Posted in Book Reviews (updating), Uncategorized, writing

Murderous Writing

I don’t know what kind of writer you are, but I am a writer who enjoys mystery, crime, drama, and just a touch of magic. I like stories that are literary in nature, contain weaving motifs and conflicted characters. I want to search for the meaning and if there is no meaning intended I want the creative ability to create a meaning that is meaningful to me. That’s all I ask.

I’m about 3/4 of the way through a book of short stories called Santa Cruz Noir, noir meaning stories full of crime and moral ambiguity. I’m all for it.

Considering I live in Santa Cruz and it was at one point considered the murder capital of the world, I dove right in.

And still the stories shocked me.

The very first story, entitled Buck Low is about a seemingly comfortable and developed serial killer (I inferred that) who has killed a woman, killed her friend looking for her, and took off up into the Bay. He gave me serial killer vibes because of his nonchalance and easy of killing and travel, as if he’s done that before. It felt like the author intentionally created that vibe.

There are odd stories too, like Mischa and the Seal, about a woman marine biologist graduate student. Seals are her muse, they speak to her (quite literally) and she enjoys staying in hotels, particularly a hotel which overlooks the beach. She meets a fellow ocean lover, James, and while they date, a particular seal she communicates with warns her there’s something strange about James and she needs to “dig into it.”

Longer short story short, James is a seal and otter serial killer.

Mischa kills James with his own arrow contraction that he kills the animals with.

She takes a shower, I think, and then seemingly kills herself by also disappearing into the ocean.

I say these stories shocked me because it’s not often I get to read good published crime stories or novels. A lot of them feel contrived to me, although there’s one story I’m hoping is good that I’d like to read about a serial killer who broke out of prison and is searching for his daughter. Unfortunately, I forgot the name. I used to work at a library and saw tons of books I wanted to read. If anyone knows the book I’m talking about, please put it in the comments below.

If you have any crime book recommendations that aren’t detective mysteries, please put those in the comments below too.

I feel like there’s a community of crime writers that are often rejected from the mainstream publishing scene considering murder and darkness scares people. I personally love writing and reading stories that push the boundaries of what we think is acceptable.

I just wrote a story entitled To Jane. My protagonist murdered another woman because she accused my protagonist of stealing some cheap costume jewelry. I sent it off to a couple small magazines, but I’m anticipating rejection; good writers always anticipate rejection. It makes getting published more surprising and fun.

It’s also a grave mistake to pair mental illness and crime together. The two are not synonymous, in fact they’re very opposite of each other. I aim give evidence to that point with my book.

My main work in progress is centered on crime as well; besides the stalking, there is murder, and I’ve learned that murder is acceptable as long as the actual murder isn’t described; people just need the idea of it to conjure their own sick visions. People also like a little mystery.

What is your favorite genre? What do you write? What do you read? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time.

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Posted in science

A Medication-Free Anxiety Treatment

Briefly last week, I considered getting back on medication. My panic attacks have been relentless, my voices have been annoying, my thoughts have been in and out of this world. I went as far as going online to a pain center my previous psychiatrist worked at. She is long gone, but there are other great doctors there, and I have nothing bad to say about this particular institution of health professionals. They were informative, kind, and their offices are quiet, clean, bright, and overlook trees even though they’re one hundred feet from a freeway entrance.

While browsing their website to see if they conducted Telehealth appointments, I found a tab specified for panic disorder and within that tab they listed a new, medication-free treatment for anxiety. Curious, I investigated.

What is the treatment?

This treatment is the FDA approved “Freespira” developed by Palo Alto Health Sciences. For this section, I’ll be getting my information from the Freespira website and this patient brochure.

Firstly, Freespira is a breathing trainer. You receive a special Freespira tablet and medical censor that tracks your breathing rate and your Carbon Dioxide output. The hypothesis here is that those of us who panic have irregular breathing patterns even when we aren’t panicking. When we do get anxious, our breathing rate becomes even more so arrhythmic and we aren’t outputting as much carbon dioxide as is healthy. This physiological response cannot be addressed by therapy or drugs, and this is the response Freespira targets. The device teaches you how to regulate your breathing so that you exhale the proper amount of carbon dioxide. Their website says “by training panic suffers to permanently change their breathing patterns, panic attacks are dramatically reduced and, in many instances, completely eliminated.”

