On the Importance of Wetlands (For People Who Know Absolutely Nothing about Them)

What is a Wetland?

There are many who may not know the meaning of the word wetland. Basically, it’s any kind of wet habitat including bogs, swamps, marshes, pond habitats, and more. The definition has been fought over for some time. According to naturalists, an area is a “wetland” if it contains either water, and/or a specialized wetland soil, and/or plant life specialized to live in wet areas. According to the legal definition, a wetland must have all three components to be a wetland. Unfortunately, even this definition isn’t crystal-clear.

Many difficulties in defining wetlands present themselves. Contentious issues include how large a wetland must be (that pond in your backyard, or the Great Dismal Swamp?), and the location of its borders. In nature, ecosystems change types slowly, fading from wetland to dry area over a small to large land expanse. However, in today’s world of property and boundaries, it became necessary to put strict boundaries around wetlands. The job of identifying wetlands and their legal boundaries is often up to the Army Corps of Engineers. It is also their job to issue permits required for developers to destroy, fill in, and build over or near a wetland.

Wetlands can be formed in several ways, and are subject to natural succession, meaning they are constantly changing, growing, and/or fading into forest. Many wetlands are formed in pit or basins in the ground, which were carved there long ago by glaciers, floods, earthquakes, and even meteors. Wetlands can also form next to rivers and streams, developing specialized soils and plants as they are continually flooded by run-off waters. Unique wetland formations include mangrove swamps, which develop very slowly, actually making soil out of the mangrove leaves for the next generation of trees to grow in. Wetlands are some of the most variable ecosystems in nature.

Why do Wetlands Matter?

Now that we know what a wetland is, why are they important to protect? Aren’t swamps usually thought of as nasty? They’re difficult to farm and build on or near. They stink, and they are home to scary creatures like alligators and misquotes. Who cares if they are filled in? Though estimates differ, we are certain from modern land surveying techniques that the amount of wetland in the U.S. has drastically decreased. But why care?

Wetlands boat a plethora of benefits to humans, both practical and more abstract. Practically, they provide flood abatement, erosion prevention, storm protection, water quality improvement, and economic benefits such as local fishing industries. By slowing down and soaking up floodwaters, wetlands protect surrounding areas from damage. They also prevent soil from getting washed away (erosion), which makes for better farming and land quality. By absorbing and processing heavy metals, toxins, and pollution, wetlands additionally improve water quality, meaning there is less artificial processing needed for our tap-water. Many local areas depend on fishing and harvesting of wetlands, such as areas surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In more abstract terms, wetlands provide aesthetic and recreational benefits. For bird-hunters and bird-watchers alike, it’s important to know that wetlands are critical temporary habitats for many water birds, game birds, and song birds. Many hikers and nature lovers have the quality of their lives increased by having access to wetland parks. When it comes to educational value, the great variety of wetland types and the processes they perform means it’s near impossible to find a better place to teach children and students about ecosystems. For those who care about wildlife for the sake of wildlife, and for those who hunt small game or engage in fur-trapping, bear in mind that wetlands are home to many types of animals, including the beautiful-furred mink, otters, many rodents, salamanders, frogs, toads, and many beautiful fish and birds.

Even if you completely ignored the abstract benefits of wetlands, the practical benefits alone are enough for any logical person to reconsider their stance on destruction of wetlands. People in Virginia take for granted that wetlands prevent even more destructive floods than the ones we sometimes experience. Who wants more of their tax dollars spent and more of their neighborhood land replaced by expensive water purifying facilities? Who wouldn’t rather see a green border of trees and shrubs leading down into a rich, wet ecosystem of life with a massive variety of practical usage?

Are Wetlands Protected?

You must be thinking: there are environmentalists everywhere, so surely wetlands are protected? The answer is convoluted. Some protection is in place; however, it is largely deemed far from adequate protection. Judge for yourself as the protections are briefly explained.

In order to build near or on a wetland, one must acquire permits through the Federal program, and sometimes pass through State permitting as well, depending on the State. The Army Corps of Engineers ultimately decides whether to issue a permit, and though they take pains to hear input from the public and from the environmental organizations, they can essentially approve whatever they want. Theoretically, they are weighing costs and benefits—for example, is this new shopping center or apartment complex really worth the destruction of such a useful natural system? But since few people have a working understanding of just how valuable wetlands are, it’s not unfair to doubt that they make the best decisions.

