Tag Archives: Mental health

The Internet, identity, and community

Standard

I have decided to process my changing relationship with and thoughts about the Internet (social networking/blogging in particular) over the years…  from being outright phobic of it in high school (2000-2004), to minimal email and LJ and later Facebook use in early college (at the time, for the sole purpose of coordinating local in-person social gatherings), to using blogging and Facebook for everything from activism, to learning new things, to keeping in touch with my communities that since I was 24 or so, have spread out across the globe.  Since I was not one who grew up with the Internet (like…the vast majority of other generation Y and Z-ers in developed countries), I have been able to observe how regular exposure to the Internet starting in young adulthood ultimately changed my thought processes, and consequently my entire identity and the way I interact with others now even offline.  Some of this is for the better, some is for the worst, but ultimately, it is what it is either way.

This blog post will go into all of that, and also how I’ve observed advancements in technology impacting and shaping society at-large (again, for better or worse), since the mid-80s when I was born.  I still have my fears and concerns, to be sure, but ultimately, particularly having grown up in the digital decade of the 90s, I’ve come to realize and accept and even be fascinating by all the ways technology and my identity have been inseparable forces.  Warning though:  this blog post will surely be one of the longest I’ve ever written, and possibly will ever write…

I got on the Internet bandwagon late, having my only significant exposure be a college email address (because it was mandatory to have and regularly check one) until…2005 I think? At such point I was first exposed to LJ, and shortly thereafter to Facebook…and it all went downhill from there.  😉  I started socializing in-person and doing my hobbies and taking care of myself less, and so my grades started going down, and all of this meant disconnecting just a little bit at a time with the world around me and sinking deeper and deeper into my own head. This was a hit to my sanity, and lacking sanity ultimately grew to lacking the capacity to do anything but surf the web and watch TV. Which of course became a vicious cycle.

…but it’s a little more complicated than that. Obviously, there must have been reasons why I was drawn so much to it in the first place (aside from that it is literally impossible to just avoid the Internet completely today, in our culture. I’ve been told time and time again how this would put me at a distinct disadvantage, not only socially but intellectually and professionally as well, not to mention keeping me out of the loop of the activist causes I try to stay involved in). And there are also simultaneously reasons why I find it so challenging and frustrating, other than just resenting technology for my lack of willpower over it (and consequently often resenting the hell out of having to grow up in the information age).

Pros of the Internet

~Community: The Internet allows me (and other freaks of various stripes) to more easily find others I can relate to about certain, fairly niche interests and traits that may be geographically spread out because of this. It can be pretty hard depending on where you live, for instance, to find a large group of Pagans all in one physical location (nevermind Pagans who are also bisexual and polyamorous…this is the topic of a LiveJournal community I’m a member of). It can also be hard to find other people with the same disabilities as you, nevermind people who take pride in these disabilities (The Icarus Project, though it now has in-person meetings in various cities across the world, was originally born of a forum. And through The Icarus Project, I also discovered the disability rights and autism pride movements). Seeing these traits reflected back at me makes me feel just a little less lonely, and a little less strange, gives me models to guide the development of my identity, and a language with which to process and discuss all this. Also obviously, social networking is a great way to keep in touch with friends you already knew in-person after one or both of you move far away. (Which seems to happen a lot in my circles…maybe it has to do with my age? Dunno.)

~Personal growth:  By its very nature, blogging encourages being verbally reflective. I’ve always been reflective (well, I guess a better word for it in my adolescence and childhood would be aware, in a more intuitive and less direct way). But my natural way of processing things internally is nonverbal: images, sounds, instincts, memories, emotions, textures…anything but words. Pushing myself to put my thoughts to words on LJ (on my own time, with no pressure to make it high-quality or on a particular topic), not only helped me to become a much better writer (helpful in its own right in a myriad of ways), but it changed my thought patterns. I would start thinking in words in preparation of an entry, rather than “translate” while writing as I did in the beginning. Then I started having an internal monologue even when I wasn’t planning on posting anything.

I have to say that I still very strongly believe that words are not the only valid method of communication, either internally or externally, no matter your age (despite that it’s considered “normal” to begin development of a verbal inner monologue around age six, I say fuck the concept of “normal”). I very much value my intuition and visual awareness and empathy, all of which initially developed in lieu of inner monologuing in the traditional sense. Still, having ease with words is obviously helpful, seeing as words are the primary method of communication and interpretation for many adolescents and adults in this society. It’s also useful to have ease with more than one method of communication and processing (or as I like to think of it, being “bilingual” in a sense), to have flexibility and adeptness in more types of situations. I’m still intuitive and observant and empathic, and I still have a strong aesthetic sense. Words didn’t make these traits disappear. But now I can also articulately explain myself to others, without my thoughts being lost in translation. I can also more directly explain myself to myself at times: while nonverbal thought can provide me with a general awareness of things, it doesn’t always provide me with a clear explanation of that awareness and where it’s coming from. Having the combination of the two types of processing allows me to go deeper with my thoughts, to be more acutely aware of myself and the world around me, and to talk myself through applying that awareness to external situations.

