Transcending My First Memory

I’m going to share with you some things that have been kept quiet in my family for many years. It starts with my first memory. My first memory is of my dad beating my mom. It’s a sad memory and I’ve rarely told it to many people. I can still see my mom, in desperation, trying to fend off my dad.

We never talked much about abuse in my family, but it regularly occurred. It’s time to shine a light on this and move forward.

I am a survivor of traumatic neglect and a witness to domestic violence and child abuse.

I was a quiet and somber child, very observant. I rarely got in trouble. I also experienced a lot of anxiety.

At about the age of 8, I was asked by a judge who I wanted to live with–mom or dad–as my parents went through a divorce. I picked my mom. I thought this would be better and in some ways it was. However, my mom soon married another abusive man, who not only chased her around the room with an ax, but who also abused, in various ways, my two younger brothers.

As a bystander, as a child, I didn’t know what I could do. But when the man my mom married came into my room and told me to pull down my panties, I knew what to do. I pushed him off the bed. But there was little I could do to prevent the abuse happening to my mom and brothers. Occasionally, the man my mom married would want us other kids to participate in abuse and torment. I always refused.

The man my mom married died in a blizzard. I’m sure this was sad for my mom, but it was liberating for me. I attended his funeral and, when a box of Kleenex was passed to me, I looked at it like, “What do I need this for?”

However, I had to live with my dad again for a while. It was during this time I experienced neglect. I was about 12 years old. Although my dad sometimes cooked–and I remember the things he did cook–there was often very little in the fridge. I remember ketchup sandwiches. I even remember stealing money from my dad to buy food from Taco Delight.  Some of my friends’ parents noticed these things and reported them to my mom, who was doing her best to tie up loose ends with the man who had died in the blizzard.

When I was about 13, while living back with my mom, I experienced my first bout of extreme sadness. It was depression.

At 14, I became pregnant. I also moved to a different state–Florida.

Florida has a law which states that every county has to have a school for teen parents. I attended one–now called The Chiles Academy. Of course, I gained a high school diploma, but I also took parenting classes and learned about various kinds of abuse and neglect. I tried to raise my daughter differently from how I was raised. I went by the book. I never, ever wanted her to experience the things I experienced.

My time at The Chiles Academy was great. My relationship with my daughter, I think, was great. After four years–and after meeting many different politicians and leaders–I graduated with a high school diploma.

I decided to go to college. I applied for Daytona Beach Community College (now, Daytona State College). I did fairly well in all my classes–except Math. However, I decided I was ready to transfer, so I applied to Stetson University. I was accepted.

Being a non-traditional, working class, commuter student at Stetson was, well, different. I didn’t come across many other students with my background. Very few of them could related to the experiences of being a young parent.

And, all the while, I was barely treated for the abuse and neglect I experienced growing up.

However, even though I didn’t make too many friends on campus, I did find solidarity and support in the campus culture. Many Stetson faculty, staff and students are involved in the community and social justice activities. I got involved in social justice issues.

I wrote two theses: one on facial affect (for psychology) and one on colonialism (for philosophy).

Not long after I graduated undergrad, my dad got sick with cancer. I had to travel back to Texas to deal with his death.

Soon, I applied for graduate school at the University of North Florida. While there, I did very, very well in academics, teaching and research.

Still I had not gotten help for my abuse.

I had learned to be distant from my feelings. I didn’t take time to process things and transcend them. However, I spoke out about injustice toward anyone else whenever I could. This was empowerment for me. It was as if I was making up for all the times I couldn’t do anything for my brothers and mom. I sometimes wonder if other people who are passionate about social justice are survivors like me.

While in graduate school, I had my first experience of psychosis. Of course, the current routine is: drug them up and hospitalize them.

I wasn’t seen as a survivor of horrific things who had accomplished so much. I was seen as a “schizophrenic.”

New research sheds light on the traumatic experiences people have which lead to psychosis. Instead of seeing these as “ill people” with an “incurable brain disease,” we should look at them as potential survivors of domestic torment and adversity. After all, if you don’t think I experienced adversity, you don’t know the statistics on teen moms. Merely graduating high school is a very real accomplishment for people with my background, let alone going on to college and grad school.

If you glance around my portfolio, you’ll find I have indeed accomplished a lot. My most recent accomplishment is what I’m doing now: transcending my negative childhood experiences.

 

 

Does Finding Truth Require The Right Attitude?

I’ve become laid-back in my old age. I think I’ve also become more receptive to truth. In my quest to treat and think about schizophrenia, for example, I’ve turned in my old, piercing, rigorous mind and exchanged it for a more humble yet adventurous attitude.

