There’s Something Magnificent About The Night.

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I went bowling last night. As a social anxiety sufferer, the situation was not ideal; a bunch of people screaming, laughing, drunk, with music blasting the delicate cilia from my ears and neon lights making my pants look like something from the eighties. But–there’s always a but–I had fun. I won the first round, lost the second one miserably, broke part of my nail off, and had to wear the damn bowling shoes without socks because I hadn’t remembered I was wearing flats . . . but I had fun.

I like taking advantage of those kinds of situations. Although uncomfortable, I know the only way to conquer something this debilitating is to feel the anxiety, study it, and beat it into the ground. I fully admit i’m not strong enough to do this myself. I only go outside if i’m feeling particularly confident (dare I say, euphoric?) or if someone entices me out. In this case I was certainly enticed. After wallowing in a dangerous depression for the last two weeks, I needed something to help poke my head back into reality.

We got a lane surrounded by two large groups. The score board sits eight feet above our heads, large enough for the entire building to see. To make matters worse, there are seats behind the lanes for people to munch out on nachos or knock back a cold one. I know everyone watched me. I could feel their judgement slithering through my bones. They didn’t like how I walked. They noticed I had no socks. They noticed when I bowled horribly. They noticed when I lost. They noticed I sat oddly trying to avoid their stares. They noticed I couldn’t talk loud in fear of everyone hearing my words, judging my words and my humor and my laughter.

Rationality is nothing compared to anxiety. You could be the most rational person in the world and fall to your knees wailing all hail the Overlord Anxiety, our faithful master and king once it takes control. So when I felt the warm rush through my veins and the sudden blankness of my mind, the alertness of my hearing, I broke into my own brain and asked myself how I was feeling. Panicked, came to mind. Why? I couldn’t pinpoint it. Then what’s the point? The thought knocked a bit of the anxiety back. I bowled a few good rounds. While sitting I felt eyes on my back. They were staring at me. I was sitting weird. They were talking about me. Once again, I pried apart the doors blocking entrance to my mind and asked myself how I was feeling. Disturbed, came to mind. Exhausted. Paranoid. Embarrassed. Did I hear them talking about me? No. Than I couldn’t be sure they were talking about me. But what if they are? Then let them, they’ll forget about you in a few minutes, they’re all drinking anyway.

Back and forth internal banter–a hallmark of anxiety, I should think. Of course I appear aloof, uninterested, so when I get tapped I smile and politely ask them to repeat their statement. But all of that bickering helps me put control of my mind back in my hands where it rightfully belongs. If I don’t contradict my own thoughts then i’ll be thinking what my brain wants me to think, not what I want to think. The same applies to life: if I don’t question the environment around me, the ideals of those around me, then i’ll end up living a life according to my environment or a life according to the opinions of someone else.

No one can see the frustration inside or feel the energy drain from constantly fighting yourself. I don’t blame anyone for not understanding my fears. In fact i’m quite impressed by people with enough arrogance to say to my face in blatant monotone “that doesn’t make sense” or “I don’t understand, that’s weird”. They’re telling the truth and I can respect that. It’s harder for me to respect someone who sits and exhausts themselves convincing me they get it when it’s obvious they don’t.

But I often wonder how others help themselves or don’t help themselves. I tend to feel more comfortable around others at night. I can’t see their facial expressions entirely, nor can they see mine, and through the darkness I find comfort. Words flow easier. My eye contact isn’t creepily absent or creepily overdone. After bowling, and in the crisp night air of 11pm, a car rolled by with smoke pouring through their windows and some rap music blasting their tiny sub-woofers. I did my usual dancing routine that I think makes me look like a straight up O.G and we went our separate ways–something i’d never do with the sun up. I never saw their face, they never saw mine. It was a distanced act of communication: my favorite type.

It’s from incidents like this that I realize I’m way more outgoing than I ever appear to be. I love making others laugh, entertaining them with bold logic or embarrassing stories, spewing satirical banters, helping them when they need help, loving them when they need love, and making sure none of them have to feel the discomfort I have to feel. I never ask for anything from them and I don’t expect things from them–as long as they’re never on the brink of ending their life or suffering in any form, as long as I can make someone feel lively, i’m content with my life as perceived by the outside world. Internally, I feel manipulative, rude, disturbed, and pessimistic; all qualities I would embrace were it not for my anxiety.

So there’s a thing i’m thankful that my anxiety keeps under control. I’m thankful that i’m hyper-aware. I don’t want to rid myself of this entirely, I just want to improve what I don’t like. I want to improve social skills so I can hold down a job. I want to be relatively calm in public, around a crowd, around my family, around other’s families. I want to be able to contact people over the phone. I want to boost my confidence. And therefore, I think maybe i’ll start leaving the house in the evening just to help quell some other anxieties, start off slow and steady. I think nighttime harbors more gifts than people give it credit for. And I’m absolutely sure people harbor more strength in themselves than they give themselves credit for.

