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.

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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:

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Posted in Community, Emotions, Uncategorized

Reflections

We’re nearing the end of 2020. What’s helped your mental health most through this global travesty of a year? Perhaps you’re feeling grateful you don’t live in the United States right now. Perhaps you met a reading goal, or are graduating this year. Did you make a new internet friend? Get a new doctor? Start a new medication that’s working? Find an amazing, binge-able series on a streaming site? I did: have you seen The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix?

What has been horrible for you this year? Have you lost someone to COVID or another circumstance? I did. Have you fallen back into a depression or has your anxiety kept you glued to your bed sheets? Have your voices gotten louder or meaner? Did you have to drop out of school or are you feeling particularly underwhelmed by your performance this year?

It’s important we make reflections on ourselves, good and the bad, not to dwell on either but so that we can understand the process our physical body may be going through. Maybe your bones hurt or your muscles are aching. Maybe you’ve had bathroom trouble. Maybe you’re hyperventilating a lot or you notice your heart rate has been elevate. If you are younger, you may be noticing this in particularly. Take the time to acknowledge that this year has been one large clusterfuck of trauma. Our physical bodies take in as much stress, pain, and trauma as our minds. Remember to thoroughly nourish both.

I have been absent on this blog, but have returned. I have in plan a series where we discuss the DSM-5, the history of the DSM, and what it means in a psychological context. This includes where the DSM board gets their information and how that information gets translated into vague descriptions of unverified mental conditions. We will also discuss where we think the future of mental health care is going and where those of us who are consumers want it to go.

If you have something in particular you’d like to read about, let me know in the comments below or contact me here.

Posted in psychology, Voices

What a Bad Day looks Like

What a bad day, or week, or month, looks like for people with psychosis is variable. This is what it’s like for me this week.

I count today as a bad day, and figured writing in the midst of the experience, if I can continue steady coherency, may paint the best picture. The two sentences above took some rearranging as a bunch of words came out that didn’t make a complete statement at all.

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep until around 4:30 a.m because of a tightness in my chest, anxiety as usual. This comes from a myriad of things. One reason is simply anxiety. I struggle with trauma, and some thoughts were triggering those reactions. Another reason is voices. For the last few weeks they’ve been instructing that I kill myself. They’ve told me I’m going to die, specifically from a heart attack, which has been a fear of mine for many years. After experiencing family members in and out of the hospital for multiple Alcoholism related events, (Seizures, blood pressure spikes, medication mistreatments on the part of the doctors) I struggle with feeling my body and not assuming the worst.

I don’t usually talk about what they tell me, as they also tell me not to tell people. They also tell me no one will believe me, and I often believe that, as a lot of my experience has been internal voices. Although science tells me this is valid (I can site the studies if you’d like), multiple mental health advocacy websites will not acknowledge this. HealthyPlace.com is one of them. I’ll talk about my history with them later. It’s usually the websites that take kickbacks from drug companies and have antipsychotic ads all across their homepage that seek to limit the expression of variable experiences. Internal voices can be just as distressing, more so for some people, and are not the voice of your conscience that you hear when you make a mistake or that inner voice you hear as you’re reading this post. They are separate voices, often pushing their way through clouds of my own thoughts intrusively, spontaneously, and they can get loud. When they push the volume, I experience both external and internal voices. Today I hear nothing external.

But, I bit the bullet and told my therapist. She got concerned, and I worried she’d 5150 me (California’s version of forced psychiatric care). I really just needed to vent about what they’d been telling me, though. This morning I haven’t heard them much, as I just woke up, but the tightness in my chest comes in waves, and my stomach has been upset back and forth. No it’s not Corona, and not it’s not a physical problem, as much as the voices will tell me as such.

I struggle with somatic experiences, and correctly labeling those somatic experiences. Today, I’m convinced my voices–although I don’t hear them as I’m listening to this music–have done something to my body. I believe I hear my ancestors, and I also believe I hear and receive messages from what I call False Angels, kind of like the concept of Jinn. They are tricksters, angery sometimes, nice other times, liars and truth tellers, conflicted and dual in their existence just as we are. I also believe they like to harm me spiritually and internally to try and prevent me from living the life I want to. *For example, as I’m editing this and reading back, the more I read over their identities, the more upset my stomach becomes, because they know I’m talking about them.*

This morning I believe I feel my anxiety because they’ve done something to me overnight. Two parts of me appear when I have this kinds of thoughts.

I am post first-psychotic-break and for many people that means living with an uncanny realization that things you experience are not necessarily the things you think they are. I know my body and mind play tricks, and so at the above thought a part of me pulls me to the side of: “that isn’t real”. It tells me anxiety can cause the same feelings. It tells me what I’m feeling may not exist at all. It tells me to focus on other things.

