I apologise for not updating in a while, my own issues somewhat overwhelmed me but I’m back on the horse so to speak and today we welcome a contribution from Bob Groves. My apologies for taking so long to put it up Bob.
Imagine that your mother was abused horribly as a child. Not just a beating or two, but beatings, lack of food for punishmeng, sexual assault by family, being locked in the closet for a year, and of course the mental abuse that comes with all of that. Now imagine that she is taken away from all of that but there isn’t adequet psychiatric help yet. She ends up living with a wonderful foster family who love her dearly. Then she meets an awesome man and marries him. After 10 years of marriage and two kids with a man that would never harm her, she starts to fall back to what her life was like before. She starts seeking out men that will harm her. She ends up leaving this wonderful man and living with a guy who beats her almost daily.
She brings the kids with her and they have to deal with him as well. He never lays a hand on them but his emotional abuse is more than enough to break the spirits of these two children that don’t understand what’s going on but they try to stand up to him. For their safety, their mother sends them to live with their father who has recently remarried and brings her own two kids into the family.
So now we’ve got four kids, all of whom are very confused and have been thrust into a life they don’t understand. All the know is that their parent loves them and that they are supposed to be nice to these other kids they are living with.
At this point, there is a lot of difficulty for the kids. They don’t have the skills to adapt or understand. Fortunately, there are plenty of kids in the neighborhood so friends are easy to find. The oldest spends a lot of time at his best friend’s house just two houses away. He even spends the nights there often because that’s what kids do. During these nights though, the mother of the friend and her oldest (a few years older than his brother) decide that it would be funny to dress these kids in girls clothes and let them run around the house. It’s all harmless fun. These are just 10 year old boys afterall. Then when it’s time for bed, the visitor is asked if he wants to spend the night in the oldest boy’s room. Not wanting to be rejected by the older kid, he agrees.
As more and more sleep overs occur, more and more inappropriate touching happens. The young man doesn’t really know what he should do. He doesn’t want to be rejected by the older kid and he doesn’t want to lose his friend so he bottles everything up. His anxiety shows but when the teachers talk to his parents, they don’t think to ask if anything is wrong. There are already so many things this child is dealing with, they don’t think that something more would be piled onto his life.
Between the abuse he witnessed, the transition to another new school, a new family, a mother that sent him away, and puberity starting up, it seems like this would be more than enough to cause anxiety. In the 1970s you didn’t send your kids to see a psychiatric doctor.
As this child becomes a man, he is thin, wears glasses, has braces, plays Dungeons and Dragons, is socially awkward, is smarter than his peers, and generally not accepted by his peers. His social skills never develop and he spends a good part of his time being bullied. He can’t get a girl to go on even a simple date with him.
This sounds like the making of a serial killer, but it isn’t. Instead it was how my life got its start. I ended up with PTSD and generalized anxiety. However, it went undiagnosed and improperly diagnosed for years. I tried many times to take my life. I was almost successful several times. Without the help of my friends and eventually my family, I wouldn’t be here to write this. I went through many doctors and diagnoses (depressions, bi-polar, attention deficit, and each of those comes in more than one form). I went through many medications, all of which cause weight gain. I ended up gaining over 100 pounds in a year because I had been misdiagnosed.
A few of the doctors were concerned with my faith. One even wanted to pray and suggested that I seek a pastor. When I was in the Army with anxiety issues, one of the requirements before I could speak to a psychologist was to speak to a chaplin. That may have changed by now, but when I served 20 years ago, that was the only option.
My current doctor, who is deeply religious, does not push her faith on me. She is the one that figured out I have PTSD. When she asked me about my faith, I told her I was an atheist. She does what she can to avoid using her faith to help me. I appreciate that very much. She’s human, like the rest of us, so it slips once in a while. However, in the almost 10 years I’ve been seeing her, I think it’s slipped maybe twice. When it does, all she does is turn it into something secular. For example, once she accidently asked me when I was going to get back into praying (she had forgotten and confused my faith with another patient). She quickly looked at her notes, apologized, and said, “Well, I know that you don’t pray but have you tried different meditation techniques that may help calm your anxiety? I can show you some if you would like.”
My religious friends are amazed at how strong I am without needing to seek a higher power. They come to me for advice, some of it religious which is kind of weird. They want to know how to deal with various problems that they know I have had to handle. I don’t see my doctor more than once every couple of months and that’s mostly for medication checks and to touch base. I still have problems once in a while and I’ll need her help but I don’t usually get to the point of needing hospitalization. I did have a huge problem recently but with the help of my friends, I survived. I know that I wouldn’t have seen the new year begin without their help.
In the end, I still have problems but they aren’t as bad. I had a rough life starting out and during the time when everyone else is learning how to be a part of society, I was ostracized. I survived though and because I don’t rely on higher powers, I am able to deal with things much better than many others I know. I have to find the strength within.
If you are wondering how my mother is doing, she isn’t well, physically and emotionally. I don’t talk to her for a variety of reasons. I think the two best decisions she ever made her life was marrying my father and then sending my brother and I to live with him. My step mother has proven herself to be an incredible woman and mother and I can never tell her enough how much I am glad she became a part of my life.
Today, I work as a pharmacy technician. I have been doing that for about 10 years. Without the excellent health insurance I had, I would never have been able to see my doctors as often as I needed to during those difficult times. While the number of visits I can have has been reduced from “unlimited” to 36, I really only need about 10 a year, and that’s pushing it. I can probably get away with 5 to 6. The minimum will always be 2 visits because that’s her policy. I have better friends who are there when I need them. I haven’t hidden anything from them and they have made the effort to learn more. They may not know everything, but they know what they need to know. Some members of my family have tried to be there for me. It’s probably harder when they are so close to the history. I know that they care though and that’s often enough for me.
