And Then, Square One

Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.

Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.

This…is part weird announcement, part rant. 

I wrote this piece a few months ago, the week I terminated therapy. I didn’t really expect to keep writing full posts about the experience of mental illness. And it’s true. I’ve been managing my eating well. I haven’t been panicky at the prospect of getting dressed in the morning. Grocery aisles aren’t overwhelming. It’s summer, and I’ve worn shorts.

And then there was the other shoe.

The other shoe dropped a few weeks ago…in which I developed an entirely new set of symptoms and related behaviors, which very nearly prevented me from doing important things like working and getting out of bed. I briefly reconnected with my old therapist to attempt to get a handle, or at least someone to tell me I wasn’t as crazy as my brain said. She’s recommended I see a specialist over the next school year, a decision I’ll be following. The university, quite luckily, happens to have several. I’ve no doubt I’ll be comparing the relative coziness of their couches.

It’s entirely possible that the whole of May was an isolated occurrence. I’d like it to be.

It also might be that what happened was indicative of a larger problem underlying the patterns of eating disordered behavior I’ve had. Or those two might coexist in the three pounds of brain matter I run around with. Mostly, I can find out more by waiting to see what happens next. Which means I don’t have answers. You may have noticed that I like having answers about mental illness.

You’ll noticed too that I haven’t explained what my brain is doing… And I don’t know that I will be any time soon.

And this, right here, is the rant, and the part that’s far more important.

I wrote about anorexia under my online identity quite easily. It isn’t my real name, sure, but it’s the name you’ll find on my Twitter, my Facebook, a name my employer could probably turn up with little digging. And I don’t mind that, because talking about an eating disorder isn’t all that risky, as a college-aged woman wanting to go into social work. We’ve got, in our society, this list of mental illnesses that are considered more acceptable. Safer.

And I used to fall neatly into one of those safer disorders.

But tell somebody you have schizophrenia, a personality disorder, substance abuse issues….and suddenly people respond differently. There’s this setting apart you can almost see, like people who occasionally handle weird brain shit cannot also enjoy things like pizza and small talk.

This is not how it works, y'all

This is not how it works, y’all

 

 

And that makes me angry.

It’s not okay that some disorders sounds like an answer and some sound like a life sentence. That parents avoid seeking assessment for their children because they worry the damage a label could do–that an accurate, descriptive word could be more dangerous than targeted help for the future of their child. It makes me angry that the decision comes down to whether my resume could outweigh the results of a quick google. And it infuriates me that this is a question that people face over and over and over again.

So let’s fix that, shall we?

Edit: Ashley rightly pointed out that risk is verrrry relative. It’s fine and good for me to think that I take little to no career risk when contemplating social work as someone with an ED. Were I contemplating politics, the stakes would be different. The first iteration of this post was unnecessarily missing nuance. 

[Monday Miscellany] Accessibility, Mental Health, and Atheist Churches?

It’s Monday, and I don’t have work! I’m celebrating by refusing to get out of bed.

Chris Hofstader wrote about his experience as a blind man at Women in Secularism. This community has quite a ways to go in providing accessibility for all.

I cannot blame the conference coordinators for the behavior of the attendees but this was also a downright surreal experience for both me and my blind friend. Lots of people approached us but, with very few exceptions, they talked to our dogs and not to us humans. A lot of people asked our dog’s names but not ours. Those who actually engaged us in conversation talked only about dogs. I don’t like telling people that I’m smart or whatever but my friend graduated from Princeton, works for the government in software accessibility, has been involved in feminism for a long time, is a humanist/atheist and would have all sorts of interesting things to talk to people at a secularism conference about if they showed any curiosity. This did not happen with anyone at the QED conference in the UK. Maybe the british public education system does a better job of teaching people about diversity in general or disability in specific, I don’t know but I felt like a dog walking bot and not a human at WiS.

Hayley Stevens, though not at WiS, also has some thoughts.

Want to make your event more accessible? Cornell University has a handy checklist.
You can also listen to SB Morgaine’s talk from SSACon 2012 about making your events better.
Want your website to be less suck? Check to make sure that it is compatible with screen readers. I use this open source one. Download the reader, open your page, and see if it can read the text. Also, commenter chippanfire has this excellent remark. 

