29 December, 2014

An update

So my doctor wants me to put an update to keep up on where I am emotionally and mentally.

This Viibryd drug sucks. I refuse to take the other drug since the nurse refuses to work with me on a treatment plan and so I'm stuck with an antidepressant that doubles for Ex-Lax with a side order of Red Bull. I've been on meds for the past 4 months- switching every 2 or 4 weeks and I'm about done with it. I'm either sleeping half the day or experiencing the joy that is chronic diarrhea. The fact that the nurse refuses to work with me on a treatment plan and instead insists on continuing to up the dose of antipsychotic despite side effects and diminished mental capacity means the treatment is really shitty.

Life is coming along, as ever. I have a few art paid art projects- cards, mugs, drawings as well as a few projects(comics, books) that I am working on with hopes they amount to something.

I've been getting depressed because I don't really know anyone out here- the community is a suburbia full of rich 10 year olds and soccer moms and I miss my old friends and parks and places to pick mushrooms and berries. I know I need the support of the family but still, I'm working towards getting free of this place as psychologically it is leading me to be more neurotic, I fear.

I'm hopeful, somewhat, that things will get better, but I'm not sure where to go from here, not that it matters.

Put the Christ back in Christmas

"Put the Christ back in Christmas" is a phrase I often hear this time of year, but still don't know what it means. As I get older, I know less and less what Christmas and the Holidays are about, only that I feel they are anticlimactic every year. I make cards and candies, make and buy gifts and then the few days of celebration come and it all feels empty- I spend time with people I like but can't relate to and it seems we all exchange gifts that noone really wants anyway.

Looking at the history of "Christmas", it really is a multicultural holiday. Putting the "Christ" back in Christmas might mean to many the removal of commercialism from the holidays, but these folks often forget that Christmas was designed to replace Saturnalia and other Solstice festivals where people would drink to excess and exchange gifts. Our modern day version is an amalgamation of that old holiday, a few Christian moral messages and Capitalism and Consumerism. What Christmas "should" be is what we make it.

As a child, I was quite happy with Consumerism. I got lots of cool toys for Christmas including a Gameboy, a bike and various books, candies, socks and underwear. I'm not sure why I felt let down as I got older. Perhaps I was hoping for something more than just more toys- which I had plenty of anyway and was hoping for something deeper. Like my disillusionment with the church, I became disillusioned with the work world and even disillusioned about Christmas.

Part of me wants to be a cynic and deride the comedy contained in Christmas and religion, but there is still a part of me that dreams and hopes that Christmas is something more: That Santa Claus and God may not really exist, but that his mythical quality is a quality found in the universe itself.

I think we've lost touch with that real connection to the universe and it makes me really sad. I don't think putting the "Christ" back in Christmas is going to happen and fix everything.

26 December, 2014


I was staring into the abyss of my empty pill case this morning and was dumbstruck with the realisation of just how silly the medication industry is.

One of the current pills the doctor has me taking is called "Viibryd". Pharmaceutical companies come up with all sorts of catchy names to trademark and make millions billions of dollars by marketing to an unsuspecting public. I am guessing this pill got its name because it is a Vibrant Hybrid- an antidepressant that has multiple modes of action. Very clever. Almost as clever as Haldol(halt all) Zoloft(ze 'loft(free of depression) or Effexor(effects your ((mind)).

On the surface coming up with catchy names does not seem so sinister, but when you consider that these catchy names are advertised in a way similar to the catchy names and logos for toys, cartoon characters and cars, the pills start to seem a bit dark indeed.

Commercials for Zoloft and Prozac gleefully proclaim that these pills "may" correct chemical imbalances even though doctors agree there is no evidence there is one in any mental disorder and they proclaim unsubstantiated efficacies while making light of serious side effects(like suicidality and akathisia). I am not saying these pills are not effective, but having them marketed to consumers in a glib fashion, the same way cars and cartoon characters are undermines the seriousness of their industry. In my opinion, we would all be better off if these pills were studied carefully by a trained professional who would work with the patient to decide.

