Archive for the 'mental illness' Category

Trying to help

April 7, 2014

How do we help people who feel miserable?  Many of them want us to hold their misery for them.  It’s too heavy for most of us, and it’s not a good idea for us to try to hold it;  if we receive the misery, we need to be able to pass it on to the universe for disposal.

Therapists, Reiki masters, clergy, all kinds of people know how to do something like this.

But if the miserable person still has no way of ceasing to produce feelings of misery, the situation has not been sufficiently addressed.  The person feeling misery needs to find a different way to intersect with the world, a different emotional posture.

Some people find such a posture through cognitive behavioral therapy, others through 12-step programs, others through religious creeds, and I’m sure some people pick up another attitude from other sources, even from individuals or from literature.

I think part of what happens when a person is developing an attitude in which misery is not being regenerated constantly is that the person becomes looser and more open.  This helps negative feelings, when they do arise, become diluted.  And eventually, I think, the person is able to more directly and efficiently dump their load of miserable feelings onto the universe — they figure out how to work the dump truck  so that the universe and not a human interlocutor receives the load.

I think that’s important.  Our misery should not be passed around like a hot potato or spewed out into the environment like greenhouse gases.  And people who just want to dump their loads onto me constantly, happily refilling their trucks and driving them over and over again to my place, well, to them I would try to communicate as gently as possible (and sometimes the gentleness I’m sure does not come through) that I can’t participate in that.  I wish they would also examine why they are not motivated to find an alternative to refilling their truck.

Stories we tell

December 25, 2013

I was talking to Gita about how sometimes recently I become so aware that something that occurs is just what happens when some energy happens to manifest in a certain way, like what happens when the wind meets a flag or a sail and we see the flag wave or the sail billow.  It’s just stuff that happens, the tail wagging on the dog that we happen to be able to perceive far more easily than we are able to perceive the rest of the dog.

Because so often we instead accord these tail-waggings (greater) significance.  We put them into narratives.  Illness occurred in this person because they ate the wrong foods (did the wrong thing), that person met their soul mate because they networked appropriately (did the right thing), this person found a treasure in their attic because they were industrious (were deserving), that person lost their business because they were not industrious (were not deserving).

This isn’t the “you didn’t build that” issue, it’s the “things happens as the result of long and complicated processes most of which we are not aware of.”

Some of us accord even more significance to things.  We see patterns, we see synchronicity, we see metaphor.  I got clobbered in a class once when I tried, with my best technique I had learned elsewhere, to analyze what the monsters in Cavafy’s poem about Odysseus might represent.  Different styles of literary interpretation or criticism use different techniques or assumptions — I think we accept that.  When we apply different techniques to the interpretation of life events, we sometimes get clobbered, too.  Exhibit A is the  label “conspiracy theorists.”  Some secular rationalists clobber people with religious faith, and vice versa.

But what I’ve observed is this.  Our accepted way of combining events into stories is just that, an accepted way of combining events in stories.  To see this, a person has to view what goes on in this world from “outside” of it.  If people do this in some ways, they fall into distress and dysfunction and we have mental illness.  If people do this in other ways, we have witnessing and detachment — which some people also consider pathological.  But once you go there, you can observe that consensus reality is just a group choice, it isn’t necessary or compelled by anything.  You just have to make sure you can toggle back and forth between consensus reality and witnessing it from without, if you want to be able to continue to navigate in society.

Once a person “bursts the bubble” of consensus reality, then they can see that “stuff happens” not in a fatalistic way, but in an observational way; it is that which happens.  It is that which happens that we are adapted to seeing.  Our attempts to make stories out of what happens that we see is more the aberration, more the foreign intrusion, than the occurrence of something that looks like an outlier, that doesn’t quite fit with our storytelling assumptions.

Maybe a person can get to the point of having a perch from which to perceive the world from the outside without first seeing the world through more intensive patterning.  But it is certainly one way to do it.  And once a person does it, then they can see that not just the intensive patterns are an artifact of perception, but that the more widely accepted patterns of most people are, too.  And then a person can process what happens, as simply what happens.  Gita called that “beginner’s mind.”

I sometimes say that I go to Gita when I need to hear what I don’t want to hear.  This time I could see the category is really “what I need an outsider to observe and relay back to me.”

