Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mental health break

Okay, folks. It's time for a light post. What shall it be? I'm taking a break from watching a film about propaganda, and seeing all those photos of rich people makes me think about stuff I want. Uh oh. I fear a small rant coming on, one I must indulge before moving on to the lighter fare.

The American Dream makes us docile. We think there's a chance we might become rich. After all, it's America, right? Anyone can make it to the top! In the meantime, we can gorge ourselves on an endless array of super sized foods, a dizzying array of consumer goods, and dream about all the stuff we could get our hands on if only we were wealthy. Most of us are wealthy, in the grand scheme of things, but this fact eludes us, which makes total sense in a society where some people have enough money to feed all the starving people in the world, and we have television shows where celebrities give us tours of their clothes closets.

Now, on to the silliness. I'm an American, and I lust after material goods, just like everyone else. What do I want?

I'd like a new car. Right now I have a car with an inspection sticker that'll expire in a few days. It will not pass, and I can't afford to fix it. In the meanwhile, since I can't afford even the lowliest beater, I might as well dream big. . .

This photo doesn't do this car justice. For more, go here. What is it? One of ten 1925 Rolls Royce Phantom 1 Jonckhere Coupes. I think I'd need a new wardrobe and some plastic surgery in order to become the driver of this vehicle. Wait. Anyone who owns this vehicle probably has a chauffeur.

Price? It took a bit of searching to find the answer to this question. The last time one was sold, in 1991, it was for 1.5 million dollars. Oh dear. Better start playing the lottery.

The lottery is a pet peeve of mine. Wouldn't it be nicer if the jackpots were lower and more people were winners? Of course! But, unless one wins millions upon millions of dollars, one can't dream big enough.

I just googled "the most expensive house in Maine," and frankly, I didn't like it. So, let's skip houses, and move on to more useless things, like shoes, which I really like, and would happily spend loads of money on. These days I like my shoes comfortable and funky, so a pair of handmade ones like these would would be fun:

They really don't go with the car, do they? I'd have to have them made in black. Maybe whittle that toe down some. You can get these, plus many other handmade historical and just plain silly shoes over at Nativearth. Now I know where a number of folks around these parts get their sandals.

Thinking of rich hippies brings to mind perfume. There is a perfume company that is called just that, Rich Hippie. I haven't tried any of their scents, nor heard whether they're any good, but we all know I do like expensive scent. . .but never mind that. It'd take a day's worth of writing (at least) to explain just what scents I'm hankering for and why.

I'm getting tired. This nonsense makes me think that I would really like a working vehicle, a vacuum cleaner, a kayak, a new computer, a stack of linen to sew, some new knitting needles that haven't been chewed by a naughty cat, a new pair of prescription eyeglasses, and a gift certificate for a lifetime's worth of yoga classes. Nix the vacuum cleaner. Since I'm dreaming, I'd like a housecleaner.

See? I'm as covetous as any good American (but I'm sure you already could guess that).

Old post 2

First, the usual disclaimer:

Okay, I've been listening and reading altogether too much about psychiatric medication and my brain is starting to fry. I've also been trying to write and respond to everything and it's simply hopeless. It's too big. . .this is a blog. . .I'm not a Real Writer. . .

And then, the attempt at writing:

Here's the thought that's been kicking around in my head for days, the one that I'm trying oh so hard to find a fancy framework in which to set, but can't:

Are doctors really so stupid?

Well, yes and no. Some are smart. Some aren't.

How about the rest of us folks?

Lately, I'm starting to wonder about the answer to that one.

One thing that's got me asking these questions is the ridiculous questionnaires for folks who are wondering if they are depressed. Let me pose the notion that if you are taking a questionnaire about depression, unless you're simply incredibly bored (which might be a sign of depression) you are probably depressed. Do you really need to take a test designed by a drug company to get you to ask your doctor for their drug to give you an answer?

I've been wondering lately what one could possibly do to make an anti-psychiatry blog fun enough for folks to want to read it. I really have no idea how to be snarky, but I can be mean. Maybe I should start writing from my inner nasty person. I do have one, believe me, but I don't care to feed that beast.

Written right now: I keep trying to write about the "are doctors really that stupid?" question, which has been joined by the unsettling second question "are some doctors really that nefarious?"

