Monthly Archives: January 2010

why people don’t talk about “mental illness”

this is a guest post by one of my twitter friends, the barking unicorn.

“the only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well,” said alfred adler, a colleague of sigmund freud.

“most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone dares to tell them the truth about themselves,” said robert anton wilson, the devoutly agnostic author of the illuminatus trilogy and many other books that have been banned.

there you have it: people don’t talk about nuttiness because they’re afraid that their experience with it will be noticed. they avert their eyes from nuts because, to every single one of us, a nut is a mirror. they don’t do anything about nuttiness because to do something about a problem is to admit you’re afraid you have it or will have it. so precious little gets done about nuttiness.

if you’ve stopped being afraid of your nuttiness then you probably want to see something more get done about it. that’s not going to happen until more people stop being afraid of their nuttiness. there are a few ways to show people that nuttiness is nothing to be afraid of:

lead by example. let your nuttiness out in non-threatening ways. i introduce myself as “the barking unicorn” and nothing bad happens. (i don’t actually bark unless asked for a demonstration.) i casually mention my past lives and don’t spill food down my shirt. people are reassured by such things. they open up and reveal their nuttiness to me, and to themselves. then we can start doing something about it.

let normal people see you hanging out with nuts. don’t hurry past on the street; stop and get to know them, and don’t mind who sees you doing so. i spent half an hour on denver’s 16th street mall discussing deep dharma with bill, a red-eyed scarecrow who swilled hot sauce right out of the bottle and let it dribble into his dirty-grey beard. you know what? a few other people stopped to join us, because if i wasn’t afraid of bill then it must have been all right. “tip this guy, he’s a holy man,” i barked, and they did!

take a nut to work; if your enlightened employer allows dogs and invader, mind-controlling space monster “cats” to wander around the office, he shouldn’t have a problem with nuts. if this practice needs to be established, talk to hr about sponsoring just one bring your nut to work day, for the favorable publicity the company can get. “look, we can attract more and better qualified job candidates if they know they don’t have to leave their nuts at home.”

most importantly, stop treating nuttiness as if it’s a problem. that’s where most nut advocates go wrong. they draw attention to the downside of nuttiness: chronic unemployment; homelessness; alcoholism and drug addiction; physical harm done and suffered by nuts, etc. well, normal people don’t want anything to do with problems, especially other people’s problems. (normal people “aren’t nuts,” remember?) they want solutions to their problems. give them one in the form of nuts, and they’ll give money to support nuts.
spirituality is a popular solution to many problems today. people are searching high and low, and paying good money, for the key to getting in touch with their higher selves, or some higher power. basically, they’re not happy with the results of what they’ve been told to do all their lives, and they’re desperately looking for different things to do. doing things differently is a nut’s forte. play to that strength instead of the weaknesses of nuts. history proves that nuts make good money when marketed properly.

the oracle at delphi made a mint, and she was high as a kite constantly. nobody could figure out a damned thing she said, but people came from miles around and stood in line to hear her spout nuttiness.

rasputin acted nutty all the time, even letting food and drink dribble into his beard just like bill. but the russian imperial family kissed his ass.

drukpa kunley became tibet’s patron saint, and never lacked for booze or sex, even though he was nutty as a fruitcake. to this day, he is revered as “the divine madman.”

native americans revered “sacred crazy people”. their nuts were fed, clothed, excused from almost anything, and consulted on important tribal affairs.

there’s a whole school of shambhala buddhism called “crazy wisdom”. bone up on it. find the crazy wisdom in the nuts you want to help, and market it. people will pay for any kind of wisdom.

i needn’t mention any contemporary western rock stars, televangelists, or political leaders. they’re all egregiously nuts and people throw money at them like rice at newlyweds. it’s all in the marketing.

so that’s why people don’t want to talk about mental “illness” and what to do about it. if you believe me, then you can do something with what i’ve explained and that will make you happy. if you don’t believe me, then you just wasted your time and that will make you unhappy.

now you have to decide whether to be nuts enough to choose to be unhappy.

the barking unicorn
“your work is to discover your world and then
with all your heart give yourself to it.” – buddha.
mine is to help you.

stigmatization through silence

you don’t have to spend a lot of time leafing through therese borchard’s beyond blue: surviving depression and anxiety and making the most of bad genes to find some mention of suicide. here, for example

i understand why people who haven’t experienced severe depression believe that a mother who commits suicide is extremely selfish and totally careless in leaving her children to deal with that ugly and permanent baggage. but the truth is that i envisioned my suicide as an act of love for them. i was sure that by removing myself from the picture, i was affording david and katherine a chance to lead a normal life, as they would be no longer victims to my moodiness and despair. the way i saw it, if eric remarried a nice woman, my kids would be far better off than if i stuck around. so i began to search for a suitable bride and mother. i felt pressured to execute the plan as soon as possible, before david and katherine formed memories, before my depression shattered their innocent lives.

