God is not “the man upstairs”

Inasmuch as religious feeling is part of the process of growing up in modern society, it is most often relegated to the category of the irrational, and can then be regarded as unprovable, and so, unreal. Logical thought and action appear alone to determine reality. The transcendental gradually diminishes in importance because it is never personally experienced. And the main reason for this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God. The Divinity is not remote from us at some mystically infinite distance, but inside each one of us. It should inspire us to lead our lives in harmony with the Infinite — to recognize our short existence on Earth as part of the eternal Whole.

For centuries, Western thought has viewed the individual falsely as a being separate from God. In the ‘enlightened’ twentieth century, modern Western thought seems less certain than ever about possible answers to the most ancient human questions about God and the meaning of life. All over the world, new spiritual centres have sprung up, attempting to give answers to these questions — questions which the rigidly held precepts of Church officialdom cannot answer. A kind of ecumenical world religion of the future is in ascendance. It is moving towards self-realization, towards a search for Enlightenment, towards a mystical and consummate vision of the cosmic context of one’s individual existence, and all this by means of contemplation, self-knowledge and meditation.

The most forceful impetus for promoting such an internalization of religion has always come, and will continue to come, from the East, primarily from India. Western Man must now reorient himself in the most literal sense of the word — turn towards the eastern dawn. The Orient is the origin and source of our experience of the inner realm.

From Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion, by Holger Kersten, Pg. 5

An Amsterdam wedding

We went to a wedding in Amsterdam this week-end (friends of the bride). The bride really likes Chris, so he came, too. The wedding was held in an artists’ club. The groom is a sausage artist. No joke. Apparently, there is an international movement or society of sausage art.

Since the crisis with Chris, I find I have more in common than not with the arty crowd. Brief conversation with a guest: “And what do you write about?” I asked him. “Insanity,” he answered before moving on. Lots of common ground here.

Chris dutifully stuck with us for most of the time and then slipped away to discover Amsterdam on foot after dark. We all know what that might involve.

On our last day in Amsterdam, Chris and I sat at a sidewalk café enjoying the warm sun and a cold Amstel beer. I noticed, as I have from time to time, that Chris wasn’t wearing his glasses yet seemed to have no problem seeing, so I asked him if he could read a sign on a building on Johnny Jordaan Plein, and something in between us and the building, and could he read the tourist pamphlet he was holding. No problem.

“So, Chris, if you can read all of this, why are you wearing glasses?”

“Well,” he said, “I was in ninth grade and I was worried that I wasn’t keeping up academically with the others, and somebody suggested maybe I should have my eyes checked. Now that I think of it, maybe I ended up getting them because the store just wanted to sell me glasses, but when I put on the glasses, I also felt more intelligent.”

“Be that as it may, Chris, but that was the year when you changed both continents and school systems. You ended up actually a year ahead based on your birthday. You had some catching up to do as you could have gone either way grade wise.” What I didn’t mention was that he got a needed academic wake-up call, as he had been quite a slacker before that.

“Hmm, Mom, I wonder if I’ve been using the glasses as a crutch, just like the doctors in the early psychosis program said about the meds being a crutch.”

“Possibly, Chris. In any case, you don’t need glasses to prove your intelligence. Also (I thought of our recent Family Constellation), just because your father wears glasses, doesn’t automatically mean you need glasses. You’re not your father. You don’t have to take on your image of him. You’re you. You’re free to be yourself.”

“But, I’ve been wearing them for twelve years already.”

“You could try not wearing your glasses for a while and see what happens.”

It makes me wonder if he is beginning to “see” things more clearly, meaning that sometimes we wear unnecessary ideas or affect appearances that are not us. We unconsciously think this is how we are expected to be because of a parent. The vision thing is not without precedent in our family and makes me think that glasses are overprescribed, particularly in the country where we currently live. Frames here cost a fortune. Chris’s youngest brother, Taylor, was also prescribed glasses in fourth grade when Ian and I rejected putting him on Ritalin for non-existent Attention Deficit Disorder. We did, however, concede at that time that there was a possible eyesight problem. He was prescribed the usual expensive glasses (and spare pair), and after that he never wore them. That was a medicalizing or “optometrizing” of a childhood behavior.

All of us are fooled at some level. It may take us years to see, keeping in mind that the new vision is, in itself, just another shifting reality.

Design your own T-shirt contest

The silly season is upon us. The NAMI convention runs from June 30th to July 3rd in Washington, DC. Imagine you are picketing their convention center proudly wearing a T-shirt you have designed yourself. You’re MAD as hell.

I just checked the NAMI website and noticed another misery story about schizophrenia with a dire warning about going off your drugs. Oh my gosh, it’s even worse than I imagined.

