…lined with light-rail tracks this one day, which led me directly to the roundabout I was trying to avoid in the first place. Does that kind of thing ever happen to you? You go out of your way to avoid a situation, then encounter detours that lead you right back to it? But usually, I end up feeling grateful for the opportunity to undertake a navigation situation I wanted to dodge. I always come out fine.
This is going to sound silly, but there was a fire extinguisher that used to present me with a challenge every time I’d encounter it in a certain way. I felt that it was my nemesis. (Even though I believe that comparing a fire extinguisher to the Goddess Nemesis was actual sacrilege.) But those encounters would simply remind me to move cautiously through the world, and that would be lesson enough.
For those of you who don’t know, I have PTSD, OCD, and depression. It’s been a while since I’ve posted about it – I used to do it quite frequently – because I’ve been doing really well. I still am. I just thought I’d pop my head into this space today.
This is an idea of my mental health tableau as it fades in and out on a bad mental health day:
When the air in a room is strange, disquieting in a ghostly kind of way (when the ghost is a stranger).
When a conversation can be more treacherous than a heavy iron bar free-falling in rapid descent toward your head.
When I’m impacted by things that are nothings, like the time I heard an R&B remake of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and felt that all hope for humanity had been lost.
When I feel that two words that should be added to the English language are “ungood” and “unignorable.”
It can be a dicey time, but those are also the days on which I can turn a particular dark, tight corner and feel like I’m protected from the world. I learn things about myself that surprise me in positive ways.
Sometimes I pay attention to the sound of my own typing. I tap the keys lightly and rapidly and imagine that I’m listening to rain, or to a drum from another country.
I’m doing well, friends. Monday morning I had an OCD episode that almost made me late for work. (Then I got to work and learned that a co-worker’s car battery died on Friday evening at the same time as mine did, and he purchased his new battery on Saturday morning and had it installed at the same time as I did, as well. What are the odds? But that’s neither here nor there.) …I’m doing well overall.
I know that some of you appreciate reading these posts as much as I feel grateful to write them. This is for us. I know that I can relate when I read other bloggers’ mental health posts, so I’m glad to give back.
Question for you: What’s the most disturbing vehicle personalization you’ve ever seen? I’m talking about vanity license plates, bumper stickers, license plate frames, decals, magnets, and the like.
I’ll cut to the chase and tell you about mine, because I still can’t believe it.
[TRIGGER WARNING FOR E.D.]
I’m one of those people who reads everything in front of me while in my car. I’ve seen it all, and I’m here for it, even if I don’t always like it.
I’ve gone through every emotional state looking at other peoples’ personalized vehicles. They make me smile. Roll my eyes. Nod in agreement. Throw up in my mouth a little. Some of them restore my faith in humanity, while others obliterate any hope I had for the human race. I laugh at a lot of them, too. My personal favorite: “Proud parent of a kid who’s sometimes an asshole but that’s okay.” I’ve gone home and Googled musicians and bands and other organizations, or acronyms on vanity plates, just out of curiosity, so I’ve learned a few things from these personalizations, as well. It’s all interesting to me in some way or another.
But then there was the day, not long ago, that I found myself stopped behind a certain car at a red light on my way home from work. Its vanity plate number started with the letters “ANA,” followed by a space, so those three letters stood out… and then a number followed by a capital “K” like something-thousand, and then a final single digit after that. I couldn’t decipher it as a whole, but those first three letters.
I didn’t want to assume what it meant, but of course my mind went immediately to the dark side. Because when I see ANA, the automatic association in my mind is pro-ANA, or pro-anorexia.
It couldn’t be, though, right? Pro-ANA lives online as a dark, shadowy alley of a subculture. Pro-ANA does not drive around town in real-life broad daylight in a pretty little red car.
Unless it does.
I really wanted to think that “ANA” was the name of the car’s owner, but then I noticed the butterfly decal placed with perfect precision at the top center of the tinted rear window, the white of the decal contrasting boldly with the dark window. A cold skeleton finger tapped along my spine when I also noticed that the “ANA” license plate was fitted into an elegant chrome frame, a simple piece adorned only with two butterflies, one at each of the frame’s two bottom corners.
