Archive for March, 2014

This post is part of the “Stuck in my Head” series. Normal posting resumes in April.

This is the last post of the “Stuck in my Head” series. This post will be about how to find a therapist and to help you issues. I can’t promise it’ll solve your problems but it’s best of have some resource somewhere.

When I was looking for a therapist. I actually first went through Google because I didn’t really know what was out there. I searched on Google for “Therapist” and my state and basically called up whatever I saw on the maps. Here are some sites that can help you:

Psychology Today “Find a Therapist”

Network Therapy

Good Therapy

You just have to put in your zip code or your address and they’ll pull up some people that are in your area. When looking for a therapist, it’s important to find one on a sliding scale (my therapy is currently $2USD a session) and will listen to you. A therapist should be on your side, not just treating you like a helpless lunatic. No need to waste your money going to someone you feel is not going to listen to you or make you feel uncomfortable.

When I looked for a therapist, I pretty much would unload and see how they take it. Since I was looking for therapists while being really suicidal, I pretty much picked the therapist that I felt actually listened to me. It should be easy going for the most part at the start as they’re getting to know you. If they do anything, no matter how slight, that raises red flags and create unnecessary friction such as not trying to listen to you or make you feel under the gun.

Now, here’s something that is pretty basic but needs to be said anyways: There’s going to be parts that are going to be right uncomfortable. If you have suffered a lot of trauma, it’s a big ball of twine that is going to take lot of work unraveling. Actually, more like a big tangled box of Christmas lights but you get the drift. That means there’s going to be parts where you don’t want to go and will be very difficult. Just try to get through them the best that you can.

Alright, for those who are dealing with being triggered, I have mobile apps (sidenote: I have Android and Kakao Talk) you can use. See, I tried playing Tetris but after a while, I not only got bored but also started to associate the game with the triggers so I didn’t want to play it because it became a negative feedback loop for me. Here are some games that are really useful when being triggered. These games are on the Korean social media app Kakao Talk but I’m sure there are Western equivalents:

AniPang (I and II) – This game is very similar to Bejeweled and possibly Candy Crush (never played Candy Crush so I’m going off of what everyone else says). You try to switch around the little animal faces and match them up at least three in a row to get points. The music and themes are very cute and helpful to deal with triggers. I like using the little power-up that quickly identifies combos so you don’t additionally stress yourself out more than you are.

AniSachun – This game is a match game where you match two food items against a clock. It’s quick and fun.

It’s important to find a game that uses quick memory skills like Tetris so your mind can better process the triggering event and make it easier to cope with and reduces flashbacks.

Here are also some websites that can help you recover and deal with your mental illness:

WOC Recovery – This is mainly for Women minorities, there’s a lot of great resources and they post regularly.

Imastrugglingpoc – This is for minorities in general to create the safe space that is not provided for us in regular mental health fields

And that’s all for this month! Normal posting resumes.

This post is part of the month long series “Stuck in my Head”, discussing mental illness. Normal posting resumes in April.

It’s difficult living with a myriad of mental illnesses. For me, I think I started noticing something was “wrong” when I was around 12, which is about three years roughly before I was even introduced to Paganism. One thing I particularly remembered is how suicidal I was in school and that I probably needed help. I think since then, I have been seeing some type of mental health practitioner on and off and without my parents knowing because I didn’t feel like being lectured about how, despite the historical horrors and consistent prejudices that Black folks have had to face, even in modern times, we don’t have mental problems. Mental problems were usually seen as “White people complaining about how good they got it” and everyone else is supposed to be some machine that is well accustomed to being held back due to institutionalized hatred. Oddly enough, being told to just “suck it up” and “deal with it” didn’t prevent me from having breakdown after breakdown nor did it stop me from having suicide attempts. If anything, not really having room to express emotion kind of exacerbated those self-destructive responses. Huh, funny that. Forced self-dehumanization both causes and speeds up poor mental health, who could have seen that coming?

While being told that somehow, I don’t have feelings or that I should ignore them so I can proceed further in life, I would be told by the same people who would rather not see a therapist but use religion instead, either by going to church or reading the Bible or praying. I never liked the idea of that because religion is nice but sometimes you need a super objective response that won’t result in “Oh, you just didn’t pray hard enough.” That used to (and still does) infuriate me because it is so dismissive of my problems, it doesn’t even toss a potential solution.