The other part of me craves the unreality. Not only does my mind concoct surprisingly sensical (to me) impossibilities, it also thrives off it, it seems. I’ve always been an imaginative child, and that talent intensifies in these sorts of thoughts. This part of me believes I am so special that divine and otherworldly entities focus their existence on warping mine. This part of me pulls me toward dissociation, toward long thought, toward staring at the wall, toward lethargy, toward apathy. That is where I am this morning, on the raft of dissociation and a flight of unreal explanations.

I’m forgetting my words, stumbling over these sentences, and quelling my frustration with Kodak Black and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie.

I’m getting messages from the songs, feeling connected to the artists, and reconsidering my life. I doubt myself constantly, and never has that been more obvious than this last week. I’m worried how long I can keep up working full time. I’m worried if I’ll have to fall back on a medication regimen and risk my long-term physical health. There’s a reason those diagnosed with Schizophrenia have a shorter life-span, and it’s not suicide. It’s medication, poor diet, cigarettes, and lack of support. I’ve corrected my diet, got off medication, never smoked cigarettes–now I just need to convince myself I deserve support.

There are overwhelming senses of failure mixed in with all of this, like no matter what I do I am trapped. I think a lot of us experience that.

I’m not going to lie and say I’m going to “try and stay positive.” I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to plunge as low as I need to. I’m going to fall beneath the voices if I need to. Let myself be absorbed by the unreal thoughts if I need to. The best way I’ve learned to survive this is to let go of this idea of control. Writing this is a good reminder of that.

Bad days are a way of life. They are necessary for life. I am thankful for their boldness, their spiciness, their unequivocal strength. A voice has let me know that I’m genius, that I’ll be famous specifically, and although I’ve always been bright, I learned to squash my ego because it only fuels what the psychiatric industry considers delusions. When he tells me to kill myself, I say “I don’t want to do that”, often out loud, sometimes inside. Other times I’ll ask him “why would I do that?” and that shuts him up. I learned that from a Hearing Voices Network workgroup. The point of it was to initiate a conversation with your voices, really get into the meat of their existence, but for me it seems to scare him away. I’m happy with either result.

I heard a child sometime this week, I haven’t heard since. I don’t hear women often, but when I do they’re usually condescending, external. One woman specifically screams. She mocks used to mock me before I fell asleep, but I haven’t heard her in a while. My sleeping patterns have improved, I think that’s why. I have a kind man, external and internal, who asks me if I’m okay when I’m struggling. I haven’t heard him recently either. I don’t know who I’m left with. This is uncharted voice territory.

I will spare everyone my long-winded thoughts on why I think this most recent string of voices is one deep voice in particular, wanting me to kill myself.

I don’t know what the rest of the day will be like, and I don’t need to waste time assuming things either. Comment what your bad days are like below.

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Posted in advocacy, Community, psychology, science

Black Mental Health in America

ATTENTION:

If you are black in America right now, you’re probably feeling pretty unsafe, especially if you’re in the south. If you are black in America right now with Schizophrenia, you’re probably feeling pretty unsafe, especially if you don’t have a lot of support. Chances are you don’t have a lot of support.

We know racism has been around. This ain’t nothing new to us. Some places you see it more than others. For example, the South tends to be a prime example of blatant, flamboyant displays of hatred. Here in California, in Santa Cruz, things are more subtle. You’ll have the skinhead clerk ring up your groceries, toss them aside, not ask you if you want a bag, never look you in the eyes, whereas he’ll greet the white woman in front of you and the white man behind you with a pearly smile.

(He works at The Dollar Store on Portola, if you’re reading this and from Santa Cruz. At least, he was. I haven’t seen him in a while.)

If you are biracial or light skinned, you might experience a lesser racism here in Santa Cruz if you keep quiet. If they assume you’re hispanic, you won’t be treated as equal but you’ll be offered more opportunities than your black friends, especially in school. If they are confused of who you are, if they see your brown skin, your curly hair, but don’t hear a thick accent industries have coined as “black”, they will treat you as an unknown. An unknown is just as dangerous. I’ve had four cop cars (a total of eight cops) called on me for a license plate light that wasn’t out. They kept my boyfriend and I sitting in the car for a total of thirty minutes while they ran my license, my insurance, huddled in a group behind my car, flooded us with white light from two SUVs. Had I let my anger or fear show, the night may have ended very differently.

Feeling hunted is a prime experience of paranoia. I think the reason this has not exacerbated my paranoia is because there is valid reason to fear existence right now.

It’s different now. The racists are coming out to play.