So back to my pills- Currently, the empty box of Viibryd is staring at me. All of its contents are in my pill case. I doubt very much that I am going to continue to take this pill because it makes me feel like I've had 4 espresso shots along with tijuana tap water, but even if I did, I would run into a second problem- the money issue.

It is perfectly understandable that the pharmaceutical industry needs money to do research for newer, more effective medications, but most people, including me can not afford a medication that costs 300 to several thousand dollars per month. Doctors blame Big Pharma. Big Pharma blames the insutance companies and the little man (you and me) gets stuck with the bill. This is all complicated by Drug Reps who focus on the positives of their drugs, overstating their efficacy in order to sell more of the new drug, a claim that, in the case of first generation anti-psychotics, for example, is not backed up by evidence.

 So what happens is that new pills are overprescribed because of drug reps who oversell the pills and people who see the TV commercials and those lucky enough to have a good insurance plan can afford the pills, while the rest of us pay ludicrous prices for medication which may not be worth it in the first place. Sometimes the more expensive pills are useful and they're definitely cheaper than a hospital stay, but with so much overprescribing of more expensive and shiny things, it is understandable that the insurance company would want to cut costs. Sometimes the new expensive pills are just rebranded versions of drugs that are going generic- a shady cost making ploy. But the problem is, the insurance company doesn't know what's going on and shouldn't be the one to make decisions on peoples health and lives.

Case in point: I was once prescribed Lamictal (a mood stabiliser used for bipolar and depression) and I took it for six months. The insurance company eventually decided I should take something older like Lithium, not realising that I could not tolerate Lithium in the slightest. Since Lamictal was $300 and my rent was $450, I paid my rent and went cold turkey off of Lamictal. Luckily I did not have a seizure coming off of Lamictal, but I experienced many vivid hallucinations and a peculiar flesh creeping sensation for weeks. It was not fun, but some are not as lucky as me.

Some get denied coverage and die or wind up back in the hospital or wind up in debt.

I don't know what Obamacare has changed. Some people say things are better now, but I'm looking at the pills and the coverage I (don't) have and I've talked to the insurance company and it really doesn't seem that much better, if it is better at all.

My doctor wants to prescribe me medications I can't afford and doesn't believe me when I say a first generation ($5) antipsychotic has less side effects for me and my list of tolerable medications is growing ever smaller.

It's really frustrating. Maybe I should come up with my own pill with a clever name and make billions of dollars off of it and then I can afford to do whatever I want.

The magic pill I need is probably free, growing in the forest off the side of an ancient Hemlock, anyway.

20 December, 2014

The Hobbit: The Legend of Legolas

The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit were books that I read as a kid that introduced me to the world of mythology. While the books themselves weren't deep philosophical texts, they sparked my interest in Plato, Chinese Philosophy and Classical and Greek Myths. The Lord of the Rings is a richly textured, beautiful book and the Hobbit a fun read(although not as deep as The Lord of the Rings).
I won't bore you with the oft cited quip "the books are better than the movies", although they most definitely are, I will ask you to wonder - do they have to be?

The Lord of the Rings as a movie trilogy is quite close in plot and characterization to the books, but it diverges because it focuses primarily on battle scenes and plot points, whereas the books focus a lot more on the characters and the creation of a richly detailed world- both in philosophy and mythology.

According to Marshall MacLuhan, author of "The Medium is the Massage", "the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived." If you take that as a given and take into account the popularity of action, superhero and epic movies and the need of studios to make sure they make money, the fact that Lord of the Rings turned into a set of epic movies for it's film portrayal is not surprising. It was and is a popular film series, but due to the fact that it was a Hollywood film series, it was changed quite a bit. A few of the best examples I can think of of the changes in Lord of the Rings are the elimination of Tom Bombadil- a diversion in the book which would have slowed down the progression of the movies arc and the extension of the battle of Helms Deep- a chapter in the book but at least an hour in the series.

