Posted in advocacy, Community, Peer Support, Voices, writing

How I Got Into Peer Support and How You Can Too.

How Did I get Involved?

It was 3 a.m on a particularly difficult night. I was 20 years old. I found myself struggling with sleep, battling with rapid thoughts, and frustrated over my financial situation. A lot of us in the mental health community have dealt with nights like this, I’m sure. my desperation lead me to the Craigslist Job Board where scams glorified work from home jobs and door-to-door food delivery jobs. I didn’t have a very good car back then, nor did I have any secure or reliable internet connection, so both of those jobs were out of the question. I was only lucky that I stumbled across Second Story.

Second Story boasted itself as a peer-led respite house–I had to look up the word Respite–and said that it was looking for individuals from the community who had lived experience. What was lived experience? Mental health distress, diagnosis, and/or involvement in the county mental health system. I had distress and diagnosis and it paid $13 dollars an hour, a whole 3 dollars more than I’d made at the local amusement park. In my manic state, I essentially said “Fuck it” and applied.

This is kind of an unusual story in that the majority of people who got involved with second story either volunteered, had worked there in the past, or stayed there in the past, or were there when it first opened.

When it first opened, I think I’d been a junior or sophomore in high school.

But what really drove me toward peer support wasn’t the idea that I could get paid talking to people and get paid to be a mental health consumer, it was the idea that an alternative treatment to a medical-model made a real-life difference in people’s experience. I wanted to be apart of this, see it with my own eyes.

Through this opportunity, I’ve been to conferences on coercive treatment, been featured on Mad in America, experienced the Pool of Consumer Champions (the largest peer organization in California), helped train peers who were opening their own peer respite, told my story in front of a panel of clinicians and mental health workers, and received training in Motivational Interview, Intentional Peer Support, Mindfulness, and Trauma Informed Care, all without a finished college degree. Working in peer support has done nothing but help my individual growth, show me what true compassion is, and help shift my worldview out of the dark dungeon it was in. I learned about people, became interested in their story and their being, and we walked together, side by side, across whatever fire brews. We are a team and we manage together.

How Can You Get Involved?

It’s not as hard as it seems, although sometimes it can be difficult to break through. Many states (in the U.S) have what’s called Peer Specialist Certification. These are state funded certifications that show you have completed a specific amount of hours of training and therefore are certified to use your skills to walk through someone’s experience with them. California is one of those states that has no state funded certification, as the bill has not yet passed legislation, but there are different regional certifications that you can get that still provide some training and experience.

Now, I never had any of that. I was just some 20 year old punk hearing voices without knowing they were voices, with so much anxiety I’d shake at the thought of doing something out of my routine, who couldn’t keep a clean room and was pretty sure she had undiagnosed autism. I got lucky.

There are many easier ways to get involved, though. NAMI, the national whatever on whatever, does Peer-to Peer classes and groups where your involvement could lead to volunteerism or employment. (Sorry NAMI, I never remember what you’re called, and I don’t ascribe to the idea of mental illness). They’re great to become apart of the community and get to network in your area while also getting support for yourself.

If you are in an area where peer respites are a thing, you can always get involved with one of them. Call the warmline and inquire. Here is a list of some Peer Respites.

If you don’t see your state on that list, try google instead.

There are also smaller peer-run organizations that are always, always looking for volunteers or workers or drivers or someone to just come in and make a difference. Again, try googling it for your area!

If you’re worried about the impact it may have on your social security benefits, just remember that peer places are run by PEERS. They understand. A good peer place will create a mutual schedule, one that works for you and one that works for them.

How Much Training Do I Need?

This of course depends on the organization or respite house you’re working with. Second Story has an umbrella company, one that oversees the house, so we recieve paid trainings with other clinicians and mental health staff. Some respite houses are entirely peer run, meaning they own their house and all the expenses acquired. Grants and donations usually fund the whole of these houses which means trainings may be specific and limited.

If you hate role-plays as much as I do, just remember everyone is learning and it’s okay to sound like a complete idiot.

I hate group role-plays, I should say. One-on-one role plays are fine.

The point being, if you have social anxiety, you WILL be role-playing and you WILL either get comfortable with it or never get comfortable with it and you have to practice accepting one or the other.

Do I Have To Be A Peer Counselor?