i tear up whenever i write this, but it was BECAUSE of, not despite of, my ferocious love for my children that i wanted to disappear.

i think we need to read about things like this more often. have you read about the common suicide myths? two of them are

talking to someone who is suicidal about suicide just makes the urge even worse


suicidal thoughts need to be kept secret so as not to embarrass or upset anyone.

such myths contribute to people keeping mum about the topic. they help bolster the feeling of discomfort or panic that many people feel when the topic is raised. “do we really have to talk about this?” “this is not the right time to discuss this” or “now you’ve spoiled the mood!” are typical reactions, uttered aloud or under the breath, when the word “suicide” rears its supposedly ugly head.

i’m so tired of mental health being a non-issue, and of life-and-death matters like suicide being brushed under the carpet because they’re not pretty. that’s why i’m glad that people like therese borchard lay out her suicidal thoughts for all to see. because you know what? bringing them out in the open goes hand in hand with her talking about how she made it out alive, how her children can keep hanging out with one cool mama.

in recognition of the importance of opening our mouths about this, versus keeping nice and quiet, raul and i have decided, in our limitless hive-mind wisdom, to dedicate this year’s MentalHealthCamp  to “stigmatization through silence”. neat, huh? (only we’re looking for a catchier phrase. can you think of one?) oh, and the camp will take place on july 10.

oh geez, the olympics

here is something a friend of mine wrote. i’m reprinting it because, well, i’m not a big fan of the olympics here. (yet? maybe i’ll change my mind? there’s a few days yet to go …)

right now the city is in the midst of preparations, and deep collective angst, for the games that will be descending upon us in less than three weeks. things are already getting interesting. on my way back to work after lunch yesterday when i was walking over the cambie street bridge (which, for those who are not familiar with our fair city, is near both the police station and the olympic village) i saw myriad upon myriad of white cars parked below the bridge. on closer inspection i saw that they were all police cars. i have never in my life seen so many cop cars in one place! there were hundreds and hundreds of them. i guess our men and women in blue want us (some of us anyway!) to feel real extra safe during these games.

in other news i attended my first anti-olympic demonstration in the downtown eastside which is our poorest neibghbourhood and canada’s poorest postal code. the theme of this demonstration was against police brutality and oppression against anyone in this city who is against the olympics. as many of you will know many many individuals here have been targeted, visited, harassed and interrogated by the police and by border officials over their alleged opposition to the games and a lot of us are getting pretty sick of this.

it was quite an angry protest and while i can’t say that i endorse everything that was said (for example i am not about to do my part to help smash the state or overthrow the capitalist system, much as i also disapprove of them), i understand and empathize with the anger and the emotion being expressed. of course the games are being held on unceded native land and no matter how much spin we are getting from the media it appears that our first nations peoples are still getting a very raw deal, particularly with the environmental degradation, lack of respect and policies of exclusion that the games are going to foist on all of us who don’t have the money to pay for these events nor to participate in many of the celebrations.

suicide and … what? do words make sense here?

i’m sitting here checking my email after a lovely weekend away. my daughter is doing the dishes to hedley’s “for the nights i can’t remember”. my husband is exercising on the Wii.

and i just opened an email from an artists’ email list i belong to. norm tucker, a fellow vancouver artist and writer, committed suicide some time this month, it says.

how do these two coexist? the contentment of a happy family and the tragic end of a life, full of suffering for everyone.

i don’t get it. i guess there is nothing to get.

but there are things i can do. i can send good thoughts to norm’s loved ones. i can extend my hand to others who are deeply unhappy. i can talk about it.

every single person i’ve talked to who had seriously contemplated or attempted suicide has talked of the importance of bringing it out in the open, one way or another. each one of them saw suicide as the only way to end pain.

there is never, never, ever just one way to do anything. but that’s easy to say for me right now, sitting here in my happy living room, not tucked in the corner with depression, not bouncing off the walls with mania. still, i can gently hold this (temporary) sanity for others, hold it for them while they plumb the depths of despair, hold this sanity like a rope. i can listen to whatever words they manage to throw my way.

do these words make any sense? i don’t know. i just wanted to bring something, however small and nonsensical, to this life that was norm tucker.

here is an excerpt from his last blog post. it is called the last dream and more questions

but do we give up?
do we abandon our dreams and hopes?
do we embrace ego and desire?
or does the infinite solace
of what might be, what could be, or should be
motivate us to trudge beyond everyday oblivion?

buried within the big picture is the little picture,
us – you and me – persons, people, humans,
do we count?
can we count?
what can we do in our own small way
to move us into the dream – the living dream?

i have a dream – about mental health

therese borchard, who wrote the fabulous book beyond blue, has a dream about mental health.  i think dr. martin luther king would be totally okay with her being inspired by his famous words.

i have a dream that one day i won’t hold my breath every time i tell a person that i suffer from bipolar disorder, that i won’t feel shameful in confessing my mental illness.