Although, when I was younger, I tried to take all the free mental health services I could that was provided by my schools because I didn’t want to “pay to just talk to someone”, which was the explanation I often told myself and others. That was my major concern, the thought of paying someone money just to talk to me when I have people (though, not many) to talk to …oh and the thought of getting institutionalized. I didn’t want to get sent off because I felt that was the final step of proving how “crazy” I was, to finally be locked away.

Dealing with mental illnesses suck but still having to interact with people, I’ve grown pretty irritated with continual stigmas and myths and regular missteps. I guess laying them out in list form would help

Being told, “Oh, I have that, too, it’s like a super power”: Chances are, if you think my OCD, PTSD, DD-NOS, etc is cool, you probably don’t have it. There’s nothing fun about having episodes where you can’t remember anything that you did. Nor is it fun having to pretty much gravitate around select people because you’re certain you’re about to act out and to the point strangers think you’re stalking said person (this actually happened to me, yay having noteworthy friends and dealing with their over-hyper fans). Usually when people say this, it’s in effort to minimize the severity of the issue, not to create solidarity because it generally follows this next item below:

Being told, “Why don’t you do [unhelpful/dumb idea here], that’s what works for me”: Back in February I had another suicide attempt and it was fairly evident given I pretty much walked around in tears and if spoken to, I probably was going to say “I should have taken more sleeping pills” within the first three sentences. One lady, who ironically was the security of the Department of Mental Health (yeah, take a guess how much work these DofMH guys do), told me to “get a grip”.


Get a grip?

Why didn’t I think of that?

Just get a grip. Sounds so much easier than taking a fatal dose of sleeping pills the night before and planning to slit my wrist next, I wonder why just “get a grip” didn’t come to me first. Man, if only I could have used my 132 academic IQ to come to that conclusion. Wow, thank you lady who works for the Department of Mental Health, you guys save so many lives. It was such a brilliant idea, I wound up going back home and continued trying to kill myself. Man, just “get a grip”, what ease. I’ll try to remember that the next time.

Chances are, whatever you’re going to suggest, there’s a stupidly good likelihood I (and others who suffer from mental illness) have tried that method many times and if it didn’t work then when things were less severe, it’s most likely not going to work now when things are about to go Chernobyl in my head. Just listen to us, it’s probably the best you can do. There’s a reason why there are people who are professionally trained to deal with people like me and then there’s people who show absolutely no concern when encountering someone in absolute distress.

Being told “Just pray/God will find a way/Take it to the cross”: Firstly, I’m not Christian. I really dislike when people try to help me by blatantly ignoring the fact that I’m not Christian because it makes me think, “If you’re going to willfully ignore a pretty basic fact about me, you’re probably not going to be much help down the road with my actual problems, which is not ‘just simply Not Christian’”. Secondly, even when I talk to suicidal people and other folks who are at the end of their rope, I never bring up religion because the distressed person want plausible and visible answers to their problems. Telling them to pray to an invisible guy in the sky doesn’t sound like a reasonable answer that will fix their problems. The point to talking to a distressed person is to talk them down, not make them feel further hopeless since you’re pretty much told them to change their perspective because the situation is solution-proof. I think back when I was in high school and intensely suicidal, someone told me that Jesus is there and the usual dribble that accompanies saying this. I just responded, “Great, I’ll be able to tell Him personally how much he sucks at his job.” When someone is that far gone, religion can’t save them. When it comes to mental illness, these illnesses need to be treated with the same severity as physical illness. If I came down with flu, I don’t want someone simply to pray over it, I want to see a doctor.

Being told “Black people don’t commit suicide/have problems because we’ve overcame so much”: That’s completely phony and self-dehumanizing internalized racism. Also, it’s funny how the word “collectively” does not get used. We have overcame a lot collectively because there were definitely slaves who killed themselves because living a tortured existence under systematic despair and holocaust did not seem enticing. There are Black folks who have killed themselves and they’re still Black. Otherwise, someone is going to have to go to the family of Soul Train’s creator Don Cornelius’ and tell them he’s posthumously revoked his Black card somehow despite all he’s done for contemporary Black culture. Being Black shouldn’t have to be synonymous with “eternal suffering”. Black people are still people and people in general have problems, especially when exposed to strongly affecting environments more than others. Besides, any idiot who says that we’re Black and therefore do not have problems need to look at a few statistics in regards to Blackness and mental health.

