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.

A Burden Shared Is A Burden Halved

There are days where giving up doesn’t feel like an option, but instead feels like an obligation. These days it feels as if the grey overcast encases not the city, but just myself, my individual body, in a soft coffin of my own, inanimate despair. Through the fog I can see others, I can hear others, but I can never reach them, I can’t touch them, and even if I could, I wouldn’t be sure how to. These days are boil over into nights which simmer into more days.

Today was one of those days.

Happy Holidays.

.

. .

. . .

I could have ended the post there, and I would have, had my night ended differently. Many of you already know my struggles with depression, as many of you have your own struggles with it. Welcome to the club, we have cookies.

I’ve been on a steady dosage of Effexor XR, which returned my energy to me. I pay out of pocket for it, as well as my psychiatry appointments, and since my psychiatrist decided to raise her prices tremendously high, and since I know she gets kickbacks for each prescription she writes, and since the cost of the medication would run over a hundred dollars a month, I’ve decided I can’t do it anymore, not until I get health insurance. So, I’ve run out of pills and have been struggling with the withdrawal.

I’ve heard this is one of the hardest drugs to come off of. I’ve only been on it for four months, perhaps three weeks at a dosage of 150 mg, and I am swayed by how shitty this experience is. The dizzy spells, the hot flashes, the head aches, the tremors, the brain zaps, all of it.

I’ve steadily been more depressed. I awoke this morning in tears, and remained so. My kitten came up to me, pawed away my tears, and licked my cheek as if to say “it’s okay”. The phone rings and I get called into work as a late notice. They could find no more on-call staff, and I was the last option they had. I went in because I thought maybe it would be good for me. It was.

A woman tonight, who had had a very bumpy entrance a few days before, asked to speak with me. She said she was happy I was there. I smiled. She began crying. And crying. And crying. I would never disclose personal information of one of our guests, that’s just unethical, but the jist of her message was that she’d never been surrounded by people who could be this kind, this gentle. She’d never known she had peers. She’d never been so understood, so part of a community like ours. She said we were all ourselves here. And I agreed: we certainly were.

It’s not easy to be yourself. It’s even harder when people place a stereotype on you because of a mental health struggle. We agreed all of it was a journey.

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She was overwhelmed with the shock. In that, we shared much in common. I had felt the same my first day at this place; the day of my interview. I was terrified of the kindness, it freaked me the hell out. Being told that these strangers were here to support me, that they understood, honestly left me stumbling down the stairs of the house back to my car like I’d been clocked in the temple by a fucking bear’s claw.

We talked for a half an hour or so. We shared stories and views. She couldn’t have known that half of the day I’d had to stop and bend down to stop myself from being dizzy. She couldn’t have known that half of the day while I was having a random conversation with my coworker, I was also listening to random voices echoing out of no where telling me equally random bullshit. She couldn’t known that that entire day I’d been horribly depressed.

Now, if there’s one thing I know about antidepressants, it’s that when you stop them, you become much more depressed. It messes with the chemicals in your brain after all.

So what this tells me is that conversation, connection, this thing we call “peer support” has more of an influence on the chemicals of our brain than some of the people in psychiatry would care to admit, or would care to research.

To be clear, I’ve never had a conversation ever, ever, pull me from a depression. I’ve been fighting urges to finish this shit, kill myself, for the past week, ever since I had to drop from 150 mg to basically nothing. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know my depressions dive swiftly, and deeply.

I will remember this conversation for the rest of my life. I will cherish it for the rest of my life. Because in that moment, in that brief amount of time, one woman realized she didn’t have to keep anything inside, she realized she didn’t have to hide herself, she realized she could be happy with who she was and I realized, once and for all, that I’m not insane. I realized that this pain that haunts me can be shared, and not to burden someone else, not to look for a solution, which everyone tries to give like they’re fucking Mother Theresa and knows everything there is to know about mental health, but to connect. I realized that I need to reach out.

That’s my goal. Her goal is to learn to be happy with herself. My goal is to learn to reach out and trust, regardless of the stupid excuses I make for why I don’t talk to people. I do have trouble expressing myself verbally, I can’t follow conversation, and it makes me feel dumb. But I’ve been using those struggles as an excuse not to ever talk. I’ve been using them as excuses so I can stay prideful and keep that weird, warped mindset that because I’m a peer counselor and have struggled with my mental health for longer than I can remember, I shouldn’t struggle anymore.

I shouldn’t be the one talking to myself.

I shouldn’t feel depressed.

I shouldn’t be anxious.

And most of all, I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to talk about all of the above and more because I preach self confidence and I believe fully that these things people call mental disorders, these things I call experiences, are just a different perspective and integration of life rather than the result of a “broken” or “sick” brain.

I’m not supposed to feel embarrassed.

But I do. A lot. That fuels the anxiety, so I tell no one about anything because I’m terrified of their reaction, even people who have been through similar things. 

It’s taken a long time just to admit THAT, for fuck’s sake.

This is going to be a long fucking journey.

Thanks for letting me vent, blogsphere.

. . . And Life Goes On

Life goes on and the unreality of the eighth falls prey to the angry, hungry lion that is daily reality. And in daily reality inquires are made and solutions are dished out and some people work a 9 to 5.

Then there are those of us who don’t. Then there are some of us who have to awkwardly explain to their non-peer professor that she feels the entire class has conspired against her since her return from the hospital but that she’s been keeping up with the work at home and will be back the following week. Then there are some of us who disappear from math class without warning and have to, once again, awkwardly email the non-peer professor and hope he will be understanding.