The good news is that for every wetland destroyed, mitigation must be made. Mitigation means reducing the painfulness of an action. Developers building on wetlands must, by law, either help restore a degraded wetland, or build another new wetland. Isn’t this great? Isn’t this all we really need? The answer is yes—if it actually effectively worked. Unfortunately, restored and newly constructed wetlands most often fail. This is due to our lack of understanding and ability to emulate natural processes. It’s also due to the fact that no rules exist about maintaining the new wetland. If they want, developers can simply scoop up some dirt, fill in some water, throw in some bushes, and never touch the new “wetland” again, not caring how long it lasts or if it’s suitable for wildlife.

As you can see, protections for wetlands have some fairly serious potential problems. However, this isn’t the worst of it. Thanks to a loophole in Federal law, developers are allowed to destroy wetlands that are not obviously connected to other bodies of water. These means many isolated wetlands, such as prairie potholes critical to migrating water birds, have no Federal protection at all. Some State permits may exist, but again, the decisions are often made without a working understanding of the practical and abstract usefulness of wetlands. Surveys are showing rapid loss of these defenseless isolated wetlands.

Why You Should Help

If I have convinced you that wetlands are at least slightly important, I have done well. I will never pretend to make a life or death case for wetlands, using emotional or fear-based attacks and often over-exaggerating. If all wetlands disappear, we can create lots more water cleaning facilities. If half our birds die, the world will eventually get over it. If some communities economically die, and some are devastatingly flooded out, well, maybe that’s nothing new. But consider if that is the optimal choice or not. If there is any way to prevent it, don’t you want those small fishing businesses and communities to thrive? Do you want people to lose their homes, livelihoods, and lives in increased floods? Do you want to take your children to the park to feed the ducks, or explain why there aren’t but a handful of such creatures left?

It can be hard to care for things you take for granted, or for people who live far away, or for animals that seem to have no effect on your life. I’m asking you not only to try to care a little, but also to be logical in the analysis of cost versus benefits. And don’t just think of your own small lifespan, but think of those who will come after you. How will your grandchildren feel knowing that their grandparents allowed for the loss of something so obviously practical, and so abstractly beautiful?

 

So what can you do? Is there anything you can do to help improve existing wetland protection? I am in the process of corresponding with a few wetland specialists who may be able to tell us how we can help. If you want to help, such as by sending letters (which I can provide a template for) or signing a petition, please contact me at 7mononoke@gmail.com, and I will keep you up to date on what can be done and what is being done. Thank you for reading.

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“Mean Genes” Book Review: Why We Behave Badly

Written by Terry Burnham, “Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food, Taming Our Primal Instincts” is extremely informative on a variety of topics, and also incredibly easy to read. This makes it a great option for people that have trouble focusing and getting through books in general (such as myself). The style is fairly informal, and the authors refer to themselves several times with personal anecdotes. Mean Genes excellently achieves the task of putting recent scientific discoveries into layman’s terms.

Evolutionary Psychology

The main objective of this book is to explain humanity’s natural tendencies—mostly the ones widely considered immoral—using evolution. In my opinion, “Mean Genes” is a bit of a misnomer, since the book spends little time discussing any actual genes or genetic mechanisms. It does, however, discuss inheritance: the “bad habits” we inherited from our ancestors. So this really is a book about evolutionary psychology, the exciting new field that finally explains, without any superstition, the root of our social evils.

The book’s secondary objective is to offer small helpings of practical advice to tame these “bad habits.” However, coming from an author who is not a psychiatrist or doctor or counselor or social worker, these notes often come across as a little naïve and not of substantial value.

Why We Act Badly

Topics discussed in Mean Genes include why we overeat, why we love risk, why we love alcohol and drugs, why couples cheat on each other, and much more. For an example, the reason humans in first world countries overeat is that fat storage is a valuable survival mechanism, much like storing acorns is for squirrels. Early humans who did not possess our technology were more likely to survive in the harsh world—and thus reproduce—if they ate as much as they could. The ones with less appetite would obviously be thinner, maybe starve one bad winter, and not have children. Therefore, we are left in today’s greatly altered world with the genes that tell us to eat more, more, more.

That’s the basic premise of evolutionary psychology. It explains things using evolution. Another example would be couples sexually “cheating” on each other. All humans have an intense desire to mate. Think about it: early humans that had fewer children slowly died out, while humans that achieved more mating events obviously produced more offspring that lived on, passing down the genes that make sex seem so amazing to us.