The Movie
Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia is set to screen on Friday, July 2, at the NAMI National Convention. The gripping documentary depicts the struggle of filmmaker Delaney Ruston, both a daughter and a doctor, to bring her father, who has paranoid schizophrenia, back into her life after hiding from him for ten years.

What starts as a powerful story of reconciliation suddenly shifts when Delaney’s father stops his medications and goes missing.

Steve Lopez, author of The Soloist, has called the film “beautiful and powerful.”

This extraordinary film challenges us to reflect on our own ideas about mental illness, compassion and responsibility.

Here’s something to get you started. Make your messages playful but pointed. All entries will be forwarded to MindFreedom and posted on this blog.

“Off-meds and a danger to society”
E. Fuller Torrey

Unmedicated and roaming the streets

I’m a MAD mother
(Mother against psychiatric Drugging)

SZ, unmedicated, and luvin’ it.

Off-meds, not off my rocker.

Went on a psych trip and all I got was this crummy T-shirt.

Off-meds. Back-off.

Just say “no” (to psych drugs)

Mommy – can I take drugs? No dear, just the antipsychotics the doctor gives you.

NAMI: Las drogas se habla aquí.

Pharma and NAMI: A marriage made in heaven.

The “off-meds” hysteria

A cause worth promoting is to decouple the idea that people with a label of schizophrenia are, by definition, dangerous when off meds. Stephany of Soulful Selpulcher relates the story of how differently her daughter was treated by authorities when she somehow lost the label “schizophrenic.” In the first instance, her twenty-one year old daughter was slammed face down into the dirt by the police because word got out she was a schizophrenic “off meds.” An over-reaction worthy of the best horror films ensued. It’s the “off meds” part here that causes the violent reaction. OMG – they’re off meds! Nuke-em! When, on a different occasion, the same young woman was reported “mute and autistic,” she was treated with respect.

Remember the hunger strike that MindFreedom went on back in 2003 to try to force the American Psychiatric Association to produce actual scientific evidence backing the reason why only the medical theory of ‘chemical imbalances’ predominates when it comes to mental illnesses. (No evidence was produced.)

How about a bunch of people getting together to go down and picket the American Psychiatric Association, the offices of E. Fuller Torrey, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), most government funded health organizations and other proponents of the idea that people off meds need to be back on them? Not just any bunch of people but a bunch of people who got the label SZ and are fully capable of functioning off their meds. They can hold up signs saying “I’m off meds. What are you going to do about it?” Or, “I’m off meds. What next?” or “Off meds doesn’t mean off my rocker.” How about “Off meds – Back off!”

NAMI – scary

NAMI is getting seriously scary. It is aligning itself with childhood drugging. Excuse me, but how exactly are pediatricians qualified to conduct mental health screening? The kinds of problems they will be picking up will not be with the people who end up with a diagnosis of schizophrenia at 20, but rather with children who are presenting behavioral problems, usually with justifiable cause. NAMI should be lobbying for non-drug interventions, such as family counselling. Oops, I forgot. NAMI insists that mental illness is biochemical in nature, therefore guaranteeing an income stream to pharma while letting parents off the hook. Shame, shame.

Kathlyn Beatty and wanting to be like Daddy

A reader commented on my recent post on Family Constellation Therapy. It is remarkable that she recognized her own experience in our Constellation – that the child is being protected by the mother from the father – and she reinforces her observation by asserting that others have experienced the same.

She writes:
“That family constellation post got me thinking… It’s the same feeling I used to have. That my mother stood like an insurmountable wall between me and my father. With her back turned on me. Actually, I used to have an audio-visual hallucination where I stood at the top of a gangway, trying to board the ship I knew, I would find my father on, my mother blocking the way for me. I tried to make her understand that I had to get onboard, in every language I knew. To no avail. She simply didn’t hear me. Horrid. Having a nightmare while awake. Did you watch “Family Life”? I think, it’s in the first or second part that Janice’s father tells the shrink that he felt like his wife stood between him and Janice.”

Is it true that I was protecting Chris in some way from his father, my husband? The Constellation doesn’t lie, but there can be many plausible possible interpretations. A Constellation, if the participants are willing, provokes honesty and clears the air. My husband might have felt instead that mothers are meant to be closer to their children when they are infants, but he did not. Instead, he rightly objected to what he perceived as my shielding his own son from him. Ian is not close to his own mother or father and perhaps he is trying to close that gap with his own son, to make Chris him.

Ian’s views of his own parents’ dynamics are at odds with how I see my own father and mother. I used to joke that I got my father “as interpreted by my mother.” My father wasn’t that comfortable with his daughters when we were young, except when giving advice or instructions. So, my mother would be the messenger of whatever it was my father was thinking. Depending on who is doing the observing (mother/father/child), the separation of Ian and me in the Constellation doesn’t have to be seen as malicious. It struck me as normal enough based on my family dynamics.

