sounding too typical? We all want our work to be unique I guess, and maybe the fact of the matter is there’s no such thing as a unique idea anymore. We’re all just building off of each other, and that’s kind of the running theme in my work, hence the necessity of cliche base characters. But you tell people that and they lose interest.

This is why when people ask me what I write, I say “nothing much, like some short stories or whatever” because I don’t want to get into everything else I work on. I suppose I mirror my protagonist a bit, or he mirrors me; I’m not quite sure which one of us came first.

I didn’t really base it off of my life, but I pulled from some experiences because they were necessary to a few characters, basic traits like shyness or arrogance or unwavering personalities. Some characteristics of our characters have to be relatable, under stable, and predictable, or else the believability falls short and, again, people lose interest. That’s the struggle with writing a protagonist who you anticipate people won’t be fond of: you need to show that their despicable characteristics are flaws any of us could have, but do it in a way where they aren’t do despicable that they’re irredeemable. That doesn’t mean the character needs to be redeemed at the end, that’s actually more cliche than anything, but it does mean there needs to be some understanding for why the behavior or thoughts of your character are as they are.

There are very few people on Earth who would be considered horrible and nothing else. Even child predators and murderers have come from backgrounds that make you say “well, I get it but that’s no excuse for their behavior.”

Because there quite literally is no excuse for their behavior and you quite literally do get it.

There were two particular subjects I hated reading about because they always followed the same steps: murder and mental illness. The murderers haven’t always been mentally ill, I mean those categories to be separate from each other.

With murderers, the cliche is always a detective trying to find them, or a murderer narrating their sick desires.

With mental illness, the whole focus of the story is always on the mental illness.

I got tired of that.

If a character has a mental disorder, I’d prefer it’s not even mentioned. Just show it through characteristics and wrap the story around a different plot line. If you don’t have the disorder yourself, you’re going to be hard pressed trying to describe it, no matter how many lived-experience interviews you do. Sorry. And, for the love of God, don’t interview a psychologist for that. They’ll be incorrect 99% of the time.

If a character is a murderer, I’d prefer they not be driven by something like “I hate the world” or “mommy was mean to me” or “look at me being a vigilante and all.” It gets boring. There are so many other motivations besides drugs, lifestyle, trauma, abuse. Those things can be included, but they don’t have to be the reason. They could just be part of the puzzle.

I guess my book is intent on using cliches to get rid of cliches. I feel like that’s been done before, and I’m okay with that because again, we’re all building off of each other. My protagonist gets mixed up with a person who’s been following him for a reason I can’t share, and upon learning more about this stalker, he learns he will never not be stalked. No, he doesn’t die at the end. Jesus.

I guess that’s a good, quick summary.

What’s your WIP about lately? Anything juicy? Let me know.

Also, I’ve always wanted to read “John dies at the end” or whatever that book is called. Does he really die? Hollywoo stars and celebrities: What do they know? Do they know things? Let’s find out!

If you don’t know what show that’s from, we can still be friends, but like, you need to step it up.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain. I don’t have friends IRL so I need internet buddies to help my depleted self-esteem. K, thanx.

Posted in Late Night Thoughts, Questions for you, science, Uncategorized, writing

Death in the Anthropocene

I fell asleep at 8pm last night and woke up at 5 this morning and so let’s talk about death.

I read this essay called Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton in the book Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments. If you’re a philosophy buff like me, if you took a lot of classes in undergraduate college on the subject and found that you talked often about the older guys and not so much about the people today, then this is the book for you. I will say some of the people today are lacking in their creative abilities and misunderstanding a lot of basic philosophical concepts, but I guess that’s just how we move with the time.

How to Die in the Anthropocene (our new era today), though, is well above some of the other essays I’ve read so far in this book. It talks about facing one’s death in light of climate change, in light of war, in light of being human and succumbing to our ultimate end. Scranton challenges that a bunch of philosophers sitting around and talking about life doesn’t make changes, BUT that the Anthropocene may indeed be the most philosophical of ages in that it’s requiring we question what it means to live, what does being human mean, and, most importantly, what do our lives mean in the face of death? He says, “What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful choices in the shadow of our inevitable end? . . . we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age–for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as civilization.”