“Oh man, I’m so crazy. It’s fun being insane”: No, it’s not. I have been creative and I have had mental episodes, I was not creative during those episodes. If anything, I couldn’t create anything because I was too busy being depressed or acting out. Funny how going unhinged really takes up your time and pretty much takes you hostage. There’s a difference between being eccentric and suffering from mental illness. Insanity = Creativity is one of the biggest and most dangerous creativity myths, right up there with Drugs=Creativity, because it makes people actively not seek out help for their problems or justify their problems with, “Yeah my problems are bad but I wouldn’t be able to paint/write/create like I do so I guess there’s some silver lining.” No, no there isn’t. I know because I used to think this way myself, that getting rid of my problems would get rid of my creative works. This was until it finally dawned on me that I’m getting reaaaally unstable fast because when I put myself back in a volatile environment (similar to the one that originally gave me these problems) and figured I was going to wind up in a box. Ok, I actually gave myself a card reading and it pretty much read out, “You need a therapist or you’re gonna need a priest.” Yeah, no joy was had during those episodes, especially the dissociative ones. Things are comparatively better now since I have a therapist but I still have the occasional episode when triggered and I’m absolutely no fun when I’m triggered.

“You’re Pagan, maybe that’s why you have problems”: I guess we could blame my religion and my metaphysical practices for something that occurred several years before I actively started doing those practices because that would be so many worlds easier than actually blaming, I don’t know, the highly vitriolic and PTSD inducing environments that I was raised in. Since I was brought up in the inner city, I thus saw and encountered a lot of horrible things and there’s even statistics that has backed me up. My own city, Baltimore, was described as a “war zone … 80% of the population has PTSD” by sociologists in the local Citypaper back in, I believe, 2008. In addition, I have to deal with street harassment, open drug trafficking and all the wonderful monsters – I mean, “people”- that come with it, folks who destroy lives like walking atom bombs but are protected in the community. This is some of the stuff that’s usually ignored, dismissed or swept under the rug, some really important and impacting problems…and you’re going “Maybe you should stop being Pagan?” Really? How about doing something about the drug dealers on the corners or the zombies and zonked out, stoned out, passed out people they create? Perhaps trying to tackle rape culture is too much work? Someone just got shot and you’re telling folks that crying is a really stupid way to deal with it, it’s just part of life and you have to move on instead of getting stuck on the “little things” like random happenings of violent death? How about the fact I never felt comfortable in my own skin until relatively recently because the people who gave me the most hell for being different were Black folks? Really? All this and the fact I don’t pray to the Christian deity anymore is somehow the freakin problem? Yeah, no.

“I guess crazy isn’t that fun after all”: What I also encounter, yet is not exactly phrased but expressed is the “I guess crazy isn’t that fun after all” act. These are usually shown by people who say that being mentally wayward is great…until they interact with someone who has an actual illness and find out it’s not all spontaneous and funky. All of a sudden, it’s pretty evident that this person is sometimes many miles past “quirky” and they aren’t acting the way they are because it’s cute but because the demons in their heads are making serious noise. That means sometimes these people can bum a party out or needs extra care. All of a sudden, hanging with someone who has depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder isn’t as awesome as music videos and movies make it seem, so those people get left in the dust, usually with no explanation and no warning. That’s because their friend, armed now with only the negative myths and stigmas of mental illness, tend to now avoid them and the episodes they come with because if the mental illness is not going to create an artistic savant like the movies promised, then they guess they’re going to get a serial murderer instead. Or the mentally ill person is just “not as fun as I thought they’d be”. The power of friendship, isn’t it nice?

