Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Mashup of Thoughts on Kanye, Mental Health, and Something My First Therapist Said That Blew My Mind.

This might not be my most coherent essay. 
It's more some random thoughts that all got mashed together. 
So, the first item is a discussion that I had with friends over on Facebook about Kanye
Let me give you a recap:
Friend 2: He is. So, why doesn't he do something about it? 
Friend 3: He has the resources and money to get help. I would kill for that situation. 
Friend 2: Honey, do we need to talk? 
Friend 3: Oh, no, I wasn't being literal. Geez. I'm taking my meds. 
Friend 1: Yes, it would be nice if Kanye got help, but you can't force people to seek help. 
Friend 2: But, there is a distinct difference between supporting someone and enabling them. 
Friend 1: Why do you say he is being enabled? 
Friend 3: It's pretty obvious he isn't being helped by the people around him. 

So here we get to the next item. Personal responsibility and mental health.
This is an idea that I bump into pretty regularly. 
A common scenario is when someone behaves horribly and then says 'oh, I was off my meds' or 'I didn't know I was so messed up. I'm in therapy now.' Essentially, when mental health is used as an excuse to justify bad behavior. 
I won't argue that sometimes we have bad days. I have a stack of 'oh, wow, that wasn't good' moments in my past. Thankfully there was no internet in my youth. I'm sure we all have moments that we can look back on and see how our mental illness influenced a situation. 
So, I employ the 'innocent' man rule. I assume everyone is NOT casually using 'mental health' as an excuse. That is until I have evidence to the contrary. Because I would rather support/ attempt to support anyone who was having a mental health issue, even if that means there are some posers in the group. 

Another point in this knot of thoughts is: 
What responsibility do we have to the mental health community to seek treatment?
Bear with me. 
I don't think it can be argued that in the past mental health was very misunderstood. And, that the mental health institutions of the day were pretty horrific. The mental health system was also abused as a place to confine those who opposed the social order. And we, the mental health community, still bear the brunt of a mountain of stigma. 
So, what do I owe to other people, not just myself, to understand my issues, my triggers, my tools for handling flashbacks? 
I think I do owe something to the mental health community as a whole to demonstrate that even though my brain is wired differently, I can still operate within society. Even though I carry the label of 'Neuroatypical' (I hope I got that right.) I see it as a way - a responsibility - to help break the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. 

This brings me to the third point. When I first began therapy all I knew was that I was depressed out of my skull. I also had a sense of being permanently stuck. I think I described it as 'paddling in eternal concentric circles.' 
Sometime in my first few sessions, my therapist hit me with an idea that I found mind-blowing.
She told me, don't laugh, that I was responsible for my own happiness.
I'll admit I feel a little silly looking at that now, because, honestly isn't that something everyone knows?
And yet, the idea was new to me. I was always the dutiful one. The good one. The reliable one. The invisible one. The one that never caused trouble. The one that never needed, anything. 
I was maybe 20 at this time, and I was just putting my foot on the mental health path. At that time the knowledge of #CPTSD had not trickled down to where I was.
I spent another 30+ years trying to root out the problem, to understand myself. In those 30 years, I accumulated a lot of wreckage in my wake. The ability to understand myself and to look back over my past is both gratifying and horrifying. But, in both the good and the bad I can see how my mental problems influenced me, or trapped me. 

To tie all this up with a neat little bow, I'll circle back to Kanye. 
Sometimes our mental health, or ill-health, is all we know. It is our 'normal'. I understand that he is bipolar, and I will readily admit that I have no experience with being bipolar. But, I do understand what an untreated mental health issue can do to your life, your relationships, your goals. For that reason, I hope he can make the commitment for himself to pursue some help before the wreckage he leaves behind spans decades.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Image that Sparks a Rethinking of Symbols

It's interesting. I've seen many reactions to this image.
And what I am hearing is at odds with what I think the intended message of the piece is. Folks I have seen react to this are all focusing on the body given to the DT figure.
I admit the thing I see that disturbs me the most is the child that the figure is holding. It is in such distress. Blindfolded, squirming to get away from the poison it is being fed.
I understand why friends and folks I know would take issue with the depiction of the female form in this very negative light.
I think the artist has diluted or subverted the impact of the point he was trying to make by the choice of his portrayal. Instead of sparking one conversation on the abuses of DT administration on this nation, he has elicited - a defense of the body shape and a conversation on body shaming.
I think he was trying for political commentary, but without thought, he stumbled into social commentary.
So, question - Do you think the artist was aware of the current social potential for response? Or was he (I'm assuming a male here) was just tone-deaf and working from a place of privilege?