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Where Did All The Empathy Go?

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What would life be without contradictions? Probably pretty peaceful, like that early morning tide up above. But even the ocean has it’s violent swells.

I fancy looking at an obvious contradiction in human behavior: emotions versus rationality. People say humans base their reason on their emotion, that emotions make us human; they allow us to connect with each other, love with each other, fight with each other, and grow with each other. People value things, activities, livelihoods, based on the quality of emotion they feel. You love your job therefore you put high value on your position. You love your children, your family, your friends, and therefore place high value on their lives and their happiness. An exuberant amount of value is placed on money since the rise and spread of capitalist type monetary systems mostly because of the items you can acquire. As a result, the more money you have, the higher you’re valued in society. Don’t agree? How many celebrities do you know to have stayed in jail longer than the booking process for drug offenses other people get life in prison for?

I call emotional standings and rationality a contradiction because for a society that bases their entire communicative foundation on understanding emotions, we seem to use them sparingly in regards to other people. We detach ourselves and instead base our interpretation of other’s troubles on pure, unadulterated reason. The homeless man is homeless because he’s a lazy drug addict. Certainly a logic reason, right? Following such linear thought is often rational. This pattern of rationality, and reason in general according to Hume, doesn’t tell us what we value, but helps us pursue what we value. In other words, reasoning the homeless man is an inept member of society because of problems we won’t empathize with reminds us of the value we place on things like financial stability. We pursue that stability, we pursue the infamous, often unobtainable “American Dream” because we value it and because those we see as valueless become our motivational tools.

But the simple fact is we are emotional beings. Our decisions are dictated by them. We know just how powerful they are, that’s why we use reason as means of escape. Why feel horrid understanding other’s suffering when you can feel satisfied knowing it’s not your problem? In the United States individualism is our centerpiece–work for yourself, fend for yourself, muscle through, work hard and you’ll achieve all you could dream for. But what is an individual without a cluster of other individuals? Lonely. Confined. Disorientated. Hopeless. Whether we like it or not, we are not born into this world understanding social customs, human rights, or morality, they are taught to us through observation of culture, of family, of peers, of media. We develop our self identity through others, so where then is the rationality in individualizing pain? We wouldn’t be who we are without each other and this is coming from someone 15 years deep in agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder.

Hume theorizes our reason overrides common feelings like sympathy and empathy, feelings that merge other’s pain with ours. The lack of such results in those individuals committing inhumane acts. Reason, in its purest form, could justify anything like a manipulative teenager. No one wants one of those in charge. Then we’d all be forced to listen to Nicki Minaj and twerk as the only form of acceptable exercise.

I say all of this not out of anger but out of hurt. No one dare invalidate my paranoid or nightmares of killing, being killed, or committing suicide. No one even dare mouth off about my mood swings or deficit in anger management. But the moment I mention anxiety is the moment I’m a fraud. My explanations aren’t met with encouraging phrases or helpful hints, only stories of someone else’s achievements, a sort of standard I’m expected to match, like that time in middle school she got through the class presentation by taking a deep breath and “just doing it” or that time he “just ignored it all”.

It’s often seen as my choice, just as it’s every homeless man and woman’s choice to be homeless. I’m just lazy. I’m weak. But i’m not lazy. I barely leave my room because I’m tired of dealing with the agony of stepping over the threshold of the front door. It’s not fun knowing everyone can see the uncomfortable perspiration on the tip of my nose, or the racing thoughts of “they’re laughing at me, they hate me, they’re giving me that stare because they know i’m odd, they despise my demeanor, they think I’m being rude, am I being rude? I must be being rude; i’m freaking out, they’re talking about me over there, he’s telling his wife I sound ignorant”. I’m not weak either; anyone who fights themselves every waking second of their life and manages to keep themselves alive is stronger than any steroid injecting, acne covered, small-balled bodybuilder. It takes a special person to cope with any mental illness, no matter how small.

And the reason many of us get these carefree answers like we do isn’t because we’re explaining anything wrong or because people don’t “understand”. They do understand, rationally, but lack some major skills in empathetic understanding. We learn as children when our buddy falls on his face and skins his knee of all things, he is hurting. We comfort him because we remember the time we skinned our knee or we see the red, oozing wound and deduce it as painful. However, a skill, a real talent, a true internal beauty must be nurtured and grown to comfort people in the same manner who experience pains unlike anything we’ve ever felt. If someone can muster a “that must be very difficult for you” or a “that sounds incredibly horrible” they may sound like some cheesy therapist fresh out of undergraduate school with their bachelor degree plastered over their eyes, but they’re giving a go at putting themselves in your shoes and I see hope in that. I see no hope in replies like “that sucks” or “Oh, sorry”.