A local black woman (catch her page: @bellagmo on IG), someone who has been integral in bringing the community together during this time, was chased down the street on Fourth of July by a white person screaming “I”ll be racist if I want, black bitch!”. She continued her rant, saying she was downtown every day, hunting her–people like her. Black women, men, people. She made active, verbal threats caught on camera, things like, “I will fuck you up!” The police gave her a stern finger wag. A rope tied as a noose was seen hanging on a sign up by our University campus: UCSC.

There is so much hate against us in this county, in the world. And where do we get to go to express this pain?

Our white therapist?

Our white psychiatrist?

Our white Primary Care?

The nearest black therapist accepting patients is over 4 hours away.

There is an inherent feeling of being bonded with people of the same ethnicity. This does not mean other ethnicities can’t be helpful, supporting, or amazingly kind. It just means it’s not the same. My white therapist isn’t going to understand when I say watching people with my skin color and darker, people with my culture, people who talk the same as me, eat the same foods as me, like the same music, the same stories, have the same BLOODLINE as me, getting slaughtered on film makes me feel hunted. They won’t understand when I say it brings up a sadness generations deep. They won’t understand when I say I just want to stay inside, and not just because of COVID. They won’t understand when I say I feel like I’m doing all I can to be involved with my community but that I still don’t feel like it’s enough. They won’t understand when I talk about how invisible I felt growing up in a school system that labeled me hispanic and refused to acknowledge my own culture, who refused to teach the reality of my ancestors. They won’t understand the damage done by people who told me I wasn’t black, that I was Oreo, without even knowing my history.

You know what they’ll tell me?

Maybe it’s time to stay away from the news.

Because they don’t understand that when one of us gets shot, hanged, threatened, I will still know. The news doesn’t need to tell me. I feel it in my heart.

If you think this is just another person whining about inequality, you damn right.

I’m not whining, I’m putting the truth in your face.

I grew up unable to talk, terrified to do so, Selectively Mute. My voice was never encouraged and so I never developed one. And that, my friends, is the definition of genocide: to silence a people until their screams are just as invisible as their being. They’ve done it to Native Americans and indigenous people across the globe. They’ve taken their names, their language, tried to warp their culture, shame them as alcoholics, drug addicts, shove them in the corner of the classroom and forget about them after the bell rings.

I’m tired of walking around with this fucking weight on my chest. It feels like I can’t breathe, and it’s not because of COVID. It’s anxiety. It’s all this anger and confusion and sadness that I’m carrying with my ancestors who marched from their native area of what is now called Tennessee down to the western part of what is now called Mississippi. It’s all this anger and confusion and sadness that I’m carrying with my ancestors who were tossed, chained, onto a boat by pale men who didn’t speak their language, who didn’t respect our pleads for our children, for our lives, for our existence as a culture.

And now you expect me to respect yours?

My mother’s family is Polish. They fled Poland to escape World War 2.

No matter what ancestral part of me you rip into, I’ve been running, fighting, fearful, crying. My first instinct, whenever confronted with a problem, even the smallest thing, is to escape, hide, retreat, survive. A white therapist interprets this as chemical imbalance. Do you see the problem here?

I have been carrying this anger and fear since I can remember forming memories. It’s not just coming out because the racists are. It’s always been here and I’ve never talked about it because I’m supposed to keep my composure. I’m supposed to “let the past be the past.” I’m suppose to “just live in the now.” It’s not something therapists bring up because they have no idea it exists. Now I have voices in my head telling me to kill myself, and I attempted it in 2018. I also have voices that protect me, that feel with me, that make me laugh. I have voices I consider my ancestors and that, to me, isn’t a disorder.

I have anxiety that alerts me when I need to run, which is all the time. I’m constantly running. I’m constantly breathing hard. Just as all my brothers and sisters today, I’m having to carry 400 years of agony.

I remember growing up learning how we are apart of the animals, the Earth, the plants, the air, the sun, way before I learned the physics and math that say the same. I remember learning about both The Christian God and The Creator. I grew up with the last name Dauterive, the name of a man I am not biologically related to; my father’s biological father’s last name is Ware. My family is scattered. My grandmother grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. My father grew up in Sacramento. He moved to Santa Cruz, and we didn’t stay in contact with his family very much. I don’t know much about them other than bits of native history, food recipes, and cultural things my dad passed down. His dad grew up in Louisiana. I will never know what boat his ancestors came off of. I will never know what my name really is.

Dauterive is the last name of four different slave owners in Louisiana.

Who knows what Ware is attached to.

If you are black and have struggled with psychosis, anxiety, depression, bipolar, or any other label, understand that the medications you take (I have taken them in the past as well) are tested on white people for less than four months. If you’ve struggled finding one that works well with your body, or one that has strange side effects no one else seems to get, this may be a reason why. Understand that if you are a black woman, most of the med trials are done with white, middle-aged men. The trainings therapists receive are not culturally aware, they are based on white culture. Understand that it is up to you and I to break down the stigma in our own family and help our older parents understand that our mental health is not just some “defect” or “disorder” or “chemical imbalance”, it’s also the result of our genes being bombarded with environmental, traumatic triggers for 400 years.

