Posted in advocacy, Community, Emotions, Voices

The Power Of Un-Positive Thinking

I profess that I am not the type to belt out cheesy posts. I don’t put cheesy one-liners on Twitter, and I don’t post mushy paragraphs on Instagram. I don’t spend a lot of posts talking about the bad things about schizoaffective, or what kind of medications I’ve taken. It seems that a lot of people think that’s what advocacy is about, though: cheesy posts about staying positive, the struggles of living with a mental health condition, and stressing the importance of medication.

It gets boring.

And so I’d like to challenge everyone in the mental health community. I’d like to challenge this belief that in order to lift each other up, we must constantly mull on our struggles so that others can reach out and spurt lines of hope we won’t believe in. I’d like to challenge those advocates who don’t have any experience with having a mental health condition but still insist on belting out “you can do this” posts every five minutes.

The thing about negative thoughts is that pelting positive thoughts at them won’t change the negative thoughts’ status. They will still be louder, they will still be heavier, and they will still be more constant. It’s kind of like trying to tear down a brick wall by chucking oranges at it. It would take millions of years to make a dip.

Sometimes it’s just not enough to wake up in the morning and tell yourself the day will be good. Sometimes it’s not enough to remind yourself that life is grand, even when you feel the opposite. Sometimes it’s not about thoughts as much as it is action.

And so I wonder how many of us have given negative thoughts a chance? Have we tried observing the pain when we wake up in the morning and not placing judgement on the thoughts (or voices) that tell us we’re worthless or useless? When the pain runs deep, have we tried breathing it in?

The way to take power from negative thoughts isn’t to replace them with positive thoughts. It’s to show them that you are not submissive. That doesn’t mean arguing or fighting with yourself all day. Save some of that energy. It means accepting their negativity, accepting the struggle, and moving through it not with the intention of “reaching the other side”, just with the intention of braving the moment.

All we really have are moments. They’re brief, seconds long, maybe nanoseconds long, or maybe it’s physically impossible to quantify them. But they are all we really have. And so the pain in that single moment is very real, but beyond that there is nothing else. Before that, there was nothing else. We experience time in a linear fashion, which means existing second by second, moment by moment, feeling by feeling, and so although it seems like pain strings along for years, that’s really just an accumulation of painful moments.

We observe time passing like bullet points in an essay. The only difference is the document is read-only, and there’s nothing we can edit. And so we read each bullet point and we get a feeling from it, we experience that one bullet point, and we move on to the next one.

But in life we get caught up in one bullet point and suddenly every bullet point reads like that first one. We can’t edit, so we feel helpless, and we can’t stop reading because life doesn’t stop moving. We can’t change how we feel about the pain and we can’t change the nature of the pain. The only thing we can change is our reaction.

And so I encourage all of us to be compassionate to these passing moments. They’re stuck to you as much as you are stuck to them. The more time we spend hating these moments, or running from these moments, or arguing with these moments, is just more time not spent living the way we’d like.

There’s no easy answer for living with a mental health condition. There’s no magical pill, there’s no magical therapy, and there’s no magical, positive quote on Twitter that will cure you. Life has pain, life endures pain, and pain isn’t a disease you can cure. So that one account you follow with 30 thousand followers that spouts out ropes of sticky, cheesy, positive one-liners is disillusioned. It fills people with this false sense of hope that if they just think positively long enough, something will change.

That’s just not how life works. I suppose the internet is quite infamous for distorting reality.

We shouldn’t run from pain. We shouldn’t fight it or disregard it or try and shove it away in a corner to rot because it will never rot. It’s non-perishable. When we speak about our experiences, let us talk about the negative and positive equally. Let us share things in a way that inspires hope not because our story concludes with general well-being, but because we’ve learned something from it, because we’ve discovered this balance in life that’s required to exist. Let us inspire people through our bravery in embracing pain and not just through our ability to share what’s happened to us. Let us empower each other through our confidence in living life as everyone else, not just through our living life while diagnosed.

Many of us write about mental health. I encourage all of us to scrutinize how we present our material, who we follow, who we re-tweet, or re-post. I encourage us to evaluate what our goal is in our advocacy work.