Then there’s Facebook, which serves very different purposes than LiveJournal or WordPress. By the time Facebook came out with features beyond just looking up and contacting who’s in your college classes and clubs (my first college was one of the first colleges it came to when back when it was college-only), I had already developed my verbal skills through LiveJournal. What Facebook helped me develop was my wit, assertiveness, and confidence. I think it’s to some extent true for many people that our social network selves are a reflection of our ideal selves; how we see ourselves internally, and how we wish the world would see us too. This is because we can edit online, but can’t as much offline: we actively choose what we want to present to the world, and what we want to hide, and can always edit or delete later if we impulsively post something we regret.

I felt safe to share thoughts and opinions on Facebook that I would be too afraid to share IRL, because I was sure I would mess it up somehow and embarrass myself without having all the time in the world to think it through first. And like what happened with LiveJournal, my status update style eventually started blending with my thinking style, which consequently affected my behavior. My Facebook persona is gradually becoming closer and closer to my offline persona (or in other words: Facebook is helping me to actualize my ideal self). If my Facebook persona can be a bit opinionated and cocky sometimes (this much I admit), my softer and more introspective blogging persona balances it out.

~Knowledge:  As I said, while I’ve developed the capacity to think in words over time, it is not my natural or primary form of processing. My thoughts are also nonlinear: instead, I’m stream-of-consciousness and free-associative (as anyone who’s interacted much with me would know). Between these two qualities, I had trouble with reading comprehension from around age 14-21, and I attribute this in no small part to the style and format of most YA and adult books. There are rarely many pictures (if there are any at all). The font is generally uninteresting and only one size, and there is also only one font throughout. Rarely is there interesting formatting, such as bolding key points, colorful text, or an interesting layout of the text. Chapters are presented in a very linear way, with the book intended to be read from cover to cover at some point (while you can take as long as you want to finish, you’d still generally be confused if you read half of chapter 12 before turning to the end of chapter 3 before finishing with chapter 7). This arrangement does not work with my learning style at all, and because I wasn’t yet really aware of other formats for information, I assumed I was simply an idiot. (And I also admittedly was pretty clueless about a lot of things, as compared to most in my age group.)

Since then, I’ve discovered zines and nonfiction graphic novels and documentaries, which have all been empowering and enlightening in their own right, but right now I’m here to talk about the Internet. Obviously, the Internet is much more visual and interactive than books. It’s a multi-media smorgasbord: a single article may include pictures, hyperlinks to other articles, bolding and colors and a fascinating design, background music or sound, AND an embedded video. As much as I hate how little willpower I have over my web-surfing, I can’t deny that I learn a ton (more than I ever learned from classes or trips to the library) by clicking from one article to the next on Wikipedia or WordPress. I can finally be in charge of my own learning, and don’t have to wait around for an expert to explain things to me. I feel like I can hold my own now in conversations with my very intelligent friends, on topics that I previously feared: like philosophy and politics and current events.

~Activism: I always wanted to be an activist (I played “protest Barbie” as a little girl…if I remember correctly, she mostly protested the injustice of bedtimes and having to eat vegetables.) But for awhile, I had no idea how or where to start. This is related to the previous topic: I had a general feeling of dissatisfaction with many aspects of society, but with little awareness of where exactly that dissatisfaction was coming from, or how the larger world works, or how activism works (and has in the past), it was a fruitless goal. Activism has changed a lot over time: today, most movements utilize the Internet in some way. For awhile, I followed discussions on these topics without actively participating at all, but that allowed me to learn what I needed to learn about the causes. It also gave me awareness of different methods that can be effective, both online and off. Finally, I started participating more actively, in my own small way. I consider educating people via social networking to be a form of activism (and I am always open to questions about my posts), and I also started this blog about 7 months ago. While I’ve done some offline activism in the areas of environmentalism and gay rights, unfortunately the stigma of mental illness is such that I don’t feel safe outing myself to the general public, so in that area social networking/blogging is all I have (and all I may ever have).

~Marketing and promotion: I don’t particularly want to sell my art yet, but I do someday (when I have more time and skill), and regardless I certainly enjoy sharing it. Shoving my actual art in people’s faces at random, in person, would be…awkward, not to mention rude. The aforementioned currently-low technical skill prevents me from having anything on display. So I have a DeviantArt account, as well as a Facebook album devoted to my art and crafts.

