Review of the Past Year

Last week, I was in therapy and the topic of more daily tasks for me to do came up. After reviewing my past year, I think I’ve remained pretty busy!

For example, in the past year, I was:

-Involved with NoDAPL and received a letter from President Obama on the matter.

-In regards to NoDAPL, I was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal.

-I was published on the Ghost Parachute Blog 3 times.

-I wrote a book.

-I edited an international philosophy journal.

-I was on Team Bernie during the primaries.

But most importantly, I have remained focused on my mental and physical health.

So, Obama Emailed Me

I recently contacted the White House regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. I asked Obama to oppose it, specifically. Today, I got a letter from him via email. He didn’t come out to oppose the pipeline exactly. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Thank you for writing, and for your thoughtful input. As President, my greatest responsibility is ensuring the safety of the American people, including when it comes to our Nation’s energy infrastructure. My Administration is setting the highest possible standards for oil and gas production and transportation, and each day we are working to make sure our pursuit of energy resources does not put our communities at risk. That work includes steps the Army has committed to taking in light of important issues raised about the Dakota Access pipeline.

I understand the risks associated with the development and transportation of fossil fuels, which is why my Administration has overhauled Federal oversight and raised the bar on safety across the board. As part of our efforts to improve Federal permitting and review processes, we are making safe pipeline infrastructure a priority in order to help ensure the health and security of our communities and the environment.

As new energy infrastructure is developed, the Federal Government will continue working with State, local, and tribal governments—which play a central role in the siting and permitting of pipelines—to address the concerns of local communities. One of my priorities as President is upholding an honest and respectful relationship with Native American tribes, and we have made a lot of progress in restoring ancestral lands, waters, and sacred sites over the past 8 years. My Administration also remains committed to consulting with tribes to ensure meaningful tribal input is factored into infrastructure-related decisions across the Federal Government. In the weeks ahead, Departments and Agencies will meet with tribal leaders across the country in a series of formal consultations on this issue.

Again, thank you for writing. I hear you, and I am optimistic that together, we can grow our economy and create new opportunities while securing a cleaner and safer future for all our people.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Activism Skills

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to write down the skills I have gained as an activist and try to incorporate them into my resume. Here’s a short list of skills I have developed from my activism work:

  • Campaign strategy and planning
  • Building a movement and organizing in community
  • Campaign communication: face to face mobilization
  • Media skills and social media
  • Lobbying skills
  • Meeting facilitation and participatory decision-making
  • Fundraising skills
  • Action and event planning

UPDATE: Here‘s an article by Microsoft’s Lisa Brummel on the undervalued skill of social activism.

What I’ve Been Doing

For the past month or so, I have been involved in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I have done many things with this movement, and wish to incorporate my activities into my professional experiences. As you will see in my previous post, I wrote a Letter to the Editor which was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal.

In addition to fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, I have also started doing editing work for a Basic Income website. I haven’t done as much work on this as I would have hoped because the Dakota Access Pipeline movement got in the way of that, but I have edited a couple of pieces on Basic Income.

I have been wondering about how to incorporate my volunteer and activism experiences into my resume. I will be doing that soon.

waterislife

 

Calling Schizophrenia a Brain Disorder doesn’t Give Primacy to the Biomedical Model

In this essay, I want to argue that we should refer to psychotic disorders as brain disorders, but that doing this doesn’t mean giving primacy to the biomedical view versus the biopsychosocial view.

In keeping with some of my previous thoughts, let’s assume you get a broken leg. Furthermore, let’s assume that your broken leg is due to a social ill—someone assaulted you.

You go to the doctor. You get a cast, but, in addition, as you heal, you may need physical therapy in order to heal better in your leg.

Seeing a broken leg as a medical issue doesn’t mean you won’t need treatments other than having a cast, and using crutches until you heal.

In fact, this may be yet one more trauma in your life that you don’t need.

