The glamorization of mental illness is just as bad as the stigmatization of it

At the risk of being misinterpreted as being somehow passive-aggressive, I’m going to write about something pertaining to an interpersonal spat I’m kind of in the middle of right now. I’m going to share my story of struggles with mental illness, as well as my personal thoughts about the way “normal” people think and talk about mental illness. For some of you this is old news, many of you probably know bits and pieces, and if you’re a stranger, acquaintance, or someone I just met within the last year, it may be brand new to you. I would appreciate it if you kept the jeering and judging to a minimum.

Ever since I was about ten years old I have suffered from a whole slew of anxiety disorders. I like to joke that I have every anxiety disorder on the books. I always have a very difficult time staying still because I’m constantly filled with so much anxious energy that I just have to keep moving to expel it all or risk exploding. Among these anxiety disorders are obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (social phobia), and pathological perfectionism, which is not technically a recognized mental illness, but most of the doctors I’ve spoken to tell me that the general consensus is that it is closely related to anxiety disorders and specifically OCD. On top of all of that, I have had major depressive disorder (clinical depression) since I was 12.

My mental illness is generally described by clinicians as “severe” in that it greatly negatively impacts my social, school, and work life. In fact, in 2007 it led me to flunk out of school, which is why I’m almost 26 and still not finished with college. The combination of the fact that I have a bunch of rituals which I can only do in private and the fact that I used to have a hard time being in groups of more than three strangers without freaking out led me to miss a lot of class. On top of that, I spent a great deal of my free time playing video games, not because I was a lazy geek, but because gaming for some reason has always helped me with my anxiety. (I just recently found out that that’s why one of my neighbors games, so apparently I’m not the only one.) Despite the fact that I almost always got As on assignments and tests, my grades would suffer from my attendance problems. Once m grades began to suffer, my pathological perfectionism kicked in and I began punishing myself for not doing well by forcing myself to stay in the class as opposed to withdrawing before the late withdrawal deadline and I would just take the F or C- or whatever. In the first semester of what should have been my senior year (I was still only a junior though)–Fall 2007–I ended up flunking all of my classes and getting kicked out.

This led to me beginning to drink heavily to cope with the anxiety and depression. By May 2008, I was in the beginning stages of a complete psychotic break. I had begun to develop paranoid delusions and heard the occasional voice or two. (Voices in your head are never nice; mine laughed at me and told me what a failure I was.) I ended up spending most of the summer of 2008 in the psych ward of the local hospital, followed by nine weeks in partial hospitalization. It’s still unclear why I had a psychotic break, but my suspicion is that it has something to do with the pathological perfectionism and the fact that I’m an obsessive planner, and flunking out of school, becoming an alcoholic, and entering into an abusive relationship was not part of the plan. After that, I spent a while trying to get back on my feet before finally entering into a social rehabilitation program run by the Lancaster County Community Mental Health Center. Despite the fact that the anxiety and depression became worse than ever after recovering from my brief psychotic episode, I began to make progress, and since the summer of 2010 things have been looking up. I still have an insane amount of anxiety, but the depression is under control and I’ve learned how to cope with the anxiety.

Anyway, the thing that really offends me as a person who has suffered most of her life from a severe and persistent mental illness (“SPMI” in the biz) is the fact that no one really understand what a mental illness is or what it’s like to have one. There are two types of misunderstanders: those who fear us (the general public) and those who romanticize us (usually artsy types).

The frightened people are victims of the mass media’s portrayal of the mentally ill. The only time we make the news or appear in movies is when we’ve done something illegal (usually murder), which creates the stereotype of the raving mass murderer. Unfortunately, nothing can be farther from the truth. Last I knew (2010), the mentally ill were perpetrators of only 2% of violent crime. However, we were victims of 40% of the violent crime in this country. Why don’t you ever hear about hate crime against the mentally ill? Because it’s okay to hurt us: we aren’t fully human.

What’s got my panties all in a bunch right now, though, is that minority of folks who like to glamorize and romanticize mental illness. These people are generally people who would be described as “artsy”, and I think that they come to identify with the mentally ill because of the fact that they feel like social outcasts because of their career choices, and there’s no bigger social outcast than a crazy person. These people like to talk of a “fine line between genius and insanity”, which is perhaps my least favorite expression simply because of how ignorant it is. Aside from OCD, which is startlingly more common in people with higher IQs, there is no link between mental illness and intelligence. In fact, people with SPMIs tend to be markedly undereducated, simply because their mental illness gets in the way of their education. People with SMPIs often have a hard time functioning and a lot of times when are symptoms are severe we can barely take care of ourselves and need serious help. We frequently lose our jobs and friends, which are both things I went through in 2008-2009. Mental illness is a disability. It is not simply eccentricity or idiosyncratic behavior. It is a severe disorder.

