I don’t want to talk about gun violence

Two things happened in the last week: 17 students at a Florida high school were killed by a 19 year old; and the policeman who killed Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old black woman with schizophrenia, in her own apartment, was acquitted of wrongdoing. Both of these situations involved someone with a gun killing someone who did not have a gun.

Both of these events were very upsetting to me, as was much of the response to them. If you are a member of that poorly defined group “people with mental illness” and are feeling isolated, stigmatized, and afraid for your own life right now in a culture where 1) all gun violence is blamed on “people with mental illness”, and 2) gun violence committed against a person with mental illness is considered totally fine, I see you and I’m right there with you.

I don’t want to write this post, but I feel I have to say something. It will probably be disorganized, because my brain is disorganized right now. I have so many thoughts about this, it’s hard to say anything. I’m furious for all the children who’ve been killed or traumatized by a school shooting; I’m furious for Deborah Danner and her family and all the mentally ill people who’ve been killed or traumatized by police violence; I’m terrified for my own child who is in a public school as I’m writing this. The fact that he’s so young makes little difference; who’s to say the next shooting won’t take place at a preschool?

A stranger came up to me a few days ago in a parking lot and asked if I would support armed security guards in schools. I said I would not. I don’t think more guns is the solution to this problem. I know that seeing an armed guard walking around my son’s school would make me feel less safe, not more safe.

I do support the teenagers who are marching and staging lie-ins right now to advocate for gun control, and I hope that in the future, they will be part of a movement to take back the government from the NRA and corporations and politicians.

“But you claim to be an anarchist! We can’t let the government have all the guns!” Excuse me, our government has nuclear weapons. Nobody with any number of semi-automatic rifles is going to win an armed conflict with the government.

This is what happens with violence, is that it escalates, and it escalates, and it escalates. You arm yourself, your opponent gets bigger and scarier weapons. So you get bigger and scarier weapons, and your opponent does too. That path leads to violence and death, not a just society. Those of us with radical ideals need to look for other, more subversive means.

No, I am not for more and more guns. I am not for unregulated, individualist vigilante “justice”, nor am I for a militarized police force without accountability to the people among whom they move. I do not support a registry of mentally ill people as a way to determine who can own a gun, and I do not support your second amendment right at all costs.

Part of this problem is a problem of trust. We all feel it, I think. I certainly do. We don’t trust each other. We don’t trust our neighbors. We don’t trust our government. Therefore, many people feel that they need guns in order to defend themselves against each other.

In a just society, I think, all gun users would be accountable to their communities. The guns would be communally owned, and the local community would decide which individuals might use them. The community would decide: the people that know each person, and are at risk for being shot by each person, would make that choice as a group, and would bear the consequences of their choice.

In this vision, any police that existed would also be gun users accountable to their communities.  If a policeman used a gun in a way that his community – not a judge – considered irresponsible, he would at the very least not be allowed to use a gun anymore.

If we could build strong, self-regulated, self-governing communities with shared political and economic power, how might our relationship to guns be different?

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How to be a friend to someone with a mental illness

 

I don’t have many friends. The friends I do have, I value highly; so it makes it all the more painful when they walk out the metaphorical door. I’ve lost several friends in the past couple years, and recently upset another. If I believe their version, this was because I am a lousy friend. Sadly, these are friendships I cared deeply about, into which I put real effort, and my efforts still were not enough.

There are two sides to every story; mine is that those things which they took as evidence of me not caring about them were actually misunderstandings caused by my autism and, to a greater degree, my mental illness. I have received advice on how to be a good friend to neurotypical people; I would like to return the favor.

Being friends with someone with a mental illness (such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or any combination of these) is probably more work than being friends with a neurotypical person, which raises the question: why bother?

Well, because we are people, and we have other traits too. Maybe you and your friend both share a passion for music, or for books, or for horses or cats. Maybe you grew up together, or went through college together. Your friend might have a wonderful ability to make you laugh, or to see the world differently. Your friend might be an amazing artist, or a deeply empathic listener. And one thing that all of us crazy folks have in common is that we have suffered; which means that when you’re suffering, we are unlikely to throw out platitudes like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle!” We already know, from personal experience, that that’s not true.