Also, I’ve yet to figure out a good way to organize and promote large social events other than Facebook. How did people even do this before Facebook? (Probably with difficulty.) I haven’t actually done this sort of thing much in years (my stamina for it has gone downhill as I’ve aged and health has worsened), but at the time (like, age 19-24), it was one of my favorite hobbies. There were few things I found so exciting and fulfilling as seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they enjoyed an event I had planned and prepared for.

Cons of the Internet

To some extent, I see a lot of the benefits I talked about as compensation for problems (both personal and societal) caused by the Internet, which of course would never need to compensated for if the problems didn’t exist in the first place. I know this is going to sound like a grumpy old lady waving her cane and yelling “In my day, people talked to each other on landlines!”, but I think it all still needs to be said. (Well rather, I still need to hear myself say it. Otherwise, I’ll never be motivated enough, never try hard enough to find the balance that I wantneed).

Yes!, the Internet brings people together who might not otherwise come together. But that wouldn’t be quite as necessary if people weren’t isolated to begin with, and the Internet can exacerbate isolation (again, both personal and societal). I know, actually, that I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked about it with friends and family, and it’s been the topic of movies and TV episodes: when there is the instant gratification of talking to someone online, there is less inclination to put in the annoying logistics of arranging to see (or meet) people in person. Which means that fewer and fewer people are leaving time and energy for it, and those who do still might leave less time and energy for it than they otherwise would have.

For me, it does not matter how much time I spend instant messaging or Skyping or commenting or whatever else: I absolutely need to have in-person socializing be the core of my relationships, or I completely crash emotionally to the point of not being able to do much of anything. It also doesn’t feed me nearly as much or as well (and consequently, any satisfaction I do get doesn’t last as long), if in-person social time is spent looking at devices. It’s really hard, as an individual with what seem to me to be freakish social preferences (in the context of the era and my age), to get very far in my quest to reduce screentime, without succumbing to pressure. For instance, I can’t count how many times a conversation like this has happened…

Kit: Hey, I haven’t seen you in awhile! I miss you! We should hang out! Yay!

Friend: Yes! I miss you too! Hanging out is awesome! But I keep inviting you to things, and you keep not coming to them!

Kit: Wait, what? I haven’t heard from you in months. When did you invite me to something?? What did you invite me to??

Friend: I blogged about [X event] and [Y event]!

Kit: …oh.

In the case of bringing together geographically spread out niche groups, this is an absolutely legitimate need and use. I feel, though, that it is only part of the picture. Diversity in friend groups is wonderful! The problem is, there are many types of people who just aren’t accepted by mainstream society, and are often treated very badly. This is what’s concerning and alarming, not-so-much that these people can live far apart from each other. If they could be accepted, genuinely and with open arms, into diverse local communities (and if such local communities were actually communities in every sense of the word), I feel like there wouldn’t be as much of a need for forums. (Not that they would ever become obsolete, but that they wouldn’t be the be-all-end-all.) For me, anyway, forums are band-aids. While daydreaming about lofty ideals doesn’t necessarily do anything by itself, daydreams are the root of goals, which are the root of plans, which are the root of action.

There are, of course, other ways to gain knowledge, too. While the Internet has allowed me to “compensate” for my reading comprehension difficulties in a similar manner, and even improve upon my reading ability, Wikipedia and WordPress and links on Facebook and the like are somewhat of a crutch for me. After awhile, I stopped bothering to even try to like books. I didn’t realize that I could. I didn’t realize that there are books for adults, for instance, with fanciful typeface, with pictures, with colors, with accompanying audio or video (or both!), with nonlinear presentation, with almost anything I love about reading on the Internet. I don’t actually hate to read; I was just looking in the wrong places all my life (though with no help whatsoever from certain authority figures, who only encouraged me to read a certain type of book, and told me (explicitly or implicitly) that I wasn’t good enough if I couldn’t understand it).

I also want to add that factual information is not the only thing to be learned: abstract concepts are also important, and skills, and traits, and values, and I’m sure I could think of more if I tried. In my mind, all of these things are equally important (to society as a whole, though individuals may value some more than others in their own life). Skills, traits, and values especially are usually best learned through experience. Some things can only be learned through experience, like what it’s actually like to visit or live in a foreign country.