He describes his time in Iraq and how he faced death everyday. Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure, a samurai manual, provided some solace. It said we should “meditate on inevitable death” daily. And so Scranton did so, imaging each day that he’d be blown up or shot or killed in some other war-torn, horrific sense, and he’d tell himself he didn’t need to worry because he was already dead. What mattered, then, was helping others come back alive. Tsunetomo says, “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead. . . He gains freedom in the Way.”

In the end, we realize that we are already dead. Each day is a new death for us in that every moment is something new, the next moment new still. We are indeed living death. Scranton doesn’t focus on what we need to do to save ourselves or our planet, he focuses on the fact that we’re already dead and that instead we should focus on adapting to this new way of life; “we can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster . . . or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.”

That is learning how to die.

We can apply this to physical life just the same as Scranton did. When someone passes, they leave behind what has come before (life) and if they move on to something, each moment will start anew again, as there is nothing that doesn’t come with something; if something came alone, there would be no such thing as nothing, and visa-versa. If we didn’t have death, there would be no life, quite literally, and so to those wondering whether living infinitely is possible, it’s not. You wouldn’t be alive if you can’t die. You couldn’t even “be” because there is no chance for you to “not be.” Sorry to burst your bubble.

I would argue that in the face of death our life means exactly what it’s meant to mean: we are here, shortly, and then we are not, and that goes the same for the bee that stung my foot, for the plants I sniffed as a child, for my first cat who died peacefully on the kitchen floor. We aren’t here to make a purpose on earth, we’re here to die. And the sooner you’re okay with that, the sooner life will be enjoyable.

Death hurts. I would go so far as to say it’s the most hollow, defeating, crushing feeling I’ve ever felt, to have someone pass on without either of you ready for that. But it doesn’t have to be. They have not only graduated from life, they’ve completed their purpose.

We can’t know if anything is next, we’re almost purposefully physically limited from ever knowing something like that. All we can know is that we will all complete the same end-goal and we should find celebration and happiness in what people do here and in their graduation.

This isn’t a somber topic. Rejoice.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me over on Instagram @alilivesagain or on Twitter @Thephilopsychotic.

Posted in Community, Late Night Thoughts, Uncategorized, writing

250 Followers?!

We hit 250 followers and I’m appreciative of all of you. I’m thankful for the readers and the commenters and those of you who browse past without feeling the need to acknowledge you’ve read. I’ve been reading more of Hollow Kingdom, so I’ll have an update about that tomorrow. I’ve got to highlight some of the overarching descriptor sentences that keep grinding my gears.

I’d also like to say thank you to those of you adjusting to the switch of content on this website. I haven’t been reading a lot of psychology research lately, but when I find a good article (as in, a primary source) we’ll get back to some of our regularly scheduled programming too. I still need to update the website. I’ve mostly been writing songs, making sure I’m taking care of myself, and working on my short story I’m submitting this month. Forgive me if things take a little while to look right on the page of the site.

I also read a really beautiful essay written by Roy Scranton (I thought it said ScanTron like those blue things in college and high school you take multiple choice exams on) entitled “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene.” I might talk about that one tomorrow. Five months ago, my best friend of 14 years passed away suddenly after birth complications from a baby that she thought she’d miscarried fully. Philosophy, and particularly taoism, have helped me learn how to grieve and how to face my own morality. I’d like to share that wisdom with all of you, especially in this time of widespread death, fear, and terror.

It won’t be cuddly. We won’t talk about how everyone dies–that’s a given. We’ll talk about how we’re already dying, how we’re dying every day, every second. We won’t talk about how that means we have to live in the moment–that’s also a given. We’ll talk about how that means nothing matters in the sense that the focus and value we place on things is quite vain, and until we learn how to accept morality, face morality, and place it in the forefront of our mind without obsessing or fearing it, we’ll never learn how to live.

