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Should People with “Intractable” Mental Illness be Able to End Their Own Life?

I’m not one for Twitter wars. However, mental health columnist Andre Picard tweeted an article about assisted suicide for people with “intractable” mental illnesses. You can read the article for yourself, but I had a few things I wanted to say about this.

First, I think advocating for assisted suicide in general, including for people with mental illness, entirely gives up on finding proper cures and treatments. One of the goals, we might think, of medical research is to find treatments and cures. The goal is not to give up because something is currently deemed “intractable.”

Second, I can think of very few cases in which a person meets the competency requirements, has an intractable mental illness, and chooses to die. In other words, most people, when competent and sane, want to live. It would be exceedingly rare to find people in reality who meet all the requirements. Why make it an issue, then? If a minuscule number of people meet the requirements and want to die, why give the issue much traction at all? Why write Op-Eds about it?

There are many people with mental illness who struggle with suicidal ideation as it is. Why feed that? The goal is to get these people better, not end their lives.

In the end, I do not support assisted suicide for people with intractable mental illness. I support finding treatments and cures.

Schizophrenia and Self-Love

Tonight, I was talking with a friend of mine. We are very different, but I’m at ease with that.

There was a point at which time this friend wanted me to be more like them.

I couldn’t do it. And when I tried, I ended up doing stupid things.

But tonight, when our differences came up, I simply concluded, “To each their own.”

I’ve been feeling a sense of peace recently. Peace with who I am. It’s not tied to my achievements, status, wealth–or anything external. It’s a peace with myself for who I am.

You wouldn’t necessarily think a person who has experienced what I have experienced would love themselves. After all, I’m poor, didn’t finish my MA degree, have schizophrenia, and am lacking in a bunch of areas most American adults think are required (for example, I don’t own a car right now).

This feeling of peace is a long time coming.

I’ve had a hard road. It has been incredibly tough. Yet, I sit here at peace with myself.

I think back, a couple of years ago, when my counselor wanted me to have self-love and joy, which she differentiated from mere and fleeting happiness.

I have finally come to those places in my life.

It’s an awesome feeling of calm to actually, finally, love yourself. And, to me, at least, it makes the fleeting things of the world–the things most people spend so much time and energy chasing–fall away.

If you have schizophrenia, some other mental illness, or are perfectly healthy, I wish self-love for you. I honestly think the world would be a much better place.

In Defense of Florida’s Baker Act

Florida’s mental health law–the Baker Act–was in the news recently, when a 6 year old girl was forcibly hospitalized after an incident at school.

Although this case is odd, I think there are some redeeming things about the Baker Act.

I speak from experience. I have been involuntarily hospitalized over 10 times in Florida. I have, many, many times, hated the Baker Act.

But–here and now–I sit typing after having been in recovery for about a year. I wouldn’t have gotten the wonderful medication I am on if it wasn’t for the Baker Act.

At no time were my rights taken away. At no time was I recommended for long-term inpatient stays. At no time, in 10 years of battling schizophrenia, did doctors give up on me.

Instead, doctors tried medication after medication, hoping each time this would be the one for me.

It’s true. I hate going to the hospital. It has often felt like a violation of my rights. But every time I went inpatient, I was in an emergency crisis and really needed help.

It’s better than the alternative, too, which is jail. When we throw people with mental illness in jail, no one wins. I’d much rather be appropriately seen as having an illness that needs treatment and go to the hospital.

Psychiatry is not the enemy. Neither, when properly executed, is the Baker Act.

My Psychiatrist is Doing God’s Work

For the past 10 years, I have struggled with psychosis. I am diagnosed with schizophrenia and have had 1-2 hospitalizations per year since I was initially diagnosed.

I have had a rocky relationship with psychiatry. I think a lot of people in similar situations do. It’s easy to think of psychiatrists as the enemy, forcing drugs on you.

It’s been about a year since my last psychotic episode. I am becoming certain, by the day, that this renewed health is due to my medications.

My doctors–and I have seen plenty–have never given up on me. They keep trying new medications of it seems like the previous one isn’t working. It has taken 10 years for me to be this healthy! Ten years!

But they didn’t give up on me, put me away for life or take away my rights.

I will be seeing my Nurse Practitioner next week. We will discuss my remission. But I also plan to tell her how thankful I am that she is doing God’s work.