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That’s what’s been keeping me from going to my creative writing class by the way: the same thing that kept me from going to my Native American Literature class those years back.

Let me say I love this professor. She is hilarious and open and an eloquent writer. Although she is more interested in poetry rather than fiction, she and I understand each other as writers. Her class is very open. Everyone talks among each other, and I was once in a little group. Then I shipped away.

Returning back to class felt wrong. And once I told my professor why I’d been gone, I got this nagging feeling she’s told the entire class who I am, what happened, and why I was gone. Then when I return I’m noticing someone who used to sit next to me, sat a seat away, and while another person used to ask me questions she now asks the guy next to me. I’m sure she told them all to ignore me and hate me. I’ve tried to reason myself into believing it’s because they have all had time to get to know each other better, but that other voice in my head has invalidated and battered reason to the floor.

Driving home one night I realized something significant. First, I realized that this level of paranoia can go fuck itself.

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The Only Image Of Hello Kitty I’ve Found Even Remotely Interesting

Secondly, I asked myself what someone would say to me at  Second Story if I were to explain my thoughts. I asked myself what I would say to someone were I to explain the thoughts to myself. And while I can’t remember the full conversation I had with myself in my head, I do remember the conclusion.

Feeling violated by my professors purported confidentiality disrespect, feeling like an outcast among people with stigma as rampant as it is, is the root of this paranoia. My own insecurity of being seen as “crazy” or “sick” on the outside is the root of this paranoia. And while that doesn’t make me feel any less paranoid, it made me sigh in relief. It made me sigh because it makes me remember all the people I’ve spoken to who struggle in the same way. I sighed because it only confirms there are reasons for thoughts, no matter how “deluded” they could be considered. My interpretation of my environments may be different from yours, but if you’re insecure about the way you look, and I’m insecure about how my mentality is perceived, aren’t we both sharing in the same struggle but seeing it differently?

Crisis averted.

And that got me thinking about the future, about transferring, about digging deep into my career. And all that bone crushing anxiety got me thinking about questions I hear and have been asked often:

What kind of jobs are there for the “mentally ill”?

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Preferably Ones That Don’t Drive Us To Ring Our Necks With A Tie

You all know I refrain from using terms like “mental illness” or “mental disorder” and instead call them experiences or struggles or interpretations. But that is how the question is often phrased.

And one obvious thing comes to mind and it isn’t office job, it isn’t an online position, it isn’t reclusive writer, and it isn’t backroom stocking associate, all of which I’ve tried.

Well, I’m still a reclusive writer, but . . .

I smacked myself on the forehead at the realization: peers.

And with the rise in peer support sweeping, literally, the nation, there’s a huge need for it.

I will be transferring over the hill next year. I refuse to live on campus unless it will be paid for by financial aid and I can have a dorm to myself: those are rather harsh and specific requirements, so I’m not counting on it. Therefore I will need income. I smacked myself again on the forehead before searching for peer support in the county I will be moving too.

Yes, it exists there as well. In fact, it exists in many, many more places and cities and towns than I thought. Second Story may be peer run, but even within health centers there are peer programs. A lot of them. This gave me the hope for humanity Trump tried stealing away.

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To Be Clear, Trump is Mocking Him, Not Me

If connecting with people who also struggle is something of interest to you, I encourage you to search programs, I really do. It may sound like a huge step, and it is,  but let me tell you, you’ll be way better off being nervous around people who understand how that effects you personally, than being in an office where a boss snorts at you and says “tough shit”.

My point is, there are jobs out there for people who struggle in the way we do. I’m not talking people with just Anxiety or depression. I’m talking those who hear voices or bounce up and down with their moods. Self Harm. OCD. WhatEVER it is, we need you.

You don’t need a degree, all you need is your experience with mental health.

The transformation I saw in the woman I met from the hospital who happened to show up a week after I told her about Second Story . . .the difference I saw in her from the time we were in the hospital together to the first week she was with us . . .tremendous. She used to not speak above a whisper. She didn’t make much eye contact and was really stuck in her struggle. The last time I saw her she spoke confidently, she made eye contact, she saw all of the problems she had to go through in terms of housing and such as things she could accomplish: she told me that many times. She said it would be hard, but that they are do-able.

That was the first positive thing I’d heard from her.

She and I cooked a feast that night. I asked her if she was any good at cooking chicken and we were off. We made stuffing and baked chicken and mashed potatoes and a salad and some green beans and sliced some bread. Some of us sat down and ate at the dinner table and joked about Mariah Carey and the 7 million dollar engagement ring her (ex??) fiance gave her.

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*Rolls Eyes Tremendously*

I remember when I left the hospital she whispered good luck to me. Before I left my shift for that night I told her good luck. The last I heard, she’s signed up to Volunteer with us.

You make a difference in people’s lives, and they make a difference in yours. That’s what peer support is about. These are real positions in this life and real places have implemented these types of programs.

There are people out there that understand. And there are people out there you can use your experience to connect with. If you’re curious, I implore you, please, research it. If you have questions about what I do as a peer support counselor, email me or leave a comment, I’ll be happy to explain in more detail.

You might go in hoping to change someone else’s life and come out the one who is changed. That’s when you know you made a good choice.

We need you.

 

Learn To Love It

Good evening, all.

Evening for me, probably morning for you, afternoon maybe. I know I get a lot of views from people across the world (which, holly hell, thank you so much for reading, even if all you get to is this sentence and you think *fuck, she’s boring me already* and click out. You’re still awesome to me. -cue thumbs up and winky face-)

Good -enter time of day here-, all.

