Sep. 15th, 2012

naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Thane)
So, this is an exchange that happened on Tumblr between me and homoeroticismforthewin, and I thought it was worth posting here.

It came after Stephen Fry's rather amazing quote:

"Your mood is your own personal weather and it’s very like the weather. If you go outside and it’s raining it’s not you that’s made it rain, it has rained and it is real. You can’t unthink the rain. You can’t say ‘I’ll walk it off and then it’ll be sunny’. The weather makes up it’s own mind and the two mistakes are either to deny that it’s raining when it clearly is, or to think ‘my life is over’ it’s raining, the sun will never come out. It can be a damn nuisance when it’s raining, but the sun will come out. It’s the same for a manic depressive, you have a manic episode, you have a depressive episode. When you’re depressed you cannot conceive such a thing as the future. Life is so black you cannot imagine a tomorrow. Everything is just awful. Your energy is slow and there’s nothing possible in life. It’s actually painful. For some people it’s so bad that they have to end their lives. But the fact is, the sun will come out."

To which my friend responded:

This is very wise and very good, and Stephen Fry is awesome. But this does miss something, which is that people do have Some control over their moods. Not enough that anyone saying that people can simply choose not to be depressed or whatever isn’t a huge giant douchenozzle. But as a therapist, it always worries me when we talk about the uncontrollable and utterly independent nature of moods as a way of getting around mental health victim blaming. Because that way lies an external locus of control and a lack of self-efficacy related to emotional self-regulation, and that never results in anything good. And let me tell you, that if you believe that you are able to impact your moods through your thoughts and behaviors and changes in your environment, and you work to acquire specific skills, then in most cases you usually can. Not enough to flip a switch and suddenly be happy, but enough to avoid a lot of internal badness and avoid making things worse through a sense of inevitability.

I hesitate to post this because I’m sure I’m going to look like one of those assholes who dismisses the experience of people who are suffering and invalidates that and says mind over matter or whatever. But what I’m really saying is that for a lot of people, moods are less like the weather, and more like an election. You’re not the only thing influencing the outcome by a long shot, but you do have the capacity to change things a bit.

I know you’re not an asshole! I’mma expand on what you said.

I am … whatever the opposite of a fan is … of the way people love to throw the monkey-poo of “YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE” at mentally ill folks. So, yeah, this is coming from a place of “I have been told this one too many times so kindly fuck off back to whatever 24/7 sun shining out of your ass planet you came from, and take YOUR fucking attitude problem with you, you ignorant fuck.”

It’s true. A person does have a certain amount of control over how they respond and that often results in an improved how they feel.

There are some problems with this as it is applied to people, some problems with the perceptions that it creates with not-crazy people.

First, there’s this horrible perception that if a person CAN influence their attitude for the better, that they CAN ALWAYS do it. Sometimes it genuinely for-real is not possible. You are too low. You don’t have the energy.

Then there’s the idea that if you can influence your attitude for the better a little bit, that you can do it a lot. Not true at all.

Then there’s the idea that when you drag yourself up by the scruff of your own neck, you can do it again, and again, and again, until you are better.

It’s like … a friend is hungry, so you give them your fries. And because they are your friend, you give them a bite of your burger. It’s not that much less than the burger and Coke you still have. And you give them another bite, because they are still hungry, and two bites aren’t so bad. Then you just cut it in half, and let them have it. And maybe you don’t need that bottom bun, and then the top bun, which has sesame seeds on it anyway and you don’t like those. And then the meat. And then the ice in your drink. And then the drink.

Well, after that, even if you want to feed your friend, you literally do not have any more to give. No food, no money to buy food. You have lint in your pockets, a grease stain on your plate, and a friend who is … you got it … still hungry.

You hit a point like that with being chipper in the face of crushing depression. A point past which you cannot commit any further resources to the endeavor, because there are literally none to give. And people don’t realize, either, that you are honestly better off giving your friend the fries but not the burger and Coke because you can use the energy you get by eating it yourself to get things done that will help you get more food later, which is a better long-term outcome for both of you. You have to save some resources for actually functioning, so sometimes cheering yourself up or whatever is less important than just getting by. This annoys people who do not understand, apparently, which we find really fucking aggravating and hurtful, and we resent the shit out of it.

Also, let’s mention in passing the idea that mental illness is something you get better from. I know that for some people it is, and I also know that for some people, the hope of getting better is a huge part of how they cope, and who am I to say that they never will? So without arguing that it never happens, or that any one person who hopes/believes it might is wrong, I want to stomp on the EXPECTATION that some people have that it will get better. With time, it will improve, yes, probably, but us crazy folks? We are highly aware that it will also get bad again.