I guess this thought process comes from my teaching strategy: I think about whole children and all their sides and needs (social, emotional, physical, cognitive, creative, etc) as completely intertwined, and although this is common in most preschool programs, I wish it was like this for adults too! I have a hard time compartmentalizing, for instance, my mind from my body, and I have an equally hard time figuring out why I even should. (A study session will only fully settle into my brain when I go for a walk, or dance around the room (often while actively studying)). I know that not everyone is like this (in fact, maybe I’m an oddity here), and that’s ok!, but I feel like with the strong influence of the Internet (and to some extent TV as well) on culture, there is this underlying pressure for everyone to become disembodied floating heads. Also, although surfing can be nonlinear as I said, and contain multi-media elements, communication online remains mostly verbal. Because of the interplay I’ve discussed between virtual communication, thought processes, and in-person communication, this ostracizes people with minds like mine (that will probably never be primarily verbal) even further than we already were. It also further depreciates alternative communication and processing styles in general. There are benefits and shortcomings to all of the myriad methods of communicating, so societally, we need to make sure we aren’t inadvertently eradicating any through a shortage of practice.

Yet another reason why I keep coming back to my screens despite our love-hate relationship: it is an escape. I don’t feel too bad about that (and even forgot to talk about it!) because it’s so universal. Everyone needs an escape of some kind, from time to time at least. Hey, I’m only human, and sometimes all it takes to get me through a frustrating day is looking at pictures of baby animals on Zooborns. But playing with my pet rat is infinitely more satisfying than scrolling Zooborns, so when I have access to him (when I’m home), I try to do that instead. I think this concept can be extended to…a lot of things. The more I am online, of course, the less I am offline. And as much as the physical world sometimes angers or scares or frustrates me, there are so many great things about it, too. So many things I want to experience more, with all of my senses, and time is finite. It seems to pass more quickly when I’m looking at a screen.

This is also where activism can come in, and like with everything else, it of course has its offline counterparts. If something is really wrong, why not try to change it? Activism has been around long before Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, blogs. I’m still very much learning how it works, how it has worked, but at the very least I know that social networking alone cannot solve all problems. I also know that problems have been solved in many other ways before, and continue to be. For my part, I’m most interested in the arts and local community (and community arts) as agents for change. I’m also interested in answering questions (no matter how ridiculous), here and there and everywhere, and pointing people to helpful resources.

This is all a sort of chicken-or-the-egg thing that, frankly, fascinates me: does the world create the Internet, or does the Internet create the world? Personally, I think it’s both, and though I use phrases like “in real life” for lack of a better way of explaining things, I don’t think that the line between the physical and virtual worlds is as black-and-white as it may seem. Both worlds affect and reflect the other. The way I see it, the Internet is humanity in technicolor: every sentence, every interaction, every action fine-tuned and ballooned and on fast forward. This brings with it the very best of society, as well as the very worst.

I wonder, sometimes (oftentimes), why everything needs to be fast, shiny, new? Stagnation isn’t good, either: individual stories, as well as larger global ones, need to progress in order for societies and the individuals that they consist of to continue to grow and improve. But change solely for the sake of change doesn’t necessarily make any sense (and neither, for that matter, does growth for the sake of growth), and something very special may be lost in the process. Some things need to change, and others don’t, and which is which is not something I’ll ever be able to know with any certainty. I can’t predict the future, nobody can. People could argue about this question for decades. (They already have.)

But like it or not, the Internet is one change that is here to stay. The best (and only) thing I can do is adapt to its towering presence, and learn how and when to use it, and alternatives for when I don’t want to use it. This issue is, at its core, difficulty dealing with change: in this case, huge and permanent and global change, that I have only just begun to process. Because like with any other change (big or small), if I try to hide from it in its entirety, I am only setting myself up for failure.

Advertisements

Treatment Planning

Standard

I thought I’d share my current “treatment plan” (as professionals refer to what mad/disabled people do to get and stay well.  It could also be referred to as a “wellness toolbox”, “recovery plan”, etc).  This is honestly mostly for me to keep track of things, since it’s getting to be a bit complicated, but it might interest others to know how someone with mental, physical, and cognitive disabilities takes care of herself.  My main diagnoses are bipolar, autism, and ADHD; though I also have a history of trauma, non-chemical addiction and disordered eating, and some physical symptoms such as insomnia and hormonal fuckery.  (It’s yet to be determined the extent to which these physical symptoms are either caused by or cause the mental ones, though there is definitely a strong connection.)  Though I am a proponent of the “whole person” philosophy, believing that the mind and body are very much connected and so dividing things up into labels is really just a shorthand for doctors, for the sake of organization and readability, I will divide my treatment plan up into “mental” (emotional), “physical”, and “cognitive” (thought processes).