This trauma is in our nervous system. We aren’t getting anxious for no reason. There is a reason: never having been safe. Never having been free. Being labeled dangerous, disgusting, dirty, less than human.

To my black, native, and biracial brothers and sisters: we no longer need to keep it in. We no longer need to keep our composure. We have a right to be angry. We have a right to demand change. We have a right to rest when we need to. We have a right to make racists uncomfortable.

We have a right to use our voice.

It’s taken me 25 years to learn this, and I’m not ashamed. I’m angry.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the kind of passion that can come from an angry person. But let me tell you. It’s somethin.

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Posted in advocacy, Community

A Mental Health Resource for African-Americans

I apologize to those of you who were steadily following my mental health month series. It ended abruptly as a result of the necessary civil unrest spanning the 50 states and select countries worldwide. I have been participating in protests, going to work, and trying to figure out how to take care of my mental health in all of this.

What I’ve learned in this personal process is that much of my childhood silence, my fear of people, my feeling of being small, unimportant, invisible, unwanted, does not only stem from a childhood living with a parent prone to aggressive outbursts while drunk or on drugs, but also from growing up mixed race, African-American, and not really understanding what that means.

I live in a predominantly white and Hispanic town. In all of my years of school (from pre-school into this current year of college–i’m 24) I have had two African-American mixed classmates. I have had no dark-skinned classmates.

I have felt alone my entire life. My father, who is dark, grew up with many siblings and in a predominately black neighborhood. He was subject to a lot of trauma, struggled in his relationship with his own alcoholic father, and in his early adulthood was stabbed six times and jailed for a year on a robbery charge that was later proven to be a false claim; he almost spent his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. This is real. I cannot make this stuff up, and it’s happening everywhere. I’m thankful police have never shot him or kneed on his neck.

His trauma becomes mine. His mother’s trauma became his and mine. Her mother’s picking of cotton trauma became her daughter’s trauma, my father’s trauma, and my trauma. HER mother’s mother’s mother’s trauma of being forced down the Trail of Tears became all of our trauma. We are African-American and Native American. This trauma spans over 400 years.

What I notice when I talk to Caucasian people about this is that they logically understand the progression of history and genuinely want to abolish a system that is naturally oppressive against people of color. But they don’t have the same emotional connection. They saw the pain in George Floyd’s eyes in the video, are outraged about the life visibly leaving his body on camera. Their spirits ache at this tragedy. Ours do too, but differently. Together, as a collective, we are feeling each other’s pain. We grieve as if this is a death of a loved one, not just another stranger who deserved to live. This man was family. Breonna Taylor was family. Ahmaud Arbery was family. All of the others in the news were family.

This is a deep-seeded spiritual connection that goes back to the tribes of Africa, that includes those of us with Native history, and when that spirit is in pain, we know. Many of us are still up night spontaneously crying, fatigued, tired, scared, hurting, and for people in a similar environmental situation as me–well, we don’t have anyone to talk to.

On my linked-in this morning, an article shared by the American Psychological Association reminded me that my mental health must be looked at from a particular perspective. So I wanted to share it with all of you in hopes someone may find it useful for themselves, or useful for a friend.

This article was posted on Women’s Health, but this is suitable for all genders of color. The author is a person of color who has had a similar experience to me: restless nights, no sleep, anxious mornings, tense muscles, consistent social media usage, and fear of death. They suggest a few points I’ll summarize below:

  1. Get in contact with therapists who are culturally aware and trained in racial trauma. They put a link to the website Therapy for Black Girls. I checked it out. They have a search bar you can use to find ethnic therapists near you. Every therapist I’ve ever had (6) have been white and only one even touched on generational trauma and how that has perpetuated my feeling silenced. They list some social media pages of black therapists, like @askdrjess, @dr.thema, and @dr.nataliejones, all on Instagram.
  2. They suggest practicing meditation to help maintain a lower level of excitement in your nervous system. They suggest meditating on powerful female ancestors in history. I don’t know how helpful meditating on thoughts of any one person will be, but I do know there are select times in my life where meditation has helped me feel all of my feelings, sit with them, and really absorb their raw juices. Remember, you are healing generations, not just yourself. I’m sorry we are burdened with this. But our ancestors are with us, and if we couldn’t handle it, we wouldn’t be alive right now.
  3. Bring some joy into your life. It’s important to balance reform/social justice work with the rest of your life. Smiles keep us alive. Remember that you’re allowed to be happy. You’re allowed to laugh during this time of pain. It’s a way to heal yourself, too.
  4. Hug people, except that COVID is still rampant so maybe don’t?
  5. Space out time for relaxation and time for working on advocacy. I’ve struggled with this and beat myself up today when my body was so fatigued that I passed out on the couch instead of getting up to go to my forth protest. I want to be involved, I want to be an instrument for change too. I want to make an impact, share my story, have my voice heard, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. But I can’t do everything all the time. I still work four days a week at an emotionally demanding job. Be patient and kind to yourself.
  6. Exercise! I went for a walk with some friends today. It helped.