Todays article is from an anonymous source. ————————————- I’m afraid this will not be a short narrative, but I’ve been encouraged by my wonderful girlfriend into hoping my story might be an interesting one to share. For a very long time, I’ve considered whether or not I should offer testimony illustrating how influential this community has been in my life. It’s been extremely difficult to censor my appreciation. For a long time now, I’ve felt an obligation to keep my story to myself because people tend to use my mental illness as a way to discredit my liberal and secular disposition in a deeply red state. Like most children in America, I, along with my twin sister, was raised by Christian parents. More specifically, a single Christian mother occasionally accompanied by a mostly disinterested and absent Catholic father. However, my mother’s necessity to maintain three jobs rendered my childhood entirely secular in her absence. This might have been my saving grace. There just wasn’t any time for God in our house. Our father absconded on our 8th birthday after my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly after, I found it (and this is my most vivid childhood memory) increasingly difficult to reconcile good and evil using Christian rhetoric. By the time I was twelve, I considered myself pagan. I began to subconsciously and metaphorically deify states of existence and their emotive counterparts. I began to fashion Gods of love, of hate, of intelligence, etc. Although no longer have any belief in the supernatural, these are metaphors I still use when trying to relate to the world. Shortly before my 21st birthday I joined the United States Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in Iraq. It wasn’t until my second tour that my corpsman (read: medic) noticed odd behavior. I began to experience audible hallucinations that lead to delusions of being connected an entity nobody else could see. In the Marine Corps, any manner of mental disorder has a curious stigma attached to it. People look at you as only half a man or woman. I have mixed feelings about my time in service. On one hand, I loved my job and most of the people I had to privilege to work with, but It was the apathetic, condescending, and dismissive attitude my command exhibited that makes it very hard for me to forgive and forget. It took a very long time to start getting the help I knew I was going to need for the rest of my life. After a very long stint of observation, I was diagnosed with undifferentiated schizophrenia. It took me a very long time to accept, and even longer for my family to follow suit. I was accused of demonic possession by my own mother, a diagnosis she still holds to be valid even today. My sister found it easier to explain by dismissing the diagnosis altogether. Before I start to feel like I’ve written myself a depressed, woe-is-me pity-party, I’d like to profess that this autobiography does have a happy stopping point. Medication having very little effect, I started looking for answers online. Eventually,I stumbled upon an article that suggested I needed to reteach myself how I process and reacted to the world around. I know this sounds like an axiomatically simple solution to my problems, but it took me almost two years to realize. Eventually, I stumbled onto “The God Delusion.” It was my gateway drug to reason. This community became a proxy through which I discovered Harris, Hitchens, and eventually Dennett. it was Dennett’s calm, cold, and honest rationality that helped me the most. He taught me how to think. It may not have saved my life, but it certainly saved my optimism — I am a schizophrenic atheist and I am more rational than 90 percent of my American brothers and sisters when it comes to understanding the universe I live in. I am very proud of that. And now for that happy part I made a brief, promissory allusion to earlier. I’ve recently purchased my first house with the woman I love very much and I am nearing the point where I feel I am comfortable and ready for college. Also, although comically irrelevant, Star Wars: The Old Republic just came out… who couldn’t be happy about that? =P
Todays article is from Marguerite de Leon of the Filipino Freethinkers
I saw my psychiatrist the other day. I hadn’t seen him in 10 months. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I hadn’t felt the need to see him all throughout that period. For the first time in a long, long time, I felt that my head was screwed on right, and there wasn’t much to report to him except that my life was just fine. Pretty good, even. In fact, that was exactly why I came to see him the other day — in the hopes of tapering myself off of the anti-depressants he prescribed for me, because I was pretty sure they had done their job.
Getting medicated for mental conditions remains a touchy topic in our touchy tropical nation, but there really shouldn’t be a stigma surrounding it. The human body is a staggeringly complex system, and getting wounds, tumors or other more physical glitches is not the only thing that can go wrong with it. Biochemical imbalances can affect the way a person processes the world around him, sometimes to the point of it being debilitating. It’s an illness like any other.
Nega and Chaka
Prior to medication, each day filled me with worry, dread, anger, and sorrow. There were flashes of okay-ness and even rarer blips of actual joy, but for the most part I was preoccupied with negative emotions. (And no, I did not affix Emily the Strange or Jack Skellington all over my trappings and listen to Dashboard bleary-eyed. That’s not depression; that’s just sad.) On the outside, I looked decidedly normal, even functional, and maybe just a bit too quiet, but little did others know that each move I made — choosing what to wear, walking down a sidewalk, buying a snack, talking to someone — required intense personal deliberation, as if one wrong move could ruin the day. And the moments following each act were flooded with all sorts of self-criticism, second guessing, and bad memories only loosely related to the current situation.
Did I say the right thing? Are my shoes too casual? Will this burn enough calories? Did I spend too much? Was this the right color? Should I have smiled? Could I have done it better? Are they sick of me? Did I forget anything? How hard will it be to commute later? Do I have to go to that employee thing? Do they hate me? Why is my hair like this? Why do I work here? Do I deserve him? Why is my family this way? Why can’t I say how I feel? Remember when your uncle told you you brought grief to the family? Remember when you did this and she said this so he did this and now they hate you? Remember when you were a better person and things were looking up? What happened to you? Why are you like this? Can you see yourself like this for the rest of your life?
I had to slog through each day this way. Suffice it to say that it took a toll on my work and my relationships. I found it hard to be with people, much less befriend them; every new assignment at work felt like a huge bag of sand against my gut; I picked ridiculous fights with my boyfriend which led not only to me screeching and bawling ’til dawn, but me clawing at my face and arms ’til they bled and even running away in hysterics. This was normal for me at the time.
Psyching Myself Up
Fortunately, my boyfriend is both incredibly supportive and fiercely logical, and he eventually convinced me that seeing a psychiatrist would do me some good. He was well aware of my none too rosy family history, my anorexia, my frequent run-ins with thieves and other unsavory types, my instantaneous apprehension towards authority figures, etcetera etcetera etcetera, and how all of these were connected one way or another to my difficult personality. Something was not right me. He wasn’t holding it against me. It was just a blatant fact that needed to be addressed.