“Your illness bothers me”: Do I really have to explain this one? They’re usually couched in the “I guess crazy isn’t that fun after all” group but are so special, they need their own space. These folks first were first saying, “I’ll be there for you, just let me know” and other, usually comforting, lines but you start to learn that’s what they are, lines. You can tell because those lines change or is simply not in sync with how the person actually is. They say “You can call me at any time” but are practically unreachable, say “you can always talk to me” but give some of the worst advice. And then the switch up where the person is really really uncomfortable with knowing someone has a mental illness, especially if the illness produces a couple suicide attempts, is something jaw dropping. It isn’t easy learning about the mental illness a loved one is impacted by but treating the person like a leaper isn’t going to exactly help. At all. If the person who feels bothered by the mental illness doesn’t like it, they should imagine how the person actually suffering with the illness feels.

“You don’t need a therapist, you can talk to me!”: Ok, I have a lot of knowledge of medicine because I’m in a family where pretty much all the women are doctors. This means I could probably help you medically a little more than the average person but I will still recommend you go see a doctor. A therapist is a trained professional so if I start to disassociate or have an episode, they can effectively do something about it. In my experience, the average person just does everything they can to make my episodes worse without knowing it. A therapist is trained to not make me feel bad for having a disorder. A therapist actually has the training to deal with my very, very real disorders. Watching Monk or A Beautiful Mind does not mean you can help me at all. And if anything, usually the ones who say this generally are the least helpful because they don’t do anything that helps you, just stuff that makes them feel they’re being helpful, wise and smart. I don’t try to persuade my diabetic friend to not take insulin because I saw some illogical writing about all you need is to limit sugar intake because that could kill them. Telling me to ignore my episodes and to just see them as part of life could easily throw me into a suicidal pattern and wind up killing me. I need a therapist to control my disorders because it’s more than just a case of the blues the same way my diabetic friend needs a doctor to control her disease because it’s more than just a case of having an awful sweet tooth. And given the examples of usual responses I get from people who learn about my disorders, why would I want to talk to them?

It is a long road dealing with mental illness. It’s not how the tv shows and movies depict it at all. It’s frustrating and since more people know the oft-pushed myths about it than the reality, it just adds to the frustration. Also, because mental illness is usually invisible (even some of the psychosomatic symptoms are invisible, too), it’s either folks think you’re making it up for attention or it’s just an issue that simple stern discipline can correct.

It’s even more problematic when as a Black person, you’re not really represented in any widespread campaigns for mental illness. The lack of representation passively pushes the stereotypical and fairly internalized myth that “Black folks don’t feel pain” and it’s harder to identify with the campaign well enough to get help. Then, getting help is difficult because a lot of head doctors do not like to take racism into account of what could cause stress because it’s easier to describe the patient as “militant” rather than actually understand what they’re going through. (That’s actually the exact word therapist #3 said to me. I never came back for another session). This is really an issue because there are very, very little Black therapists (or really any other therapist besides White). It means a lot of people are probably going to pass on getting help simply because they are thoroughly convinced that it would be useless or possibly harmful to tell a White person, certified shrink or not, about their problems because it could be an easy one-way ticket to a nut house for simply saying “I don’t like dealing with racism.” Being a shrink does not always improve communications because psychology as a whole is mainly centered on Whiteness and it’s too easy to look like you’ve finally lost your marbles if you don’t follow along the narrative.

Of course, things are further complicated when you’re not part of the big three religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam). Chances are, especially if you’re Pagan, your expression of faith is not covered under the “sane” category. Saying you talk to deities and believe trees have spirits is practically a surefire way to get locked away if your therapist isn’t open-minded enough. Yep, it’s tough when you’re going nuts.

Next time, we’ll post some how-to’s on how to get a therapist and for low cost as well as healthy coping mechanisms to deal with mental illness. Due to the lateness of this post (sorry, folks) that post will be on Sunday.

This post is for the month long series titled “Stuck in my Head”. This feature is written by Kat, a university student and a mod from the WOC Recovery tumblr.

I had major depressive disorder. I struggled with it, I lived with it. I self-analyzed every thought and emotion, I was convinced I knew everything about my mental illness.

My friend said to me: “Do you think you might have PTSD? You act a lot like my friend who has it. ”

I had been talking about a roommate situation from a while back. It went badly because I became the extra wheel almost immediately, which was disappointing. But when I was unable to make friends anywhere nearby, I broke and became clinically depressed. First, I was in a lot of pain, later on I became very numb and space-y. My appearance was changing, and my fear of being ridiculed by men increased exponentially. It had been present prior to being emotionally abused by a male friend, but had been relatively dormant until then.