Sometimes Gita  clarifies for me the name for a concept in a different way.  For example, I was using “unisex” where “androgynous” was the more accurate label for what I was referencing, and she corrected me.  We humans do pick one another’s nits, they just aren’t always material nits.

What I personally got out of what Gita observed back to me is not actually the point of this post, but I will end with it anyway.  For me, what she did was to tell me, in effect, that I had arrived on the outskirts of where I was headed, namely my beginnings but with an “I” aware or conscious in a way that I hadn’t had before.


September 14, 2013

I am loving the juxtaposition, in September 16th issue of The New Yorker, of the prayers written by Flannery O’Connor with a piece on Truman delusions.  We’ve got O’Connor yearning to be a mystic and serve and also be a successful writer (“My Dear God”), and a college-age young man who thinks he is starring in a TV reality show as he lives his life (“Unreality Star,” by Andrew Marantz).

Plenty of religious or philosophical systems see our lives as illusory, they just don’t posit electronic hardware as part of the conceptualization.

The other elements discussed are persecution, erotomania, and grandiosity.  The persecuted have Job for an ur-type, and erotomania must have some parallel in the lives of saints who had such passionate relationships with spiritual beings.  I took on the grandiosity issue in a comment I wrote to a piece on NYTimes (“Caring for a Mind in Crisis”) that mentioned the phenomenon of mental health patients who think they are Jesus:  I think these people may conflate doing what Jesus taught and modeled with being Jesus, because of too much cultural emphasis on Jesus’ uniqueness.  If they could get more of their ego out of their way, their identification as Jesus I think would fall away.

O’Connor writes a lot of things that make sense to me, and some that don’t, in these prayers excerpted from her journals.  She has a willingness to serve, she senses her relationship with God is not to be had through too much thinking, and yet she gets caught up in a lot of thinking nonetheless.

In some ways I see both O’Connor and the young man as seekers who haven’t quite gotten the right sound out of their instrument yet.  (Of course, we may see one as having come closer than another to having succeeded at that.)  Or maybe it’s a little like playing Charades, where oftentimes the misses, when players guess incorrectly, sound quite off-base but understandable.

I like the issue of the relationship of spiritual development to mental health.  Maybe the situation is a little like branching out from playing classical music — there’s jazz (as well as plenty of other genres) but there’s also noise.

Lighthouse, revisited

March 10, 2013

The song says, “I believe that the heart does go on.”  (That would be the theme from the Titanic movie, sung by Celine Dion, “The Heart Will Go On.”)  Well, it’s pretty clear to me that something goes on after we die.  Does it matter if we don’t believe that while we’re alive?

When my dad died, my mom didn’t realize he was dead until the person with her said so, took the pulse, etc.  She thought he was finally asleep comfortably.  I don’t think my dad knew he was dead either.

When my mother called me with the news of his death, I was already feeling inexplicable exhaustion.  I realized that going to bed was not an option, as I would need to help guide my mother through what came next.  But I lay down and asked Jordan to wake me if I didn’t hear the phone.  (It was about 9:00 at night.)  I got centered in myself, reached out for spiritual help, and to my surprise, the exhaustion increased.  And then I sensed my dad.  As if he were coming towards me, and I realized I must be a sort of bright light he could perceive because it was close by, and I communicated to him, “No, no, don’t come to me, turn yourself in that direction [indicating the direction towards which to rotate himself] and go with those nice folks, they will take you where you’re going,” and he did.  And he left and my severe exhaustion (which I had come to realize was his, and which was my first indicator that he needed redirection — I knew I could not have borne that exhaustion) lifted.

My dad had no belief in God, in an afterlife, in anything following death — I suspect he thought it would be oblivion.  I think he initially left his body to escape the pain he was in, but he died as he did that, there was no going back, and he needed to complete the journey.

So I think it’s important whether we believe that some part of us survives the death of our bodies.  We need to leave once we’re dead.  Too many souls of people who don’t realize they’re dead, or who don’t want to be dead (he’s not the first I’ve encountered), clutter the spiritual atmosphere on earth, and then we all have trouble hearing our guidance — hearing anything, for that matter, from beyond our world and space-time environment.  Ethereal pollution, maybe we could call it.  When our time on stage is up, we really do need to leave, go back stage and take off our costume and make-up, and go to that cast party that’s being held elsewhere, so that those of us still performing can hear.  A lack of belief (which overlaps with atheism) does have a downside to people other than the disbeliever, I think.