There is no right or wrong way to share your life or to lift people up. But some ways are productive and some get dull after a thousand re-tweets.

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Posted in Freedom, Peer Support, Therapy, Voices

A Different Way To Hear Voices: Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

What are some other ways we can deal with this?

Get Involved!

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

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

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

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

Explore the Unknown!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start a Dialogue!

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

Why?

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

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

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

Create A Space for Them!

This is better illustrated with a quick story.

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

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

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

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

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

“Pain is necessary.”

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

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

And in The End…

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

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

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Posted in psychology, Therapy

Let’s Talk About Therapy

For those of you unfamiliar with the mental health system or are unsure about therapy or whether or not a psychiatrist is a good idea, this post is for you.

For the rest of us, it’s also a good post for you. It’s a good post for everyone.

Anyone (with a degree and some version of licensing of course) can be a therapist. That could be a LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), a MFT (Marriage & Family Therapist/Master’s of Family Therapy), a clinical psychologist (Ph.D) or Psy.D (Doctorate of Psychology). A psychiatrist (MD) could as well, but many of them have zero background in psychology other than your average level of undergraduate study.

An LCSW and MFT will indeed make less than a Clinical Psychologist or Psy.D. Those two will generally make less than any Psychiatrist depending on where you live and what clinics each individual works. If you feel that someone with a Ph.D will be much more knowledgeable and better trained than an LCSW, you would be terribly, terribly wrong. In fact, the main difference between them is the amount of money they make.

Studies (and the lecture in my research course) have shown that credentials have no effect on success rate; that is, just because you have a Ph.D doesn’t mean your “clients” do better than an LCSW’s clients. That includes the M.D’s.

This might seem obvious: it depends on the clinician, right?

Wrong.

It depends on the techniques. If a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D is certified as an International Board of Repression Therapist (a non-scientific therapy) and their colleague in the office next to them is an MFT certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (a scientific therapy) and one client experiences IBRT and the other experiences CBT, chances are CBT will provide a hefty affect over the IBRT. Yes, there are other factors which play into this, some important ones being what the client is seeking support with and their drive level. Connection to the provider plays a role as well. However, speaking from a technical point, there is no solid (well-done) research supporting IBRT, and plenty of well-done research supporting CBT.

That doesn’t mean IBRT is useless. One day perhaps someone will come up with some verifiable, testable, and reliable data. But until then, I won’t be seeing anyone specializing in IBRT. The Inner Child exploration therapy is another “non-scientific therapy” and I’ll have a post on that later, as I have experienced it and have mixed reviews.

There are three basic differences between a Psy.D and a Ph.D.

  1. Scientific training.
  2. Clinical training.
  3. Cost

Colleges which offer Psy.D programs are by far much easier to get into and much less regulated. They also cost thousands of dollars more (unless you’re trying to get Ivy league training in which case good luck paying out of pocket for your Ph.D from Yale. I suspect school type also doesn’t correlate with client success rate) compared to your average Ph.D training.

There is a school which I had planned on attending back when I was ready to transfer for a Psy.D until I realized their training isn’t really based in any science. And psychology is supposed to be a science of the mind, right? (More on THIS in tomorrow’s post). The success rate was large, in the 80 percent or so, the school was still working on its accreditation, and the classes they required were scant. In fact, they didn’t really require anything other than a couple of psychology classes. They claimed integrated, client-centered approaches, which is great. And I’m sure once we have more actual data on the effectiveness of their techniques, that school will be booming.

I believe they got accreditation some months after I learned they weren’t yet accredited.

I have seen MFT’s, LCSW’s, Psy.D’s, M.D’s, and now my first Ph.D therapist.

And so how do you pick?There’s all these choices, all this research you have no access to, all these articles online pulling you this way and that and are probably based more in opinion than actuality.

I used to choose my therapists by their profile picture and their degree level. If they looked friendly and had a high degree from a reputable school, I’d try them. And every time I left them.