Mental

~therapy

~psychiatry as-needed (my psychiatrist prescribes psychotropic medication and also recommends over-the-counter meds, dietary supplements, and herbal remedies)

~Recovery Learning Center (peer-run drop-in mental health centers, which offer a variety of groups, classes, and social activities)

~expressive arts therapy studio and also art-making on my own

~Icarus Project (radical mental health activism and support)

~yoga, swimming, and hiking

~Paganism

Physical

~birth control to regulate my cycle and hormones

~probiotics to help with my GI issues

~physical therapy and occasional massage for my back, shoulder, and knee pain

~I have a sleep study scheduled for March 3rd to learn the cause(s) of my insomnia

~In the past, I’ve also had nutrition counseling, and may do so again in the future, though likely when I’m no longer in PT and have the time

~again, yoga, swimming, and hiking

Cognitive

~case management/coaching services at my apartment:  assistance with life skills such as cooking, cleaning, time-management, and organization

~study skills tutoring through my university when class is in session

~occasional consultation with an ADHD/LD/autism specialist, which typically includes cogmed (working memory training)

~Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

~neurodivergent social activities, including the Autistic Artists’ Collaborative

You may notice that this is a lot.

I spend roughly 8 hours/week at doctors’ offices or on the phone or at my apartment with specialists, and at least for the time being, it’s all absolutely necessary.  I am privileged to have health insurance which pays for most of this (aside from the non-clinical things, like yoga classes, and copays.)  Some is free, like Recovery Learning Center and the social and support groups, though I am also privileged to live in a large city with access to many options.  Not everyone has these opportunities, which is important to keep in mind if you ever find yourself frustrated with someone who is struggling and doesn’t seem to be getting better.  Being on disability, I also have the free time to devote 8 hours/week to my health and wellness, which would be impossible with a full-time job.

It does sometimes frustrate me that I have to spend so much time with doctors, because everyone knows that doctors are no fun.  I have goals and dreams, like working with children, being a Peer Support Specialist, showing and selling my art, being more involved in activism, traveling, and eventually having a family.  Every hour I spend on treatment is an hour less to devote to these goals or relaxing, having fun, and spending time with friends.  I remind myself, though, that it won’t be like this forever, and for now, I am very thankful to have the means and opportunity to take care of myself the best I can.  It does seem to be helping, which is wonderful.

Aside

Trigger warnings:  negativity, negative emotions, suicide, self-injury, controversial opinions

What’s acceptable in this world? What isn’t? What’s healthy, what’s unhealthy?

Something I’ve learned over the years, both from being and interacting with members of marginalized and often vulnerable groups:  every action serves a purpose and meets a need.

Does that mean that every action is equally valid and effective? No, absolutely not. Some actions cause harm to others, which is not ok (though we could debate all day long what “harming others” even means, and if it’s ever ok to harm someone in the short term while helping them or someone else in the long term. I have my opinions, but I’m not going to get into that debate today).  Some actions may harm oneself in the short-term while helping oneself in the long-term, or vice versa, or even do both simultaneously.  Some actions are more or less effective than others in reaching the desired outcome.

But all actions serve a purpose and meet a need.  Regardless of appropriateness or healthfulness (though who decides these things?), if an action is abruptly stopped without being replaced, the need will go unmet.

Consider a young child.  Children are some of the most vulnerable people. They have hardly any power over their own lives.  As such, their caregivers must meet their needs that they don’t yet have the skill or power to meet on their own.  The problem is, the adults in their lives don’t always know what these needs are.

So the child screams, and runs out the door. Or hits, or bites, or knocks over another kid’s toy, or doesn’t finish their vegetables.  An adult may say “stop”, “listen to me”, “don’t do that”, “hands are not for hitting”.  (“Why?” asks the child. “Because I said so,” says the adult.)

Good luck getting a 4-year-old to listen to that reason. But what if they do? Let’s say we have a 4-year-old with exceptional self-control (though of course…who still has only been alive for 4 years. That’s only 4 years of learning all the myriad, complicated, messy rules and skills one needs to be a successful human being in their culture.)  They listen, and stop, without discussion or explanation…and whatever need their actions were screaming out for help with continues to go unmet.  So later, they try something else.  Something which may be even more frustrating, both to themselves and those around them.

A screamer could be asking for attention in the only way they know how in this moment.  They could be hungry, or tired, or frustrated, or angry, or overwhelmed. They might not even know themselves which of these feelings is happening, or what to do about it, and they might not have the words to say “That music is too loud and I have a headache. Can you turn it down?” They might have once had these words, but in the intensity of feelings, the words disappear. We’ve all had moments like this, moments when we’re so depleted that skills we once had are suddenly out of reach. But imagine if you only just learned that skill, and haven’t had the time to perfect and cement it? New skills slip away much more easily.

The adult says stop, so the child does. This child, like most children, is eager to please the grown-ups, the superheroes who are in charge of the world. So the need goes unmet. Their head hurts. This makes them grumpy, so they continue to “act out”. They snap at other children in the daycare center. They walk over to the radio and turn it off, without saying why or asking for permission. Words are still elusive, even moreso now than they were before. “Disobedience”. “Time Out”.