So, here we go …

1) Be the one to reach out. Both people have a responsibility to keep a friendship going, and you shouldn’t be the one reaching out every single time; you should, however, expect to reach out more than you would with a neurotypical person.

This may sound unfair – both people should be reaching out equally, right? But the fact is, when you have a mental illness, there are many internal barriers to reaching out. We have a tendency to get trapped in our own heads, for various reasons. We might be depressed, or we might be spiraling into psychosis. We might be so disorganized in our thinking that we just don’t think of it, or we can’t figure out how to put the words “How are you?” together. Or, we might not reach out because we’ve decided, for some reason, that you hate us.

So when we overcome all of these barriers and reach out to you, you should see this as the equivalent to a neurotypical person reaching out 5 times. It’s the same amount of effort, the same degree of motivation to know how you’re doing or spend time with you. Really!

The flip side of this is that, at times, we may seem “needy” and be messaging you more than you like. If this is the case, it’s OK to let us know. Please just be nice about it.

2) Don’t take it personally. We forgot your birthday? We said we were coming to your party but then canceled last minute? Before you interpret these things as a personal slight, check in with us to see how were doing. These things are probably signs that we’re struggling, not signs of malice or indifference directed at you.

3) It’s OK just to BE together. Neurotypical people like to get together and do things. I like to do that sometimes, but often I don’t have the energy or resources for a highly stimulating activity. You will be able to spend more time with your neurodivergent friend if you’re comfortable just hanging out with them, not trying to cram endless activities into a two hour slot. Sit around, talk, go for a walk, play chess, do a puzzle, have coffee. If that requires too much energy for them, watch a movie at somebody’s house. (Movie theaters cause anxiety and sensory overload for me, personally. This may not be true of your friend.) Sit on a park bench together and space out. It’s all good!

4) Don’t invite them over and then, when they show up, have four other people at your house. Neurotypical people love to do this for some reason. Just because I have the energy to spend time with you, does NOT mean I have the energy to spend time with you and all your other friends. Sorry. Also, letting me know five minutes before I get to your house that other people will be there, isn’t any better.

5) Forgive them when they screw up. Forgiveness does NOT mean you stay in an abusive friendship, or that you tolerate endless amounts of hurtful behavior. It does mean that if you have a basically good, caring friend who does something crazy once in a while, you stick with them.

For example, let’s say your friend goes into a paranoid rage one day and lashes out with curse words in a manner that is out of character for them. OK, they shouldn’t have done that, and they should apologize. And when they apologize? FORGIVE THEM. I know, it’s easier said than done. But I have forgiven neurotypical friends for some pretty hurtful things, so I believe it’s doable.

And if all of this just seems not worth it to you? Well, then it’s not. But if you care about someone with a mental illness and you think they are worth the effort, I hope that these tips are helpful to you.

 

New rule: only the crazy people get to complain about psych meds

OK, it’s not really a rule (except in my personal fantasy world). But I am tired of sane, neurotypical people talking about how terrible psychiatric medications are. Really tired of it.

Now, if I want to talk about how terrible psychiatric meds are, I can do that, because I take them. I actually experience the side effects. Same goes for other people who take or have taken them. It’s kind of like, I can complain about my parents, but if some random person comes and says something bad about my parents OH HELL NO.

So I might say, in a certain mood, “I hate that I’m on all these meds.” Another person who’s weaned off their meds might say, “I think it’s ridiculous that they had me on 5 medications,” and I might commiserate about the imprecision of current psychopharmaceuticals. But if a sane person who’s never taken psychiatric drugs comes and says “The medication cocktails people take for mental health problems are ridiculous,” OH HELL NO.

Because you don’t get to decide if it’s ridiculous. You don’t live with my brain. You don’t get to decide if it’s worth it for me, any more than I get to decide if it’s worth it for somebody else. The only person who can decide if the meds are worth it is the person taking them.

Let me say that again: The only person who can decide if the meds are worth it, is the person taking them.