This takes a set amount of sessions over the course of a few weeks.

Why This Was Exciting

As a desperate panic sufferer, I know all too well of the tingling in the limbs, the racing heart, the feeling that death is imminent. I lost count how many times I’ve went into the ER because my hyperventilation threatened my consciousness. I won’t spend breathless paragraphs reiterating the doctors who accused me of drug use, who almost refused me treatment, who took my blood without consent to test for meth. The idea of an anxiety treatment that doesn’t including putting poorly tested chemicals in my body daily, or risking “as needed” medication becoming “need” medication and eventually, if not severe physiological dependence, than addiction, almost made me cry.

The statistics are promising. Their website states clinical results are as followed:

Protocol Adherence (meaning participants followed instructions correctly): 83%

Panic-Free immediately post treatment: 85%

Panic-Free 12 months post treatment: 81%

Reduction in panic symptoms 12 months post treatment: 94%

A Stanford trial in 2008 showed “positive changes in respiratory physiology, and strong evidence for safety and tolerability”. 68% of participants were panic free, 93% had a reduction in symptoms after 12 months.

Another trial showed similar results, with protocol adherence and freedom from panic ranging from 71% to 88%.

The last study they cite has no verifiable link on google.

These results are pale in comparison to those reflected by drug therapies and every other talk therapy except Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for panic disorders. It is easy, quick, self-administered, and finally puts to use all those breathing techniques you learned that felt useless. Suddenly, they’re not so useless because you have a tablet and sensor telling you they’re not.

So what’s the truth?

I hope you don’t feel as let down as I did.

In my excitement, I didn’t fall blind to the fraudulent world of psychology research. And so, I researched. My first hint that something was off came from the website healthnewsreview.org, a website dedicated to “improving your critical thinking about health care”.

Some of the noteworthy things they mentioned, briefly summarized because I love you guys, are:

1: The cost treatment is not discussed. In 2015, a news story reported the monthly cost as $500.*

2: No absolute numbers are released, just overall percentages states on the website.

3: No mention of what the harms could be, if any, and there were no links to the studies mentioned on the website. We’ll come back to this.

4: one of the most IMPORTANT: Freespira website DOES NOT discuss or post who funded these studies. We’ll come back to this too.

5: No alternatives discussed. I mentioned CBT earlier in this article, as it is one of the leading and most proven methods for treating panic disorder. A comparison is no where mentioned.

*link to the ‘news story’ on healthreview.org

By this point, I’d lost hope.

And so, I’ve done the nice, hard work of finding the studies Freespira reports as their evidence. They did indeed provide citations eventually of their sources, but I could only find them when I switched from desktop view to mobile view. I have linked them above.

The Results?

The “Stanford Study”

Let’s remember How to Read a Research Paper before continuing. I don’t know if this was actually conducted at Stanford, but Freespira lists this citation as the Stanford study they mentioned.

Not Freespira specific, but tested for the effectiveness of capnometry-assisted breathing therapy, the type of device freespira is purporting to be.

Methods and participants: 37 participants, 31 with panic disorder and agoraphobia, 6 with panic disorder and NO agoraphobia. 20 were randomly assigned to the treatment, 17 were wait-listed as a control group. Recruiting happened with community advertisements. You can read the study for more in depth description of the participants.

Treatment: educating patients on breathing, showing them problematic respiratory patterns, having them perform breathing maneuvers with feedback, teaching ways to control carbon dioxide levels, and having them practice breathing exercises daily. Twice daily, 17 minutes, at home. Read for more in depth description.

Results: Low attrition (drop out rate). 40% experienced no more panic attacks during the four weeks. 2 month follow up, 62% had experienced no further attacks, and 68% were panic free at 12 months. This shows brief capnometry breathing therapy can be therapeutic. Improvements were seen in the treated but not untreated participants and success improved as time passed. Non-respiratory mechanisms, such as treatment rationale (meaning they told the participants the point of the study) let the patients develop cognitive components needed to avoid catagstrophic thinking and gave patients a sense of control–one thing we lose in panic attacks. The breathing exercises triggered sensations similar to those we experience in panic attacks, and desensitization may have occurred to the bodily clues rather than respiratory changes being the sole drive. Need future studies testing viability (success of the treatment).