People aren’t bad. Most aren’t cold-hearted, or reptilian, or deplorable but I’m a firm believer our priorities as individuals have led humanity astray much farther than ever intended. We value paper currency over human lives and use loose reason to justify it–that’s not a good sign. It’s rather ironic, isn’t it, seeing as none of that is rational in the slightest. Is it the irony we value? Or the stupidity? Do we even value the value we place on things? What the hell are we doing?

I think I like it

There’s nothing more odd than going to sleep one person and waking up another. When my boyfriend asks me a week ahead of time if i’d like to go to his family gatherings I always try to answer as truthfully as possible and that truth is obviously ambiguous. So I say maybe.

Maybe I am manipulative, angry, disturbed, stupid, boring, hilarious, scary, unpredictable and whatever else people like to say, but I am not a liar. That gives me some amount of integrity, right? I’d be an honest thief if I wasted my time contemplating the science of stealing–you know, I’d be the one to mail back your wallet with everything in it but your cash. Think of it as me saving you a trip to the DMV for a new license.

I’d honestly prefer to stay indoors. Coming in contact with people risks triggers. Ending up a raging, crying mess in the middle of some place as Godawful as McDonald’s watching my friend chow down on fried kangaroo or whatever the hell they sell off as chicken is not my idea of a good day. Two words from someone’s mouth could spark an unforgivable rage or a spiraling depression of which I deal with alone, locked in my house for a week or so until some light switch flickers on and suddenly there’s hope again.

Up and down, left and right, diagonal and horizontal: these are the ways I describe my emotions. Sometimes i’m hopeful and gracious and obviously disgusted at the idea that anything could be “wrong” with me. Other times i’m five minutes away from swallowing the thirty Ativan in my purse. When I’m flat I feel nothing and could eventually teeter either way. Most of the time I don’t know what’s going on.

I can’t say I hate it. But I don’t want to admit I love it. At least when I feel “good” I can get things done, get out of bed in the morning, joke, face the outside world with less anxiety, finish homework, and brush things i’d usually take as an insult right off my shoulders. I guess it follows the saying “when i’m good i’m really good, but when I’m bad, i’m really bad”. But none of this even matters when it comes to the feeling that goes along with the emotions. I swear to God the emotions cling to different personalities. I see it as a way for the brain to understand something it can’t, just as I see the random repetitive sentences and words that sometimes pop into my head as a way for my brain to take a moment to focus, relax, and hear only one thought.

Here’s the thing with anxiety; it’s like a seven eleven: it’s open 24/7 and some scary sh*t happens to it. There’s no rest for the wicked. Even sleeping the nightmares keep my nervous system on high alert. But one thing I’ve noticed helps slow the constant feeling of dread, some of the paranoia, and much of the racing thoughts is something to focus on. Video games is one thing. But even something less violent like math takes my mind off the entirety of the world and the universe. For those brief moments i’m computing integrals are the brief moments i’m actually relaxed. I wake up in the morning with a five word sentence from a random song stuck in my head. It repeats for three or four hours and for the most part i’m hearing nothing else in my head. It’s like a gift from the gods.

Everyday is stepping blind onto an amusement park ride and i’m not ever allowed to peek. I hold everything behind a facade because people don’t deserve to worry about me like I worry about everything else. That’s an act of kindness, right?

It’s official . . .

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Video games are my heroin. They are my drug of choice.

Whether I’m Issac Clark curb stomping the heads of gurgling necromorphs or Ezio Auditore diving into carts of hay from rooftops crowded with pigeons, I can’t get enough. Sometimes I wish I could reap the benefits of electricity like Cole Macgrath–maybe give a quick zap to the person walking down the sidewalk with their head shoved in the screen of their phone, just as a friendly reminder there’s a whole world around them. If Los Santos Customs could really build me a car frame of chrome upon drive-in request for two thousand dollars I’d faint.

If all radio stations understood satire like Rockstar I’d start listening to them again.

I think i’m content living outside of The Last Of Us, however. Stunning graphics, flawless game play, a developed plot, an emotional roller-coaster from beginning to end, that game takes a spot as one of my favorites. Another basic zombie apocalyptic tale was what I expected and instead I got slapped in the face with infected humans, mushroom-headed clickers, and crazed FireFlies. I’m sure all of us felt a little pang in our love sacks when we found out the mutated cordyceps that could save humanity lie in Ellie’s brain. I’m still unconvinced that I would have been able to save her and leave humanity to it’s probable demise were I Joel. I’m also unconvinced that I would have let her die. Don’t you just love a game that twists your mind with ambiguous endings?