That’s true whether the person decides it IS or ISN’T worth it. Telling somebody “The side effects can’t be that bad, maybe you’re imagining them,” or even “This medication can’t cause that side effect!” (thanks ignorant psychiatrist) is ableist. Telling somebody that “these medications are serious and have serious side effects!” (duh) and therefore I shouldn’t be taking them (thus assuming that the problem I’m taking them for isn’t serious) is also ableist.

Why do people have such strong feelings about medications they’ve never taken, anyway? How often do you hear people who don’t take blood pressure medications complaining about blood pressure medications? People who don’t take seizure medications complaining about seizure medications? (Some of which are the same medications!) Do people who don’t take asthma medications post memes saying that instead of risking oral thrush from steroids, everybody should just breathe clean air?

Dear sane people: stop telling me how to feel about my medications. My decade+ of experience with them is much more complicated and nuanced than your whitewashed view of this matter will ever be.

Yes, even if your whitewashed view is based on a family member’s experience.

Thanks.

 

 

I’m paranoid, how are you?

As the title of the post suggests, I’ve been dealing with some paranoia on and off for the last couple of months, which means med changes a.k.a. being a pharmaceutical guinea pig. The paranoia flared up again last week so I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about psychosis, and it’s something I feel should be talked about much more openly. We can’t humanize or destigmatize something if we don’t talk about it. Of course, this is an anonymous blog – but hey, it’s a start. I promise I’m a real person.

First let me clarify what I mean by paranoia. For me, at this time, it ranges from “that person hates me and wants to harm me somehow” to “the government is watching me every time I leave my apartment.” The first could potentially be true. The second is less likely to be true, although let’s face it, the government does have the capacity to watch us, so it’s more a matter of whether the government actually cares about me in particular, which it probably doesn’t. A lot of my paranoia centers around law enforcement, which was triggered by an actual (recent) bad experience with a police officer, and is also grounded in the reality that mentally ill and/or autistic people are more likely to be harmed in encounters with police than the average person because their behavior seems “suspicious” even when all they’re doing is talking fast or stimming with a piece of string (does that make the police paranoid?).

And that’s what I really want to talk about: how these delusions can be grounded in real and legitimate fears. The popular view of psychosis is something totally irrational and arbitrary. Well, it is irrational, but I don’t believe it is arbitrary. I just recently read Elyn Saks’ memoir The Center Cannot Hold (which I highly recommend). Elyn Saks is a professor of mental health law who also has schizophrenia. She has benefited from medication, but also from psychoanalysis that was not afraid to address the content of her delusions. Traditionally, psychiatry has treated the content as irrelevant.

There is definitely a distortion that goes on in my paranoid thinking – what are the chances that my husband is accessing a secret database of information about me for nefarious purposes? not great – but the underlying psychological impulse can be rooted in reality. I mean, in this example, the internet does have a scary amount of information about us, which can be misused. It’s just unlikely that my husband will be the one to misuse it.

My experiences with other people have not been overwhelmingly positive. Thanks to my social awkwardness, misleading body language, and emotional instability, I have the distinction of turning lots of people off. I look angry when I’m not. I say the wrong thing, or neglect to say the right one. As a child, I was a magnet for bullying from peers and psychological abuse from adults who didn’t like me. Sometimes the peers and the adults collaborated.

So when someone passes me in the hall at my son’s school and I think they are giving me strange, hostile looks – how much of that is real, how much is me misinterpreting their facial expression, and how much is mild paranoia? It’s tough to say.

I crave friendship, human connection. I want to believe the best of people. But over and over, they hurt and disappoint me. That is not conducive to trust.

There are a few awesome people in my life who get me, who have stuck with me through thick and thin. They are the reason I’m not homeless or continually in and out of mental hospitals. They are a very small and vital minority.

I guess I’ll stop there, since it’s a semi-positive note. I don’t want to give too much away, in case someone from the government is reading.

(Just kidding! Or am I? *cue suspenseful music*)

Not a fan of #MeToo

Trigger warning: Ironically, this post is about the need for trigger warnings.