More to come on the topic of symbology. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Positives that we have learned from CPTSD

Weird title, right?

I saw a thread over on Twitter, some of you all may have seen or participated in it as well.
What it was about was looking at the positive side of the traits of CPTSD that we have. I was skeptical at first. It struck me as rather 'wishful thinking'. But, I stuck around and listened and I realized there was something amazing happening.
Folks in the thread were giving examples of the parts of CPTSD that they struggle with, and sometimes another reader would turn that struggle into a positive. Sometimes the person who still struggled with the trait could express how it influenced their life in a positive way.
It was, for me, a lightbulb moment. So I started thinking: What is one of the biggest things I struggle with or a trait of CPTSD that I still cling to? And has that had any positive outcomes in my life?
For me, a trait that I know I still possess is the inability to ask for anything. Which results in a distinct pride of being able to do without, or do with less. To make do. I've been called Spartan in the manner that I live.

The positive side of that is that I have skills that are quickly vanishing from the 1st world. I can preserve food, I can mend just about anything, I know basic carpentry and electrical work, and I'm thrifty.
And those are some worthwhile skills to have.
What is it for you? Give it a think. Perhaps you can see the positive outgrowth of some of your traits. Please share them so that others who might be struggling with something similar can see that there are some useful/positive aspects that we can dig out of the mud of our past.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Unicorn Farts and Lollipops

I saw this meme this morning and it just made me cock my head to the side to take another look at it. And I thought about it. Probably too much. And, I realized I was having a feeling. A pretty strong one by my standards. I mean, I actually noticed it.

Here - let me show you the meme.

For those who may not be able to read it allow me to tell you what it says.

It is not what happened in the past that is hurting you now. It is your interpretation of what happened that is hurting you now. Change your interpretation of what happened and you change how you feel about it.

Pardon my language:   I call BULLSHIT.

Let me make a couple of statements -
First, I am looking at this through a lens of CPTSD. And perhaps, this meme is not intended for me as its audience. I can fully accept that possibility.
Secondly, I'm going to talk about my reaction to this. If you want to tell me how it makes you feel that's cool. Any comments telling me I am wrong will be trashed.

Let's break this down, line by line and idea by idea.
First line - It's not what is in the past that is hurting you now.
To some extent, I will say this is true. As a child, I had lots of bumps and scrapes and those are in my past. Also, true those injuries no longer hurt me.
But what about those injuries that leave a mark?  Cigarette burns? Broken bones? Neglect?
Even here I can see wearing those marks not at a source of shame but as proof that you have survived. And yes, that is dependent on how someone chooses to interpret the mark or damage that is left.
However, we haven't addressed another type of result from events in the past. Neural remodeling. Or, in the case of very young victims brain development. Of those of us who walk around the world with CPTSD many of us have a fundamentally different perception of the world and ourselves. This is hard-wired. Our brains were literally changed or diverted from normal development.
In that sense - yes the injury is still with me. I function in this world with a brain not developed for this world. It's work.

Second line - It is your interpretation of what happened that is hurting you now.
While I can envision that this meme is not made for the CPTSD community I must admit that I don't know who it is intended towards. It makes no specific reference in the meme and the words are rather broad and inclusive.
The first thing this sentence says to me is "You are WRONG."
Wrong in your interpretation.
Wrong in your memory.
Wrong in wanting to move through the trauma.
And, what the Hell, just Wrong in general.
That is what that sentence makes me feel. My interpretation is wrong.
(A long string of deleted explicatives.)
Talk about a classic example of devaluing a lived experience.