No. There are different types of jobs peers can do with trainings and certifications and experience. You can work in a hospital, for example, as a peer specialist, running groups or just walking around and talking to some of the people. If you’ve been in a hospital your self, you can relate to them and just be a general kind person to talk to. If you’ve been in bad hospitals, you know that often you are ignored or seen as dumb or treated with disrespect. You get the chance to be that one person who treats another human as a human.

You can be a driver, you can be an errand runner, you could even work to help people with mental health diagnoses find jobs. You are not limited to being a counselor.

I, for example, am going to train as a NeuroFeedback Technician this next coming month. I will be hooking people up to electrodes and skull caps and watching their brain waves as they complete training tasks. I will talk with them, relate to them a little, gather information, while also working with technology and understanding the results of said trainings. I would not have been able to get this job, pre-bachelor’s degree, without all of the 5 years of experience I have in peer support.

Final Thoughts

The point is, if you’re interested in this kind of work, you will find it. We’re always needing people just like you to be a constant, familiar, kind face for those brothers and sisters who are still struggling deeply. We need people with all sorts of backgrounds, all kinds of experience, and of all racial ethnicities.

We need YOU.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on my instagram @alilivesagain or on twitter @happyschizobs.

Posted in Late Night Thoughts, psychology

The Philosophy of Altered States

I’d like to talk about altered states. This includes but is not limited to the resulting mind state of those in psychosis, those who are both recreational and addicted drug users, and the natural state of mood changes. Most specifically, we’ll talk about why the want to alter our state of mind is regarded as dangerous and undesirable.

First, I’ll start off with a story: before the pandemic, I injured my back running on a treadmill.

I have a short leg and a displaced hip, so it’s not that I don’t know how a treadmill works, it’s that my body is broken.

I was prescribed Valium and Percocet. The Valium did wonders for my anxiety, especially when it came to speaking in front of panels, but the Percocet did something more. The Percocet gave me unbridled, unregulated, inorganic happiness, something I could never have without the pill itself. It made me sociable, bubbly, understanding, empathetic. It gave me confidence. It made me feel more human than I’ve ever felt.

And so the other day, while watching a terrible talk show yap about a heroin user, I started yearning for what I’d lost: that inorganic happiness. I found my mind racing, focused on pulling any old name from the archives of people I know, so I could ask them if they knew anyone selling Percocet. Once I realized I was frothing at the mouth at work like some sort of tortured, rabid dog, I stopped and pondered.

What was it about inorganic happiness that made me froth at the mouth? And, more importantly, why was I judging this feeling? Why did I label it bad?

Let me explain.

If you are feeling sad, you want to stop feeling sad. When you can’t stop feeling sad by simply telling yourself to stop feeling sad, you start feeling bad because you can’t stop feeling sad. You fall into a circle of sadness, until something–maybe a hot cup of tea or a friend or a therapist–triggers some thought that triggers some chemical that triggers some electricity that triggers another thought that eventually triggers your sadness to alter itself. You feel okay again.

So, what happens when you feel okay and wish to alter that state? What if we held each emotion to the same standard?

If I feel okay, or I feel happy, and I wish to feel more okay, or more happy, is there a moral, universal law that stops me from making that a reality?

The answer is no.

Now, we all know the consequences of going off our meds suddenly and without proper care (I frequently did that in my earlier psychosis years) and we all know the consequences of long-term, heavy, drug use, including regular, doctor-prescribed medication. So, if you’d like, you can think of that as the only hiccup here: there are physical and mental and life-changing consequences for our actions.

But why is happiness the only acceptable emotion to have? Why do we strive simply for that? Why don’t we focus on respecting our sadness, our anger? Why was my first inclination to seek a stronger happiness than I already have? Why do I want to resort to inorganic happiness?

I’ve asked a lot of questions here with no answers because I really want you to think about this. I really want you to ponder why do we put happiness on a pedestal? Why aren’t we allowed to feel other feelings in the same way we feel happiness? And is that why we constantly want to change our state of being? Because happiness is the only socially acceptable form of emotion?

Think about it.

Any thoughts in the comments are always appreciated.

Until next time.

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

Posted in science, Uncategorized, writing

Why I’m Leaving Behind Psychology as a Major (but still read and talk about research).

It’s not challenging enough, simple as that.