I’ve been fishing around for the past few hours for a fitting analogy, and I’ve come up with one which is probably not a completely true analogy, but will have to do until I can think of a better one. Glamorizing the mentally ill is like when rich white suburban teenagers glamorize gang violence because they come to develop some ignorant and narcissistic identification with the plight of poor inner-city blacks. Like I said, it’s not entirely fitting, but it comes close to my point.

So anyway, this glamorization of the mentally ill by artists and other “outsiders” has got to stop. We need your help and support. We do not need you to idolize us.

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This is what happens when asocial trans lesbians go back to school and rediscover the internet

So since my big mental snaffu a few years ago I’ve been hearing a lot of folks throwing this word, “asocial”, around in reference to me. At first I was a little irritated and offended, because I thought “asocial” was like “antisocial” and the only time I ever do anything truly antisocial is when I think that the relevant social norm/custom is anti-humanist. Anyway, I did some research and found out that “asocial” is basically just a fancy clinical word for folks who are pathologically critical of society, which, to me, sounds like it’s actually a good thing. For that reason, I’ve come to embrace the fact that I’m a pathological outsider. Really, it explains a lot about me.

Anyway, part of being asocial is that I never really understood the social media jazz. I’ve had a Facebook account since 2004 (or 2006: the first got deleted for making too many “mean” joke groups so I made a new one), but I’ve never really used it much. Anyway, my thing with friends is I have a few close ones that I deal with all the time, and then a bunch of acquaintances whom I hung out with regularly for a short time before deciding that thy bored me. So, I’ve never really understood the point of Facebook or Twitter or any of that jazz. If I want to know what you’re doing (or vice versa) I can text you or call you. Chances are, I already have a rough idea of what’s happening. Why you need the interweb machines for friend things?

Anyway, my internet horizons were broadened when I went back to school last spring. It started with the porn. You see, I had never really been exposed to pornography until the summer of 2007 when I got a job at a video store that sold it. Before I found out what pornography really was, I thought it was probably just videos of people making sweet, passionate love after a really romantic evening. (No, I’m not kidding; I really thought that’s what porn was like.) Turns out it’s not like that at all. It’s a bunch of sociopaths treating human beings as sub-human pleasure objects and forcing them to do the most ridiculously raunchy things they can imagine. Totally not hot. So, when I went back to school and took Philosophy of Feminism and saw that one of the paper topics was porn, I went crazy on that shit and got me an A. Anyway, part of my research for that paper was surveying internet porn sites, which tipped me off to the fact that there are such things as porn aggregators. Seriously. Google “Darlina.” And on these porn aggregators there is a category called “pizza porn.” Yes, people get of on jamming manly meat parts through the center of a pizza pie. I wish I were making this shit up. Anyway, this made me look at the internet in a whole new light.

Then, last fall, I took a political science class for which part of my participation grade was opening a Twitter account and twitting away about the news. At first I was kind of irritated, because to me this was like requiring students to go to a bar and make small talk with the other drunks, but then I discovered that Twitter is really secretly the world’s greatest news website. Seriously, just follow every new outlet you can find there and you’ll never miss out on what’s happening in the world. Fucking amazing! And then there are all the awesome radical twits. Just twenty minutes ago I discovered that Twisty Faster of I Blame the Patriarchy fame is actually on Twitter now. Now I can get Nobel Prize-worthy radical writings delivered straight to my phone device. Huzzah!

Finally, about a week and a half ago, I discovered that “liking” people and things on Facebook is akin to following them on Twitter, and you can repost whatever they post. This has lead to an orgy of me reposting everything on George Takei’s wall. This shit is fucking awesome! And now, just yesterday, I discovered Google+, which appears to be the new hangout for trendy artists and tech geeks. Totally the coolest of them all. Too bads most of my friends seem to think it’s not the coolest thing since Creepy Crawlers. Oh well, they’ll come around.

Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that all this social media bullshit might not be total bullshit. It does seem to help people spread news and share opinions. It seems like these sites have replace the Greco-Roman forums (or fora, if y’all wanna be smart about it). The internet really is the greatest invention in the history of inventing.

Religion, conservatism, and low IQs

So, for a paper I just turned in about two weeks ago I wrote about the debate over whether or not atheists are qualified to hold public office (50% of Americans say no). I’ll be posting some stuff relevant to that in the next few days (as soon as I get some comments back on it), but until then I wanted to throw out some stuff I discovered in the process of doing research for that paper.

First, I discovered an article in Social Psychology Quarterly from 2010 entitled “Why Liberals and Atheists are More Intelligent.” It was a fascinating read. It was the product of two studies, which found (among other things) that adolescent intelligence is one of the biggest predictors of atheism, liberalism, and monogamy in men. Atheists and liberals tend to score higher on verbal intelligence tests than people who are religious or more conservative. To be honest, it doesn’t really shock me that much, since I’m a liberal atheist and as such I’m biased in that direction. Anyway, it was kind of nice to find out that there was some empirical evidence that my bias is founded. According to the author of the article, intelligent people are more likely to be atheists or liberals because they are more likely to think in evolutionarily novel ways.

