Category Archives: blogs of note

“invisible driving”: a memoir of mania and depression

here, finally, is a review long promised, of alister mcharg’s extraordinary memoir, invisible driving. this book, says alistair,

reads with the urgency of a novel. my work delivers a wild and hilarious thrill ride through the misunderstood, phantasmagorical world of manic depression, providing both a visceral sense of the experience and a thoughtful context for understanding it. while other books have described the surrealistic circus, invisible driving takes readers along so they can smell the sawdust for themselves.

alistair mcharg spent his early years in edinburgh and amsterdam, moving to philadelphia with his father, ian, and mother, pauline, at age six. he attended germantown friends school, haverford college, and the university of louisville. the prestige of an M.A.. in creative writing enabled mcharg to secure employment with one of philadelphia’s least reputable cab companies, providing the background for his first novel, moonlit tours. other forays into dead-end employment have included deckhand on a norwegian tramp freighter, forest fire fighter in alaska, and guide at a canadian wilderness survival camp. alistair has been arranging words for a living since 1983. apart from invisible driving, he has written countless poems, hundreds of movie and book reviews, and an ever-growing catalog of cartoons. his second novel, washed up, was released last year.

what follows is a conversation we had last tuesday.

moritherapy: what do you like best about your book?

alistair mcharg: the writing itself, the way it puts readers inside the experience of mania. (and of course, the humor.)

moritherapy: have you found people who are/were interested in the literature aspect of your book? actually, that sounds a little strange – “literature aspect.” the way i read it, your book is literature, and it is about the topic of bipolar illness. thoughts?

alistair mcharg: i totally agree with your description. it is a memoir first. in essence it is a coming of age story about facing demons, battling them, and becoming a man – a human being – in the process. the landscape where that battle plays out is manic depression. the people that don’t get it are the ones who don’t realize that the manic narrative is there to put readers inside the experience of a manic episode – you have to surrender to it to get the true benefit. – i have indeed found many readers who appreciate it as literature – rather unorthodox literature.

moritherapy: there is a rhythm to your book that is clearly there but hard to pin down. it sure isn’t a simple little polka. in the beginning you seem to have a “crazy” chapter taking turns with a “normal” one; then the manic and the normal (if i may use that word) start to take turns within the chapters, then two or three chapters in a row are wild and woolly, etc. etc. can you say something about that? to what degree is that a stylistic device, and to what degree does it echo your experience? can the two be separated at all?

alistair mcharg: the manic chapters came first. then a literary agent said that there needed to be “depth” – a second voice that was sane, reliable, and recovered. i rewrote the entire book several times. i now see she was so right – the chapters in the recovered voice provide the background – the psychological architecture. the reader finds out why i was vulnerable – what the triggers were – and what was significant about how i acted out. yes the point/counterpoint is very deliberate. (you would think that the wild, manic chapters would have been hardest to write – but the sane ones were much harder – more soul searching of real things.)

moritherapy: actually, to me, imagining writing the book, it felt that the manic ones were the ones that were written with more ease. perhaps that is because i was frankly flabbergasted how much i could relate to a lot of what you wrote. i think that’s what first drew me in. i knew exactly what you were talking about, even though my bipolar experiences are extremely mild. i’m still astonished at that.

alistair mcharg: interesting. maybe the bipolar experience is essentially the same, and what varies is the degree. it is a very nice compliment that the writing registered with you. (when i gave the manuscript to my psychiatrist he said he had to put it down now and then because it was making him manic!) i can’t say that they were written in ease – recreating the pitch of mania, the quicksilver logic twisting and slipping, the bobbing and weaving, energy, raw creative force – when i was squarely back on earth – slightly depressed – took a tremendous amount of labor and craft – craft i didn’t know i had until i attempted it.

moritherapy: i was wondering about the mood you were in when you wrote those passages! the fact that it was indeed a re-creation speaks to your fantastic writing skills. were there moments when you wondered whether recreating this would take you back into the mania?

alistair mcharg: thank you – it was writing this book (my first) that turned me into a real writer – it was transformational. — your question is pivotal. i began writing immediately after the episode described had ended. i was terrified, really shaken. i had suffered with the illness long enough to know that a trigger could send me off again – and i was pretty sure another episode would kill me. but i knew i couldn’t write the book unless mentally i went back in. (rock & hard place.) so i went deeply back into the middle of it. that decision is what made the experience transformational. i knew it might set me off on another high, i knew that might kill me – i did it anyway. i knew that i had to face this darn illness or be destroyed by it.