It’s also one of those majors where 80-90% of the students pass because it’s not challenging enough. And what I mean by that is it’s easy to get through a class without doing the supplemental reading or textbook work. You can even write papers without reading all the research necessary for your paper–and still pass.

The problem with textbooks and laxadasical studying is that these students grow into clinical professionals who believe their intuition knows better than science. Now, in some cases, intuition is important. Maybe your client has a tendency toward injuring themselves, and you notice this is increased when they lack eye contact in a session, talk softly, and rub their hands. You ask if they’ve had thoughts of hurting themselves, and maybe that client is comfortable with you, so they admit it. That’s using your intuition correctly.

When you believe that you know how to treat someone’s Panic Disorder or PTSD over the ONLY emprically proven method of CBT, you’re being clinically arrogant.

You can sit here and tell me “well this treatment worked better for me than CBT.” Great. The problem is that’s anecdotal. If we studied your treatment specifically, maybe we’d find your psychologist hyped up the treatment so much, your effects were placebo. Granted, once you knew that, your symptoms could come back full force, but at least you’re know the truth.

If you’re a psychology major and don’t know what “anecdotal” means, you’re only proving my point.

I know many people whose mindset is “C’s get degrees” and that’s true. For some classes like physics where the required GPA at my university is 2.7, that’s true. Those classes are HARD.

If your mindset in psychology is “Cs get degrees” and you become a clinician with the “C’s get degrees” mindset, I wouldn’t want you on my professional team. It’s nothing against you personally, it’s about the drive, the motivation, and the curiosity. I want all three of those things in someone who is digging into my brain.

You can also say there are a lot of different career options under psychology, and that’s true, but none of them interest me. It’s all a bunch of reading and that’s just not challenging enough.

Research psychology tickles my fancy, but what’s the point when the people who are supposed to be reading the papers (clinicians and professionals) DON’T READ THEM.

I. . .

It’s BAFFLING.

Almost sickening.

The general public still believes chemical imbalance is a proven theory, when it’s nothing more than a poorly supported hypothesis (that’s been debunked by researchers many times) that got headway in the media and is easier to accept than “we don’t know what’s going on, maybe people are just a variety of human” or “maybe people are more traumatized than we realize.”

In fact, a lot of research gets headway in the media. Often if you hear a researcher in the news, their article isn’t peer reviewed nor do they have multiple replications of their data under their belt. They just want the recognition. The writers who write about science don’t always have a background in it, mostly a background in journalism or English, and purport things that aren’t discussed in the research or that they are misconstruing; they don’t understand methods and procedures, and therefore misrepresent the findings.

That’s what propels me toward science writing. If I can impact the public, if I can help researchers get valid experiments out to the general public, that would be grand. I’ll have a background in lab science as well as psychology research and I’ll understand when a researcher puts out an article talking about the black hole in the center of our universe, I’ll know it to mean we’re not getting sucked in right away.

I’m not saying don’t pursue psychology. I think they are many great students as well, who are going into it with the mindset of “I want to make a difference.” And that’s beautiful. Just make sure you understand the facts and the research and you and I will be fine.

I’m writing this for others but also for myself. It’s been hard deciding to drop a major I once fell in love with. It’s a break up. I’m processing emotions and feelings of betrayal.

It’s hard, guys.

Until next time.

You’re not following The Philosophical Psychotic? Don’t forget! Just hit that little button and we’ll be all squared away. Join me on instagram @alilivesagain and twitter @thephilopsychotic.

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

Death in the Anthropocene

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

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

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

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

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

That is learning how to die.

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

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

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

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

This isn’t a somber topic. Rejoice.

Until next time.

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

Posted in Community, science

Changes, Changes, Changes

I’ve been absent from this blog, which was at one point my baby after I monstrously left MentalTruths.com to biodegrade in the internet ether. It seems I have a problem with deciding what I would like to write about. Anyone else?

I have taken hiatus from the mental health world. I’ve learned that constantly talking about my experiences has kept me unwell. I worked for almost five years as a peer counselor for at an adult residential discussing other people’s problems, and relating mine to theirs, and being a support, and it’s just been a really great way to distract myself from myself. It’s also been the most enlightening experience of my life. I’ve learned compassion and patience and work ethic and I am eternally grateful.