Now imagine that, years down the road, you become psychotic. Imagine further that this is because you have experienced hardship, childhood abuse, and trauma, including being assaulted by someone who broke your leg, years back.

You are taken to the hospital. The psychiatrists there see you as a brain patient. They try to treat your brain by giving you antipsychotics.

But, in addition, you are assigned a treatment team that includes social workers, case managers and counselors.

Seeing psychosis as a brain issue doesn’t mean you won’t need other treatments, like counseling. And, further, your society may need some treatments of its own, if it produces people who traumatize and torments people, and produces social injustice.

Calling psychosis a brain illness doesn’t negate other biopsychosocial causes or cures, just as thinking of a broken leg as a medical issue doesn’t negate the fact that you have been assaulted, and may need counseling, or physical therapy. In other words, calling schizophrenia a brain disorder doesn’t commit us to the biomedical model over the biopsychosocial model.

Justice at Both Ends: Preventing and Treating Psychotic Disorders through Social Justice

Introduction

It seems like a cruel joke. People who are already in disadvantaged positions are, on top of that, vulnerable to brain disorders. Then, the society that produced the disadvantage (poverty, racism, sexism, etc.) stigmatizes the person for having an illness.

I want to be transparent here. I am diagnosed with schizophrenia. I live openly with my illness. I am also trained as a philosopher. I had my first psychotic break in graduate school, where I was studying ethics and political philosophy. My doctors told me to apply for disability, but I wanted to work. After a series of various jobs and hospitalizations, I finally applied for—and was granted—SSI. The day I was granted SSI, I cried. It had been an extremely rough ride.

One of the jobs I applied for, and kept until I was hospitalized, was as a case manager. As a case manager, I was trained to treat people in a holistic way. I was to look at each client from a variety of perspectives. But, also, I was trained to advocate for justice for my clients. That’s what I want to focus on here.

Theory and Practice

I want to set aside the theories of justice we learn about in school for a minute, however important and interesting they are. Although my academic training is mostly in philosophy, I have also done an assortment of different work. I have had time to think about—and live out—the issues I am discussing. So I’m not going to apply any certain theory of justice to the problems I am discussing. Besides, Bernard Williams would think applying a theory to a problem the way that is often done would be really uninteresting. And, of course, I want to be interesting.

I am also not going to get into a debate about psychiatry versus psychology. Brain versus mind. I think training as a case manager was good experience for me in diffusing that dichotomy. I am trained to deal with both medicine and psychotherapy, as a case manager. And I am trained to think about the soul and the brain, as a philosopher.

However, I am going to refer to schizophrenia as a brain disorder in this paper. Because that’s what it is, whatever, ultimately, causes it. There is something going on differently in my brain when I am psychotic. I’ll set aside issues of dualism, materialism, and so forth, and let other philosophers better trained in that area deal with those issues.

I am also going to set aside cultural differences. Although there has been interesting anthropological work on the differences in the expression of psychosis, there is also consensus that psychosis occurs in every culture. What I will focus on, however, is treating psychotic disorders in the United States. That’s where I live and am best trained.

“What happened to you?”: Social Causes of Schizophrenia

We know that social factors can be a cause in brain disorders. For example, Holocaust survivors are at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. There is, we may say, only so much a mind can take.

This does not discount other factors involved in developing brain disorders. However, I want to discuss various abuses and forms of disadvantage at play in developing psychotic disorders.

Prior to taking up research specifically on psychotic disorders, I did a great amount of research in Native Studies. Native Studies is an interdisciplinary field, and I had to learn and read in many different fields—anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, law, criminal justice, philosophy, to name a few. In the social and psychological work I read, it was clear that the effects of colonialism had an impact on the minds of indigenous people. They are at an increased risk for many illnesses, including brain illnesses.

This informed my early notions of brain illness: that it’s mostly social. So, when I became ill, I didn’t know what caused it. (It could be, however, that I have, in fact, experienced a lot of hardship, and was prone to developing a psychotic disorder.)