The awareness of the push towards diagnosing younger and younger children with bipolar disorder is disturbing in the extreme. For a brief moment in time, we were aware of this because of the death of Rebecca Riley, whose parents were convicted of intentionally overdosing their daughter with psychiatric medication. Why wasn't the prescribing psychiatrist ever charged with a crime?

The uneducated parents of this four-year-old child claimed they were just following doctor's orders. I have no idea what the truth is, but it's certainly possible that this is indeed true. Who is the jury to believe? This is one of those cases where "a jury of one's peers" is just a bad idea. The accused needed a jury of experts. Most people believe that a doctor's diagnosis is a scientific fact, and the prescribing of medication is a hard science. Neither is true. So, we have a young child who is diagnosed with an idea, not a disease, and she is prescribed drugs that have not been tested or approved for the use in children. The parents say that the doctor told them to give the child a drug "as needed." That's rather a license to keep the kid sedated, and sedation sometimes results in death.

Most psychiatrists understand that diagnoses are a construct, and they freely admit that prescribing is "hit and miss." Some say they use the "shotgun approach," which means one is given a lot of drugs simply to see if any of them work. There's nothing particularly scientific about that. People who use street drugs take the same approach, don't they? I'll try x, y, and z. . .until I find a drug that makes me feel good.

I once had a long and honest conversation with a psychiatrist about the hypocrisy of the bad drugs/good drugs dichotomy. In this doctor's opinion, the only reason doctors did not prescribe heroin, cocaine, and marijuania to patients (aside from their illegality) is the fact that these drugs are cheap, easy to make, and the raw ingredients for them are generally grown in third world countries. If any of the big pharmaceutical companies had a piece of that pie, there would probably be a bigger push to un-demonize them.

It strikes me that the real drug war in America is the war between legal and illegal drugs. This is no big revelation, neither for me, nor for you (hopefully), but when one looks at some numbers, the truth of this is pretty stark.

Heroin: 2000

Cocaine: 2500

Alcohol: 80,000

Prescription drugs: 32,000

The number of prescription drug related deaths is probably much higher than this, for people who die while under the influence of prescription drugs is not included. This number is "just" people who died as a direct result of a drug. 

There are no statistics for how many people died while taking any of the drugs that have black box warnings. This is crazy. These drugs are considered so risky that there''s a *WARNING* on it, yet most people do not know what a black box label is. When one goes to the drug store and picks up a prescription, pharmacists are not obligated to point out that one is receiving a drug with some major risks. The pharmacist may ask if you want to be "counseled," but that's rare, even though everyone must sign an electronic or paper form that says whether or not they received any advice. We've all signed consent forms, but we do this without a thought. They're pushed through a window before we see a doctor. 

I often ask people if they know anything about the drugs that they or their children are taking. Most people do not know anything about them. Do you? Have you researched any of your prescriptions on sites that are not affiliated with drug companies? If you haven't, do yourself a favor and do so. Yes, the language is hard to understand, but you can go to an online dictionary and look up every unfamiliar word. 

Even if you do, you still might be flummoxed. I sure was after I read an ad for Seroquel while waiting in a physician's office recently; fours pages of sheer nonsense about the possible risks of taking an antidepressant drug. Seroquel is not an antidepressant. It is, officially, an "atypical antipsychotic." It is now being used as "adjunct therapy for treatment resistant depression and bipolar disorder." This is what is called "off label prescribing." Why this is legal is beyond me. Drugs are approved (rightly or wrongly) for specific purposes. If they are not tested for other purposes, we are the guinea pigs, pure and simple. 

Okay, I'll stop beating this poor horse. . .for now.

Image note: Jacopo Da Ponte (aka Jacopo Bassano), "The Good Thief on the Cross," Pastel over charcoal, later half of 16th century.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old post 1

I wrote this: "I've been having trouble writing. Too many thoughts, and neither my mind nor my thoughts are well organized. Never have been, and never will be. . ." as a preface (more or less) to nearly two dozen blog entries that are languishing in my drafts folder. I'll be posting them and calling it good, whether they're "good" or not.

Two people I did not know personally died this week of overdose and suicide. One you've heard of, and the other you probably didn't.

