Thoughts on the Las Vegas Massacre

From what I’ve seen, the dominant narrative about the perpetrator of the recent shooting in Las Vegas is that he probably had a gambling addiction, might’ve been badly in debt, kept to himself, and didn’t really settle down anywhere. Notable, IMO, is the insistence that “he didn’t have any political or religious affiliation.” And of course there’s the “lone wolf” narrative – all very typical, sweep it under the rug, nothing to see here, just another shooting in the US. Argue amongst yourselves over gun control.

Oh and we’re not saying it was mental illness, but the whole narrative kinda implies it. Just saying…

I don’t buy it. Something about this whole scenario doesn’t feel right. There’s something we’re not being told.

Assembling an arsenal, sneaking it into a casino hotel room, that just so happens to overlook a country music festival … All that takes planning. I don’t believe he “snapped” – it must’ve been premeditated. Why would someone put time, energy, and resources into planning something like this? I don’t know, but usually it has something to do with bigotry.

And I’ve never heard of someone with an actual, professionally diagnosed mental illness doing something like this. When people are in crisis they may withdraw from social groups and activities, they may act in ways people consider strange, they may hurt themselves, and/or they may (rarely) pose a threat to someone else. They don’t open fire on hundreds of people.

I’ve probably said this before but I’ll say it again, we need to figure out why white men keep perpetrating unspeakable acts of violence. And we need to do something to stop it. Yes, now, before people forget about it or get swept up in the next atrocity. There’s something going seriously wrong in the US with how people think, how they treat each other, how they respond to tragedy. Everybody’s angry – and rightfully so – but the anger isn’t being used appropriately. We’re all at each other’s throats, or bonding in our hatred of someone or something, and white men are committing murder with impunity.

We need to stop it. Now.

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No Stigma, No Shame, More Happiness

I saw this on Facebook and wanted to share it. As someone who both wears glasses and takes medication to keep my brain from trying to kill me, I feel it is an excellent analogy:

FB_IMG_1496322585743

The text reads:

“I wear glasses. Can I manage without glasses? Well, yes, probably. I could squint a lot, constantly move up close to anything I want to see, take the bus or a taxi if I want to go anywhere. I could just accept that I’ll never be able to see eagles flying in the sky or whales jumping out of the ocean.

But why? Why try so hard to manage life when I could just put on a pair of glasses? No one would ever suggest a near-sighted person should just work harder. No one would say ‘Maybe that’s just your normal’ to someone who needs glasses. They would say ‘Let’s go to the eye doctor and get you a prescription so you’re able to see again.’ You shouldn’t have to try so hard.”

– My doctor (paraphrased), when I expressed doubts about going back on an anti-depressant. (via webreakthenwebuild)

(via squidilydink)

This is such a good analogy because nobody thinks about it like this. If you wear glasses, you literally need constant use of a medical aid to experience the world like most people do. If it were anything besides glasses, that would be considered a disability. But needing glasses is an extremely common, visible, and accepted form of disability to the point that we don’t even consider it one, we just accept that some people need glasses and that’s perfectly normal and there’s nothing wrong with needing to rely on them.

That is how all disabilities and illnesses should be seen, and how we should look at treatment for them. You have a problem, and you need help dealing with it, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things. That’s perfectly normal and that’s okay.

(via ninjarobotclone)

And there are a couple more lines but forgive me I don’t feel like typing them out. The important parts are quoted above.

Putting aside the issues of for-profit pharmaceutical companies, our limited understanding of how certain drugs affect the brain, abuses in the mental illness management system, and that our society is so fucked up at least a quarter of us meet the criteria for mental health diagnoses while the rest are just plain miserable …

While we work on fixing that stuff: some of us need medication (and/or therapy) to function, just like some of us need glasses to see, and that’s okay. There should be no stigma associated with it, no shame in engaging in treatment, etc. When I finally get around to acquiring my next pair of glasses, I look forward to picking out frames I like and feel confident wearing. Similarly, it feels really good to own the work I’m doing in therapy and the medications I take: to be honest and unapologetic about what I need to not only live but (dare I say it?) thrive. It’s part of who I am, similar to how my glasses are part of my style (or look, hehe).