Let me talk about this from a different angle. CPTSD is a condition resulting from long-term repeated trauma where the victim has no opportunity for escape. So think, child abuse, think sex trafficking, think POW. This form of PTSD is the result of extended durations of trauma. It's not a single event that is captured in the definition of PTSD.
My personal experience is being a child and growing up in a severely dysfunctional household. There are several hallmarks of CPTSD. As I mentioned above there are changes in brain development.
There is a fundamental lack of self-value. Commonly there I a feeling of being worth less than everyone else. Of being permanently flawed and unlovable.
These are not things we interpret. These ideas are what shape our selves. They are integral to who we are. They are not conscious thoughts or interpretations. This is, for us, our reality. It is not who we 'think' we are. It is who we are.

That brings us to the third line - Change your interpretation of what happened and you change how you feel about it.
Well, if that just isn't a load of unicorn farts and lollipops I don't know what is.
Here we come to another interesting way that CPTSD can affect a person. Like PTSD there is the experience of the 'flashback'. The flashback in PTSD transports the person back to the moment of their trauma. It is not a memory. It is a re-experiencing of the event.
For someone with CPTSD there is likely no single event. For someone like myself who has very little memory of my childhood, there is nothing to flashback to, no single event or even group of events. What some of us with CPTSD suffer is the emotional flashback.

Walker in his work Complex CPTSD: From Surviving to Thriving describes the emotional flashback this way:
Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions to the overwhelming feeling-states of being an abused/abandoned child. 
Read that again. It is not memory but instead a feeling-state, an emotion. And for folks who have little childhood memory, or where the abuse or neglect started before the ability of the brain to create and hold memories was developed, the emotions are what overwhelm us. When this happens, unless you are aware of what an emotional flashback is, there is no reasoning with it. Any or all of the physical symptoms of an overloaded vagus system can surface. Shaking, muscles tightening, hyperarousal of the senses, etc. It is not something that can be reinterpreted. It is a physiological reaction to an emotional response triggered by something in the environment.

As we recover from CPTSD we can identify the situations and events that might cause us to experience an emotional flashback. Then we can learn to avoid these triggers until we are ready to conquer them.
And I can see folks saying - well isn't that exactly what the meme said? Change your mind and you'll feel better?
That could be argued. But, it is a gross oversimplification of a process that will take some people years. By minimizing the process of recovery the meme perpetuates the idea that mental illness, or traumatic events are somehow controllable. Or minor. Or a flaw in a person's character. Essentially, we are just Wrong.

And that thought is so far from the truth. So I will end with these words.

You have value. You are, in fact, irreplaceable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Minefield - Meme

I don't know when I discovered that not everyone had a family like mine. But, I do remember the shock. The disbelief that other people didn't have to hide or make themselves invisible rocked me to my core. I always thought my childhood was good. To admit that my family had problems and that those problems affect me to this day was one of the most painful parts of moving from denial into healing.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Address on Independence Day That Our Nation Needed

My Fellow Americans,

Thank you for joining me here this evening to celebrate the creation of this nation that we all love. We stand together tonight beneath the presence of four of our former leaders. In the celebration of our nation and our history.

And that is how we Americans like to view the history of our nation, monumental, larger than life, and as permanent as a mountain. That collection of beliefs is part of what shapes the American myth.
Monuments, as grand as they might be only relate a fragment of the complexity of the humanity and events that they attempt to capture.

We call these presidents hewn into the stone behind me ‘great men’ and we hail them, preserve them in stone as the shapers of our nation.

They did that, among many other roles they played in their lives. But, this is how we choose to remember them. All of them, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, emerged from riot, rebellion, and war to create this nation, to hold it together, and to heal our republic.

They are not great men because they conquered, or won. But, because they were gracious in victory. Punishment is the hallmark of a tyrant. Grace is the hallmark of a ‘great man’.

We are a nation born in rebellion. That fact has informed the myth of America that we all carry.

The America we celebrate today was only achieved by disparate groups working together with one another toward a common goal. And in those struggles, we embraced one another and our allies. Those nations of men and women who shared our values and our hope of independence.

