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 Book Reviews (updating), psychology, writing

Never Fear Chalk, Only Playground Bullies and Staircases.

I’ve talked on here before about my own manuscript: there’s stalking, there’s jealousy, there’s pain, pleasure, basically every ingredient you need to create a believable but obviously fictional life. There’s also crime, a smidgeon of it (not including the stalking), and so I’ve taken to reading a lot of crime novels lately. I’m halfway through two books in particular and much like Hollow Kingdom, I plan on reviewing them as I read them. So let’s get started with that today.

The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor

Not going to lie, I found this book in Goodwill for $2.99. It was published in 2018, so it’s considered contemporary fiction and the inside jacket revealed there’s a dismembered body of a teenage girl, so there was definitely crime; the book met my two requirements of myself at the moment.

We jump between 2016 and 1986, so far, from a time where our protagonist, Eddie, is a middle-aged adult and back to the time when he was a budding teenager. All of his friends have nicknames and thank God they’re nothing like the ones in Hollow Kingdom. Although they are a bit gimmicky, they’re believable for children: Metal Mickey, Fat Gav, Hoppo and Eddie is called Eddie Munster because his surname is Adams, such as in The Addams Family. Apparently “Eddie Munster was out of The Munsters, but it made sense at the time . . .”

Nicky is another one of their friends, a girl who loves hanging with the boys, and her father is the local Vicar. This only becomes a problem at Fat Gav’s birthday party because Eddie’s mother works at an abortion clinic; at some point an argument erupts and Eddie’s father punches Nicky’s father. A few days later, Eddie’s family receives a pig fetus in the mail; I’m hoping this is set up for some further plot development.

Right off the bat, we get a terrifying incident: a girl is severely injured by a rogue piece of fair equipment and Eddie is right in the thick of it, inches from being impaled. He sees the jacked up face of the girl victim but is urged to help her by a strange man, Mr. Halloran. The two, so far, have a decent relationship, although things did get a little weird when Mr. Halloran saved Eddie from some serious sexual assault from some bullies who seem more like budding rapists. He brought Eddie back to his house and Mr. Halloran has a bunch of paintings of some girls from the town, including the jacked up face girl. I think he’s being set up to be the crazed murderer of the town: he’s a teacher, he’s quiet, he’s got a bunch of paintings of girls, and he’s forming a close connection with a student. Yep. Checks all the boxes for fictional murderers.

In 2016, as a middle-aged adult, Eddie lives with a much younger roommate, a young woman he fancies but will never tell her really because he’s “too old.” Fat Gav owns a pub, and he and Hoppo are angry that Eddie didn’t tell them Metal Mickey was back in town. Metal Mickey, we learn, has returned because he wants to write a book on “the incident” and I’m assuming that means the dismembered girl, although I haven’t gotten that far yet. He says he knows who the real murderer is. Spooky.

What I find annoying so far with Tudor’s writing is the constant cliff hangers at the end of each chapter. I get that it’s meant to keep you reading and is a staple of crime fiction, it just turns me off. I want the story to flow some places and hang other places, kind of like how life does. There’s also nothing special about the writing style; Tudor’s voice is average: not quite bland but not quite unique. I’m interested in the plot line, but that’s the only reason I’m continuing to read it.

Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner

Having a degree in psychology and living with schizophrenia and going back to school for cognitive science means I know a thing or two about disorders, including the personalities along the Dark Triad, and despite what people think, psychopathy itself is not a mental disorder. It’s a personality TRAIT, alongside Narcissism (which is different from narcissistic personality disorder) and Machiavellianism. So, when I started reading this book and realized it was about serial killers, I was waiting for the diagnosis Antisocial Personality Disorder, and sure enough, as cliche as aways, it came.

D.D. Warren is a detective called to a crime scene of a woman having been skinned (in some places) and killed, a bottle of champagne and a rose left on her nightstand. The detective went back to the crime scene, encountered what I’ve learned so far was the murderer, and got shoved down the stairs, enduring an injury that’s left her shoulder and arm completely useless during its healing process.