We don’t often talk about mental health in black families. Many ethnic families don’t. Some cultures across the world still see it as internal weakness. This is a harmful mindset. We cannot heal as a people if we do not address raw feelings. If we do not share with our kids our pain, our knowledge, our past, our present.

Please, if you are a person of color, especially in America at this time, and you are struggling internally with what is going on, you are angry, you are sad, scared, hurt, bleeding, talk to someone. Email me. have a discussion with family, with friends, participate where you can. Educate where you can. We are carrying so much pain on our backs.

So much pain.

If no one’s told you yet: you are allowed to express that.

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Posted in Late Night Thoughts

Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy. Here are some of my thoughts.

I’ve done what all good, sheep-like psychologist eventually do: create categories for something that is probably far too complex for such an explanation.

But, hear me out.

I’ve reasoned there’s organic happiness and there’s constructed, or synthesized, happiness. An organic happiness would be someone’s baseline: how you are when you wake up in the morning, how you respond to the corresponding events of the day. This is the happiness we often feel we need to correct.

A synthesized happiness, then, comes in peaks and waves from an outside source. It eventually decreases gradually or exponentially. It may be uncertain, untrustworthy, or fleeting.

These thoughts came into my head not only because of our humanly need to correct all feelings we feel don’t line well with other’s feelings, but because there is such a stark difference between the happiness I feel organically, the one that sprouts naturally in my consciousness, a simple product of biological existence, versus the happiness I feel after I’ve accomplished something I had doubts about, after spending a day with the people I love, or after I take a pain pill for my back.

I think I’ve made this distinction because I notice I’m often disappointed in my organic happiness, in my baseline of existence.

There are tons of speculated biological and evolutionary reasons why certain chemicals peak at certain times in our brains–to keep us focused, to associate good feelings with good friends so that we build connections which were at one point most essential for survival, to simply bring us enjoyment. But now, there are so many things in life that can trigger intense rushes of endorphins, like substances and fame, that what we experience in the day to day just can’t compete. I am happier and friendlier when traveling. I am happier and friendlier when on pain medication. I am happier and friendlier to strangers when I am also among people I care for and love.

And so I find now, when I have a moment to rest and reflect, I remind myself that everything is enough.

I’ve had three of my six past therapists tell me I need to tell myself that I am enough, and I’ve tried that, but I think this stretches deeper. I think that realizing that life is enough, that how I feel is enough–negative or positive–is what paves the way for accepting myself. If I can truly believe that every negative feeling exists as a moment ripe with the potential for growth, and that every positive feeling exists as a moment ripe with the potential for contentment (as opposed to: oh no, I’m happy, let’s see how long this lasts), then I think that may be the key to actually existing.

But believing something doesn’t mean I create a mantra and repeat it to myself until I drop dead. That doesn’t foster belief and studies show that reiterating positive mantras to yourself can actually make you feel worse. I measure how much I believe in something by the rate and construction of my reactions. Let me give an example.

Last night while watching television, I felt the same disappointment I discussed earlier: I felt sad that I couldn’t spend every day feeling the fuzzy, determined, focused happiness that pain medication brings. I felt sad that I felt sad about that. I felt sad that my own level of being just didn’t seem to be enough; I enjoy my personality, I admire my intelligence, I accept my flaws, but the feeling of existing, the feeling of being human, limited, temporary, often enrages me. Being just isn’t enough.

And in this moment of realization, my mind reacted with a simple thought: let’s be okay with this.

Now sometimes I have voices responding to my thoughts, or voice-like thoughts responding to my thoughts, but this was all me, it was a reaction that I haven’t programmed. I haven’t spent the last two years off medication waking up every morning spewing “learn to love yourself” and “you are enough” quotes until I repeat them robotic, on demand. I’ve spent my time entrenching myself in the madness, the chaos, the pain. I spent time locked in my room staring at the wall, if that was what my pain was. I spent time walking off waves of panic, if that was what my pain was. I spent time being unhappy, if that was what my pain was. I resisted the urges for bail outs–a psychiatrist would have bailed me out, numbed me to my anxiety, tainted the voices and the paranoia, evened the mood swings and depression. And I would have learned nothing.