This is a new periodic table song. It’s stuck in my head. Send help.

Old, but sadly necessary:  stop hitting on the waitress.

See that cute person behind the counter who smiles at you every day as you buy your (lottery ticket/breakfast/liquor/condoms/razors/newspaper/coffee)?

That person HAS to be there and HAS to be nice to you.  It doesn’t mean anything.  You don’t have a deeper connection.  Your daily transactions are not meaningful.

Fortunately, there is a way to show your appreciation for the person who brings you your meal or fixes your drink.  It’s called tipping.  And there is a word for entitled customers who try to use the inherent power imbalance to bully customer service people into unwanted personal interactions, and that word is “douchebag.”

Ally writes about church.

A few people have asked for my feels about the very existence of an atheist church, whether it’s viable, valuable, or even possible. But despite my skepticism, there is a piece of me that really wants this to catch on, and it doesn’t have much basis in rationality or cost-benefit analysis. Granted, I have a problem with the kind of logic that argues that emotion necessarily negates rational thought. I won’t go there now, but I know the desire to cheer them on is coming from a part of me that only seems to show its face when I drink.

For anyone who doesn’t know me outside the skeptic blogosphere, I’m a social dancer, mostly swing and blues. This hobby/sport/art form attracts every brand of human being, from well-mannered seminarians to radical secular humanists like me. There are dancers who claim that you don’t need to drink to enjoy it, but I’m here to tell you that that’s only half true. Sometimes, after a night of dance scene drama, beer has a way of holding the community together.

So after a long night of dance, my good dance friends and I end up at a little local place, and one of my secular dance friends mentioned the Sunday Assembly. We discussed our respective religious backgrounds, casually and anecdotally at first, but I felt a familiar emptiness that usually accompanies stories about my seven years as a wannabe Presbyterian. Before I could stop myself, I said it.

“I miss church, too.”

Wait. Shit. What?

Small things you can do to improve mental health in your community. I’d also add respecting any and all boundaries. If someone tells you they can’t go out tonight, or that they just really don’t like hugs or loud noises or spontaneous activities, respect that. Do not push, do not force.  Treat them as normal people who’ve done the equivalent of ask for chocolate instead of vanilla ice cream, not four headed monsters who DON’T LIKE PARTIES HOW COULD YOU NOT LIKE GOING TO A PARTY.

The AP Stylebook on Mental Health

The AP Stylebook hasn’t been my favorite in the news. Recently, a memo was leaked showing some bigoted plans for same-sex spouses. (After the inevitable doubling-down, the AP did retract it.) But this has put me in a slightly better mood–the AP Stylebook now has an entry in mental illness. I strongly suggest reading the whole thing, but here are some of my favorite parts.

Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic.

Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.”

Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.

Wherever possible, rely on people with mental illness to talk about their own diagnoses.

Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

I used to copy edit for our campus paper–spending a few evenings a week cross-referencing with the Stylebook. This will do real good. Plus, now we can point out journalists who disregard the rules by pointing to specific things they’ve ignored.

h/t Ozy Frantz

A National Database of the Mentally Ill

Subtitled: Has Anyone Here Heard of Client/Patient Confidentiality? No? No.

Today, the National Rifle Association had a press conference.

Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President spoke, and I, recently relocated back to Texas for the holidays, slept through it.

Then I saw the transcript, sat bolt upright in my bed, and got ranty on the internet.

The relevant bit (emphasis mine):

 The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment?

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark.

A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill? The fact is this: That wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger, more lethal criminal class — killers, robbers, rapists, gang members who have spread like cancer in every community across our nation.

So, since the NRA seems long on rhetoric and short on facts, I thought I’d clear some stuff up for them.

Patient confidentiality exists even if you have mental illness.

Funny how that works, where you have rights still, when you have mental illness. Psychiatrists still have to follow HIPPA rules. In fact, notes on psychotherapy that are kept separate from medical charts are given even more protection. Was the NRA suggesting that we trounce all over patient confidentiality and require all diagnoses to be reported? Just the “dangerous” ones? Would someone like to clarify for me which ones those are?

Therapists are already required to report anyone who makes a credible threat, and warn any possible targets.