Doctor Adeline Day (although she goes by a different last name) is the daughter of infamous serial killer Harry Day and sister of infamous serial killer (and youngest to be tried for murderer in their area) Shana Day. Adeline is a psychiatrist and cannot feel pain due to a rare genetic disorder, but she does understand her sister’s troupe of “blood means love”, something their father taught her. Shana cut people to show them how much she loves them and is diagnosed, by her sister, with antisocial personality disorder.

I would like to point out that while the book mentions it’s quite unconventional for a family member to diagnose another family member, it’s something that wouldn’t happen. I’d also like to point out the majority of people diagnosed with and living with antisocial personality disorder are not serial killers. In fact, they live relatively normal lives. They simply don’t care for your feelings and will manipulate the hell out of you to get what they want. They are driven by their own desire and could care less what you think about that. That being said, aggression and violence come easy for them. It just doesn’t mean they’ll use it to harm people; it’s more like they could and would feel nothing if they did.

I’m tired of mental disorders being the reason for crime. Why can’t Shana just be a serial killer? Why does she need a label? Why does blood need to equal love? That’s more delusional than antisocial.

Adeline has a secret of her own, though. She goes on dates, sleeps with her dates, and cuts little strips of their skin and puts them in jars as keepsakes. I’m on page 209 right now so I don’t yet know the significance, but it better be something good. I swear to God.

So far the book has been mostly dialogue and I mean this. We get a paragraph or two of set up and story and then we get pages of dialogue, which is fine because most of the time it’s written well, but there are instances where I think the character of Adeline is much too “Hollywood psychiatrist” and a lot less “average psychiatrist,” meaning she talks like she was written for low budget movie. She has great explanations for everything and constantly knows what people are thinking without them saying more than a few words. She also talks kind of like a type-writer: old-fashioned and stiff.

That being said, I want to know who the murderer is and if he is conspiring with Shana Day, as some detectives are starting to think. I want to know if Adeline will get caught with her creepy skin obsession and lose her license (hopefully) and I want to know whether detective D.D. Warren’s shoulder will ever get better. I mean, that’s the real plot line here.

Would you guys read either of these books? What’s your chosen genre these days?

Until Next Time

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

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), writing

Surfing in Forever Land

I’m back with a new book.

Where did I go, you ask?

Into the Ocean at the End of the Lane. And I Fear(ed) Nothing. I did come across The Chalk Man, though, and he was an interesting fellow. He asked me a lot of questions, including the ever daunting What Is Life.

If you haven’t guessed already, those are all books I’ve been reading and finishing while I took a little break from writing. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman has been by far the easiest and quickest to finish, so today we’ll be reviewing (with spoilers) that book in its entirety. Next time we’ll be talking a little bit about the crime novel Fear Nothing that I picked up from Thriftbooks.com.

If you still buy your books at full price, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but cheap books ain’t one.

Okay, enough jokes. Let’s get into it.

The Ocean at The End of the Lane.

Firstly, Neil Gaiman is not an indie author. He is a seasoned, accomplished one, with quite the knack for what we call Magical Realism over here in America. His imagination is impeccable. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things I wish were different in his book.

We start off meeting a man attending a funeral. He decides to re-visit the farm at the end of the lane of his childhood house where he met a girl aptly named Lettie Hempstock, an eleven-year-old mystery. We flash back to his childhood when he first met Lettie, after a man had stolen his father’s Mini Cooper and ended his life in it. The scene too gruesome for a seven year old, our protagonist is granted the opportunity to spend some time with Lettie, Lettie’s mother (Mrs. Hempstock) and Lettie’s grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock).

To right a wrong, Lettie takes our protagonist to this Forever land where the sky is orange. She tells him “do not let go of my hand” no matter what happens, or what he sees. They come across this thing made of canvas with “deep holes in the fabric” and Lettie demanded she name herself. Of course this doesn’t happen and through the course of the terrifying conversation, our protagonist lets go of Lettie’s hand.