For each, there has been much discussion. I am surprised (yes, surprised) at how little intelligent discussion there has been about both suicide and drug addiction.

Every time someone dies in these manners, it's an opportunity to reach out to those who are suffering, but that opportunity seems to come and go, come and go, and poof! Gone. Until the next time. I find myself offended by so much commentary, reading things such as "suicide is stupid," by someone who's had many a book published and is supposedly smarter than I am. Is that all you can say?

Suicide is neither smart nor stupid. The same with taking drugs.

When I think about Amy Winehouse, and look back over some interviews with her written by an old friend of mine, I see something of myself when I was young, and I feel terribly sad.

I am so tired of hearing about the "diseases" of depression and drug addiction. I just don't buy it. Dis-ease, yes, but "disease?" Nope. If these conditions were illnesses, there'd be a cure, and the only cure I know of is usually too painfully slow for most people to engage in.

Please find me someone who hates themselves enough to destroy themselves who has not been abused in some fashion when they were children. Introduce me to that person and then perhaps I'll believe that any of these conditions are diseases.

Last night I thought, briefly, of some of the lives of kids I knew:

Raped by father, repeatedly. Moved from town to town so father wouldn't get caught.

Thrown down the stairs by father. Broken leg, arm, ribs.

15-year-old girl thrown out of the house because mother thinks she's "a bad seed." Begged for forgiveness. Made to live in hall closet.

Daughter thrown out glass window because father learns she's pregnant.

Father hung himself. Mother had sex with daughters.

Thrown out of house at 12 for "bad attitude." "Go prostitute yourself for money!" Did.

I could go on, but it's only depressing. One thinks, "Well, at least they weren't forced to carry guns and kill." We can tell ourselves all sorts of stories to make it seem not so bad. These kids lived in America, and they didn't starve to death. . .

Many of the young people I once knew are dead. Those that are alive, most of them have come to terms with their past. Most of them have forgiven those who trespassed against them.

Is that really okay? I've always thought forgiveness was the best strategy, but I'm starting to change my mind some. Is it really possible to forgive and forget without losing a part of one's humanity?

Every bit of minimizing we do allows kids to continue to be abused. Abuse, even one incident of it, creates lasting scars.

Image note: If you're trying to figure out what this has to do with the post, the answer is "nothing." I figured I'd use some of the images I have as desktop pics, all of which have been painted by little known painters.

Juan van der Hamen  "Still Life with Artichokes, Figs, Peaches, and Apples," 1629.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Scents and nonsense

One fights against the status quo at one's peril, at risk of sounding like a nutcase, and having to fight off the feeling of tilting at windmills. I could not stop myself (and am glad I did not) from leaving a comment about this statement:

"Editors note: These statement and treatments are anecdotal, and not "medically" based. If you have been diagnosed or suspect you suffer from anxiety, post traumatic stress, depression or other mental health disorders please consult your doctor."

This was at the bottom of a lovely post about the healing properties of scent. 

How brainwashed we all are! If one is feeling down, reaching for a bottle of good perfume will probably do you more good (and certainly less harm) than a bottle of most anything else. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches people how to self sooth, something that a good many of us don't know how to do. It's a testament to how out of touch with simple reality we are as a culture that it takes some fancy sounding therapy to teach us to pay attention to our senses. Nonetheless, it's all good advice. From the site Truer Recovery, the following bit of advice about self soothing with scent:

"Do you have a perfume or cologne that you enjoy? Wear it, spray it in the air and let yourself enjoy the scent. Try to keep a small vial of it with you in your purse, car or pocket, and take it out when you could use a boost. . .Find a scent that works for you, and try to keep it close."

No disclaimer at the bottom of that page.

There's no doubt in my mind that what we take in with our senses can have a profound effect on our psyches. How could we think otherwise?

I write this as I sit in a messy apartment that truly bothers me. I wouldn't want anyone to come visit and see the way my place looks (though I am telling the world about it). This gets me down, and right now I'm trapped in an altogether too familiar vicious cycle of feeling bad about it, not doing anything about it, feeling worse, doing less. . .at least I'm wearing a scent that cheers me! I may be dressed so badly that I wouldn't go out on the street without a change of clothes, but, thanks to Bulgari Black and the privilege of having running water (yes, some people do not have that) I do smell good.