To all the Nurses, Nurse Practitioners and Psychiatrists out there trying to sincerely assist people like me in treatment options: THANK YOU!

Neither Fish Nor Fowl: The Quest for U.S.-Tribal Harmony

Back around 2003, I proposed my philosophy thesis for a BA in philosophy. I ended up writing about colonialism and decolonization. For my readings, I emailed a professor working in Native American Studies. We emailed back and forth for a long time. I felt a little out of place as a white person studying these things. The Native Studies professor told me I was neither fish nor fowl.

I wrote a crappy, little book a year or so ago on Native American issues. In that book, I noted that there have been pillars of hope and justice in Euroamerican history–people who wanted what’s right and just for Native Americans.

Although, as I note in the book, those people were vocal, they didn’t prevail. The result, as we now know, has been centuries of genocide, cultural genocide, poverty, poor health outcomes, and more, for indigenous people.

Like my predecessors, I may not win. But I have a 20-year history of fighting for indigenous people. I may be neither fish nor fowl, but I believe that we can achieve harmony in U.S.-tribal relations.

But it’s going to take us–non-Native, U.S. citizens–to help get us there. And we are going to have to give some. For example, it may be good to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for indigenous people. That way, the truth can be known, healing can take place and we can come to reconcile with one another.

In my daily life, I interact with Native Americans. We have more in common than we have differences. Our shared humanity is what brings us together. And, for my part, my sense of justice begins with love. Native Americans have the highest rate of intermarriage. That means most Native people have non-Native family members. If we can love one another on a personal level, why can’t we bring about justice and harmony at the government level?

For 20 years, I have worked for Native justice when possible. I may be white, but I’ll take the side of history that’s right over the side I’m allegedly supposed to be on.

Explaining CV Gaps

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that academia is still suited for the middle class, healthy, able-bodied, childless person. In an effort to make things somewhat more hospitable, I suggest we do away with being skeptical of those with “CV gaps.”

Ten years ago, at the tail-end of my MA, I fell ill. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took these past 10 years–and trying a dozen different medications–for me to finally, recently, be in remission.

I’m not the only one who has an illness, a death in the family, child caring years, etc., to deal with. Once, I overheard a hiring committee treat with suspicion a candidate who, in an effort to explain the CV gap, explained they had a bout with Bipolar Disorder. I don’t know if this candidate got hired or not, but this person shouldn’t have had to explain such a thing, which brings bias in hiring to the table.

Recently, I looked into PhD programs. While Philosophical Gourmet Report rankings are nice and everything, I think what matters is other things: The warmth of a department. The lack of sexism in a department. The ability to see me as a person and not someone who is “unstable” and “crazy.” Those are environments that will help me produce the best work.

I was told over 10 years ago that, if I wanted to do a PhD, I should do it right after my MA.

Well, that couldn’t happen.

I will be going to my doctor to get an O.K. on further education soon. If she says I’m able to go, I should be seen as a fresh student, not a “stale” one. And I shouldn’t have to explain any so-called gaps to anyone.

Life is hard enough. Why make it even harder?

Explaining My Psychotic Self

Anyone familiar with me knows that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 10 years ago while finishing my MA degree.

It’s been a tough journey. I went from middle class to extreme poverty, tried a dozen medications, went to therapy, lost friends, mentors, acquaintances, and professional contacts.

I will soon be one year symptom free. This past year I have grown in wisdom and health. I hope my remission lasts. Being psychotic is no fun for anyone.

While I’m in remission, I decided to take the time to reflect upon the times when I am psychotic. I have explained previously that when I am psychotic, I truly am legally insane.

I have done a lot of things while psychotic. I have thought I was married or engaged to someone I don’t know, thought I had jobs I didn’t have, and generally been afraid for my life.

My wise and knowing counselor told me to tell everyone that those things are not me. They are my illness.

Right now, I am on a medication that restores me to health. While schizophrenia may be a fascinating illness for people to look into, the experience of it is heartbreaking. People think I am “unstable,” dangerous and should have my rights taken away from me.

I have been basically told these things–even by philosophers, who ought to know better.

Psychosis sneaks up on me. It makes me believe things that are not true. It makes me paranoid. Even I feel unsure about how long I will be in remission.