Actions not only meet needs, they are also a language. What does the scream say? Usually, “help!” Or “I’m scared!” or “This is so exciting!” or simply “!!!!!”. To stop the action, without a replacement action or solution, is to take away a voice (whether it’s our own or someone else’s). Voices are necessary for survival.  It’s important to listen to actions, as we would any other language.  What does it mean? Watch and listen. Consider the circumstance, situation, what you know of this person and their needs. Read the body, the face, the hands. These are also language, and give important information. Sometimes, the only way to know for sure is to ask “Do you need help? What help do you need? Is it X?”, but be aware that the answer may not come entirely in words. Words are but one of many ways of communicating.

Grown-ups are not all that different from kids.  We’re all people, just some are taller and some have more experience in living. Different people take longer than others to learn different things.  That’s ok, though it can affect how we act and live.  Adults’ needs are usually more complex and varied than those of children. Adults are usually responsible for meeting their own needs (even if they get help along the way), and for understanding and facing the consequences of their own actions.  But adults still have needs, and these needs must be met.  Adults still sometimes struggle to know what their needs are, and what to do about them. Adults still sometimes act on impulses. Adults still do only what they know how to do, what they have the ability to do, and the power and freedom to do. Adults still face limitations and restrictions on their knowledge, ability, power, and freedom…some people more than others.

Some actions are more acceptable than others, but who decides that? Adults in power do. Powerful people are human just like they rest of us.  They struggle to know what to do and how to do it, they sometimes act on impulses, they see the world through a cloud of their own experiences and biases, they meet their own needs however they can, they make mistakes (and sometimes learn from them, and sometimes don’t). They aren’t always right.

Some actions are more effective than others, and how is this determined? This depends greatly on the situation and the people involved.  When it comes to your own life and self, the only one who can truly know is you….

One person finds eating whole wheat makes them feel happy and healthy, another has Celiac disease and can’t eat any wheat without getting sick.

One person uses the Internet to learn new things and stay connected to friends, another person must avoid the Internet because they become addicted to it and lose control.

One person expresses dark emotions in art, another finds catharsis only through a razor and skin.

Not all actions are equally effective all the time, for all people. People and situations also change. Something that was once a solution to a problem, perhaps the only solution available, may now be a hindrance for which there are better alternatives. Recognizing this is how people grow. But when it comes to one’s own life and self, the only person who can know an action’s effectiveness is the person doing it.

This is why I loathe the term “unhealthy”, in reference to pretty much anything. I’m just not sure it even has an objective definition.  To call another’s life unhealthy is to take away their voice and coping skills, the only coping skills they may have right now (however poor you may think these coping skills are, they are still allowing that person to survive).

Like with children, the actions of adults also communicate something. If someone wants to change and you want to help them do it, listen. Listen to their words, their faces, their hands, their bodies, their tones. Listen to their actions. What need is the action meeting? Are there other ways of meeting this same need, that perhaps cause less harm to them or to you? Do they have the knowledge, skills, power, and freedom for this other solution? If they don’t yet, can you help them gain these things? Can you help them meet their need? If you can’t, or they don’t want you to (which is ok), can you just be there with and for them where they are right now?

If I had to name one purpose for my activism, it would be to remind myself and others that we’re ok…just as we are at this very moment.

It’s ok if you’re struggling.

It’s ok if not everything you do is awesome all the time (even things you’re really good at and take pride in).

It’s ok if you’re sad, or angry, or scared, or all of the above.  It’s ok to show and talk about your emotions, whatever they may be.

It’s ok to do whatever it is you need to do to cope.

It’s ok if you don’t even know what you’re feeling and what you need to do to cope.

It’s ok if you’re not always a good friend. (Nobody is all the time).

It’s ok if you’re still learning how to be an adult.

It’s ok if you don’t always like yourself. (Nobody does all the time).

It’s ok if you don’t fit in.

It’s ok to ask for help, in whatever way you can.

It’s ok if  you’re not always strong.

It’s ok if you feel like you’re that screaming 4-year-old child.

It’s ok to scream.

And it’s ok to grow and change. It’s ok to learn new and better ways of coping, of reaching your goals, of living, of being. But only if and when you want to, and are ready.

Until then, you’re ok… just as you are

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Things that inspired and influenced this post (thank you so much, authors and creators!)  Same trigger warnings apply.

