Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the bright side??

To be quite honest with you, I'm not feeling the positivity vibe that would help me to write a list of things I'm happy about and grateful for, though, I certainly do understand and appreciate the suggestion you folks made in your comments to my last post. Not to be a downer and all, but I wanted to mention this interview I watched online with one of my favorite authors, Barbara Ehrenreich, about a new book she's written called: Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. You can watch the interview at the Democracy NOW website.

In this interview, Enrenreich describes how, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she went looking for resources for women living with that illness, and found things that infantalized women, such as pink teddy bears given to patients, and writings that said cancer was caused by negative thoughts, and could be combated with the power of positive thinking. I totally understood her angst about this discovery, since I've been living with a chronic physical illness, which was totally debilitating for a few years, since I was 19 years old. I remember when I came across some writings by people like Deepak Chopra about how illness is created by one's thoughts, that these writings, frankly, pissed me off.

Ehrenreich argues that when you get a serious, life-threatening illness, which may be caused by toxins in the air or genetics, and not thoughts in your head, or when you lose your job because some corporate scheme destroyed jobs for people such as yourself and the economy's in the toilet, well, then, you have a right to be angry about the situation you're in. She says that anger, while considered horribly "negative" by the people who follow pop psychology, and those who write it, is actually, really, just a normal human emotion. I tend to agree.

In one particular statement she makes in this interview, I found great comfort as I feel the same way, and wrote the same thing myself, in a recent post here. She says that cancer is "not a gift", and not her friend, and not something she's grateful for. Wow, what a concept!! You don't have to be grateful that your life is entirely corrupted by a debilitating, life-threatening disease and you very well might die. You don't have to be HAPPY about that! Why aren't more people saying this? Why aren't more people just plain realistic about things?? I wonder....I think that Ehrenreich is really onto something here. I think blaming people for having negative thoughts that led to them getting cancer is stupid, heinous, and unacceptable, and I've been saying that for years. I have a real problem with people like Deepak Chopra, and the main reason I disliked him when I first came across his work was the fact that, while he blamed cancer victims for having thoughts that led to cancer, he, himself, has never even had cancer! So where does he get off accusing other people of being responsible for the fact that they had lousy luck and got a fatal disease??

I do believe people can have lousy luck. I'm not saying we aren't responsible for our general state of mind. I understand that cognitive behavioral therapy not only works well, but it works for me, and I do it all the time. I remind myself to look on the bright side, to not get into self-pity or complaining, to avoid dwelling on my problems, to not make people feel lousy by telling them everything that I might be miserable about, and to avoid people who want to dump their constant, incessant misery on me (as some people I know tend to do).

But what I'm talking about isn't cognitive behavioral therapy. It's the general idea that you can control everything in your atmosphere by choosing to think certain thoughts. I don't believe that's possible. I don't believe there is much scientific evidence that it is possible. I'd like to believe it's possible. I'd like to believe that everything in The Secret is real and true, and that all my wishes are in my own command. But I don't believe that.

I don't believe any of that nonsense. Neither does Barbara Ehrenreich, who is a person I respect.

I think sometimes people need to think more positively than they do. When I say this some of my own family members come to mind, as I know at least one person who is prone to constantly complaining about their miserable existence. I think you can choose to NOT constantly complain, or dwell on the negative things in life. I think you should choose to NOT do that. And so, to some degree, I guess I do believe there is power in positive thinking. I just think it's really overstated in pop psychology.

So I wanted to mention this here. I know some of you will disagree (probably adamantly). But I tend to believe that being a realist is more productive in life than dreaming of Utopia. I think people need to take the responsibility for creating the change they want to see in the world, and not just assume that it will magically happen because they chose to believe it would.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Melancholy as a response to daily life

Susanna Kaysen wrote the book Girl, Interrupted, some years back, and you may recall that it was made into a movie that was somewhat popular. Kaysen has a sharp intellect, though, and that movie didn't do her writing justice. Today, as I sat in a bookstore, like all the bookstores I've sat in one hundred million times, I read an excerpt from an essay by Kaysen, entitled, "Three Cheers for Melancholy", in a book called Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. Here is that quote:

My main objection to optimism is that it's incorrect. Things are somewhat more likely to turn out badly. Taking the long view, things are definitely going to turn out badly, since we all die in the end.

Kaysen's argument in this well-written essay is that depression is a normal response to the lives we live on this planet at this point in time. She says that, rather than medicate ourselves for it, we should understand, and, ultimately, accept depression as a natural, normal occurrence, and not a biological entity.