I just thought I’d take a moment out of my night time to discuss something interesting with you all.

The idea of positive and negative in this world.

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We’ve seemed to really . . . well, blatantly, fuck it up.

We’ve got this misconception that “negative” means “bad” and “positive” means “good”and that one is desirable and the other should be exonerated.

At this point all you word nerds out there who are frantically googling the word “negative” for the origins just ready to blast me in the comments saying “negative is literally the definition of bad, idiot”.

But what you will find is word nerds who care much more about semantics than your whining and will kindly, but perhaps aggressively and arrogantly correct you: negative is simply the denial of something, the absence or something. Positive can be seen as the affirmation of something.

Rather than continue the tradition of the original meanings of the word, we’ve transformed them into tools to use against and/or shame people into thinking or behaving how we think they should.

People tell you to “think positively”.

They tell you to “not think so negatively”.

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Let’s break these phrases down a little, shall we?

When you say “ugh, this really sucks, I’m so depressed, I just can’t stop all these negative thoughts” and you get that horrendous reply of “try and think more positively about things”, do you realize what that person is actually suggesting?

Before you punch them in the face, think about this, think about how we’re all misunderstanding the terms we use on a daily basis.

By them suggesting you think more “positive”, they’re essentially saying “don’t think negatively”.

Hmm. So how do you do that?

You don’t.

You don’t ever think negative without having thought positive at some point in your life. Humans are like magnets: we have a positive pole and a negative pole. We don’t have one without the other, because their very definitions imply there is an opposite.

hiding-negative-people-longThe goal isn’t to ignore negativity. The goal isn’t to pretend it’s not there and just think more positively. Do you know what that’s called? Do you know what ignoring the “negative” or more properly, the “bad” and focusing only on the bright side of everything? That’s called repression. And if you struggle with your mental health, repression will only escalate both.

When you have thoughts in your head that feel like they are overwhelming, that feel like they are horrible and “negative” and they’re pressuring you to end your existence because, fuck it, nothing goes right, everything is bad . . .

That’s fine. That’s fine and you will make it through that. It’s okay to feel fucking worthless and stupid and horrible and dumb and it’s okay to be self-loathing. It’s okay to HURT. 

You’re human. You’re going to. And if you try and avoid it, it will only hit you ten times harder.

What those people are suggestion when they ask you to think more positively is to essentially ignore the negative and focus on only one side, the bright side.

This isn’t to say succumb to those feelings. It’s only an encouragement to talk those things out. The place I’m working now just avoided a horrible incident of suicide because of auditory hallucinations with the same tactic. It took four days of a lot of talking, a lot of human connection, but to see the smile on someone’s face once more when they realize the people around them have helped them through the negativity, to realize that they themselves can survive when things are horribly rough, is priceless.

They don’t tell people “don’t think so negative”; they don’t tell people “It will help if you think more positively”. They don’t say “oh, sorry, you’re sick, this is your reality from now on”. They tell people “We’re here for you, you can make it through this, and let’s talk it out”.

No hospital intervention. No cops. No forced medication. Just human connection. 

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That one incident to me is greater than anything psychiatry or psychology has shown me thus far in my studies. 

It’s not about being negative or positive, it’s about acknowledging both and working through both.

Now all of you who didn’t believe me when I said mental “disorders” aren’t a disease, to those who didn’t believe me when I said it’s not only a “chemical imbalance”, to those of who you still believe you are doomed to live life stuck behind the idea of “mental illness”, I’ll be giving you various, very general (i.e, no names, or any information about people for confidentiality reasons) real life examples proving you wrong throughout the months, just like the one above.

The reason I say we’ve essentially fucked up by thinking negativity is something bad is we end up wanting to avoid it. We end up wanting it to leave us and trying to force it to leave us. We want it out and we want it gone. We just want to be happy.

But in all that muck we are unable to see by trying to force a part of humanity away from ourselves can easily get in the way of our own happiness. If you want to cry, then cry. If you want to scream, then scream. If you want to talk to someone, talk. Get it out. Don’t ignore it, don’t leave it there to fester, don’t put yourself through more pain.

Negativity isn’t bad. It’s not something you should avoid or hate. It’s something you should embrace. It’s something you need to be comfortable with experiencing, or else life is going to be straight hell.

When it is present in your life, it is there for a reason. It’s your choice whether or not you want to ignore it and hope it will go away, or if you want to say “Well, here we go again” and work through it.

It won’t ever go away. You’re a human, not an inanimate object.

By today’s psychological standard, we practically need to be a robot with little feeling both negative or positive to be considered “normal”.

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This is Pepper, the “emotional” robot. With all the right emotions, at the appropriate times, with the appropriate intensity to their standards. This is what they want you to be. Here’s your role model kids, soak it up. 

So don’t be so negative about your negativity. It loves you. You need to learn to love it back.

Taoists will understand what I’m saying. It’s all about interconnectedness, am I right? No good without evil, no positive without negative. You need the definition of the other to know about its counterpart.

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How Connected Are You?

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How important has connection been to you?

Have you ever had a connection with someone (not necessarily an ‘intimate one’) where you felt you could be open with them and they with you?

Has that ever worried you? Has it ever come back to bite you on the ass?

