Stepping Through the Mirror

Most [mental health] theorists continue to be steeped in Euro-Western ideology and assert that mental illness can be operationally defined in terms of failure to adjust to dominate conceptions of proper behavior… Given this perspective, mental well-being for the oppressed can be operationally defined in terms of some of those very behavioral tendencies that are believed to be maladaptive by those who oppress.

The Racial Disparities in Diagnosing and Treating Mental Health Disorders

Clinical psych methodology & theory are so profoundly Eurocentric that any decolonization would entail sea changes rendering current paradigms (much less terminology) unrecognizable.

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On Going Public With Depression (CNN)


By Kat Kinsman, CNN

I am 14 years old, it’s the middle of the afternoon, and I’m curled into a ball at the bottom of the stairs. I’ve intended to drag my uncooperative limbs upstairs to my dark disaster of a bedroom and sleep until everything hurts a little less, but my body and brain have simply drained down. I crumple into a bony, frizzy-haired heap on the gold shag rug, convinced that the only thing I have left to offer the world is the removal of my ugly presence from it, but at that moment, I’m too exhausted to do anything about it.

I sink into unconsciousness, mumbling over and over again, “I need help… I need help… I need help.” I’m too quiet. No one hears.

Several months, countless medical tests and many slept-through school days later, a diagnosis is dispensed, along with a bottle of thick, chalky pills. There is palpable relief from my physician and parents; nothing is physically wrong with me (thank God, not the cancer they’ve quietly feared) — likely just a bout of depression. While it helps a little to have a name for the sensation, I’m less enthralled with the diagnosis, because I know it will return. While this is the first time it’s manifested heavily enough for anyone else to see it, I’ve been slipping in and out of this dull gray sweater for as long as I can remember.

What doesn’t help at the time are the pills: clunky mid-1980s tricyclic antidepressants that seize up my bowels, cause my tongue to click from lack of moisture, and upon my return to school cause me to nearly pitch over a third-story railing from dizziness. I flush the rest and, mercifully, no one bothers me about it.

If they do, I probably don’t even notice; my brain is too occupied, thrumming with guilt, stupidity and embarrassment. Nothing is physically wrong. It’s all in your head. This ache, this low, this sickness, this sadness — they are of your making and there is no cure.

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never “snap out of it,” at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.

The thing that’s always saved me has been regular sessions with an excellent therapist and solidarity with other people battling the same gray monster (medication worked for me for a little while — I take nothing now, but it’s a lifesaver and a necessity for some). When I was diagnosed, it was not in an era of Depression Pride parades on the main street of my small Kentucky town. In 1987, less than one person in 100 was being treated for depression. That had doubled in 1997, and by 2007, the number had increased to slightly less than three.

My friend Dave was part of that tally. We met in our freshman year of college, and he was one of the loudest, funniest, most exuberant humans I’d ever met — and the most deeply depressed. Not that anyone outside our intimate circle knew; like many of us who live with the condition, he wore a brighter self in public to distract from the darkness that settled over him behind closed doors. Most people don’t see depression in others, and that’s by design. We depressives simply spirit ourselves away when we’ve dimmed so as not to stain those who live in the sun.

Dave saw it in me, though, and I in him; and for the first time in my life, I felt somewhat normal. Like I didn’t have to tap dance, sparkle and shine to distract from the fact that I was broken. I could just be me, and that wasn’t a half-bad thing in his eyes. I began to tell more people as plainly as I did other facts of my being — I was born in New Jersey, my real hair color under all this pink dye is very dark brown, and I’ve suffered from depression as long as I can remember. I’m Kat — nice to know you.

Dave never made it that far. His cracks were too deep and dark, and he poured so much vodka down into them to dilute the pain. A year after graduation, in the late summer of 1995, I was unsurprised but thoroughly gutted when I got the call — Dave had tidied his apartment, neatly laid out a note, his accounts and bills, next to checks from his balanced checkbook, and stepped into a closet with a belt.

I see Dave in little flashes all the time, still — hear his braying OHMYGAAWWWDD laugh around a corner and see his handsome gap-toothed smile in a crowd. I want to smack him full across the face for giving up and leaving us all, and I want to drag him to a computer and sit him down: Look — we’re not alone.

Dave was the first person I ever knew with Internet access. Among a million other things I wish he’d lived to see is the community of souls online, generously baring and sharing their depression struggles with strangers. There’s no substitute for quality therapy (in whatever flavor you take it) or medication (if that’s your cup of homeopathic tea), but by God, it’s hard to get there.

To see your feelings echoed and normalized in essays like comedian Rob Delaney’s much-forwarded “On Depression and Getting Help”; author Stephen Fry’s legendary letter to a fan, “It will be sunny one day”; the ongoing, public struggles of widely read bloggers and authors Dooce and The Bloggess; and guests of the no-edges-blunted WTF Podcast from comedian Marc Maron — all highly successful and public people — is to dare to let a crack of blue sky into the basement where you’ve been tucked away. I can barely imagine what it would have meant to my 14-year-old self to read Delaney’s words:

“The sole reason I’ve written this is so that someone who is depressed or knows someone who is depressed might see it. … But after having been through depression and having had the wonderful good fortune to help a couple of people who’ve been through it, I will say that as hard as it is, IT CAN BE SURVIVED. And after the stabilization process, which can be and often is f**king terrifying, a HAPPY PRODUCTIVE LIFE is possible and statistically likely. Get help. Don’t think. Get help.”

Or Fry’s:

“Here are some obvious things about the weather:
It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.
It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness — these are as real as the weather — AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’S CONTROL. Not one’s fault.


They will pass: they really will.”