I eschewed psychotropic medications, and psychiatry in general. I was held, for periods of time, in hospitals and told to be “compliant” (to take medications). I sought out therapy, however, and had a few wonderful counselors. Counselors, I knew, treated things differently. They are not medical doctors shoving, as it were, pills that caused me horrible side effects down my throat.

Eventually, however, I was given an antipsychotic that both managed my symptoms and didn’t cause side effects. I am now a firm believer in taking the appropriate medication at the appropriate dosage, along with therapy, case management, and so forth.

One of my good friends, who, for reasons to protect them, will remain anonymous and vague, works for the military. This is not a delusion. They really do work for the military, and they are not the kind of person you would imagine an ethicist would associate with. The fact is, it’s their job to kill people efficiently and effectively. They are not a soldier. They make the plans that others carry out.

Let’s just say that this person knows how to inflict all kinds of torment on people. (This does not carry out into civilian life.) This person once asked me the most important question anyone ever asked me about my illness: “What happened to you?”

They wanted to know what kind of torment, abuse or disadvantage I experienced that made me have schizophrenia.

I wanted to tell them that I was a teen parent, who had to fight for her education, and was treated very badly by, especially, conservatives as a teen parent. I was told I was going to Hell, and funding for my high school, which was my joy and hope in the world, was always threatened.

I wanted to tell them that I had experienced sexism in the field of philosophy that made me very uncomfortable.

I wanted to tell them that I experienced a lot of sexual harassment when I was working as a teaching assistant.

I wanted to tell them that academia is not made for parents, especially teen parents.

I told my counselor instead.

Stigma

There are at least three kinds of stigma: (1) Self-Stigma, (2) Other Stigma, and (3) Stigma by Association. The literature discusses each of these.

Self-stigma is when a person internalizes the stereotypes and “othering” the society holds about them. They may think they are, in fact, a bad person for having schizophrenia. They may think they are at risk for committing violence. They may think they should be punished, or closely watched. This can cause a person to have low self-esteem, live “in the closet,” and not seek treatment.

Other stigma is when people who do not experience psychosis have negative views and discriminate against people with psychotic disorders. This can include not wanting to date a person with schizophrenia, not wanting to have conversations or be friends with people with schizophrenia, and not wanting to work with people with schizophrenia.

Stigma by association is when people who are associated with a person with a psychotic illness feel shame about having that person in their family, school or workplace. They may lack education about people with brain disorders, and there is evidence that proper education about these issues can lessen stigma by association.

Stigma can lead to discrimination by making people treat one differently. As someone who has dealt with gross amounts of stigma, I can say that people have treated me as a potential threat, a wild-eyed disarray, and needing to be “compliant” and tamed. This, even when my symptoms, which have never been threatening, were at bay. Stigma leads one to “see” you differently. It leads to bias in how your actions are interpreted.

I have learned to deal with stigma by living openly and “calling it out.” I risk all kinds of things doing this, but it’s the only thing I know to do.

Justice at Both Ends

We may live in a world where luck is involved, but there’s luck and there’s luck. We have the ability to change our world, to make things better for other people and ourselves. We have the ability to reduce the amount of negative luck people experience. For example, if we alleviated poverty, there would be fewer brain disorders, just as if we reduce child abuse, there would be fewer cases of child PTSD. If we want to reduce the amount of brain illness in the world, we need to be committed to justice.

At the same time, there are people who do and will continue to suffer. For those people, we need justice at the tail end—we need justice for people with brain disorders. This means making people feel OK with accepting government benefits, increasing government benefits so that people with brain disorders are not living in poverty, and, of course, reducing stigma.

I hope I have made a case for justice before and after psychosis.