I personally have dealt with mostly one-sided connections in my life. The type where they call you or text you because, guess what, Johnny just broke up with them again and they don’t understand why they can’t be loved. Or they come to your house because their parents are fighting and they can’t handle it anymore. Or they say “hey, what’s up” and halfway through your response they say “yeah, I’ve just been feeling a little down lately”.

ray-liotta-goodfellas-laughingI’ve had connections based purely on humor. That is, when I’m with them all we do is crack jokes and if anyone’s life is going to be talked about, it’s theirs.

I’ve had connections that I keep solely for the hopes of relinquishing the bouts of loneliness I’m plagued with. Perhaps this contributes to my mistrust of people, to my repulsion at the idea of having “friends”. After all, aren’t we both just associated with each other so neither of us has to feel alone?

Yes, through IPS I’ve learned much about the benefits of connection and understanding and I have my chance to share my stories (however much less ‘exciting’ they were from others) and relate to someone. For the first time in my life I had someone say “yeah, I’ve felt like that too” rather than try and relate to me through “oh, yeah, I kind of get like that when . . . –enter experience completely irrelevant to what I described– . . .”.

To me, that doesn’t show understanding, that shows me that you’re tying to convince me that everything I experience is normal and I’m exaggerating things.

Now, I’m someone who doesn’t care much for normality either way. But the thing is, nothing I say is exaggerated, those feelings are real and they can be painful, so to try and counter them with an experience you’ve had that you consider to be “normal” or, in my eyes, “not a big deal”, tells me you haven’t understood a word I’ve said. If you can’t understand that it’s a “big deal” to me, than you haven’t understood it at all.

That’s what I would tell someone who was struggling to understand mental health struggles.

I get told two phrases most commonly:

  1. When I express how hard it is for me to do certain things, I get “well I just push through it”.
  2. When I’m exhausted from anxiety, from depression, or from coming down from three weeks of running around on 3 hours of sleep and I say ” I’m so tired” I get ” from what?”

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And so the question for those of us who struggle on a daily with our brains remains: when is it safe to be open about our mental health and to whom?

An old psychology professor of mine told us never to mention our mental health in college applications or personal essays as a reason for the field you want to study. In fact, they’re more likely to see you as a liability than anything.

I read an article (source)today on a medical student who decided to be open about her struggle with mental health (anxiety and depression) and got interrogated by a panel group on whether or not she could “handle” being a doctor. They revoked their statements and worries after her grades improved.

She recalls people told her exactly what my psychology professor told us: “Do not mention you have any kind of weakness”.

And this is where my uncommon principals and views on the concept of “mental illness” play a part. If you keep telling people we’re “disordered” or that we’re “sick” or “damaged” . . . doesn’t that imply weakness?

It’s what drives me away from calling anything an illness or a sickness. I never could think of a good term to replace it, but I like what IPS called them: Reactions.

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If someone can call me weak for having a mental reaction, than I can call them weak for jumping when I scare them at the corner. The point is to find terms that bring the “average” people back down to earth, off their pedestal, and level with the rest of us.

Regardless of my views, or their unconventional ridiculousness that people probably don’t like, I think what truly matters here is how we see ourselves. How we communicate with each other.

Balance is what’s missing in my opinion. It’s not a matter of finding “scientific reason” for these “disorders”, it’s not a matter of finding cures or magical drugs, it’s about reminding people we’re all human. We all experience life differently. And to place a label upon someone and use it as an excuse to “classify” doesn’t fly with me.

More than 200 billion dollars Americans spent on Mental health last year I believe. On multiple doctor visits around multiple medications and multiple attempts to “Get better” that never really worked for many.

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I’ve attempted to “Get better” too. Problem is I don’t have anything to “Get better” from because I was never sick.

I get better from the flu and from the cold. I don’t get better from how I experience life. There is no standard to try and reach.

Some people think I am invalidating their struggle when I say things like this. As if revoking the label “disorder” takes away the substance and the pain of what they experience. 

But I’m doing the exact opposite. I’m putting the authenticity back into what we all experience. What we experience is very real, it can be painful and terrifying and absolutely horrendous.

I feel those things don’t need to be “sick” to be significant.

I feel taking medication to help doesn’t mean you are disordered or sick either. I’ve considered getting back on them a million times over and that doesn’t sway how I see myself. I don’t see medication as a way to try and “fix” myself. I see it as a tool to help me transform and grow. And once I grow, I throw the tool away. I don’t need a wrench once the screw is tightened. 

And there are some who don’t have the luxury of getting off medication, either because withdrawal results in even worse symptoms, or because of the fear around falling back into a hole by coming off them. And you know what? That’s okay too.

We’re all the same. We all struggle. It hurts and it sucks and we have to push harder than most people some days.

But let’s not do a disservice to ourselves by reinforcing stereotypes placed on us by a panel of doctors who haven’t had an ounce of lived experience. 

Yes, APA, that’s a shot at you. Sue me.

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How Sick is Sick?

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It’s the end of the week at the IPS training and besides being mentally exhausted, I’m slightly conflicted.

Tomorrow I have to do a two to four minute presentation. He said it can be anything, you can just stand in front of the group and talk about what IPS means to you. That’s essentially what I’m doing unless I come up with some kind of fanatical art project. I thought of doing a poem, but let’s be honest here folks, I’m no poet.

That being said, a major thing that resonated with me throughout this week is the idea of looking at what the clinical setting calls “symptoms” as experiences or reactions.

brainWe all know the biological model is not as sound as they say it is. And we all know that biology and neurology cannot be taken out of the equation when talking about mental health; that’s like leaving out the division of cells in the growth of cancer. But do we know how much we rely on the idea of being biologically or genetically sick?

Have you ever been asked that?

