The Biskeptical Podcast #11: Mental Health Woo

On today’s episode, Morgan and I take a break from the train wreck that is the presidential election and talk about mental health woo. Are psychiatric meds poison? Will a walk through the woods cure everything that ails you? Where did all this mental health denial bullshit come from? Take a listen to find out.

Listen to “The Biskeptical Podcast #11: Mental Health Woo” on Spreaker.

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Zoltron Sees Sadness: How Mr. Frowney Perfectly Sums Up My Depression

mrfrowny

CN: Mental illness, Suicide Ideation, Self-Injury

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that one of my all-time favorite TV shows is Steven Universe. For a cartoon, it has a lot of deep issues: abusive relationships, queer relationships, jealousy, regret, trauma, and, in a more recent episode, depression.

In “Future Boy Zoltron,” the local arcade owner Mr. Smiley buys a fortune telling machine called Zoltron (a nod to the classic fortune telling machine Zoltar). Unfortunately, Steven breaks it, so Mr. Smiley makes Steven put on silver make up and pretend to be Zotron to pay for a new machine. At first it’s all fun, until a sad British man asks Steven/Zoltron, “Will talking to him ever make any difference?” Steven tries to help him out, but even after borrowing some of Garnet’s future vision, nothing helps. Finally the man says, “I guess the curtain really did close on Mr. Smiley and Mr. Frowney. Nobody misses our act, not even him.” As soon as Mr. Frowney leaves, Steven tells Mr. Smiley that he just say Mr. Frowney. Mr. Smiley explains that he and Mr. Frowney used to perform stand-up comedy together. Mr. Smiley eventually catches up with Mr. Frowney and tells Mr. Frowney he wanted their act to work, but Mr. Frowney was just sad all the time. But just when Mr. Frowney is about to leave, Mr. Smiley goes into their own routine:

Smiley: “You having a bad day, Frowney?”

Frowney: “Horrible.”

Smiley: “Well, why don’t you go outside? The sun always cheers me up.”

Frowney: “I did, but it rained.”

Smiley: “Why don’t you use an umbrella?”

Frowney: “I did, but it blew away.”

Smiley: “Ooh, you must have been shocked.”

Frowney: “Yeah, that’s when the lightning hit me. Smiley, what do you do when you’re feeling down?”

Smiley: “[grabs Mr. Frowney] I just take my frown, [turns him upside down] and turn it around.”

And that’s when Mr. Smiley laughs because he finally got the joke.

***

When I’m having a bad depression spell, I am Mr. Frowney. No one and nothing can cheer me up. I end up isolating myself from everyone for days, not returning any texts or emails from anyone. I feel like everything I touch turns to shit like King Midas gone horribly wrong. I cut myself to make some sort of penance to a god I don’t believe in. I obsessively look at Kurt Cobian’s death scene photos over and over again, and imagine following in his footsteps.

But then right when all seems hopeless, some glimmer of hope shines through. It’s usually something small, but it’s enough for me to keep living.

***

This is the part where I’m supposed to wrap things up with a nice little encouraging message, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve been in total Mr. Frowney mode lately. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to take my frown and turn it around.

The Biskeptical Podcast #7: Putting the B Back in LGBT

Today Morgan and I discuss Bella Thorne’s recent coming out as bisexual, the way the media depicts bisexuality, and why bisexual erasure sucks. We also get to meet the Social Justice Galaxy Warriors and their arch nemeses the Sargosians.

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An Apology

[CN: Anxiety, Misogyny]

It started back in April. The North Carolina bathroom bill triggered me so badly that I went to two atheist feminist groups on Facebook and asked what to do when you just want to give up activism. Some of the posts were helpful, but others called me out for making everyone in the group use up their spoons to coddle me. In a fit of anger, I left both groups and wrote an angry blog post calling out toxic feminists. Some MRA-types commented on it, but I didn’t pay attention because I felt I was in the right.