Do I have enough courage to purchase Outlast on Steam? I’ve asked myself that many times since 2013. The fact that it’s immersed in actual horror rather than action-horror like, say, the Resident Evil series (which I enjoy regardless) titillates my gaming senses. I want to feel the rush of being threatened without means to properly defend myself; that’s the true measure of a horror game: how much dread it can instill without overexerting itself. No one likes a game that tries too hard. And after the major disappointment of Aliens: Colonial Marines (I’ve never played it but everyone I’ve spoken with who has didn’t have kind words towards it) , Alien: Isolation gave me hope a pure horror genre may become more popular in these expensive games. The androids kill me. Them and their “You’re starting to test my patience” and their “It seems you and I have a problem” makes my skin crawl. They also infuriate me. When Alien leaps from an air vent and lands beside an Android, the Android mutters “What are you? Unidentified Species. Logging report to Apollo” as if that’s really going to stir a useful response. Thanks but no thanks; i’ll stick to my noise makers and flamethrower, please.

A curious game, one that’s gotten mixed reviews and one I’ve still yet to play for myself (facepalm) is The Evil Within. There’s something about Ruvik’s voice (Rorschach from Watchmen) that draws me in. There’s obvious similarities to Resident Evil (of course). I have nothing against smashing boxes and killing enemies for Ammo, I have nothing against boss battles or gruesome creatures, I just hope there’s actually a horror factor to it. Resident Evil never quite terrified me. I was too focused on shooting to jump out of my skin.

The world of gaming has expanded drastically. Pc’s are more powerful, virtual reality like the Oculus Rift gear and the newly developed Vitrix Omni puts you right in the action, gaming consoles include better graphics and more features, and you can make a decent living off playing them if you’re insanely popular on YouTube or Twitch. Unfortunately we can’t all be Markiplier or Pewdiepie. I’m not even sure I could dedicate as much time as needed to developing that kind of internet fame. I do, however, know video games have helped me through many anxious, depressed times. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in front of a monitor or television and prying yourself from your own head to dive into someone else’s for a while.

It’s a distraction more than anything. If i’m thinking about my strategy for ambushing a militia group kidnapping some civilians i’m not focused on the wreaking ball of anxiety built into the back of my head. I’m fully aware avoidance is a maladaptive behavior, but everyone deserves a break once in a while, right?

Besides, video games are basically animated literature you play a part in. The better the plot, the more detailed the character, the better the play through. Some day future classrooms will consist of video games as a preferred learning material, I’m sure of it. We’re already shoving tablets and computers in front of our elementary school kids, what’s wrong with handing them a controller or keyboard and mouse so they can play their way to an ‘A’?

That’ll be the slogan: “Expand your kids’ mind! Let them play their way to an ‘A’!

It’s a whole culture in itself though, really. There’s gamer speak, gamer attire, gamer conventions–gamers understand gamers. Gamers won’t ask you basic questions like what the acronym DLC stands for when you talk about Left Behind for The Last of Us or The Consequence for The Evil Within. They won’t ask you what the significance of 2tb memory is. Don’t judge my lame examples; you get the point.

Being the socially anxious freak I am, it’s nice being part of a group where I know for sure I don’t have to worry about what I say. I may not be an intense, professional gamer that knows everything about everything, but I know enough and play enough to hold my own in a conversation, something I can’t often do with any other subject besides psychology. Casual chatter is not my thing. Casual chatter about video games or psychology is my thing.

We like to put ourselves in a different world, experience creativity in its rawest form and I think that’s what makes gaming such an attractive hobby. When i’m angry I know I can go into a virtual world and dismember, mutilate, or Michael Bay the hell out of everything without consequence. When I’m depressed I can play something with witty satire. When i’m anxious I can play a strategy game, something to help me focus on one thing instead of several unimportant
things. I’d like to personally thank video games everywhere for giving me more solace than any therapist I’ve ever had.

A War Never Won

There’s one thing nearly every one of us who struggle with our mental health undoubtedly experience at least once in our lives: stigma. Some of it is intentional, some of it is out of sheer ignorance. All of it is because of misunderstanding.

Mental illness is often portrayed as the reason for a villain’s violent outburst, a weakness in an otherwise “normal” protagonist, a malicious strength of an antagonist. Negativity surrounds the very mention of the terms.  There are movies and stories of successful individuals with mental health issues, but we rarely see those kind of characters in, say, a supporting role where their illness isn’t in the spotlight. Bringing knowledge to the struggles we face everyday is never a bad thing. However, by giving us a spotlight they make a bold statement: “these people have struggles and they’re different from everyone else.” Granted, we do think differently than others and some of us act much differently than the average person but we all want to live a life we’re content with. By singling out a few stories people have managed to generalize the crazed actions of a very small amount of  people and associated them with all mental health issues.