In addition, humans are (subconsciously) interested in giving their offspring the best possible combination of genes (the best chance of survival); this is where partner choosiness comes in. This is why males are subconsciously compelled to spread their genes to a variety of women; if he finds a woman with good genes, he’ll want to mate with her. (This book also explains how attractiveness is related to gene differences—we find another person “sexy” when their immune genes are dissimilar from our own, thus giving our offspring double our immunity to diseases.) Women also cheat, but they cheat less often because they are choosier. This is evolutionarily appropriate, since women don’t get to just “spread their seeds” super easily like men—they’re the ones who must go through the process of pregnancy. Therefore, if only subconsciously, women are more interested in men with committed natures, while men are more interested in spreading their genes to a variety of different mates.

Controversy

This book understandably inspires some controversy. Many people “take issue” with the idea of human evolution, sometimes even those who recognize the accuracy of evolutionary theory in other species. Let’s be honest: this stuff can be difficult to face. Because we have evolved a conscience, it’s seems shameful to be descended from those early humanoids and humans who viciously fought, viscerally mated, and cared little for truth and equality compared to survival. Also, anyone with a bit of ego might find it somehow lowering to be descended from animals—this applies mostly to the religious creationists, who prefer to think that we were made perfect and in our current form by a supernatural being, no matter what science shows.

Moving past the shame piece is not too difficult. I didn’t take it nearly as hard as the discovery that I was descended from Crusaders and, more recently, a pro-slavery Confederate Civil War general! We can learn from the past; look how far we’ve come as a species already! The creationists’ reason to object to the ideas in Mean Genes may be a little harder to get over, but it’s not impossible. If you are a creationist, just read this book thinking only of humans of the past few thousand years. The lessons still pretty much hold; essentially the point is that our “bad habits” are ingrained in our physical bodies, passed down generation to generation since the Fall of Man. You might, in fact, invoke some Biblical support if you really wanted. For instance, in a recurring theme throughout Romans is that “sin” comes from “the flesh,” while the power to overcome those temptations must come from the spirit.

How to Get Better

Speaking of overcoming, as mentioned above, the book does indeed address the issue. For some reason, many evolution skeptics seem to think that acknowledging that our ancestors were brutish somehow means we are condoning their actions for today’s society. This is, of course, utterly bogus; I have yet to meet any scientist or science-advocate who says we’re suddenly allowed to rape because it happened in evolutionary history. Far from condoning any action, evolutionary psychology simply seeks to EXPLAIN WHY we have these selfish urges. Once we know WHY we feel a certain way, it’s actually much easier for us as people to fight the temptations.

Would you want to fight an unknown enemy? How about fighting wearing a blindfold? Do you want to keep white-knuckling it, just trying the same old approaches to resisting selfish habits over and over again to no avail? For those actively trying to curb some habit that impedes their life, ignorance is never bliss. That’s why Mean Genes is a great book whether you are a clergyman, a geneticist, a biologist, a psychiatrist, a counselor, or virtually anyone else.

Poisonous Religious Sex-Shaming

What if parents were told that having their teenagers kidnapped and used in human trafficking was their fault because they didn’t hide their children? What if banks were told that there were robbed because they had too much money stored in them? There is a name for this: it’s called blaming the victim.

It’s Not Bikinis’ Fault

I am so sick of the mentality in evangelical Christian culture of shaming girls for their bodies and sex. It isn’t bikinis or short shorts that make some men objectify women. People in Grandma dresses were once objectified too. If some men are douche-bags and objectify women, it’s on them to learn some goddamn self-control. What it’s not about is making women responsible for some men being idiots.

Dress How You Want

Women own their own bodies. They can wear what they want. Even as someone who personally prefers to wear loose, long clothing– (not because I’m trying to be “modest” but because I happen to find boys’ style clothing incredibly comfy) — I would never tell a woman not to wear a bikini. And yes, there is also a problem sometimes with young women feeling peer-pressured to get into clothes they aren’t comfortable with. That’s why I’m not specifically advocating any modern fashion. I’m saying girls, wear what makes you comfortable. If it’s an itsy bitsy bikini, go for it. If it’s a dress or a suit or a burlap sack, or it’s cargo pants and a fruit of the loom t-shirt, go for it. Don’t let the religious make you think you are to blame for inappropriate male behavior, and don’t be ashamed of your body.