I can't say I agree with that. I've been through much depression in my life, for, probably, most of my life, and some of it was what doctors refer to as severe clinical depression (if not most of it). At the same time, I understand what Kaysen's getting at.

I think there are too many self-help books in this world. I think there are too many memoirs about people's languishing through drug and alcohol and gambling and sex and food addictions and how, finally, they saw the light and got a therapist and everything got better so they wrote a book about their misery to help all of the other miserable people on the planet. Depression, or melancholy, has been the topic of much literature throughout the history of the written word, and perhaps that is because depression has been a part of the human experience throughout the history of time, rather than a newly discovered illness with biological underpinnings that need to be repaired immediately, lest we suffer any more.

I don't like suffering. But I guess I don't know what life is like without it either. And maybe some of the reasons, maybe all of the reasons as to why I'm "depressed" right now are because of the facts of my life.

And here are some of those facts:

-I'm 34 years old.
-I have no college degree
-I have no partner, boyfriend, husband, whatever you want to call it
-I have no children and probably never will
-I can only work part time and might never be able to work full-time
-I'm poor, and that's not going to change any time soon, so there are a million poverty-related reasons as to why I might be depressed
-I have few friends, and only one with whom I spend any actual time doing anything remotely enjoyable
-I have a humiliating, stigmatized mental illness that few people understand and few people want to understand
-I have numerous physical problems I've been living with for the past 15 years or so, and they are cumbersome, painful, and also, so ingrained in me at this point that I never even talk about them
-I have untold thousands of dollars in medical debt that I cannot ever pay, so I do not open my bills
-I might not be able to get another student loan to go back to college because I had to withdraw and was not able to pay back the money I owed.
-I have no college degree (I know I said it already)
-I might never have a college degree
-I live in Florida, and I hate Florida
-I'm severely overweight even after six months of strict food control and serious exercise on a very consistent basis
-I have to take medications for the rest of my life that made me gain 100 pounds in three years
-My entire family is severely screwed up with a million problems, and I worry about some other people's problems so much, it makes me completely deflated and miserable, yet, I don't know how to not worry about them
-I am horribly lonely
-I haven't accomplished 80% of the things I wanted to do with my life

I guess that sums it up. The crux of the problem is, I believe, my life.

I should add that I know there is depression that is helped by medications, and that sometimes medications are necessary. But I'm on two antidepressants, and have been for years, yet they don't seem to be helping much these days. Then again, without them, I might be totally apathetic and too exhausted to get out of bed - who knows?
I just think that sometimes in our culture today, people, including myself, put so much faith in medical science that we can lose sight of common sense. Logic would say that grief is a normal part of life, that sadness is a normal part of life, that fatigue is a normal part of modern life to some degree, that pessimism is, actually, often warranted and smart rather than being totally "negative", and that pop psychology is full of a bull. And I say this, even though I do cognitive behavorial therapy and I constantly do try to be positive and think of the glass as half full - not half empty - and that is how I deal with life these days. It just doesn't always feel authentic, and it doesn't always work.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Happy Mental Illness Awareness Week

I normally don't write two posts at a time, but I wanted to make sure everyone knows that this week is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. NAMI, and other groups, have organized activities in honor of this week all over the United States. Here, in Pinellas County, Florida, NAMI Pinellas will have its annual walk for awareness this weekend, which is held every year in downtown St. Petersburg, and is always part-celebration, part-vigil, part-protest, and all worthwhile. If you happen to live in my area, maybe I'll see you there!

There is also a documentary on PBS, which is being aired, currently, online in full at this website, called Minds On the Edge. It has received raving reviews, and it features the author Elyn Saks who lives with Schizophrenia and wrote an interesting book I've discussed here before, as well as numerous other, educated, insightful, intelligent people having a very thought-provoking discussion and role-play about two people with serious mental illnesses. I have never seen anything like this on video before, and it was definitely worth watching for one hour on my screen. I encourage each of you to view it as soon as you have time!

When what you're doing isn't working...

Recently, I wrote a bit about a recent legal case in New York: Disability Advocates Inc. versus Paterson, and the topic of whether or not people should be forced to get treatment or not. The author of a new blog I like, The Devil and the Schizophrenic , wrote this post where he discusses my musings and his own thoughts on the matter. After I read his interesting post, I realized that my point of view may come across as being really "pro-medication" to other people, to the point that it seems I think people should be forcibly medicated. As I wrote here, it was my experience that only medication led to the ceasing of my hallucinations and voices, and that, in my case, I had to be forced to take the stuff for a while before it was able to work for me.