Of course I’m fortunate in that I have access to the care I need and communities where talking about one’s therapist, medication, and/or mental health is … if not normal, at least accepted. It’s understood that we’re all people and we all have our issues, we all struggle sometimes and we all need support. That shouldn’t be a matter of me being fortunate, though, it should be normal – like how acceptance of people wearing glasses is normal now, where once wearing glasses was stigmatized.

Learn more about being stigma free, and take the pledge.

Solidarity.

Compassion / Pay It Forward

TW: mention of suicidal ideation

Ron had two really bad days in a row, and didn’t sleep in between. Ze told me ze was suicidal. On the first day I took time from my visit with Banji to have an extended phone conversation with Ron, anything to keep zir connected. On the second day I drove for five hours, successfully chaired a 90-minute meeting, reconnected with Fox after 5 days apart, then welcomed Ron into our home at 10:30pm. We decided to hang out in the back yard.

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Still Here

I haven’t posted in 3 weeks, so I thought I’d just mention that I’m still here. I’m taking Thesis Seminar this semester; so far my topic has been approved and I’ve got some ideas bouncing around regarding it. I’ve been rather preoccupied with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, – not just my Let’s Play, but mods as well. I’m also concerned/depressed about my health. I might have some kind of neurological problem (besides my psych issues) that’s affecting my visual perception and giving me headaches. To make things worse I’m between HMOs and my state’s program sent Fox a “reminder” to verify my citizenship, even though I’d addressed that 2 months ago. I’m trying to get myself to spend some time outside in the beautiful weather we’ve been having, but lately I’ve been more inclined to hide in my nice dark nerd cave. Basically hanging on to my life preserver, trying not to get seasick, and praying for this storm to pass.

Hypomanic and Depressed at the Same Time

I read an article today and now my world makes so much more sense. In a Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) “Ask the Doc” article, Dr. Mark Bauer, MD states that:

“[T]he most common mood state in bipolar disorder is a mixture of hypomanic/manic and depressed symptoms. In fact, the classic picture of bipolar disorder having a course alternating between the poles of high and low moods is an over-simplification.”

He goes on to explain mania and hypomania more clearly, basically describing them as hyperactivation – feeling “sped up” and driven. This can feel good (e.g. grandiosity), bad (e.g. irritability), and everywhere in between. In other words, mood and activation level are two different things.

Ergo, we can think of bipolar disorder as

“a condition of recurring depressive periods punctuated by periods of hyperactivation – and sometimes these periods of hyperactivation alternate with slowed down, depressed periods, but at other times they overlap.”

That. Is. My. Life. It’s very rare for me to experience a period of time with no depressive symptoms; at best my symptoms become few and mild enough that I don’t meet the criteria for clinical depression for a couple days to a few weeks. But periods of hyperactivation… just look through my blog and you’ll see my posts about “I’m going to do this new thing that will change the world,” staying up all night composing, “now I’m getting better and I’m mad at Fox all the time,” and most recently “Let’s Play Skyrim!”

I usually feel better during my periods of hyperactivation because 1) I have energy to do things and 2) I’m hyper-focused on something that’s meaningful to me, at least while the hyperactivation lasts. Sometimes I don’t feel so good because I want to Do All The Things!!! but I can’t focus on one thing to do, so my mind is a jumbled mess. I’ve also tried to be a part of too many different groups at once, which invariably results in me feeling overwhelmed, backing out, feeling guilty, and my depression symptoms becoming more severe. As far as I can tell, all of my periods of hyperactivation have occurred at times when I also met the criteria for mild depression. (Possibly also moderate depression.) In other words, I’ve never had a discrete hypomanic or manic episode.

I try not to put too much importance on labels; what’s really important is that the needs of the person with a mental health issue are being met. But having a label creates a container for my experience; I can understand it and talk to other people about it and know I’m not the only one who’s had that experience. Finding labels that accurately describe my experiences helps me feel safe. I obviously can’t diagnose myself, but the label “bipolar disorder” seems to become more accurate the more I learn about the experiences it’s intended to describe.