Indigenous Studies

My undergraduate thesis in philosophy, entitled The More Freely He Breathes: Colonialism in the United States, explored indigenous colonization drawing upon work in Native Studies. All of my prior education prepared me for taking up the research role, during which time I consulted experts across campus, students, experts from other universities, American Indian philosophy, and American Indian Law. In addition, I took a road trip recounting the Trail of Tears from the Choctaw perspective, visiting the reservation of The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, where I was priviledged to experience Choctaw Indian Fair and a speech by Chief Martin. I visited The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, seeing historic, administrative and governmental sites and visited tribal-owned businesses.

Happy Earth Day

As I mentioned previously, I live on a protected environment. I have also worked with an environmental organization. I did business development for a local environmental nonprofit. I had to quit when I fell ill. But perhaps my biggest environmental accomplishment is helping get the lake and wetlands I live on protected.

I received a great environmental education at Stetson University. I learned about Florida springs, wetlands, and more. When I moved to the place I currently live, I was told the lake was over 80 feet deep, and was naturally spring fed. Some years later, they were beginning to put a development up on the other side of the lake, cutting down acres’ worth of forests. People in my community got together to have the lake and wetlands protected, which they now are.

Since the wetlands are protected, we let everything grow as it wants to. This is what it looks like now:

And this is what I looked like working for the environmental organization:

Things Have Been Growing

Last year or so, I posted about living on a protected environment. My neighborhood had the lake and wetlands I live on protected. So, we have been letting things grow as they wish. Turns out, things have grown quite a bit! Take a look:

Poor People and Having a Voice

Right now, as I write this, my area, Daytona Beach, is struggling with a “homeless problem.” City officials don’t know how to handle the problem.

Some have proposed a shelter in the area, but the city doesn’t know if it can afford it. They want surrounding cities to pitch in. For all the discussion of how to solve the problem of poverty or homelessness, I rarely see the voices of actual poor or homeless people. Their voices are lacking in these discussions. They are treated as a problem for others to solve, not as human beings with their own thoughts and feelings on the subject.

I have found that, even though the world of a poor person may be limited because of a lack of resources, they still usually know what they need. They are the best ones to solve the problems they face. But, too often, others try to speak for them.

I’ll tell you a story: I used to give money to homeless people in Daytona Beach. Back when I was in college, I’d see homeless people panhandling. I’d stop and give them a few bucks. I never thought twice about it.

Frequently, I hear how people don’t trust that the homeless would spend the money on food or something they actually need; that they’d spend it on alcohol. I never cared about this. I figured they need money, otherwise they wouldn’t be asking for it. We rarely talk about the alcohol and drug problems of the wealthy, but when it comes to homeless people, we are ready to speak up. Why is it that we are so harsh on poor people?

My local newspaper continues to report on the homeless problem, but rarely are actual homeless people consulted in their own affairs.

Having a voice at all is difficult. Having any social or political say when you are poor is a challenge. But it is especially paternalistic when other people think they know how you should best live your life. Often, the solution is a shelter, even though Housing First initiatives, which provide homes to homeless people outright, have been shown to work. We don’t think we can give poor people money directly, even though, if you ask them, that’s what they need. We don’t think we can just give homeless people homes, but places that have done that very thing have solved their homeless problem.

Perhaps, in the future, we can actually listen to poor people, especially when considering their affairs.

Volunteer Recognition

I just received the newsletter for the American Patient Rights Association. I was recognized for my work as a Web Content Editor:

A big thank you to our Volunteer Website Content  Editors

APRA also wishes to recognize the great work by our volunteer website content editors Jennifer Lawson and Stephanie Kumar. They work hard to keep our website updated with the latest and most relevant news and information with respect to patient safety and rights, particularly having to do with hospitals.

A Dose of Reality

One of the projects I have worked on has to do with mental illness. I worked as a case manager and I found that, in my area, there were few resources available to my clients. A friend and I came up with the idea of a website that could serve as a resource for people with mental illness, their friends, family, and supporters. My brother, Jeremy, enhanced the idea. He proposed creating a social media site. We all collaborated and came up with the website A Dose of Reality.

If you are interested, you can sign up and communicate with like-minded individuals.