There’s a flurry of posts and articles swirling around calling Donald Trump mentally ill, speculating on various disorders he might have or outright diagnosing him: sociopath; narcissist; oppositional defiant disorder. While it’s clear that he’s temperamentally unfit for the presidency, I think we need to be aware of how accusing Trump of being mentally ill is making things much worse for people who are already really vulnerable and who Trump’s administration is only going to make more so: those with so-called ‘mental illness.’ Continue reading Donald Trump May Be Mentally Ill, But It Isn’t Helping to Say So
This day last year, with about an hour of 2015 to go, I was 30,000 feet in the air going through what I can now say was tiny turbulence compared to the last 12 months and was told this would be the hardest year of my life. My only reflection on it is, “It f*ing better be.” I leave this year wondering if anything will work out (personally, nationally or globally) and hoping that I might be able to stop waking up in the middle of the night sobbing. I’m glad I’ve reached the age where a year feels like just several months.
Thankfully, I started learning German this year and they have a perfect word for this: Lebensmüde. Life-tired. From an article on the Book of Life: “We believe ourselves to be firmly attached to life, but a lot of our behaviour attests to something more interesting and troubling; an occasional longing to give up our hold on existence. It is deeply useful to have this word to hand on gloomy days when it feels like nothing will ever work out.”
2016 wasn’t really anyone’s year so instead of wishing you a happy new year, I’m going to say that I hope, for myself as well as you, that this incoming year will reveal and affirm why we’re still here.
We hear about the power of story everywhere. I’ve already mentioned one of my issues with that, but I’ve got a few more. The first is simply that hearing stories about a lucky break – which nearly every writer who’s been invited to speak before other writers and give advice on how to succeed in that isolating, rejection-packed, dehumanizing world has – are not helpful. Sure, there’s definitely jealousy there, but I want to hear stories from people who didn’t get a lucky break, who didn’t get discovered, who didn’t have contacts either at all or who were willing to help them, who found success without the chance encounter or surprise discovery by an editor or recruiter. I can’t replicate someone else’s luck and, since I don’t seem to have much of my own, I need to learn how to succeed in the world without it. Or is that not possible and that’s why there aren’t stories out there like that? (My invitation to share stories of hardship was a serious one.) Continue reading If I Can’t Work, Maybe My Theology Degree Can
It’s been a few months since I’ve written anything here; my last post attempted to wrestle with the loss of a friend, not through death but through abandonment, the second “lifelong” best friend to tell me I’m not good enough. I’m angry, I’m tired of being set up and I want to rant. But the refusal to be vulnerable, to admit our fears (outsourcing them as blame or shame instead) and to strive to remain connected and responsible to each other is, among other things, exactly why this country is so close to electing an extremely dangerous man as our president.
So I’m doing a new thing with this blog, which I’ve retitled Burning By Heart. Vulnerability is hard; anger is hard; fear is hard; change is hard. My hope is to explore the connection between vulnerability and fear, to strive to heal my own anger and to invite those who are willing – who think listening, carefully forming opinions and learning is more important than asserting the right to think whatever you want – into the kinds of conversations we seem unable as a broader culture to have but really need to. I’m going to start with a raw topic for me and, since I’m not claiming to be perfect, I’m unable to talk about this without getting at least a little mad. Continue reading Vulnerability, stop one: to breed or not to breed
Our country’s gun laws are ridiculous. That, for example, civilians can rather easily get access to war weapons is unconscionable, even if it is covered under the 2nd Amendment (a dubious assertion; one that seems to miss the point: even if something is within your “rights” to do, are there not other, higher, standards by which to evaluate whether or not you should do it?).