So I went to a psychiatrist and told him as much as I could about how I thought and felt. (A psychiatrist, by the by, is different from a counselor or psychotherapist, the proverbial shrink who listens to you talk about your childhood and whatnot. Psychiatrists simply diagnose your condition, prescribe medication, and monitor your treatment.) This was the beginning of a slightly tedious process, stretched over several months, of ascertaining what I should do. It was fairly easy for my psychiatrist to conclude that I had major depressive disorder with a touch of social anxiety; what was harder was finding the right pill and dosage for what I had.
I started off with half a pill of escitalopram daily. Escitalopram is an SSRI, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, the most common form of anti-depressant prescribed today. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter whose presence is linked to feelings of peace and well-being, and what SSRIs do is keep this serotonin from being reabsorbed, letting it stay in the brain longer to better boost one’s mood. This is obviously the layman’s explanation, but that is basically what SSRIs do, because depressed people can’t seem to get the right balance of serotonin in their brain.
Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic
At the beginning, half a pill packed a punch. I could sense the difference in me immediately: I felt awake and alert — my eyes literally opened wider (they’d apparently been extra droopy and I never noticed), and my movements felt sharper, more precise. More importantly, my thoughts were no longer flooded by unnecessary negativity. When before my thoughts would immediately link themselves to something bad or worrisome, they now stood on their own, guilt- or problem-free. The medication worked so well that I even tried playing tricks with myself, thinking bad thoughts deliberately, only to feel them slip off of my consciousness like pats of butter. I know you think I sound high or something, but that’s how it felt. I felt fine because things really were fine. If I had a legitimate problem in my midst, such as difficulty getting a ride home in the pouring rain, or my big boss sending my work back with endless edits, I didn’t blow it out of proportion and conclude it was the end of the world and I might as well jump out a window or into speeding traffic. I understood what was wrong and did what I had to do to address it, like a normal person.
And the best thing about the pill working? It was a signal that something really was wrong with me. I was told that SSRIs only worked if something was wrong to begin with (it’s not the kind of pill you can abuse), so the fact that there was a staggering difference in me the moment I popped just half of one in meant I was doing something right.
But of course, like any other kind of medication, there was the risk of side effects. This was one of the main reasons why getting medicated is a trial-and-error process; every individual reacts to each pill in their own unique way, so you really have to whittle all the options down to the one most suited to your body’s chemistry and to your lifestyle. And unfortunately, I hit a particularly annoying snag with escitalopram: my sex drive sputtered out. I felt literally numb down there, and while my boyfriend was very understanding about it, it still really frustrated me. Sex is a normal thing people do and to be denied it felt frustrating and, in the end, depressing.
Thus, my psychiatrist prescribed citalopram, escitalopram’s older, less sophisticated version (a.k.a. fewer side effects), and upped my dosage to a whole pill a day to make up for this pill’s lack of fine-tuning. And it did solve my little quibble. I had to take a larger dose, and citalopram was slightly more expensive than escitalopram, but the fact that it could fight my depression and save me from sexual drought was worth it. My psychiatrist then advised me to take it for an entire year (six months for the actual treatment of my serotonin levels, and then another six months to really bolster the treatment and make sure the effects stay put), and to check in with him every now and then, especially if something was up.
On the Mend
But I didn’t check in with him for the next 10 months. (I would not recommend forgoing the psychiatrist to anyone; I was just being hardheaded and I am not a good example.) It was just that, as I’ve mentioned, I was lucky enough to have everything good since we nailed down the pill and dosage right for me. Long story short, it got to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference between feeling normal and feeling medicated. In fact, here’s a list of personal improvements I’ve achieved, off the top of my head:
- I can hold a conversation and not loathe myself afterwards.
- I am more capable of telling people what I want instead of being meek and doormatty.
- I don’t throw a fit when my boyfriend isn’t home by 6:30 PM.
- I eat what I want and only when I’m hungry, and don’t spend hours staring at my love handles in an awful mixture of sorrow and horror.
- I can forge and maintain friendships with people I sincerely like.
- I am more active about the things I believe in.
- I am more willing to try new things, no matter how far they are from my comfort zone.
- I care far less about what others think of me, my writing, my anything.
- I don’t beat myself up over the way I write.
- I no longer feel the need to pander to people I don’t like, and ultimately don’t crave for others’ approval anymore.
- When I feel upset, it doesn’t stretch on and escalate over the next 12 hours.
- I don’t care about my past, and neither do I worry too much about the future. I’m just fine where I am and I figure myself out from day to day.
I am still the same person I was before, in the sense that I still believe in the same principles, strive for the same goals, enjoy the same things, and swear like the same old sailor. The only significant change is that I’m actually happy to be this person, that I don’t unwittingly pile a whole lot of metaphysical shit on to bring myself down for no reason. I don’t feel different. I feel better. What moron doesn’t want to feel better?
So there. Thanks to my most recent conversation with my psychiatrist, which could possibly be my last, at least for a long while, I am now on a program to taper off my medication. Next month, I will take half a pill each day for the first two weeks, and then take half a pill every other day for the last two weeks. I will then stop taking medication after that, and will monitor how I feel over the next two months. If I feel just fine, that means I’m in remission. If not, that means I’ll have to go back to medication on a higher dosage for another length of time. But I’m pretty confident I’ll be in remission, because everything’s gone pretty well thus far. Unlike before, I now hope for the best.
I’d like to stress again, of course, that medication affects people in different ways, and that my case just happened to be fairly clean-cut. Others have a more difficult time with their treatment, so I cannot really speak for people on meds in general. What I do want to relay, however, is that getting medicated shouldn’t be frowned upon and, in fact, is a perfectly normal option for people with conditions similar to mine. Depression, bi-polar disorder and their ilk are more common than people think, and their methods of treatment are also more mundane than many would like to believe. Medication can be a difficult process, sure, but that doesn’t make it strange or wrong. In fact, I’m happy to be on medication. Wasn’t that why I signed up in the first place?
So today I’m putting one up myself. This was really difficult to write. It is not exclusively mental health related, but it does have an impact on my mental health. And for that reason I wanted to share it.