What I would submit as an idea is that people keep in mind the possibility that their consciousness will survive their death — just keep it in the back of the mind as a possibility.  So when you go, you have a set of directions in your back pocket, something already programmed into your GPS, so to speak, and you can really Go.

I wonder if Jesus was such a lighthouse, and if that role of his became confused with other narratives about his mission.

It has struck me that the apparently fairly common symptom of mental illness that the person believes they are Jesus can be resolved once we see that being a lighthouse is not a role unique to one person;  that would not make us Jesus, it would just make Jesus one of many (at least in that respect), a “many” that may include us (or not — I’ve met people who they were doing one thing spiritually, when it was pretty clear to me they were doing something else).  And it wouldn’t mean we share all of the attributes of other people, including Jesus, who are lighthouses.

I know plenty of people who “get ghosts,” and in many circles what I’ve just written would not raise any eyebrows.  I am also aware that to people who don’t “get ghosts,” what I wrote may seem a little far-fetched, unbelievable, the product of a “fevered” (or worse) mind.  I don’t think it is, and I put this post up in the hopes that it will help people who are rationalists and unbelievers have a rational, if still as yet unbelievable, road map whose directions they can follow at some future time, if they should find themselves in need of one.

I told this story to Gita some weeks ago, and she told me that providing this kind of redirection to a confused soul is some kind of recognized good deed in some belief systems.  That’s where I live, I guess, somewhere between the rationalist world around me, in which I am an outlier in these respects, and religious belief systems elsewhere, in which I would fit right in about this but probably not about plenty of other things.

Pathologizing different takes on reality

January 30, 2013

I wrote a draft of a letter for this week’s “Invitation to Dialogue” feature in the NYTimes, but decided it wasn’t really on point, so I am putting it here instead:

There’s a line in a Tom Lehrer song that goes, “When correctly viewed, Everything is lewd,” and I submit that when viewed from some perspectives, our consensus reality doesn’t make a whole lot more sense than other realities we might agree on.  So to me, it’s the level of distress, coupled with a detachment from most people’s sense of reality, that raises my concern about an individual’s mental health.  I would hate to see a psychopharmacological equivalent to religious persecution develop in the name of public health and safety concerns.

My first reaction was actually just to send the citation to John Nelson’s Healing the Split, which treats the subject better than I can.

Who reaches out

December 17, 2012

I was going to write a post about “Fear, pain, and damage” and what seems to me to be going on when people perceive “evil.” I would have talked about how it’s all perfectly fine energy, it’s just that some of it is difficult to process if a person has not sanded down enough of their “flaws,” enough of their humanness.  I would have tried to show how we can get rid of the dualism of “good” and “evil” by realizing that evil is in the eye of the beholder and by subsuming both under “energy.”  I might have talked about destruction being part of the cycle of creation, and that we are better off seeing destruction as just that, and shy away from distinctions like accident, tort, and crime.  I was going to talk about including everybody in our community, and finding a way to mourn for Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza, too.  (I think, almost paradoxically, that until we maintain a compassionate connection to everybody, we will not resolve the problem of our safety.)  I was going to talk about attachments getting in the way of our clearer perception, about my reaction to watching President Obama reflect his strong attachment to his children in his remarks in Newtown last night.  I was thinking of making the case for celibacy in leadership positions.

And then, as I was crossing the street, I was reminded (because I suspect I’ve had this understanding before) that we need to reach out to God affirmatively because that is the posture in which we are open to receiving God.  Without our having that posture, nothing terribly helpful will happen even if God reaches out to us.  And I thought, trying to communicate that message is probably a more constructive thing to do, rather than trying to get people to see what I see.

