Monthly Archives: March 2017

Quick Fixes. Let’s Talk About It.

For some weird reason, we think the mental health system today is more logical, humane, and helpful than the days of Lobotomy, Ice Baths, and Cold Blankets.

For some weird reason, we think giving someone muscle relaxers before hooking up electrodes to someone’s temples is more humane than just zapping them and watching their body convulse. For some reason, we repeatedly confirm that we have no idea if E.C.T does anything useful, and yet it gets recommended–and very often.

Let’s look at what came out of the Lobotomy era: Thorazine, that’s a pretty big one. The notable “Chemical Lobotomy” put the ice pick rearing mad scientist out of business. In fact, it put all that nastiness into the hands of the pharmacy companies. The only difference is you don’t get a black eye after you swallow a pill. Your organs do, but whatever, no one sees that so it’s okay.

So what went wrong? We go from believing mental health issues come from spiritual unrest (which I’m not going to argue against) to believing it’s hardwired into our system before our birth (which I’m also not going to argue against). That’s a pretty big leap.

I’m not going to argue against or for either option because arguing gets us nowhere. What I’ve noticed in the progression of how mental health is viewed in society (western society, mostly), is that it’s a social construction, much like Gender is considered. It changes with time. Homosexuality used to be a mental disorder. Now it’s not. There you go, simple as that. It’s taking terms and calling it one thing or another. That’s all “mental illness” is. It’s a social construction. What we call depression now might not be called that in fifty years, either due to science or enlightenment or whatever. And the funny thing will be that how people experience depression will change with it’s name–not because we’re changing it, but because we believe we’re changing it.

campaign_for_lgbtequalityFrom what I’ve heard from some LGBT communities, is that things aren’t as bad as they used to be. They’re still pretty horrendous, especially for people who identify as Transgender, but . . . the more acceptance there is online, in communities, and in families, the less of a surprise it is nowadays to hear someone is bisexual or lesbian or gay. Chances go up a good half a percent that someone you interact with won’t hate you for your sexual orientation. What kids in our future, provided acceptance continues, experience underneath any gender spectrum label will be ten times different than what kids today do. Not because the facts of the gender spectrum change, but because we see it differently. We treat people differently, so they treat themselves differently.

Now, if you’re experiencing psychosis for the first time and you get locked in a facility where people are grabbing you and forcing you onto cots and injecting you with things you don’t understand–you’re getting a very clear vision of what people think of psychosis. You might not know it at that moment because creatures are crawling out of the floor and nibbling on your toes, but the aftermath, the lack of support for many, the way you’re treated, what you’re told (you’re sick for life, no way around it, sorry): it says it all. It increases a sense of being trapped, controlled, which doesn’t help anyone if they struggle with paranoia or voices. It increases fear and psychosis feeds off of fear.

So what if how we view these experiences we like to call “mental illness” more like a brain’s distress call–kind of like someone giving you all their belongings, and a sealed envelope you’re not allowed to open until they’re “far away from here”. Would you tackle them to the ground and scream “you’re sick, you’re fucking sick! You need help, you psycho!” in their ear?

If we treat these experiences like a distress call, if we see it as an experience that deserves unique attention because each person’s experience is unique, it doesn’t matter whether the person has a “weird brain chemistry” or if they’ve been through trauma or if they’ve damaged something with drugs–whatever. It won’t matter because we’re not looking at what we think their problem is, we’re paying attention to what they experience, and respecting that. Respecting their despair or fear or anxiety or compulsions. We’re respecting their past, if they have gone through trauma, and we’re respecting their shock if their life has been generally good and they suddenly woke up with God talking to them through a walkie-talkie.

For those of us with these struggles, this goes for us to: we have to respect our experiences. I don’t think it’s healthy to fight ourselves. I don’t think it’s healthy to limit ourselves to that kind of existence. I think it hinders our ability to grow and our ability to function.

What do I think went wrong? I think we got too obsessed with wanting answers to everything. I think, as humans, we get so caught up with believing everything must have a reason and that everything in life that isn’t a pleasant experience needs to be made into one. If negativity didn’t have a place in life then it wouldn’t exist. Then positivity wouldn’t exist. Then we’d all just be zombies wandering around the streets aimlessly, taking bites out of each other’s bodies every now and then because what the fuck else are we going to do? We’re propelled by our biological instincts and that’s it, right? Hunger will be our main experience. Looking forward to it.