Limitations: The first thing you learn in an introductory research course is that when you are studying treatments for mental health disorders, you can’t simply pair the treatment with an untreated population. In order to test for something like viability, you need to compare your treatment to other treatments. This study did not do that, and lists it in their limitations section.

This study was supported by the NIMH.

The Multi-Center Trial

Freespira specific.

Methods and Participants: Primary diagnosis of Panic Disorder, 18-65, moderately ill or greater based on the Clinician Global Impression Scale, and were off medication or had been stable on medication for 3 months. Conducted at multiple non-academic clinical sites with different clinicians at different levels of expertise.

Procedure/Treatment: 4 weeks. Breathing sessions 17 minutes long with baseline stage (sitting quietly with eyes closed for 2 minutes), a pacing stage (monitoring of Carbon dioxide levels with breathing at a specific rate for ten minutes), and a transition stage (patient maintains breathing pattern with feedback for 5 minutes).

Results/discussion: 20% dropped out. Significant decrease in panic disorder severity over four weeks, early identical results to the previous study. Patient compliance was high as well as patient satisfaction. This treatment can be made largely available at a low cost. Side effects were rare, like mild dizziness or lightheadedness in the beginning training sessions.

Limitations: Again, no control group, not even a wait list. The study itself says “these results cannot be considered a definitive documentation of efficacy”, but instead “extends [the previous studies’] findings to document feasibility and utility in more naturalistic treatment settings.” It discusses no alternative reasons for why they may have seen significant results and a decrease in panic symptoms.

This study was funded by Palo Alto Health Sciences, the developers of Freespira.

Several of the doctors on this so-called study have received research grants and/or consulting fees from PAHS and Merck. This is listed as the Conflicts of interest. For obvious reasons.

Should You Try Freespira?

Results show the need for many, many more studies, but no real evidence of efficacy.

Try at your own risk. Especially if it means you’re paying out of pocket.

If you go in thinking it will work, it will probably work. if you go in remembering this evidence, it probably won’t.

If you have tried Freespira and it worked for you, leave your experience below or message me and let’s write about it! The same applies for if you have tried Freespira and it hasn’t worked for you.

Also, notice the degree of ethical practice reduces when the study is funded by the developer of the treatment. Keep that in mind for when we discuss the studies of psychotropic medications.

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Posted in advocacy, Peer Support, Supporting Friends/Family

About Mental Illness

I recently learned in a personality psychology course that the effect size in regard to how much words make a difference to people is very small. I’m currently trying to find studies which either argue for or against this, but in the meantime I decided I’d write a short blurb about it.

I’ve found nothing becoming about the term “mental illness”. It feels defaming and self-deprecating. I don’t really consider myself disordered and I’ve been ambivalent about the term schizophrenia and schizoaffective. And if I find these studies accurate, verifiable, and reliable, than I suppose none of this really matters.

I’ve been hung up on it since I was 14. In the CCMD, one of volumes, I remember reading schizophrenia was labeled as “Integration disorder” or something similar. I read a lot of books describing mental struggles as strengths, describing medication as poison, describing this idea of “illness” as bad. I agreed, and to some degree I still do.

But I’m learning to drop the words, really. It’s not about what you want to call it. Call it Schizophrenia, call it Integration disorder, call it Mental Illness, Disorder, Disease (even though there’s not enough actual scientific evidence to prove the disease part), call it whatever you want to call it because regardless we’re all talking about the same experiences. We’re all talking about the same pain, the same beauty, the same horror, the same frustration. The issue comes when people internalize the concept of illness.

The issue comes when someone loses sight of the rest of their future because they’re being told they need to take medication for the rest of their life and they can’t work, they won’t be normal, and everything has to change now–for the worst.

This is a problem because us humans are infamous for letting go of alternative possibilities when we’re provided an answer. This happens to be scientifically proven.