A lot of campaigns on social media try and squander stigmas against mental illness through tags of #nomorestigma or uplifting, hopeful quotes. Others in the professional world think there’s one simple transformation needed to help stop stigma in it’s tracks: start changing names. For years now there’s been debates over whether calling mental health patients “clients” eased strain on both parties and whether or not it was more appropriate to say “bipolar” or “person with bipolar”. As I’ve stated many times and will continue to state, we are a culture strict on the political correctness of our labels.

But recently, at least in the last  two years or so, there’s been a lot of action in trying to change the name schizophrenia to…well, no one really knows. We’ve long since gotten rid of the previous subtypes of residual, catatonic, paranoid, undifferentiated, and disorganized for the newest edition of the DSM-V, but the general consensus for advocators of this change is that there is too much negativity attached to the term; people often assume those with schizophrenia to be violent murderers on a premeditated rampage. As a result people are often afraid of the diagnosis and those diagnosed are often devastated.

It’s a diagnosis with symptoms most people in the general public couldn’t fathom and anything people can’t understand,  anything where the bulk of the people’s understanding comes from stories, media, and stereotypes, frightens them. So would changing a simple word make much of a difference? Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) changed to Disassociative Identity Disorder(DID) but that didn’t seem to convince the speculative bunch of professionals that it exists anymore than it had termed as  MPD. There’s no speculation to whether or not those diagnosed with schizophrenia are in fact experiencing their symptoms but the theory is that if the name is removed the negative connotations will leave with it.

Now let’s break down the stupidity here piece by piece. Firstly, I’ve yet to see any writing released to the general public about DID where it did not include parenthesis saying “formally known as MPD”. No matter what we coined schizophrenia next, the term would always lurk around as the previous title and therefore carry around those pesky negative connotations. Secondly, those pesky negative connotations aren’t attached to the word, they’re attached to the symptoms. People are wary of the homeless man muttering incomprehensible words to himself under the assumption the voices he hears are a danger indefinitely. They’re disturbed by delusions their rationality keeps them from understanding. Flattened affect signals unsociable behavior and that alone is enough to keep someone fearful of you. These symptoms are more often than not portrayed as afflictions unconsolable, dangerous, and disturbing, and so fuels peoples disgust of them.

Most importantly, there’s a stigma attached to the entirety of mental illness. There’s stigmas against anxiety disorders, mood disorders, cognitive disorders, delusional disorders, and  personality disorders. Labels are just names for groups of symptoms after all, so it’s logical that when looking at two sets of the same behavior, one with a patient labeled schizophrenic and one with the same patient labeled as “salience syndrome”, people’s reactions we’re the same: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/marvin-ross/schizophrenia-name-change-sigma_b_4802958.HTML

Cultural relativism isn’t easy. Neither is illness relativism. It’s hard not to judge someone by how they act because behavior is one way humans naturally communicate just as it’s hard not to judge a culture by it’s rituals when we’re so custom to our own. It’s just a shame so many people take their sanity for granted.

Underwater

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Possible triggers.

Sometimes thinking positive isn’t an option.

It’s so easy for other people to tell you something isn’t hard when they haven’t experienced it themselves. By now, I recognize that vacant stare in everyone’s face when I explain why I still don’t have a job.

In kindergarten I gravitated towards pattern blocks rather than peers. On the floor I created this massive, yet perfectly symmetrical, circular masterpiece of which my teacher took pictures of for my parents. I didn’t speak with other kids, nor did I seem to want to. They sent me to the school counselor for a program in hopes of squeezing a sign of intelligence from me. I still would not speak. I got strung by a bee in first grade in the middle of class and found myself much too terrified of raising my hand. I sat for twenty minutes until the pain proved too much. Tears streamed from my cheeks and someone escorted me to the office. The same teacher asked me once to not place a pencil tip near my eye and I cried for an hour. The mere mention of my name in class, whether it be for an example or for an answer sent a dread through my veins no seven year old should suffer through.

I distinctly remember these feelings with me in pre-school. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out where it could have come from, and I’ve got several theories, but I’ve learned it doesn’t matter now. In first grade I made my first friend. We were in the same class until fifth grade, the worst year of my elementary school career. In fourth grade my teacher used toothpicks to call upon her students. I was called up for a math problem on the board, distribution with polynomials, and the only thought circulating through my mind was DON’T GET IT WRONG, THEY’RE GOING TO THINK YOU’RE STUPID. My entire body shook, I couldn’t breathe, and when I sat back down I learned I got the answer wrong. It’s not surprising it’s taken me over nine years to get good at math. Everyday was a traumatic experience.