I just want to clarify something, that perhaps I didn't make clear before. I really don't think people should be tied down to a bed and injected with Risperdal (as I did state before), or that people should be forced to live in group homes if they are able to live on their own in the community without assistance, or that people should be forced into hospitals if they don't need to be. It has been my experience, however, that Schizoaffective Disorder, and Schizophrenia, are life-threatening illnesses. It has also been my experience that the disorder I have led to me nearly dying on multiple occasions. When you are driving cars over 150 bridges (or trying to), buying guns and practicing at shooting ranges for when you shoot yourself in the head, and following command hallucinations demanding that you kill yourself, which you hear, all day, every day for an extended period of time, well, then I don't think there is anything that helps but medications.

I do realize, however, that not all medications work for all people, and that for some, no medications work at all. I have taken plenty of them that did not work, and I have only been really successful with injections of Risperdal, whereas many other meds do not get rid of my psychosis even though they are heavily marketed and well-known as being supposedly effective. I understand that medication isn't the only answer, too. There are people who are helped by cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and individual regular talk-therapy. It's just that, from what I have read and what I have experienced, the only thing that got rid of my psychosis was medication, and I do not believe I would be alive right now without that medication in my daily life. So because it saved my life, or, rather, my ability to understand I needed to take it saved my life, I do credit medication with a lot. I just wanted to explain why, however, because my intention was not to offend anyone who medications have not helped, or who chooses for whatever reason to never take medication.

I have yet to meet a person with persistent psychosis who got better without medication, but I'm not saying no such people exist. Just that I haven't met any or heard of too many. As Schizophrenia is a chronic disease, a frequently fatal disease, and as recent research shows it can shorten a person's lifespan by 25 years, I think people who have the illness need to take the treatment of it very, very seriously. And personally, because it worked for me and because I've researched what works for others too, I believe medication is usually needed. I am not a fan of big Pharma. The pharmaceutical company leeches make me sick, and there advertisements that market every drug they develop as if it were the cure-all to everything that ails you are absurd and offensive. I am not a fan of these companies that make billions of dollars from the fact that someone found a drug that worked for something and they bought it. In the U.S., which is where I live, medications are so expensive that many people cannot even afford to get them whether they need them or not. This leads to horrible suffering and death for many individuals, and I am well aware of that problem, as I have lived through it and watched many other people live through it too.

So, I just wanted to clear that up.

The other reason for this post is that I am currently experiencing an episode of depression that is worse than any depression I've had in the past year. I normally get through my days without a lot of trouble from thoughts or from horrible fatigue or from apathy and wretched despair. Such is not the case right now. These things are bothering me a great deal, and the only positive part of the situation is that I know it will end, because it always does, eventually. It might not end for a while, but it will sometime end. I know that. I've had trouble with depression from the age of 12, and I've learned how to deal with it.

Right now I'm exercising regularly at a gym, despite the depression, and also because the exercise helps me with the depression and with my weight loss goal. I've been in this weight loss program of mine since April, and I've lost 43 pounds so far, so that is good. I'm also going to see my therapist again, though she can't see me on a regular basis because of Medicare issues, anymore, she is going to fit me in next week, and that is helpful. I continue to take all my medications as always, despite that the antidepressants do not appear to be working right now, and if this continues, I'll definitely be addressing it with my ARNP who prescribes them.

So, there is hope. All is not lost. I understand that the stress in my life, largely due to family problems, has led me into this hole of despair, and I'm hoping to dig my way out of it soon.

This depression has reminded me of something. Meds don't always work. And I just wanted to write this post so you who have tried them and not had relief understand that you are definitely not alone. There are many people who are not helped by the meds that exist. There are many of us who have suffered horrible side effects that lead to other major health problems, because of the medications that do work for us. There are many of us who gain tons of weight because of medications. I am one of those people. So, if you are in that boat, trust me, I understand.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What do we need at the grocery store, son? (Grey's Anatomy episode misrepresents Schizophrenia. Shocking?)

So, I mentioned some time in recent history that I'd make a point of documenting the offensive representations of mentally ill people - rather, misrepresentations - that I see on TV and in films here more often. As promised, I'm here to tell you about another show that ticked me off. Unfortunately, it's a show I really enjoy watching, Grey's Anatomy. It wasn't the most offensive representation of a person with Schizophrenia I've seen, but it wasn't good either.