Next, not every person has the same capacity to do this. I know some people who are really good at it. I’m … so-so. I know folks who suck at it completely. And none of us are doing it right or wrong. The people who suck at it are not lazy. They just suck at this. Like I suck at math. I can learn to do what I have to do, but solving quadratic equations is forever beyond me. I don’t even know what a quadratic equation is. I guess I could learn how to do it, but that would be incredibly hard, and my resources are better spent elsewhere. Maybe they can improve, maybe they should keep trying, but some folks will never be great at it, and some will never even be good at it. People who don’t know shit have a tendency to think everyone has the same capacity for improvement, and it simply isn’t true.

Next, I’ll mention the fact that we don’t teach people to do this, we don’t teach genuine coping strategies to crazy people. Folks try to teach crazy people about the things that work for healthy people. Amazingly (sarcasm), these are not always the same. We tell people they have to do this, we offer models that are unhelpful and inapplicable to their experience, and we blame them when they don’t get better. Nice.

Guys, there is a reason that counseling and so on requires a lot of training. You are having to learn to deal with minds that, by definition, do not work like other people’s minds. The fact that things work differently for us should not be a surprise.

I am learning how to choose my reactions to things a little more deliberately, and I’m learning how to communicate my needs and anxieties in a healthy way. I am learning these things now, while I am in a comparatively not-bad place, so that those coping mechanisms will be there when things get bad again, which they will. I am investing energy now against a future return on that investment in the form of less suffering from here on out. Not no suffering. LESS. But learning these things while in a really bad place? Not possible for me. I’ve tried.

And finally, I’ll mention that when this discussion is being framed by not-crazy folks, and dominated by not-crazy folks, the interests of crazy folks are not being fairly represented. Yet, because we are crazy, our perceptions of our own experience are considered invalid. We can’t be objective, they say. We don’t see things for what they are. And that’s not true. We are fucking experts in our own experience. There is no objectivity for something that you live with in this way. There is no “how things really are.” There is only each individual’s experience of their illness. And we each must be allowed to define it for ourselves. That means that applying a one-size-fits-all approach is going to fail a lot of people, and why doing so from the standpoint of what a normal person wants/needs/does is going to not only fail but actively harm a lot of people.

So, yes, absolutely, you can choose how you react to the weather, although you cannot really change the weather itself (if we’re using weather to mean the actual biochemical illness, not just the feelings of badness). You can learn to make an umbrella from sticks and leaves or the skin of your enemies. You can learn to build shelter. You can learn to ignore a certain amount of drizzle. You can’t learn that the sky is clear, or learn to be an animal that isn’t affected by rain at all. And one of the things that us crazy people really do need is an acknowledgment that this is the case, that our needs vary from person to person, our capacity varies according to how bad off we are at that time, and that there is no way to end certain kinds of mental illness, even if you can teach a person to be a little or a lot more functional. If you’re talking to us about what we need to do, we are going to have a hard time trusting you until we hear you acknowledge that, because until then, we are honestly not sure if you are one of the people who gets it or not.

Most people don’t seem to know this at all, let alone acknowledge it, which is why crazy folks sometimes sound like a broken record on this point. It’s one of the most common problems with being crazy there is: other people.


Sep. 15th, 2012 07:32 pm
naamah_darling: A very sweet-faced one-eyed Himalayan cat with a crooked jaw. (Smooch)
In some lighter news, Etrigan and Smooch have been given a shoutout on

It's a short piece about cats that found homes despite being . . . different.

Every cat has something to give.

It is always sad to me when people only value cats as kittens; and then, only value them for cuteness. That is something they all have, and does not acknowledge the specialness of each cat’s personality.

. . .

Smooch and Etrigan: a mismatch made in heaven

This is Smooch (top) and Etrigan (bottom.) In a classic Way of Cats move, these two foster brothers were adopted together, because the person had decided to try my “two cats are better than one” approach.

It is working very well!

Smooch has facial deformities and one eye, while Etrigan, who seemed fine at the time, turns out to have allergy-triggered asthma. That could have made them “unadoptable.”

And look at the treasures that would have been unspent.

Instead, they are enjoying a wonderful home, and each other, as the picture aptly illustrates.

. . .

Sometimes, they are cats with a physical challenge. Sometimes, they are too old, or too young, or have an unpopular coat color, or are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as I explained in a previous post, we don’t necessarily have to value what our society values.

Because society is, so often, wrong about what we should value. When we fall for letting others decide what we are supposed to want to do…

We will miss out on a lot of magic.

I bolded that last bit because it's sort of true about . . . everything.

I want to throw a shoutout to Pammy as well. Way of Cats is a really, really helpful blog, she has been incredibly generous with advice about these two dopey jerks, and she has been right every time. I am very grateful to her for her help. So if you are a cat person and want to understand your friends better than you do, go and spend some time there, and maybe invest in her ebooks!


naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)

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