But it’s time to move on.

I will continue, on this site, to talk about psychological research and how it relates to what we see advertised to the general public (hint, it’s warped and embellished A LOT). What I WON’T be talking about as often, unless relevant somehow, is my personal experiences with voices, visions, depression, PTSD, or anxiety. If you are curious, you can reference other such great writings on this site such as : My Experience With Schizoaffective or February’s Scheduled Mental Breakdown.

I’d also like to focus on other topics of interests that I have, like fiction writing and photography and graphic art. There will be some structural site changes coming up that include new tabs for easy access to Psychological Research articles, writing articles, photography, and any other categories I’ll write about. I would like to create a community of many interests and hopefully full of some writers willing to share work with each other!

If all of this sounds interesting to you, please consider following ThePhilosophicalPsychotic, and also join me on Instagram @alilivesagain.

Any feedback or ideas are also greatly appreciated! What would YOU like to know about psychology research? (Disclaimer: I am not yet a researcher, but my bachelor’s is toward the field, and I’m considering my master’s in science communication. All information I provide on this site WILL be from primary, peer-reviewed sources, however).

What would you like to see a story about? Want to write one together? I’ve never done that before, but I’m open to it.

What kind of photos are your favorite? Do you do photography?

I welcome all and any comments, even if it’s just a heart emoji. People seem to like those.

Until next time.

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

Your Role In The mental Health System

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to reading your thoughts below.

Or, catch up with me on:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

Twitter: @philopsychotic

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

Posted in advocacy, Late Night Thoughts, psychology

Learned Helplessness In The Mental Health System

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

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

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

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

Learned Helplessness Comes From:

Constant struggle with no perceivable escape.

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

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

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

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

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

A Possible Reason

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Dissonance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agree or disagree? Leave it in the comments below, or join the discussion here:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

Twitter: @philopsychotic

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

Posted in psychology, science, Therapy

The Two Branches of Psychology

If you have been or are a psychology major, or you’re thinking about becoming one, you’re probably familiar with (or will become familiar with very quickly) people riding your major off as humanities, soft-science, and asking you “bro, you gunna be my counselor now?” There’s a reason psychology isn’t taken seriously, and part of it is the narrative psychology professionals have created and perpetrated. Let me explain.

Having been this major for a while now, I see two very distinct branches of psychology: the humanities side that dominates the media and is what everyone thinks of when you say you’re majoring in psychology, and the science side, which rarely ever makes the media unless the research hasn’t been peer reviewed and the researcher is money hungry.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a series called “Is Psychology a Science?” which you can read the first of at this link. We concluded there is a lot of science and that the problem is it isn’t being taken seriously, or it’s purposefully being subverted.

The Perfect Example: Gabapentin

At work, I’ve spoken with plenty of people who have been prescribed Gabapentin for anxiety or depression or as a PRN (as needed) medication. After a panic attack which I mistook for an allergic reaction to a medication, I ended up in Urgent Care and was prescribed Gabapentin “to make it through the weekend” because it’s “really great for anxiety.” I picked up the prescription (with insurance, it only cost eighty one cents, kind of how Percocet only cost me one dollar, and no, I don’t have high tier insurance) and got straight to work.

Gabapentin is FDA approved for treating Seizures and Postherapetic neuralgia (nerve pain, particularly after Shingles). It is often prescribed off-label for anxiety (usually social phobia, GAD, panic attacks, and generally worry), depression, insomnia, neuropathic pain related to fibromyalgia, regular pain, just pain, migraines, any headaches that could probably go away with aspirin or time, as a replacement for benzodiazepines (Ativan, e.t.c), as a replacement for opioids (oxycodone, e.t.c), alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepine withdrawal, alcohol treatment (reduce drinking or sustain abstinence), bipolar disorder, any mood disorder, any perported mood dysfunction, restless leg syndrome. It can be taken as needed or daily. It belongs to its own class of drugs: the gapapentinoids. Another drug you may recognize from commercials that belongs to the gabapentoid class is Pregabalin, a.k.a Lyrica.

Anyone remember Lyrica commercials? God. Disturbing shit. I don’t watch television anymore, only streaming services, so I haven’t seen a pharmaceutical ad in a while. I don’t miss it.

What Does Research Say?