Without the help of France, America might never have emerged from the colonies.

LaFayette, our favorite fighting Frenchman, to borrow a line from Mr. Miranda’s “Hamilton” is only one of the first of a long line of great people who have shaped America by giving of themselves. Sometimes, even to the cost of their own lives.

Those who have fought and died for this nation create a line through history from the Revolution to the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, and the global conflicts of WWI and WWII.

To take a page from the annals of WWII, we know our ally's names. Churchill, Montgomery of Britain. DeGaulle. Added to those are the scores of nameless patriots who formed the Resistance movements across Europe.

Together, as allies, we fought to preserve freedom against the horror and brutality of the Nazi regime.

That is a fact. It is history, not myth.

For there is a difference between myth and history.

Myth makes us feel better, it justifies and validates our actions. But myth is something removed from reality, which we create by picking and choosing from history. We choose from the facts of the past what we find important or meaningful. And, it is the nature of myth to overlook or to ignore that which does not fit or complement the narrative.

And myth, while it persists through the generations, is malleable. Each new group of children faces a world different from that of their parents. And they add to the myth with what they know, and what they find important.

Who would we choose to memorialize today?

John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Sitting Bull.

The mythology of our nation grows and changes, even as we do. The Great Myth of America is not captured in stone. It is constantly evolving as we change as a nation.

History, while historians may re-interpret them, history is based on facts. And the full story of history is unafraid to look at not only the successes, the victories - but it also embraces the facts which today might seem unpalatable. Or which we might not agree with. History includes our failures and our near misses.

For example, many Americans have the idea that the United States stepped into WWII and stopped it.

This view - which is blurred at the edges and seen through a rosy filter, is an attractive and comforting myth of our own prowess and strength.

If asked who our allies were you would hear the answers - Churchill’s England, DeGaulle’s France.

How many will choose to remember that Stalin’s Soviet Union was also our ally?

That is history. That is fact.

And that is only one example of how myth differs from history.

Myth looks through a lens that softens the edges. That selects carefully what it will see.
History is clear-eyed. It recognizes that our nation is capable of great things and that we also carry the legacy of our imperfect past.

Myth proclaims us a paragon, offering stories, analogies, and yes, the occasional fact.
But history extends its roots down into fact and is not afraid to hold up a mirror that shows us our errors. History challenges us to do better.

Blindly accepting myth, without evaluating what historical facts it offers, is building a castle in the air. Without foundations, one puff of wind will disperse it into nothingness.

The myth that we as Americans hold close to our hearts is of a nation of freedom, of fairness, of grit, of opportunity, of tolerance and determination.

It is the belief that we are the shining beacon on the hill.

It is a worthy ambition.

To achieve that ideal we must build a foundation rooted in the no-nonsense facts of reality. We must not only speak of those ideals, but each of us must also embody them.

So, on this July 4th, when our nation feels fragmented, isolated, and under attack by disease, falsity, narrow mindedness, and fear. I would remind you of the qualities that when they are held together by the citizens of this nation: tolerance, fairness, honesty, innovation, and determination -

That is when America is at its best.
That is when as a nation, America is great.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Guest Post: from Carrie About Anxiety and Masks

On Facemasks

I keep seeing people complaining that they can't breathe in face masks. They describe feeling light headed, they fear that they're not getting enough oxygen. They describe feeling tightness in their chests, tingling in their extremities. They feel confused and claustrophobic.

Baby, that's not oxygen shortage, you're just having an anxiety response. Welcome to the club. We have a handshake... you just hold out your hand... and it shakes.

You're not going to die. It feels like it. It's scary. You don't like it. There are actual scientifically proven ways to deal with and overcome these feelings.

When you see someone who is going off on an anti-mask rant, slip them a DM with this link.

Don't mock them in public, or show them the proof about why they're not dying of oxygen deprivation.

They're just experiencing a new mental health challenge and since they've never had any patience for any mental health stuff, they're totally not equipped to deal with it.

Why Protective Face Masks Make You Feel Anxious and What You Can Do to Cope

A good friend posted this on FB and with her permission, I'm passing it along.