In the world of academia, we often find disparate conversations going on. We find scholars who are unable to communicate with non-academics–but, worse, we find academics unable to communicate with each other.

Since I’ve always taken an interdisciplinary approach, I have tried my best to keep up with conversations in many areas of study. Interdisciplinary work is difficult. One reason why is because one has to become a translator of academic jargon–from psychology to philosophy–and then, for me, a translator from academic jargon into ordinary language.

I do my best, as any translator does, but I may miss the tiny nuances when I translate into ordinary language.

These piercing minds–which I used to possess–give us these conversations. It’s an attitude toward truth that most scholars have which constructs towers of babble upwards towards to heavens.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve taken a different approach to truth these days. I’m fond of pragmatism–in a nutshell, what is true is what works. Pragmatism is a world-centered approach. It isn’t looking for some abstract truth-in-the-sky. It is looking for truth in the world.

But is there a specific attitude one must have in order to be receptive to truth? I think there may be. One must, first of all, be an adventurous explorer, willing to try new things. In my quest for treating schizophrenia, for instance, I have had to be open to trying new medications, seeing if they work, and trying new therapies. I even prayed and undertook an exploration of Christianity because Christian psychology can re-structure cognitive processes. My exploration and willingness to try new things will be proven to work for me if my symptoms diminish over the long term.

In addition to being an explorer, one must have the attitude of a shred of skepticism, too. I know that treatments that may work for me may not work for everyone. I have to discuss progress with other people with mental illness and explore large-scale studies to see whether my treatments work for others.

Notice I focus on what works for me. Whatever works is what is true. Truth is what happens to an idea I may have. My idea becomes true just when it works.

I don’t think I need to have the piercing mind, engaged in the harsh minutia of conversations in academia in order to find truth. I just need the right attitude and the ability to explore.

On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

Slow And Steady Wins The Race?

Back when I was a TA, I got really, really good at thinking on my feet. Super good.

Time has worn on and I find myself preferring slow deliberation these days. I don’t think this is a sign of lacking intelligence, either. I think of it as both gaining intelligence and wisdom. We tend to prize quick thinking. But quick thinking can get us in trouble. Reflexes vary, of course, and can be trained. But I think our society, which can tweet in an instant, has become more and more biased and less seeking of truth due to the reliance on quickness over slow deliberation.

Take, for example, a conversation I had prior to Christmas with an expert on AI. I’m still thinking about the ramifications of that discussion. I may have a few brief thoughts, but nothing well-formulated just yet. I will talk to people about it, think it over more, and so forth, before I come to a safe conclusion.

The theory is that reflexes, if not heavily trained, are ridden with emotion, bias and other things. The more time we have to mull something over, the more likely we are to weed out those things.

One problem is that, for many people, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deliberate. I suggest: Take a walk. Cut down on your TV time. Heck, cut down on your social media time–to spend time reflecting. We may just become a better society because of it.

“The Thinker Who Believed in Doing”

Here’s a really good article on William James and pragmatism. An excerpt:

In a world of chance and incomplete information, James insisted that truth was elusive but action mandatory. The answer: Make a decision and see if it works. Try a belief and see if your life improves. Don’t depend on logic and reason alone, add in experience and results. Shun ideology and abstraction. Take a chance. “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

I confess that I’ve become rather fond of pragmatism over the years.

I Was A “Very Stable Genius.” Then I Developed Schizophrenia. Now, I’m An Unstable Genius.

Ask anyone who worked with me. I was 100% philosophy, 100% of the time. Effort and study creates genius. And I think I was one. A stable one, too.

I was in the middle of my graduate thesis when madness creeped up on me. It began slowly, with things I could handle, like derealization. Then, one day, I cracked. I was triggered by something in an e-mail to me. I responded by joking about it, but it really put unwanted thoughts in my head. I didn’t know how to handle unwanted thoughts, so I tried pushing them away. Little did I know that when you try to push unwanted thoughts away, they just become stronger. This quickly escalated into OCD with psychotic features–then schizophrenia.

I was full-blown mad. Again, ask anyone who was around me at the time. I was also a full-blown genius. The current going theory is that people who experience the kind of anxiety I experienced, while being top-performers, are the best of the best.

I don’t think I’ve lost any cognitive function, which sometimes goes along with schizophrenia. And I’ve been studying ever since I was diagnosed. As I said, effort and study makes genius. That, along with flexibility and imagination, gives you people like John Nash, an unstable genius.