Oh how the young doom themselves.

When he returns home, there is something burrowed in his foot. With tweezers and warm water, he pulls half of the worm out (only half because it broke off inside of him) and the next thing we know, a new babysitter arrives named Ursula Monkton.

Ursula, as you may have guessed, is not an Ursula at all, in fact, she’s not even human. She’s the worm.

Before I lose you, I promise this book flows way better than I’m making it sound.

Our protagonist knows this is no ordinary babysitter, but she seems to have everyone wrapped around in little finger. His sister loves Ursula, their mother, who took a new job (hence the need for the babysitter) loves Ursula, and their father really, really loves Ursula, and gets caught having some passionate relations with her in his study. Don’t ask me how that works if she’s a worm.

This forces our protagonist to tell Lettie he let go of her hand in the forest. This creates some problems, but nothing the three Hempstocks can’t fix. They have spells and magic and creative thought to get rid of Ursula Monkton.

But Ursula has some magic of her own. She knows how to manipulate, and gets the father to choke and nearly drown his son in the bathtub. Our protagonist runs to Lettie Hempstock’s farm where magic is used to erase that event from reality; when his parents come looking for him, they believe he is just staying the night and brought his toothbrush for him–since he forgot it and all.

The next day, Lettie and our protagonist set off with “dolls’ eyes and heads and hands, [toy] cars with no wheels, and chipped cat’s eye glass marbles” to get rid of Ursula Monkton. We don’t necessarily learn what these toys are for, but it’s implied they are needed for the magic to work. They confront Monkton, who is now unashamed of her form, and highly overconfident; she’s managed to take over our protagonists’ house and turn everyone against him. Monkton levitates throughout their conversation, and she is the canvas monster for sure, but Lettie threatens her with “the varmints.”

They’re “mean, and they’re hard to get rid of. And they’re always hungry.”

Ursula runs.

We learn that Monkton has buried herself within our protagonists’ heart, and his life keeps her alive. She’s using him for energy, I assume, and we get this kind of awkward explanation of: “It is inside him. it is not a tunnel. Not any longer. It does not end. I fastened the path inside him too well when I made it and the last of it is still inside him. No matter. All I need to do to get away from here is to reach into his chest and pul out his beating heart and finish the path and open the door.”

I say awkward because when I read it, I don’t really feel threatened like it’s intended to be. It feels like a little kid explaining what Ursula Monkton wants, instead of Ursula explaining herself. In the midst of all that, there is a flapping, and then a whooshing, and then came The Hunger Birds, quite honestly my favorite characters in this whole book. They are the varmints, The Ones Who Eat (throwback to Hollow Kingdom). They devour the creature that is Ursula Monkton. But then they turn to our protagonist who still carries part of her inside of him.

Lettie creates a boundary, a fairy ring, and makes our protagonist sit in it. Nothing can come in the circle, and he should not leave the circle. She leaves.

The Hunger Birds play all sorts of games with our protagonist, impersonating his sister, his parents, anyone to try and get him out of the circle, but he does not budge because of his loyalty to Lettie and his understanding that he will be ripped apart if he does. In the end, Lettie sacrifices her life to save our protagonist.

There are a lot of good things about this book. The dialogue flows, we get a character we can feel scared for and two characters we get to root for. I only wish it was a little longer. I appreciate the mystery that the Hempstock’s unknown background provides, but the story itself almost feels rushed. I really wanted description and explanation of the world with the orange sky that lived in the back of the Hempstock’s farm, and the little pond that was really an ocean. I wanted to get a sense of these magical people, and that depth just isn’t there.

The book is enjoyable though, and a quick read. It’s something that kept my turning pages fiercely.

Next post we’ll talk about Fear Nothing, a crime novel with a very cliche Antisocial Personality.