What I mean is, if our answer is: “take meds for the rest of your life”, our brains don’t automatically respond with “I need to find some stable ground, heal myself, and maybe find a way to not take so much medication/taper off. Or maybe I won’t. I need to explore all my options”.

When the answer is: “you’ll have this for the rest of your life”, our brains don’t automatically respond with “I may have this for the rest of my life, I also may not. What are other options?”

No, we say, shit, I have to take these meds. If I don’t, I’ll be unwell again. This is my life line.

We say, shit, I’m doomed. This has ruined my life. There’s nothing I can do.

Sometimes life experiences and therapy and friends and support forces help us see that our life isn’t ruined. Sometimes we can get off medication, and sometimes we can’t. What’s hard for me to swallow is that a lot of us don’t ever get to the point where we can consider either point of view. What’s hard for me to swallow is that when we try and advocate for each other, we do so from the perspective of “illness” instead of “wellness”.

We glamorize this idea that “I live with a mental illness and I’m doing well.” We have that weird AA group mentality of powerlessness. Studies show AA is actually quite ineffective and having been in both AA groups and Al-anon, I find them very cult-ish. I’ve also met countless people who have been saved by AA, NA, and other support groups based in “higher-power” thinking.

But essentially, if all our power comes from us being powerless, then we’re not actually powerful. We’re not anything really, but a pawn. A puppet, maybe. We let ourselves be pulled by the strings of our “disease” or disorder and we find no other avenues of compromise because we are powerless. Sometimes we feel because we made a choice to be powerless, we are empowered. Other times we argue against this adamantly, that we “manage” our illness, and “we don’t let it control us”. But the thing that all these black and white views have in common is fear. The fear, and knowledge, that we can’t control anything.

Why do we need to? That’s the question I ask everyone who presents me with this argument. Why is control even an aspect here? When you are in a healthy relationship or friendship with someone, and you have a disagreement, do you let them decide everything for you, your thoughts and feelings, because you’re powerless against them? Do you shout back and yell and scream and punch them? Hopefully not! Hopefully you don’t engage in either activity. Hopefully you engage in compromise.

When you’re in an unhealthy relationship, if someone is abusive, the partner often submits, terrified, hopeless in an uncontrollable situation. I am guilty of trying to force my thoughts and my mind into submission: I abused myself. My mind is guilty of trying to trap me in madness; my mind abused me.

But if we can engage with compromise with others, if we can strive for balance, if each person can have equal say and equal pull, if I can influence my mind and feel safe allowing my mind to influence me, then the issue of power and control is eliminated. We are free.

Is the healthy opposite of not being able to control anything absolute submission? Is the healthy opposite of powerlessness absolute power?

And so I don’t subscribe to the concept of being mentally ill. I accept that I experience moods and delusions and hallucinations indicative of what we’ve categorized as schizoaffective. But I am not a pawn. To be submissive, to feel I either need all of the control or I shouldn’t have any control, is ill to me. And so I don’t consider myself ill.

I’ve tried very hard to avoid the term “mentally ill” because of this. But hearing about these studies and their small effect size has got me wondering if any of it really matters. It’s got me wondering if the actual concept of mental illness can be looked at differently now.

It’s got me wondering if we will ever get away from this “sick not weak” hashtag.

It’s got me wondering if we will ever see ourselves as having potential for balance, for real vitality again, for health and wealth, without also having to mention the name of our disorder.

I honestly don’t care if you’re a writer with schizophrenia. I just care that you’re a writer, and a damn good one. I care about what you write. I care that you’re living well and are happy. If you have schizophrenia, great! If you don’t, great!

Let’s empower each other’s wellness, not our illness.

PS: I never said this was a site of popular opinions, or popular science.

I stray from popular for a reason. Popularity usually invalidates authenticity.

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Posted in Community, psychology, Supporting Friends/Family

The Tie Between Physical and Mental Health

In pursuing a degree in psychology, a couple depressive and psychotic episodes interrupted my original plan. In that, I’ve discovered I never really wanted a degree in psychology. In that , I discovered I’m stuck with it and must make the best out of it because starting over sounds excruciating.

And so I make this post in honor of all the adamant advocates who insist on equating mental health with physical health, despite the fact that they need very different treatments, have different levels of valid (or invalid) research, and that one is ostensibly more tangible and reliable than the other.