When I say “mental illness” is a social construction, I am not saying these experiences don’t exist. If I said that, I’d get pounded into a bloody pulp by the comments and I’d be a lying liar. Instead what I’m saying is these experiences that are very real are being described and made into something they might not be.

I’m 21 years old. I could wake up tomorrow with ten times worse hallucinations than I currently have. I could wake up 24 years old at the mercy of delusions that last longer than a few weeks or a month–they could last six months or a year. I could wake up so far gone in my head that I forget my head even exists. But I’ll never call myself sick or ill. Never have, never will.

Food for thought, everyone.

 

 

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MI, DSM, IPS, and Surströmming

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This week I’ve been apart of a Motivational Interviewing training, and as I do with all my trainings and classes I take that stand out to me, I’m going to share the experience. Tomorrow is the last training day, but I’m going to end up having to leave a couple hours early, so since today was my last full day I decided it would be a good idea to share what I’ve learned.

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, don’t worry, I didn’t know what the fuck it was either. All I know was that for me and my coworker it was free, and you can never get too much training in human services.

It’s actually not really about interviewing, but it is. I feel when people see the word interviewing they immediately think about that one job they went in to get where the woman with the bright red lipstick and the blonde hair asks you to sit in front of her as she rolls off your basic “what are you strengths, what are your weaknesses, tell me about a time when you accomplished something, tell me your mother’s father’s, mother’s maiden name and sign here at the dotted line to say you consent in giving me your first born child’s left leg.”

hqdefaultMI is more of a form of communication. You stray away from too many questions because too many questions turns into Motivational Interrogation, and people who are struggling don’t need to be interrogated. MI focuses on encouragement and affirmation with the aim of guiding someone towards change. The belief here, which is the most important part as I see it, is that everyone has the capability to change what they want to change, that everyone has choice, and when we’re stuck sometimes we just need a little compassion to help us see our choices again.

It’s also about focus. You all know my focus is shit, so you could imagine my grief in training myself to not wander off or black out during role plays. But, I learned when I did focus in all my energy in listening to the words someone was saying, so I could “reflect” back what they were saying, I found I was interested enough in what the person was saying to keep my attention.

I still hate Role Plays though. Nothing will ever change that. They were created by the devil.

By reflecting, I essentially mean interpreting–in a sense. For example, one guy in a role play said, as we focused on change talk, “one thing I’d like to change about myself is to be more extroverted” so my response was “it sounds like you want to make more connections with people”. I was right. It was a guess, but it was an educated one. And this is why MI is both extremely useful and extremely difficult at times.

In MI, you phrase your sentences with “It sounds like” or “So you . . .” or “It seems to you that” or “You’re feeling . . .”. You’re encouraged not to inflect your voice at the end of your phrases so as to make sure it doesn’t sound like a question, which is even harder to do when you speak English and are used to the fail-safe of counseling: asking only questions.

And at first, it feels like you’re telling someone how they feel. This was a reservation I and many others in the room felt. But the more you practice, the less invasive you feel. Instead, you start to get a bit of an intuition on how someone is feeling. If you’re wrong, they’ll correct you. Then you can say “oh, then tell me more about . . .”.

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I’ve experienced the opposite of MI from an LCSW at the hospital. She blabbered on about herself, about how I need to change my mindset and about how depressed I apparently was. She needs this training like a hog needs slop. 

But my real excitement about this training is the crossover I see between it and Intentional Peer Support. I think it’s great that clinicians and certified counselors and licensed counselors have opportunities to do MI (if they go through progressive, or holistic studies), but the truth is many of them will never know what it feels like to go through things their “clients” might. And while love and compassion for your fellow human is wonderfully healing, it’s an advantage if you can also relate through your experience. So when someone says their voices are really frightening them today, you’re going to know what that feels like.

It’s not that you have to blurt your experiences 24/7 at this person to prove you can relate. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to mention your experience at all to connect and understand. The difference is that when you engage as a peer, that compassion you put into it will be from a different place. Mixed with MI, I’d say that’s a very powerful relationship to grow with someone.

