Friday, August 13, 2010

Bad advice. Friday, August 13, 2010.

“We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.” – William R. Alger

Have you ever gotten really bad advice? I sure have – from friends as well as professionals. I’ve had no choice but to put my trust in the judgment of doctors, and sometimes the doctors haven’t always known what’s best. Sometimes the medication they’ve given me has worked absolute wonders, and other times it’s made me horrifically ill.

Sometimes their suggestions have made sense to me, and other times they haven’t. (I’m recalling the psychiatrist who told me, when I was single and frustrated that I wasn’t in a relationship, that men don’t like smart women so I should “play dumb” in order to snag a guy).

Usually, it’s a good thing to at least lend an ear to the advice of others. Often, other people see the big picture, or have more experience than we do, or special training or education in an area. People have always asked for counsel.

What’s different today is that now, we have Google to ask. The answer to any question can be found at our fingertips. In the past, it took a certain amount of money – and credibility – to publish a book or a manual. But any whack-job can have a website, and I think most of them do.

The world was shocked in 1992 when the book “Final Exit” was published. It was a handbook about euthanasia, aimed at the terminally ill. Today, such concern seems quaint. Google will provide all the information you need if you want to end your life. Your attempt may not be “completed,” as they say, but there is advice out there.

What’s even scarier are the “Friends” you can make on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook that will communicate with you and offer “help.” The help I’m talking about here includes information about the number and kind of pills to take, or the direction to slit your wrists. With “Friends” like this, you don’t need enemies … but if you’re in a suicidal frame of mind, these suggestions can truly seem to be in your best interest. After all, who wants to “fail” at suicide?

We need to take a step back and see this “help” for what it is: a lie. A true friend doesn’t want you to suffer, but also doesn’t see death as your cure-all. A true friend will listen non-judgementally, but will also encourage you to seek help.

A cyber-space friend is limited; he won’t be able to drive to your house and escort you to the ER. But he can give you what you really need – moral support – instead of what your mind is telling you that you want: permission to die. A true friend – IRL or in cyber-space – will value your life. And they’ll want you to value your life, too. THAT’S the best psychiatric advice, and it’s free.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Choosing to be well. Thursday, August 12, 2010.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” - Helen Keller

If you’re sick, whose responsibility is it to make you well?

You might say it depends on what’s ailing you. If you have cancer, maybe the oncologist is responsible. Heart problems? A cardiologist. But if your illness is of the mental variety, most people will put the responsibility on you, more than on your psychologist or psychiatrist.

It’s not that the other illnesses don’t have an element of choice in them. If you’re trying to recover from cancer, you’ll need to quit smoking and be willing to take medications that make you feel very sick. If your heart’s bad, you might need to exercise or do other things to straighten this muscle. And whatever the illness, people will tell you that a positive outlook helps with healing.

But how do you have a positive outlook when you are suffering from clinical depression? Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you look at things in a different light, but depending on the depth of your despair and your life circumstances, you might or might not be able to do this right now. Many people (including me) have testified that medication has helped them, but not everyone agrees, and pills are never a cure-all. They might elevate mood enough to help cognitive behavioral therapy take hold, but they don’t solve problems. Wish they did.

Many people believe those who are clinically depressed are choosing to be sick. I think that’s a false charge, but I do think it’s true that some of us refuse to participate in our own healing. Many members of my Suicide Attempt Survivors group have contacted me again and again, to tell me how miserable they are, and how meaningless their life is. I suggest a toll-free number to call, or a particular book to read, or an activity that might lift their spirits a bit – but so often, they don’t follow my suggestion. And that leaves me powerless to help them.

In the United States, we have an additional impediment to treatment – its cost. It’s all well and good for me to say, “You need to talk to a professional,” but if the individual lives in America and doesn’t have health insurance that covers psychiatric care, he’ll have to come up with $150 an hour for counseling and maybe hundreds of dollars a month for medication. Alternative medicine is almost never covered by insurance and can be prohibitively expensive as well. And even here, doctors are overbooked. I was suicidal, going through a crisis, and my own psychiatrist was booked for five months. After three months, I wound up in that motel room.