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), Uncategorized, writing

Grocery Shopping Syndrome [in writing] and A Bad Drawing

You never, ever, ever, ever, ever want the meat of your story to take the form of background music. That’s what’s happening in Hollow Kingdom. Reading through a chapter is like taking a stroll through a grocery store for nothing in particular. You browse items on the shelf, you see cashiers ringing up food, but none of it is really appealing to you; maybe you just don’t feel like Lindt Lindor chocolates today and the line is backed up to hell. You spend a few more minutes waiting for something to capture your fancy and when it doesn’t, you walk out.

Kira Jane Buxton has done something quite extraordinary. She’s built a world with immense creative foundation and no structure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the ideas are beautiful; the execution is mediocre.

S.T and Dennis are still trekking along and why I likened these last few pages to strolling through a grocery store, uninterested, is that I find my focus waning from each sentence. I’ll realize my thoughts have drifted to something even less important than the book: what am I going to eat for dinner tonight? I wonder where the cat is. I have to get up soon.

For reference, it’s 6:44am.

The book just can’t keep my focus, and normally I’m very invested in plot and character development.

It’s something we have to keep in mind while writing our own novels. Not only is brevity a skill to hone, it’s also for the sake of your reader. You can describe brilliant scenes in just a few sentences if you know how. When things stretch beyond their capacity, it just gets weird.

I wouldn’t say Hollow Kingdom is boring, it’s just not captivating. The idea jumps off the bookshelf, but the book itself lands flat on the carpet.

I’m done with the figurative language, I promise.

When I notice parts of my novel that drag, it’s a drag for me too, because that means I have to tweak something that maybe I didn’t want to tweak. To me, it’s fascinating to delve deep into character minds, but to others who don’t know the character in the same way I do, it just becomes overarching and tedious. I also want to also keep in mind that writing a book can bring you very close to fictional people. You squeeze a bit of yourself out into them, and there’s a large possibility that Buxton is quite fond of S.T and his mannerisms and thinks he’s hilarious. I think that’s important to acknowledge, because this book is pretty much her baby. So, I’m not ripping into Buxton to burst her spirit (as if she’s ever going to read THIS) nor am I doing it to burst budding writers’ spirits, I’m doing it because this is the internet and we’re allowed opinions.

It’s truly nothing personal.

I also think reading these types of books are a great way for amateur writers to see what they like, what they don’t like, what to do, and what not to do. Clearly, depending on the publisher, you can get away with extraneous description and rackety rumor, but do you really WANT to?

There are people on Goodreads who find Hollow Kingdom HILARIOUS. And that’s great. I’m not one of those people.

When you or I publish our work, eventually someone is going tell us: “hey. Your book SUCKS.”

And how’s that going to feel?

I imagine it’s going to feel like that time in high school when I read Catcher in the Rye and I thought it was the most entertaining, relatable thing in the world and my friend gave me one of her wild looks and said, “I hate that book, it’s just about a whiny teenager. It’s dumb and boring.”

One day someone will critique our work in similar fashion and we’ll smile about it because we’re published anyway. Then we’ll go home for a couple whiskeys and wonder about our life choices and maybe sing a little Lana Del Rey and drunk-call our agent to ask “am I REALLY a writer, though?”

Were Kira Jane Buxton to beta read for my novel, I’d let her. She can write, after all. There are semblances of her talent brushed throughout Hollow Kingdom. And you know what? She’d probably rip me to shreds in her blog afterward because that’s how things work in 2021. In the wise words of Waka Flocka Flame: “You talkin’ shit like a blogger.”

I mean, is that all we really do, Waka?

Really?

Until next time

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

Posted in Community, Emotions, Questions for you, writing

Passion for Passion

I didn’t read last night. I’ve disappointed all 1.5 of you.

What keeps you motivated to do what you love? I’ve noticed sometimes it’s not enough just to like something or have passion for something. For example, I love my job, but I’m leaving this week. I still have passion for the field, but there’s something tugging on me, telling me that there’s something beyond it I must strive for. There’s also the fact that mentally I can’t handle it anymore, not with the same strength I had five years ago. I’m also craving something new, something shiny or something sooty, something rough or smooth, anything, really, that’s different. I’m very fortunate that although my finances suck at the moment, I will have enough to keep my bills paid for a few months before I need to look for another job.