 

Have you ever thought about your “symptoms” in the light of something else?

I’ll give you a personal example and a separate example from a brilliant TED talk I watched a few years back, one the speaker today showed us all.

When I graduated high school. I was the furthest from depressed: I was finally off the medication I was put on, I didn’t have to get held back because I skipped so many classes, I didn’t have to wake up at 4 in the morning anymore to feel comfortable at school, I didn’t have to see those stuck up ostracizing nerds in all my classes. I was going to college and finally got to study psychology, the subject I’d been studying for a few years before college. I was always smiling, and laughing. I got my license and it was a huge accomplishment: my anxiety had really affected my first written test when I was 16. I was driving, staying out at night, having fun for the first time in a long time.

272362-house-mdOne evening I was watching the show House. Anyone remember that? Anyway: Panic. Utter panic. I thought I was going to die, I felt my heart rate pounding behind my eyes and in my ears and no matter how deep of a breaths I took, it would only grow faster.

I went into the living room where my parents were sitting and asked my mother to take my pulse. I asked her if it was going fast. She shrugged and said “eh, a little”.

Her opinion didn’t effect me. I needed air. I ran outside in torn and stained sweats and a T-shirt and started walking up and down the driveway, pacing, talking to myself. The neighbors were watching for sure. I could feel my head getting light and although I didn’t feel any chest pain (I never do surprisingly) I could feel my throat tightening and I thought it was swelling.

Finally my mother joined me outside and we walked. For an hour.

This happened several times throughout the summer, random attacks hitting me and interrupting my happy moment in life. The average therapist called it “Panic Disorder”. Medication recommendation: Ativan.

This happened for two years. Random attacks. I started getting worried: would one happen if I tried to ride a ride at the amusement park? Would one happen while I was in a store and I’d have to embarrass myself in front of all these people? Would one happen when I’m home alone at night and have no one to talk to about it?

Then I noticed the pattern. I noticed the pattern of my own repression. Not only did I shove down my depression, but my anxiety, my beliefs, my worry, my everything. Every feeling I had I shoved it down: that’s what I did best. I was unaware of how to express feelings besides anger.

the_repression__gianfranco_uberWhen I had a panic attack, that signaled to me I’d stuffed something down. And because I respect my body and my brain, I worked at it. I talked to myself. I extracted the thoughts I kept hidden for years: the anger and resentment I feel towards my parents for forcing me to take care of an alcoholic at 13. The confusion I felt about all the years we spent homeless. Everything. I recognized it and acknowledged it and my brain thanked me.

Within the last year, I’ve had one panic attack and that was because of a sickness. Compared to the two or three I had per week.

The woman in the TED talk: she started hearing voices in college narrating her every day tasks. For example, when she entered a classroom, it said “she’s entering the class”.She spoke to her friend about them and her friend told her to see a psychologist. She went to a college health center and told them about the anxiety and depression she was experiencing. The person was avidly uninterested until she mentioned the voice.

You know the drill: assessment, diagnosis, medication. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. They told her about the prognosis, about the life-long journey, about the medication. That was around the time her voices turned hostile and her paranoia locked her in her house with a plastic fork as a defense to any invaders. Coincidence?

Years later a psychologist or psychiatrist she was seeing mentioned her voices in a new light and she gradually saw them as an expression of unattended emotions. The trauma she dealt with her in childhood that caused pain and anxiety, her current life which caused pain and anxiety, the feeling of having personal space invaded, the feeling of having people against you. I’m sure we’ve all felt invaded at one point or another in our lives.

She reduced her medication then quit it. The further they worked through the trauma, the further she was supported in her decision and the further she saw her voices as an experience, as a way of them expressing emotion she kept inside of her, the less volatile they came. In fact, they gave her some answers on one of her exams. She asked if that was cheating and I would say yes: I don’t get any help like that, that’s bullshit. 

Whether they were right or not is another story I guess.

The point is, she had a psychiatrist who was willing to ask the question “what happened to you?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?”.

This is not to say all mental health issues are a result of trauma. But many of us, I’m sure, can attest to that being an influence to the way we think.

eyeseetheworldThe above questions are questions we cover extensively in IPS training. It’s not always about the label. It’s not about the “disorder”, the thing doctors with no lived experience of mental health issues sat around a table and decided have a of “symptoms”. It’s about how life has shaped your world view. And I think that’s very powerful.

That being said, I feel as if I’m cheating these people. I’m only 20 years old: I’m the youngest of the group by at least ten years. I’ve never had the horror of having to go into a psychiatric hospital. I’ve never lost touch with reality. I’ve never experienced mania on their level. These people I’m surrounded by are the real MVP’s.

I feel as if I don’t deserve to be where they sit. It’s an issues with not feeling “sick” enough, I believe. It’s a feeling we talk about in IPS a lot: It’s a huge struggle when you can only get help in a hospital for suicidal issues if you have a “significant plan” to kill yourself.

I’ve always connected my mental health experiences to my body, to the way I think, and to what has happened to me in my life. I tell them about the schizotypal, the depression, the anxiety, the PTSD,  but I feel because I haven’t lost touch with reality, because I don’t hear voices on a daily basis, because I don’t visually hallucinate on a daily basis, because I haven’t told my plans about suicide to anyone and got thrown in the hospital, because none of it has caused me to act “Crazy” according to system standards, I don’t feel like I . . . I don’t feel like I deserve the job I have. 

I’m not quite sure how to deal with these feelings.

I know I will be able to relate to the people I talk to in some way or another, but I feel like they will see me as some young kid who doesn’t know shit.