Family dynamics are complex, and there are many possible plausible explanations for what is going on. I choose to believe in just about any explanation that will allow us to move forward and heal. That’s the beauty of Family Constellation Therapy.

Which brings me to Kathlyn Beatty. Why are we not surprised about her wanting to become transgendered? Kathlyn is the oldest daughter of actor Warren Beatty and his wife, actress Annette Bening. From a Family Constellation point of view, the only surprise is in the details. You can’t predict exactly how the child will act out the assigned role. Warren Beatty, for anyone who has lived under a rock since the 1950s and hasn’t followed Hollywood, has bedded more actresses than there are grains of sand on the beach. In a town famous for its casting couches, Warren Beatty stood out. The clue as to why his sexual appetite was so prolific has got to lie somewhere in the annals of his family history. His sister, Shirley MacLaine, who looks a lot like her niece, judging from the photos, is as successful and well known as her younger brother, but as a actress and writer, not as a serial womanizer. Shirley MacLaine has some interesting spiritual beliefs, such as in reincarnation. She has also contributed a chapter to the book in which I have a chapter, Goddess Shift: Women Leading for a Change.

It’s easier to spot the parent/child connection within the Beatty family than it is in our own families, because the Beatty family is writ large. We all know what they’ve been up to. Daughter’s wanting to change from a woman into a man surely must have something to do with Daddy. Mummy’s side, no doubt, plays more than a bit part, too. Blame is one judgment that has no place here. German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger urges us to “accept what is.” Family Constellation Therapy could help here to get to the possible motivations behind this and possibly untangle Kathlyn and family’s unconscious desire for her to be just like Daddy.

On several levels, what Kathlyn Beatty wants to do is disturbing. The fact is she is only eighteen years old. To subject herself at such a young age to something that she may later regret is premature thinking. Sex changes involve surgery and a lifetime of powerful drugs. I suspect Kathlyn is too young to have anything but utmost faith in pharmacology. She has grown up in a world where Hollywood actresses, through the chemical magic of fertility treatments, can have twin babies past menopause. Face lifts are old school. Breast implants and botox are routine. To her, it would be like changing one’s wardrobe, perhaps a bit more involved, but I doubt she is seriously aware of the downside. Waiting a few years and delving into the psychotherapy behind this desire, might prevent an act she may come to later regret.

I sometimes wonder if today’s children who have opted, with their families’ enlightened blessing, to become homosexual in orientation, will turn around in later life and accuse them of failing to prevent them from going ahead with something they now think they were too young to decide. Fashions come and go. Be wary of becoming fashion’s victim.

The Emperor’s new clothes

This excellent Tracking the American Epidemic of Mental Illness – Part II by Evelyn Pringle, comes eerily close to my own perceptions of what was going on with the day program that Chris was enrolled in for two years in the European country where we live. When we joined the program in 2004, it had already been operating for ten years and was touted as a success – by the psychiatrist who ran it. As with the Portland Identification and Early Referral (PIER) program, there was no follow-up as to the real outcomes of the young people who went through Chris’s program. Chris has been out of the program for at least three years, and so far we have received no follow-up asking us how he is faring. While he was in the program, we were aware of no statistics on the outcomes of the previous ten years. Like the little boy who saw that the emperor had no clothes, we were told to believe in the miracle that was happening.

Readers of this blog will know that Chris was not getting better during the time he spent in his program. My pleas to individualize his treatment, to begin by at least acknowledging that that the drugs weren’t helping him, fell on deaf ears. I felt the program was off-base in getting at the real problems of psychosis. The program believed in the second generation antipsychotics, particularly clozapine. I have my own reasons for believing in a financial incentive as the reason the program particularly pushed clozapine, even though it was, by then, a generic drug.

Here is an extract from the Evelyn Pringle article.

An August 2008 article, by Charles Schmidt in Discover Magazine, highlighted the PIER program with a byline that stated: “A new mix of therapy and medication may stave off psychosis among teens at risk.”

Schmidt discussed the case of Camila (not her real name), who entered the program in September 2001, when she was 14. “Camila and her family stuck with PIER for the four-year treatment program, which ended formally in 2005, and still keep in touch with counselors there,” he reports.

However, “Camila’s health still hinges on antipsychotic medication,” Schmidt says. “In the summer of 2007 she went off the drugs for a spell and her strange feelings returned.”

He notes that her reliance on antipsychotics raises issues. “On the one hand, it shows that the threat of psychosis hasn’t really been removed, it’s just been held in check.”