I’m also a college student, if that makes things any better. It took me 7 years to get my associates degree because of medical problems, and now at 25 I’m not sure I want to keep the major I’ve persisted through hell to complete.

Another passion that I’m still fairly passionate about, lost.

I relate this to reading; I’ve read plenty of poor books that held my interest stronger than the exceptional ones. It’s almost as if when the analytic side of me isn’t challenged, I’m not interested.

My current job works with people. People often have problems, but not problems that are necessarily better helped with concrete solutions. I realize I need a position that challenges me logically, philosophically, and analytically. I also think I work better by myself. Do you ever feel that way about certain things? As if you’re not living up to your potential because you just haven’t found where you belong yet?

I feel like that’s angsty teen shit. Turns out it’s angsty adult shit, too.

What keeps you motivated to read a book is just as fair of a question. I’m reading another book called The Morality Play which I love every time I pick it up, but I’m having trouble staying consistent with reading it overt his last month. It’s a small book, about 188 pages. In contrast, I read The World According to Garp in just over five hours once. That’s about 609 pages.

Is it really just as simple as “it’s an off day” or “it’s a good day?”

Is it really that simple?

I’m both exhausted and mystified by the complexity of life. Maybe I should go read.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and come join me on Instagram @Alilivesagain or Twitter @thephilopsychotic.

Posted in Community, Emotions, Late Night Thoughts, Questions for you, writing

Books and Things and Things and Books!

How incredibly lucky we all are. This sentence has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I’ve just been reflecting on things, and figured maybe it will spark others into reflection as well.

I picked up a book called Modern Ethics in 77 arguments and have sworn myself to at least an argument essay a day. This last one I read was actually about human nature, evolution, and our inner conflict: what makes us altruistic or callous? Are some people born good and some born bad or are we born neither one of them and simply learn traits? The author of that essay is a biological mathematician and from his studies he says we are all a mix of everything really, and I think that’s always the answer in real science. People think just because we study something that we’re going to get concrete answers and that’s rarely ever the case. Life is complicated, biology and chemistry much more so.

The other book I’m reading is called Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton. It was laying dormant on a table surrounded by cheesy romance/friendship novels in the middle of Barnes and Noble. It’s bright green with a picture of a wide-eyed crow above the city of Seattle, Washington. Of course I fucking grabbed it.

The synopsis of the story is that this crow visits this human everyday, at least he has been, and this time he visits, his human’s eye falls out. Then his human is wandering around, banging his head against the wall and bleeding from his fingers. Obviously the world has been zombified and this crow is our witness from the beginning. The idea is fun and strange, but sometimes her writing comes off as amateur. Amateur in the sense that there are a lot of unnecessary descriptors, things that you’re told not to do, or things you’re told to watch out for, when you’re in a creative writing workshop/class. This is her debut novel, so I’m giving her some slack. I’ll come back with more information once I finish the book. Both of the books.

You see, the picture above was going to be what the cover looks like, but then I made it dark. That thing was supposed to be a crow, but because I am not a drawer gifted by the gods, it came out looking like it’d been mangled by a car. So I turned it into Crowthulu. Sue me.

What do you all enjoy most about reading? What kind of books do you enjoy? I like anything that deviates from the norm, or if it’s within the parameters of the norm, it must be creative in other ways, like poetic syntax or narrative voice. Something that for me I consider in the “norm” would be books that express ultra-realistic relationships and experiences in the world, books that don’t embrace magical realism, paranormal things or super-human qualities. A book that follows a woman after a messy divorce, to me, is within the norm, and I’m willing to read it if there’s something about it that stands out.

I’m very cautious about that now. I read Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and almost emailed her to get my two days worth of reading back. Her book follows a troubled girl who meets a fantastical (but very real and normal) woman.

I mean, that’s literally the plot.

She meets the woman, spends the remainder of the book describing every little feeling she experiences, every little bit of hatred she has for her alcoholic father, whines, and then this BIG THING that is constantly foreshadowed in the book happens within a few pages and it’s the end.