What’s the point?

I think sometimes when we are caught up in our head, we disconnect from the flesh and organisms which keep us breathing and conscious. Our body becomes a poorly oiled machine, and we creak and groan getting out of bed in the morning, and groan and creak getting in the bed at night. One thing which was missing from my mental health treatment in the past was a consult on my physical health.

One sleep doctor told me I needed to lose weight. That was the extent of the care given to my body after my last psychotic episode, even under the watchful eye of my psychiatrist, therapist, and physician.

And so I notice this huge disconnect in ourselves as well as in the health field. There is a reason many of us diagnosed have a higher percentage of eating highly processed foods, calorie dense foods, and refined sugar/corn syrup filled foods–it’s not just because these foods become a comfort (because they do), but also because dealing with voices and visions and mood swings take our focus away from the rest of the world, the rest of us, and without some gentle pushing and encouragement from the team around us, we’re not able to hop on the physical health track.

I did not gain one hundred pounds until my moods were so unregulated and my psychosis was so encompassing that I forgot my body even existed. This is after being a very fit, very active teenager and young adult. Medication with weight side-effects didn’t help.

What bothers me now is that doctors prescribe medications without also setting us up with a nutrition coach or a dietitian or whatever we can afford/our insurance will pay for, who can help us balance those debilitating side effects with healthier options.

I lost the weight because I was ready and because I did all the research about what foods start up metabolism, how restricting and counting calories is horrible for weight loss, and the importance of regular exercise. Within 6-8 months, I healthily lost half the weight and gained an incredible amount of mental stability for being off medication.

This has kept my depression at bay for the first time since I was eleven years old, wishing I could kill myself. I’m now 24. It has significantly reduced my anxiety, and has helped me manage paranoia. When I reintroduce a steady, less healthy diet for a couple weeks (such as a ridiculous amount of carbs, high amounts of refined sugar, and large portions), my paranoia ramps up, my panic attacks take over, and I feel miserable both physically and mentally.

Food isn’t just fuel for our bodies, it’s medicine for our minds. It keeps our blood sugars level, our energy converting, our organs functioning, and our serotonin happy–let’s not forget the abundance of serotonin that lies in our gut.

When we stuff ourselves with foods that raise our sugar levels and our dopamine levels, we crash and want more sugar. We get a lesser high each time, and a lower low each time; it’s like cocaine. The higher weight we get from fatty foods, the less movement we enjoy, and the more anxious and insecure we feel. This keeps us from experiencing the world, withdraws us from social activity, and that alone can ramp up experiences of any mental health condition.

And so pop-advocates are right: mental health and physical health should be treated the same in that both must be addressed in order for the whole person to be healthy. When we are so lost in our mind, we need something to ground us back in our physical body, and one way that can be done is relearning how to show compassion through healthy action toward our physical form.

It’s mistaken to believe what you put into your body doesn’t effect your mental health. It’s mistaken to believe that the majority of our struggle comes from chemicals; the fact is there are social factors, economic/financial factors, genetic factors, and physical factors. Some of these we have more power to change than we think, and physical factors tend to be the easiest, as hard as it is. When I stopped telling myself “well, there’s nothing I can do about it” in regards to my experiences, I found there was a whole hell of a lot I could do, not just to cope, not just to exist, but to heal and nurture all the undressed wounds I’d left bleeding for so many years. One of those wounds was my physical health.

What can we do?

It’s evident that changing eating habits is not a simple feat. It takes a lot of discipline and motivation and readiness–readiness being key. If discipline and motivation aren’t your thing, a good support team around you which you trust may work to gently encourage progress and give healthy reminders when your progress falters (because it will falter).

If you don’t have much of a support force, and your doctors aren’t much help, starting slowly will be your best bet. If you feel you aren’t ready to embark on that kind of a journey, don’t. Starting before you’re ready will only make you falter in your discipline. That will disappoint you and the discouragement will eventually convince you to quit.

So, Are you ready?

1) My first suggestion would be research. Read some stuff about food. The good stuff. Stuff about why carbs are good, why sugar is good, why certain fats actually help you burn stored fat in your body. I say start with this kind of research because it’s a reminder to you that food is good! There is nothing you need to avoid, only things eaten in moderation and with careful consideration. Things eaten for fuel, not out of emotion.

