13 January, 2015

Nature vs. Nurture

When I was living in Issaquah, Washington with an unbalanced manic lady and her cat, my own "schizotypal" symptoms, especially those concerning auditory hallucinations became much worse. I stayed busy, worked and volunteered and tried to do as many positive things as possible, but my life continued to deteriorate. It wasn't until I left that house that I retained some sense of balance. My personality and hers clashed and no amount of positive thinking could change that. Moving on from there and finding more balanced environments, I regained emotional stability.

Time after time I am surprised just how little I actually control in my life and how much is influenced by the circumstances I am in. It's empowering to believe that having a positive mindset and trying hard is all that is needed to lose weight or get a job or change the world, but I don't think that is how things work. The people around you, the geography, the weather- these all profoundly impact how you interface with the world. It makes a good story to think a man controls his destiny with his will, but I believe our cognitive mind does very little and the way we use it currently is causing all sorts of problems in our lives.


When I was a kid, I grew up in a neighborhood that was 99% white. The few minorities I met were from Baltimore and Baltimore was scary to a kid who lived in "Cow County". I knew on a cognitive level that there was no reason to be racist, but it wasn't until I was exposed to a larger sampling of people of all races that I really learned there was no reason to be racist.  I couldn't just think it, though, I had to experience it firasthand.

Similarly, I know it is a good idea to eat well, but it wasn't until I actually changed and was in an environment where I could change- that had organic produce available that things improved.
 This changed my sleep schedule, hormonal balance and stomach pH balance. Besides the stabilisation of blood sugar levels that comes with reducing and eliminating boxed foods, eating less meat, for example, changes the amounts of all sorts of hormones. If one eats a lot of soy, you'll start noticing decreased muscle mass, for example and all sorts of bodily changes because of this. Your sleep cycles will change, your reaction to anger will change and so will the microbial flora in your gut. If you have lentils, yams and potatoes one day, you'll be a lot more mellow the next day due to the slowly releasing starch and high amounts of tryptophan you had just consumed. It's a simple change, but has vast impacts.

Another thing I've noticed that has a vast impact on my life is how much time I am outdoors. I can try to think positive, once again, but nothing can change the fact that I am very depressed being inside a lot. If I am in a situation where I am able to be outside, my mind is much more active and I am less afraid of the world. I do not make a concious decision to be more confident- I simply am because my mind responds to the environment it is put in.

This is not at all to say that I think humans are weak pieces of trash, but simply that I think we vastly overestimate how important our own thinking process is and how much is dependent on how we interface and interact with reality. We can not simply think our way into being healthy and happy and kind- it is the end result of the positive interactions we have with the world. The mantra "it takes a village to raise a child" is true. We are not created by ourselves, but by the universe, which dreams us into existence.

And so we find ourselves in a pickle since our entire system is not set up to make happy and healthy people. We live cut off socially and disconnected from the environment- spending most of our time behind computer screens, behind a desk or behind a wheel and changing that is not always possible(not now, at least).

I don't know what the answer is to get to a healthier place, but I think the time for blaming the person needs to go. The time for saying "every man must find happiness for himself" is for the past. To me, It makes perfect sense that a person who sits all day and is presented with tasty sugary snacks would get fat. The solution isn't to impose more stress on the mind, by saying that willpower is the answer, but to place the person in an environment where he is getting the exercise he needs and such food is not easily available and so the person can develop the correct body that he naturally needs and be happier and healthier naturally.

Again, I don't know how we can get there, but if we can, it will take a village. Perhaps even a whole world to do it. We won't get there with positive thinking and the solution isn't to try harder. It's to try smarter.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Psych Meds

Antidepressants(of the ones I can tolerate: Effexor, Brintellix, Paxil)
Advantages
Not feeling overwhelmed as easily
Prevents "bottom dropping out" feeling
Able to speak better because of reduced anxiety

Disadvantages
Feeling numb and/or distant
Decreased motivation, feeling more depressed and tired
Side effects like Nausea, Diarrhea, Sexual Dysfunction, etc
Dependence

Antipsychotics(of the ones I can tolerate: Haldol, Risperdal)
Advantages
Decreased brain noise and anxiety

Disadvantages
Extreme drowsiness
Difficulty in thinking
Difficulty in feeling related to people
Increased heartrate, blood sugar abnormalities
Possibly can lead to EPS, tardive dyskenisia, diabetes
Dependence

Cannabis
Advantages: more effective for anxiety and depression
increased sociability
reduced anxiety
 reduced pain

Disadvantages:
unpredictable, dosage hard to determine
liable to lead to psychoses
can make very sleepy
cost
dependence

Herbal Remedies and Supplements for Anxiety(5HTP,SJW, Valerian, Chamomile)
Advantages:
Relatively safe, mild side effects
Tend to make more calm
No Prescription or Illegality Concerns

Disadvantages:
Doesn't tend to work very well

No medication/etc
Advantages:
Free, mind is in natural state

Disadvantages:
Still have trouble with anxiety
Not realistic solution. Vitamins are not helpful.