Might it have been a coincidence? So a woman named Ana likes butterflies, I reasoned with myself. Big deal. But the innocuous possibility wasn’t convincing. I couldn’t know for sure, but from where I was sitting, it looked like a pro-ANA car.
I’m familiar with the horrifying online world of ANA/Pro-ANA. If you didn’t know, “ANA” is slang for “pro-ana,” short for “pro-anorexia.”
Eating disorders are fetishized in the ANA community. Members encourage each other in their starvation journeys, giving each other advice, tips, tricks, and hacks. They share pics of themselves, they share thinspiration (“thinspo”) pics, and they watch ANA “thinspo” (“thinspiration”) “role models” on YouTube. They make their own videos, body-checking and showing off their bones. And they’ve adopted the eating disorder recovery symbol of the butterfly as their own symbol.
Now in my view, it’s normal to share your personal and political convictions, beliefs, and ideologies on your vehicle. Festooning your car with the obvious intention of antagonizing people and riling them up is normal. Putting the letters “ANA” with butterflies on your car, however, is not normal. It’s saddening. It’s sick. It encourages like-minded people to their slow suicides. I’m surprised that a vanity plate submission could pass review and make it onto a vehicle at all.
The sight of the car shook me. Five minutes later I pulled up to my driveway feeling unnerved. It was like I’d come face-to-face with an urban legend, and not the good kind.
That was what I wanted to share: that the personalized vehicle that’s horrified me the most was the one with a few dainty little butterflies and three letters that could very well by the car owner’s name. I could be wrong. I hope that I was. But the sight of the car got me thinking.
Three or four days ago marked the low point of the dramatic ups and downs of last week. That was when I wrote the draft of this post. It served as a kind of therapeutic exercise, and I was going to post it in the mid-week moment, but circumstances had changed in the 24 hours that’d passed, so the post wasn’t applicable any longer. You got Leon the lobster instead. (I’d had it in mind to share him with you at some point, anyway, so I was happy to do it then.) And now I’m reflecting back on the week, as I often do in the quiet moments of the weekend where I sit and ponder this space, and I’m thinking that I want to share this with you even though the moment in question is over. Consider this to be one for the mental health files. You don’t have to have depression or PTSD or any other sort of mental illness to be able to relate to content pertaining to The Downs of life. I could have written this exact same post as a person without depression.
Tonight, I write to you from a private dark place of mine, the place to which I retreat when wounded in any way. It’s not The Abyss. It’s my comfort zone for situational down times, and it’s soothing. Once I’m here, I’m at ease, despite the dull pain of sadness. (If you’re thinking this is sounding emo, let me assure you that I’m not emo. I found the path to this place back in the sixth grade as the groovy 70’s gave way to the neon 80’s.)
Being here isn’t without its hazards. I’m enticed to find the edge, to get as close to it as possible so I can look down in safety. I push back gently against the desire to visit places I deem to be dangerous, and it’s a resistance that feels good regardless of my degree of success. I get dressed into the self I rarely express to the fullest anymore (mostly due to life – I’m looking at you, COVID). The self-destructive streak that I find to be alluring comes into focus while everything else softens and blurs; I enjoy it, but these days, I’m smarter about it. (Here, I have to check myself and admit that I’m either lying or being pretentious or both. The truth is that I’m smarter about it now because I’ve made the same dumb mistakes countless times, and I’ve finally learned. Or have I…? I don’t know, actually. Maybe that’s too much to hope. Maybe I’m just scared.)
My music here is the biggest comfort. I’m currently obsessed with Angelspit, and at the same time, I’ve revisited my passion for country artist Steve Earle. To complete the trinity, I’ve spent just as much time engrossed in the cozy dark sleeve of classical – specifically the temperamental range of Chopin’s waltzes and all three movements of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, which I play on repeat. Dark electronica (I think of Angelspit as the lovechild of Lords of Acid and KMFDM) and country and classical, my friends. Loving it.