I am going to guess that the idea with this episode was to showcase the difficulty that a mentally ill person's caregivers (if they should have a caregiver because they need one, which most of us don't), have due to their loved one's illness. That was the story line. This woman came into the hospital with heart trouble, and also with her son in tow. Her son was a young adult, who, she said immediately, was a "paranoid schizophrenic". Kind of like how you're a "cancerous person" when you're dealing with cancer, right? Oh, I forgot. Nobody discriminates against cancer. But that language is not the fault of a TV show, obviously. That language is our whole culture's fault. The problem I have with the TV show is that it went on to present the story that this mom literally spends all of her time taking care of her son, since he's a "Paranoid Schizophrenic". Her husband left her because of it. She's been sick for months, but she couldn't do anything about her own health because she's too busy taking care of her son.

And this is how she takes care of him: "What do we need from the grocery store?" she asks him. This is to "distract" him from the voices. I was laughing at that part. First of all, he never told her he was hearing voices, and he wasn't talking out loud to them, but apparently when your son has Schizophrenia that makes you able to read his mind since it's so messed up and all that the illness is transparent. Then, the story goes on, and the mom is diagnosed with a heart problem that requires immediate surgery. "I can't get surgery!" she claims, "I have to take care of my son!". Yeah, but in the real world, there are these little things call pills. When we take the little pill out of the little bottle, and put it in our little mouth, magically, we might not need a FULL-TIME 24/HOUR BABYSITTER anymore when we are a full-grown adult. For crying out loud, how many times do you need to make the world think that people with mental illnesses are so dysfunctional they're not even like real people at all???
And what is the point of acting like medication either can't help this person or just doesn't work well enough to help him enough that he can function at all?? What is the purpose of that kind of representation??

Apparently, the purpose was to let people who could relate to the mom feel better about the fact that they have a mentally ill family member. Because of course, there are no audience members watching this show who actually ARE the person with the mental illness! After all, we're so dysfunctional, we can't even watch a TV show! We're also not buying anything at any stores, so it doesn't matter what kind of advertisers you use. This appears to be the collective opinion of Hollywood.

The other thing that irked me is that, rather than focus on real, actual, feasible solutions to this conundrum, the show went into a ridiculous fantasy-land scenario where the doctors give the son with Schizophrenia an unnecessary surgery, in order that he should be in recovery from surgery and that would allow his mother to get her surgery too, and they could stay in the hospital together. There was absolutely no mention of medications. There was no mention of (hello??) the PSYCHIATRIC WARD. Rather, the guy, after he fell down a flight of stairs, was put in wrist restraints in a regular hospital bed, in a regular hospital room. Right.

First of all, in the real world, this person wouldn't even be living with his mother. People this dysfunctional generally end up in group homes, or, even nursing homes. This guy can't hold a conversation. There is no mother that would be refusing to get a life-saving, necessary surgery just because there wasn't another human on earth who could be trusted to look after her son. In the real world, as well, there would probably be medications that would help a little bit. And in the real world, when the person pushes a doctor onto the floor (since we're all violent, of course), then runs around hiding in places all over the hospital, then falls and rolls down a flight of stairs - well, he would, ordinarily, be sent directly to the psych ward. And security guards or police officers would be escorting him there. But in the show, that doesn't happen. Instead, he never gets psych treatment at all.

The overall concept that a person with Schizophrenia is so dysfunctional he/she can't care for his/her self is offensive alone. When you add to that the idea that dumb little tricks such as making a list of things we need at the grocery store are the way you deal with psychosis is absolutely ludicrous. It occurs to me as I write this, that many people, perhaps most people, do not know what psychosis is actually like, at all. I guess that is the root of the problem. Because maybe, if they knew, they would also know that there is no silly little game that your mommy can do with you all your life, every day that will help you be able to "distract" yourself from voices. Voices aren't like urges to drink alcohol, have reckless sex, cut your wrists, or go shoplifting. Voices aren't thoughts or guilty feelings nagging at you. Those things are things from which you can distract yourself. A voice you hear, is a loud, clear, sometimes authoritative to the point of forcefully commanding you to do things - real voices. When you hear them you don't normally realize you're hearing voices, particularly if you're so dysfunctional you can't hold a conversation. When you're a little better, and on medication that works for you, you can hear them and know you're hearing them at the same time. I do. You can say, "I'm hearing this and it's not real", then. But not in a state where you're floridly psychotic and unmedicated. In that state, there is no way to "distract" yourself. But there are things people do to cope. I've never met anyone who used grocery lists to cope. I've met a lot of people with Schizophrenia who used music, though. I did. It can be louder than the voices, therefore drowning them out. Remember, the fact that they're not real does not mean that they're not loud to you, when you experience them.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it's just another episode of just another silly TV show. There will be more offensive ones in the future, as there have been many in the past.