This is not to be said in a way where everyone taking medication should be offended. For me, medication was another avoidance technique that I’d perfected through years of trauma. For others, medication is the stability key that allows them the time and focus to come to the same types of realizations I have. We all reach wellness in different ways.

I’ve noticed in depression, I am no longer overwhelmed with sadness because I allow the sadness to spread. I choke sometimes with the paranoia, fight it, try and reason with myself and that often cycles me further. I am still growing. I choke with the anxiety as well, get lost in the sensations of my body, and the doom my mind screams. I am still growing. But the depression, which has been with me since I was eleven years old, has become a close friend. I am 24 years old. It’s taken 13 years to cultivate this friendship.

And so happiness for me does not mean contentment or joy or the absence of sadness. Happiness for me means experiencing being without judgement.

I figured I’d share some of these thoughts with everyone as we plunge through Mental Health Month as well as the Covid Pandemic.

This week we are covering Schizophrenia, Bipolar, and Dissociative disorders, starting tomorrow. The post will be later in the evening (PST) as I have some self-care and some things that need to get done at work. If you have a blog post on those topics that you’ve written and would like to share, or if you’d like to submit your own story, contact me here or on my social media handles below.

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Posted in Emotions, Late Night Thoughts, Therapy

February’s Scheduled Mental Breakdown

I like that I’ve already failed in keeping up with my scheduled posts. If I’m actually consistent with a goal I set, someone call 911 because my identity has been stolen.

This will be a short post and not research based. I’ll try and do these once a month. Again, if I *actually* do this once a month, call 911, stolen identity, yada yada.

I preach a lot about the benefits of self-care and ways to manage different experiences/symptoms. A lot of the time the information is helpful and the tips are ones I use myself. And so I wonder, because this happens to me at times: when none of your coping strategies work, what do you do?

I’ll write a more formal post on this idea later, with actual, helpful ideas, but at the moment I have no conception of supportive thought.

I suppose being aware of what your body and mind are feeling and why is important here. My possible reasons for this scheduled mental breakdown include:

  1. Family stress.
  2. Missing deadlines for an online class because of exhaustion from family stress.
  3. Impending death
  4. Health anxiety
  5. Re-activated PTSD symptoms, related to health.
  6. Loud thoughts/quiet voices
  7. Not believing my life is real
  8. Being trapped between school and work and unable to take a break from either.
  9. Believing my therapist, doctors, and friends believe I am a liar about my mental health. *Side note: anyone else ever felt this? That people think you’re just some fake person creating lies for attention? Anyone start thinking about it so much that you think maybe you are a fake and the last 6 years haven’t actually happened, you’re just confused? But then wouldn’t that actually make you crazy? Anyone? This is really fucking with me today.
  10. Physical health frustrations, including forcing my doctor to give me an EKG because I’m terrified of dying suddenly from Cardiac Arrest because of palpitations I’m not even sure are real (I have a history of feeling things in my body that aren’t happening–biofeedback proved it.)
  11. Feeling blank thoughts.
  12. Wanting to withdraw from people but knowing I shouldn’t and also that I can’t, given I must finish these courses and also go to work like a good citizen.
  13. I’ll never get serious mental health assistance because I live at home, in America, can handle working three days a week (barely), am enrolled in college, and have never been outwardly violent, disruptive, combative, or otherwise non-compliant (other than stopping medication). Instead, I spent months in my room, showering only if I went to work (had been on-call); I dropped my classes, spent all of my time playing Minecraft, did rituals to call the god Thoth for help/wisdom, listened to voices and loud thoughts, slept, had nightmares, didn’t sleep, and held maybe one or two short conversations with my parents who figured I was just “going through a phase”–but because none of this caused me to talk to myself or be disconnected in the way you’re expected to be, I don’t get taken seriously.
  14. Anxiety. Just. Anxiety.
  15. Drinking on the weekends.
  16. Not exercising like I was.
  17. Falling short on responsibilities.
  18. Forget *actually* being sandwiched between school and work. Just the feeling of being trapped.
  19. Falling short on personal expectations.
  20. The potential of wasting my potential.
  21. Financial issues

I think that’s a pretty solid list. The healthy thing would be to work through each issue one by one and identify things which can be easily changed and things which may just need to be felt and moved through. Accept that it could take weeks and that this is a rough patch.

But today I just feel like laying on the couch and being unhealthy. So maybe that’s what I will do. My cat seems to feel it; she’s never this cuddly.

Until next time.

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Posted in Emotions, psychology, Supporting Friends/Family, Therapy

Distractions: For Better, or For Worse?

One of the popular coping mechanisms most often quoted by self-help websites, short articles, or purported “ways to help your anxiety” is distractions.