moritherapy: fascinating! i am really touched by what you say, can feel it in my gut. and what hits me is, again, this commingling, meeting of art, this thing called mental illness, and the healing of/from/with it. it reminds me of a poem i wrote many years ago when i was close to dying of typhoid fever. i wrote it in spanish so it’s a bit hazy in my memory but something about the need to climb the mountain of art, alone, naked, because there is no other choice. does that resonate?

alistair mcharg: resonate indeed. that is exactly what i had to do – and it was probably the single bravest thing i’ve ever done. as you say in your poem – i had to do it alone. i had been fed so many lies – i was very fear-based – i had to strip absolutely everything away until there was nothing left that wasn’t true. and then i rebuilt – i reinvented myself. – but what you say about comingling is deep – and many people do not understand. i say often that manic depression and alcoholism have given me more than they have taken. in manic depression i saw rare things – and was forced to evolve. alcoholism ultimately took me to a better way of life and a higher power. it has all been a spiritual journey and while mental “illness” has caused earthquakes in my life it has also produced angels. (typhoid fever!! yikes! thank goodness you’re okay.)

on my blog today is a poem called “rex” — you see, i was shy, i hid, i felt “less than” – but manic depression made it impossible for me to hide – and also – it forced me to admit my power.

moritherapy: more on the commingling … so there is the art, there is the “mental illness” (funny how i often feel i have to put it in quotation marks), there is the healing, there is the acknowledgment of power – and then there is humour. there’s a lot of humour in your book. page 218:

and how do these aristocrats of oddness settle down after a busy day of counting their fingers and slashing their wrists with plastics forks?

humour in these circumstances can be taken as disrespect sometimes. do you hear that sometimes? how do you react? (by commingling i mean that the humour seems to be part of it all.)

alistair mcharg: humor and music are in the very center of me. to me the best humor is never nasty, it doesn’t single out anybody and it is never there to make me feel better than you. real humor celebrates the absurdity of all life, human vanity, fatuous selfishness. you will notice that most of the humor in the book comes at my own expense. – that said, when i was manic every mean quality came out – the anger, the hurt, the fear – and, combined with an intellect caught on fire – all this hurt often found expression in really cruel humor. other times it was quite surrealistic and charming. even in my other books – both satiric novels – and my cartoons – even my poetry – you will find that i include myself – all of us – when aiming barbs. i disrespect parts of people, racism, jealousy, entitlement, xenophobia – but it is never about disrespecting people – it is about loving truth and loving what people could be but are afraid to be.

moritherapy: one last question for now: towards the beginning of the book you say, “the love of my daughter is my favourite thing about myself.” in therapy, there is often a dictum that people should change for themselves, not for others. as a father, would you agree with that?

alistair mcharg: this is a great question. the easy answer is yes! there is a saying in AA that is told to the uncertain: fake it till you make it. at first it doesn’t matter if you are in therapy – or recovery – for the wrong reasons – so long as you are there. (bring the body and the mind will follow.) but absolutely, there must come a time when you are doing it for yourself – otherwise you will never commit fully and you will never get the full benefit.

if you asked me that question today i would answer – my favourite thing about me is that i know what i have to offer and i am doing my best to put it to the service of others.

moritherapy: thank you, this was absolutely lovely!

—–

alister mcharg’s blog, america’s favorite manic depressive, is at http://alistairmcharg.blogspot.com/

the book’s web site is at http://www.invisibledriving.com

looking into gratitude

this morning, i visited chitowngreg’s sunday post about gratitude. it was fabulous to see all the comments there – 48 at the time i was visiting.

and then of course my research brain got curious. what a great treasure trove to delve a little into to find out what specific things people are grateful for! i spent a few hours to analyze it a bit and cam up with a few surprises and a few things that were expected.

family was the biggest theme. i found 25 mentions of it. most of them were about children, e.g.

three wonderful children with their own uniqueness

and almost as many about spouses, e.g.

climbing into my warm bed, with my husband who loves me, and listening to the rain softly falling all night long……

then a surprise – the next category in “family” was dogs, before mothers, etc.:

for dogs who never tire of seeing me.

chitowngreg’s blog is a 12-step blog, so understandably, there were a lot (21) of expressions of gratitude about recovery and 12-step programs, like

i watched, “crazy heart”, last night. a story about an alcoholic country singer/ songwriter. made me very grateful for my sobriety and the second chance i was given.