I had two friends at home, one of which I saw only when she visited her grandmother, our neighbor. The three of us were fairly average. We raced each other on our bikes, we played around with Polaroids, we toyed with the animals, we picked vegetables out of the gardens, apples off the trees, and blackberries from the bushes in the back of the property. We played soccer, basketball, baseball, board games, “Crash” on the ever faithful Playstation One, and fought over stupid things. The tree branches which could sustain our weight took a beating, too. Even as little girls we splashed in mud puddles and once sprayed water through the window of the mean old lady next door.

Ironically, we lived behind a residential mental health facility. Their basketball courts faced the back of our studio apartments, the fence laced with two layers of barbed wire. Often a large man with brown hair hung onto the wires of the fence and watched us make-believe around the apple trees. One day he shouted “You can run but you can’t hide!” and tried jumping over the barbed wire. A few nights later a different man took a leap of faith over it, shoved me and my friend in a mud puddle, and raced off down the street. I’d like to think of that as my first introduction to the mental health community.

When I entered junior high, we moved into another apartment half a block down the street. My two friends had long since moved out of state and I no longer spoke with my elementary school friend because I couldn’t gather the courage to call her on the phone. I knew her parents would answer (you could imagine how the popularity of the cell phone makes communication for me much easier). At ten, my father sat me at the kitchen table and shouted his discontent over my refusal to call. I got sent to my room for a couple hours until I agreed to make the call. I waited until he stepped outside for a cigarette, pretended to dial the number, wiped my tears away, and told him i’d gotten their answering machine. He asked me, “was that so hard?” I answered no.

I’d never had my own room until then and I didn’t quite know how to digest the empty space. But I had a fairly rational fear of my closet at first: something hid in it. A few months later something was watching me, I felt it, I sometimes heard it if I listened hard enough. I couldn’t sleep with the light off or my door shut. My parents insisted I at least turn the light off because they paid the utilities. So I often went to bed early, before anyone turned the hall light off which shined across the shag carpet into my room. I couldn’t sleep with my back to the door or the closet, not without worrying of an ambush. I still struggle with this. When I told my parents my father suggested I look to God as a way to cast away any demons (we’re not religious). I took it a step further, created a transparent shield in my head and covered myself with it every night. I have to admit, it worked a little.

The only thing I ever got praised for was my writing. Perhaps it’s not as evident in these informal posts, but I had a nurtured talent for analyzing pieces of literature, of art, of anything, and conveyed my understanding with originality. I surpassed my fellow peers with flying colors. If anything, it proved to my teachers I wasn’t mentally challenged.

So I very rarely struggled in school. Math tripped me up because I had no confidence in my skills, I couldn’t ask for help, and therefore I rarely did my homework. It wasn’t until college, until now, that I realized how simple it can really be. Although, no matter what class above calculus I take, I will always have a burning hatred for Algebra. I hate Algebra in Calculus. I hated Algebra in Algebra. But I digress.

The four worst years of my life I award to High School. Besides Math, the rest of my classes were honors, intensive, or Advanced Placement, often with the same group of kids. They were very intelligent students, very extroverted. I hid in the corner because of my already deeply embedded anxiety but also because I knew they thought less of me. With no voice to prove otherwise, I simply separated myself from them.

So many horrible memories from high school: only one friend, no voice, no choices, one substitute teacher whose question caught me so off guard that I spoke in tongues–one of the most embarrassing moments of my life since the class fell absolutely silent–and all of the confusion. At fifteen I experienced my first of many, many episodes of derealization and depersonalization. Was reality real? Was I real? How did I know what was real and what wasn’t? I felt like I was looking through the eyes of someone else, watching their life unfold. Everything teetered edge of existence. I once blacked out and wandered into the middle of some cross traffic; I awoke to my friend and her aunt shouting my name and rushing to guide me to the other side.

I didn’t sleep. I ruminated over what happened the previous day, what would happen the next day, the next week, the next month–I even worried an entire year over one final presentation. I burned myself with plastic I melted if I wasn’t slicing my arm to bits or bruising myself. Suicide, back then, was never an option because I was too frightened of what was to come after death. I didn’t fear hell or God’s wrath, only what was to come if those two options weren’t available.

Junior year I thought often on the logical side of suicide. How much relief would come out of not waking to obsessive thoughts about how stupid I was, how ignorant I was bound to make myself look, how stupid everyone else knew I was, how they laughed at me and talked about me when I wasn’t around, how I’d never get anywhere in life, never do anything worthwhile? I got up at four thirty every school morning because I needed at least three and half hours to compose myself for the day. I cried often in the shower. I cried myself to sleep. I could never eat breakfast with an upset stomach.