If you’re worldview does not take into account the humanity of people like me, you have a crappy worldview. When I am healthy, I’m totally fine. My goal is to stay fine. I don’t want to lose contacts, friendships or esteem in people’s eyes. Anyway, those things–the social isolation–makes my illness worse.

I need people to see what I have finally recognized: Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. It’s not anything I can help (aside from continuing to take my medications, which have a chance of failing). I need you to see that when I have done strange things, it’s not me. It’s my illness. Because, at the end of the day, I’m just a girl in the world who has dreams, loves, hopes and ambitions.

Want to Treat Native Americans Right for Once? Then it’s Warren or Bernie in 2020.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the truly atrocious way the United States has treated Native Americans.

But there’s some things you may not know. For example, most tribal people are dual citizens. They are citizens of the United States and citizens of their tribal nation.

This isn’t lip service, either. Tribal nations are truly nations unto themselves; although, to the United States, they are “domestic dependent nations.”

This means that issues are different for Native Americans than they are for other racial and ethnic minorities.

For decades, the United States has eaten away at tribal sovereignty (the inherent right for tribes to govern themselves). This is a classic colonial move. In the type of colonialism we have in the United States–settler state colonialism–the end goal is the absolute abolishment of the entire indigenous population. It began with genocide, where indigenous people were literally slaughtered, and moved to boarding schools, when the goal was cultural genocide, and has consistently moved to make tribal nations “less than.” The end goal is the abolishment of tribal nations.

For this to end–for decolonization to happen–it would be good to have a president who understands that tribal nations ought to be treated as equals on a nation-to-nation basis.

Right now, there are only two candidates I trust to begin to establish that: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

A few years ago, during the movement at Standing Rock Reservation against the Dakota Access pipeline, Bernie Sanders stood openly, passionately and proudly with Native Americans. He stood up with them before former President Obama made even a small move to support tribal people. On his website, Bernie directly says that, in his administration, he will “Honor Native American tribal treaty rights and sovereignty, moving away from a relationship of paternalism and control toward one of deference and support.”

Because she falsely claimed to be Native American, Elizabeth Warren has been exceedingly schooled on Native issues. She now knows that being Native American isn’t so much about your percentage of Native heritage. It’s a political identity, not a genetic one. As retired professor Steve Russell is known to say, “It’s not about who you claim. It’s about who claims you.”

Beyond this, Warren understands the nation-to-nation relationship between Native nations and the United States. She pledges to uphold that.

Native American issues are among the issues I care about. They should be issues you care about, too, if you care about any political thing at all. I’m proudly voting for Bernie. Warren is my second choice. Those are the two mostly likely, out of this entire ordeal, to get things straightened out with Native Americans.

I’m Voting for Bernie for My 20-Year-Old Self

Twenty years ago, I was not bogged down by mental health issues. I was fit, healthy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. All my life, ridden by poverty, I dreamed of making the world a better place. I attended college because I craved knowledge. I wanted nothing more than to learn as much as I could. I was hungry to learn.

And learn I did.

I learned that the criminal justice system is racist and elitist. I learned that people die due to lack of healthcare. I learned that financial barriers keep many people from attending college. I learned that climate change is undeniable. I learned that a select few own large corporations. I learn what I had always known: The 1% rules.

Tonight was the Iowa caucuses. I saw Bernie Sanders take the stage and address every single one of these issues.

Twenty years ago, I was 20 years old. I hoped beyond hope for a systems change. I dreamed of something better. With the information I learned in college, I hoped there was a way for us all to come together to make the drastic changes for the better. I hoped for racial justice, where Black and brown people are not disproportionately jailed and impoverished. I hoped the NRA would not have such a hold on American politics. I hoped for economic equity to raise families like mine out of poverty. I hoped for the kind of harmony I imagined in my mind.

Tonight, while I was listening to Bernie Sanders, tears welled up in my eyes. I reached back to the far corners of my mind, back to the 20-year-old me who wasn’t yet jaded and bruised from life’s hardships. I reached back before I had been hospitalized numerous times. I reached back to when my daughter was young.

I thought about now. I have grandchildren. What kind of world would they like to live in?

I’m voting for Bernie Sanders for the 20-year-old me. The one who wasn’t afraid or beat down. The one who thought she could do something to make a positive difference in this world.

Tonight I knew I could change the world. And all it would take is a vote for Bernie.