In this dark place I have a vantage point from which I can see irony absolutely everywhere and anywhere. I can cry and laugh (at myself) at the same time and marvel at the brilliant and idiotic fractals that comprise my life. Last night I sustained emotional wounds and went to bed hoping for a diminishing of the pain in my sleep – I don’t know about you, but I would rather wake up from a nightmare than wake up to one. I’d gone to sleep in a strange two-places-at-once, a flashback and a wry look at my life thereafter. This could be translated as self-pity, and I’m not proud of it. I woke up as stunned as I was when I went to bed, cried a little more, and went to work determined to keep the sadness at bay, kicking ass to the fullest extent of my ability – as much as an uncomfortably stitched hand at a hands-on physical job could allow – and I only cried a little bit.
As mentioned at the beginning, all is well. Within 24 hours of writing the above, I emerged, gathered the pieces on the ground, and put them back together in a new arrangement; equilibrium had been restored. I brought the music out with me, though. That part hasn’t changed.
Thank you for hanging around to read these words, my friends. I hope – I know – that many of you can relate; I appreciate the virtual camaraderie in which we can luxuriate here. Many blessings to you for the new week ahead!
Greetings. It’s been a while since I’ve written a mental health-related post, mostly because I’ve been blessed to be in a good place for such a sustained period of time.
Tonight, however, I’ve got a specific mental health topic on my mind. I want to talk about sociopaths; that is, people who are diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. I’d actually planned to post along these lines last Wednesday/Thursday night, but I found myself blocked and floundering in my attempt to shape my thoughts around my feelings. I didn’t know how, exactly, to say what I want to say.
I guess I’ll start with the basic idea that society has determined that it’s okay to openly abhor and malign sociopaths. We perceive them to be less than human because they lack empathy and can’t feel guilt or remorse. They’re seen as a danger against the general public, and against us as individuals. Thus dehumanized and diagnostically relieved of any benefits of the doubt, sociopaths are open for castigation from all angles. (Okay, that might sound a little dramatic. What I mean is that at the least, there’s a general consensus that sociopaths don’t deserve kindness.)
We don’t consider what we’re doing to be a vilification. We consider sociopaths to be villains by definition, so we can’t be vilifying them, right? Neither do our societal rules against hate speech apply to them, because hate speech is only hate speech if it’s directed at humans, not at monsters. And so we will say that sociopaths are demonic. We will suggest that sociopaths should be rounded up and deposited on an island, just as lepers were shipped off to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the 19th century… but you can bet that there wouldn’t be a Father Damien for the sociopaths on the island.
Reaching further beyond hate speech, there are books written matter-of-factly about how to detect “the sociopath next door,” and how to arm yourselves against them. Such literary material encourages us to become armchair psychologists while seeding fear and perpetuating the stereotype of sociopaths being monsters walking around in human suits, one-dimensional and beyond hope, help, or understanding.
So here’s what I’ve been thinking (and I know that this may be an unpopular opinion): Empathy, while important, is overrated.
People with empathy can and do engage in gaslighting, manipulation, and verbal/mental/psychological abuse. People with empathy can and do commit murder, premeditated and otherwise. In fact, only people who have empathy can commit “crimes of passion,” some of the most violent and gruesome murders, because these crimes are emotionally driven. Sociopaths don’t act out of emotion. Where is the book warning us about the person next door who might have empathy?
The fact of the matter is that high-functioning sociopaths can be morally good people. They can be morally good because there’s nothing stopping them from having a moral compass based on ethics.
I’ve been pondering this for a while, too, the relationship between empathy and ethics. No matter how I look at it, I see that ethics is intellectual reasoning and empathy is emotion and the two things are unrelated. Sociopaths don’t have empathy; we act as if it’s impossible to be morally good if you lack empathy. I just don’t think that this is the case. Ethics is what’s behind our ideas of right and wrong, not empathy.