Because part of what I see is that we’re not going to reduce the problem of gun massacres by the “mentally ill” by demonizing them, their caretakers, the people who love them (who are able to love them because they connect with something not diseased within them).  We’re not going to resolve the problem by doubling down on our attachment to our children.  I think we need, rather, to spread out more evenly our love and caring to all.  Gun control is fine with me, but I think if we improve our mental hygiene, people’s desire for guns may decrease, so I would include coaching people in general to improved mental hygiene (through teaching coping skills and how to become more self-aware, for example), so I would include that in a broad effort to reduce the presence of guns in our society.

I think I see myself a little like a bleating sheep, or maybe like that cow in the Richard Shindell song “Stray Cow Blues”  — I keep repeating what I perceive and hope it helps.  If people don’t want to hear, I accept that, even if I’m disappointed or frustrated.  I can see my reaction as a form of impatience, maybe even with a little fear mixed in (fear that not enough people will ever perceive clearly), and those are things I can work on.  I think I’ve developed enough detachment to keep doing what I do regardless of its reception.

Make friends with your subconscious

November 18, 2012

I should be outside pruning rose bushes, but I just wanted to write something brief using a different type of approach to, not so much the subjects of my previous two posts, but to a comment I wrote in response to one of those NYTimes sort of philosophical pieces in “The Stone” subset of their Opinionator section.

My point is about how there are multiple strands to our “selves.”  Most of us using the internet dwell (and overly so, in my opinion) in only some of these strands and may not be aware there are others.

So that’s why I called this post “Make friends with your subconscious.”  People not adverse to theism or spiritual development tend to do this through prayer and meditation, but I think other people may do it through the arts (especially music), sports, nature, communicating with pets.  I think some people may do through higher math, but I think it’s trickier to lose the intellectualizing self enough through doing that as a way to be in the strand of the self that slides around without the constraints the intellectualizing strand has.  Of course, some people do this (whether intentionally or not) in ways that cause them and others distress, and it can become extreme enough that we label it an illness (as in, mental illness) — I certainly don’t advocate doing that.

But just as we talk about parents spending quality time with their children, I think we need to spend quality time with our subconscious.

Suicide response on the op-ed page

April 16, 2012

David Brooks and Paul Krugman now have each made an attempt in their respective op-ed columns to respond to the issue of suicide.

I’m not sure what I expected them to say.

Brooks was in favor of addressing it with a reminder that we are not good at predicting how we will feel in the future.  Maybe the person whose suicide prompted his address was able at the time to stand up to his urge to kill himself and his wife, but that is not my experience of suicidal people — in my experience, they seem to be victims of large forces welling up within them that are larger than their cognitive apparatus and force of will can withstand.

Krugman goes for the big picture of what will help the economy in Europe and hence business owners and would-be-employees.  I don’t disagree that a systemic solution is needed with an intervention way back in the steps that bring individuals to the brink, but what are individuals to do in the meantime?

I can’t say I have a more effective response to suicidal people.  The ones I’ve known ended up hospitalized and were helped by medication.  I was impotent in the face of their despair to help them — they were beyond my reach, it felt to me, when I tried.  Both came back from the brink, although both tend to stray in that direction to this day, despite on-going medication.

I guess my conclusion is that op-ed columns can only address some issues in a limited way.   They are probably the wrong means to address particular suicides.  My sense is that suicidal situations include multiple contributing factors.  Teaching vulnerable to have healthier attitudes towards the future earlier in their lives might help, prodding slumping economies out of depressions through particular economic policies might help, I’m not against any of that.

I think maybe for me, the event of a suicide is a manifestation of forces beyond our control in the universe in a context in which we don’t (nowadays, at least) see “evil.”  I think the force(s) involved may well be the same as the force(s) involved in explosive rather than implosive behavior, where many people are happy to see “evil.”  So maybe our approach to suicide is a start at addressing our unhelpful attitude toward forces beyond our control that result in damage.


March 18, 2012

I wrote a lovely post on the possible relationship of erotomania to the story of Cinderella and to the perception of being the beloved child of God.  And when I tried to save the draft, it disappeared, except for the categories and tags.

[The “networking” got into the essay because I mentioned how encountering those goats at the res had reminded me of the saying that sometimes the circus really is in town and the hoof beats are those of zebra and not a horse, which then spawned an observation that there were 17 swans on the res today and a musing on how they do their social networking.  I was trying to figure out how to discern between delusion and low-probability events.]

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.