When I turned 18 I said I didn’t want to drink. I hadn’t had more than a glass of wine at Christmas dinner at most. I wasn’t one of those kids that bought bottles of cider at 14 and sat drinking with friends. To be fair that might be more to the fact I had few people I would call a friend.
When I turned 18 it was almost considered a thing to do to drink, I actually refused but a friend insisted on giving me a beer. It was awful. Hated it. Then a few months later I decided I wanted to see what being drunk was like. I was a pathetic lightweight- 1 Barcadi Breezer and two pints of beer and I was right royally fucked. I ran out of the bar pretending to be Superman and decided to lick the pavement. Not my best moment. But from then on I started drinking. Not much, once every couple of weeks, then that turned in to a 2 litre bottle of cider every Saturday night.
When my nan died and I found myself living by myself this regular cider soon became cheap white cider because it got me pissed easily and was only £2 a bottle. This continued and soon became a two or three times a week habit. I would sometimes wait until my pay went in at midnight on a Thursday and then headed out to a late bar. When I was on job Seekers allowance I would go to the Spar at midnight to buy a bottle of Vodka- usually with a friend, at that stage I wouldn’t drink a spirit by myself. That’s what alcoholics do.
Sometimes I’d get a box of wine and drink most of it in one night. I could, and can drink a lot. I can comfortably drink at least twice what my friends can. And some of them can drink well.
I did think I had a problem once, I was losing time at work and eventually lost my job because of the amount of times I called in “sick”. I wasn’t always a nice drunk- never violent I must add. But verbally I could be insanely vicious. I never got a punch though. And I have had some amazing times whilst drunk- one memory involves me and a friend drinking whisky in a small pub in a village before deciding to try and walk the 40 miles form Leicester to Birmingham, across fields and through deserted woods. We called directory enquiries and asked for directions and stopped motorists to ask- pretending we were in the army and on manoeuvres. Also if it wasn’t for the Dutch courage the booze gave me in talking to women I would not be as – how to put this delicately? – “Experienced” as I am now. Drunk in moderation alcohol can be part of a fun night and healthy lifestyle.
I moved to Scotland just over 5 years ago and moved in with my dad. He is an alcoholic. Been clean for a couple of years now and doing well. But sitting drinking with him some nights I was intrigued to find I could get rather close to matching him drink for drink. In the past few years I’ve tended to drink – get drunk really – twice a week on average. Previously it was two 2 litre bottles of regular cider twice a week (I haven’t touched the white stuff in years, well not with enough frequency to discuss it here.). So basically I was having around 15 pints of cider a week. Every week.
Now as an aside I should say I don’t want to discuss the “21 Units Recommended Weekly Intake” because it’s flawed and only good as a scare tactic. One person could healthily drink 40 units, another struggle past 10. As a guideline it’s not bad, but as anything else it’s not worth considering.
I can also quite easily put away a bottle of 40% spirit in one night, and since I have stopped drinking cider – on a low carb diet! – I have pretty much replaced the cider with spirits. Now that is not only damaging to my wallet but also substantially more alcohol than is in the cider. Looking at 30 units a bottle I can easily put up to 60 units a week away. And that’s not good in anybody’s book.
A short while back I wrote a poem about my feelings of drink and my dad. I suppose here is a good a place as any to share it:
“The kitchen’s in a mess again
A dark and wretched stinking den
12 litres of cider on the side
All now empty
Cleaning? Why try?
Promises made. Promises broken.
We’re out of electric. Cider or tokens
There’s food in the fridge to last us a day.
But payments at least a fortnight away.
Begging and borrowing just to get drunk.
Grammatically slurred, and breath of a skunk
Missed opportunities and screw ups in life
Wasted potential, and of course other people’s strife.
Regrets and remorse. Swearing to stop.
Tomorrow though, “promise”. Tonight just one more drop.
Sausages. Pizza. Chips fried in fat.
Too lazy to cook anything but crap.
You see I live with my father. An alcoholic. A drunk most of his life.
And it’s his kitchen. His regrets. His cider on the side.
I look at the man on the sofa. The man I’ll grow to be.
But with a heavy heart I look in the mirror, and realise that’s already me.”
Now I don’t wake up craving alcohol. Never have. I never get withdrawals, and I never get the shakes. I don’t usually drink during the day and I don’t drink every day- I can’t actually. Two days in a row is too much to take. But any sensible person would say I’m drinking too much.
As I mention earlier, this isn’t even the first time I’ve thought this. Years ago I was concerned about my drinking and made an attempt to control it. But failed. Since I started drinking 10 years ago I think the longest I have gone without a drink is 6 weeks- and that is because I had to. After a rather abusive phone call to my then partner I was ordered off the booze by her and lasted 6 weeks. Then I was back on it. Apart from that time the longest I have gone is a fortnight, that was recently. And that is where the link to my mental health comes in.
I was off booze for a fortnight, and this coincided with me feeling fan-bloody-tastic. The best I’ve felt. My depression had lifted and I felt eager, energized and back to some semblance of my “old self”. I wasn’t sure at the time just what was having the effect- was it my new meds? Was it my new exercise regime? That I’d lost weight? Was it that I was drinking less? Was it all of the above?
My meds are certainly helping, but being off the booze had a major effect that now I’m drinking again I have noticed a serious dip. And my paranoia is back (Not helped by the fact I’ve forgotten my meds these past few days).
And also, I don’t like drunk me. He’s a prick. He’s amusing up to a certain stage, but then he becomes a bit of a dick. Demanding of more booze, banter becomes rude, a bit of a lecherous old git and generally not a very nice person. Not one I’d want to spend time with. But the most devastating thing has been the way it has affected my depressive mood.
I’m almost feeling as if I’m back to square one. My mood is low, my fear of going out has returned. And I’ve done some really stupid things in the past week that I’m ashamed of. Some I’m not ashamed of, but would have happened with or without drink eventually anyway.