I find it sad that in all the talk I hear swirling around the importance of destigmatizing mental illnesses, sociopaths are left out of the conversation. Antisocial Personality Disorder simply isn’t up for discussion, because we see sociopaths as unfixable and unworthy of medical attention. All we’re taught about sociopaths is that they’re ruthless fiends who should be avoided at all costs. We (the ones who have empathy!) treat sociopaths as “other” so we can’t be accused of hypocrisy when we speak of accepting all segments of the population – including those with all varieties of disabilities – while maligning them, the sociopaths.
It’s not just sociopaths, either. Antisocial Personality Disorder is one of the four cluster-B personality disorders, the other three being Borderline, Histrionic, and Narcissistic, and all are highly stigmatized and well-maligned (though none more than the antisocials/sociopaths).
I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here to present this YouTube video. This is Kanika Batra, a diagnosed sociopath and narcissist making videos on YouTube to humanize, support, and advocate for others suffering with the same (and all cluster-B) personality disorders.
For me, a layperson with no formal background in psychology, Kanika’s video is an eye-opener to the notion that sociopaths can feel empty, lonely, depressed, and suicidal because of their inability to relate to others. Making things even more difficult is the fact that many mental health professionals refuse to work with them. Many sociopaths know that they’re broken, and they want to get better, but they have nowhere to go for help. They are shut out, stigmatized and stereotyped “into the shadows,” as Kanika words it.
Elsewhere on her channel, Kanika points out that you don’t need to have empathy in order to have compassion, to value human life, to know right from wrong, and to have a need for community. Her videos are fascinating and important, I think. Go check out Kanika’s channel! There’s a whole lot in the way of informative material in the relatively few videos there. (Kanika started her channel not even a year ago.)
With that, I’ll bid you a merry week ahead, my friends. Thank you for reading this far!
Hello! Welcome to today’s post that’s actually yesterday’s real post. (You may have seen my non-post post from nearly midnight last night.)
Maybe it was because yesterday was Thanksgiving Day that I woke up in a weird, meditative state this morning and started thinking about the concept of gratitude. Counterintuitively, I wondered, could I be thankful for things in my life that generally cause angst or distress?
I realized that:
1). I’m thankful for my depression, because it reminds me that I can’t guess a person’s struggles. Every stranger is a mystery, and it doesn’t make sense to judge a mystery. It doesn’t make sense to react to a mystery, either, no matter the rudeness or awfulness of it.
2). I’m thankful for my phobia, because it means that I can feel something. I can think of nothing positive about my paralyzing fear of roaches, but I can appreciate that it evokes a pureness of any emotion.
3). I’m thankful for stressful situations, because they force me to practice patience, self-control, and nonchalance.
4). I’m thankful for awkward situations, because they force me into a place of self-scrutiny.
5). I’m thankful for pain, because it heightens the bliss of not being in pain.
6). I’m thankful for cold, because it heightens the bliss of warmth.
7). I’m thankful for bad days, because they make me eager for the next day. Every day is a new day.
8). I’m thankful for the intensely trying or traumatic experiences in my life, because remembering them gives me perspective.
9). I’m thankful for hard times, because I come through them – I hope – as a more understanding person.
I realize that I can choose to see my struggles as positives; they can help me to become a better human out in the world.
Self-help has good intentions, but I think it’s gotten a little out of hand. I mean, I shouldn’t be, but I’m still kind of astonished when I scroll through social media and see that suddenly, everyone has become a life coach.
Wisdom wrapped up in little square boxes. I post memes, too, sometimes. The last one I posted said, “Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.” Most of the few I’ve posted have been fitness-related.
My pet peeve of the self-help meme universe is the genre I think of as “mental illness denial.” At the tired center of this genre, you get phrases like, “Happiness is a choice.” “Happiness is a choice, not a result.” “Today I choose to be happy.” “Happiness is not a feeling, but a choice.” And so on. I know that these are meant to serve as motivational, but I have a hard time with this category.
Happiness isn’t always a choice when you’re clinically or acutely depressed. The opposite of happiness is depression, and depression isn’t a choice, either. Happiness and depression are states of being, states unalterable by neat and tidy little happiness instructions. Glib quotes like “happiness is a choice” or “today I choose to be happy” can’t loosen bleakness embedded in your consciousness.