i have a dream that people won’t feel the need to applaud me for my courage on writing and speaking publicly about my disease, because the diagnosis of depression and bipolar disorder would be understood no differently than that of diabetes, arthritis, or dementia.

you can find the rest here at huffington post.

today, too, is depression screening day in vancouver at the CMHA. you can get an anonymous depression test and have a short informational meeting with a clinician.

if you don’t have the time or don’t live in vancouver, you can also try the goldberg depression test.

and if you want to read some REAL MLK posts, this being january 18 and all, you might want to stroll on over to one of my favourite blogs, the field negro, and a dream he had back in 2006. or you can go to learn out loud and listen to one of martin luther king’s speeches, “i am a drum major for justice”.

understanding meaning

recently, i have had numerous little conversation bits on twitter about meaning and meaning making. rather than expound on my ideas here, i’d like to invite you to reflect on the questions below and/or the words of others who have thought about the topic. maybe you’ll come up with your own questions. maybe we can begin a conversation.

  • have you ever wondered, “what is the meaning of life?” if so, what specifically are you talking/thinking about or perhaps hoping for when you ask that question?
  • what does it signify when someone says, “his death was meaningless”?
  • “meaningful” is another word. i just saw that i used it in at least 20 entries. do you use that word? what are you trying to express with it?
  • does a tree have meaning?
  • how does the concept of “meaning” fit into your approach to spirituality? to creativity?
  • when you look at the thoughts on meaning and meaning making below, could we have used other words/ideas/concepts instead of “meaning”?

here are some things other people have said:

meaning-making is a bridge from the negative emotion caused by negative life events to positive emotion through cognitive restructuring. (by mary-frances o’connor in a paper making meaning of life events: theory, evidence, and research directions for an alternative model.)

stephen downes, a fellow canadian, has an interesting article on the topic. an excerpt:

in the roughest sense, ‘meaning making’ is the placing of perceptions or information within the context of a perspective, point of view, or world view. in other words, the ‘making meaning’ of something is to show or to understand how that something assists or contributes to one’s understanding of the world.

beyond that rough outline, the topic of ‘making meaning’ is fraught with dispute and conflicting accounts of ‘meaning’.

the term ‘meaning’ is of semantic origin. the word ‘meaning’ traditionally applied to words. the idea of ‘meaning’ is that one thing – the word, or the ‘sign’ – stands for, or represents, something else – the ‘signification’ …

but the meaning of a word (or sentence) may extend beyond what the words directly refer to. frege captures this idea by distinguishing between ‘sense’ and ‘reference’. other writers speak of the distinction between ‘denotation’ (ie., what a word ‘denotes’, or refers to) and ‘connotation’ (ie., what a word makes you think about, or what a word is associated with). such a distinction is necessary to understand metaphor. ‘the early bird captures the worm’ is either meaningless or [possibly] false when understood strictly by reference, but understood as a metaphor, may well be true.

in either case, there is presumed to be a strong correlation between what a word means and the state of affairs in the world. the idea is that, without a corresponding state of affairs, a word is, literally, meaningless. this opens the way, substantially, to a way of understanding the world, by understanding how we describe the world.

then, interestingly, there is something on a mental health site in new zealand that talks about creativity (interesting because i’m interested in both topics)

meaning-making is the construction of ‘comprehension’ from an individual’s experience. this may be the discovery of completely new core constructs or the reframing of current ideas. it requires an engagement with people, places, ideas or things, to create an ‘internal’ space in which an energetic information exchange can occur. this is what enables the individual to grasp an understanding of the unity between their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds. in the ‘space’ that creative process provides, one recognises themselves as this is reflected back by the image/word/sound they have made, and so comprehension expands.

futuredirected looks at it this way:

perhaps what we are really looking for is completion ” the recognition that the universe is exactly as it should be. there’s nothing wrong with it. we created this way, and if it should have been created some other way, we would have created it that way. but we didn’t. we created it this way.

when you are complete with life, and always already complete, then you are free from the burden of surviving. you have the freedom to create intentionally. your life as you now know it will end, but in its ending there would be no sorrow or tragedy. you would have had a life well lived and it will have been lived completely. new life would appear in your wake. the world you created would go on, always in the context of you. only by giving up the need to survive, in favor of being complete can one attain true survival.

life has no innate meaning, but it does have purpose, and the purpose of life is completion. this isn’t the answer. it’s not even the truth. it is simply a place to stand.

and here something that i think is quite representative of the place of “meaning” in buddhism – in this case, the meaning of sitting meditation (zazen)

our normal western minds would say, “ok, let me just try to figure this thing out, let me try to figure out what the meaning of this “looking at a wall” has for my life, let me just figure out the significance of this and then i will know its meaning. so let me just think about this for awhile.”


sit down! shut up! look at the wall!

finally, here are all the different interpretations of “meaning” on wikipedia.

ok, now over to you!