Even though I know what it feels like to want to die. I know what it feels like to have demons chasing you. I know what it feels like to harm myself, to having people tell you your beliefs are “odd” or “magical”. I know what it feels like to take medication you don’t want to, to be misunderstood, to hate living. I know what it feels like to believe you have powers (which I still do) or to feel unsupported. I know about homelessness and drug addiction and mental pain in general, confusion, anger, hatred. . .

But is it enough?

Intentional Peer Support

Yesterday night I wrote out a lengthy post on my experience in Intentional Peer Support. I forgot to post it and now that I’ve re-read it, I feel my explanations did not give justice to this program in the way I intended.

So today I’d like to talk about how crazy we all are.

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I’d like to talk about how crazy we all are in allowing therapists, psychologist, and psychiatrists to never go through an intentional peer counselling program.

As an aspiring psychiatrist, I am absolutely touched that people take the time they do to create these programs and to implement them. They may not have the government funding, but they are in it for their peers, for the betterment of the mental health community.

Let me explain this a little more for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about. Intentional Peer Support is a program run by people with lived mental heath experience, training others with lived mental health experience, to help those of our brothers and sisters still stuck in their own personal hell.

It teaches the concept of establishing a relationship with another person you’re supporting.

It dissects what “help” really means in this day and age.

It dissects how language effects our perception of ourselves.

The speaker of our week long group came in a green shirt, stretch tan pants, no shoes on and a diagnosis of Bipolar and no daily medication regimen. He’s been in and out of psychiatric hospitals through his life and only recently was able to find the right path for himself.

My course-mates come with their own stories. We’ve got white, black, Mexican, Italian, women, men, young, and old. We each struggle in our own ways with depression, anxiety, Phobias, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Personality disorders, and drug addiction. Some of us take medication and are okay with it. Some of us take medication and are not okay with it. Some of us don’t take medication at all, yours truly among them.

supportgroupWe’ve all come together for one reason: use the experience we’ve had in our lives to learn how to support someone going through the same experience.

This is the most uncomfortably comfortable thing I’ve done in my life. If you are a professional and have not taken a similar course, I would suggest high tailing it over to one of their national courses and signing up.

This course treats no one as fragile. You are not special, you’re not odd, you’re another human being among other human beings.

This course asks a very deep question that the psychiatric and psychological businesses have ignored for many years: what are you trying to fix and how? 

They are not anti-psychiatry and they are not anti-medication, they made this very clear. Their intention isn’t to bash what is done currently. Their intention is to see it differently.

The industry has a very specific formula I’m sure you’ve all had plenty of experience with. Their focus, even in certain therapies, isn’t just to listen. It’s to problem solve. You come with an issue, it’s called a symptom: Because this issue is seen through the lens of a symptom, and because a symptom is followed by the definition of a disorder, and the definition of a disorder is a life long illness for which you can’t control, the solution becomes medication. The solution is based only upon the problem and the problem isn’t your issue, it doesn’t take into account your story; the problem is your “illness”.

The industry has a very specific model they follow of which I’m sure you’ve all had experience with: the biological model.

Now, before you jump on my back, I’m not saying what we all experience is a lie. In fact, what we experience is very, very real, that’s why we’re experiencing it. But the concept of it being an illness . . . it doesn’t bode well with me, it never has.

It doesn’t bode well with this program either. 

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If you didn’t know, before the DSM 3 came out, all “illnesses” and “disorders” were labeled as “reactions”.

Weird to think about now, right? So if you were admitted into a hospital because you were hearing voices and having delusions, you would have a schizophrenic reaction.

They changed it to “disorder” because psychiatrists were challenging their own community: where was all the evidence for these conditions? And thus the psychological model was shoved into the area of science. “We’ll change the term to disorder”, they said “and we’ll find the evidence to support it later“. Too bad all the “evidence” they find is corrupted by some pharmaceutical company or corrupted by the research itself: how many times have they tried to pin the neurotransmitter serotonin for something and have it come out as different levels in different people’s brains who all have the same “disorder”? Many. I’ve talked about a few instances on this blog.

There’s a reason I never say mental illness. If you haven’t noticed, I almost always say “mental health struggle”, or “mental health”. Because I choose to get rid of that language that was made us think we’re sick, we’re twisted, we’re different and broken, that we’re a problem that needs to be fixed. It’s nice I’m surrounded by a group of peers who, very vocally, state “I hate the term mental illness”.

cia-catIntentional Peer Support isn’t about problem solving. If someone walks up to you and you’re in a respite house and they say “the CIA is following me”, your response isn’t one through the lens of “they’re delusional”. It’s not through the lens of “did you take your meds this morning?” Your response is “tell me more about that?” and when they do, your responses are never an attack, they’re never a label, they never signify a hierarchy: they’re not better than you and you’re not better than them.

You would say “that sounds terrifying, I’ve had experiences where I don’t feel safe as well”. Or something of the sort.

Your response isn’t “What can I do to help?” nor is it “what can you do to help yourself?”

Because their experience isn’t a problem and they didn’t ask for your help.

Think Elyn Saks and “The Center Cannot Hold”. Think of the therapist she had in the U.K who didn’t treat her psychosis as a monster needing to be tamed, but listened and created a dialogue. If it weren’t for that, do you think she would have ever received her degrees in the middle of full blown schizophrenia as she did?

imageIt’s rare that we are able to see what we experience outside the labels we’ve been given. Has it ever happened to you where you had a feeling and you wondered if it was a symptom? Have you ever been confused on what you needed to control and what you didn’t? What was “normal” and what was your “disorder”?