As a writer, I’m not here to tear other writers down, but when something just ISN’T IT, I’m going to say it, and I’d hope fellow writers would have the same mentality toward my work.

Comment some of your favorite books or short stories or poetry or some of your worst of all of the above! Let’s all give each other something to read.

I personally love to read books that I don’t find that good. It’s more of a learning tool than anything.

What do you think?

Please hit that follow button if you’re enjoying what you read, and come meet me on Instagram @ alilivesagain!

Posted in Questions for you, Uncategorized, writing

Beta Readers? Beta Reading?

Sometimes this is fruitless, but I’ve decided to put it out in the ether anyway: anyone out there in need of a beta reader? I love reading others’ works. I’m editing a friends’ memoir currently. I’m also looking for beta readers of my own for a short story I’m submitting to a competition in March. I’m looking for feedback and/or constructive criticism, as well as a fresh perspective for the content and/or any typos. I’ve had a few anonymous eyes read it already. It’s about 3.5 printer pages (word document) and is written in the form of a letter. It’s quite amusing if you ask me, but I’m the writer.

Although, I will say that not all of my writing amuses me. Most of the time I find it grotesque.

Maddening.

Irreparable.

I could go on and on.

Does any one else stay up late into the night contemplating their works’ successes and then wake the next morning only to realize it will inherently fail?

I’m being morbid. In reality, most of our writing will never be read by anyone.

Is that still too morbid?

A lot of people say that it doesn’t matter, that you just write for you, and that’s great for them and all, but I’ve never written something that I wouldn’t want read by someone else. I write as a form of communication, as a way to delve into the hearts and minds and souls of people I’ll never meet.

The point of this post is to ask for Beta Readers. So I’ll ask again: anyone want to swap writings or read mine or want me to read theirs? If so, you can comment down below, email me at alishia.dauterive@icloud.com OR reach out to me on Instagram @alilivesagain. That’s probably the fastest way. I had to erase my contact page on here to make space for other things. I’ve also forgotten how to work WordPress.

Thanks guys.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thank You!

I wanted to say thank you to all the new followers. I’ve been watching the numbers up-tick, but haven’t had a clear mind or space or time to shout out to all of you. One thing I love about writing a blog is meeting everyone in the blogosphere. So drop a comment below telling us about yourself, your reason for writing, and a link to your blog so others can take a gander at your passion! We want to hear from you! I know I want to hear from you!

I like the idea of creating a community within a community, especially during COVID when everything is so virtual. I mean, if you’re here in the US where social distancing isn’t cool and coughing on people is, then yes, everything is still virtual.

Share this post so others can also come and join the party!

Posted in Peer Support, science, Voices

Self-Compassion and Hearing Voices

Let’s talk about this concept of self-love, self-compassion and why it’s so pivotal when hearing voices.

My experience with the diagnosis Schizoaffective (Bipolar Type) may be different than yours, vastly, and much more so if you have been diagnosed with the blanket term Schizophrenia. I read a post the other day on an alternative treatment center dedicated solely to Schizoaffective, discussing their push to separate the label from the umbrella term schizophrenia, citing a need to treat it in its own category. I don’t think it’s so much the category that needs individualization, but the treatment itself. That’s a story for another day.

My point of bringing that into the story is that not everyone hears voices constantly and not everyone hears them the same way. Researchers are starting to catch up with this fact. There have been just a *few* studies into the differences between thought-like voices and external (hearing outside of the ear) voices, and some of the studies are fascinating. One, which I will link later when I find it again, cited 17% as the amount of time people say they heard exclusively external voices. For your personal interest, here is a survey and a study highlighting the differences between external and internal experiences.

Some of the marked differences included the types of responses. The researchers hypothesized that internal voices may have a more distressing quality to them–and this does not mean that external sounds and voices aren’t distressing, it just means they have a particular scale they were using to rate this. They obviously have no idea what it’s like in either experience. Let’s not make this into a petty competition about “who has it worse”. I hate that. It happens a lot in the mental health community, I’ve noticed.