I don’t say I’m an alcoholic. But I do say I have a problem. And this problem is having such a detrimental effect on my health that I need to address it now. But, I don’t know how. Social situations almost demand you drink and not drinking leads to all sorts of assumptions from others. I do have a problem but I don’t want people in the pub to think that! What I do know is I don’t like feeling like this, I see the affect it is having on my wallet, my social life, my friends and my mental health. I don’t like being like this, I don’t like drunk me. And at this stage, simply saying “cut down” won’t work. I can’t cut down. I can’t just decide to have one drink in a bar, I want another and another and another. For the sake of my mental health above all I need to stop. Do I need to stop forever? Maybe. Can I accept that I might have to stop forever? No. I can completely understand the alcoholic mantra of “I’m not going to drink TODAY”. Because admitting you might have a problem is hard. Seeing how it affects your mental health is distressing.
So for my health, my sanity and my friends… I’m not going to drink today.
Today we have an article from Shaun McGonical. For more about the role of skepticism in his life as an outspoken atheist in an actively polyamorous lifestyle, see his blog at The Atheist, Polyamorous, Skeptic.
Emotions are not experiences of some soul or spirit; they are ways our body has of experiencing itself. Emotions give us insight into our background mood which will influence behavior, have unconscious affects on us including largely unintentional body language, and have direct and indirect effects on cognition, intelligence, and perception. In other words, they are a very important aspect of each one of us and should be taken seriously.
We should all allow ourselves to feel our emotions. We should not shove them down below and become externally robotic in an attempt to be super-rational, neutral, calm rational entities (see Julia Galef’s speech from Skepticon last year for more about this). It is better to feel the joy, the sadness, the occasional ecstatic joy and the raging heart of fire of righteous or guilty ire. Our emotions are part of us. Indeed they are in many ways the foundations of our conscious experience, creating a bedrock for thoughts both profane and profound. Being a rational person includes maintaining healthy emotional awareness and expression.
So if this is the case, then why am I so often afraid to allow myself this simple and essential thing? Why do I feel it necessary to govern myself so tightly? What type of thing would cause such a thing?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is basically the long term condition of experiencing patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions. It means, for me, that the normal ebb and flow of moods and feelings are potentially dangerous, as they are very capable of flying off the normal radar into incomprehensible and disproportional levels of response to slightly abnormal life. Not being a trained psychologist, I cannot say more about the technical aspects of the disorder (and my particular disorder is mild in comparison to some), but I can say a lot about what it has been like to be a Borderline.
A little background
Growing up I was a pretty shy child who spent a lot of time playing alone. I was more intelligent than average, but I didn’t know this fact, nor would it have been obvious to most people around me. I was insecure, afraid, and often excessively reticent and reclusive. Yes, I was social on occasion, but my default setting seemed to be anti-social.
I was also relatively subdued, calm, and even composed. I could spend many hours in relative quiet while playing, and required little supervision. But occasionally, when certain circumstances arose, I could quite easily explode into a rage of anger seemingly without cause. I could also be enraptured by annoyance or frustration which could boil over into a rage of destruction around me, and then I would feel better, calm, content even.
But then I would look at the trail of destruction behind me (both metaphorically and often literally), and I would understand what I had done, and the guilt would set in. I had hurt people I loved, sometimes even myself, and things that I could not replace were often left shattered and gone forever. It was not that I didn’t remember what I had done, but that what I had done seemed like the memory of another person. Something would click in my head and some monster would take control, leaving me aware but mostly unable to mitigate or prevent the destruction that was happening by me.
And these memories stick. I am occasionally haunted by an image of a teddy bear, sitting on the floor of my bedroom and damaged beyond repair. It was a toy I had had since earliest memory possibly since I was an infant, and in the horrific reverie it lays there filled with holes, stuffing exploding from it, and limbs hanging off. But this type of terrifying memory was but a mere foreshadowing of what was to come; images of people I love looking at me with distrust and fear, running from me, and the love and trust they once had dissolved from them before this monster.
I remember one awful time when a cheerful hug offered to a girlfriend, weeks after a rage inspired me to an explosion of screaming and thrown and subsequently broken objects, was not received with joy but was instead with her flinching away, as I had moved to quickly or too suddenly. I knew at that moment that the relationship was damaged beyond repair.
Luckily for me there are not very many instances of such losses of control in my adult life. Luckily none of the people I loved were ever seriously hurt. But what has occurred has been enough for me to become afraid of myself. And being afraid of oneself is not healthy. It took a long time to trust and like myself again in a way that allowed me to have healthy relationships.
Facing my fears
Fear of what? (you may ask). Fear of failure, rejection, and abandonment, indeed, but also fear of success, acceptance, and being loved. The latter part of that may not seem sensible, but put it in this context; When you know you are capable of destroying that which matters to you, is it not better to keep those things at a distance so that you cannot destroy them? Is it not better to not have people close to you? You see, it is a fear of oneself. A fear for what you want because you will break it when you get it. It is a vicious cycle that has to be broken somehow.
When you are afraid of what you could do in a time of stress, lack of sleep, or frustration you find yourself living under terror of your own making. And even if it has been months since I last lost my temper, lapsed into intense moments of depression, or found myself feeling impulsive in a potentially destructive way, I often feel the pressure to keep being diligent in watching myself for signs of potential loss of control. The scrutiny necessary for such levels of self-governance is often tiring and incomprehensible to many other people. And while it is no longer necessary to be constantly vigilant, I do find myself checking in with myself throughout the day to see how I am feeling, anticipate if some circumstances may be a trigger, and to make sure that I’m not holding on too tightly—after all I have to allow myself to feel the normal levels of emotion in order to be a healthy partner, co-worker, and member of society.
The results of such efforts has not been all bad. It has made me largely self-aware, put me in better touch with my emotions, and gives me insight into human behavior which often evades people who need not pay attention to such things. And while these skills are useful and good for many reasons, the fact that I had to do them for the safety of those I love and not merely for the sake of self-improvement is not a comfortable fact for me.
And at bottom I must realize that the basic fear which lays at the foundation of this condition is not something that can merely be shrugged off, argued away rationally, or ignored. Instead, it is something I have had to embrace as part of who I am. Where I once would have claimed to not be afraid, I admit openly that I have fears and that they are an important part of who I am. And the more I embraced them, the less effect they had on my daily life. It became a fact to be dealt with, rather than a point of shame to hide from. Facing that fact has made tremendous difference in my life.