Until yesterday when someone called me out on that post on a friend’s Facebook wall. I wrote a blog post apologizing for it, but I got called out again for not taking full responsibility. That’s when I had one of the most intense anxiety attacks I had ever experienced in my life. I was in total fight or flight mode, and I chose flight instead of rationally taking everyone’s comments into consideration. I deleted both the apology post and the toxic feminists post, and I blocked the people calling me out.

After talking to a friend about it this morning, though, I realized what I did was wrong. I let my emotions take over and acted childish, and for that I am sorry.

So here I am coming clean.

I apologize for making others spend extra energy coddling me instead of doing social justice work.

I apologize for not taking full responsibility for my actions, and instead projecting my crap onto others.

I apologize for letting MRAs dominate the comment section and spread their sexist ideology. And I apologize for interacting with them and encouraging them.

I apologize for my original half-assed apology where I only pretended to be sorry.

I apologize for blocking people on Facebook who were trying to explain to me that I wasn’t taking full responsibility for my actions.

I apologize for playing the victim and throwing a pity party on Facebook.

***

For now, I’m going to temporarily step back from doing online activism for a month. Don’t worry; I’m not quitting. I just need some serious introspection while I unpack all my internalized misogyny. I’m not even going to upload a new episode of my podcast until next month.

Being a good activist means sometimes you have to step away and take a good long hard look at yourself. We like to brag about how “woke” we are, but the truth is we’re all still waking. The events of this past weekend definitely proved that to me.

When I come back, I hope to be a better activist, a better ally, and a better human being.

Be Back Later

(Comments disabled in this post)

I wrote a post and deleted it. Two posts, to be exact.

I had a major anxiety attack and felt like I was going to die.

Despite that, I am paying attention to the criticism. I just need to time to process things.

I wish I could handle being called out better.

Rude Reminders That I Am “The Other”

pulseribbon

CN: Homophobia, Orlando Shooting, Bullying, Violence, Slurs

1999:

I’m 16 and first starting to realize I’m bisexual. There’s a boy in my class that I want to kiss. I don’t tell anyone, though, because I’m already being bullied for being a nerdy femme guy (this was before I learned being genderqueer was a thing) with a mental illness cocktail of depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Not a day goes by in school when a kid calls me a faggot. Plus, Matthew Shepherd was just murdered. How the hell can I come out when it’s only going to make things worse? I mean, my mom will accept me for who I am; homosexuality never bothered her. But there’s no other safe space for me outside of home, so I stay in the closet and convince myself I’m really a straight guy who’s just a little confused right now.

 

2012:

I’m 29 and finally came out as bisexual after getting out of a terrible six-year relationship with a conservative Christian woman. I no longer believe being LGBTQ is a sin, and I’m finally free to be myself. I even found an ELCA church that welcomes everyone. The best part of all is I have a boyfriend.

He is everything my ex wasn’t. Some may say our relationship is just a rebound, but what I feel with him is more real than anything I’ve ever felt in my life. As clichéd as it sounds, I feel alive when I’m with him. We tried to take things slow, but we fell in love with each other fast and hard.

On this particular evening, we’re in my car making out in the Denny’s parking lot after dinner. I look over and see a man in a truck parked a few spots down from us. He’s looking in our direction. Can he see us? Is he looking at us? Does he know? I try to play it cool and focus on my boyfriend, but I can’t stop looking over at him. Is he going to get out of his truck and beat the shit out of us?

Eventually another man gets in the truck with him and they drive off. I’ve been bullied before, but this is the first time I thought I was going get hurt.

 

2016:

I’m 33 and I just woke up to hear the news about Orlando. At first the body count was in the thirties, but now it’s at least fifty. As details emerge, I find out it was a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS. At first I’m angry at religion causing so much hatred and violence in the world, but the more I process it, the more that old feeling creeps up that I am the Other. I know that I’m queer, but since no one really gives me shit for it, I forget that to many people, I’m not even human. I’m an abomination. I’m sick. I’m a pervert. Not only do certain gods believe I deserve death, but there are people in the world that are more than willing to do their gods’ work.