I know I’ve been “depressed” lately because I’ve been feeling sad and/or grumpy, isolating, having trouble eating full meals, apologizing for my existence, and thinking “I want to die” when I’m tired. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before my world starts unraveling (again): I worry about Fox’s safety, our rats’ health, my own health, the house burning down, etc. Calling these experiences “depression” helps me separate a bit from them, accept them, and engage in self-care.

Out of the Darkness: In Search of Solidarity

Last night was the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Boston. I wasn’t there – to be honest, it had completely fallen off my radar – but I saw one participant’s posts on Facebook. I spent much of the night taking note of their updates in my own impromptu vigil.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Overnight is the fundraiser by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: a 16- to 18-mile walk that takes place from dusk to dawn. I’ve been suicidal, and I know people who struggle with suicidal ideation, who have attempted suicide, and/or have lost a loved one to suicide. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.

I have yet to participate in the Overnight, but one aspect of it I find particularly attractive is the Honor Beads. There are 9 different colors, 6 of which represent the loss of specific relationships (i.e. child, partner, parent, sibling, relative/friend, and first responder/military.). There are also colors for people who support the cause and/or know someone who struggles.

A green square with a string of beads in darker green. The words: "I wear green for my personal struggle. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. #OvernightWalk" in white.

Out of the Darkness Overnight image to share on social media. “I wear green for my personal struggle.”

I like that participants can choose to wear green honor beads to represent their own personal struggle. It’s a way to silently communicate: “I’ve been to hell and I’m still standing!” It’s possible to meet eyes with another person wearing green and know they’ve been there too. And if you’re still in hell, it might be easier to connect with others who can understand what you’re going through. Such visibility can be healing.

I first learned about the Overnight two years ago, during a time when I was actively struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings. At the time I wrote: “Above all, I am walking for myself, because everything we do to promote mental health and prevent suicide benefits me directly. I am walking to save my own life.”

I was very disappointed when circumstances prevented me from being able to participate in the walk, but at least I was able to raise some money to support the cause. I don’t know how many people were inspired or encouraged when they saw me wearing the T-shirt, but one person thanked me.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the hope, happiness, self-esteem, and health I have now. I no longer feel like my life needs saving; that is something I will not take for granted. (Because honestly, it’s not guaranteed.) I want to do whatever I can to “pay it forward” – to help others who are actively struggling.

Registration is currently open for the 2016 Overnights, which will take place in San Francisco May 21-22 and in New York June 4-5. I haven’t registered yet, but I’m seriously considering it. I’ve started talking to loved ones about forming a team.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve participated in an Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk: what was your experience? How do you recommend preparing (beyond info available on the website)? You’re welcome to leave a comment, or contact me if you want to write a guest post.

Sometimes I Just Need to Sleep on You

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, she said. You’ll feel less tired when you’re not repressing them, she said.

Bull. Shit.

Okay, I let the sadness up. Happy? I even admitted to a pain that’s been brewing inside me for over half my lifetime (the fuck). What else do you want from me? Cotton candy? Let’s go, I’ll buy you some right now. I’m sick of this shit.

There is a thing gnawing on my insides. My stomach and my heart and my lungs. It’s big and ugly and it keeps growing. It’s turning my whole body nasty colors, from the inside out. It causes a deep ache and sometimes it stings and it’s always there.

Maybe I’m just hungry. I eat, it gets the food, but it’s still gnawing on me. Let’s go for a walk. Okay, I walk. Maybe I’m distracted from the pain for a while. It’s still there. You tell a joke. I laugh. It feels good. Maybe it loses its grip for a moment. But then I stop laughing, and it goes back to gnawing. When I cry, that’s it gnawing so loudly you can actually hear it. When I sleep it keeps me from resting fully and fills my mind with all sorts of crazy thoughts and dreams. When I wake – you guessed it! – still there.

I just want it out of me. Can you do that? I’ll give you anything. I’ll do anything. Just make it stop!