2) Next, find some foods that kickstart your metabolism. Foods like kale, spinach, raspberries, and blueberries, or spices like Tumeric. These are great pre and post workout snacks (and seasonings) that will help your body use up some of its fat storage.

3) Plan your meals. When I started my weight loss journey, I ate a kale, spinach, tofu (seasoned with tumeric) salad, topped with raspberries and blueberries for lunch. For breakfast, I ate an avocado and two boiled eggs, or two fried eggs in olive oil. For snack, I’d have a banana or protein drink, generally after a workout. For dinner I’d have a lean meat (99% lean turkey, or baked chicken, or baked fish (cod usually), a veggie, and a perhaps a cup of rice or other programmed starch/carb.

I thought I’d be hungry with this meal plan, as I was used to eating 3000-4000 calories a day easily, but I didn’t go hungry for a moment. The exercise utilized the fuel I put in my body, and the fuel properly energized my muscles and my mind. I gave up sweets only because I’d been heavily addicted and knew I’d compromise my health plan if I allowed myself to eat two cakes in three days as I had before.

4) Set a consistent workout schedule. I worked out 3-5 days a week, all around the same time. I started with bike riding again, and graduated to the gym, and eventually high interval training workouts. The thing to remember with exercise is that the more weight you lose, the toner you get, the more intense your workouts have to get in order to maintain the same loss. Starting slow can ease you into the mental and physical pain.

5) Remember your mental health. If anxiety or depression tells you not to go one day, and you really can’t convince yourself otherwise, don’t go. You still have an obligation to be compassionate with yourself. This doesn’t mean give yourself an excuse. This means accept that this day is painful and that you need rest. It means the next day may be painful too, but if your rest is productive and useful, the next day can be easier and you can return to your routine. If you take a restful week, that’s not a failure either. It’s you doing what you need.

With those five little things, I lost 56 pounds in about 6 months. My paranoia was much more under control, my blood pressure went down, my heart rate went down, my anxiety went down, and I haven’t seen my depression in almost two years.

This is not a cure. It’s an understanding that our physical health plays into our mental health, and if one is ignored, the other is sure to deteriorate.

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Posted in Freedom, Peer Support

This Is How We End Stigma

If there’s anything I’m leaving behind in 2019, it’s the teenaged, damaged version of me. I’m leaving behind immaturity and replacing it with realistic observation and contemplation. I’m respecting the graves of my trauma, enough that I can finally leave the cemetery. I’m not looking for anything in 2020. I will understand myself better and I will reach the potential I’ve always had. I will be turning 25 in 2020.

I started my old blog Mental Truths in July 2015. My last post was sometime early 2019. As I read through old posts, I realized how lost and confused and disconnected I was. It was mental health rants sprinkled with a hint of actual coherent thought.

And what I’ve learned between July 2015 and December 2019 is that the complexities of life are not only beautiful, they are terrifying. I learned there is nothing inherently wrong with terror and fear. I learned we often allow ourselves to be controlled by these primal reactions to life. I learned how our body and mind respond to life is dependent on more factors than neurotransmitters or trauma.

I went from an anti-psychiatry extremist to someone who sees more division within the mental health community than in those outside of the community who move against us or refuse to accept us. I learned Stigma is real and also bullshit.

We self-stigmatize more than others stigmatize us. We hold our struggles against others, as if the entire world doesn’t suffer in some way at some point. As if our personal struggle is so great that family, friends, partners, should put our health before their own, and if they don’t, they’re being “unreasonable” or they “don’t care”. As if everything revolves around us.

As if we must force people to accept us. We don’t.

People won’t accept us until we accept ourselves. Until we stop pretending the experience of voices and visions hold more pain and torment and severity than the experience of anxiety and panic. Until we recognize we all hurt.

