I hate Kanye, He’s Awesome

I have to jump on this bandwagon because I’m hearing a lot of opinions in the mental health social media community (that’s a thing now. Dear Lord.) about Kanye’s recent interview with David Letterman. The interview is on Netflix.

They talked about a few things. Clothes, art, and Kanye’s “church”. I don’t–I won’t comment on whatever all that is about.

Whatever.

When they first get into the mental health stuff, Letterman attempts to sum up Kanye’s bipolar diagnosis in an “easy” and “simple” way. He states “the synapses get fatigued and say ‘we’re not carrying this message anymore'”. I won’t ding Letterman for this, nor Kanye for agreeing with it because neither of them have probably ever read a neurology or psychology textbook in their life. But to make it clear, synapses aren’t getting fatigued. If we could tell you what was happening in any mental health condition, they wouldn’t exist anymore.

Kanye gets to a point where he needs to get something off of his chest. He says there’s a moment he experienced in his treatment that needs to be changed and if any of you have read even just one of my many posts, you’ll know that I smiled largely as I guessed what that experience was.

He explains that in the moment of one of his episodes, he feels hyper paranoid about everything, that everyone is an actor, everything is a conspiracy. I’d say that’s pretty similar to what many of us feel. He says, “you feel everyone wants to kill you and they handcuff you and drug you and put you in the bed and they separate you from everyone you know. Something I’m so happy I experienced myself so I can start by changing that moment.”

He’s talking about forced/coercive treatment, but also about the general vibe when you’re hospitalized. The last time I was taken against my will, no family was allowed to visit me until I was transferred to a different hospital an hour away where no one could come visit me anyway. While in the crisis unit, I continuously called my mother asking what the hospital staff were telling her, because they wouldn’t be honest with me and I didn’t trust anyone. I couldn’t. People were possessed and impostors and unreal and I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t feel that also extended to their family.

Kanye very openly, and rightfully so, regards this as “cruel and primitive” and I agree to an extent. Is it smart to have all ten family members crammed in the hospital with you while you’re crippled by voices and dread? Probably not. But if, for whatever reason, you have just one person you can even remotely trust for two halves of a second, blocking that contact with the outside world only pushes you further in your head. As Kanye said: “This is like a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle. And if someone has a sprained ankle, you’re not going to push on him more.”

Then, the big controversy comes: the meds.

I figured his opinion wouldn’t be very popular.

He said he has been medication free for eight months. Some of the crowd claps. I would have. Wouldn’t you clap for your friend or parent who was able to come off their blood pressure medication? Do they run the risk of raising it with bad eating habits and lack of exercise just as Kanye runs the risk of being carried away by mania while refusing to take care of his mental health in other ways? Can’t your friend’s blood pressure rise again for no clear reason, just as Kanye’s mania can come unprovoked? Doesn’t your friend run the risk of death just as Kanye theoretically would were he to dip into a serious low? If everyone in the world wants to compare mental health to physical health, then compare it that way too.

But, Kanye is very clear he’s not advocating for everyone to go off their meds. How have people missed this? I have the quote right here, verbatim: “When we clap at the idea of not being on medication–my form of mental health I think is like the luxury version of it. There’s people who can’t function without medication. So I’m not advocating–I’m telling you MY specific story.”

It’s the same thing I tell others. All. The. Time. Yes, I’ve gone off and on meds. Yes, there were times the meds were extremely necessary. And there were times they were a detriment. And for ME, my PERSONAL DECISION was that I have always felt better off medication than on. And I needed to choose: be compliant with meds 100% or leave them alone 100%. It was the on again off again that was torturous.

So even with Kanye stating specifically his personal experience, we think we have the right to tell him what’s better for his body, basically stigmatizing our own. I’ve never once told a mental health peer to go off their meds. But I’ve been told thousands of times by peers to go back on meds. That’s like a religious fanatic: don’t tell me about your atheist or Muslim or Jewish views, but let me tell you about the love of Jesus Christ and why you should accept him into your heart because that’s what’s best for you, that’s what will save your soul.

It’s hard to feel accepted with a mental health diagnosis. It’s even harder when your own people are against you.

Letterman then goes on to explain his own experience with medication and the advances in medication targeting specific areas of the brain (which is just misinformation) and says that medication is what helped him see clearer. Kanye, at some point, reflects that it’s great for him that he found a medication with the least amount of side effects that works for him. That’s the only way to respond. That’s the way I often respond.