Dear Everyone Living with Mental Illness:
It’s not your fault if you can’t attain happiness by simply waking up and stating an intention to choose it that day. You’re not a failure. We know that “Today I choose to be happy” can’t account for a day that hasn’t happened yet. We know that a conscious navigation of our thoughts toward a mindset of happiness just isn’t possible all of the time.
Scroll on by those pebbles of wisdom online, because the last thing you need in front of your face when you’re struggling with depression is a meme suggesting that it’s your own fault if you’re not happy.
I get you.
What we might be able to attain is a state of being okay in specific instances; it’s worth floundering between anger and sadness in the process of talking ourselves into okayness with the situation. We have to get brave and get real with ourselves, and this can be difficult. It comes down to mental strength, an especially relatable concept for the mentally ill, as “okay” is more of a mindset into which we can will ourselves. For us, “okay” is “well.” Wellness is a solid aspiration.
Happiness is a state of being. It’s my humble opinion that the declaration “Happiness is a choice” cheapens the experience of being happy. I think it makes happiness superficial. (I may be interpreting the word differently than you do. Do you feel that happiness is the same as joyfulness? As contentment?)
We all have our definitions, interpretations, and strategies to get us through. A few of mine:
1). I work on reaching a state of okayness, and then I seize on that and do what I can with it. Okayness is a good foundation for me. It’s something I can top off with music, for instance… and then I can derive joy from those moments. It’s always the little things.
2). It sometimes helps to throw together a list of joyful little things, just quickly, without thinking about it. Reading over such a list can be soothing. I free-wrote a list for this post. It came out looking like this (in no particular order):
stories: fiction and creative non-fiction, whether depicted on the page or on a screen.
animals and their rights.
fitness and combat sports training.
paranormal, horror, thriller, action.
lipstick, band shirts, skin care.
sumo and mma.
desert and the sea.
black, gunmetal gray, periwinkle and other blue-violets.
the zombie emoji.
blueberry scented anything.
3). I take a cliché of vague resignation like “Life is full of mysteries” and I tag “mysteries make life interesting” at the end. Then I have something of intrigue to ponder, rather than the hopeless quality of the mystery, itself.
4). I take optimism carefully. I’m all for optimism, but I’m even more for cautious optimism.
“Happiness is a choice” – not that easy. Such declarations in these self-help memes don’t account for we who battle depression. Don’t let them make you feel worse. We know we can experience moments of happiness… days of happiness, even. As for those other days, well, we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves. We know that we’re trying.
Afternote: this pic is the last you’ll see of me in these glasses. Yeah, I got new ones. New prescription, new frames. It’s the little things.
You’ve likely had at least one negative therapist experience if you’ve been in therapy for any length of time. This is normal; no one meshes with everyone. It’s like psych medication… you have to find what works for you. I’ve been lucky to have had mostly good experiences with my counselors over years of on-and-off therapy.
I do have a couple of bad experiences to share, though, so I thought I’d go ahead and do that since I regularly discuss my mental health adventures in this space. Moreover, I know it can help to hear about others’ bad experiences!
Let me say that my two unfortunate therapist experiences weren’t bad in the usual ways. That’s how my life works. I can’t just have a normal bad therapist experience. It has to be a really freaking bizarre therapist experience, maybe more bizarre than bad.
First, there was:
The shrink who ghosted me.
I’d gone to this counselor for several months. I thought we had a good rapport, so I was surprised when I went to my appointment one day and she stood me up… as in, I knocked on the office’s front door, and she didn’t come to answer it. She was there. I knew she was there. I could see the light on in her office through the glass. She just didn’t come to the door! I even called her as I stood outside. Maybe she can’t hear me knocking. She didn’t answer her phone.
We later re-scheduled. The same thing happened again. I don’t remember if there was a third time, but for all of her apologies and excuses, I never saw her again.
To be ghosted by someone in your personal life is one thing. (I’ve had it happen to me, and I’m guilty of having done it, myself. Not proud of it. Just being real.) But by a counselor? A therapist? I’d never heard of any professional in the field of mental health doing this kind of thing to a client.