This holds true for any inequality. I am mixed race, my father is African American, my mother is Caucasian, with her family having immigrated from Poland. Much of my life has been dictated by a cultural identity crisis. I didn’t fit in with the white kids, I didn’t fit in with the black kids, and I felt like I had to fit in with one of them. I was the only non-Hispanic in a college prep class that was supposed to be specified toward low-income, first generation college bound students. Instead, it was geared toward brown students who had a pretty good home life and high income. It took four years for them to integrate other races. And by other races, I mean two white kids.

And so I was very angry. I was sick of watching movies and documentaries in my college prep class ONLY dedicated toward brown students. I was sick of teachers handing me Spanish instructions for my parents and looking at me weird when I said I didn’t speak Spanish.

I felt erased. I felt degraded. Invisible. Ignored. And this is the result of a culture believing pain has hierarchy. A culture that thinks every little mention of skin color or inequality is fulfilling a racist culture. A culture where “you don’t look/act schizophrenic” is actually a sentence that’s uttered.

I had a right to be angry. But looking back, I placed myself on a pedestal. That “I’m more disadvantaged than you” type of superiority that seems to plague every ethnicity and every culture in some way.

Fear is a strong emotion. And psychological research has shown in countless studies that we often misinterpret our own feelings and signals we receive from our body. What may be fear may register as anger or sadness or even arousal. Looking back, I know now that I feared everything not because I didn’t fit in, but because I didn’t know myself. Sometimes arrogance and superiority becomes a barrier against the world.

And that’s happening in the mental health community. We fear our experiences often, we fear the thought of never “getting better”, we fear rejection and misunderstanding. And so we strive to prove we are sick. We strive to prove we are in pain, that we suffer, and in the middle of that battle we engage in friendly fire.

I’ve spent the last three years working on my fear. I was tired of being a prisoner and being sick meant I was a prisoner. Being “okay against my will” as one singer puts it, meant I was a prisoner. And so I dove into fear and terrified myself. I stopped being okay and in not being okay I became even better than okay.

What the mental health community needs right now isn’t stupid stigma campaigns.

What changes would we see in our wonderfully versatile, talented, and strong community if we were to stop seeing ourselves as the broken branches on the tree of society? What changes would we see if we stopped calling ourselves sick and instead called ourselves varied? Experienced? Raw? If we see ourselves as fully human, fully capable, intelligent, fierce, and in a lot of pain, the world will follow.

The world can understand pain. Let’s not make it any more complicated than that.

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Posted in 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 psychology, science, Voices

Is Psychology A Science? Part 4

We’ve arrived to the conclusion of this series, and bullet point number two: psychology is the quantum physics of human study.

There is valid psychological research out there. The world has learned many things thanks to proper psychological researchers following proper scientific methods and procedures. Politics and bureaucracy, warped ethics and poorly developed philosophy has given much of psychology and psychiatry a bad name. The fact of the matter is psychology is the study of the mind, the mind studying itself, and it takes a certain level of scientific measure to do so.

There are many aspects for why there won’t be a yes or no answer to the title. We find ways to quantify behavior of everything we observe in psychology and other sciences; that’s the point, really, to quantify our observations so that we can logically and mathematically find systems and patterns and create better understanding. It’s how the DSM should be developed, but it hasn’t been. In fact, there isn’t much science involved in that infamous book. None of the members of the board are researchers or scientists.

Emil Kraepelinian, a german psychiatrist and researcher who furthered much psychiatric thought in his time pushed for empirical evidence in clinical study when it came to mental conditions. His love of philosophy sputtered a bit, as he focused more on the natural science of the mind; realism became his muse. Psychiatry, he said, and the science of it, should focus on what is presented, what is seen, and what is really “real”, observed and reported objectively.

He pushed for diagnostic causes, the scientific philosophy that is supposed to be backed by the DSM. That is, each diagnostic label is used as explanation for the behavior observed, a cause. He said “cases arising from the same causes would always have to present the same symptoms and the same post-mortem result”.

What I find interesting about almost anyone who supports the medical model, and almost anyone who advocates for anti-psychiatry, is this idea that any of this is based in absolutes. As if something as complicated as the human brain, something which is as unique chemically as a fingerprint, could present the same symptoms and the same post-mortem result. As if chemicals in the brain don’t play any role at all. As if genes don’t. As if environment doesn’t. As if individual variation in perception of life, in thought, in personality, doesn’t. As if we will ever be able to quantify exactly what a combination of all of that means.