indirectly, some of the comments where gratitude is expressed for those kinds of things would also fall into other categories such as spirituality and friends (because of the strong fellowship aspect of 12 steps). i found surprisingly few (5) for friends (“the companionship of friends”) and 4 for spirituality (e.g. “playing ave maria in a little while at mass this morning”).

i was also not necessarily surprised but perhaps “pleasantly confirmed” that those gratitudes contained none of the cultishness that 12-steppers are sometimes accused of.

another topic that came up frequently was basic needs, possibly inspired by greg’s intro to the post about how lucky most of us are. if your combined household income is over $ $26,400 a year, you’re in the top 10% of all income earners in the world. think about that. for many of us westerners, that’s mind boggling. when i think of how many people i know who are wringing their hands because they only make $25 an hour, it’s refreshing to hear this

thank god for running water!

and then there were more comments (14) about the weather/nature than there were about health (11)! that was perhaps the biggest surprise. i would have expected for health to be right up there with family. of course this is anything but a scientific research project – still, i find this remarkable, something i’m thinking of following up (maybe i’ll write one of my brainblogger articles about this sometime soon). loved this comment:

i’m grateful to have had a glorious weekend on the boat and that this afternoon there was a wonderful thunderstorm. we came back through the rain but were safe. nature in all its power!

another surprise: of all the gratitudes i looked at (about 140 altogether), this was the only one that explicitly mentioned nature.

here’s one about health:

i’m grateful today that i can think and speak in words. a dear friend is wordless after a brain hemorrhage, and it’s very hard.

other things that were mentioned more than once, with some examples, and in order of occurrence:

blogging

i’m grateful to have blogs that allow me to reconfirm i am doing the right thing in my life.

gratitude itself
people like you who remind me why i should be grateful when i’m grouchy just because its monday

personal growth

having the courage to ask “what am i going to do,” rather than sitting in pity saying “why”

mornings (that was another surprise – mentioned 7 times)

the possibilities of the whole day in front of me

also home, work, baseball (!!!) and peace.

august 2010 buddhist carnival: right action

every month i delve into the buddhasphere to come up with interesting tidbits in buddhist writing. this time around i was interested in the concept of right action.

the poem we start out with today is the famous shin jin mei poem

the perfect way knows no difficulties
except that it refuses to make preferences;
only when freed from hate and love,
it reveals itself fully and without disguise;
a tenth of an inch’s difference,
and heaven and earth are set apart;
if you wish to see it before your own eyes,
have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.
to set up what you like against what you dislike –
this is the disease of the mind:
when the deep meaning of the way is not understood
peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose.

thanks, tricycle!

right action and the death penalty

i’m including this one because the writer draws a (perhaps tentative) conclusion that is different from my own; it’s important to me look at a diversity of points of view. also, it’s fitting to start with this one because “do not kill” is almost always cited as the first exhortation in the teachings about right action. i like the simplicity of it, similar to hippocrates’ basic idea, “first do no harm”. here is an excerpt of the post dying for killing:

one of the most important things the buddha taught was “do not kill.” it’s commonly accepted as the first precept. so, buddhists clearly do not believe that it’s right to kill, to take life. as the buddha did not teach, “do not kill except in the following cases…”, it’s commonly accepted that all killing is wrong. this is why many buddhists are vegetarians, peace activists and conscientious objectors.

isn’t it amazing how something so straightforward can be treated with such confusion? because here’s where i start wavering.

right action and the body

here, in fact, is a translation offered by a buddhist from malaysia about the buddha’s teaching. it is interesting how in the west, the idea of right action is usually linked closely to ethics whereas this section clearly is concerned with what one does with one’s body:

and which, friends, are the 3 kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma? here someone, stop all killing of living beings, abstains from injuring living beings; with rod & weapon laid aside, gentle and kind, such one dwells sympathetic towards all living beings.

avoiding the taking of what is not given, one refrains from stealing,what is not freely give. one does not take by way of theft the wealth and property of others, neither in the village nor in the forest. abandoning abuse of sensual pleasures, such one gives up misuse in sensual pleasures. one does not have intercourse with partners, who are protected by their mother, or father, or mother and father, or brother, or sister, or relatives, who is married, betrothed to another, who are protected by law, in prison, or who are engaged to other side.

that is how there are three kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma… such is right action!

right action, teaching and fun
this excerpt here from back to buddhism illustrates why it can sometimes be difficult to find interesting posts about buddhism – many buddhists just don’t bother to stick the label “buddhism” onto all they write.

i really don’t think it’s necessary to categorize something as buddhism or not-buddhism; after all, there is really not much difference between the two. when i write about racism, i am writing about right mind. when i write about teaching, i am writing about right action.

so let’s see what he says about teaching.

in all my classes, whether they are english or computer science or meditation, i make a concerted effort to make sure it is fun. in fact, i try to make class silly. the class has to be fun for me and it has to be fun for my students. if we are not having fun, we are not learning.