I’ve seen memes recently mocking the president for calling himself a stable genius. Perhaps he is. I certainly haven’t mocked him for saying this.

But it’s important to understand a two things: (1) genius is about work. One doesn’t typically become a genius by not investing time into one’s area of expertise. (2) there is nothing wrong with being a little unstable. I have been known to become psychotic. So has John Nash. Each of us has accomplished things in life–and he is what many would think of as a true genius.

What many people are worried about is whether the president will do something rash in his alleged instability and, for example, bring us to war. He could. But he could also just be performing Madman Theory, which would not only scare some of us, but also our enemies. Either way, instability does not necessarily equal violence, so trying to guess the probability of the president pressing the button is currently, with the information I have, all for naught.

 

Identity And Your Career

I think one of the most detrimental things one can do is identify with their career. I find so many people who do identify with their career. When they lose a job, when they retire, they lose their sense of identity.

When one thinks in terms of oneself as how one sells one’s labor, one is really doing a disservice to oneself. It also makes one extremely vulnerable in that it makes one less flexible. Flexibility, as Jonathan Lear argues in Radical Hope, should be the virtue one aims for in our society. Flexibility gives one the ability to reach beyond one’s current or past way of life and imagine something new and different. It’s the key virtue that lends itself to creativity and imagination in forms of life.

Of course, there’s advantages for your employer for you to identify with your career. If you are so invested in your career that you wholly identify with it, you make a good cog in the working machine. The problem, for you, is: what if the machine stops working or changes direction? What if you have to change careers or forms of life for some reason? When that happens, as it has been known to do, you will suffer an identity crisis. Instead of being able to knuckle down and move on with a different form of life–reaching for different thick concepts–you will be stuck in your old way of thinking while the world moves on without you.

So, do not place your identity in your career.

A Series Of Misunderstandings: Political Communication In The Contemporary United States

People use signs, signals, actions and words in order to communicate. In the United States, I’ve been increasingly worried that we are starting to use different languages to communicate with one another. I don’t mean Spanish and English. I mean our whole landscape has become so polarized and many of us live in such information bubbles that we have started “signing” in different ways, often misunderstanding one another.

This is a more charitable view than one which states we are intentionally ignoring, poking at, etc., each other.

I initially started thinking about this when I started a #DefendDACA rally. The rally turned out to be an awesome event, being televised across Central Florida. It really wasn’t my doing that the rally turned out so well. I had other, quite wonderful, organizers who made things happen.

But what opponents don’t/didn’t understand is that it takes a lot of hard work and effort in order for such an event to take place at all. I should know.

So, when you see a group of people protesting, you can assume that some of them missed work to do so, some of them had to travel a certain distance, and many other things. In other words, they have to overcome life in order to protest. That’s saying something.

The rally I organized was so successful–with many other rallies taking place across the nation on the same day–that our events made national headlines and generated a conversation about DACA recipients. That’s also saying something.

At the time of this writing, however, the president is saying he will protect DACA recipients if and only if he gets his border wall built.

So the events that have been scheduled since the rally I organized are coming down to a negotiation that will probably not fly on the part of DACA Defenders.

Let me say it again: it takes a lot of effort and work to participate in a rally. If you see successful rallies all over the country, that’s really, truly saying something.

But many opponents of DACA recipients have said things like “Get a job!” to folks who rallied. (To be clear, nearly all DACA recipients already have jobs!) It’s as if they are now speaking a different language–a language in which the effort, time and sacrifices made by protesters is scoffed at or not even acknowledged.

As I survey these actions across the country, I have just had to wonder whether some things, like various propaganda, have left people on the Right speaking a whole other language than people on the Left. This language doesn’t understand the concept of protest, making protests on the Left ineffective (if they are trying to persuade people on the Right).

That we are talking past each other now has real-life consequences. DACA recipients will be protected or not, a border wall will go up or not, depending on how we understand one another.

As someone who has only recently started to live in a Leftist bubble, I can say that many people on the Right nowadays simply do not understand–or take time to understand–arguments from the Left. Yet, I know of scholars devoted to studying the Right, so we on the Left get a translation of what’s going on, which keeps us up to speed.

We are now a fractured nation, speaking different political languages. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We can become fluent in the language of the other, but it’s going to take some work.

Call Me C.S. Lewis: An Unlikely Convert

Long time readers may wonder about my sudden shift to writing about Christianity. I’ve converted. You may wonder why. So, I’ll tell you.