The Uses of Negativity: Survival and Coping Strategies for Those of Us Who are Exasperated by the Empty Promise of “It” Getting “Better”

The Icarus Project on a non-coercive and compassionate approach to self-harm

Suicide is an Act of Bodily Autonomy

A Softer World: “Our bodies our ours…”

“Socially Inappropriate”: An Aspie on the value of stimming to Autistic people

“Unhealthy” or “inappropriate” actions as communication and survival

Suicide is not “selfish”

Standard

Trigger Warnings:  suicide, mental health stigma, claims that suicide and suicidal people are selfish, psychiatric abuse, psychiatric hospitals

I just read on another blog that I follow that someone was stuck on a train because someone had jumped in front of the train.  Rather than feel sympathy and sorrow for their fellow human being who had felt so sad and desperate that they chose to end their own life, this person claimed the person who committed suicide was selfish to have jumped in front of a train, causing people to be late.  This is what they said:

“Something needs done about this, it happens too often and now my train is delayed again. These people should be locked up for disturbing all these timetables”

First of all, this person valued getting wherever they needed to go on time over the life and mental health of another human being.  I hope I don’t need to go into all that is wrong, and frankly disturbing, about that.  The specific situation aside though, plenty of people claim that people who commit suicide in any way (or even fantasize about it, with no intention of acting on their fantasies) are selfish.  This is what I want to discuss.

I myself have been suicidal many times (sometimes with a plan to act, and sometimes without one but vaguely daydreaming about it).  I also am close to many people who have been suicidal.  In my experience (both in my own life and in what I’ve heard from them about their experiences), suicidal ideation often has little to do with wanting to die, and certainly has nothing to do with wanting to hurt loved ones.  That first part may be surprising to you, so let me explain:  Nobody knows for sure what happens after death, if anything, and that uncertainty is scary, even to people who are suicidal. Suicidal people may also have aspects of their life that they like, that they love even. It is a last resort. It is not about wanting to die or not wanting to live. It is about not having any other options, running too low on cope to handle the bad, no matter how good the good may be.

It is about not having any other options.

Suicide is rarely anyone’s first thought when they first become depressed.  A suicidal person may have already gone to family and friends for support extensively to no avail, or they may not have anyone to support them at all, they may have already exhausted all their options for mental health treatment, or they may not be able to afford treatment or live near humane treatment, they may have already exhausted all their coping skills to no avail, or they may not have many effective coping skills or ways of learning new ones.  So let me repeat once again for good measure…

It is about not having any other options.

Many people in this state of mind are very, acutely aware of the effect their death would have on others, and this can keep them going but it can also be torture to think about. If your life is so miserable that you can’t imagine making it through another year or even a week, knowing you can end it may be your only source of comfort. It’s like for instance being in a terrible job that is traumatic for you and you know will never get better, so the only thing that comforts you is the thought of the weekend coming. The thought of death is like that for some people, like looking forward to the “weekend” from the struggles and trauma of life. Imagine if there was no weekend to look forward to, just neverending suffering, how would you deal with that?

The suggestion was to “lock people up”, but long-term psychiatric hospitalization is like jail.   “Patients” (or more accurately in my opinion, “inmates”) are not usually allowed to go outside, eat fresh and healthy food, have phone or computer access, or have visitors for more than a specified hour each day (if that).  There is not much to do.  Staff may be abusive.  Restraints are used on inmates who don’t follow the rules, rules which may be very restrictive and silly and unnecessary and even abusive and traumatic.  Restraints, seclusion, and punishment may also be used on inmates who the staff just don’t like.  Ever seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?  Not all that much has changed since then, especially in long-term, high-security, locked wards.  If hospitalization is the only possibility, then death may be a welcome alternative.

That comfort, the only comfort you may have, is gone and replaced with guilt once you realize it would hurt the people who love you, and possibly even distant acquaintances. That comfort is smashed to tiny pieces when people call you (or others in your situation) “selfish” for even thinking about it, nevermind acting on those thoughts.

Another thing:  it’s true that not all suicidal people are aware of the effect their death would have on others, but this is not a sign of selfishness either.  This is in fact a defining symptom of depression.  Depression twists your thoughts.  It makes you feel like you’re a horrible person, a burden on others and the world at large.  Sure, it’s possible to recognize these thoughts as “the depression talking” and learn to combat them…though often only with years of practice, comfort from loved ones, and therapy.  Not everyone has loved ones, or access to a humane therapist (or any therapist at all).  And for some people, “years” may be too long to wait, to continue to suffer.

I am all for measures to give people hope and other options besides suicide.  I am all for improved healthcare, more affordable and accessible healthcare, free community centers and support groups where people who don’t have friends can make them, community art centers with open studio time and open mic nights and concerts and plays, and increasing and improving affordable classes and groups to teach coping skills.

It should also be noted that not all people who commit suicide or think about it do so because of biological, chronic conditions like clinical depression or bipolar.  Many are dealing with external issues with their lives and society at large, such as poverty, homelessness, abuse, bigotry, and loss.  These issues also need to be dealt with, and in the meantime people who have suffered or are suffering from such trauma need to be supported.  This does include the trauma of people who have lost a loved one to suicide or witnessed a suicide, including train conductors (who are prone to developing PTSD if someone jumps in front of their train) and those riding the train.

