Tag Archives: stigma

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. 🙂

~~

On LifeRing’s 2015 Annual Meeting: Hope for the Future

So, here’s the deal. Even though I’ve been involved with LifeRing since the very beginning of my sobriety in the Fall of 2007, this is the first year I’ve attended its Annual Meeting and Congress. Not because I haven’t wanted to go of course, but because, well, hanging out in enclosed spaces with a bunch of people I don’t know has never been my forté.

So why go this year, then, as opposed to, say, never?

Some of it has to do with becoming LifeRing’s “blog mistress”, some of it this year’s venue in beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah – not only does LifeRing have a fantastic presence there, but I also have family I hadn’t seen in far too long there – and some of it the need for an extended road trip with my hubby and fellow sobrietist Rich from our home in California through some of the Southwest’s gorgeous canyonlands on our way to and from SLC.

But I digress. This is my take and report on the conference, and here’s the real deal, Holyfield:

Recovery in America is changing, my friends, and all for the better as far as I’m concerned.

Friday afternoon consisted of checking out the Meeting venue and greeting some of our fellow attendees. Mahala Kephart, LifeRing Board Member and one of the main reasons we have the presence in Salt Lake that we do, was this year’s event planner and coordinator extraordinaire, and from the moment she greeted us as we walked in the door of the Marriott Library on the University of Utah’s lovely campus, I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

LifeRing Annual Meeting M Nicolaus 2

The LifeRing Annual Meeting was held at the Gould Auditorium in the Marriott Library on the campus of the University Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo courtesy of Dan Carrigan

The bulk of the meeting was held in the Gould Auditorium inside the Library, an open, airy, well-lit and yet still intimate-feeling space. The Friday afternoon Meet and Greet was a casual, low-key affair that actually made it a pleasure to meet some of our fellow attendees, many of whom like us had also traveled from afar, such as LifeRing Colorado‘s delightful Kathleen Gargan.

Joseph Mott, M.D., in the center, talks with fellow LifeRingers Kathleen Gargan, on the right, and Mahala Kephart, on the left.

Joseph Mott, M.D., in the center, talks with fellow LifeRingers Kathleen Gargan, on the right, and Mahala Kephart, on the left. Photo courtesy of Tim Reith

On Saturday morning we arrived in time to hear Kevin McCauley, M.D. from The Institute for Addiction Study speak about his personal experience as an addict as well as his professional experience in becoming a part of the addiction treatment solution. It was heartening to hear a physician say that more needs to be and can be done to give addicts the best chances possible to get and stay clean, whether it be through using medication like naltrexone to quell drug receptors in the brain or by giving patients a choice in which recovery group to attend, such as…LifeRing!

To say Dr. McCauley’s talk was refreshing would be an understatement, particularly when what I’m used to hearing from pretty much every practitioner involved in the medical community is something akin to what Dr. Drew Pinsky – accepted as the medical “expert” in the field of addiction medicine – has to say about the necessity of the 12 Steps in recovery, without which “…recovery is not possible.”

Next was a fascinating and informative talk given by Peter Gaumond, SAMHSA Recovery Branch Chief, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, about building and giving voice to an inclusive and engaged recovery community, including those involved in the “alternative” recovery movement such as LifeRing. He spoke about the significant changes needed to our current drug control policies, such as offering addicts treatment as opposed to mandating prison sentences.

Gaumond also spoke about newly acquired information, such as studies which showed the need for using different language when talking about addicts and addiction. A study they’ve recently done showed that when people are described as having a “substance use disorder” as opposed to being described as “substance abusers” or “drug addicts”, the public’s perception of them – and how they should be treated – was significantly altered. People with a disorder are deserving of and should be given various and sundry treatment. Substance abusers, however, should be thrown in the slammer for as long as it takes to get it through their thick skulls that they should just…say…no.

Très intéressant, no? He also touched on the fact that the U.S.’s new Drug Czar, Michael Botticelli, is himself a person in recovery as opposed to, say, your garden-variety governmental policy wonk.

The final speaker of the morning was our own Martin Nicolaus, J.D., co-founder of LifeRing and author of its principal texts “Empowering Your Sober Self” and the subject of his talk, the “Recovery By Choice” workbook. His demonstration of the dichotomy between the “Addicted self” versus the “Sober self”, and the role the workbook can play in helping one empower their Sober self was enlightening, entertaining, and informative. The talk was a privilege to listen to from the man himself!

LifeRing Annual Meeting M Nicolaus

Martin Nicolaus at the podium speaking about how to empower your sober self by using the “Recovery by Choice” workbook. Photo courtesy of Dan Carrigan.

After a delicious lunch buffet, people not used to early mornings capped off by warm, full bellies such as my husband and I (a coupla night owls who typically arise somewhere around mid-morning and most usually consider a fruit smoothie a complete lunch) felt compelled to skip the early afternoon sessions to go back to our hotel close to University and take a nap.

Read more ...

Stigma and the Language we Use

Here’s an interesting article about stigma and the language often used when talking about addiction. Gil Kerlikowske is the U.S. “Drug Czar” (director of the office of National Drug Control Policy). He has generally been seen as a breath of fresh air in that role, dispensing with the “War on Drugs” outlook, viewing addictive behavior as a public health issue rather than just a criminal justice issue.

The article probes the issue of stigma and Kerlikowske points out that “The degree of stigma is influenced by two main factors: cause — ‘Did they cause it?’ — and controllability — ‘Can they control it?’ We now know that about half the risk of addiction is conferred by genetics – what you’re born with. On controllability, neuroscience has also taught us that alcohol and other drugs cause profound changes in the structure and function of the brain that radically impair individuals’ ability to stop, despite often severe consequences.”

He goes on to say, “Addiction is like many other medical illnesses, in that there’s an interaction between the genetics and the environment. This makes some people more susceptible. For example, a lot of people are exposed to alcohol in our culture, but not everybody becomes addicted to alcohol. The genes may mediate the liking and wanting of that particular substance. For some people, alcohol is aversive for others, it’s kind of okay; for other people, it becomes everything.”

The whole article is worth a read — see it Here.