But I quickly realized a major contributor to my avoidance was the fact that I had no skills to handle people. To this day I still assume tones in their voices, expressions on their face, all of which carry malicious intent. But I tried to fix it. I went to therapy, got on medication, and went through senior year drugged, exhausted, and not any less anxious, depressed, or paranoid.

I know I shouldn’t believe people are out to “get me” but I do. I don’t think they’re trying to harm me physically, but I’m not entirely convinced they take kindly to me. They give me disgusted expressions as if they know i’m messed up. They divert their eyes because they they don’t want me to see they pity me. They mock me when I hint at my mental struggles and often don’t believe me; i’m sure my therapist didn’t ever take me seriously–then again, I can’t blame her, I hardly told her anything.

I go through depressive periods where I curl on my bed and flip through the archived ways to kill myself. A wrist slice? Pill Overdose? I have plenty of Ativan. Drive off a cliff? Jump off a cliff?  I had a plan one Sunday to take a box cutter, wander to the harbor early in the morning, wear a couple thick sweaters, slit both my wrists vertically and watch the sun rise. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it sounds, so don’t criticize me. Had I not made a commitment the following weekend to wash my car with a friend, I would have attempted it. Obviously, I used the commitment as an excuse and that’s a good thing. Any decision to not kill yourself is the best decision no matter the corny reason.

I curse at myself openly and wake up saying “you stupid son of a b*tch” or “f*cking c*nt” or “dumb b*tch”. I feel if I don’t recite them out loud they’ll just play on a broken record in my head and I’ve already got tons of thoughts circulating in there. I don’t go out of my house very often unless it’s a necessity.

I know there’s more than one person inside of me because they fight constantly. They change my moods in an instant. Sometimes they’re the reason I get through my classes. Sometimes they’re a reason to hate myself. Regardless, they’re who I am and I’m not willing to let them go. I have no one left besides them.

But it feels as if my life is lived constantly underwater. There’s so much pressure from the outside and from inside my head that curling up in a ball on my bed for a few days is my moment of recharging. Thoughts swarm faster than I can hold onto them or they repeat themselves more than I knew possible; it all becomes white noise against the cackles of the external world.

Some days i’m suicidal, some days i’m just above suicidal and those are good days. I know some of what I experience is due to years of untreated, smaller symptoms of anxiety, and I’ve wasted my time growing livid over that fact. The struggles pull me under, the good days are still bad, and sleep eludes me still but for some sick reason I’m in love with it. That man all those years ago spoke truth: You can run, but you can’t hide. So what’s the point of ever running?

I always recommend professional help. I’m going back soon, anyway. Help is not an act out of weakness or an act to be shameful of, it’s an act of self care. The more you accept yourself the easier you can live life. I’m not sure anyone’s willing to dispute that fact. 

Here’s a tough one . . .

Most everyone you ask admits normality is a pretty high standard to meet in society today. Some say it doesn’t exist. Some explain it in terms of statistical averages. Personally, I believe normality irrelevant: you are you and if your behavior or symptoms causes you great distress than you have the right to seek improvement for your life, whatever that may be. However, we’re a society with a heavy focus on blatant separation between right and wrong, satisfactory and unsatisfactory, acceptable and not acceptable. I appreciate the order this philosophy creates, I despise the stereotypes it fuels.

On that note, a peculiar posting on PsychCentral caught my eye just a few days ago in relation to normality. For those not familiar with the site, it’s a place with forums for those who suffer mental health issues to find support through their peers. It’s also a source for information, news, research, and some fun quizzes with results I wouldn’t recommend putting much faith in. But the saving grace of this site is the “Ask a Therapist” option. The idea is simple: ask a question about a particular mental health related issue in less than 400 words and wait a few weeks for a licensed professional to respond.

At least once every ten posts I scroll through, I see a common title: “I want to kill people”. If you read through a few you will see the person is often plagued with thoughts of mauling a neighbor or stabbing a stranger or fantasizing about dismembering a group of friends. They understand society does not accept such a form of behavior and prison/jail time is often their deterrent for acting out on their urges.

One story caught my attention not because of the disturbing nature of the content but because of the response posted. This professional described perfectly the statistical definition of normality and even gave a little side note on how many standard deviations are accepted for a measure to be considered “normal”. I do not in any way condone murder, nor do I believe urges to kill is a good thing, but the way this professional worded her response irked me. Firstly, she says “Let’s look at what normal really means” snd then goes on with her statistical definition. But how can the definition of normality be defined with any sort of mathematics without getting theoretical? Math is meant for describing natural phenomenon, not socially constructed ideals. Perhaps that’s why statistics was invented in the first place.