My point? Why does Letterman get praise for pushing the efficacy of medication he has proven he doesn’t understand the chemistry of, and Kanye get flack for choosing to go through his mental health journey in a different way? Because medication works for you? Because it’s saved your life and you want to save him too? What if he doesn’t need saving?

This ties into so many topics. Coercion, publication bias, and this idea that we know what’s best, that we have the right to force help on someone.

This isn’t a man in a coma who would never want to sign a DNR. This is a man who is conscious, albeit not in your reality. And that makes you uncomfortable–maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve seen how families can fall apart. Whatever it is. But the point is we must eradicate your discomfort by subduing his experience.

This is coming from someone who recognizes this need to help is innate and out of good intention.

This is also coming from someone who recognizes and has experienced the terror and pain that we go through. This is coming from someone who knows first hand that sitting in two week old dirty clothes, ratty hair, no food while listening and believing voices telling me I’m going to die soon, that I won’t be on this earth anymore, fucking sucks. This is coming from someone who absolutely appreciated the moment medication helped bring me from that. This is also coming from someone who recognizes medication isn’t always a life sentence.

This is coming from someone who understands that you can’t talk to your high blood pressure, but you can talk to your voices. I’d say that’s a pretty big wedge in the whole “mental health should be treated like physical health” argument.

But talking–that’s rarely encouraged in traditional psychiatry. A shame. A lot can come from it.

My point? Don’t stigmatize each other. Don’t act like we as a species have all the answers in the world. Don’t act like anyone really understands the mechanisms of any medication. And don’t thwart someone’s individuality because it clashes with your beliefs.

Progress and Advocacy

I didn’t think I’d make it to 23. I thought for sure I’d kill myself before then, or get possessed into damnation and die while the priest tried exercising the demon. After the Las Vegas shooter and the stint of psychosis and hospital visits that succeeded it I wasn’t sure what was going to come next. I certainly didn’t expect to move out of my parent’s apartment, start looking for a new car, a second job, and start school again.

I still remember the first day paranoia hit me like I’d never experienced. That was the day I learned the difference between anxiety and paranoia. I was no longer anxious, I was fearful, I was suspicious, and I was sold on the idea that those classmates were jealous of me and formulating a plan to get me kicked out of college. I was for sure they were reading my blog posts and wanting to shut that down as well. On top of that, I believed a coworker was invading my body and controlling my movements, intercepting my thoughts, and preventing me from speaking. I spend days sitting in front of my computer watching YouTube with the lights off and a blanket over my head. I couldn’t go out into the kitchen and get a damn bowl of cereal without feeling my movements weren’t my own.

That was almost two years ago to this date.

Then some conflict happened at work that made me question the trust I had in myself and trust I put in others. I had just begun trusting people for the first time in my life and when that was broken things spiraled quickly out of control. I was convinced the shooter was possessed by the same demons who were possessing my coworkers and they shot all those people as a warning to me. I started seeing women with their heads spinning around like the exorcist and hearing voices telling me to strangle my cat, telling me I was a “dead man walking” (even though I’m a woman) and making my footsteps echo like I was walking through the halls of hell. They showed me where I would be in hell through dreams, and tormented me in ways that would seem normal: nightmares, bad thoughts, e.t.c., things that don’t make me look “crazy” so they wouldn’t be caught. I’d see faceless people following me down the street at night.

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I can’t put these events in order because everything sort of blends together. I worked 4 or 5 days out of the week for two consecutive weeks and it broke me. I ended up back in the hospital and that’s where I received a diagnosis of Bipolar 1, on top of my past diagnoses of PTSD, Social Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression, and GAD. Out of the hospital, I received a revised diagnosis of Psychosis NOS: considering I’ve never had a stint in Mania in my life, it made sense from a professional standpoint.

I don’t tell what my diagnoses are not because I’m ashamed but because they don’t really matter. What matters is the experience, how I cope, and how others can cope. I don’t define myself or anyone by diagnosis, I don’t call them sick, I don’t call them “mentally ill”; in fact, I regard that as an insult.

If we want to reduce something like stigma we need to advocate for ourselves in a way that shows we are the same as everyone else, but with a different perspective on things in life. The brain is as unique as a finger print, I’ve said it many times on this blog, and that essentially crushes the idea of standard identity: no one is standard, there is no standard. There is only variety.

