Posted in Peer Support, Supporting Friends/Family

Who Advocates For Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From professionals, we get:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both are valid. Neither are helping.

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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Posted in Emotions, Supporting Friends/Family, Therapy

What Is Trauma?

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

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

So what exactly IS trauma?

Trauma Is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Is Trauma Located?

Maybe that sounds weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is EMDR A Proven Therapy?

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

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

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

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

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

So POPULAR does not equal PROVEN.

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

What is Dissociation Like?

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

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

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

Am I Traumatized?

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Peer Support, psychology, Supporting Friends/Family, Voices

How To Support A Loved One’s Mental Health Journey

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

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

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

So, let’s start with something simple:

Tip #1: Offer an ear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #2: Stay Educated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #3: Be Involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

The belief is the key factor here.

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

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

Tip #4: Breathe

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

There’s not much else to say about that.

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

A Final Thought:

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

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

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

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