Distractions range from averting your attention to a video or a game to focusing on a particular object in the room. It can be reading, running, homework, or even social media. All of these tactics can be considered a way to remove your thought from dark, confusing, or anxiety riddled thoughts.

If you use distractions, I’d love to hear your experience with them. I will base this analysis on my experiences and the trainings I’ve participated in.

Distractions are often used in all states of frustration, but are commonly suggested for anxiety and depression. In anxiety, these are used as grounding techniques. Some distractions, like averting your attention to something in the room, is just that; you become more aware of the present, more aware of your body in the present, and less aware of the circular thoughts or racing heart rate (depending on your level of anxiety).

I have found this can be quite effective in myself, particularly when it comes down to the pre-panic state: you know, when you feel that warm, familiar wave of dread pass from your head to your toes, when your heart rate starts pumping hard, and your first thought is: here it comes. I had that moment in my old car one day. Terrified, I defaulted to what my therapist at the time suggested—look around and describe an object out loud. And so I did. By the time the light turned green, my panic had reduced over 50%.

None of the other techniques worked well for my anxiety. I found when watching a video, the voices in the videos became background noise to my own anxious circular reasonings. I couldn’t gain enough focus for reading, and any quiet activity (including meditation) only made me more aware of my racing heart. Often these distractions served to increase my anxiety.

Years ago I had taken a psychology course and learned more in depth about the executive functioning of the frontal lobe. I learned about the analytical and reasoning skills which often reside there. I also happened to be taking integral calculus at the time, and noticed a stark reduction in my anxiety while immersed in math.

You could hypothesize this was because the activity of math is very distracting; your focus is not on your thoughts or the world around you, your focus is on using the extremely helpful acronym ILATE (Integer, Logarithmic, Algebraic, Trig, Exponent) to decide how to tackle an integration by parts problem.

I tend to hypothesize that the brain activity that requires math can ease a flight/fight response. I tested my hypothesis a few times only on myself (that means, don’t take this THAT seriously, it’s an IDEA, not a FACT, and I had no control to PROVE that the brain activity required makes a difference). In my pre-panic mode, I did some calculus. Twenty minutes later I had finished my homework and forgot what I’d been so anxious about.

I didn’t just test it with calculus. I tried puzzles too, like Sudoku. It had a calming effect, but not with the same intensity. I used Algebra and easier, grade-school level math. The effect seemed equal to that of calculus. I hypothesized that something about the structure of formula, organization, and arithmetic calmed that flight/fight/panic sense more so than just the logical part of the activity (as we’d see in the solving of puzzles like Sudoku). If you’d like to read a little more about arithmetic, brain development, and implications, you can check out this study here, and browse the references too. I’d like to study this for real one day.

But for depression, this didn’t seem to be the case. I couldn’t muster the energy or the cognitive functioning required for math when depressed. In fact, I couldn’t muster either for any task and found myself lazing away, not bathing, not working, not seeing hope in a future.

Distractions for depression seemed illogical to me, even when I sat contemplating suicide. I didn’t want to put a bandaid on a broken leg, I wanted a way to fix the leg, I wanted something to snap the bone back in place so I could recover properly. Distractions never seemed to do this. Even when a distraction, like zoning out on YouTube, kept me from thinking about dying, I had to watch the videos constantly to get rid of the thoughts. And even then they’d sneak in.

Distractions for depression come from this ideal, I think, that thoughts of suicide and other painful things are inherently wrong. We shouldn’t be having them, so until we can get rid of them indefinitely, or as a way to stop you from acting of them, we put you in front of a screen or a book or the internet. Rather than encourage an exploration of the pain, we must remind you how wrong your pain is by suggesting you do everything possible to stray from it.

But if your pain is a Cougar, the last thing you want to do is turn your back and run.

And so we come to this conclusion similar to many things in psychology: both are right. Distractions can be useful until they become a life-line, until they become the only coping mechanism.

We could also safely say that there isn’t some finite list of coping mechanisms. I didn’t learn how precious math was to me until I experimented with my own inferences; a therapist would have never said, “hey, try math!”. This highlights something important about our mental health journeys, I think, and that something is: explore. There is no limit on what will or won’t help; try everything until there’s nothing else to try. And then try something else, because there’s always something else to try.

We get trapped under this idea that because something works for one person, it should work for us too. Problem is life doesn’t work like that. Distractions may save you pain. Distractions may cause you more pain. Medication may work, medication may not work. There is no perfect treatment because we understand maybe 1/6886th of the brain and its complexities. That should put you at ease, right?

If you have a particularly unique coping mechanism you’d like to share, pop it down below or find me on social media (also below).

I send updates on posts on Twitter and Instagram. I’ve also started a Writing Schedule: new posts will be on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. If an idea can’t wait, I will post on a Sunday or a Monday (follow my Social Media accounts for that).