It’s Ok to Check Her Out

Now I’m going to include a note that often isn’t included in this kind of discussion. When it comes to Christians, they consider a “lustful thought” as evil as “committing adultery.” I’m going to clear up this confusion. “Checking out” a woman is natural, biological, involuntary part of being a human male. Women check out men too. This has nothing to do with clothing style– both sexes will still subconsciously rate the other in their heads for sexual/genetic compatibility/competency. This is ingrained in our evolutionary history, and is not inherently bad. It only becomes harmful when men– or women sometimes– consciously begin thinking of the opposite gender as objects exclusively for sex, and begin thinking that they have a right to persist in seeking after someone even when she says no.

It’s Not Ok to Objectify

In short, checking someone out is NOT the same as mindful objectification. One is a natural biological phenomenon. The other is an attitude of blatant disregard for others, which we social animals condemn. Anyone can study and see that many strict religious cultures have a history of objectifying women. In many cases this is made worse by trying to completely deny one’s own natural sexuality. Many Christian men often beat themselves up (mentally) just because they realize they have given a woman a quick look-over. They try to stop themselves from engaging in this involuntary, genetic behavior, which leads to a frustration and sexual suppression, which can then lead to engaging in sexual acts “in the dark” where they can’t be seen and judged, and THIS is where things like rape, molestation, and perversion often come into play with evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.

Fundamentalist Denial of Sexuality

This kind of popular Christianity is good at denying sexuality. It says, “Men, you should be ashamed for even thinking about sex.” It says, “Women, you should hide your bodies, and blame yourself when men objectify you.” And of course, “Homosexuals, your very orientation is WRONG and disgusting before God.” Can’t we leave these inherently harmful mentalities behind? Let’s say, “Homosexuals, you are valuable fellow human beings whose sexual freedom is none of my concern.” Let’s say, “Women, dress in what makes you comfortable, and do not be ashamed of your body.” Let’s say, “Men, acknowledge your sexual desires without letting them override reason and consideration.”

Let’s listen to the voices of reason and actual good will toward others (unlike religion).

Self-Injury

I decided to post about self-injury since I have been unable to find more than one other decent blog or post on the subject so far. Most of the options were full of painfully annoying errors and text-speak, as well as incorrect information, unsupervised, often stupid comments, or an overload of hearts and flowers which chase away anyone who is not a female middleschooler. Therefore, I’m putting forth an intelligent, informed post about self-injury. Don’t fall for misconceptions about all cutters being attention-seeking teenage girls; become informed on a topic that is important in this day and age.

What is it? Self-harm is the act of willfully harming oneself not in the context of a cultural or religious ritual (such as piercings). It is thought that about one percent of the US population self-injures in some form. (http://www.teenhelp.com/teen-health/cutting-stats-treatment.html) Numbers of self-injurers continue to increase. One of the best known examples of self-injury is cutting the skin using a blade or sharp object. People can cut primarily to feel pain, to see blood, or bear scars. Other examples of self-injury include starvation, self-bruising, or self-burning with cigarettes, hot kitchen items, matches, or boiling water.

Why do people intentionally injure themselves? The answer depends entirely on the person. Some people cut because they feel emotionally empty and numb; cutting creates an adrenaline rush that alleviates feeling “dead inside.” Some people feel calm and relaxed after cutting, probably because cutting releases endorphins, like eating chocolate. You can self-injure to express pent-up feelings (anger, anxiety, depression) that are resistant to other forms of release. Self-injury is also viewed by some as a way to prove to themselves that they are tough. Some people cut  because of self-esteem issues, feeling that they need to be punished for stupidity, ugliness, etc. Others cut themselves in order to receive social attention, whether positive or negative.

Myths. There are many myths about self-injurers, and many ridiculous things that are commonly said to self-injurers. A common myth is that all cutters are young girls. This is not true. Males and females of all ages are known to exhibit self-injurious behavior. Harmful things that are often said to cutters include statements that the injuries are not serious and therefore no real problem exists, or that the cutter is “just looking for attention.” Telling a known cutter that his or her injuries are not so bad can make them hurt themselves worse, or can make them feel like you do not care about the underlying psychological problem they’re experiencing. As to the second, there ARE some cutters who simply want attention, but this does not apply to all; many cutters wish to hide what they view as a shameful secret. As for the cutters that do seek attention, it’s unfair to assume they’re being shallow or childish. Maybe the people around them are truly neglecting them, and this should be a call to you to reach out to them, not to write them off as silly.