My Facebook feed was flooded yesterday with “Me too” posts. Some had no details, others were graphic and triggering. Really the whole thing was triggering. I’m not sure what this campaign is going to do, other than trigger some already traumatized women to relive their experiences and/or become depressed. Or maybe it’s just me.

Yes, sexual abuse, harassment and assault is rampant. Why is the onus on women who’ve experienced these things, and survived them, to open up to the world about it in a very exposed, impersonal forum like Facebook or Twitter – possibly upsetting other survivors in the process? Who does that really help?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s bravery in sharing one’s story. There are survivors out there doing powerful advocacy work.

But this kind of viral media campaign isn’t that. Most of the women (and MEN – why aren’t male survivors being encouraged to join in?) who I personally know have complex PTSD from ongoing abuse, did not post, or simply copied and pasted the original post. Probably because to do more than that was too triggering. Or maybe they don’t want everyone to know what happened to them (and you know what? That’s OK too!).

Is it just me? I looked at my feed again this morning and immediately felt the panic and depression setting in …

Who is this helping? Who is it supposed to help?

And please, if you’re going to do this and post details, PUT A TRIGGER WARNING.

Neurodiversity’s gatekeepers

I read this yesterday, and I want to link it here because it’s so good and so important: Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen Does Not Understand the Neurodiversity Paradigm

Here’s a quote from the article:

“The Neurodiversity Paradigm says that all brains are good brains and no one is disordered or in need of a cure or treatments that work to the detriment of their personhood.” – Max Sparrow

I passionately agree with this interpretation of the neurodiversity paradigm. Unfortunately, Dr. Baron-Cohen is not the only one who espouses the view that if a condition affects one’s functioning beyond a certain point (defined by whom?), it is no longer a “difference” or part of the person’s identity, but a “disorder” to be cured by any means. I hope that the people who see it this way are in a minority, but I don’t know that they are.

Here’s another example of this type of thinking:

“Autism is a natural form of human neurodiversity. Labeling it as a “mental disorder” or a “disease” has no scientific basis, has no benefit for Autistic people or their families, and leads inevitably to stigmatization, shame, and marginalization. Blind people, Deaf people, and many other disabled people get the services and accommodations they need without being labeled as having mental disorders. We don’t have to call autism a disorder or a disease to acknowledge that Autistic people are disabled and can require accommodations. Stop worrying about the latest changes to the DSM’s diagnostic criteria, and just remove autism from the DSM entirely, just like homosexuality was rightly removed years ago.” – Nick Walker (emphasis added)

Ohhh, OK, I get it. Having autism is fine, because it’s not a mental disorder. Better take it out of the DSM so that the stigma from all those mentally disordered people doesn’t rub off on us! And if an autistic person has a comorbid mental illness, we’ll just stigmatize them for that, not for the autism.

To sum it up another way:

Blind = “Hey can you teach me to read Braille?”

Deaf = “I really admire your culture!”

Physically disabled = “Thanks for the curb cuts!”

Autism = “Natural form of human neurodiversity.”

Mentally ill = “AHHHHH HELP THERE’S A CRAZY PERSON SHARING A DIAGNOSTIC MANUAL WITH ME GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!!!”

I think of people who think this way as Neurodiversity Snobs. They are the self-appointed gatekeepers of the neurodiversity movement. They stand at the gate, checking everyone’s credentials:

“Ah, I see you have a job and you’re married? Quirky but brilliant? Go right in.”

“Wait a minute, wait … this says you’re psychotic and frequently homeless? I’m sorry but you can’t go in. You make a bad impression and … you’re just not really our type.”

“Hi there. Looks like those accommodations in college really worked for you! Well, go in, they’re just serving the cocktails.”

“You’re intellectually disabled? Um … I’m not sure what happened but they shouldn’t have sent you here. That was a mistake. Yeah, just head over there to the Eugenics Division, they should help you out.”

Fuck that. Seriously, fuck it.

I reject any articulation of the neurodiversity paradigm that excludes certain people because they don’t have the “right kind” of neurodivergence.