But if we’re going to do this, let’s do it for people with mental illness and/or trauma.  Let’s do it so they can have peace in life rather than needing death for peace.  There are much better reasons for suicide prevention than avoiding “inconvenience”.

Self-care and mental health

Standard

An alternative viewpoint to my post Service and mental health, Ziya Tamesis of a day with depression talks about the importance of self-care to mental health, and how ze takes care of hirself to help with hir anxious depression. I definitely agree that self-care is very important to mental health. Ultimately, it’s important for everyone (not just mad people/people with mental illness!) to find a balance between serving others or a cause and tending to one’s own needs and pleasures. Some may already have such a balance, and if you’re one of those people, good for you! Tell me your secrets! 😉 Most people though, I’ve found, tend to lean more in one direction than the other if left to their own devices and not paying attention, and so need to practice the opposite end of the spectrum to arrive at a middle ground.

To take care of myself, I see a therapist and psychiatrist, attend Icarus Project and ASAN chapter meetings, talk to and spend time with my family and friends (in-person and also via social networking/Skype/phone/texting!), make art, dance (when my back cooperates with me), swim and do yoga (again, when my back cooperates with me), spend time in nature (when the weather cooperates with me), read, use aromatherapy, get massages, go to fun events, and practice my spirituality.

What do you do to take care of yourself, on an ongoing basis or when you’re having an especially rough time? How do you find a balance between “me time” and “other people time” that works for you?

a day with depression

At the end of the music therapy session I described in my last post, Wakana told me to make a list of all the things I’m doing “just for me.” She often gives me homework without holding me accountable for doing it, but this time I want to make an honest attempt at it.

I feel the need to justify doing anything “just” for me; to be honest it feels kind of selfish. I’m not sure if that’s the gender training talking (“women should put everyone else first”) or the depression; they’re most likely interrelated.

Whatever the case may be, and as much as I may struggle to believe it, my justification is this: everyone needs to do things that are just for themselves, it’s a vital part of self-care and all-around health / wellness. Doing things just for oneself does not reduce or limit the things one can do…

View original post 719 more words

Service and mental health

Standard

Recently my rat Squiggle had some health problems of his own. He managed to get himself stuck in a tunnel that I didn’t realize he had outgrown, and scraped up his hand along the bottom. He then started picking at the wound which made it worse, so he needed to get a cone around his neck. And in the process of helping him with this issue, the vet also realized he was having problems with his eyes (thankfully only dry eye resolved through eye drops) and a respiratory infection (thankfully resolved through medicine). He is mostly ok now. He still has the cone and will for a few more days, until the wound completely heals, and is still taking the medicine for the respiratory infection, but both the respiratory infection and his hand have healed a great deal, and his eyes are completely healed and he no longer needs eye drops.   *sigh of relief*

I hated seeing him in so much pain, and scared from going to the vet and getting medicine every day (which he hates as much as he hates having a cone on his head, and I don’t blame him!) Initially, before the vet had figured out what the problems were and that they were treatable, I was scared myself. At the same time, for the first time in a long time my attention was not on my depression. I couldn’t spend all day wallowing, because Squiggle needed me. And that gave me a reason to get out of my head and be active.

This made me realize how necessary it is for me to be part of something larger than myself, and contribute to others. I wish the best of health for Squiggle, and he of course doesn’t need to be sick for my own need to serve others to be met. I would love to get back into volunteering. It can be really hard for me to commit to doing something on an ongoing basis when I’m often too depressed to get out of bed, nevermind be helpful.  However I have joined a volunteer placement organization that lists drop-in days of service at non-profits such as animal shelters, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and Habitat for Humanity.  This is perfect for me because I’m not sure what I’d be best at and enjoy the most, and it’d allow me to try different things out.  It would also allow me to volunteer only as I am able.

Unfortunately, among many other problems with the mental health system, I find that mental health treatment can oftentimes encourage being self-centered. The common assumption is that if someone is struggling, they need to focus on self-care and on their issues until they’re feeling better. This doesn’t necessarily work, though. For me at least, I find it to be counter-productive; if I spend a lot of time thinking about the problems I have, I develop a low self-esteem. If I focus too much on self-care, I have nothing to distract me from my emotions or to make me feel fulfilled and like I’m needed in this world. The self-care approach may work for some people (in particular people who are coming from a history of ignoring their own needs completely in favor of others; who perhaps are learning for the first time that they’re important too). But I do wish there were more options of treatments that focused instead on developing the ability to contribute and caretake, and on finding the right outlet that would best make use of the client’s unique interests and talents.

I have to give happiness in order to keep it.