Good Intentions. Self-injurers can also be harmed by people with good intentions. Spiritual people sometimes say, “Just ask God for help and He will heal you,” which is oversimplifying the issue, not to mention that it useless advice for the non-religious. Some well-meaning people may offer advice without being asked, which makes them seem overbearing and sometimes condescending to the cutters. Many people react to cutters with emotionally charged exclamations of “Don’t do it!” or “why do you do this?!” This can be extremely disconcerting to the cutter, especially if they are the types that DO NOT enjoy attention. Instead, people should try to respond to cutters calmly and not over-simplify the issue. If any readers know a self-injurer, either personally or through the web, please be aware that your comments can hurt even if you had good intentions.

What can you do? The most important thing you can do for a cutter friend or family member is to try to understand them and not judge. For instance, I self-injure, and I’m a lot happier opening up to people who understand where I’m coming from and don’t judge. Here’s an example of two different people reacting to my cutting.

1) A relative saw one of my scars and gasped, horror on her face. Her only other reactions were to question whether I was seeing my psychiatrist and demand that I do not self-injure at all if I am anywhere near her. My natural reactions were to feel defensive and embarrassed in response to her horror, and feel alienated and unwelcome/unwanted because of her request. The relative had good intentions but reacted poorly. As a result, I no longer felt safe talking to her.

2) A friend and I were discussing emotional problems, and because I felt very comfortable with him, I started confessing that I engage in self-harm. To my surprise, the friend actually smiled and said “Yeah yeah, I know you’re a cutter,” with apparently full understanding, no judgement, and no negative emotional reaction. He made me feel so comfortable that we talked for a long time about self-injury and other addictions. As a result, I remembered our talk every time I wanted to cut and was able to stop cutting for a period of a few weeks.

What can you do if YOU are a self-injurer? The most important thing you can do is seek support and community. Some people find that seeing a counselor helps. You can also try talking to your friends and family about it– if you feel safe opening up to them, that is. There are several forums online with sections for self-injury where you can anonymously vent and interact with other self-injurers. Some websites describe alternative ways to handle the urge to cut, such as holding ice cubes in your hands for a few minutes, which “shocks” the skin in much the same way as a cut.

Will I Ever Stop? Many cutters find that they can go several weeks, months, or even years without cutting before they relapse again. But is it possible to ever stop self-injuring entirely? The truth is, there’s not a lot of data available on the subject yet. However, as a firm believer in human strength, I think it’s a safe bet that some people actually do succeed in quitting. Still, a more realistic goal than total, permanent abstinence is to get to a place where the self-injury is well-managed and minor enough that you can function in society the way you desire.

I hope this post sheds some light on the issue of self-harm, and I hope it helps cutters and their friends and families alike.

On Psychiatry Today

(The DSM-V, The BRAIN Iniative, and Anti-Psych Views)

I mentioned in my last post that much of my blogging is likely to focus on psychiatry and the subject of mental and emotional problems. It’s a broad and vastly interesting topic, and directly relevant to people like me who struggle with mental/emotional issues. It’s my hope that these posts might be read by people recieving treatment in the “psych world” so they can find a blogger who is kindred spirit. I also hope that friends and family members of those who suffer mental/emotional problems will see these posts and hopefully become more educated.

The DSM

For those who don’t know, the bible of psychiatry and psychology is the DSM: Diagnostic Statisitic Manual of mental disorders. Ever since the first version’s publication in 1952, there have been several updated versions released. Each mental disorder has a number with which it can be quickly looked up in the DSM, which then lists the accepted standard criteria for the disorder.

Psychology has been in the news a lot more than normal recently because of the publication of the fifth version of the DSM. This publication has sparked an explosion of controversy mostly due to a) disputatious changes in the DSM, and b) the public’s frustration at the psych world as a whole for continuing to be such a fuzzy science. The latter will be discussed later, but for now let’s look at a few of the changes the new DSM created.

The New DSM

Young children that often get into temper tantrums can now be diagnosed with “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder,” and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be diagnosed in preschool children. Patients that were once told they were going through normal stages of grief can now be diagnosed with depression. Caffeine withdrawal is now listed as a disorder, and other newly listed abnormalities include hypersexual disorder, cannabis withdrawal, and hoarding disorder, among others.