The thing is, the world is very focused on quantifying mental health and the human experience. We’ve started to ignore the human part of being human. We want cures and answers and we love labels and the idea of “brain disease” to pawn off someone’s behavior on a reason we tell them they can’t control. Good for profit.

 

dsm5-smWhich brings me, quickly, to the DSM. Were we to see and speak with people in the format of MI, perhaps we wouldn’t see this “rise in mental disorders”. The rise isn’t in the “disorders”, the rise is in the diagnosis. Before the DSM III, all these “disorders” were called “reactions”. Everything. What we call psychosis now, was a reaction. What we call the symptoms of “Bipolar” now, was a reaction. Don’t you see? All they’re doing is changing what we call things. It doesn’t mean we’ve “discovered” more disorders. It doesn’t mean people are broken. It doesn’t mean we have “diseases” or “illnesses”. It means some people in white coats are sitting on the board of the APA playing word games. And the more you believe you’re crazy, the crazier you are.

My fail-safe of DSM critique: Schizoid Personality Disorder. Fucking god-forbid someone wants to keep to themselves and have a restricted range of emotions and NOT be upset about it. Fuck. Kick those people off the fucking planet, am I right? Because, from what I’ve heard from people experiencing this, most of them could care less if they appease society or not. They keep the same job for 30 years, they mind themselves, and they don’t get bothered by it. You know who gets bothered? EVERYONE ELSE.

I get asked at work by guests sometimes what my diagnosis is. I answered the first few times, not because I believed in the terms, but because I felt I needed to appease their questions–they speak the language of diagnosis, so I figured I had to too. After a while I’ve stopped giving a direct answer. Instead, I say “I can’t answer that question–but I can tell you a couple experiences I’ve had.”

surst1So what do I think as a peer counselor and psychology student, of the DSM? You ever heard of “Surströmming”? The fermented fish? The one people have to open under water because it smells so horrible? The one people have to dress up with onions and bread to get a decent taste out of it?

That’s what the DSM is in the world of mental health.

Murder-Suicide Close To Home

I’ll catch up on the challenge post tomorrow. There is something I feel that needs to be said that has a little more priority, simply because of the context.

The town in which I live is relatively small. Tourists come from wherever they come from (hell, I think), and there are about four or five different . . . regions? I don’t know what to call them. I live in an unincorporated area of the town, but I’m still part of the town. That makes sense.

There was one man who parked his truck in the cliffs a while back. I guess the police had been informed he was feeling the need to end his life and before they got to him, he’d shot himself through the temple. I have no clue if the police knew where he was or not. This was maybe five minutes from my house, and probably a few months before or after (I can’t remember) some other guy was running around swimming in the nasty lagoon with a gun trying to hide from the cops. I don’t think he could hold his breath or stand the stench long enough to NOT get caught, because he got caught.

Yesterday there was a shooting at the mall about ten minutes from my house. A woman, her husband, and daughter had been shopping at the mall earlier in the afternoon, and now the woman called the police about her husband making “suicidal threats”–he was still at the mall with their daughter. I don’t know if the woman had left or not, the story is still rocky.

Regardless, the police didn’t make it, and I guess mall security isn’t trained and/or wasn’t notified, because the man shot himself and his daughter in the back of their Kia Soul in the middle of the parking lot. The girl was 8 years old. They both died in the car.

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Crime scene investigators survey the Capitola Mall parking lot Sunday, where a man killed himself and his 8-year-old daughter. (Stephen de Ropp — Contributed).

I’m not going to blame anyone here for anything. People can nitpick at the speed of the cops/security, they can nitpick at the man’s wife, and most likely they’ll nitpick at the man too. But the truth is, we’ll never really know why this man shot himself and his daughter or if anything preemptive could have been done.

Instead of blasting suicide hotlines at you, I think this is a perfect opportunity to remind everyone how hidden these feelings can be, and how serious the consequences are when they’re hidden for too long. People can blame it on “mental illness” or whatever you want to call it, but there’s much more too it. People can say he should have been shoved into a hospital, but even statistics knows 50%-70% of people who go in feeling like they should end their life come out feeling they should end their life tenfold. It’s not about being a sick bastard disturbed enough to kill his daughter. It’s about being a person who got fed up with whatever he got fed up with, or was struggling in some other way perhaps no one knew about, so he turned to the only logical thought in his head at that time.