Dave will never see those words, or these, but someone will — including the 14-year-old me who still sometimes rides shotgun as I’m driving through a storm. I show her these words, these essays, these poems, these podcasts beamed out by the other souls who glitter out in the darkness. And I take her hand and lead her up the stairs.

These are my favorite posts, podcasts and essays on living with depression. Have another? Please share it in the comments below.

Rob Delaney - On Depression and Getting Help
Marc Maron and Todd Hanson - WTF Podcast
Kay Redfield Jamison - Acknowledging Depression
The Bloggess - The fight goes on
Dooce - Surrender
Stephen Fry - It will be sunny one day
David Foster Wallace - The Depressed Person
Rebecca O’Neal - The Depressive’s Guide to Comedy
Captain Awkward - The case for therapy
Katherine Sharpe - In Praise of Depression
Mooshinindy - The Depression Ones
Miss Banshee’s Inverse Candlelight — The Slip
William Styron - Darkness Visible
Hyperbole and a Half - Adventures in Depression

If you are depressed or have had thoughts of suicide, please seek help. Here are a few resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
American Psychiatric Association

Most people don’t see depression in others, and that’s by design. We depressives simply spirit ourselves away when we’ve dimmed so as not to stain those who live in the sun.

Health professionals who offer “reparative therapies” align themselves with social prejudices and reflect a stark ignorance in matters of sexuality and sexual health. Contrary to what many people believe or assume, there is no reason – with the exception of the stigma resulting from those very prejudices – why homosexual persons should be unable to enjoy a full and satisfying life.

The Pan American Health Organization Position Statement released May 17, 2012

position statement (PDF: 356KB/4 pages)

Your Mind is Your Religion

DHARMA TALK: Lama Yeshe teaches the importance of regular mental check-ups.

You are intelligent; you know that material objects alone cannot bring you satisfaction, but you don’t have to embark on some emotional, religious trip to examine your own mind. Some people think that they do; that this kind of self-analysis is something spiritual or religious. It’s not necessary to classify yourself as a follower of this or that religion or philosophy, to put yourself into some religious category. But if you want to be happy, you have to check the way you lead your life. Your mind is your religion.

Teens of Lesbians Just as Happy as Teens of Straight Parents, Study Finds

New results from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running and largest study of American lesbian families, show that the quality of life—a measure of positive psychological adjustment—of 17-year-olds raised by lesbian moms did not differ from those who grew up with heterosexual parents.

The Battlefield and the Barracks: Two War Fronts for Women Soldiers

Military sexual trauma (sometimes referred to as MST) is so extreme that it is even more likely to cause PTSD in women than civilian sexual trauma ­­- because of military culture. While the vaunted military ideal of loyalty does not stop a male soldier from raping his fellow soldier, it does block his victim from reporting sexual assault by branding her a “snitch” if she does. She lives and works isolated in a closed world, which shares a tacit pact of loyalty to her rapist. Further, women veterans have reported that rape was often accompanied by a threat to kill or mutilate, [2] thus adding the terror of nearly being killed to that of being sexually assaulted. 

Tiger Beatdown: Now THIS Is Some Mental Health Bootstrapping


Content note for graphic discussions of rape. 

Because what’s being implied by this and other aspects of the programme is that normal reactions to trauma are actually signs of weakness and something wrong with you. It argues that many people come back from war ‘mentally stronger,’ as though the experience of war is somehow personally improving, except for those pesky people who don’t react as expected. The military seems to be convinced that it’s possible to teach people how to react to trauma more ‘competently,’ rather than addressing the root causes of that trauma and maybe getting some action done in that area, and it’s embarked on an extremely ambitious project to do just that.

And this:

Other women in the military also have more complex, less cut and dried, situations when it comes to their rapes; because they are being raped by fellow soldiers, by officers, they are being raped in nebulous and difficult situations. They are being denied abortion services and told they’re lying and being reminded that they could ruin careers by speaking out. They are not brave captives who survived an ordeal: They are trying to survive an ordeal right now. 

(Source: se-smith)

Marriage equality has health benefits for gay men: study

Same sex marriage legalization reduces doctor visits and health care costs for gay men, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. …

The study surveyed 1,211 patients from a large, community-based health clinic in Massachusetts that focuses on serving sexual minorities.

In the 12 months following the 2003 legalization of same sex marriage in Massachusetts, gay and bisexual men had a significant decrease in medical care visits, mental health care visits, and mental health care costs, compared with the 12 months before the law change. This amounted to a 13 percent reduction in health care visits and a 14 percent reduction in health care costs.  …

Study: Having An Abortion Does Not Increase Risk of Mental Health Problems, Unwanted Pregnancy Does

Last week, the UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), published the world’s largest, most comprehensive and systematic review of mental health outcomes and abortion care. The review included 44 high-quality studies done in developed countries and published between 1990 and 2011. …

On the basis of the best evidence available, the Steering Group concluded that:

  • Having an unwanted pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems. However, the rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy are the same, whether they have an abortion or give birth. 
  • The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems is having a history of mental health problems. In other words, women who have had mental health problems before the abortion are at greater risk of mental health problems after the abortion.

DUH.  [Emphasis mine.]


Software Developers and Insomnia: Pushing Beta Brainwaves to Extremes.

The mental activity associated with coding and all IT work is that of mathematics”, says Dr. David Dubin, medical director for Sleep Recovery Centers, Inc. “And the frequency produced by the mathematical brain is clearly that of beta. In code writers, that beta is totally pushed to extremes”.

It seems that there is also a fine line between mathematical beta and and the anxiety producing brainwave hi-beta as well. When the human brain develops an habitual daily pattern of beta, it can migrate upward into this next level of frequency range. And if this goes on long enough, chronic insomnia is usually what follows.

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