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Mental Health Week 2015: Whaddaya Mean My Brain’s Been Lying to Me?

Hey, everybody. In the midst of all the usual holiday hustle and bustle the interwebs have kindly informed me that it’s “Mental Health Week”, which I suppose basically just means that those of us with mental health, um, issues get a week of our very own (yay!). You know, where things like depression, bi-polar disorder, body dysmorphia disorders, and other stuff that fucks with your head are highlighted in online articles across various sites (and maybe a tumblr post or two? Who knows – all that’s way beyond my ken), so as to enlighten the public and encourage anyone who’s having troubles, or knows someone who’s having trouble, to seek some help.

It seems like that should be pretty easy to do and make fairly obvious sense to everyone, right? And yet never is anyone so surprised as when someone they love got to the point where suicide appeared to be the only logical solution to what was happening to them. Most people get to that point without arousing any suspicion that this is where things were headed, because killing themselves aside, the very last thing they want to do is try to explain to anyone what’s going on inside them – especially those closest to them. One day, they seem OK. The next day, they’re dead.

And then the loved ones left behind spend years of their lives trying desperately to understand what drove the one they’ve lost over that terrible edge, and what they could’ve, should’ve, done differently to change things. (Which is mostly nothing, by the way. Even if you know your beloved’s not well, ask yourself this – of everything you can do, can you also lasso butterflies?)

That’s usually because it’s most often not an easy situation to understand, including for the person suffering so much they decide they – and everyone they love – would be so much better off without them trapped in this hellish life. And even if they could tell anyone what’s going on – but they can’t, you see, they just…can’t – it’s not easy to describe in any way that fully expresses the level of psychic, emotional, and sometimes physical, pain they’re in.

A few people of letters have been able to articulate their experiences over the years – William Styron, well-known author of “Sophie’s Choice” and other literary tales, was one of the very first to talk about depression publicly in the autobiography of his discontent, “Darkness Visible”, published in 1990 – and a few others kept it to themselves and died, like David Foster Wallace did, hanging himself in 2008.

The rest of us have to find our own ways out or though, and one of the most famously popular ways out since it was built in the 1930’s has been jumping to one’s death from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It certainly seemed a viable, attractive option to me in the darkest depths of depression over the years for reasons that, again, are almost too arcane for even I to try to explain, except that if you’re brave enough to get yourself there, and there’s nothing or no one to stop you by the time you find a good jumping off spot, it’s both extremely swift and extremely final.

A fellow, well-liked LifeRinger from the Bay Area chose this option – RIP, dear Barbara – likely for pretty much the same reasons intermingled with what I’m sure felt like her own unconquerable quagmire. And that’s just it – at the heart of matters, people choose such options because their illness has them convinced that it’s the only thing they can possibly do; otherwise, there is no help for them and thus no point in seeking it.

Wait, what do I mean by “their illness has them convinced”, as though it’s some sort of separate entity or being inside of them that’s commandeered their lives and free will? Well, I mean…exactly that. See, our brains are the most potent and powerful operating systems known to mankind – Android technology’s got nothing on us – and it runs on scripts, internal working orders if you will, which instruct us on how to perform. Most of them are learned, and certainly many of them are chosen. It’s not an abnormal process – this is pretty much how everyone’s brain works.

But then there are the scripts that invade us for reasons unknown for the purposes of insinuating themselves inside our minds, at first disguised and undetected, until they’ve taken over without our being the wiser, so that just like everything else that runs through our brains, it becomes our reality – and we believe everything it tells us, absolutely. And then, once it’s got us hooked, it begins directing our behavior, too.

So even if you still haven’t got the foggiest idea of what in the hell I’m talking about, one example of what this looks like is addiction. The other, of course, is mental illness, and to my own benefit this week, I ran across this most incredibly important and effective Buzzfeed article and video about a guy named Kevin Hines, who made the same choice as my friend Barbara and lived to tell the tale – including what living with mental illness feels like.

So if you have a few more minutes and if not the inclination then the curiosity, do yourself and everyone you love a huge favor, and give it watch. You won’t be sorry – I promise – and then you can carry on. 🙂

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Coming soon: The possibility for ‘bulimic alcoholics’?

That’s my bottom-line takeaway from this new story in Britain’s The Independent newspaper.

Let’s start here:

Scientists are developing a drug which mimics all the positive effects of being drunk without any of the health risks, addiction – or hangovers.

And then ask how realistic that is. In my opinion, as the rest of the story demonstrates, not a lot. And, it leads to the rhetorical question of my headline.

We go next to this:

The “serious revolution in health” is being pioneered by the former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, and has been described as doing for alcohol what the e-cigarette has done for tobacco use.

Uhh, wrong right there! As far as his claims about this new drug, the analogy is wrong, because the verdict is still out, to a fair extent, on the e-cig. (Apologies to any e-cig users reading this.) A Google search of “e-cigarette” + “dangers” gets more than 7 million hits. Those include the fact that e-cigs have their own toxic vapors and have not been proven to help people quit cigarettes, as noted in this story.

Meanwhile, back to our story at hand, now that we know our good professor is wrong about e-cigs and we know to be skeptical.

Here’s where my “bulimic alcoholics” angle comes in:

It targets neurotransmitters in the brain directly, giving the taker feelings of pleasure and disinhibition that are in some cases “indistinguishable” from the effects of drinking. Yet because it acts directly, it can also be immediately blocked by taking an antidote – with “drinkers” potentially able to then drive or return to work straight away.

So, get “drunk” for an hour, take the “antidote” (interesting that its called that), then get “drunk” again. Lather, rinse, repeat!

Finally, the good ex-drugs advisor has not a clue, it seems, about the mental and psychological components of addiction.