I didn’t take the Gabapentin because research told me what the doctor didn’t, or couldn’t: there is no robust evidence supporting Gabapentin for any of the off-label prescriptions above. My first indication of this came from a Vice article, which I was hesitant to read because, well, it’s Vice. So I took their investigative journalism with a grain of salt and used it to guide my database research. Here’s what I learned:

  • Parke-Davis, the company that funded research and research articles for Gabapentin purposefully avoided publishing the disappointing effects of Gabapentin. They tweaked the research to appear positive. This was found out in 2009, when researchers looked more carefully at the articles more carefully.
  • David Franklin, biologist, started working for Parke-Davis in 1996. He quit three months later, just after an executive “allegedly” told him: “I want you out there every day selling Neurontin. We all know Neurontin’s not growing for adjunctive therapy, besides that’s not where the money is. Pain management, now that’s money.” You can read more here.
  • This was all in the past, and Parke-Davis paid 420 million in restitution for violating, in the most disgusting way, psychological and biological research. The problem is, the rhetoric that Gabapentin is a “great drug” and “works well for anxiety, depression, and your momma’s broken hip” still permeates the medical world. Particularly the psychological one. This was done purposefully.
  • There is no substantial evidence for any off-label use. I searched the databases all this morning. I found one measly Meta-Analysis (review of multiple studies studying the same thing, analyzed statistically) that showed 7 studies using Gabapentin for alcohol use reduction or abstinence. It was better than placebo slightly, but “the only measure on which the analysis clearly favors the active medication is percentage of heavy drinking.” So, it didn’t stop drinking or help withdrawal, it just kind of made people drink less. Or mix the two. Which is even more dangerous.
  • The only research with Gabapentin and anxiety says it’s not substantial enough to help panic attacks and that many people are most likely experiencing a placebo effect when they take it. Given that I learned that, I saw no point in trying Gabapentin: the chances it wouldn’t work for me because I don’t believe it will was too great. When I checked my college’s database, I went through over ten pages of articles and didn’t see one study geared toward Gabapentin and anxiety.

What Does This Have to do With Psychologists?

Well, the same rhetoric permeates the clinical psychology department of the world as well. That is, psychologists are more likely to trust the word of their colleague than to go read a primary research source themselves, scrutinize the methods, results, and read the confounding variables. Human beings are naturally trusting, and that is a beautiful thing. It gets us into a lot of trouble though–most likely a colleague hasn’t read the primary research either, and is simply going off what their colleague told them.

Believe it or not, this is a research topic in psychology.

I came across this analysis in my searches this morning. In summary, the researchers did a qualitative analysis of different psychologists in private practice, and their attitudes toward things like empirically supported treatments. What did they find?

  • Psychologists are “interested in what works.”
  • They were skeptical about using protocols described by the treatments proved to work.
  • They were worried non-psychologists would use those treatments to dictate practice (which I’m having trouble seeing as bad).
  • Clinicians mostly used an “eclectic framework”, meaning they drew from many sources (most of which were probably not supported by any empirical data, I’m guessing.)
  • They valued: experience, peer networks, practitioner-orientated books, and continuing education that wasn’t “basic”. So, nothing that involves a Starbucks drink I guess.
  • If resources for learning empirically supported treatments became easier to access, they would be interested in implementing them into their practice.
  • Money, time, and training are all aspects which have been preventing psychologists from actually implementing researched practices into their treatment. 68% cited this as a major issue preventing them from adhering their practice to researched methods. 14% said it was because they just didn’t believe in the efficacy of the treatment and 5% said it was because that treatment wouldn’t fit a cliental population. Again, that is a belief, not a fact.
  • Only 19% of psychologists surveyed around the nation (United States) used psychological research papers as their primary source of research information. What the fuck are they reading? The Key To Beating Anxiety by some random self-published author on Amazon?

The analysis is much longer than what I’ve listed here, and gets deep into some real topics anyone considering going into clinical or counseling psychology should pay attention to. The message to take away here is that attitudes and beliefs are driving how we are being treated both in the psychological world and the medical field. Physicians fall prey to the “word-of-mouth” about drugs in the same way psychologists fall prey to the “word-of-mouth” about treatments. This is why I write these articles: it’s up to the consumers to play an active role in what they are putting into their body, how, and why. It’s also up to the consumers to be informed in treatments, ideas, and beliefs.