The last table of the study showed some interesting percentages:

Hallucination Type:

Non-Verbal Auditory

Voices Commenting.

Voices Conversing

Voices commanding.

Commands to harm/kill oneself.

Commands to harm/kill others.

Positive/helpful voices

Persecutory Voices

Internal (or both)

63%

85%

55%

83%

30%

33%

32%

73%

External only

59%

68%

26%

66%

37%

13%

46%

53%

If you look at the study, they also listed their Chi-squared test results (statistical measurement) and their P values, bolding the significant differences. I’ve bolded the ones which were significantly different.

What Does This Mean?

They use this as evidence to confirm their hypothesis, I use it as evidence to show that variability in our experiences of the world. I also use it as evidence to show kindness and compassion is a necessity to yourself. If you are constantly being attacked by Persecutory Voices telling you the police believe you’re a murderer or a pedophile or a liar who has put their entire family in danger of the C.I.A, it takes a lot of strength to tell them “I’m better than you’re saying” or “I’m not any of what you’re telling me I am.” It takes double the strength to do so in a composed, neutral manner. It also takes a lot of practice. I still yell sometimes. I try not to do it in public.

It also takes a level of confidence in yourself, and comfortability with yourself, acceptance that what other people say about you isn’t necessarily true, and all of that can be easily stripped away from years of hospitalizations and being told you’re sick, ill, and broken. It rarely gets built back up because people with schizophrenia and psychosis alike are not encouraged into therapy much of the time. They aren’t encouraged to explore themselves. They aren’t encouraged to melt into the darkness because, well, it’s too dark. This prevents the growth necessary to heal.

Therapists and professionals are scared to talk when someone is, to them, incomprehensible, and for some reason they’re also scared to listen, as if they might hear something that makes sense in a bout of babbling that shouldn’t make any sense. And so a lot of the work is left up to us. After all, we are the ones with the voices, the thoughts, and the thought-like voices.

What Does Compassion Mean?

I had an experience a few months ago that was another cog in the machine of changing the way I see my voices. Although they’ve been telling me to kill a lot lately, mostly myself, sometimes other people if I’m around them, they’re not usually as aggressive, not since I’ve accepted them as beings tied down by the law of opposites: good must exist in the bad for the bad to exist, and bad must exist in the good for good to exist. When I realized they can’t possibly exist outside of that truth, I stopped labeling them as demons. For the past two years they’ve shaped into your regular, uncertain, lost souls, just like the rest of us.

But one night I felt particularly scattered, my thoughts weren’t making sense, and one of my voices told me to go for a drive. They urged and urged until I got off my ass and did so. We drove out to the cliffs, and I worried if I stopped the car I’d have a heart attack. So I kept driving and cry-singing because that’s always the best medicine, and at some point I think I asked them “why are you doing this to me?” And the response I got was something along the lines of “pain is necessary”. And I stopped crying not because the answer was profound, it’s certainly not, but because it reminded me of everything I’ve ever read, everything I’ve ever calculated, everything I’ve ever understood. There was a beauty in the pain I’d forgotten about, there had to be because pain cannot exist without the concept of pleasure and visa versa. He reminded me of my own duality and that this too shall pass; it must, for something that comes must also go.

And so part of the compassion involved with dealing with voices is submitting yourself, not in a passive way, but in an understanding way. If you don’t listen to them, they will never listen to you. To talk back is to not be “more crazy”, it’s to learn about yourself. That’s all you’re doing. You’re not “feeding into the sickness”. You’re not “making yourself worse”. You’re learning more than your therapist will ever know.

Another part of compassion is building your self-esteem. This can’t come from repeated mirror mantra’s of “you can do this”. Studies show it can make you feel worse; when you don’t live up to your expectations, you take a harder hit than someone who didn’t look at themselves in the mirror and convince themselves of a lie.