This is largely based on the Tarasoff Rule, which came out of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. In essence, when a psychologist or therapist hears a client threaten harm, they are obligated to warn those people who may be in danger. “Protected privilege ends where the public peril begins.” This is one of several exceptions to confidentiality, which can be summed up as confidentiality except in instances of harm to self or others. (Which includes reports of child abuse while another child is in the home, risk of suicide, elder abuse, and any threats or injury or death to another.)

So, say there was a high correlation between being mentally ill and being violent. (There’s not.) And then say the Connecticut shooter was mentally ill and in treatment (As far as we know, he wasn’t.) And then, say he’d confessed his plan… oh wait, there’s already methods in place to deal with that. So your database does what now, NRA?

Not everyone with mental illness is diagnosed. 

So would you be requiring everyone to be tested for mental illness then? I mean, I’d be all over that if you didn’t then require that  the mentally ill be registered in a database à la sex offenders. 

Mental illness isn’t exactly uncommon. 

Twenty six percent of American adults meet criteria for a diagnosable disorder in a given year. That, for those of you inclined towards fractions, is one quarter of the population. Since I’ve noticed that it’s somewhat less than a quarter of the population that’s having trouble committing violent crimes with guns, I’m going to posit the radical notion that having mental illness and being near weaponry does not a killer make. Of course, there are some mentally ill people who shouldn’t be near guns. I’ll agree to that easily. There’s also some mentally sound people that we’d rather not have near guns.

Discrimination against the mentally ill is actually a problem. 

Nifty research here. (Abstract only if you’re not at a university, sorry.) Basically, the neurodiverse are more likely to be discriminated against by their employers and coworkers, as well as facing disadvantages in competing for jobs. So maybe we could try to avoid making that worse? Like say, by avoiding the creation of a searchable database of those with mental illness?

Note: I’m fully aware that some people with mental illness are violent. So are some neurotypical people. I’d be all over a psychometrically sound test of impulse control/aggression/etc, that tested abilities related to using a gun responsibly. Using science to determine safe gun owners–great! Using a highly stigmatized population to avoid discussing gun control–jerk move.

You are Not His Mother

This is excerpted and edited from something I put on Facebook. 

There is a horrible article going around. I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, it says.  It’s the story of a mother who has a mentally ill child.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
[…]
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around
[…]
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

No.

She is not. She is the mother of a mentally ill child who is NOT the shooter.

She is taking the story of a child, who is, by her own narrative, quite scary to mother, and deciding to generalizing that to a man she knows nothing about.  When you do that, when you repost it or share it or hold it up as so inspiring and raw and important to relate to this tragedy, you are saying this:

“People who behave in the way that I am describing are just like Lanza”
“Children who do these things that I am describing turn into Lanza”
“My child has something like X/Y/Z Disorder and I think they’re just like Lanza”

Because when you say that the narrative of your child just like that of a mass murderer, and then you describe some characteristics, things we *do not know* of Adam Lanza’s behavior, you are perpetuating some dangerous beliefs.

Please, please stop.

I’m not going to EVER defend the actions of the shooter.

But I will defend to all hell the people who you’re painting with the same brush.

And in case it wasn’t clear already, I will not accept “but any discussion about mental health is important!”. Nope. Discussions that speak over those who suffer from mental illness, that make them The Other, or that stigmatize them and paint them as gangly children with overbites, are harmful, and nothing more. Please stop.

Secondly, if you are going to discuss Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s here, please go educate yourself first. I suggest here and here, but I would gladly welcome more links in the comments. 

When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness

If you’ve read my work, you know I am massively for mental healthcare reform. Not just a little bit in favor, but balloons and blog posts on blog posts and boundless enthusiasm for it.

But you know when I’m really really uncomfortable talking about mental health?

Right now. 

Tragedies are horrible. They’re senseless.

School shootings are especially so. We hurt and we reach out and hug our children and try to make sense of everything. And always, always, we talk about schizophrenia, borderline personalities, bipolar disorder.