Otherwise, you’re giving your life up to someone who may not know what they’re talking about any better than you do.

Lastly, let’s get something straight: I’m thankful for every medical professional I’ve ever come in contact with, because they’ve all taught me something for better or for worse. I’m thankful for the front-line workers who have spent the last 8 or 9 months using insanely inventive strategies to try and keep their worse Covid patients alive. Doctors are reading researched evidence because the links to research are suddenly in the media, and researchers are putting out what works and what doesn’t, as they should always be. This scramble to beat Covid has stirred probably the most ethical (and probably also the most unethical) research that’s been done in a while.

It suddenly makes sense to do things right when your life is at stake.

The point is, stay informed, stay healthy, and read.

Agree or disagree? Leave it in the comments below, or find me here:

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Posted in Peer Support, Questions for you, science, Voices

What’s Your Ideal Treatment?

I think one thing that frustrates me the most about mental health treatment services today is that the services available are shoddy, expensive, and instead of being tailored toward the individual they’re tailored to the diagnosis.

For example, if you walk in to your average psychiatrist and say: “I have a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. My mom just passed and I’ve been struggling a lot at work. I haven’t had to be on meds for a while (or, I’m on a low dose of meds, or my medication usually works), and really I’ve just been struggling with anxiety. I’m shaking a lot and I think I need some help. What do you suggest?” Chances are all your psychiatrist heard was “schizophrenia”.

It’s better to leave the diagnosis out of it.

I use this example because I can empathize with it. My most recent psychiatrist, for example, couldn’t get it out of her head that I hear voices sometimes, even though I said my voices and I are on pretty decent terms compared to what others struggle through. For me, they aren’t 24/7, they are a mix of inside my head and outside of my head, aren’t very commanding, and I gather comfort from their perspective sometimes. I am not overly attached to them. What I went to her for was anxiety and mood issues, as my official diagnosis is schizoAFFECTIVE. She seemed to remove the affective part, completely ignored the fact that a death close to me unhinged me (she said “Oh, that’s tough”, and moved on), and continuously tried to medicate my voices instead of focusing on ways I could help my anxiety–the reason I came to her.

Mind you, through all of our appointments, she never once asked me what my voices are like, what I think about them, how they respond to me. The reception staff messed up on my insurance and suddenly I owe them money I don’t have. Every time I email her for a simple question, which could be answered in an email, she wants to set up an appointment so I have to pay for it. This is why I stayed away from mainstream mental health.

But it’s not just that.

Studies show residential, communal, and peer support services are, dare I say, essential for growth and recovery, and yet you’ll be hard pressed to find any of those services affordable, available, or promoted in your area. I work in peer support, and I didn’t learn about any programs until I got a job there. Doctors didn’t know, therapists didn’t know, and of course it would be much too hard for them to do their job and help me find something.

Maybe this is just a California complaint.

There are wonderful communal options and residential facilities, places where true growth and opportunity are available . . .to those who can afford 35,000 dollars a month.

My point here is not a rant. My point is that mental health treatment has gone from ice baths in asylums backed by half-assed scientists to money traps and one-size-fits-all cardboard boxes backed by people with degrees who haven’t read a psychological research paper since their undergraduate research methods class.

We’ve dropped the ice baths, the asylums, AND the scientists.

Don’t you think this needs to change? What would you change? What is your version of ideal treatment? Leave your comments below or come to my instagram and join the discussion!

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Twitter: @philopsychotic

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

Posted in Emotions, Freedom, psychology

In Dealing with Death

2020 has seen a lot of this. It seemed my friends and I would make it out alive. One of us didn’t.

I am unfamiliar with the grieving process, very new to it in fact, and along with a whirlwind of instant pain, denial, regret, more pain, and consistent waves of feeling the need to give up, pathetic nihilism has punched me directly in the gut.

New followers (welcome and thank you!) may not know, but for those of you who have been following me for the last few months, snooping through my old posts and wondering if I’ve fallen from the earth, know that I approach things from an excruciatingly logical and philosophical standpoint. I use scientific research as support for and against my own curiosities. And so when my best friend of 13 years passed away from child birth complications at 25 from a pregnancy she thought had ended months ago, I fell into panicked logic: everyone dies. She hadn’t been taking care of herself, very rarely cared for her health. The hospital she went to is notorious for poor service. I listed at least a hundred reasons why this happened, but that didn’t soothe all the emotion: fear. Anger. Sadness. Depression. Some more anger. The feeing of unfairness. A hallow feeling for her alive son, 3 years old. Terror: this could have been anyone. This could have been me.