And last but certainly not least in any way, I’d like to thank those of you who remember me from Mentaltruths.com. I see some of you have followed this blog as well, and while my obscene rants about Alex Gorsky and the Risperdal scandal have no place on ThePhilosophicalPsychotic, I hope you remember that with the same fondness I do, and I hope you’ll also see my sarcasm hasn’t changed much. If anything, it’s matured and aged like fine fucking wine.

I appreciate you all. If you’re new, welcome. If you’re old, thank you for sticking around. If you’re not following–what the hell are you waiting for? Don’t forget to hit that follow/join/subscribe button, whatever you see, and also join me over on Instagram @alilivesagain. We have great fun there too and you’ll get updates and sneak-peeks on posts.

Until next time guys.

Meaning, like, tomorrow.

Goodnight.

Posted in Community, Emotions, Late Night Thoughts, Questions for you, writing

Books and Things and Things and Books!

How incredibly lucky we all are. This sentence has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I’ve just been reflecting on things, and figured maybe it will spark others into reflection as well.

I picked up a book called Modern Ethics in 77 arguments and have sworn myself to at least an argument essay a day. This last one I read was actually about human nature, evolution, and our inner conflict: what makes us altruistic or callous? Are some people born good and some born bad or are we born neither one of them and simply learn traits? The author of that essay is a biological mathematician and from his studies he says we are all a mix of everything really, and I think that’s always the answer in real science. People think just because we study something that we’re going to get concrete answers and that’s rarely ever the case. Life is complicated, biology and chemistry much more so.

The other book I’m reading is called Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton. It was laying dormant on a table surrounded by cheesy romance/friendship novels in the middle of Barnes and Noble. It’s bright green with a picture of a wide-eyed crow above the city of Seattle, Washington. Of course I fucking grabbed it.

The synopsis of the story is that this crow visits this human everyday, at least he has been, and this time he visits, his human’s eye falls out. Then his human is wandering around, banging his head against the wall and bleeding from his fingers. Obviously the world has been zombified and this crow is our witness from the beginning. The idea is fun and strange, but sometimes her writing comes off as amateur. Amateur in the sense that there are a lot of unnecessary descriptors, things that you’re told not to do, or things you’re told to watch out for, when you’re in a creative writing workshop/class. This is her debut novel, so I’m giving her some slack. I’ll come back with more information once I finish the book. Both of the books.

You see, the picture above was going to be what the cover looks like, but then I made it dark. That thing was supposed to be a crow, but because I am not a drawer gifted by the gods, it came out looking like it’d been mangled by a car. So I turned it into Crowthulu. Sue me.

What do you all enjoy most about reading? What kind of books do you enjoy? I like anything that deviates from the norm, or if it’s within the parameters of the norm, it must be creative in other ways, like poetic syntax or narrative voice. Something that for me I consider in the “norm” would be books that express ultra-realistic relationships and experiences in the world, books that don’t embrace magical realism, paranormal things or super-human qualities. A book that follows a woman after a messy divorce, to me, is within the norm, and I’m willing to read it if there’s something about it that stands out.

I’m very cautious about that now. I read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and almost emailed her to get my two days worth of reading back. Her book follows a troubled girl who meets a fantastical (but very real and normal) woman.

I mean, that’s literally the plot.

She meets the woman, spends the remainder of the book describing every little feeling she experiences, every little bit of hatred she has for her alcoholic father, whines, and then this BIG THING that is constantly foreshadowed in the book happens within a few pages and it’s the end.

As a writer, I’m not here to tear other writers down, but when something just ISN’T IT, I’m going to say it, and I’d hope fellow writers would have the same mentality toward my work.

Comment some of your favorite books or short stories or poetry or some of your worst of all of the above! Let’s all give each other something to read.

I personally love to read books that I don’t find that good. It’s more of a learning tool than anything.

What do you think?

Please hit that follow button if you’re enjoying what you read, and come meet me on Instagram @ alilivesagain!