Adam Lanza’s mental health won’t be known. Not ever. There’s a lot of things we’d like him answer for–unclaimed Christmas presents and crying families and six year olds with cameras on them and reporters in their faces. We’d like to know why he did it. We want to know what was going on in that mind. There’s no explanation that will put this into perspective. Because, what kind of perspective could it be to understand what would drive you to kill children?

But I’m asking you–begging you, really, to not decide that Lanza had a mental illness. I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy.

Do not try to rationalize this away with mental illness. Stop talking about how it could have been schizophrenia, stop saying he had to have mental health issues. You do not know.

You do not know his state of mind. When you decide to armchair quarterback him, to stamp him with an “obvious” diagnosis, do you know what you are saying?

Here is a terrible thing. The only thing that could possibly cause someone to do such a terrible, tragic thing is to have This Disorder. Because only people with This Disorder could be so dangerous/awful/scary. 

And you, you people who want to look for signs of schizophrenia, who want to talk about how he ‘went crazy’, how he just needed medication, I want you to consider how much harder you are making it for someone to seek treatment.

I want everyone to seek the help they need, and I’d bet you do too.

I want the next person who hears things or sees things, or has invasive thoughts to reach out and have a place to land. I want them to be listened to and to find employment. I want their safety net to care for them and call on the bad days.

I don’t want them torn up with worry that they could be the next shooter, to isolate themselves because they ‘could be dangerous’. I don’t want their friends to worry for their lives. People with mental illness are four times as likely to be the victims of violence. They are more likely to suffer than perpetrate.

You want to care for the living? You want mental health care to be better? Stop making mental illness the scapegoat. You are causing stigma. You are making it harder. You are part of the problem. If today, seeing a therapist was free, treatment was covered as long as it was needed, do you think everyone who needed it would go? If the dominant narrative is that only ‘crazy people’  shoot schoolchildren?

I worked in a research lab developing and testing therapy for schizophrenia when I was 18, where in part, I interviewed participants and tagged along on treatment sessions. To this day, when I mention it–one of the best experiences of my studies–the common reaction is to ask about my safety. My safety from people who patiently let a teenager ask them incredibly personal questions for hours, who let me into their homes and lives. People with mental illness are not inherently dangerous. These attitudes are.

Mental healthcare needs to be better. That is a conversation this country desperately needs to have. Please don’t do it this way.

Note 1: If and only if a therapist who was seeing Lanza or family member  was to come forward and give his diagnosis, I would accept that. However, that doesn’t actually change the point about the narrative we spin about shooters. It’s dangerous and damaging.

Note 2: When you use mental illness as the reason for this shooting, you are ignoring a host of other societal factors that let him buy a gun, that let that gun he bought be a combat rifle.
EDIT: I know that it wasn’t his gun. This was written immediately after the tragedy. Yes, gun culture is still worth discussing.

Note 3: Assuming mental illness without any kind of evidence is also just plain bad skepticism. As if we needed another reason to stop doing that.

[Guest Post] The Shadow of Good Intentions

This is a guest post by William Brinkman. He was a National Assistant storyteller with the Camarilla, and worked on the Demon: The Fallen role-playing game line for White Wolf.  Today he writes the satirical tabloid, The Bolingbrook Babbler. He contacted me about body shaming in a live action role-playing club, and given my utter lack of prior experience, I invited him to write instead.

For about seven years, I was a member of the Camarilla, an international live action role-playing club.  In their global “chronicle,” members played modern day vampires, werewolves, and wizards.  In this combination of table top role playing game and dramatic improvisation theater, the characters would either plot against each other, or fight even greater monsters.  The characters had to act like monsters, for fear of becoming greater monsters.

Outside of the game, members raised money for charities and organized blood drives.  My local domain would also host occasional social events where we could socialize without the pressures of the game.  In addition we’d chat on the many in-character and out of character e-mail lists.

Due to the mature nature of the game, and the potential for things getting out of hand in real life, the organization enforced a strong code of conduct and stressed that all players should be respectful towards each other.  It worked for the most part.

The Camarilla is now reorganized into affiliated international organizations.  The United States affiliate of the club is now called Mind’s Eye Society.  Many of the rules, including the Code of Conduct, have carried over.