We were going to go “turn up” at our high school reunion together in three years. I won’t be going now.

We were going to hang out on this vacation I’m currently on. We never got the chance.

Our kids were (eventually) going to grow up together. They won’t now.

We talked every day, and although we had many fallouts over really petty things, we knew deep down we cared for each other.

I regret not making more time to see her. Although we constantly told each other “don’t die” when we knew the other was doing some stupid stuff or was sick, I regret that my last text message to her that she never saw, the one I sent before taking off to Ukiah for a few days and a soak at Vichy Springs, was “Don’t die; if you die, I’ll never talk to you again.”

To give that text some context, she had said she was throwing up from some bad pork, and was convinced it wasn’t COVID.

European studies show the grieving process is different for everyone: some benefit more so from mourning in solitude and immediately returning to their daily routine. This could include work, school, family life. The same studies show if those people attend talk therapy or journal, their grieving lasts longer, the dark feelings linger longer and they effectively get worse. The same study showed others needed the talk therapy and the journaling to process the pain. Despite what people think, and despite what I thought, grieving comes in all shapes and sizes.

Living with anxiety and Schizoaffective while on zero mood stabilizers or antipsychotics means big events like this can yank me into Alice’s wonderland. There are things I do to prevent this: isolate, cry, read, and fall into a pit of existentialism.

Why are we here? What is our actual purpose? If we simply die, and we will at any time, any place, for any reason, what is the point of remaining alive? These are questions we’ve all thought about. They’re basic, kind of petty, and when looked at logically not very scary at all. But I understand on an emotional level now why people run toward faith in something, anything–another human, a god, a monster, a devil. Postulating about our own mortality in the first quarter of life, the supposed meaninglessness of it that is, is enough to bring the strongest, smartest, most emotionally stable person to their knees.

I feel that I’ve crossed into another world, this world, but something’s different while everything’s the same. It’s the same feeling I got when I graduated high school and it’s the same feeling I’ll get when I graduate college: that’s over–now what? Why does everything feel new? I wake up feeling like I’ve never woken up before. I eat like I’ve never tasted food before.

I’ve also felt lost about the afterlife. We always told each other we’d haunt one another if one of us died first. She hasn’t haunted me yet.

So, I turned to Daoism for guidance as I always do, before I turned to depression, anxiety, voices, or thoughts of matrix glitches. In Daoism, death is never focused on, and neither is mourning. Death is supposed to be about transformation and the return of The Being to the universe. It’s a celebration, then, that the one who has passed hasn’t really passed, but has just been redistributed. The absence of them, then, is not absent at all. This gives a more concrete understanding to the saying “she’s still with us.” She is, because she is us and we are her and all of us are the universe.

Maybe it sounds cheesy, unbelievable, and scientifically invalid, but we know very well that energy cannot be created or destroyed. In fact, we don’t even really know what energy is other than “a capacity to do work.” I’ve taken so many classes where that’s been drilled into my head that I have no other way of saying it other than that very definition, quoted from every physics, chemistry, and math professor. We also know that matter, down to it’s truest form, is tightly condensed energy. We are energy. We cannot be created or destroyed, in a particle sense, and so in some way we are redistributed: whether that be into soil, into the mouths of maggots, or any other disgusting decomposing terms you can think of. The one thing we haven’t really understood yet is consciousness. What is it and where does it go? It’s chemical of course, we all are, but it’s something else too. I wonder if one day we will identify a similar “spooky action” of consciousness.

Daoism also sees death as life, meaning they are both one. Neither can exist without the other, obviously (we wouldn’t have a concept for either if that were the case). But philosophy is philosophy and our observation of things, our mathematical understanding of things, can only go so far as long as we’re trapped in this physical world. Perhaps there is nothing after this life. And what’s wrong with nothing?

If there is nothing, then there is something. Our nothing will be the something, and something tells me we’ll feel that in the nothingness.

I will always miss her.