Posted in advocacy, Community, Late Night Thoughts, Peer Support

Your Role In The mental Health System

This is to all my fellow psychology majors, graduates, and future students. What do you believe your role in the industry is?

To all my fellow mental health consumers, what do you believe your role is?

These are the two simple questions I have. I’ll share mine, and I ask for you to share yours in the comments below!

I am both a major and a mental health consumer, but both roles have shifted dramatically. I thought my role as a worker was to help people. I thought my role as a mental health consumer didn’t exist; I knew I struggled with anxiety, but I believed it was just another hurdle to get over, and I’d gotten over many hurdles before.

I learned my role in the industry as a worker wasn’t to help people, and that people are mostly capable of helping themselves. My role was one of support and guidance so that they may discover what they are capable of. My role has also shifted recently in this aspect. My schooling has shifted from the goal of counseling psychology to the goal of research and clinical education. I know I want to be one to bring science and empirical data to the forefront of the industry. All this glorious information is sitting there wasted because clinicians don’t take the time to read it, and because the system is built in such a way that paying for training and education is ridiculously expensive for clinicians. Research is becoming more biased and doctored and that’s obviously a problem too. I want peer support integrated. I want evidence-based treatment properly understood.

My role in the industry as a consumer has changed as well. It’s bounced back and forth between dependent and utterly independent. It’s bounced between needing professionals and shunning professionals. It’s bounced between feeling hopeless and feeling as if I’m finally healing. I also have learned that my role includes reaching out to others, accepting their help, while also letting others reach out to me.

I look forward to reading your thoughts below.

Or, catch up with me on:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

Twitter: @philopsychotic

If you liked this post, please share and follow The Philosophical Psychotic. I appreciated every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to encourage critical thinking about mental health.

Posted in advocacy, Late Night Thoughts, psychology

Learned Helplessness In The Mental Health System

This is a term you may be familiar with if you work in mental health. It’s often used to describe patients who have spent significant time juggling between facilities, programs, and hospitals and as a result struggle with meeting their own basic needs.

It’s no secret that decent mental health care in the United States comes with a high price tag. Community-based programs that are essential for helping shed feelings of isolation and learning social skills (both of which can be necessary for us mental health consumers) are often tagged for those with the thousands of dollars to pay for it. As someone who was working full-time and provided with decent health insurance, I was offered a spot at a program like this free of charge. Unfortunately, the company I work for is switching insurances, and I’m not positive I can work full-time right now anyway.

It’s taken a lot to find that one little place. Through consistent panic attacks, paranoia, nights of hallucinations, I finally got in contact with a hospital who patched me through to a social worker. The social worker took a week to get back to me, just to tell me she didn’t work for that department anymore. She patched me through to a social worker in a different state who found me a program in less than thirty minutes.

Since none of that panned out, since I can’t find any psychiatrists near me and can’t afford holistic care, since I’m not sick enough to be in a hospital but not well enough to be by myself, I’ve resorted to daily breakdowns. My hope for healing waned. My therapist said I was experiencing “learned helplessness.” Let me explain why I’m not and why, if you are ever told this, you should think about it just as deeply.

Learned Helplessness Comes From:

Constant struggle with no perceivable escape.

People with learned helplessness have often accepted that they are unable to care for themselves–they believe they cannot control their outcome. They have been classically conditioned to believe they are inept.

The example my therapist gave me to explain the concept of learned helplessness was that of the experiment by psychologist Martin Seligman. You may know him as a positive psychology backer, and an avid studier of learned helplessness. Seligman and colleagues administered shocks to dogs strapped in a harness in a cage. In this case, the cage represented a trap and the shocks an unavoidable outcome. When the cages were opened, the dogs refused to leave the cage even when escape was made possible. The hypothesis here is that the dogs learned to expect pain and to expect no escape.

If learned helplessness is a result of being trapped, beat down, and losing sight of escape, then the mental health system has been systematically abusing people under the guise of treatment for ages.