… after lunch is the most difficult time to teach. to counteract the drowsiness of my students, i knew i would have to really knock the lesson out of the park.

it’s relatively easy to act out the verbs – walk, shout, am. it’s also not so hard to point to nouns and dress them up with adjectives. even adverbs are not so hard to impersonate

however, acting out through and at and with is a bit more of a challenge; toward was nearly impossible.
we made it through prepositions i had planned. salt played a big role in the lesson. the salt is on the table, above the table, under the table, with the glass, behind the glass. there was a combination of horror and laughter when the salt went in the glass.

right action, software and the mundane. oh, and green living

at first glance, this post on buddhism and software selection (first found on another malay buddhist blog, buddhist bugs) seemed a little lightweight. well, it is, just like the book they suggest, what would buddha do? nevertheless, there is something intriguing to seeing buddhist teachings applied to something so seemingly mundane (and yet very important for businesses, just like not stealing and not cheating). after all, if we don’t apply the teachings to the mundane, what’s the point?

and if you’re in the mood for more lightweight reading, go to mother nature news and read about the book what would the buddha recycle? once again, it’s easy to raise our highbrow eyebrows but let’s be honest – isn’t light and fluffy material like this that sometimes provides the entrance to more profound learnings?

right action and inaction
buddha’s pillow has a number of posts on right action, like this one on responsibility:

many of us choose inaction in stressful or frightening situations. this is not practice. inaction in the presence of conscious choices of right vs. wrong actions is irresponsible to oneself and one’s world.

right action and social responsibility
more on responsibility.  here`s an interview at shambala sun about social action:
goodman: kittisaro often quotes ajahn chah as saying, “if it shouldn’t be this way, it wouldn’t be this way.” yet we live in a world of great suffering. how do you reconcile ajahn chah’s teaching with the buddhist precepts of “right speech” and “right action”?

thanissara: at some level it’s obviously true”it can be no way other than it is right now. however our actions in the present condition the future.

buddha didn’t just sit there and say, “oh well, the world is at it is.” he acted. in fact he tried three times to prevent a war between those in his home country of kapilavastu and the king of kosala. yet he wasn’t able to stop the bloodshed. he had to accept that this was a karma he couldn’t alter, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t try. on leaving the area, it is recorded that his beloved attendant ananda asked him why he was so sad, to which the buddha replied that his people would be massacred within the week.

right action, therapy, living in the now and values

the smart buddhist, written by a therapist, has all kinds of choice morsels on offer. here he touches on a sensitive point for me, the idea of being value neutral as a therapist:

the experience of living in the present, paradoxically, can tempt us into experiential avoidance all over again, just in a new form. it’s quite possible to trade escape from the now for escape into the now. the recent enthusiasm for mindfulness and acceptance in the west needs to be channeled properly or we risk creating just another form of western self-indulgence. by themselves, mindfulness methods as they’re often used in western psychotherapy don’t give sufficient attention to the organizing influence of purpose in human life. in the spiritual traditions from which such practices were drawn, “right action” is specified through ethical principles. but western therapists are encouraged to take a value-neutral professional stance, and not direct our clients to any particular belief or “right action” enjoined by a religious or spiritual tradition. nevertheless, we still can help our clients gain access to their deepest aspirations and turn a life lived in the present moment into a life worth living.

right action and rightness

in the last little while, i’ve come across a number of situations where people understandably got a little itchy at the idea of rightness, for example in the comments on my post about trying to come up with a definition of mental health. what’s with this right action, right thought, etc.? part of this comes precisely from the doctrine of value neutrality that many of us been exposed to – in therapy for some of us, but definitely in science. historically, this is also (paradoxically) connected to the very fabric of democracy and human rights, for example when it comes to religious freedom. it is useful, then, to look at this idea of rightness. dogen sangha gives a bit of insight here:

there is none among the many kinds of right that fails to appear at the very moment of doing right. the myriad kinds of right have no set shape, but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet, and with a force stronger than the vairambhaka winds.