I told one of my liberal atheist friends about the study and sent it to him, and a few days later he sent me this blurb on Live Science about a study which found that conservatives are more prejudiced and have lower IQs than non-conservatives. So, apparently conservatives really are just ignorant bigots. Again, didn’t shock me, but it’s nice to have some evidence.

Finally, just now Tony (the guy who sent me the above blurb) told me about this new study which found that religious people are less motivated by compassion than non-religious people. That seems to go well with a 2009 paper by one Gregory Paul in Evolutionary Psychology (which I have on my computer but currently can’t find online) which found that religiosity is strongly correlated with social dysfunction. Once again, I’ve always thought atheists and agnostics are more compassionate that religious folks, who are big on the fire and brimstone thing, but it’s nice to have some evidence.

Also, atheists know more about religion than religious people. Shocker! (Not.)

Obviously not all conservatives or religious folks are ignorant assholes; some are fairly intelligent. However, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that intelligence is not conducive to religion or conservative values. My theory as to why religious folks are less compassionate is that their god judges, so they think it’s okay for them to judge. As for the intelligence bit, progressives and liberals and atheists all tend to arrive at their conclusions through careful, well-reasoned critical thinking, which is usually easier to do when you’ve got a lot of brain-power. As for knowing more about religion, it makes sense to me because we get a lot of people trying to convert us, so we like to know what we’re up against. The easiest way to do that is to read the holy books and such. Maybe religious folks should give it a try.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if atheists and liberals get big heads with all this evidence that we’re smarter. Of course, we’re more compassionate, so at the very least we won’t hold it against you that you’re inferior.

(I was being sardonic there. Apparently it doesn’t come thru on the interwebs.)

A rebuttal of dualsim: some thoughts on human essence

So’s we’re talking about Cartesian dualism in class and I gotta say, any type of dualism is nonsense. I’ll explain why I feel this way.

First of all, for those of you who aren’t familiar with dualism, it is basically the belief that there are two realms in the universe: the physical and the mental (or spiritual, for New Age dualists). These realms are totally distinct. The main issue with this sort of view is that if these realms are distinct, then there’s no way for them to interact without any sort of miracle. If you believe in miracles, then dualism may be your thang; if you believe in science and reason, you may have trouble buying this garbage.

I think dualism probably comes from the basic human desire for immortality. If there’s a part of us (which I shall henceforth call our “essence”) that is separate and distinct from the physical body, then it stands to reason that that essence can transcend the death of the physical body. This is highly unlikely, because as I will show, essence is inseparable from physical form.

Think of a pen. We could say that the essence of the pen is something like “to write things.” This is what it exists for, its essential something that makes it a pen. If I were to throw this pen into that massive junk grinder in 30 Days of Night and chop it up into a pile of scrap, would its essence still be writing? I think not. I don’t think it would have an essence any more. Therefore, it stands to reason that essence is a direct function of the physical form of a thing.

In the case of humans it may be more complicated, as the human form is an incredibly complex machine, but I think there is a universal human essence, or at least three essential quests with which all humans of normal psychology are concerned: the quest for truth, the quest for meaning, and the quest for pleasure. I think that all aspects of normal psychology can be reduced to these three essential quests.

Another rebuttal of dualism: Think of color. Color is not strictly speaking a physical thing. I arises when certain critters (such as humans) perceive certain wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation (light). Therefore, although it is distinct from light and perception, and although it is not strictly speaking a physical thing (nor does it “exist” in the strictest sense, as it requires perception to exist), it is easily reducible to physical phenomena.Remove the light or the perceiving entities and there is no such thing as color. The mind, therefore, can be thought of as similar to color, and entirely reducible to physical phenomena (perhaps certain chemical reactions in the brain). Remove these physical phenomena, and one has no mind.

In short, there is no reason to believe in an immortal spirit/soul/mind. The essence is a function of the physical composition of a thing, and is entirely reducible to physical phenomena.

Nameless, faceless drones

So I called the cable company today and notice a psychological phenomenon that I’ve noticed several times before but never really thought much about. As anyone who’s called a call center knows, they usually start by asking your name and then they tell you theirs. I hear it every time, but I can never remember their names; they go in one ear and right out the other. For the life of me I can’t remember any of their names even two seconds after they tell me; it just doesn’t even register.

I’m sure this is because to me they are simply nameless, faceless drones, completely interchangeable. They’re just a means to me, not an end. Kant would be ashamed. (Good think I think Kant was a shitty moral philosopher.) I was completely shocked to find that I functioned this way, since I generally value people pretty highly. Next time I call a call center I’m going to make an effort to remember the agent’s name, even if I have to ask them a million times. They deserve respect, or at least a name.