Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's Normal?

The Epidemic of Mental Illness. Why? This is worth a read to a few of my readers who I know are struggling with medications, side effects, and continuing symptoms.

There are some interesting, disturbing, and maybe even enraging ideas proposed here. I chose neurofeedback as my primary treatment because if all of these treatments are nothing more than a placebo effect, I'm eliminating the risk of side effects (which range from the bothersome to dangerous) and the complications of dependency and withdrawal. This, by the way, is NO judgement on those who choose to go the medication route. When living inside one's own mind becomes unbearably torturous, something must be done, and medications are often the only option available. 

But this two part article does remind me that my general belief is that disorders are actually "normal" responses to crazy situations. And if there's too much crazy, the response has to kick into overdrive, and this overdrive is what we label "abnormal", or "disordered". 

I read somewhere once that animals have been observed to display depressive symptoms when not enough resources are being shared with them. The response of other animals in the pack is to then share more resources. Depression, then, by this model would seem to be a bargaining behavior. Behaviors are often unconscious, and if it is true that depression is a normalizing behavior that is meant to restore balance among the group, it becomes impossible to view depression as an individual disorder. 

Imagine if this hypothesis is true. It is likely then that we are wired for depression, all of us. And it will kick in when we are denied support, or trapped in a situation where there is little or no support. Only when the "pack" does not respond to the expressed need, the "body" simply ups the ante and kicks in more depression. And then we label and treat the individual. These days that treatment includes drugs which are inexact and troublesome. And, in many ways treatment has REDUCED the level of actual support. The problem is consistently put back with the individual. Depressed people are given a bottle of pills and sent off to "deal" with their problem alone. Even the support of talk-therapy is limited to sessions, and is purposefully kept "professional" and "detached".

And what about PTSD? When our environment is consistently erratic, unstable, and even dangerous, doesn't it make sense that the brain would kick into hyper-vigilance in order to protect survival? Yet again, we say the individual is disordered.

It is complex. It is not entirely either/or. If one IS trapped in depression or PTSD, both the environment and the individual must be "treated". 

All of this then makes me wonder if the true magic of 12-steps is in the support system that is more personal, empathic, and sustained? Or, as I've posited before, learning new and somewhat abnormal coping mechanisms to deal with crazy, such as "letting go", "detachment" and "giving it away". Perhaps the combination?

I'm just wondering a lot of things out loud. 


  1. Okay, you are reminding me of something that came to me when I was sitting, very still, in the woods one day.

    If I spend all this time trying to change myself, aren't I telling myself that I am, on one level or another, flawed?

    Although, you are talking about another thing, it still reminded me of that.

    How nice it would be, for my pack to surround me and care for me. Briar, I'm starting to want to cry again, but do you know that my depression only ever came to be when the social factors in my life became too much to handle?

    I'm not disordered, and neither are you.

  2. Oh, no, I just read your article and I saw myself....especially in the part where the antidepressants caused the mania which caused the bipolar diag. which caused the mood stabilizers which caused the additional meds....

    I can't do it anymore, that is my gut reaction. My instinct, too, over and's been the same, but I've been scared, because I don't want to get to the point where I can't get off the couch again...

  3. Kelly, I don't think it's either or. If depression kicks in, but the environment doesn't respond, then the only way out of depression is through other means. I'm not a doctor and I don't want to lead you to any decisions that could be harmful. But perhaps CBT and trauma therapy, more action-oriented therapies would prove to be more helpful. Additionally, you do need more support and I understand what a ridiculous conundrum that is when the "normal" support systems aren't there. What is one to do? Go out and make new friends? Where? And you certainly can't spill a load of depressive crud onto the head of a new friend. But support groups, meetings, etc can give you new friends with built-in support.

    I'm stuck in the same situation. I don't have an answer. I hope to in the near future. For me, right now, it is focusing on dredging up past pain, addressing very specifically the trauma of the last many many years, and finding a way "out" of the trauma field I'm in now.

    In many ways that involves what is already available. Therapy, support groups, finding a new job, looking for a new apartment, setting boundaries, letting go of things and people I cannot change, and moving toward the light (the good light that is, not the light at the end of the death tunnel).

  4. Briar, I love this post. I've struggled in the past year with all the labeling within these obtuse symptoms. You're on to something, in the late 60's there was a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists that created a group that opposed the medical model of mental pathologies. They posited that people were indeed "crazy" but not from the supposed theories but because they were trying to adjust themselves to fit within a "crazy model". The capitalist system isolates, abandons, and separates us in community and self in ways that severely injure our sense of value, connection, and love to the larger world and ourselves. Not cooperating with the systemic power is often labeled sick. Some say that, all psychiatric "conditions," except for those that are clearly organic in origin, such as brain damage, or toxic conditions, are a form of alienation. Alienation is the outcome of oppression about which the oppressed has been mystified or deceived. Thus stated in a simple
    formula: Alienation = Oppression + Mystification.

    Although, I have felt great relief in the "naming" of the addiction and disorder in helping identify (demystify) the crux of patterns and subsequent behaviors, I am still unsold on the idea of anyone being anything permanently fill-in-the-blank disordered, save for the organic imbalances mentioned above. It does take great work to shift our perceptions and ultimately brain chemistry and from what I've witnessed those that humbly submit to their own path do achieve a sense of personal freedom and gratitude.

  5. Moving Along - What's interesting to me is that it would only take a small shift to look at all of this differently and begin to "treat" and "heal" differently. Many of the treatments would remain the same, but a shift in how we name it, look at it -- the orientation from which we approach it would change so much, and I think speed healing.

    I am so so very lucky to have found my therapist who trusts me and my experience. Who does not hold to conventional beliefs, and who is able to see and validate that I am not "independently" sick.

    The naming is helpful to a point, I agree. There are, indeed, clusters of behaviors that form similar patterns and so we put a name to those clusters and it helps us know how to get in there and unravel it.