So what is the overall theme of this new DSM? More, more, more. More disorders, diagnosed at younger and younger ages. It seems that almost NOBODY is normal. (For example, according to many studies– see http://www.caffeinedependence.org/caffeine_dependence.html for an example–about 90% of the US population uses caffeine. So if we were to all suddenly stop caffeine use and experience the resulting headaches and cognitive fog, we would all be considered mentally unwell.) Obviously, lots of people dislike the fact that what was considered normal before may no longer be treated as such. Many people also feel that children should not be diagnosed with anything since their brains are still developing. (This is already a controversy as people have long objected to treating ADHD in elementary school kids.) And I won’t even remark on the cannabis withdrawal except to say that it’s utterly bogus– unless they also want to add something equally meaningless such as Snickers withdrawal. In short, the DSM-V is so controversial that the National Institute of Mental Health has reportedly rejected it.

What you choose to think about the new DSM is of course up to you. To some peoples’ way of thinking, there really is no such thing as normal. Everyone could be diagnosed with something. However, in my personal opinion, these so-called disorders are worth diagnosing IF and ONLY IF they are interfering with your ability to function in society. If you quit caffeine, I don’t think there is any reason to start seeing a psychiatrist. Instead, take a few days off work, drink lots of water, and take a shitload of ibuprofen. I also disagree with the heavy medication of young children. All children have the right to develop their own brains instead of being subject to chemically induced crowd control. And when as teens or young adults they decide they are not functioning in society the way they desire, then they can seek medication.

An Uncertain Science

The other major issue that has people pissed off at the psych world is the fact that it’s still just a fuzzy, unsure science. Instead of being based on measurable physical data, the criteria for any disorder is simply a list of symptoms. Virtually nobody meets the exact criteria, and many people meet selected criteria for many disorders at once. It’s largely up to interpretation– you can go to one shrink and be diagnosed with Bipolar, and then go to another to be told you have ADHD and not Bipolar. However, it is completely unfair to blame psychiatrists for this scientific lack. Modern science lacks information about the brain and its many functions; we still lack consistent, safe ways to test peoples’ brains for levels of brain chemicals and hormones.  So don’t blame them for this: it isn’t anyone’s fault. We don’t understand the physical basis for psychology yet, but psychiatrists and neuroscientists are working hard to improve.

Don’t lose hope. Another object of attention in the news has been the BRAIN Initiative. A one hundred million dollar project called for by President Obama, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative will seek to essentially map out the brain in ways never done before. It seeks to understand exactly what, where, and when the different parts and cells of the brain do. Despite much less funding, this project has been compared to the Human Genome Project in its scope and implications. See http://www.nih.gov/science/brain/index.htm for more info. And don’t give up just yet! 🙂

Anti-Psych Perspectives

As we can see, the psych world is vast and constantly evolving. Obviously, many people who genuinely couldn’t function satisfactorily in society have been helped by psychiatry. But there are many people who hold anti-psych views. It’s important to be prepared to run into these people and know how to respond. Below is a list of some reasons for anti-psych views that you might run into.

Anti-Psych Because It Just Doesn’t Work. This is fairly obvious. And I think a lot of us have been here: when nothing seems to be working in the slightest, even with counseling, medications, and some good friends. Fortunately, this is usually a phase and if you keep at it you may find something that helps, at least a little bit.

Anti-Psych Because Of Scientific Ignorance/Distrust. This is most common in religious people– for example, fundamentalists who believe that religion and faith in God is all you need to help or remove so-called psychological problems. These people may even refuse to believe that disorders exist. There are also loosely spiritual people, the “hippie” types, who believe a person is entirely the master of his own mind– that if you worked at it hard enough you would achieve peace, that there’s nothing wrong with you, and that you don’t need any pills or therapy. In fact, anyone who uses the “pure willpower” philosophy falls into this category. They just don’t understand that there are biological differences between the minds of people with stable brain chemistry and the minds of those with something like Major Depressive Disorder.

Anti-Psych and Identity Acceptance. Some people are anti-psych in the sense that, although they acknowledge disorders exist, they accept this as a part of who they are, NOT something to be remedied. I agree with them in that the term “disorder” is misleading because many diagnoses actually have benefits. For example, people with ADHD are usually excellent fighters and workers on emergency/crisis crews. Anxious people can point out problems that the careless might miss, and depressed people probably have a more accurate view of the world in many cases.

However, what some of these anti-psych people fail to realize is that there’s a point where these disorders truly hinder your ability to function in the real world. For example, you have such severe ADHD that you’ve driven away all your friends with your impulsive behaviors, or you’ve flunked all your college classes. Another example: if your depression goes untreated you may become suicidal. Or you may have Bipolar mania so badly that you behave recklessly and build up criminal charges and jail time. This is the reason I think that you SHOULD seek psychological help if you feel you are not functioning in society. (It’s fair to note that the above examples CAN still happen even under psychiatric supervision… but you have more help in place if it does.)