Considering the above, I was a bit surprised when an MES blog post came to my attention.  The post described an auction where players could bid for items to use in their new chronicle.  Instead of bidding with money, bidding would be done with “Booyeahs.”  Players earn Booyeahs by doing various tasks or reading certain books.  Some of the tasks are laudable.  (“5 Booyeahs – Volunteer an hour at a soup kitchen”) Some are snarky. (“20 Booyeahs – Read Smith’s ‘Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity’”)

The Personal Health Category, however, concerned me.  Though well meaning, some of the tasks could be harmful to some members, or some members can’t participate due to physical limitations.

10 Booyeahs – Hike 2 miles (may be earned once per week)

While hiking is good exercise, I’m sure some members can’t walk or are not in the condition to hike or walk two miles.  I don’t think it is fair to exclude them from these points.

15 Booyeahs – Quit drinking soda or beer for a month
15 Booyeahs – Quit drinking coffee or other caffeinated (non-carbonated) beverages for a month

People with high blood pressure probably should limit their caffeine intake.  There are others to use caffeine to help deal with migraines.  These members shouldn’t have to suffer for a few points.

Additionally, if someone is a heavy drinker, suddenly abstaining from alcohol might not be safe.  This is a choice that should be made in consultation with a medical professional, not a role-playing club.

1 Booyeah – Lose 1 pound (may be earned 1 per pound, no regaining pounds for the purposes of losing them again)

This one is the most disturbing to me.  Some weight loss can be dangerous, and should always be done in consultation with a medical professional.  Additionally, I’m sure some members can’t or shouldn’t lose weight.  Should the MES reward an anorexic member for losing weight?

Overall this category is based on a negative stereotype of role-players as out of shape and overweight.  Not all members are.  When I was a member, I was involved in martial arts, and I knew of other members who were as well.  Some members also served in the military.  One former member participates in Tough Mudder competitions.  Not every member will have the body type to participate in this category.

The purpose of booyeahs may be to “to take the time to build the lives we are going to spend with ourselves and with each other,” but it currently has some problematic flaws.

It is my understanding that this policy is under review.  My hope is it will be replaced with something that most members will have the opportunity to participate in.

There may have been good intentions behind Booyeah.  However, like the World of Darkness setting, there are monsters in its shadow.  I hope MES vanquishes them with a new policy.

Do Something Good

Rob Lehr is an awesome guy. He’s the one and only person behind Hambone Productions–which does all the videography for Skepticon.

But here’s the thing about videos–they don’t work for the hearing impaired. Transcripts do. They’re also useful for people who want to quote excerpts, people who don’t have lots of spare time, people who use screen-readers, and on and on and on. Accessibility is important and the skepto-atheist community can do something.  Making these available to those who can’t do audio-only is the minimum standard of access.

So, here’s what’s happening. Transcripts–crowdsourced transcripts (with permission from Rob). Comment below with the one you want to take. And check the comments to make sure there aren’t duplicates! I’m doing Rebecca Watson’s, Miriam has JT’s, and I’ll keep updating this list with links as they go up, since not every video has been uploaded yet.

Rules of thumb I use:

  • Brackets for non-verbal activites [mumble] [audience laughs]
  • em-dashes to show interrupting (“and then she said–)
  • removing filler words (um, uhhh) unless they involve really big pauses or seem conversationally significant.
  • Bolding each speaker’s name.

The List:
Bolded talks have been taken, but check the comments too because I’m going to be away from my computer today.

Greta Christina
JT Eberhard
George Hrab

Phil Ferguson
Julia Galef
Panel Discussion – How should Rationalists approach Relationships and Marriage
Sean Carroll – The Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality
Jessica Ahlquist
Jennifer Oulette
Hemant Mehta – The Rise of Young Atheists
PZ Myers – Evolution, I Do The Kinky Stuff
Rebecca Watson
Keith Lowell Jensen

James Croft – God is Dead. So What?
Matt Dillahunty
Deborah Hyde – The Natural History of the European Werewolf
Richard Carrier
Darrel Ray – The Shame of it All, or Why Do We Act Like Christians
Amanda Knief – Caution: Atheists at Work. How to Avoid Employment Discrimination
Teresa MacBain – Shift Happens
Tony Pinn - Racial Diversity and/in Our Fight Against Theism