(even though each of milliaeds rights do never have any kinds of decisive form beforehand, and so there is no right, which exists before at the present moment, and at the same time there is no right, which continues its existence to the next moment. right is always exists just at the present moment, and such a present moment continue at every moment.)

right is a simple fact, which occurs just when it is done at the present moment, therefore it is perfectly impossible for right to exist at a different moment other than at the present moment at all.

right action and musicianship

we started with the art of poetry, let’s end with the art of trumpetry. here is a beautiful piece at macfune about musicians and right action

what, then, of the moral commitment of the musician? what is it to be a trumpet player? certainly we can differentiate between the hack who puts some plumbing to his lips every once in a while and the truest artist whose spiritual being is not separate from the physical processes inherent in performance. the difference is morality. the difference is how one lives one’s life, not how one thinks idly about right and wrong but how one acts.

(side note: nothing is still, nothing is constant, nothing exists from one instant to the next: all we are is action. there are no nouns in this universe, only verbs. all nouns are categorical statements that limit and defy the constantly changing nature of phenomenal existence. “i” should be understood as a verb, not a noun.)

right. so the musician is, like all artists, exploring the fundamental question of human existence: the moral question. when we listen to miles, coltrane, glenn gould, to the cleveland orchestra playing beethoven (!), or to any other great musician, if we pay attention we can hear a profound moral question posed.

i remember reading somewhere or other that the key to understanding jazz is to hear the hidden social message: in the softest, most intimate ballad are the seeds of a profound sadness, and in the most joyous, swinging celebratory bop number is wild rebellion, lurking just beneath the surface.

if you’ve made it this far, thank you! come again next month, on september 15, or read some of the other buddhist carnivals.

links: psychology, morality, social media and dogs

in my long-suffering attempts to organize my internet life better, i’m going to see what it’s like if i post the occasional link article.  so here’s a stroll through the links open on august 1, with the first paragraph of each post so that you can get an idea what it’s all about.  you may even end up reading something!

gifted relationships: on being “too much” to the right of the curve

for most of my life, finding friends and work that honored my intensity and intelligence wasn’t an issue for me.

make my psychotherapy plain, but with a twist
by tom ellis, PsyD, ABPP on july 23, 2010

jon allen‘s post “is psychotherapy going to POT?” is spot on in terms of describing the quandary faced by psychotherapists and their patients with respect to the double-edged sword of “prescriptive therapies.”

my hopes for mental health camp UK

the moment i spotted MentalHealthCamp toronto i wanted to help make it happen here. years ago i was a volunteer MIND mental health advocate in the old hackney psychiatric hospital (a former workhouse) which was a schooling in one side of mental health services. now that i’m an accidental digital innovator i can see the huge potential in a mashup of mental health and digital, which i can’t really put better than the MentalHealthCamp toronto mission statement :

dr. khalid sohail, a psychiatrist by profession has been passionately writing for the last two decades. his collections of poems, stories, travelogues, novellas and essays have been published in english, urdu and punjabi. his writings are an attempt to share his humanistic philosophy of life. he summarized his views in his book “pages of my heart” in the following words:

edge: getting at the neuroanthropology of morality
edge has just posted a new seminar, the new science of morality. you get lots of access to interviews, links to papers, videos, exchange of views, reactions from the press, and more. quite stimulating.

calling all social change geeks: it’s netsquared camp vancouver

a month from now, on saturday, august 14, i’ll be attending vancouver’s first NetSquared camp, a day-long event for people who work at the intersection of social change and technology. the goal of the event is to build skills and capacity through peer learning, and invites the participation of “nonprofits, activists and social entrepreneurs [along] with their friends and allies in the world of technology and communications.”

study shows possibilities for predicting how patients will respond to antidepressants

in a study of an experimental treatment for major depression, pretreatment testing to probe the function of a specific brain center predicted how patients would respond to ketamine, a medication that can lift depression rapidly in some people. the work suggests it may be possible to develop ways to use such assessments in the future, not only to better understand depression, but to guide treatment choices for individuals.

effective confrontation

basic principles to remember:

the 30 second rule: the first 30 seconds in a confrontation, or your response to being confronted, will determine whether or not productive dialogue will even begin.