It’s logical because it’s about taking control of things that are out of control, and that’s what he did. That’s a very human response. It’s not the response we generally like to hear about, nor is it the response I wish anyone to have, but it’s a human one alright.

That being said, had the cops arrived, would what they have done prevented anything? How much do they know about wanting to end their own life and what would they have said to him? Would the man have shot his daughter anyway, so they shoot him? What difference would that have made? Where the fuck did the gun come from? I didn’t know people who drove fucking Kia Souls were gun wranglers, I’ll never tailgate another Prius in my life.

There are so many assumptions to be made here, and that’s where the danger and the stigma and the stupidity starts, especially in murder-suicide incidents.

People get scared when the ones around them are spewing things like “suicidal threats” and I think that’s because of the panic and the fear that comes with losing someone they care for and the thoughts of what could happen. That’s also a pretty human response. But I think it’s also helpful to remember in that time that this person is telling you these things for a reason, and it’s not always just to let you know what their plans are.

That’s a lot of pressure–for someone to come to you and say they’re going to kill themselves. Now all of a sudden you feel it’s up to you to stop them. Is it? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone has any kind of responsibility for anyone else’s life. What I do know is that if you’ve experienced that kind of despair, or even if you have experienced any kind of deep pain at all, for any reason, you know how hard it is to see past it and how lonely it is. Maybe it’s not really about stepping in to save their life and be the hero walking away from the fire.

Maybe it’s not about convincing them to stay alive or being responsible for them, maybe it’s just about using what you know, what you’ve felt, to connect for just a moment. Maybe it’s not your responsibility to make them change their mind, maybe it’s their responsibility to change their mind and maybe you can support them through that change.

I would consider this situation at the mall very high risk and that’s why I say I don’t know if anything would have changed had the police reached that man and I’m not going to sit here and criticize people for things they should have done: that doesn’t bring either person back to life. I don’t know what kind of threats he said to his wife or how long he’s expressed these kinds of things. Maybe he never has. Maybe a slow growing brain tumor finally cut off some blood supply to a specific area of his brain and suddenly he didn’t want to live anymore and no words could have ever made a difference. You don’t know.

You can’t save everyone. That’s not meant to sound morbid, just truthful: some people have made up their minds and you could be the best connector in the world and they’ll still put a barrel to their temple.

But, a good try is better than not trying at all–or, you know, chalking it all up to being “sick”.

When You Love Your Parents Because They’re Your Parents.

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From what I’ve observed from the interactions I’ve seen between, there are different levels of connection. There are deep connections, in which people feel comfortable enough to touch (hug, playfully smack, whatever), laugh, and share things they’d only ever whisper or things they’d consider secrets. There are moderate connections, where most people’s close acquaintanceship or friends fall: you freely speak with each other, go places, enjoy things together, but tend to keep an acceptable amount of personal space. There are business-like connections, where you may know about someone’s life and they may know about yours, you may joke and laugh and maybe even enjoy an occasional night out with them. All three of those layers can overlap depending on the people involved, and their situation.

Then there’s surface-level connections. You greet each other. You smile, they smile, but you rarely see any other emotion from either person. It’s like being in a constant state of your first meeting with each other. Nothing propels the relationship forward.

Some people simply do not click, and I think that’s reasonable given there’s about 7 billion people on earth. If everyone got along instantly all the time, well, social justice issues wouldn’t exist.

I am one of those people stuck in a perpetual cycle of surface-level connections, and not because I have an aversion to people (or visa-versa), but because I didn’t know those other levels of connection existed. I’ve learned this just recently, and I’ve learned just recently that the relationship I share with my parents, and everyone else, is entirely surface level, and always has been. We don’t do things together. We don’t speak about our emotions with each other. We’ve recently tried eating more dinners together. 70% of the time, they end in arguments or physical confrontations. Coupled with all the health problems my father has, with the mental health ones I have, and with all of the financial weight landing mostly on my mother’s shoulders, it’s needless to say connection is a difficult thing to make.

I remember briefly as a child all three of us doing some things together, but not often. I remember a lot of arguments and fights and fear and anger, and I remember being stuck in my head. I’m sure that’s when the fantasies started becoming a form of protection. My world still protects me today, but in a different way now, a way that hinders me.