Books by the nature of them not being bound by budget or time constraints are more able to go into small details, more willing to delve into smaller plot points and character arcs. Film, especially mainstream film is quite expensive and so often follows a formula. Charcters are assigned mythological roles and a strict "act" structure is followed. While a lot can be done to experiment with the act structure, movies rarely run outside of the 90 minute to 150 minute mark and rarely experiment too much so as not to alienate their viewers.

I have to say I have mixed feelings, still about the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. I still vastly prefer the books, feeling that the movies are a schmaltzified, CGI-fest with unrealistic action and set pieces, but I did still see them all in the theaters and I'm not sure why, but I still get excited by movies even as the same time I am aware of their shortcomings.

The cynic in me says that movies are getting more superficial and more predictable all the time, but the optimist in me is still there, still hoping that these movies will rise above their medium. That they would be authentic recreations and additions to their source material. As it stands now, the Lord of the Rings movies seem more geared toward getting kids interested in "cool fantasy video games" rather than mythology, history and philosophy, but my hope is still there.

Maybe one of these years, someone will do a "Game of Thrones" style adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings".

But I'm not holding my breath.

18 December, 2014

Fountain House

My mom and me decided to spend the day in Manhattan to take in the magic of the holiday season. We saw all the usual tourist attractions as well as the original Fountain House, a beautiful brick building only ten minutes from Times Square, and founded in 1949 as a self-directed self-help program for those with major mental illness.

I set up a tour with Raj before coming and we were welcomed into a beautiful waiting room and then taken on a tour by Michael. To say I was impressed with Fountain House is an understatement. The tour given by Michael was superb and he told me about all the facets of the clubhouse I had questions on.

Fountain House is run in a similar fashion that I am familiar with at HERO House, only on a much larger scale. There are seven units, allowing members to participate in almost any facet of the clubhouse they are interested in, from horticulture, newsletter, reception, wellness, kitchen, outreach, a gym and more. Members set their own goals and work at their own pace, but are helped and encouraged to go back to work, finish schooling and secure stable housing and support systems.

Fountain House owns a 400 acre farm outside of New York City, which grows a lot of the healthy food that is served for breakfast and lunch. Members take turns doing work trips there. Along with the food at the farm, the horticulture unit supplies much of the greens for the lunches in a tightly controlled aquaponics room.

The clubhouse also coordinates housing for members and members of the clubhouse run a gallery just down the street. It is really inspiring to see the breadth and diversity of activity that goes on and to realise that there really are no limits to those with "unrecoverable mental illness".

If you get a chance to go to Manhattan, Fountain House is definitely worth a visit. It's only ten minutes from Times Square and being in the clubhouse felt like being home. I don't think I'll ever move to Manhattan, but if I do, I know where I'll be visiting often.

16 December, 2014

New York

Going to New York today and I'm up early, getting ready. I've been in the city a few times- a beautiful, interesting and complex place that I've barely scratched the surface of. On my first trip, I believe I saw a lot of the landmarks- times square, central park, rockefeller center and the empire state building. On other trips I saw Broadway shows and the Statue of Liberty, some Museum exhibits and some other pieces of neighborhoods. I don't know if I'll ever understand the city beyond as a tourist and I'm not sure I want to- the city is so fast paced, it makes me feel somewhat disjointed and nervous, and unable to withstand more than a day or two of it's mania. Still, I am curious about neighborhoods and finding something more interesting about the city. I'd like one day to see more of Queens- if for no other reason than to see where my mom was born and in this trip we're going to see a few more neighborhoods and the original Fountain House- the first "clubhouse" for mental illness.

It should be interesting, although probably as dyspepsic as usual.

I'll let you know how it goes in further updates on this blog, which I am renewing my resolution to post at least semi-regularly on, mostly as a way of documenting my thoughts and possibly finding a solution to nebulous problems.

Watch this space.