Image note: Bergamot Overused, perhaps. Uplifting? Indeed.

Addendum: It appears that I needn't worry about offending anyone at that lovely blog. The comment I left is going either unnoticed or ignored. Either way, I would have preferred a fight to that. This needs to be discussed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"The great thing about capitalism is it makes conspiracy theories unnecessary." - Bruce Greenberg

From his 2007 interview on Madness Radio.


Approximately 100,000 people are subjected to electroconvulsive "therapy" each year in the United States. . .

Years ago, I shared a room in a psychiatric ward with a woman who was there in body, but her mind seemed gone. I figured this was her "problem," but no, it was the supposed cure. She had electroconvulsive "therapy" for her depression.

She had many visitors, who all tried to have conversations with her, but there was no one home, and no conversations were had. These visitors held her hand, and she could still smile. Looking back on it, the little smile that she had, which I had interpreted to be "warm and gentle" was the same expression my cat has when I pet her. Animals have a response to touch; we anthropomorphize it and call it happiness.

This woman had been reduced to this level by repeatedly injuring her brain. The doctors considered her a success, for she no longer had any complaints.

We've banned lobotomy, but shock therapy and drugging people to the point of catatonia and brain damage are still okay. A doctor might say, "Oh, this patient is at risk of suicide" as a good reason to resort to such drastic measures, but is this really an improvement? Ask yourself if you'd prefer losing your memories and being in a nearly vegetative state or being suicidally depressed. Can't decide or think this is no-win set of questions?

Well, then you've bumped up against the ridiculous notion of informed consent for ECT.

There is no proof that this barbaric "procedure" is a a treatment. Putting aside any questions about whether or not the illnesses that ECT supposedly treat are actually real diseases, there's the scantest of evidence that ECT has any effectiveness besides providing relief through amnesia. If consent forms wrote this clearly: "ECT may be effective for your depression by erasing your memory of your mental state" people might be cautious. I stress the word might because people will do nearly anything to extricate themselves from their suffering.

Head banging is considered a bad activity. Truth is, if you bang your head enough times, you'll achieve the same exact outcome as electroconvulsive "therapy."

If doctors were hitting patients in the heads with hammers, people would be outraged.


"ECT has been demonstrated to be an effective and safe treatment for many psychiatric disorders."


Two sentences later, one reads, "One review concluded that ECT is only marginally more effective than placebo."

The Mayo Clinic:

"Electroconvulsive therapy seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can immediately reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses."

What does this sentence mean? This is the kind of useless and misleading language that so-called consent forms use.

The Mayo Clinic website goes on to say, "Much of the stigma attached to electroconvulsive therapy is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones, and other serious side effects."

This is an example of a Big Lie. Yes, in the past, patients came away from ECT with broken bones and teeth and the entire procedure looked barbaric. Nowadays, few patients looks so bad afterwards, but essentially that is the only difference. If you care to read more about the evolution of ECT, go here.

Here's more from the Mayo Clinic:

"ECT is much safer today. Although electroconvulsive therapy still causes some side effects, it now uses electrical currents given in a controlled setting to achieve the most benefit with the fewest risks."

Again, this means nothing except we've cleaned up both the procedure and our language about it. We could have done the same thing with lobotomy, but it's gotten too bad a reputation.

It saddens me knowing that it is true that people will do anything to relieve their pain, and that informed consent means nothing. People would consent to lobotomy given the right (or wrong) circumstances.

What saddens me more is that those of us who speak up about this and similar issues in psychiatry are considered "fringe." If one expresses sadness or anger, that immediately disqualifies one's opinion. Shouldn't we be angry or sad about this stuff?

The biggest lie out there is that human beings can be completely objective and rational, and that, indeed, objectivity and rationality are an ideal state. I do not believe this to be so. In fact, I believe the myths of objective rationality are ones that lead to some of the most dangerous thinking and behaviors imaginable.

Image Note: William Hogarth, "In the Madhouse," 1735. Was the treatment of the Mentally Ill really so bad in the past? At least one could play the violin while incarcerated back in the 18th century.