08 January, 2015

A boring update

I really don't like getting a car, but it looks like I will be getting a car. Forget about my egoic desire to be carfree and look at the long term picture and realise that the investment of a $1K Camry might be the way to go. It only has 170K miles, although I'm not 100% convinced it won't need more work to make it road safe.

I'm taking some courses in English and maybe some other things until I can figure out my job situation. This will at least get me out of the house, so it could be a good thing, since I have been avolitional in getting more paid art work projects.

There is still hope that one day I will get out of this shit hole that is Baltimore, that I will find some place that is more livable, but I'm trying real hard to temper that with patience so that I don't decide to just go up and eat mushrooms in the hills. I do miss it, though and know that this Baltimore suburb life really doesn't fit for me.

One of my small joys is doing artwork and cooking and the new show about Small Homes has given me some thought and motivation for things I could do if I could break these chains.

Being off of psych meds is a mixed bag. I'm definitely more cognizant of what is going on around me and able to work on artwork and do things a little bit easier. I have some extreme anxiety and paranoia, though, coming off the antipsychotics, although the trade off of increased mood and thought almost make up for it. Some days.

On other days, I wish I could sleep for 24 hours.

Of Self Deception and Dark Things

In Synechdoche, New York, the dark comedy(is it a comedy?) by Charlie Kaufman, (this might be spoilers if you haven't seen the film by the way), the main character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman gets more and more entrenched in creating his magnum opus play, eventually creating a set of a city inside a warehouse. The play is never completed and his life takes a million odd turns and in the end, he surely felt that his life was a failure.

I am not old by modern standards, but as life goes by, more and more it seems that things don't work out the way I dream them or wish them to. This is, after all, simply what happens when one lives in a world where the Sun does not revolve around them and happens to even the most beautiful and famous of us. I never got a book accepted to be published. My comics never really amounted to much. I never really had any great epiphanies despite my excessive travelling, experimenting and hoboing. In fact, if anything, my experiences have further cemented my belief that most of what we deem worthwhile is simply human myopism. Life has just continued on as it has always been- brutal at times, but as honest as gravity.

There is some comfort I get by knowing that things that I have done in my life have helped people or animals. I spent a lot of time in Seattle planting trees for EarthCorp and making little pieces of art that a lot of school children have learned from. In the end, though, it has all fallen way short of what I had dreamed life would be and to tell the truth, it all seems like a bad drawn out Tarkovsky movie at times.

I am not sure what it is I wanted or why I came here. Joseph Campbell (the mythology and comparative religion professor made famous by Star Wars creator George Lucas) said that life isn't about finding meaning, but about experiencing life and what he says makes a lot of sense, even as I stay stuck in my own delusion and fear, continuing to search for the answer in crappy antidepressants and pointless jobs.

I feel like Hoffman in Synechdoche, New York, so attached to this life, and so focused on trying, but at the same time, so hopelessly lost and confused. I've attempted suicide before and seem to be even more confused than ever about why I didn't go through with it- it's not like life is suddenly going to get better- it's probably just going to be a little different.

But at the same time, killing oneself is an awfully messy thing to do in an awfully messy place. Not that staying around guarantees anything- the world will blow up with or without me and I could be an unwitting impetus behind some terrible mass genocide no matter what I do. Who knows?

01 January, 2015

Pills Pills Pills

It's not easy to explain how I can take antidepressant pills and yet completely distrust the psychiatric system, and yet that is where I find myself. The reason I do this is complex and probably involves more than a little self deception, coercion and fear.

To preface my essay, I am of the belief, backed up by science that antidepressants and antipsychotics are not chemical cures for any mental illness. They can be useful sleep aids, hypnotics and stimulants, but they are not anything close to resembling insulin or statins- drugs that have direct chemical therapeutic actions.

I did not take any antidepressants, unless you would count cannabis for the better part of the last 5 years. I had gone through the psychiatric system and found that taking the pills, I was worse rather than better off. The pills alternatively made me sleepy, agitated, anxious, dizzy, dumb and lazy. I was not able to deal with life or people any better, I was just more dependent on others.