And as always, thank you for reading.

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Posted in Community, science, Therapy

A Broken System: What We Can Do.

I cited an alarming statistic in my post Is Psychology A Science Part 1 (which you can read at the given link) that one of my research professors cited: there are about 40,000 psychological research papers published each year, and, on average, clinical psychologists read about 1 a month. That’s .03% of all research papers. I unfortunately don’t have a statistic for psychiatrists. I’ll work on getting one.

If our doctors are not keeping up with current successful treatments, it means they are also not keeping up with current unsuccessful treatments, which get weeded out in research as well. Remember, the whole point of science is to prove ourselves wrong so we may find what is right. But if we go around thinking we know what’s right (i.e, relying solely on intuition and clinical arrogance), we’ll never investigate what’s wrong. And that’s so backward.

And so the question becomes what can we do to make up for this deficit?

Possible Options:

Educate Ourselves:

This requires us to think differently. Many of us are deep in our pain, and that’s okay. It’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to lack the ability (right now) to do everything you need for yourself. Your goal, at this very moment, is to be kind and compassion to your needs.

Part of being compassionate to your needs is caring for your health. And in order to do that, we often rely on the knowledge of our doctors. This can be more unhealthy behavior however, because it’s giving up our sense of independence and ability to navigate our mind by ourselves.

Some of us don’t have any other option at the moment and I recognize this. When I got released from the hospital, I needed my doctors to listen and manage my medication. They at least managed my medication. This was productive for a crisis. But not sustainable as long-term treatment. It’s not studied for long-term treatment.

Educating ourselves and participating in our treatment can enhance our wellness. If you have access to a college student, or are a college student, primary sources are the best form of knowledge. If this is unfamiliar territory to you, take a quick glance at one of my other posts How To Read A Psychological Research Paper.

If you are not a student and don’t know a student or professional with access to journals, contact me if you want articles on a specific topic. I can provide some.

Secondary sources like textbooks and articles online (including mine) can be okay as long as you take careful note of their references and click on the primary sources they’ve cited. If they haven’t cited primary sources or don’t include references, there’s a good chance the information isn’t reliable.

Any researched information you can present to your doctors and psychologists as ways to participate in your treatment.

Social Media:

This is a strange option because there’s a lot of unreal, invalid information on Social Media. But there’s quite a large mental health community on social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram. Facebook, I’m sure, has one as well. There are researchers who post relevant articles and information which you can investigate.

I don’t suggest spending a lot of time on social media if you are prone to depression. There has been lively debate on whether people spend more time online because they are depressed or if being online too much makes people depressed. Studies are showing more and more that feelings of isolation are increased by online use, not the other way around. Here’s one study. I’m sure there are many more.

If you can balance your health and internet usage, I’d suggest finding people online who model wellness. Not only can you find people who have experienced what you experience, but you can find people who have tried different avenues of treatment and have other perspectives. One of the worst things we can do for ourselves is allow our mindset to be fixed on one perspective.

On social media, there are advocacy groups and pages. You can find programs near you, conventions near you (if that’s something you’re into you), and you can get involved. Giving back can restore a sense of purpose for us, and that is a step in renewing self-esteem.

Think Outside of The Box:

Investigate different perspectives. Build the courage to try new things, not only in treatment but in your everyday experience. For example, my hair was always long, curly, frizzy, and a nice shield between me and the world. I hid behind it in grade school, along with bundling in thick sweaters and baggy jeans, even in the summer. I needed to protect myself because I felt unsafe everywhere and around everyone. When I started shedding sweaters for T-Shirts, I gained a sliver of confidence from it; I was more open and people could sense that. Because people sensed that, they were more likely to smile and/or talk to me.

This month, I chopped off all my hair. The sides are shaved, and the top is a cute, curl-hawk. For me, it symbolized my need to stop hiding. I have to put myself out there, experience new things, make rash decisions, make planned decisions, and enjoy my life. It took 8 solid years of mental health work, psychosis, depression, and deep pain to reach a point in life where I had enough confidence to do this.

And so I encourage all of us to remember if something isn’t working, don’t keep doing. If you are someone who wants to stay on medication and your current medication isn’t working, the next logical step is to try a new one, correct? Treat other therapeutic options the same way. If one type of therapy or therapist or psychiatrist isn’t working, try a different one. If no medication has ever worked, try another option. If you’re tired of living one way, live another.

There is nothing that says we must stay stagnant. There is nothing that says we must endure the same pain over and over again. The only people placing limitations on us is us.

These are only a few things we can do as consumers to promote our own wellness while navigating a system filled with cracks. Feel free to post your own ideas in the comments bellow, or contact me on social media/email. People seem to like DMs on Instagram the best.

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