A large part of what has made this effort stick was being open about it. Years ago, after realizing the nature of what I was dealing with (but before I had a name for it), I was honest with myself about it, but hid it from almost everyone else. This led to a game of hiding certain aspects of myself which kept me from being truly close to anyone. It made relationships hard, and created more frustration and fear, leading to a cycle of failed relationships.
Later, after a particularly bad set of events which led to the end of a long-term relationship, I decided to essentially come out of the closet. And while I still had no name for my disorder, I was open about what I had done, that I was essentially afraid of many things, and that I was working on it and wanted people close to me to be aware and to help if they had the ability and the will to do so. And since then, with but one minor hiccup at the end of a relationship that ended for other reasons, I have had more than two years of a gradual transition from a person interwoven with fear and stress about that fear to a person who has found the capability to love more openly, feel emotions more freely and normally, and to speak out without fear of judgment or social stigma.
Besides, the social stigma that comes with being openly atheist and polyamorous has taught me to not worry about those things, so I applied those lessons to my fears about my disorder. Anyone who knows me knows that I am outspoken, frank, and often willing to enter controversy and scrape its sides of its container for more when it is emptied. And while this part of me was borne in part as a reaction to fear (that is, wanting to appear fearless), it became a part of my growing and changing as a person towards where I am still headed. That is, there is still much work to be done, but I at least know what direction to move towards.
Where I am now
Of course, all of the ebb and flow of emotion is not yet placid within me. There is still the choppy waters of anger under the surface from time to time and there is also the intensity of desire which compels a rocket-like trajectory into creativity, expression, and ecstasy of enjoyment. The latter I govern less, as it is more often constructive than destructive. Some symptoms of BPD are not completely unlike bi-polarity, in many respects, and sometimes when I’m feeling more creative and joyful I allow myself to experience it while keeping in mind that the intensity of the feeling is distorted, magnified, and temporary. But for me the fundamental issue is the unpredictable and intense thrust of the feeling underneath it all, and for me that thrust is fueled by the perpetual set of fears, insecurities, and other irrational aspects of my deep psyche.
What is different now? Now I look down into that fear, and I see it for what it is. I share that fear with those close to me. Others around me, perhaps, can see it too. And as I watch it try and pull back that smile, interfere with that sense of joy, or push me towards unspeakable rages of violence, I have to move closer to it, make it part of me, and accept it as a reality.
What I took as weakness before I see as strength now. Weakness is not excess of emotion, passion, and vulnerability. Weakness is not admitting the truth of what we do feel, facing those feelings, and dealing with them as part of reality. The truth of ourselves becomes paramount to the ideals of what we might want to portray. Much like the ideal of skepticism in a world of half-truths, facades, and credulity, the truth of ourselves trumps inauthenticity.
Fear is not something for me to be ashamed of, because it is part of what I am. And as a result I am working towards ridding my life of non-pursued desires. Yes, there will still be the unrequited ones, but the non-pursued ones wane towards oblivion. Hidden under even the worst of our attributes is the possibility of growth. Do not hide from what you fear in yourself, but face it and use its powers to reform yourself as best you can. Hiding from your fears only makes you more afraid of them, and lends them power.
A short personal tale from “myatheistlife” and how they dealt with their grandmothers MH condition.
I was 20 or 21 and visiting my grandparents. My grandma was suffering Alzheimer’s. One evening I was walking down the hall to my bedroom and she was there, staring into the hall closet. I paused my motion as she looked up at me. With a fearful and questioning kind of look in her eyes she asked me “Do you think I’m crazy?” I smiled, gave her frail body a big hug and told her “no, but you are the best grandma ever.”
She had the toaster in her hands and was trying to put it away among the bed linens. She may never have ever recalled that moment in the rest of her life. When I think of it I can’t help but think it was one of the most compassionate things I’ve ever done. She was not cogent much in those days. I always hoped that her cogent moments were full of love.
I cannot imagine even to this day how fucked up your mind has to be to ask someone if they think you are crazy. To not trust what you perceive the world to be enough to know if you are in fact sane or not. To doubt what you think you know so much that you ask for a second opinion. All of us seem to be broken in some way or other. I think that the beauty of the human mind is finding when your frailties are exposed, you are near some one who shows you compassion.
Todays article is from Steve S.
My name is Steve S. and I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I have had schizo-affective disorder now for about 6 years. I was diagnosed with it at 22, and what it means is that I have schizophrenia and severe depression, which is the ‘affective’ part of the disorder. My family has been reasonably supportive, but mostly the support comes from my close friends who have seen me off medication and know how big a difference it can be when I go back onto them. I have checked myself into a mental hospital several times voluntarily, and it did take me some time to come to terms with that. To me, having to go to the hospital and tell someone that something was broken inside my head was a sign of weakness. It took some time, but I started to realize that if you have a mental problem, going to the hospital is no different than going to the hospital for chest pains; neither can be controlled on its own, so help is a must.
My father has always been very supportive, since he used to work in the mental health field. However, my mother and stepfather seem to have a harder time understanding it because they have never seen me without medication or during a psychotic episode. They seem to just nod their heads politely when I talk about it and don’t really ask any questions. I’ve never been stigmatized by others around me, probably since you wouldn’t know anything was wrong with me mentally if you saw me, so long as I’m on my medication. The people I have told about it have been very close friends and they have been amazingly supportive throughout my struggles.
If I could give advise to someone who has a mental illness but is afraid to seek help, I would tell them that it’s no longer the days of taking Haldol and walking around in a fog and feeling half human. Instead, there are many great atypical anti-psychotics on the market that do amazing things. Yes, there will be side affects, however, they are not nearly as bad as they used to be. Before my current medication, Abilify, I was hearing voices all day every day and could no longer differentiate between real and imagined. In fact, I would have complete conversations with the voices and only afterwards realize that there was no one there. I would also lose time, a half hour or more at a time, because of the voices. Since being on Abilify, however, I very rarely hear any voices and the only side affect has been a tremor that comes and goes. To be honest, I’ll take a tremor any day of the week over hearing voices.