coaching at work magazine – mark on a difficult case
mark mckergow is featured in the current issue of coaching at work magazine (http://www.coaching-at-work.com). in the troubleshooter column, a difficult case is presented and expert responses are sought. here’s the problem:

international online training program on intractable conflict
conflict research consortium, university of colorado, USA

non-violent struggle
the problem with the use of violent confrontation strategies is that they quickly escalate to the point where the parties’ only concerns are victory, vengeance, and self-defense. in these cases, the moral arguments of people who are being unjustly treated become irrelevant. what matters is that they have used violent strategies and their opponent is, therefore, justified in a violent response. this problem is complicated by the fact that both sides are usually able to argue that the other side started the violence.

eight steps for workplace confrontations
one of the challenging things about working in a team environment is that there are times when people behave in ways that we find unproductive, offensive, or hurtful.  when we ignore these feelings the relationship can suffer as our resentment festers.  yet fear at confronting others can prevent us from taking positive action.  today’s post contains a checklist you can use to determine if a confrontation is appropriate, and if so, how to move forward.

the missing ingredient in most social media strategies
what is the missing ingredient in most strategies i’ve seen? actual strategy.

expressive writing for the treatment of gay-related stressors

according to research published in the journal of consulting and clinical psychology, writing about stressful or traumatic events related to one’s sexual identity may be an effective treatment for gay-related stress.

forms in english haiku
keiko imaoka

japanese haiku have been traditionally composed in 5-7-5 syllables. when poets started writing english haiku in the 1950’s, they adopted this 5-7-5 form, thinking it created a similar condition for english-language haiku. this style is what is generally considered “traditional” english haiku.

gogyōka (五行歌?, literally, “five line poem”) is a form of japanese poetry invented by enta kusakabe (草壁 焔太) in 1957, in an attempt to escape the constraints of haiku and tanka poetry.[1] unlike traditional japanese poetry, gogyōka has no mora or syllable requirement for the length of its lines, which is instead governed by the duration of a single breath. the only defining rule of gogyōka is that the poem should be five lines long. in addition to japanese and english, gogyōka have been written in french, chinese, arabic, tagalog, korean, and latin.

on being chronically absent : “calling for my soul, at the corners of the world, i know she’s playing poker, with the rest of the stragglers”
i have always been an absentee.  sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance. i still do all of my work, and put great effort into it.  but i have never been keen on always attending class.  sometimes i feel that the time is better spent working from home, getting much more done. some classes i never want to miss, and am sad when i do.  i don’t play hooky, like i must admit – i did quite often in elementary school – but at times absenteeismt is necessary. sometimes i need “mental health” days off.  actually, i find it ridiculous that this isn’t expected at the “workplace”, since it has been found that most “sick calls” are due to feeling mentally worn out, than due to being physically ill.  if you get the flu, go home, best that you not spread it!  i feel the same is true of mental exhaustion and the need to get away for a while – a short leave of absence is simply necessary for one to “perform to the best of their abilities” (what any employer assumedly wants – accuracy, efficiency, obedience…, but when you  try to suppress the negative energy that fills your disposition, it spills out onto the people you are working with, and for (diners, students, etc.)

the rise of the psychopharmaceutical industry 1987-2010
written and submitted by mary ackerley ***md, mdh

mary beth ackerley md is a harvard and johns hopkins trained board certified psychiatrist. she now practices holistic psychiatry.

robert whitaker’s brilliant book anatomy of an epidemic asks a simple question.why , if psychiatric drug treatments are so efficacious, has the number of people on disability for mental illness more than tripled in the last 25 years? most doctors and researchers answered this question by stating that the numbers have increased simply because we are diagnosing more people with mental illness. in response to this stereotyped dismissal of his data, robert began to do more research on the efficacy of known psychiatric treatments. and then, while poring through the psychiatric scientific literature on treatment effectiveness for the last fifty years he found an even darker question beginning to emerge. “is it possible that psychiatric drugs are actually making people much worse?” could it be that far from “fixing broken brains” the drugs being offered actually are worsening, and even causing, the very illnesses they claim to heal?

handy google search tips: 19 simple tricks you need to know

google may be expanding into cell phones, operating systems, and tablet pcs, but it’s still known best for search.  google’s engineers have tricked out the search engine with a number of tools, shortcuts, and features that can help you better access the information you’re after–whether it’s finding out how many euros to the dollar, when your favorite team is playing next, or whether to leave home with an umbrella.

psychologists develop two potent new predictors of suicide risk

sciencedaily (july 30, 2010) ” two powerful new tests developed by psychologists at harvard university show great promise in predicting patients’ risk of attempting suicide.