So why do I call psychology the quantum physics of human study? Normally it would be a compliment, a toast to the complexity and beauty of psychology, but until the science of it actually starts behaving as such, I refuse to compliment it.

My reasoning can be summed up in one simple, and pretty obvious word: probability.

You can calculate the trajectory of a ball and where it will land based on the height the ball starts and the force which propels it. You’ll look at angles and velocity. It’s pretty straight forward classical physics, just like you can take a look at a particular chemical structure in the brain and label it dopamine, serotonin, or GABA; when you see each structure, you can accurately predict the label, just as you can accurately predict where the ball will land as long as you can do math.

But when you get into particles that seem to appear chaotically, randomly, and pop out of existence just as suddenly as they’ve popped into existence, when you can’t observe the actions with the naked eye, things become less obvious. When you start attempting to measure when serotonin will be released, how, where, and the effects that will cause, with the same types of stipulations, things also become less obvious.

As much as they tell you serotonin causes anxiety, there is no certainty in this. There’s no certainty in the dopamine hypothesis or even the entire “theory” of chemical imbalance. There is some research, often funded by pharmaceutical companies, which claim reliable and valid results with a minimally valid sample size that allows them to generalize, or predict, that for many people, a rise or decrease in serotonin (there’s been research showing both instances) can cause anxiety and/or depression.

Statistics gives an idea of how many of these pop-up particles will/can appear at a given time, in a given space, but it will never be 100% accurate. Statistics gives us an idea of how many people will experience a given “symptom” compared with their genetics, their neurochemistry, and their life experiences. But because we don’t have solid understanding of any of those categories, the predictions and statistical significance must still be taken with a grain of salt.

So what does this mean? If we can only observe a small amount of our physical existence, if that can only be quantified using a symbolic system which is also only based in our observable spectrum of the universe, than does anything matter? If we can never be sure of anything, what’s the point?

Curiosity, I suppose. Curiosity and acceptance.

Part of the philosophy behind the Uncertainty Principal and the paradoxes within, which we discussed here, is that we must, particularly within the study of ourselves, of the universe, find acceptance in our limitations because we are inherently limited by our physicality. We will never see with our own objective, naked eyes whether that photon’s interference pattern is being influenced by the light we use to see said interference pattern, or if the photon indeed behaves as both a wave and a particle depending on observation.

There is indeed always a confounding variable we can never control for: our humanity.

And so I say, my friends, don’t take things so seriously. I lose myself in delusions quite consistently. It’s terrifying. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes the terror is beautiful and I’m not sure when I was able to see that beauty, but I’m thankful for the psychosis showing me the light side of the dark–and by this, I don’t mean “the bright side” or “the light at the end of the tunnel”. There is a lightness nestled within the darkness, and you have to go very deep to find it. But it’s there. It’s there because the same darkness lies deep within the light.

I laughed at myself the other day because most people I speak with who have experienced psychosis have found some kind of light, spiritual light in all of this, been pained by demons and blessed by God (or Gods) and I’ve been quite the opposite. I’ve embraced the demons and the darkness and recognized their validity. I’ve called them my protectors more than once this last week, terrified that they’ve been steering me purposefully this whole time and I’ve been resisting out of fear and misunderstanding.

They’ve become false angels–angelic in their intent but false in their goodness and I can appreciate a being which can drop its pride and admit the unity of good/bad which churns inside them. If you’re curious of this, and my thoughts on my voices/where my beliefs come from, I’ll write a post explaining it all. It’s quite detailed.

Hell, even if you’re not interested, I’ll probably write on it.

And so psychology is as science as philosophy in the sense that thoughts/ideas can never be proven and neither can the theory of chemical imbalance.

We can provide enough evidence to disprove it.

And I promise, we will.

P.S: It is inherently and philosophically inaccurate to call this theory a chemical “imbalance” as there is no “balance” to compare it to. And so I say we will disprove the imbalance aspect not because I don’t believe chemicals play a role, but because I recognize that there is no standard for comparison. Neurotransmitters and neurons change and grow depending on experience and variation, and therefore we can never have a generalized “true north” version of our chemical make-up.