I didn’t know how to manage my depression, so my space became disorganized and I was sleeping very late. This clashed with my roommates’ lifestyle. I was constantly apologizing, trying to change, but I couldn’t maintain any of my efforts. After being kicked out of the apartment, I was terrified of running into them. I felt horrific shame, to the point where I forgot that I hadn’t been accepted by them from the beginning. I eventually ran into one of my now-former roommates and apologized to them.

I had possibly suspected that I have problems relating to guys who reminded me of my former friend. I went out of my way to avoid being noticed by men like that, which wasn’t too difficult, but when it did happen I would bolt. I still wasn’t convinced, because I had been raised to believe that only certain things-any form of permanent loss or illness- were a Big Deal. Even though I understood struggles or trauma shouldn’t be compared in that way- and applied this mentality when conversing with others- I could not apply it to myself without feeling guilty. So I acknowledged that in a detached way.

But my roommates? That seemed completely random. “Think about it”, my friend said. I was about to respond about how what she said couldn’t be right- then…oh. I realized that my fear and avoidance of my roommates was indistinguishable from how I felt around certain guys. I looked up PTSD symptoms. There’s a wide range, but I matched the avoidance symptoms. I also discovered that my numbness, spaciness, and forgetfulness matched the symptoms of dissociation. This was a relief to discover because I had lost months of my life due to not being present and not being able to control that. I am still researching symptoms and trying to learn grounding techniques to help them.

Apparently, there’s two official types of PTSD: simple and complex. The first stems from one traumatizing event. The second comes from traumatizing or stressful events occurring regularly for an extended period of time. I tried to research about complex PTSD and emotional abuse but the primary situation discussed was emotional abuse from parents, not peers. Abuse from parents or guardians is widely recognized as a serious issue and not something that’s acceptable to minimize. But how could I ever say I got complex PTSD from bullying? I’m still in the process of accepting it. Experiencing PTSD symptoms from something not recognized as traumatic is so confusing, especially when you are taught to “push through it” and “so many people had it worse”.

I think now is a good time to mention self-diagnosis of mental illnesses. There’s nothing wrong with it, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is true especially if you don’t have access to healthcare but even if you choose not to for personal reasons. There is no biological test for mental illnesses, you are basically just interviewed and evaluated via a list of symptoms. You can easily find a list of symptoms online, just make sure the website is reputable (I’ve included a link to a site below). No doctor knows your mind better than you, especially with their track record of misdiagnoses- most commonly diagnosing bipolar disorder as depression. However, giving yourself anti-depressants or medicating yourself is not something I agree with – it’s a trial and error process, even with supervision. And considering the possible side effects, it’s much too risky.

If you do have access, I would recommend seeing a counselor with high reviews and go from there. If you need medication, that’s okay. Psychiatry as an institution is pretty awful to so many people- but if you need it, try to go by recommendations or reviews for a better experience so it can help you. You are not hurting people with “real” diagnoses. You are not lying for attention. Think about it, if you make the decision to see a doctor or counselor, you already know something is wrong and probably tried to figure it out before hand. As long as you don’t partake in risky treatments, you are justified.

To help with that, this is a site specifically for therapists that has worksheets for patients- worksheets that contain information or activities for certain treatment, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There is a long list of illnesses/problems you can click on at the bottom of the page and look at specific resources for. The second site has CBT self-help for depression/anxiety/anger, the third has self-help for dialectal behavior therapy (DBT).

I believe in you. Just take it one day at a time. -Kat

This post is part of the month long series “Stuck in my Head”. Normal posting resumes in April

It is difficult to live with mental illness. There are harmful stigmas, exaggerated myths (such as the ever popular insanity=creativity myth) and a lot of misinformation which prevents proper treatment. Many people, diagnosed or not, suffer from mental illness but it is still met with suspicion or treated as if it is an honor to have your mind pretty much stage a mutiny against your better sensibilities. It is more complex when race and gender is taken into account.