And in that moment, I am truly scared shitless.

Why “It’s True For Me Because I Believe It” Is Dangerous

[CN: Anxiety]

I’m currently taking Religions of the West in college, and one of the texts we read recently was The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. In the introduction, Eliade defines the sacred as that which “manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order from ‘natural’ realities” (10). In other words, in the minds of the religious, there is a dichotomy of the natural world (the profane) and that which transcends beyond the natural world (the sacred). Even material things become sacred in the minds of the believer. Eliade writes:

A sacred stone remains a stone; apparently (or, more precisely, from the profane point of view), nothing distinguishes it from all other stones. But for those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is transmuted into a supernatural reality. In other words, for those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality. (12)

For example, according to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the bread and wine of the communion ceremony literally become the body and blood of Christ. The “profane” (i.e. non-Catholic) point of view sees the bread and wine and remaining normal bread and wine. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that anything supernatural occurs during communion. However, the bread and wine become sacred to those who believe it.

So basically when Bill O’Reilly told Richard Dawkins the Christian faith “is true for me” because “I believe it,” he actually made a good point. In the mind of the believer, religious claims are capital-t Truth because of the power the believer gives them. It doesn’t matter what the facts are; if it’s true for the believer, then it’s capital-T truth. The Bible is the Word of God because Christians believe it. The Qu’ran is the Word of God because Muslims believe it. The bread and wine are literally Jesus’ body and blood because Catholics believe it. Circumcision is a sign of being God’s chosen people because Jews believe it.

You may ask, “So what? If it’s true for the individual and it helps them get up in the morning, who’s to say they’re wrong? You claim to be a pragmatist, and didn’t your boy William James say religion is useful because it helps people get up in the morning?” While it’s true that faith does inspire people to get up in the morning and do good deeds, the opposite is also true–unchecked beliefs can be just as harmful.

For example, I have a mental illness cocktail of depression, anxiety, and ADD. One of the worst parts about this mental illness cocktail is that I often give way too much power to false beliefs. “I’m stupid.” “I’m worthless.” “Everyone hates me.” “Something terrible is going to happen.” I have a thought, I obsess over it, and it eventually becomes capital-T Truth for me. It gets to the point where I am literally unable to function because I’ve convinced myself the bad thoughts in my head are Truth.

Ten years ago, for example, I was convinced the world was about to end. I picked up a book called The Bible Code that claimed if you rearrange the original Hebrew text of the Torah in a certain way, it reveals predictions about the future. One such prediction was that the world will end in 2006 in a nuclear war. Even though all my Christian friends said it was hooey because Jesus said no one will know when the world will end, my mental illness cocktail convinced myself that they were wrong. I had no reason to doubt it. Iran was enriching uranium, North Korea tested a missile, and Israel was fighting Lebanon. The stage was set for an all out nuclear war, I thought. Plus, didn’t Jesus say the Son of Man would descend to Earth in a cloud? Could it be a metaphor for a mushroom cloud? Looking back, it’s all ridiculous, but at the time I believed everything I thought. I spent the entire summer of 2006 in crippling fear of the upcoming apocalypse. And when it didn’t happen and I realized The Bible Code is a crock of shit, I was embarrassed.

So even though religious beliefs may help people get up in the morning, they can also hurt people because people give way too much power to religious beliefs. As David Silverman told me last week on my podcast, people put religion on a pedestal as something that cannot be touched. Yet the more we perpetuate the whole “It’s true for me because I believe it” mentality, the more we enable harmful religious beliefs. Which is why I’m finally starting to understand why a lot of atheists say liberal religion enables fundamentalism.

Bottom line: don’t believe everything you think, even if it’s a “good” thought.