If we want people to take mental health seriously, we need to show them we aren’t dangerous, we aren’t crazy, we aren’t sick, we aren’t ill, we are strong, empowered people who struggle and are able to cope with that struggle in whatever way we can. We are people who have a lot of offer to this world, and perspectives to share with the world. We can work, we can live independently, we can choose to take medication or not and if you don’t believe me (even though I’m walking proof of that), please refer to Soteria house with Psychiatrist Loren Mosher and this post here.

And that’s today’s Mental Truth.

Mental Illness . . . err, sickness . . . err, Disorders.

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An interesting conversation on some forums came up yesterday about those of us who struggle mentally possibly making ourselves ill. They had the support of people until they questioned:

Now the doctor should say “try to imagine that your not mentally ill, don’t tell yourself that it’s the case, and go about your daily activities as if you aren’t ill.”, would that get many people over the depression? Physical problems are obvious, but with mental illness it’s always subjective, one may answer that I have these traits, but those could be grey areas.

After using their logic to defend their belief that if you took a lot of tests everyone would have some kind of disorder, so they wouldn’t be disorders they would be normal, they came up with the above question.

I think it’s why the person who responded to them was not on their side. Their response was:

No, it wouldn’t. Depression is epic to deal with. If a person responded to that kind of “treatment.” Then they probably didn’t have depression in the first place. And yes, there are grey areas. Where something could be depression or another issue. But that’s the same with physical illnesses. There’s often not a firm single diagnosis. The doctor will treat the most likely cause. If the treatment doesn’t fix it, they try the next most likely. And so on. Any physical illness forum will have “horror” stories. About doctors who refused to believe the actual diagnosis. And tried all the wrong treatments first. That doesn’t mean that people don’t have a genuine issue. Or that whatever it is is something they should “just get on with.”

I gave them both the benefit of the doubt.

Let’s discuss it anyway, shall we? Because one of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about stigma and self-stigma and how we as the people being stigmatized can address it in a productive way. Although that concept has gotten a little lost in my aggressive, generally satirical rants. 

I’m sure we can all agree here that telling someone “you don’t have depression” will not solve their depression.

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However, can we all agree that when we were first diagnosed, or when we’re labeled by a professional, you almost immediately get that sense of something being wrong with you? Of being clinically different than others? Of having a “chemical imbalance”?

Can we all agree that so many mental disorders listed in the DSM-V have overlapping features, and can we please agree that many of them have symptoms that could easily be misdiagnosed by a professional or exaggerated by a patient caught up in themselves after searching on the internet?

This is what the original poster mentioned about labels:

[Labeling] people with a disorder is a more polite way of saying “your a pussy”, “or your lazy”, “or pull your head out of your ass”, maybe they can’t do that, but until they test whether it is an illness and not the latter, then you can’t know.

Because they defined everyone as having some portion of mental disorder, and therefore rendering mental disorders normal behavior, they can come to this conclusion, it follows their logic.

A response to that line of text was that labels are a way for people to “Deal with a collection of symptoms” in which a method is suggested to resolve or manage said collection of symptoms.

I agree with neither of them. I don’t think a label is a way to deal with a collection of symptoms, nor do I think the doctor is calling me a pussy whether or not he’s actually thinking that, I think a label is a way to list a collection of symptoms for clinical purposes and nothing more. And yet, over the years, we’ve placed stereotypes on those symptoms, labeling them “abnormal” and “weird” or “freaky”.

Then we want to start changing the name of the label as if that would change the way people see the symptoms. Because the label is the problem here, right?

Wrong.

Stigma isn’t just people calling us lazy and unorganized and this and that. Stigma is us calling ourselves that and honestly, as an advocate for all of us, I’ve always pushed more for a transformation of how we see ourselves, rather than a transformation of how other people see us.

We can always change how we think. We can’t change how they think That’s their job. 

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That doesn’t mean we stop educating the public, it just means we focus the majority of our energy on ourselves, on how we feel about ourselves, on realizing that we’re not defective, genetically mutated, chemically imbalanced, or “Abnormal”, no matter what kind of professional documents say so.

As much as I love psychiatry and psychology, it is not in any way, shape, or form an exact science. We need to stop treating it as such.