saving the lives of 15 eight week old puppies
a better life dog rescue has just agreed to save the lives of 15 eight week old puppies that were going to be euthanized by a california shelter on friday. a rescue organization in los angelos asked numerous rescue groups in the states and canada for help to save these puppies lives.

dog breed selector quiz
ibizan hound size: medium. coat: silky. straight. coat length: short. grooming: easy, low-maintenance. very unlikely to drool. little to no shedding. very high activity level. bred as a game hunting companion. low intelligence. somewhat easier than average to train. very wary of other pets. tolerates strangers well. good with kids four and up. very affectionate. quite dependent. quiet. somewhat shorter than average estimated lifespan. in america, a rare breed. not well suited for apartment living.

body language and cyber language

my new-found friend sheldon from the kitzul connection wrote this the other day:

given the world we live in with social media dominating our relationshipscapes, why all the love??!

i have had this brewing in the back of my mind for a while now. but it really hit home during a recent trip to the interior. i am an avid twitterer and saw that a connection from there was also traveling to kelowna the same time i was there. i sent her a message and asked if she would like to meet for coffee or a drink. she agreed. my friend and i went to meet her one evening and during our conversation we talked about how easily we give up trust in people we meet this way. i have had many recent examples where i meet people from twitter or elsewhere for coffee. having never met each other, without fail, one party always leaves their belongings at the table after the hand-shake to go get a coffee. somehow, having never met you in person, i’m willing to leave my laptop, keys, cell phone etc with you. i have just transferred my trust to you.

in kelowna, the woman we met with told us that her husband had offered to come along and she declined feeling that she trusted us – two strangers. did she have enough information from our tweets and blogs to know we were trustworthy?

being the woman in question, i thought i`d say something about this. in fact, i, too, think that this is a very interesting phenomenon. just one observation, about what i’d like to call bodylanguage and cyberlanguage.

you know how they always say that social media is a poor method of communication because we`re missing the body language? it is true that in written social media we miss body language (not so much when it comes to video, of course) but there is an equivalent in social media – let me call it cyberlanguage. i’m sure linguists and postmodern woollymouths have created a term for it but – well, let’s leave that for now. this cyberlanguage is quite rich. let’s look at twitter and just some of the many ways we communicate outside of the informational content of the text:

  • mode of interaction with others. do we reply to others? is there evidence of actual conversation with others? what is the nature of that interaction? friendly, hostile, fun, etc.?
  • evidence of self-involvement. does the person tweet nothing but her or his own “wisdom”, or references to their blog or web site?
  • what do the avatar and twitter backgrounds say about the person? fun? boring? interesting? unusual?
  • what does the bio say? is there a link to a web site or blog?
  • what is the writing style? formal, informal, flowery, abrupt … ? can they spell? how do they use punctuation and symbols?

and the list goes on … i often think people are developing their own unique cyberlanguage, their own internet voice print, so to say. the more time we spend online, the better we are able to discern the subtle undertones and colorations of these voices. we can judge them according to more common standards (e.g. use of swearwords, uniqueness of twitter background, amount of retweets, etc.) but we can also attune to our own resonances. maybe the person uses certain expressions that really appeal to me. maybe the person has a ratio of conversation to just-talking-to-myself that makes me feel comfortable.

and then of course there is also the content, both of the tweets and of the bio and the web sites that the bio leads to. in my case, i did go to sheldon’s blog, where i had been before, and discovered that he spoke favorable of research on drug addiction by bruce alexander, one of my favourite psychology professors at sfu.

did all of this guarantee that sheldon was a good guy and not a serial killer? of course not. but how different is that from real life?

what do you think of the idea of a unique cyberlanguage?

violence and mental illness: how should we talk about it?

earlier this week, our newspapers were full of the tragic story of clare shelswell, the little girl who was killed by her stepfather, peter wilson. on june 29, the vancouver sun devoted half of page 1 and 2 to it. on page 2, there was also an article that contained an interview with an expert related to the case.

as often happens, once the article was written and the newspaper put together, it was printed in several phases. these early versions often end up on the internet and the printed versions are distributed to outlying areas. any corrections that are made tend to end up in the vancouver printings.

as it turns out, the article on page 2 that can be found on the internet and was printed in the earlier versions reads

bipolar patients can become violent, prof says

mental health advocates, tod maffin for example, got understandably mad about it.