You place your trust in your therapist, right? Trust is a fundamental of the therapist/patient relationship. That’s why you keep going back. You’ve established trust, and you’re confident that you’re in a safe place free of judgement. Trusting this particular counselor turned out to be a mistake. After those last experiences, I felt worse than I did before I started going to her.
I might as well have wired $1,000 to a Nigerian prince to get the riches promised, only to discover the scam and find myself $1,000 poorer.
The shrink who lectured me for an hour about the evils of gluten.
He was an interim counselor, so it was the one and only time I saw him. But during that one appointment, all he did was try to convert me to a gluten-free lifestyle.
His proselytizing had nothing to do with mental health. What happened was he started out reviewing my list of medications, noticed that I was seeing a rheumatologist for autoimmune issues, and decided that I could easily cure myself of everything. All I had to do was go gluten-free. Miracles happen once you quit consuming gluten. I spent the rest of the session receiving an education for which I never signed up.
And I mean, he went on at length into biochemical detail, even showing me anatomy graphics to illustrate how gluten was wreaking havoc on my immune system and destroying my body from the inside out. His conviction was profound. A true evangelist, he made sure to pull out a pamphlet for me to take home. His passion for the gluten-free lifestyle bordered on fervor that almost edged me out of the room, but I sat frozen in awe. Without a doubt, this was the most bizarre and unhelpful counseling session I’d ever attended.
Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried! Rest assured, most of my experiences have been good, if not excellent. The two that I’ve shared above are anomalies… don’t let them deter you if you’re thinking of seeking assistance. Talk therapy does many worlds of good. It does help.
I had a hard mental health day on Friday, and all of the late-afternoon popcorn and Perrier couldn’t fix it. Neither did it help that that was the day I decided to watch Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. Excellent song and video. Bad timing.
But then things got better, because when I woke up the next day, it was a gym morning and it was Mother’s Day weekend. I got cards from Nenette, Geronimo, and Callaghan, and for my main gift, Callaghan took me to Home Depot and said I could go crazy and choose any plant I wanted, emphasis on “any”! I chose this tall guy and named him “Flamingo”:
Flamingo! (He’s a Dracaena ‘Massangeana’)
My desk now, as seen from the doorway:
Four of my nine office companions, from left: Holder, Flamingo, Icarus, Thoreau
At some point, I’ll do an updated office tour and take you around to see all of my companions of the chlorophyllous persuasion. Two of them have joined me since my last such update, and some of the older ones have migrated to different spots.
Also, you may be noticing that there’s a ukulele sitting next to my desk. Yes, I’ve brought the ukulele back into the light! I haven’t dusted it off yet, but it’s out. That white binder on the shelf above it is a lesson book. Mom gave these to me, as some of you may recall, and I proceeded to capitalize on the opportunity to share some of my favorite ukulele jokes.
i.e. (from my previous blog post about the ukulele):
What’s the difference between a ukulele and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump up and down on a trampoline.
What’s “perfect pitch”? When you throw the ukulele into the garbage can without hitting the rim.
What do you call a beautiful woman on a ukulele player’s arm? A tattoo.
And my personal favorite:
A ukulele player suddenly realizes he left his vintage ukulele out in his car overnight. He rushes outside and his heart drops when he sees that his car window is broken. Fearing the worst, he peeks through the window and finds that there are now five ukuleles in his car.
I still love to laugh at the ukulele, but I do respect it, and I’ve decided to learn to play it. Going through my old rhythm and timing workbooks, composer collections, and sheet music made me realize how much I miss doing music. Self, I said one day recently – yesterday, in fact – why don’t you learn to play that beautiful, new ukulele Mom gave you? Why not.
I’m sure I’ll be back with ukulele-learning updates for any of you who may be interested; I can’t wait to laugh at myself as much as I laugh at the ukulele.
Oh, and my second Mother’s Day gift was a new tool box! Callaghan knew that I wasn’t thrilled with the one I’d been using. My new one (which I chose) is shiny and black and spacious and lovely. I should’ve taken a pic of it, too.
I hope you’re all having a great start to your week!