Learning to live with a mental illness is like learning to live with any other long term illness. You need to manage your expectations, take your medications every day, and continue follow up visits to manage medications. I see a psychiatrist strictly for medications, but for some, a counselor would also help. My hope is that someone reads this and gets the help they need without feeling alone in the world.
A new contribution from Keir Liddle who is founder and blogger over at The Twentyfirst Floor.
Batman has a special place in the mythology of my mental illness.
Batman also has a special place in the ire of some psychiatrists and mental health professionals for depicting an unrealistic vision of mental illness. They raise concerns about the sometimes overtly psychoanalytic and heightened depictions of mental health problems like psychosis and the way therapy and prison intertwine into a gothic whole in the twisted vision of Arkham. Part asylum, part penitentiary, all nightmarish vision of insanity and the worst excesses of an imagined US prison system.
I don’t wish to add to the criticism that has gone before. Nor do I intend to defend the cartoonish and exaggerated world of Gotham against such allegations. Except to say that I find these concerns less pressing than my own concerns about how mental health is represented in more mainstream media such as TV drama, film and in particular soap operas. Where typically you find that a character with mental health issues has been sketched around a writers reading of the DSM criteria and is more often than not only ever on a journey from blood spilt crisis to crisis: Either perpetrating acts of violence against others or themselves or providing a misplaced foil for some ill conceived comic relief.
Batman is special to me in many ways. I could never therefore give a fair and objective account of whether these comics do harm and stigmatize the mentally ill.
I can tell you about my relationship with Batman though.
My mother was/is schizophrenic. The qualification is required as I haven’t spoken to her or even seen her in the last fifteen years – I am now 30. In my defence this is not for want of trying to build burnt bridges though to my shame in recent years I’ve abandoned the long sessions standing at her door knocking endlessly and never being let in.
Central to one of my mothers delusions was a board game we were gifted by a family friend specifically the Batman the Movie board game. It randomly became a focus for her and her obsession culminated when she took me and my brother driving in the middle of the night to try and find the Dark Knight. We were ordered to turn our faces to the open windows of the car in the back seat as she believed it was filling with poison gas (no doubt placed there by her enemies at the Scottish Qualifications Authority) and we had to answer her incessant questions about the location of Batman. She eventually abandoned the search turning quickly into a frozen field and we drove silently home in the dark.
A lifetime’s obsession was born.
Now I look at Batman and I can see an allegory for my own self loathing and mental health issues.
You could consider that many of Batman’s foes represent a twisted reflection of at least an aspect of the Dark Knights personality or psychological makeup:
- The Joker as what Batman could have become driven mad with grief
- Two-Face as representing the struggle between Batman and Bruce Wayne as the duality at the heart of batman’s existence
- The Penguin and Black Mask as versions of Bruce Wayne who turned to crime instead of vigilantism
- And Mr Freeze as an older Bruce Wayne loosing his wife instead of his parents.
When Batman looks in the mirror he might see, in his darker moments, his foes reflected back at him or at the least the “madness” that drives them.
This is something I can relate to when I look at myself in the mirror when I am in the sinkhole of depression. For it isn’t always me that looks back, it isn’t always me that stands in front of my critical and hateful gaze. It is a twisted reflection an amalgamation of failures, faux pas and slights both imagined and real. It is a twisted corpulent mess of scars and self loathing.
When I look into the mirror I don’t see the Joker, Two Face or the Penguin. I see all my weaknesses, all my faults and flaws reflected back like an exaggerated comic book villain but all too real. Etched into my reflection is every ounce of self doubt that I inflict upon myself, every inch of self loathing and hate. Every bit of guilt and shame I feel (deserving and undeserving) looking back at me taunting me and telling me I am worthless, useless and obsolete.
If you stare into the abyss sometimes you become the abyss.
Not only that but when the mirror presents such a twisted self image I, like Wayne, adopt my secret identity and put on my mask. Stick on the smile and get on with it and pretend nothing is as bad as it is or hide under the duvet refusing to leave the Batcave. You rarely see a depressive at their worst – which must make it difficult for most to believe the bad days exist but they most certainly do.
Though unlike Batman when I put on my armour and head out to face the world my battle isn’t with supervillans on the streets of Gotham but it is a battle with myself in my own head.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
In secondary school I went through a difficult time with bullying, I came down with abdominal pains which prevented me from going to school and made it difficult to eat. I saw several doctors and the pains always subsided for a while when I was reassured there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with me. I was told I most likely had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and that anxiety could be a factor. I got some medication and the symptoms went away quite quickly. This was definitely not the last time I would have IBS. When I was at an open day at a university my friends and I were keen to attend, I recall becoming overwhelmed by panic and had to sit outside in the fresh air while my friends talked to the lecturers, finding out information about their courses. This panic, mostly about the idea for moving away from home, away from my parents for the first time was the main reason I changed my plans and went to a more local university so I could remain at home even though they did not have my preferred course.
I was referred to see a counsellor who specialised in young people. I was given Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to learn to prevent the panic taking hold of my body, but I don’t feel that it worked. It never felt right for me. I was referred to see another counsellor for adults after a while when I became older. This counsellor talked to the psychologist and formally diagnosed me with anxiety and suggested I may have depression too. I was prescribed a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) to treat the anxiety and depression, and talking to the counselling continued for a while.
I started taking the SSRI, half dosage at first for a week, then up to full dosage, when I was on the full dosage I started feeling sick. I spoke with my GP who suggested I go back on the half-dose and try increasing it more gradually. I tried this but continued feeling sick. I got fed up and stopped taking the SSRI abruptly, although the instructions advise against sudden discontinuation. Then, I spent years suffering from mysterious feeling known as SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome. SSRIs are not addictive and don’t leave you feeling any dependence on them, but if stopped abruptly they can in some cased leave patients with a non-painful but disturbing, electric-shock-like sensation in the head, sometimes referred to as “brain-zaps”, which for me happened every time I moved my eyes (probably hundreds of times a day, I once tried counting but lost track quickly). My GP did not think that this was associated with the SSRI as he had not heard of it before. I had to take along my own Internet research to show that others report the same thing with the same drug. I tried going back on a half-dose of the SSRI for a long time (which put away the brain-zaps) then coming down slowly over months (which brought them back). After trying this several times over a few years I eventually just put up with them until they went away (hopefully for good) after at least 3 months of brain-zaps, although I still get a slight tingle or discomfort in my scalp for a while occasionally which may or may not be related.