Conclusions

I think the best way to think of mental disorders is to take a little bit of everyone’s perspectives. Don’t be fooled into thinking that psych-help will always work wonders; be realistic and don’t give up after just trying three or four medicines or counselors. If you’re religious, then think of psychology as god’s tool to heal people and further his divine plans. Don’t say psych is anti-religious; can’t your god use all things, even the work of secular humans? Lastly, don’t view your disorder(s) as purely bad, because there are indeed some benefits. I still think the best thing to do is to seek psychological help, but to do it with these kinds of realistic thoughts in mind.

Readers, try to stay upbeat. Maybe anti-psych people have some valid points from which we can learn. And maybe some psychiatrists are just interested in crowd-control, and maybe the new DSM is dumb, but there are also things on the way like the BRAIN Initiative. Don’t give up, my friends. Stick around and keep an eye on the psych world.

I’m Back! Music and Mental Disorders

Well, it’s been a long time since my last post, but the weasel has returned! I’ll try to start blogging a little more regularly from now on. There’s a lot I’d like to post about, including the vast and difficult topic of mental “disorders” and emotional problems. This subject has been of some interest to me since I myself became immersed in the “psych world,” along with several of my close friends coming to terms with their  issues. And what better time to start talking about psychiatric issues than just after the publication of the new DSM?

There is Hope– and Music!

Today we’re staying short, sweet, and relatively simple. To all those who have a “mental disorder” or emotional issues, I just want to say you’re not alone. And there is hope. Despite how hopeless things may seem, new research is constantly underway to try to improve treatment and outlook for the victims of these disorders. We just have to keep funding science and neurology and keep open minds.

It’s easy to feel alone, but the fact is you are not. There are many ways to alleviate the feeling of being terminally unique. For me, one of the best ways is the use of music.

We all have favorite songs. I’ve found that many of my favorites often have to do with emotional and psychological problems, so I’ve decided to share a few in the hopes that when you listen to these, you’ll know that someone feels the same way that you do. Some of my top choices are listed below, as well my thoughts about them.

Depression and Anxiety

“Bent” by Matchbox 20 is one of my recent favorites. To me this song speaks of persistent depression and the fear that one will never recover from it. I also love the Vevo music video, in particular the part where the singer seems to be walking in slow motion against a strong wind while everybody else walks by at normal speed with no resistance. This is exactly what depression can feel like for some people. And being Matchbox 20’s work, the song is catchy as hell!

“Away from the Sun” by Three Doors Down describes Major Depressive Disorder better than any other song I’ve heard so far. In particular it points out the poisonous, negative, and cyclical pattern of depressive thinking with its lyrics. My favorite line is “I miss the colors of the world,” because as any person with diagnosed depression knows, it really does feel like the world has gone completely gray.

Dream Theater’s song “Panic Attack” perfectly illustrates what it is like to feel uncontrollable anxiety, while still sounding completely freakin’ awesome, because hey, it’s symphonic metal. On a more positive note, “Drive” by Incubus also seems to me to be about anxiety, but it’s about conquering that anxiety and learning to take the wheel of your own life.

Dissociation, Self Harm, and Bipolar

If anyone has a dissociative disorder or has experienced dissociative panic attacks, Nine Inch Nails’ song “Only” is priceless. It describes the feelings of fading away, losing all sense of self, as well as connection to others. As with many of their songs, it has a unique, industrial-metallic sound to it.

Another song by Nine Inch Nails, later covered by Johny Cash, has won renown among the sufferers of mental disorders as well as people with addiction issues. This beautiful and tragic song is called “Hurt,” and if you have ever self-injured or are a cutter, you will empathize with this song. I much prefer the Nine Inch Nails version since it is the original and it sounds much more dark and creepy than Johny Cash’s version. The best line is, “I focus on the pain: the only thing that’s real.”

(Note that the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, was diagnosed with Bipolar Type II Disorder, as was Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana. Both bands put out many songs that sufferers of Bipolar may appreciate.)

Sleep Disorders, Anger, and Abuse

Anyone with dream disorders such as sleep terrors, nightmare disorder, or sleepwalking disorder may sympathize with “Narcolepsy” by Third Eye Blind, “Killing me Inside” by Crossfade, and “Autoclave” by The Mountain Goats.