yup, those bipolar people. they can become violent. which probably means that half of them are violent, right? (that’s how the human brain often thinks: “can” means either yes or no, so “obviously”, there being two choices, there is a 50 per cent chance for one of the two possibilities to occur). fortunately, thanks to tod, the headline was corrected to read “bipolar patients rarely become violent, prof says” (my emphasis).

i would say, though, that the actual article that reported the killing was quite responsible. here is the excerpt that mentions that the killer had bipolar disorder:

sergi [the public defender] described wilson as “lucid” during the brief court appearance, adding his client appeared to understand the proceedings.

no formal charge has been laid. wilson earlier waived his rights under state law to be charged within 72 hours of his arrest.

his next court appearance is scheduled for july 12.

meanwhile, prosecutors are considering whether to pursue the death penalty.

sergi said an accused’s criminal history and the details of the alleged crime are key factors that must be weighed in a capital case.

sergi was uncertain how a mental illness defence might affect the death-penalty decision.

both wilson and his wife told police he suffers from bipolar disorder for which he takes medication.

what do you think? how should violence perpetrated by people with mental health issues be portrayed? for example, should the article that talks about violence and bipolar disorder have mentioned that persons with mental health issues are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators?

goals, learning and contracts

after my post about small and SMART goals on garfield’s blog, i got inspired to write another one at brainblogger about the pitfalls and benefits of goal setting, this time taking a bit more of an academic slant. larry ferlazzo took up that post and talked about goal setting in the classroom. it made me think about learning goals. i won’t get much into this right now but i found it interesting that when i was googling around a bit about the topic, pretty much everything i saw were not really learner-directed goals. they were either goals clearly set by the teachers, or contracts that were not really contracts, i.e. they don’t meet the criterion of containing mutual promises. a lot of learning contracts (and contracts in counselling, too, by the way) are of the mafia sort: if you don’t pay up, we’ll break your leg. fortunately, there is usually little leg-breaking involved in learning or counselling contracts but they tend to be one-sided. the promises by one party (e.g. the learner) are numerous and clearly laid out, and often there are no promises made by the other party, or they are not specified.

living on purpose, being on purpose

this is a guest post by my friend garfield, for whom i wrote the posts on goal setting a few weeks ago.



thank you isabella for inviting me to write a post on your awesome blog! i am a voracious student of human potential, and personal, spiritual, and professional development. i eagerly consume the teachings and knowledge of people such as: eckhart tolle, marianne williamson, michael losier, t. harv eker, jim rohn, satyen raja, esther hicks, and many others.

i used to feel so lost and confused and angry all the time. “why the hell am i here? this can’t be all life is…can it?”, i would desperately ask the universe, myself, anyone. then one magical day, after nearly two years of diligent and persistent training, seeking, reading, learning, wanting, i suddenly (and i do mean suddenly) after much perturbation, became totally present, realized the truth of who i am, and discovered how to live on purpose.

being ‘present’ has been a key element in joyously discovering how to live on purpose. i once thought that us human beings were given one grand purpose and it was our job to discover it and move toward it. of course, that would mean that our purpose is somehow outside of us, somewhere in ‘the future’…which doesn’t exist! the future will never be here, it will always be now, the present moment.

a truly great bonus to being present is the absence of negativity, fear, suffering, etc. it turns out that pain and suffering cannot survive in my presence. so how do i become present? i just breathe. the moment i observe my breath…in….out…i have become present.

how can it be that i have no pain or suffering or negativity by being present? well i’ve discovered that all worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, guilt, and every other negative emotion exist solely in the past or future, in our minds. so once i thoroughly dismiss ‘psychological time’ and observe the now i realize quite readily that there is nothing wrong with my present moment.

when my mind isn’t plagued with thoughts of the past or fantastic future problems (which rarely, if ever, actually manifest in my life) i can think more clearly, and more importantly i can fully accept what is in the present moment and a feeling of lightness, joy, and purpose permeates my entire being. then the juiciest things come to light, i can feel my vibration rise and i am able to see who i truly am. for me, this is living on purpose. being on purpose is a feeling, a knowing, a vibration.

so if you’re stressed, worried, angry…perhaps try what i do and practice being present. ask yourself ‘what is wrong with this moment right now? what actual problem exists right now? not a week from now or five minutes from now, but now. you’ll discover that you can then respond to life and create what you desire, rather than reacting to life as it happens to you.

how often are you living on purpose?