A lot of people in the room did. But I didn’t. And when it came to do an activity today on “our story” and us having to write our story in terms of mental illness language and in terms of regular language, I . . . I struggled.

Because I’ve never seen my experiences in that light. I’ve been told once or twice about them, after I had already decided they were a part of me. I’ve never called myself mentally ill, nor disordered, not unless for the ease of everyone understanding what I was talking about, particularly on this blog.

Am I saying I don’t go through troubling times because of this? Absolutely not, I’m off and on, up and down, left and right, magical and not, I’m every opposite you could think of to the extreme. But I’ve never seen it as a problem, or a disorder, only me.

I’ll get really personally and share something with you all (I’m getting better at doing that now) and let your mind go blank for a moment and just read:

One thing I’ve always believed since I was a child was that I had the power to manipulate Infinity time spiral 15267876time. Since I learned how to count it I was impeccable with it: I knew exactly how long something would take in class and whether or not we’d have time to get to my presentation. To the second. I must admit some of this perfection was fueled by my anxiety. But as I grew older I realized there were a million ways this could be implemented and the universe showed it to me.

Cars: I’ve avoided many accidents. I know how long it will take them to get to where my car is, and if I have to make a risky move I trust the other part of myself and let it take control of the wheel, almost as if I have a third eye or something peering through a different perspective so I can see all angles. If I need to slow time down, that eye does it for me: I’ve avoided getting hit using this technique, several times. If I see them coming for me, I don’t blink twice, I don’t think, I see them moving slower and slower the closer they get to me, and I’m able to jerk my wheel out of the way. My passenger, if there is one, grips on the door and screeches at me.

I’ve used it to avoid getting shit on by birds: I can see the feces fly through the air and jump out of the way. It usually lands on the person next to me. Don’t believe me, ask my high school friend.

When I’m late for class, I feel I tap into the physics of the universe. If I don’t look at the clock, and I think of nothing related to time or class, and if I don’t speed, it allows time to pass in whichever way I subconsciously want it to. I tap into that. It takes me 20-30 minutes to drive from my house to my college. When I need it to take me 10 minutes, it does, and trust me it’s not about traffic levels or how many lights turn green. When I first realized I could do this, I was shocked. I’ve tested it over and over again in different scenarios and it’s never once failed me. If I am calm and my mind is relatively clear, I get a connection with the universe that allows me to manipulate what I like.

25-041020-the_best_watches_at_sihh_2016I collect watches and clocks and stop watches, I think it helps keep up my connection with it all. I don’t like to wear watches because I would end up looking at it too often and therefore compromising my connection with time. You don’t like it when friends and significant others are too clingy, do you? So I just collect them.

Now, what are your thoughts? If that struck any of you as a “magical/odd belief” or a delusion, than you’re thinking exactly how you’re taught to.

Now, I have a bunch of these beliefs for different things. Some of them effect what I do in my daily life and how I do them. Some of them are anxiety related, some aren’t. But the point here is since I’ve had these beliefs and I grew up with these beliefs and these beliefs have helped shape me, and because I’ve been one of the lucky few to never have a forced psychiatric opinion on me, a diagnosis means nothing. It’s not a symptom of anything to me, it’s how I experience the world. It’s how I experience reality.

And if it ever gave me trouble, well, I’d like someone to listen to me about it, not call me broken.

Because, if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that when you get told you need to “Watch out” or “be careful” of certain symptoms, you become hyper aware. Everything is a symptom. Everything is an indication of you being ill. Is that how you want to live your life? Believing your existence is based on an illness you can’t control?

The thing is, it’s never been about control. It’s been about acceptance, about understanding. And if you can’t understand or accept yourself, well, the only other option is to view yourself as a problem.

As you can see, I’ll be an interesting psychiatrist. Because it’s not about “helping” them or curing them. It’s about understanding their story, where they’re coming from, establishing a relationship in which they share about themselves, I relate with my own experience, and we realize we’re on the same level; I’m not better than them for having a medical degree and they’re not lesser than me for struggling, and then as a clinician asking what sort of treatment they’d like, medication or otherwise, if they would like any at all. After all, that’s what they came for right?

Or so they’ve been told. 

 

Support Of The Non-Existence Kind

Spent an hour juicing internet from my phone.

*Breathes; Does Thai Chi, smacks politician in the face, screams “Just Do It!!!!” at some golfers on a golf course, and finally falls to knees thankful the wifi gods have graced me once more*

Anyway, I had some plans to do some cool portrait photos outside with my friend but woke up at nine fifteen this morning to the sound of nuclear warheads battling it out with the Greek gods in the sky.

Turns out it was just thunder.

Lightening flashed, Thunder hit a split second later and the power surged. After the thunder paused, the power came back on. I think the street lines got scared.

It stormed for a few hours, thunder shook the entire apartment complex, all the pipes are backed up, it rained, it hailed briefly and now it’s sunny. All within the course of about five hours. Who knows what the fuck goes on in this town.

I also learned I have to pay back all the financial aid I received this semester on account of my mental breakdown and that really bummed me out. I’ve already spent some of it. It’s funny that when I vent and express my bummed-outness to people, the response I get is either

*crickets chirping*

or

“Well, I don’t know what you want me to say”.

At least I never get “Well that sucks” or “I told you so”. Those answers would just make me fly off the handle.