The last song, Autoclave, is also a good one for people with anger control issues, as the lyricist describes himself as beast-like, a “mass of blood and foam,” whose heart, like an autoclave, runs at super high pressures and temperatures. In addition, “Animal I have Become” and “Wake Up” are excellent songs having to do with anger (both by Three Days Grace). By far the best song for anger control issues is Chevelle’s “The Red.” Vevo’s music video for this one is priceless, especially if you have had to suffer through anger management classes.

A short list of songs for those who have suffered any kind of psychological abuse: “Respect is Due” by The Dismemberment Plan, “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson, “Breakdown” by Seether, “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed, “Let You Down” by Three Days Grace, and “For You” by Staind. (I apologize that I don’t have a list for physical abuse, but some of these songs apply to all forms of abuse.)

Hospitalizations

If anyone has ever been hospitalized over a mental or emotional disorder, and if you have a taste for unusual, off-the-radar types of music, you might just love “Tea and Thorazine” by Andrew Bird, the best line of which is the first: “I can tell by the way you take your infusion that you’ve spent some time in a mental institution.” Another good one that’s a little more abstract would be “Damn These Vampires” by The Mountain Goats. On the surface, the song seems to be about some cowboys plagued by vampires, but looking through the analogy we can see the song is a heartfelt message for anyone who feels plagued by doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, overbearing friends or family, or what have you— especially if you hate having blood drawn or being stuck with needles.

Top Two Songs

I love all of the above-listed songs, but to me, the top two songs about mental illness are most definitely “Emotion Sickness” by Silverchair and “Unwell” by Matchbox 20. Both songs can be about any disorder; they aren’t restricted to just bipolar or just to addicts. Emotion Sickness is a sad but beautiful musical masterpeice, worth every bit of the seven minutes. And “Unwell” is an upbeat, catchy, and almost ironic song quite popular on the radio a few years ago.

I have been listening to Unwell since I was a young teenager, long before I was diagnosed with anything. It deals with the social anxiety that comes from feeling mentally unwell, as others around you seem to judge or not understand you… “I can hear them whisper, and it makes me think there must be something wrong with me…” Which kind of brings us full circle, back to the feelings of being alone and terminally unique.  But the very fact that Unwell (and the other songs) exist means that somewhere, other people REALLY DO know how you feel. And it’s probably more people than you think. 🙂

Eternal Curiosity

Don’t Settle for Narrow Views

A friend of mine once said that, if there is a god, he is so far beyond the scope of what any person could ever begin to imagine that it is ridiculous to be sticklers for strict religions and rules. The longer I live, the more I think this view is correct. What can any measly human ever claim to know about god? This reminded me of a song I know by a Christian group that I normally don’t like very much. This one song of theirs I enjoyed primarily for the poetry, part of which goes,

“What do I know of you, who spoke me into motion? Where have I even stood but the shore along your ocean? Are you fire? Are you fury? Are you faithful? Are you beautiful? So what do I know? What do I know of Holy?”

The Eternal Curiosity

Humans have a hunger for a greater understanding. For some people the hunger is somewhat satisfied by faith, or philosophy, or science, or any mix thereof—but in any field, for every “answer” you find, a dozen more questions are dug up too. The quest and thirst are never-ending and eternal.

We are all of us captured in this destiny of seeking meaning to things we will never understand. We are like little children staring out of the bedroom windows at night staring at the stars and wishing we could understand how to trap them and hold them in our tiny soft hands like the way we hold fireflies—because all we know is relative to something else.

I am a child that sneaks out at night hunting for the fairies in the field, bare feet cold on the blue grass, asking “How do I reach the stars?” The stars are above me and I’m trying with all my heart to climb up to them. I am a wayfarer on the edge of the cliff overlooking the salty sea and asking the gray wind, “Where have I even stood but the shore along the ocean?” Not just “What do I know of Holy?” but “What do I know?”

Wanderlust of the Mind

We know what is real based on our senses and reason. But there lies in each of us a love of fantasy and magic. Sometimes it’s fun to think there might be Leprechauns in your shoes. And sometimes, though they can also be dangerous, irrational beliefs can help you get through hard times. Lots of people rely on their religious faith in times of crisis. I am not religious, but I love to let my mind wander sometimes.

We hold onto our little sparks and shadows. The things that we believe in. Our little bit of stolen faerie dust, our shard of glass that reflects another world within it.

There is another song I know that goes, “I am a magnet for all kinds of deeper wonderment. I am a wunderkind… destined to seek…destined to roam.” A destiny of wanderlust is ever before us.