“What we hope is that the benefits of treatment will be lifelong,” McFarlane says in the article. “We don’t have any empirical evidence to support that yet, but what we’ve seen is that young people who still haven’t converted to psychosis after about three years of our treatment don’t seem to be at much risk.”

While he suggests that over time, some patients may be able to go off medications, McFarlane acknowledges that PIER hasn’t developed a plan for managing that process, Schmidt reports.

“As to when or if they can go off medication, that’s hard to say,” he told Schmidt. “I think many of our patients don’t feel a need to stop; they certainly don’t feel oppressed by it. At a certain point it becomes a personal choice.”

A fortune can be made from these life-long antipsychotic customers.

The downside of progress

Today’s New York Times article is about how advances in medical innovation, such as pacemakers, mean that many of us will become progress’s casualties, or, as the author writes about her parents, “At a point hard to precisely define, they stopped being beneficiaries of the war on sudden death and became its victims.”

Normally, I don’t like to introduce such a somber note into my blog, but I think the article shows the similarities between access (or lack of) to full information for both psychiatric treatment and other medical treatment. If you have full disclosure, you may decide to take a different course. At some point, I,too, decided that psychiatric medications were making a difficult situation worse.

Below is a condensed selection of paragraphs from the article.

. . . My father’s medical conservatism, I have since learned, is not unusual. According to an analysis by the Dartmouth Atlas medical-research group, patients are far more likely than their doctors to reject aggressive treatments when fully informed of pros, cons and alternatives — information, one study suggests, that nearly half of patients say they don’t get. And although many doctors assume that people want to extend their lives, many do not. In a 1997 study in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 30 percent of seriously ill people surveyed in a hospital said they would “rather die” than live permanently in a nursing home. In a 2008 study in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 28 percent of patients with advanced heart failure said they would trade one day of excellent health for another two years in their current state. . .

. . . And so my father’s electronically managed heart — now requiring frequent monitoring, paid by Medicare — became part of the $24 billion worldwide cardiac-device industry and an indirect subsidizer of the fiscal health of American hospitals. The profit margins that manufacturers earn on cardiac devices is close to 30 percent. Cardiac procedures and diagnostics generate about 20 percent of hospital revenues and 30 percent of profits. . .

. . . In the summer of 2006, he fell in the driveway and suffered a brain hemorrhage. Not long afterward, he spent a full weekend compulsively brushing and rebrushing his teeth. “The Jeff I married . . . is no longer the same person,” my mother wrote in the journal a social worker had suggested she keep. “My life is in ruins. This is horrible, and I have lasted for five years.” His pacemaker kept on ticking. . .

. . . Not long afterward, my mother declined additional medical tests and refused to put my father on a new anti-dementia drug and a blood thinner with troublesome side effects. “I take responsibility for whatever,” she wrote in her journal that summer. “Enough of all this overkill! It’s killing me! Talk about quality of life — what about mine?” . . .

. . . On a Tuesday afternoon, with my mother at his side, my father stopped breathing. A hospice nurse hung a blue light on the outside of his hospital door. Inside his chest, his pacemaker was still quietly pulsing. . .

. . . A year later, I took my mother to meet a heart surgeon in a windowless treatment room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She was 84, with two leaking heart valves. Her cardiologist had recommended open-heart surgery, and I was hoping to find a less invasive approach. When the surgeon asked us why we were there, my mother said, “To ask questions.” She was no longer a trusting and deferential patient. Like me, she no longer saw doctors — perhaps with the exception of Fales — as healers or her fiduciaries. They were now skilled technicians with their own agendas. But I couldn’t help feeling that something precious — our old faith in a doctor’s calling, perhaps, or in a healing that is more than a financial transaction or a reflexive fixing of broken parts — had been lost.

Just keep hammering home the message

From Beyond Meds

Think of those who are still subject to the care of mental health professionals. They are by definition subject to care, if my experience is to be taken seriously, and I for one do take it seriously, that considers them inherently less than equal. I remember when I was a clinician too. Some of these people who are prejudiced are well-meaning. But well-meaning and acting without prejudice are unfortunately not mutually exclusive. I don’t know how one extracts this insidious form of prejudice. They don’t see it in themselves…how do we help them see?

My solution is probably simplistic, but here goes. Just keep hammering home the message, politely, respectfully, but leave no one in any doubt as to why the attitude is objectionable. If you lose control, you will give “them” more ammunition to use against you and others like you. You will only haved confirmed their prejudice. Join forces with others and vary your media. Picket, write letters to the editor. Write letters in response to letters to the editor. Do book reviews. Remember the gay pride movement? Notice how respectful everybody is these days to homosexuals compared to what it used to be. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness, too, until the movement forced psychiatry to drop it from the DSM.