That being said, I believe that poster had an underlying point the person responding didn’t catch: seeing ourselves as ill is a problem. Our illness isn’t a problem, obsessing over it as an “illness”, is.

depression-and-bipolar-disorderI have depression. And anxiety. It’s been severe, more severe than I let people on about. But even as a child, even when I knew there was something about me that didn’t quite match with the other children, there was only a brief period in time (a few months maybe) where I thought I was defective.

That doesn’t stop me from being depressed. However, it does stop me from worsening my depression, my anxiety, my obsessions, on my own. It stops me from worrying that my ideas of reality and death, the way I relate seeing a sign on the road to my destiny or seeing someone flash their lights as a message to me, or reading a really inspirational quote and feeling it was meant for me because I’m here for a special reason, my derealization and such, are the beginnings of something “psychotic”.

I think people in general get worried when they take a test online that tells them they’re suffering from traits of a disorder, a mental health problem, an illness.

So I took the liberty of taking a few personality tests, things I feel people go online for the majority of the time. 

Paranoid:

High (Not surprising)

more info | forum
Schizoid:

Moderate (Also not surprising)

more info | forum
Schizotypal:

High (still not surprised)

more info | forum
Antisocial:

Moderate (fucking hilarious if you know what Antisocial means)

more info | forum
Borderline:

Very High (hysterical)

more info | forum
Histrionic:

Low (honestly truthful)

more info | forum
Narcissistic:

High (fuck you)

more info | forum
Avoidant:

High (Not as ‘high’ as you think)

more info | forum
Dependent:

Very High (LOL)

more info | forum
Obsessive-Compulsive:

Very High (Yep. Totally.)

Paranoid |||||||||||| 41% 50%
Schizoid |||||||||||||| 53% 40%
Schizotypal |||||||||||| 45% 56%
Antisocial |||||||||||| 45% 46%
Borderline |||||||||| 36% 45%
Histrionic |||||| 21% 52%
Narcissistic |||||| 30% 40%
Avoidant |||||||||||| 45% 48%
Dependent |||||||||| 40% 44%
Obsessive-Compulsive |||||||||||| 44% 45%

I feel these are pretty common tests people take on the internet, I see it all the time, people self-diagnosing based on traits generalized from an automated system. And when someone sees: “Jeez, I scored 53% on Schizoid, that’s 13 percentage points above the average score!”, they google the term, find the symptoms, and two things happen:

  1. They feel they’ve finally got answers
  2. Subconsciously, they embody those criteria, they embody those symptoms. They may have legitimate struggles, but making themselves (by no real regard of their own) fit a label, they’ve essentially made themselves “sicker”.

I took a mental health assessment. Scores out of 100, animated with the following gifs of my exact reactions:

Substance Abuse: 0

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MDD: 92

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Manic Episodes: 43 (keep in mind, I answered ‘sometimes’ to the ONE question that spoke about “feeling elated” and I answered never on the ONE  question about impulsive behaviors, spending, gambling, sexual encounters.)

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Bipolar Disorder: 99

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GAD: 100

Panic Disorder: 58

Panic attacks: 53

I took several more. Psych Central thinks I have Borderline Personality Disorder and so does “Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified”. Healthyplace also thinks I have BPD, but they also think I have schizophrenia so go figure. Psych Central disagrees and says I do not have schizophrenia.

What do I gather from all of this?

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Because what people don’t understand about these things are how bullshit the questions are. If someone truly has magical thinking, do you think they’re going to know what that entails? They’ll most likely mark “never”. Most of the questions are generalized, provide no concrete examples, and would be better at rating the consistency level of a healthy dog’s bowel movement than anything about my personality or mental health.

My advice?

Use personality tests for fun. Don’t even use them to “see if you have traits” of a disorder. It’s just not accurate enough for that.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, avoid the internet, it bullies you into believing it. If you’re struggling with your mental health, see a few professionals and get some different opinions.

Don’t take their diagnosis as a life sentence. Don’t take what they say as words from a religious text. You really are as sick as you think you are.

You could struggle with the worst disorder known to man, and as long as you don’t limit yourself, no one else can limit you.

I’m not saying what people experience on a daily basis is a lie. What I’m saying is that it exists, but not in the terms the medical business puts it in. It exists, it’s manageable, and the better we feel about who we are, the easier it is to live with ourselves.

I figure that’s pretty solid common sense.

I’m going to sleep. It’s 5:18 a.m