When are we going to stop blaming the people who experience mental illness, who are constantly being beat down, held back, vilified, rejected, for feeling hopeless? Why do professionals immediately see fault in the person (just keep trying!) instead of fault in the system of support?

Note: This isn’t to say we should rely on others to pick us up–we’ve got to also work on believing in ourselves and coping properly with our experiences. It’s just a lot easier and healthier to do that with the proper guidance and support. No one can do everything by themselves all the time.

A Possible Reason

In social psychology, there is the concept of external and internal perspectives. There is a term for this I’m blanking on. Those with external perspectives often attribute outcomes to the environment around them, things out of their control, and often come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Those with internal perspectives often attribute outcomes to their attributions, things like their personal drive and work ethic and come from higher socio-economic backgrounds. As you can imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages to both perspectives.

I know people on both ends. I know people who consider themselves successful and attribute that to their constant strive for “something greater”, to their hard work, to their positive thinking, without acknowledging the two-parent home they come from with successful, hardworking role models, without acknowledging the support they had in following their dreams or attending college, without acknowledging the financial opportunities they were provided. I know people who don’t consider themselves successful and attribute that to their traumas, a broken economic/social system, and lack of opportunity without acknowledging their effort has waned.

One advantage to having an internal perspective is that when hardship arises, you are more likely to take proper measures to cope. You are more likely to seek support and utilize the support. The disadvantage is you see others as not trying “hard enough.” You also are less likely to support others in coming up because if you did it “by yourself”, they should be able to as well. You are less likely to take part in the community and less likely to advocate for community-based reform. You may be one of those people who see homeless individuals as useless bums.

One advantage of having an external perspective is that you see the structure of the world around you. You acknowledge (and experience) the pain of a system designed for failure. The disadvantage is depression. The disadvantage is that you give in to what you believe is your fate and struggle in seeing the change that could be made. You are more likely to relate to others who have struggled, and you’re more likely to be involved in helping others because you know what it’s like to feel like you have no one and nothing.

Which perspective do you think most (definitely not all) psychological professionals come from?

Cognitive Dissonance

Psychological professionals are trained to see the system as something there to support and guide their clients. They also go into the profession with the aim of supporting and guiding their clients. If it feels like that goal isn’t being accomplished, it may challenge their self-concept something fierce. This leads to cognitive dissonance: the imbalance between what someone consciously believes about themselves (including their attitudes toward different things) versus how they behave.

This is where I believe professionals need to be a little softer on themselves. Acknowledge that money, attitude, trauma, self-discipline, and outside support are just a few of the things that determine someone’s success in their mental wellness. Sometimes people can’t find help, and when they can’t find help, when they are sad about that, when they are feeling hopeless and defeated and angry, those feelings are valid. The system is often not our friend and we have a right to be angry about that–because no matter how hard we try, we can’t fix that by ourselves.

No matter how much I exercise, no matter how healthy I eat, no matter if I take meds or don’t, no matter how much I meditate, no matter how much I breathe during my panic attacks, no matter how many times I tell myself the pentagram on my ceiling isn’t real, no matter what I do to cope, I will not have thirty thousand dollars a month for personalized, integrated, holistic, community based, science based treatment.

What would give me thirty thousand dollars to blow? A really, really good job. What would give me that kind of job? Mental stability. What would help me achieve mental stability? A lot of support. How do I get a lot of support? Thirty thousand dollars.

Now, there are alternatives, and the system has set this up so that in order to receive these services, you must never aim higher than them.

County services, for example, are often provided to those below a certain income limit–this includes those on disability. If someone is stable enough to get a part-time job, and that job pays ten dollars over the state insurance income limit or disability income limit, that person risks losing the services which have been most helpful to them. No one wants to risk that.

And so you have an escape route, you see, much like the dogs. You can be well, work as many hours as you can and lose your integrated services. But much like the dogs, that escape doesn’t feel safe, not after having been shocked for so long. Inside the cage, at least you know what to expect. In a twisted reality such as this, the cage actually feels safer.

There are too many factors that go into being mentally well for this one-size-fits-all system to be as effective as it purports.

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