I say it’s a lie because if you don’t actually believe it while you’re saying it, it’s pointless. And telling yourself you believe it is not the same as believing it.

I’ve built my self-esteem along the years through support of others encouragement. Most of believing in myself came from other people believing in me, believing I could do something when I didn’t believe I could. Now, you see the opposite effect a lot of the time: in hospitals, for example, you may encounter a professional who has no confidence in your healing path (although they may consistently say “you can do this) and the less they believe in you, the more you’re convinced you’re sick for life, doomed to a plethora of medication and condescending doctors. Imagine the opposite. Imagine surrounding yourself with supportive people who understanding that falling down, that relapse, is apart of the process. Remember the law of opposites: one thing cannot exist without the other. You will have days of confidence, days of no confidence, and it’s how to grow from each happy and not-so-happy experience that will dictate your future path.

I think there are a bunch of cliche things you can list for self-compassion and care: eat healthy, exercise, reach out for help when you need it. Those are blanket examples, things that promote over-all wellness, but I think when dealing with voices, your self-compassion must be very individualized. What you and your voices need may be different from what me and my voices need, and this is why modern-day psychiatry has failed in so many aspects.

Showing yourself compassion also means avoiding judgement. Be careful labeling a feeling, voice, thought, as good or bad. Be careful labeling yourself as good or bad. What I’ve found more helpful is asking myself how the moment (if I hear something negative or positive, if I think of something strange, bizarre, or scary) can help me grow. If a voice tells me to pick up a rock and kill my partner with it, I ask myself if killing my partner will help me grow. The obvious answer is no. And therefore I respect the request, acknowledge the voice (laugh about it kind of) and continue on with my day, judgement-free.

Is Being Alone Okay?

Yes. This is part of the individualistic plan. For me, I haven’t yet gotten comfortable talking about my voices to anyone other than my significant other, and at times (if I’m feeling spunky) my therapist. Most of you know I work in peer services, and have the opportunity to talk about my voices everyday with others who experience similar things, and I find it very difficult to do so. I was raised to stay quiet and it’s been a long journey realizing that I don’t need to force myself to speak, even if others say that’s what I need to do to heal. I also don’t need to force myself to stay quiet. There’s a delicate balance here.

If keeping to yourself, exploring your feelings and voices with yourself, is what has helped enlighten you, what has helped you process your emotions, then that is okay. Remember how we mentioned it doesn’t matter what other people say? About how accepting that mind-state may help also with voices, particularly ones that accuse you of things? Well, shocker: it also supports you in dealing with pushy people who think they know how you should live.

We get told a lot of things. We get told we have to do this, eat this, act this way, fit this mold, fit this criteria, apply for this, stop doing this, take this, etc. We are rarely given the chance to truly decide for ourselves, and taking away that level of independence doesn’t built self-esteem. You are capable of making decisions for yourself.

I find that processing things in my head is quicker, more efficient, and when I come to a realization I get a warm feeling from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Those are moments that change my perspective. I rarely have those moments when discussing feelings with people. That being said, there are moments I can’t keep things in my head, when I need to vent to someone, or ask for an outside perspective, and those times are okay too.

Overall . . .

. . . I think it’s important to recognize that no one is one-size-fits-all and that every way of living is an acceptable way of living, as it is life doing what life does. We may not see one person’s life as the way we think it should go. We may see more potential in them than they do in themselves, and that makes us want to help, make us want to push them into being “better” and that’s a judgement. It is. It is inevitable in life that some people will never heal. You may judge or perceive this as sad, but if everyone always healed then there would be no such thing as being stuck. If there was no such things as being stuck, well, there would be no such thing (or need for) healing. We wouldn’t exist as complex beings, only cookie-cutter versions of each other.

Each way to wellness (or not wellness), whether that be medication, no medication, therapy, no therapy, family, or no family, is an acceptable path. Once you are able to avoid judgement of where you are, once you are able to avoid the trap of “I should be here, but instead I’m here“, you will see life get much simpler.

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Posted in advocacy, Peer Support, Supporting Friends/Family

About Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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