Or perhaps what’s needed here is a change of term. “Average” seems much more fitting. Negative connotations are connected with the word normality; if you score “average” on a test you neither did good or bad, you did as well as the majority of the people in the class, but if your professor threw your test down in front of you and said you did “abnormal”, most people would uncomfortably view that deviation from “normal” as bad. It’s what we’ve been taught. I dislike both terms “abnormal” and “normal” because it’s another socially dictated dichotomy. The term “average” at least hints at a spectrum of options and humans surely are a very full spectrum of behaviors. How can “normal” even exist given the uniqueness of the human brain? Sure, there are similarities in behaviors and thought patterns, but even the most conservative research psychologist has to admit there are deviations from “normal” within behaviors already labeled “normal”. It’s like a Russian doll here, people!

I don’t think it’s very professional to label anyone’s thoughts “normal”, regardless of their shock factor. I also don’t think it’s very professional to boldly state “most people do not hear voices in their head” when it’s a known fact that many people do. The individual in the post was well aware these “voices” were not external, they were internal and they were coming from her. Yes, a hard concept for someone to understand if they’ve never experienced a conscience. All sarcasm aside, although these “voices” had emotions of their own, a better explanation besides the all too common THEY’RE CRAZY or THEY’RE SCHIZOPHRENIC would be they’re terribly stressed, especially when mentioning symptoms like pulling out their hair, biting their nails, or the fact that they must always occupy their hands with something. Whether they’re stressed over constantly fighting the urge to kill, or stressed over not killing is irrelevant (as dark as that sounds). The brain comes up with ingenious ways of protecting itself and pulling apart emotions into separate portions of the brain is not a new concept. It’s not “abnormal” and it’s not “normal”, it’s simply the best alternative this person’s brain can find to make sense of everything. Perhaps this is their brain’s way of staying “healthy”.

What is a “happy and meaningful existence”, anyway? Is that the same as being told the way your brain works is “wrong”, that it’s not “normal” and then going through years of people pushing you to be like them? Once again, I’m not condoning everyone go on a murderous rampage or spend hours fantasizing about death and dying, but i’m a firm supporter of taking care of yourself in a way that benefits you best. I talk often with people who struggle with their psychiatrists dumping loads of medications onto their plate or who feel their therapist is disrespecting them and they’re often confused on how to go about dealing with it. For most of us the obvious idea is to leave, but these are professionals who are supposed to support you and uplift you, people you want to believe in as their client. The unfortunate truth is there is no quick fix. Both client and doctor should be deeply involved in the treatment; this means the psychiatrist or psychologist or therapist takes into account their clients opinion, feelings, and history and the client must be able to openly express their opinion.

So here’s a side tip: Don’t be afraid to argue with your doctor! I’m not saying march in there with your hands on your hips, throw your pills over his head like confetti and moonwalk out of the place, i’m just saying if you don’t agree with a treatment suggestion, speak up. There may be a misunderstanding or a way to resolve the situation.

Given all that, this professional may have just been over exaggerating her opinion as a scare tactic. Therefore, I believe the most important thing to remember here is that normality is a dichotomy and in humans that just isn’t possible; we’re too diverse! Everything varies along a spectrum–how we think, what we eat, what we believe, how our brains work, how we define gender–which means, yes, there will be individuals like monks who sacrifice their life for ultimate peace and there will be individuals among us with urges to kill. It’s simply a fact of life. Whether it’s wrong, right, normal, abnormal, acceptable, not acceptable are all constructions needed for social control. After all, dichotomous views are much easier to comprehend than understanding that anything in humans is possible. So let me know: do you agree? Disagree? What do you guys think?

Link to the article I reference: http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/06/29/i-want-to-kill-i-do-not-feel-the-same/

Hello and Welcome!

What can I say, I have an insatiable passion for everything psychology! Whether it be psychiatric medication, behaviorism, psychoanalysis, mindfulness, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), ECT (Electro-Convulsive therapy) or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, I’ve read an article on it, done a paper on it, or participated in some obscure debate about it.

As a psychology major and a psychiatric patient, I’ve seen both the good things and the bad things. I’m not here to bash psychiatry but I also refuse to put absolute faith in it. So far, I’m further along in my studies of the science than psychologists are in figuring out what’s “wrong” with me and I may keep it that way, at least for a little longer. There’s no trouble in having a little fun, is there?

This is a place of information, of support, and of hope. Many people are touched with mental illness, some of which are absolutely destroyed by it. I’ll share what works for me and what works for others. I’ll share new techniques being developed, new drugs, corruption on the inside of the industry from a close-up and personal viewpoint, successes on the inside of the industry, and hopefully show a few people that a label is not the end of the road. I welcome you to join me on this journey; you’ll learn something new every couple days!