But targeting people with so-called “mental illness” is absolutely not the way to fix them. I’ll be putting the phrase “mental illness” in quotes for the duration of the post, not because I question the suffering of those who experience mental and emotional distress but because the entire field of “mental illness” is an utter mess. Continue reading Gun Control
In another round of “awareness” campaigns, this whole month has been dedicated, supposedly, to that of mental health. Last month was for autism. I’m weary to learn what June will be for, what real-life experience for millions will be reduced to a cause for which people post factually-inaccurate and stigma-producing articles and memes in service of nothing more than feeling like they’re contributing to making the world a better place. I was going to just ignore this “awareness” month campaign (I’ve shared my issues with “awareness” previously) but there’s just too much misinformation, shallow “participation” and ego stroking for me to stay quiet in good conscience. So I’m just going to address a few myths about mental health here. Continue reading Mental Health Awareness Month, Part 1
A short version of this appeared in the Seattle Times as a letter to the editor today.
Cody Lee Miller, the man who climbed a giant sequoia tree in downtown Seattle on March 22nd, was formally indicted Monday, April 11th. As if Twitter wasn’t alive enough with ignorant mockery and cheap jokes at his expense during the 25-hour period he remained in the tree, the justice system once again revealed itself to be a farce. He appeared in shackles, at wrists and ankles, before a judge – his unruly hair and clear need of psychiatric care seemingly of no consequence – April 11th for his arraignment. The judge’s order mandated he stay away from the tree but that’s only relevant if he can make the $50,000 bail placed on him. Continue reading The Man In The Tree
It’s heartening to see the media take up the call to action to talk about mental health after decades of silence. The problem is how its talking about it. The first major issue I see is with the unquestioned propagation of the biomedical model as if its science-verified fact. Look, folks, even mainstream The Guardian is running pieces that are saying that it’s pretty clearly not. Mental health advocates, communities and support networks perpetuate this model – not as a highly specious one or one of an array of options but as back-uppable fact – not because they’re trying to be deceptive but because they really want people to understand that it’s not the sufferer’s fault. If something is wrong with your brain, then your depression is not a moral failing, your anxiety is not a choice, your OCD is not a character flaw, etc. You are the victim. Continue reading What If My [Mental Illness] DOES Define Me?
Bessel van der Kolk is a Dutch psychiatrist with 30 years of experience and infinitely more compassion. Reading his work felt like a hug, firm against my railing and flailing but not constricting or threatening. I have a friend who met him, and that’s apparently how talking to him “in the face” (a concatenation of “in person” and “face to face” I made when I was young) feels, too. I’m tempted to simply repost all the quotes I’d put up on Facebook, in an effort to be seen and known, while I was reading this book, right here because they really are the best reasons to read this book. You don’t have to be a therapist or doctor to benefit from this book; its technical precision and ‘shop’ language don’t obscure the message for the lay reader and his gentle yet urgent tone belies his deep concern for those who suffer, both at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them and under the care of the system that is supposed to help them heal. Continue reading The Body Keeps the Score, A Review
The New York Times asks its readers this question. They only give room for 250 words but this, written with the assumption and knowledge that others will mention sensible gun legislation, was my response:
1) Address the “lone wolf” syndrome* that many of the recent (white, ring-wing ideologists) shooters feel. The most effective way I see for doing that is to rebuild a sense of community. We must temper this overweening emphasis on individualism (which is not the same thing as individuality) with a sense that we are needed in community and we need community. We should champion – rather than shame – people for asking for help, sharing life and material possessions. American life is making people crazy – from the authoritarian education/medical/mental-health care fields to the dismal job market to the equating visibility with value, we are crushing people into believing that the only way they have any value is if they do something big and noticeable.
2) Actively speak out against scapegoating those with mental illness – these folks are more likely to be VICTIMS of violence than perpetrators. Report the real causes of violence – poverty, isolation, history of violence (see above).
3) Take away incentive: stop making shooters famous in media coverage. If you must cover a shooting nationally, name the victims, not the perpetrators. Stop promoting despair and helplessness when it comes to shootings – these viral “how to survive a shooting” videos, marketing bullet-proof blankets, etc., are admissions of defeat (not to mention the videos are terribly inaccurate and contradictory).
4) Lift the ban on researching deaths related to gun violence.
5) Make it as hard to get a gun as it is to get an abortion. They do, after all, have the same end result.**
(Links and footnotes note included in my response to The NYT)
*Not that anyone really is a “lone wolf.”
**Before you flip out, should you be so inclined. try asking about my views on abortion.