About six months ago, I had a psychotic break. It was severe and there are possibly some readers here who witnessed parts of it.

One evening during my psychosis, which lasts usually a week or two, my mind felt like it was going to shatter. It’s hard to explain what it’s like for your mind to shatter, but it’s horrible and scary. You lose your whole identity. I seriously felt like I was going to be in long-term inpatient care. That’s also terrifying.

Normally, I would have gone to the hospital. My first urge was to do just that. I would be, possibly, injected with something like Haldol, and, hopefully, stabilized. It usually takes going to the hospital in order to re-gain any sort of coherence when one’s mind shatters.

However, no one was really around to get me to the hospital. All our vehicles were gone. I couldn’t very well take myself and I didn’t want to call 911 because I thought I wouldn’t be mentally present by the time they showed up.

All of this went though my head very quickly.

I felt my only choice was to pray. They say there are no atheists in foxholes.

I got into my bed and prayed. I said, “God, please help me keep my mind together.”

I was willing to do my part, if and however I could. But I needed God’s help.

As I prayed, my mind was shattering. I was losing my identity as I prayed. The only thing I knew about myself was that I am a woman. So, I prayed to God, “I know I am a woman.” That’s as much help as I could offer God.

I slowly fell asleep.

In the morning, my mind was healed. There was no psychosis whatsoever. No shattered mind.

I don’t currently know how long this healing will last. I don’t know if it’s forever or not. I still take my medications and go to counseling. But, that night, I believe I experienced a miracle. So, I’ve converted.

On Trusting Yourself, Knowing You Are Not Trustworthy

There’s a good article here about the biases we all hold. I mean bias in the psychological sense.

I learned a lot about bias as an undergraduate, and tried to root out as many as I could over the years. I can’t say that I’m perfect (who is?), but I think I’ve gotten better.

I thought this related interestingly to my work on schizophrenia because I want to take seriously people’s narratives about what they think caused their psychosis, and what happened when they went psychotic. But I also want to take into account that we are imperfect when it comes to these things. We tend to overestimate bad things that happen to us, for example. Still, I think it’s important to take the agent seriously.

In practicing the biopsychosocial model, interviews with the client are paramount. However, other data is collected, such as interviews with other people, school records, and so forth. This, I think, is good. It takes into account the individual, and also refers to other data so we can glean a picture of what possibly caused the illness in this particular case, and what treatments we should apply for health. This is a strength for the biopsychosocial model.

After reading about bias, you should be skeptical about yourself. If you aren’t you didn’t take the data seriously. But there are ways to reduce bias, and it’s good to apply them. This could make a better place for all of us. This means you don’t have to remain skeptical of yourself. But it does mean you need to constantly work on yourself.

If you live in a constant state of skepticism about yourself, that’s probably not healthy. But a light dose of skepticism is good.

On Feral Children, and Being ‘Hooked In’

One may think that feral children can teach us a lot about, especially, psychology. In fact, I turned to feral children today in order to think about what happens to a person devoid of the social. I was thinking about this in order to think about the -psycho- in the biopsychosocial.

Here’s what I thought. It’s hard to glean a whole lot from studying feral children. For one, these children aren’t randomly feral. That is, they aren’t randomly assigned to being feral. We can’t do that. It’s unethical.

Which brings me to my point: It would be a major form of abuse to create a feral child. Why would it be an abuse? Not just because they need to be “socialized” and taught “social skills.” It would be an abuse because it fundamentally alters a child for life in a way that pretty much seems unjustifiable.

Being a feral child is, automatically, being traumatized and neglected. So what we can glean from studies of feral children can’t be pulled apart from studying trauma, abuse, and neglect.

This means they don’t provide the perfect case study for looking at the human-being-minus-the-social. The social is already interacting with the child by neglecting it.

There may be some things we can learn, anyway. Scholars think that many feral children fail to learn to speak because they miss a key point for language development.

If these children lack language, they may lack concepts that make them able to strive for things in life. They may have a basic need for survival, so they eat, but they may lack ‘thick concepts’. That is, they may not be able to strive toward being a doctor because they lack language; they lack the concepts involved in being a person who wants to grow up, go to college, and be a doctor.

Now, I know that, from studying what people say about schizophrenia, that I should be careful about what I say about people who have experiences I know nothing about. But, still, I think this may actually help me develop a theory.

On the view I developed while at the store today thinking about the psychosocial, language hooks one into the social. It brings one in to the social community as a full member. In this way, concepts can lead one, make one strive for things. But, also, when reflecting one these things, we can question, develop, make new concepts, and so forth.