In more recent years my depression took over more than the anxiety. I went back in to counselling; this time at my university’s counselling services (when I was doing my masters degree). I had a job that I hated and spent most of my time talking about that even though I had other issues. I really wanted to also speak about my loneliness, now that I have moved out of my parents’ house and I so desperately was to start dating and find love, but have never been able to. I also felt too embarrassed to seek advice about this so only spoke about my work. My time with the counselling ran out. I lost my job due to recession (and being worthless, most of what I did at work was sit around feeling anxious) and spent a lot of time half-heartedly job seeking as a finished my masters.
Last year I had an anxiety attack and was referred by my GP to another counsellor. By the time the counselling started, my depression had taken over from my anxiety again. I never get a moments peace as they take turns on me. I have been seeing my counsellor for 3 months and haven’t gotten back around to what was making me panic. I’ve been more open and honest this time and talked about my feelings and relationships with friends, family, colleagues in a way that I did not in past counselling and feel I’ve benefited a bit from this. I could be proud of my ability to open up, but really it was killing me to the point I had to. Additionally, I often feel I’m wasting my counsellor’s time as I feel like a lost cause. Lately, I haven’t been able to do very much, even study (I’m now doing a PhD) without the anxiety or depression taking over. The IBS is still with me today and I’ve missed days and been late because of it. It can torture me alongside the anxiety all day long.
Usually I will spend Christmas at my parents’ house. I spent Christmas 2011 alone after falling out with my parents over trivial matters. I hate the holiday season. I’m just in my 20s, but I feel too old to enjoy it. I don’t get big presents anymore and I never get invited to parties (everyone who knows me either doesn’t think to invite me or know I’m too much of a misery to bother, I’d bring the mood down). It gets cold making the heating annoyingly expensive, and the distraction that is work or study stops, taking me away from people I can chat to, leaving me alone with my thoughts. New Year comes along with thoughts of planning the year ahead, and worrying about money, and of course the silly American tradition where you’re expected to kiss someone on New Year. I’ve never even had a date, so that won’t happen. The funny thing is I didn’t have too bad a time on Christmas Day. I made a deal with myself that although I was alone in my flat I’d keep smiling through Christmas Day and lying to myself, saying I’m happy, and in exchange I’d let myself be as miserable as I want on Boxing Day.
Now it’s 2012. As a skeptic, I doubt the end-of-the-world prophecies are right, but I’m not really looking forward to the future anyway. I’m back to my PhD, the anxiety and IBS is killing me again, I’m still alone, I have more expensive dental work soon, and I’ve recently lost two of my friends in separate fallings-out. I look at problems other people are having which seem objectively much worse, and they can cope just fine. I don’t understand how, and it doesn’t make me feel any better. I speak to friends who are sympathetic but after I time I feel they are probably dreading the next miserable, whiney, depressing email, text, or Facebook message from me, so I stop and hold it in, or talk to Samaritans instead.
As this is a skeptic blog, I feel like adding one final thought I may otherwise not bother with. People with mental health (MH) issues are told to remember that they are not their MH issues, they are more than that as a person, the MH issue just suppresses who they are to the world. This led me to some odd pointless philosophical ponderings. As skeptics, atheists, materialists, or whatever we tend to believe as Prof. Bruce Hood put it “you are your brain”. So how can there be more to me than this? I don’t have some kind of magical soul that’s healthy under here. I am damaged. My core personality has grown up and gained life-experience over the last 10 years at the same time I’ve had anxiety and depression. So how can they ever be disentangled? If my anxiety and depression went away tomorrow, what would my personality be like? Would I be me anymore? Low mood is a standard baseline feeling for me, if I feel happy, or content, it’s an exception, brought on by exceptional circumstances. When I act a certain way and screw up, can I blame it on the MH issues, or was that just my personality flaws? Where do I end and the MH issues begin? I don’t even know anymore or if the distinction even matters to anyone. I’m a miserable person, that’s part of my identity for anyone who’s known me for any length of time. I know I’m being overly melodramatic, but sometimes I feel like I am my depression.
Today’s article is a short piece from Anonymous.
I am an atheist suffering from depression and a host of side issues to a varying degree. I feel insignificant to people and only invited as a ‘friend of a friend’. But then I also feel worthless so why would they want me? The most destructive is my paranoia and jealousy – how am I to know when I am being paranoid or when I might actually be right for once? My skill in judgement is gone and my automatic approach is to assume I’m correct and bunker down to protect myself. Jealousy tears apart everything I hold dear. I don’t want to take away from any deserving person. I just want or need the same thing but if I see it in front of me I lose all control of normal sense of decency and strike out.
Give me any dilemma that I can apply rational scientific thinking to and I’ll look for the rational scientific answer. Ill think about it as a+b=c and I’ll give you an answer. But ask me to think about people and life and it all goes out of the window. Sometimes a+b still does equal c. Sometimes it is conditional. Sometimes it can be d and z at the same time. And sometimes despite evidence it is c I still can’t tell my brain that. I can’t do rational when it comes to my own life. You can tell me you mean something in a particular way but it doesn’t mean it will feel like that to me. No one sees this.
Sometimes I think it would be lovely to believe in a god. Someone looking after me, there to talk to and with a religion to guide me. Someone with a plan putting me through this for a reason. And maybe even someone to blame. But I can’t do it. There’s enough other lies without ruling my life by one.
So I just have to struggle on. There’s help out there but no guarantees. I can lose weight and build my confidence but it still doesn’t mean anyone will notice and respond. Until they do I’m just a person not a woman. People tell you to build your self esteem but as a rational person, how do you support a theory with no evidence to support it?