Whose responsibility is it to make you well?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Looking ahead. Tuesday, August 10, 2010.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln

When I was a kid, people talked with great excitement about the 21st Century. “The Jetsons” lived in a round house up on a pole, accessible by flying cars, equipped with robots and machines that made life effortless. “Logan’s Run” portrayed a utopia – a glistening city beneath a giant dome, where there was no crime and no disease, and with only one catch – they killed you when you were 30. (As a kid, that didn’t seem like such a big problem – 30 was OLD.)

I was very excited when we celebrated 2000 (even though, technically, the 21st Century wouldn’t begin until 2001). I wasn’t worried about the Y2K bugaboo, and I really believed we were ushering in some sort of magical Age of Aquarius. The future was so bright, I needed to wear shades.

Alas, it was not to be. September 11, 2001, set in motion a number of frightening things. Not only did Americans become afraid on their own soil, and begin to distrust their neighbors of different colors and religions; the United States became enmeshed in two costly wars and the economy began to wilt.

Today, things are downright scary, and doomsday heralds peek around every corner. Will there be a “double-dip” Recession? Will we sink into a worldwide Depression? Will the cost of health care rise 400 percent? Will the streets fill with homeless people, once comfortably middle class? Will Social Security disappear? Medicaid? Will drug-resistant diseases wipe out half the population? Will “loose nukes” be detonated in our cities? Will we run out of fresh water? Will global warming result in the destruction of our coasts?

Holy shit! It’s a wonder everyone on earth isn’t suicidal!

If you’re an optimist, you probably aren’t too concerned. You know that many times in the past, doom and gloom was predicted and didn’t happen. (Remember when Mikhail Gorbachev was supposed to be the Anti-Christ?) But if you tend toward pessimism, as I do, you might be really frightened right now.

Among those of us who have made a conscious decision to live, we must accept the fact that we don’t know what the future will bring. And we have to be OK with that.

I’d still really like to live in The Jetsons’ house, though.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Green eyes. Monday, August 9, 2010.

“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.” ~Fran├žois Duc de La Rochefoucauld

The last few weeks have been full of parties and picnics, and lots of opportunities for me to compare my inside with other peoples’ outsides.

It gives me great shame to admit it, but over the past couple of years I have become a terribly envious person.

Please understand that it wasn’t always so. Just a few years ago when I went to my high school reunion, I came away feeling very fortunate. There was no one there I wanted to be like, no one there whose looks or job or belongings I coveted. I remember calling up my mom and telling her how seeing all those boring people made me feel so blessed to be living my life, with my little family in my little house and our little church.

What a change a Recession makes – not to mention a major depressive episode. Now that I no longer feel financially secure as I did before, and now that I no longer trust my bipolar to stay at bay, everyone else’s lives appear to be idyllic. Most of my extended family and friends happen to be in fields not greatly affected by the Recession, and – to my knowledge, anyway – none of them suffers from a serious mental illness.

I’m even envious spiritually. My encounter with rehabilitating depression and suicide has made God feel very far away. When I read a testimonial or hear someone talk about how they feel like they are basking in God’s love, my green-eyed monster comes out, claws exposed. How dare God allow them to experience the Holy Spirit so profoundly, when I feel like my prayers are floating into the ether? It’s not fair!

I understand how damaging envy is. There’s a reason why it’s one of the seven deadly sins. The great poets, philosophers and spiritual leaders all had plenty to say about envy. And intellectually, so do I. I know that the people I envy probably have problems – different from mine, but problems nonetheless; some of these people could be acting happy but could actually be in pain.

And I know that envy will eat me up inside if I let it. Lord, help me be rid of this vice. It sucks.