I’m starting to see that you can care and love for your parents in different ways. I will always love my parents, but I don’t want to be around them. I don’t want to be associated with them. Now that I’ve got a glimpse of what connection and openness and honesty is, I can’t handle being boxed in this situation. I’ve been in it for 21 years, I think that’s enough.

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How I was raised gave me three essential things: shelter (sometimes), food (sometimes) and clothes (about once every five years). I’m thankful for those things when we had them. But I didn’t learn how to communicate. I didn’t learn how to take care of myself very well, how to navigate anything outside the walls of my room, and most of all I didn’t learn how to manage any sort of emotions, not even the good ones or the “stable” ones.

What I did learn was that when I get angry, depressed, frustrated, or even happy, any emotion at all, the only tool I have is to dissociate from the situation: emotions aren’t meant to be felt, they’re dangerous. This could mean I enter a fugue state (which I’ve only had once or twice, I don’t recommend having one in the middle of a four way intersection like I did), it could mean a complete shutdown where I don’t speak, eat, or move, it could mean I hear, see, or get caught up in thoughts that aren’t based in this physical reality we know.

But to put something dangerous like emotions out in the open? How do you do that? Online is easy: I’m writing words I hear and see in my head all the time. Speaking them requires you own what you say. It requires the ability to acknowledge the pain and to trust who you’re speaking to–assuming you know how to trust. Which is something I was also taught, implicitly, is a sure way to get yourself killed or taken advantage of.

For me, this awakening is huge: to realize the majority of my life has been filled with consistent mental and physical abuse  Not because I get to blame all my mental problems on my parents, I would never take that cop out. My childhood only exacerbated what was already there in a sense. This is huge because I’m aware of two major things now: 1) I can love my parents without feeling guilty for also never wanting to live with them again. 2) I have a chance to move forward and explore parts of myself that never got a chance to blossom. I have a chance to learn things I never would have realized I needed to learn.

One of those things includes being open and honest when I’m having trouble. Which is almost all the time, but that constancy might reduce the more comfortable I feel talking. It’s just hard to shake the feeling that admitting struggling is a failure or a weakness or going to bring embarrassment or be a waste of time. I get stuck in a cycle of struggling, feeling overwhelmed, wanting to reach out, reaching the edge, and just before I’m about to put a gun to my temple, my brain pulls me back into some la-la land where I don’t feel on edge–or I feel entirely on edge for a completely different reason like people controlling me, or demons following me, talking to me, or aliens, spirit animals, whatever (I think mine is a bear, it came to me in my shower one day). Then I come out of it and wonder what I was feeling so horrible about to begin with. I’ll have completely forgotten.

My brain has turned into a protector, a survivor, but I would like to do a little more than just survive.

 

The Night

I once saw a bear in my shower. Well, he wasn’t in my shower, he was outside of the doors halfway in my mind, halfway in the bubble of consciousness we call The Universe. Then I saw a spider, the size of my hand, and he was on the door until he wasn’t anymore. Then I was transported to a garden with a grey stone wall and a tree with those cherry blossom flowers, those beautiful pink ones, and in front of the tree stood The Hooded One, in white, and he turned to greet me, or kill me, and I was pulled back from his garden. He visited my garden, my room, he turned my cat’s eyes red, and I was more frightened then I should have been. We were tugged between two wormholes. Then I fell asleep.

One night I discussed the word “working” with an old jazz man. Boy, did we have a good laugh. He asked me how the word should be pronounced, so I laughed and said it out loud for him to hear, and for me to hear, but no one else. He repeated the word, and my laugh, and then said the word with a British accent, and an otherwordly accent, then he asked again, again, and again if he was pronouncing it right. He played some saxophone in the background.

In a house I called myself dead, walking the halls of death row, but I didn’t say it and my feet weren’t mine. There was silence and noise and I was followed underneath the streetlights by the man with only a skin flap for a face, no eyes, no ears, no nose, no mouth, only thoughts which he stole from me. I ran to my car and went home and waited until sunrise.

First I thought I was going crazy, or maybe a little loony, Luna, Lunar, I must be from the moon. Then I decided alien contact and demons and wormholes made much more sense than insanity.