This time I tried a different approach. I searched for therapists in town at all degree levels. If they didn’t have a website explaining their practice methods, mission, and specialties, I did not consider them. If their picture seemed unfriendly or strict, I also did not consider them (and that’s a totally unscientific, personal preference). If they did have a website but didn’t meet my specialty requirements, I crossed them off too. If their website wasn’t fully developed or seemed unprofessionally dull or full of metaphysical intuitive opinions about nature and life, I also crossed them off.

I love philosophy and enjoy metaphysics. But I’m also aware that people with that mindset are more inclined to tell me “if you believe it, you can achieve it” and I don’t need cliche sayings. Believing the demons will go away will not make them go away. I need to learn how to work with them, not shove them off a metaphorical cliff that I created in my mind and watch as they tumble helplessly into the locked drawer which I also created in my mind. Not my type of therapy.

Now, if someone had a decent, updated website that laid out their specialties which coincided with my needs, what insurance they accepted (if any), their location, phone number, and a blurb about their practice and themselves, I’d investigate further.

I eventually came down to three people: two women and one man.

I eventually crossed off the man because he had been in practice for many years, thirty or forty, and while that’s not a bad thing there is also no notable effect between years of experience and better rate of client success. I’ll explain why in tomorrow’s post as well. The reason the years influenced my decision is because many still maintain old views of specific “disorders” and treatment methods. I refuse to see a psychiatrist who graduated in 1979 and below.

The two women: one was a LSCW and the other a Ph.D. Both had well defined websites and structure to their treatment methods. I went for the LSCW because the Ph.D had listed their G.P.A and grades and I considered that rather conceited.

The LCSW was on vacation and when she got back she called me to let me know she wasn’t accepting new patients.

As disappointing as that was, my last choice was the Ph.D. I was nervous because of her degree and her listing of her G.P.As. I predicted she’d have an arrogance about her and see me as less than. I was indeed very wrong. This will be relevant in tomorrow’s post as well, how intuition can lead us far astray.

This particular therapist and I connected immediately. I have only connected in such a way with two other people in my life, one girl when I was in first grade and a guy when I was 14 in high school.

She is attentive and didn’t seem to mind that I hadn’t mentioned on our phone consultation that I hear voices and have experienced psychosis. She did believe that voices went away with medication (which isn’t the case for most of us, and I filled her in on my experience) and that schizoaffective can only be diagnosed under the condition that psychosis appears alongside depression (I didn’t correct that because I felt awkward doing so; it’s in the DSM-5, she can check it out if she wants. I have a DSM-5 PDF copy if she needs it) but overall she validates my feelings but also challenges me when something doesn’t seem quite right.

She will help me see alternatives and consider alternatives. She is full of humor, and gets my humor, and I’ve never laughed as much with a psychologist as I have this woman. I don’t feel judged usually, and have felt free talking about my voices with her. I have not talked in depth with anyone else about my voices, and I certainly haven’t told anyone else that I hear both internal and external.

Why did she work out? Because I didn’t follow my intuition, I followed a set of criteria I set for myself that weeded out those who were specializing in what I needed support with versus what I didn’t. And her listing her G.P.A has nothing to do with that.

And so what it comes down to is:

  1. Test the waters. See what kind of people you like. Don’t get disappointed if some don’t work out. You don’t make friends with every person you meet, do you?
  2. Don’t choose solely on degree level: you’re disgracing science and ignoring data.
  3. Take your time. You might not pick the right person on the first try, but you want to get as close as you can so you don’t have to go through 20 different people. That can happy very easily.
  4. Do your research. See what others say, but also recognize people can be picky about things you might not care about.
  5. Come up with your own criteria for the qualities that would be helpful for you. Make your stance clear at your first appointment.
  6. Get ready to work and be open to opinions that don’t match yours. Don’t assume CBT will work just because it’s a proven technique. Put some effort into it. Cry. Feel things. Process things. Think about things. Get frustrated and angry and annoyed. That’s literally the whole point.
  7. Don’t rely on your intuition solely.

And most importantly? Remember you have a say in your treatment. Make the therapy and partnership and it could become one of the better relationships you’ll establish in your life.