I came off of the pills and although my health improved, I can't say my mental health did. It did not worsen, but I continued patterns of avoiding people and working menial jobs as well as travelling to avoid the stresses of modern life.

Very often I would find myself the subject of others disapproval of my situation. When i was homeless, I was unable to argue effectively the reason why I should not take medications, even though my reasoning(I did not want to feel worse) was sound. I was receiving help from others, so it was expected I would play the game and take medications that the doctors said were therapeutic.

I left that situation as soon as I was able to and was happy to be off of the lithium and tegretol that was making me feel ill and I travelled south on my bike and worked at an ecovillage.

Eventually, after spending a little bit too much time camping I found myself deperate and seeking help, while at the same time angry that I would have to agree to medication that I was almost positive would not help.

And so it was that I found myself jobless and while my situation was not terrible, agreeing to medications was. It is almost impossible to argue with psychiatrists in regards to medication, since they have the entirety of the medical profession behind them, while I only have my anectodotal evidence and small amount of research.

Given that the medication was a condition of treatment, I took it, but was not happy about it. The first pill made me sleep 12 hours a day. The next few gave me awful diarrhea and anxiety. Other pills killed my mind. The doctor, meanwhile ignored my pleas about wanting to change medication, insisting that the pills were helping. I found animosity and distrust growing.

The last straw, I believe was the insistence of the doctor to keep me on 9mg of invega, a medication I find useless, except to induce racing heartbeat, hunger, stupidity and sleepiness, although not in a fun way like cannabis. Given that the pills were 300$, I was recently forced to go off of them when they were not covered and the doctor did not renew my prescription.

Currently, I am not on any drugs, and this is seen as a bad thing to do, but given the refusal of the doctors to listen and work with me, I believe it is understandable. I mean who wants to take a pill that makes them continuously sick and profers no benefit? Who wants to be zombified while their dreams fade into the black?

Given the fact that I've run the gamut of most of the antidepressants and the doctor refuses to work with me on a mutually beneficial treatment plan, instead insisting on strong sedation to control all symptoms, not giving a fuck about what my dreams or desires in life may be, I don't think we would be getting anywhere anyway and until doctors realise that people with severe mental illness are people, too, people are going to continue to be "treatment resistant".

I am fairly certain that I will be coerced into taking some pill again and I am not looking forward to it, but until I am on my own medical plan and living in the forest again, it may have to be a sacrifice I am willing to make. I am not alone in my position. It sucks.

I am not sure where my life will lead and I know things are not that rosy, but I know things are at least a little bit better off of the pills than on them, and I'm really really tired and angry and I hate myself but I probably hate myself for not being able to get free of this bullshit coercive system even more.

Turn off the Brain, please

If I could, I would switch off my brain from time to time as it is an ability I am lacking that causes me much despair. It makes a lot of things intolerable and boring, chief among them, reading and watching movies.

I was recently watching the new Planet of the Apes movie with my mom. The one where the good ape and the bad ape fight. I started the movie somewhere about an hour in, but was able to successfully predict many of the plot twists in the movie. The good character lets the good human go. The bad ape does something bad. I would have fallen asleep except for the fact that there was a lot of gunsmoke and exploding things and so the movie was very loud. People and apes yelled a lot. If there had not been these things, the movie would have been more boring than watching yogurt ferment and more useful for sleep than Unisom.

It would be nice to watch a movie like this and to not notice all the predictable plot twists and strange assumptions that it makes. I would like at times to watch these movies, but I keep noticing things like "why is the bad ape darker while the good ape looks more humanistic and his voice is softer and his skin is paler? For once can't we have an animalistic looking good guy?", but alas, my mind can not slow down and not notice these things. As a result, I am bored by the cliches and tropes it abuses.

Some of my favorite movies and books are strange ones, probably because I don't fall asleep while watching them and it tells me something I haven't already heard or read about. I very much liked Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman and some other people. One of my favorite scenes is (spoiler) the car crash where Charlie's brother dies.

Part of the reason the scene is interesting to me is that the scene plays no music. It doesn't telegraph the accident terribly. There is just the sudden jolt of the accident and the subsequent death. To me, this is much more realistic and interesting, reflecting the way the world works.

Watching many movies and reading many books, you realise that people tell themselves stories and these stories are useful for a great many things. I think part of the problem is that as we grow older, we realise that the world is terribly complex and the story of the world is not centered on the whims and whimsies of humans. Music does not play at important times. You don't defeat your inner demons and things magically get better. People die for no reason and don't have famous last words that aren't a garbled morphine induced mess.

I like stories like this. They are interesting, sometimes, even if they are grim.