Mental illness is not imagination run amok no more than physical illness is just an act. There is the everlasting stigma that mental illness is either fake and a person just needs stricter discipline or that the person is just a face paint kit away from being The Joker. Having a mental illness  does mean that something is malfunctioning in your mind (or brain) but it doesn’t mean automatically you’re going to become a serial killer, most people suffering from mental illness just want to live life the best they can.

Being Black with mental illness, it is twice as hard to be listened to because there’s the (well-earned) historical distrust in the medical community and the idea that “Black people don’t have mental illness, that’s just White people complaining about how good they have it.” There’s also the idea that church and prayer solves everything, even when it doesn’t. A Black person with  mental illness tends to suffer in silence until they pop because the community won’t let them admit there’s a problem because it shows weakness and society at large won’t let them admit there’s a problem because society can’t even see the Black person as a human enough to even consider they may have issues just like everyone else. If it breaks the consistently dehumanizing narrative of “Black people are superhuman in strength, they don’t have time for feelings, just surviving”, it’s usually dismissed. Also there are strong mislabels the Black community has on more eccentric members of the race due to being fairly conservative. If you are Black, there is a much smaller box of existence so to do anything that easily falls outside of that cramp box is considered crazy, which actually can create mental illness in and of itself because of lack of cultural support.

Having a mental illness is not romantic either. It is a constantly pushed myth that to be creative, you have to be crazy and vice versa when the reality is that while there are some similarities, it is definitely different. When you’ve full-blown lost it, you spend all that time going insane, not creating anything. I know that for personal fact when I was too self-destructive to do a single thing, creative or basic sustenance of existence. A good example of how people confuse creativity for mental illness is when people believed Nicki Minaj had Disassociative Identity Disorder because she had an alter ego named Roman. What many missed because they didn’t know the difference is that if it were true, Minaj would not be able to control Roman and when he comes out because DID is when the mind going into fragment of different people all to protect the actual person as a defense mechanism. Minaj would have difficulty remembering things because she wasn’t “home” at the time when Roman was. She wouldn’t be able to bring him up on command because he would be a personality that generally comes out when triggered, which is no fun. To actually live with such a disorder, it would actually get in the way of her career because it would be like two different minds living in the same body. Mental illness does not have an on/off switch that can be flipped for appropriate engagements at will just like you can’t be sick/well whenever you need an excuse to get out of something.

It’s important to know the difference between just being really expressive and actually suffering from a mental illness, just as it is important to debunk the “tortured artist” idea. Not knowing the difference mislabels and misdiagnoses perfectly healthy people and proliferating the “tortured artist” idea keeps people with actual issues away from getting help in fear they’ll lose their creative spark. To do that, there has to be more talks, actually honest talks, about mental illness.

In regards to race, the medical community, both physical and psychological parts, have plenty of catching up to do. Still there is strong prejudice that snakes about in the minds of practitioners, which sorely affects the treatment of their patients because the perspective of illness and treatment is mainly centered on the middle class Whiteness, which puts everyone else in the negative space. For the Black community, it has to learn that we’re as prone to mental illness as any person. It isn’t a “White man disease” nor is it a flight of imagination. It’s not a sign of rejecting Blackness to admit that you have issues. In addition, it important for the Black community to keep in mind that whatever does not fall into Western conservatism is not a mark of insanity. Being eccentric while Black does not mean insanity (nor a rejection of Blackness). There are various expressions of the Black identity, it is not a sign of mental illness to show those various expressions. Race, when discussing mental illness, is not to be ignored but to be included in how to deal with it and combat it.

Living with mental illness is difficult but it can also be difficult for the person who knows a friend or family member with a mental illness. In dealing with someone with a mental illness, the best you can do is listen. Not all mental illnesses are alike and thus need different responses. Same for the people who have them, not everyone wants to be open with what they experience. The best one can do is listen. Simply listen and try to genuinely be there for the person. Try to understand the illness, how it works and, more importantly, how the person is triggered because all the person with the illness needs is to just have someone around to help prevent or minimize their episodes. Basically, just be there for them and keep an open ear.

It is difficult to have mental illness, especially with the stigmas associated with even talking about it. With this series, we will look at mental illness from a personal perspective as well as provide resources to help those who could need it.

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