I’ve always had financial support. Yes, I’ve been on the street but we had money to eat and eventually hop around from hotel to hotel to basement to tent to random ass room in a house (oh man, do I have some stories from that place; I’ll probably tell one now), so I’ve never had to be on the side of the road in a sleeping bag begging for food. We were lucky we had so many connections in town. A lot of people aren’t that lucky. So I’m grateful for that and I’m not trying to seem ungrateful but . . . emotional support? It’s non-existent.

I’m always amazed at people who can speak to their parents or family or siblings about their suicidal thoughts and such. In fact, I’ve always been amazed at people who can speak freely at all to their parents, family, or siblings, whether it’s about mental health or not. I’ve always been constricted to talking to outside events with them. If not, I either get the silent, stressed-out treatment from my mother or the defensive stance from my father. I’m always the shoulder to cry on for the people I’ve been friends with in the pass, and I absolutely enjoyed being their for them, but I never realized how often I’m alone to deal with my own issues.

It’s not easy.

*Yes nature, cue the darkening of my room. Thank you for the added atmosphere.*

I think a cloud blocked the sun.

Anyway, I’m not asking for people to give me sympathy or let me curl on their lap while they pet my head and feed me ice cream. I’d just like someone to, for once, say “It’ll be okay” or “you’ll get past this” or, in response to my financial situation say “money is money, you can give it back to them, you’re not a loser, you’re just having a rough patch everyone has rough patches, you’re not a failure”. Something along those lines. I can tell myself that all I want but when I heard it from a third party, in person especially, it’s so wonderful. If anything, it boosts the confidence of my positive side. I’m always searching for reassurance for my decisions, another issues of mine, so when I receive it I feel a little more stable. Right now I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with my life anymore. I don’t want to go talk to a counselor at my college, I don’t want to deal with financial aid, I don’t want to be put on academic probation–I’ve never been that student.

In the rational part of my mind, which also happens to be the back, black abyss part that is rarely ever exercised, knows it’s not the end of the world or the end of my college career, but the irrational part of me, the one in front playing puppet master convinces me it is. Just like it convinced me I was hacking up blood yesterday and was going to die of a pulmonary embolism. In reality I had just eaten salsa and had to cough and it happened to be stained a little red. Tends to happen when you eat something red, you know?

Anyway, stayed up until 6 am believing if I closed my eyes I’d die in my sleep, so I got three hours of sleep also.

If you’ve ever experienced that type of medical health issue, I’m sorry if I sound ridiculous right now, I know how serious it is; I’m not trying to be offensive, this is just how my brain acts.

Now, I promised a bit of a story, right?

My family knew a lot of people from the apartment complex we lived in before the one we currently live in–we’d been there for about five years. One of the women (she had twin daughters) moved out before us so when we needed a place to stay, she offered us a room in the back of her house.

This is the house where my dog phobia was forcefully cured.

She fostered dogs regularly, as I’ve said before.

Anyway, our room considered of . . . a fucking room. And a bathroom. My mother and I slept on four mattresses piled on the floor and my father slept on the floor in front of the television.

This is not the house where my spider phobia was cured, however, because my spider phobia is fucking incurable. Those things are demons. This room had so many daddy-long-legs they were probably crawling in my mouth and laying eggs in my esophagus, laughing at my insolence. They enjoyed descending from the ceiling atop my face in the shower, so often I took one with my face at the ceiling. Or I took one half out of the shower and half in the shower. Honestly, I was just glad to have a shower; the last place we had been at I had to take bathes in the bathroom sink because the bathroom was only a toilet.

Anyway, things were cool until shit hit the fan. Things are usually cool until that point, right?

This woman drunk so many bottles of jack and took so many pills I don’t know how her body . . . she was like a cockroach. She’d survive the apocalypse with some painkillers and some jack and not even notice the earth imploding in on itself.

A functioning addict, if I ever saw one. She kept her job, paid her bills, maintained her house (sort of; her daughters did most of the work) and spent the weekends slamming her head into the wall threatening suicide. The paramedics came every week and eventually learned our names too. Them and my father were pretty good friends.

Her twin daughters were adults at this point, I believe . . . maybe 17, whatever, I don’t know. They had a lot of friends over. One was a lesbian and the other was not and their room was chalk full of kinky shit like whips and paddles and handcuffs and when all their friends came over I’m pretty sure they had a nice little orgy up there like no one’s business. Except, they were loud. The moans were loud. It was very obvious. So I’m not pretty sure, I’m absolutely sure.

Sex was explained to me (very appropriately and informatively) when I was eight years old and again when I was ten. By twelve, I knew what it was and I could pretty much guess when it was happening.

That knowledge when I was young helped me make better decisions when I was older. When kids came to me with bullshit rumors about getting pregnant by swallowing I dispelled that shit so quick their eyebrows singed and their eyes rolled back in their head. I was the go-to kid if you wanted to know about sex. Sounds wrong.

Anyway, for some reason the people in this house really loved to smile in our face and hatchet us in the back. The family suddenly stopped speaking with us or smiling with us or saying thank you for taking care of their suicidal mother and instead posted a sign on our door (printer paper, blue scotch tape, and black sharpie pen) stating “WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE”.

Then they slashed three tires on our 1972 Ford Ranchero; our only mode of transportation at the time. We couldn’t afford to fix it, so it got taken to the junk yard. It wasn’t junk.

I loved that car. I still love that car. Fuck them.

If you don’t have the balls to come and talk to someone in their face, than you’re a coward. The house has been demolished; the lot is empty. That’s karma.

Honesty is the best policy. Especially when brutal.