Sanesplaining

I got into an argument with a stranger the other day on a mutual friend’s Facebook page. It started as a debate over the role of mental illness in the Las Vegas shooting and very quickly became a discussion of whether I was qualified to have an opinion on the matter. My opponent, a white male psychology student, told me “You don’t understand mental health.”

Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe I don’t understand mental health. But I think I have a decent understanding of mental illness – primarily the depressive-bipolar-schizophrenic variety and PTSD – from having lived with it for most of my life and having lots of contact with people who live with it, treated and untreated. Of course I am always learning more and there is much that scientists don’t understand either; and my knowledge and understanding of things like substance abuse, personality disorders (including antisocial personality disorder), is more limited.

There is no evidence that Stephen Paddock was mentally ill or that “counseling” would have prevented what he did, had he been motivated to seek it out (certainly money was not a barrier for him). He carefully and deliberately planned the massacre over a long period of time in a way that somebody with the cognitive impairments often accompanying psychiatric illness would be unable to do. His preparations included modifying legally purchased rifles to function as automatic weapons and installing surveillance cameras outside his hotel room.

I hold the unpopular opinion that some people simply enjoy hurting others and are basically bad people. You can label that a mental illness if you want, but these people are often very clever, very manipulative, good at hiding at their crimes and appearing charming. They have no functional impairment or apparent distress due to their actions. Very sadly, I have some personal experience with this, too. What do we call these people? What do we call the child pornographers and the serial killers?

That’s the discussion we could have had – the psychology major and I. But the discussion we ended up having, centered on me and how ignorant I am. He picked at my use of words; he was passive-aggressive and condescending. As it happens, I have not been terribly stable lately, and I snapped.

No doubt, the strong and colorful language that I ended up using, completely discredited everything I’d said. But I was discredited in his mind long before then. Why? Probably because I’m female and not a psych student and I disagreed with him. Disclosing that I’m crazy (and using the word “crazy”) didn’t help my case.

What upset me, and left me in a fragile and agitated state for the rest of the day, was not that someone disagreed with me. I actually enjoy debate. It was the way he picked apart everything I said. It was the implicit sneer in his comments. I hate to think that this person may become a therapist. I hate to think that people will go to him for help and that he will impose his preconceived ideas on their realities, then pick at them and condescend to them when they object. We don’t need any more therapists like that. That’s the last thing we need.

Navigating the world with a brain that filters and connects things unpredictably, that turns on you at odd moments, is scary. Depending on how much insight we have into our condition, it can make for a lot of self-doubt and self-questioning. “Are my perceptions here correct? Is this real? Will I look back on this later and realize my thinking was totally distorted? Or am I right this time? I’ve turned out to be right before.” Having a couple of trusted individuals whom one can consult in these instances of doubt is very helpful. But this dependence on others to confirm or dispute our interpretations of our own experiences makes us very susceptible to gaslighting, and to what I’m going to call sanesplaining.

Sanesplaining is when someone who does NOT have a major psychiatric condition themselves, tells someone who does what their condition is “really” like, what they experience or should experience, how they feel or should feel. It also involves discrediting and disputing the person’s thoughts and opinions. I’m going to use an example here from one of my favorite movies, Benny and Joon.

Joon is a highly intelligent young woman with an unspecified mental illness (mostly resembling schizophrenia). She is cared for by her older brother Benny. After Benny finds out that Joon has begun a sexual relationship with their roommate, Sam (who’s also neurodivergent, with a learning disability and some autistic traits), Benny goes into a rage and throws Sam out of the house. At this point, Joon tells Benny, with strong feeling and conviction, “I love him!”

“Yeah?” says Benny. “Well you are crazy.”

There you have it. Sanesplaining in a nutshell.

Our feelings and thoughts are constantly in question. It’s not always that overt. It might be a family member asking “Did you take your meds?” when we’re trying to explain why we’re upset about something they’ve done. It might be a psychiatrist saying “No, that’s not a side effect of this medication”. (Hint: if your psychiatrist says this, FIND A NEW ONE.) Or it might be some douchey psychology major on the internet, saying “You used a clinically imprecise term, therefore your opinion is worthless. Your lived experience doesn’t matter.”