No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness. No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. – Aristotle
You're remarkable, you know that? Really incredible! I love you.
Last Friday, I had a bit of a meltdown here. Writing about Mad Pride Week 2009 plus the madness of my life right now, got the better of me. Over the weekend, I slept. That's the foolproof antidote for my madness. Meanwhile, several comments came to me here from Katharine and from my buddies on Facebook. In myriad ways, you bolstered me. You knew how I was feeling. You were with me.
This morning, I awoke to discover the most beautiful gift from Carolyn, who often comments here.
She knew instinctively how overwhelmed I was feeling and shared some charming and very wise advice of her mother's.
"A plate is wide, and you can pile it quite tall, but eventually you have to eat what you put on it," Carolyn wrote. "But when you put something on your plate remember for whom you are eating it. Make sure you save room for dessert – just for you, just for enjoyment. If you don't have room for dessert, you put too much food on your plate to start. Always save room for dessert."
She's right. Lately, I've been skipping desserts – just gorging on the main courses. The serious problems some of you share with me here – by email directly to me – the main courses of your lives become main courses for me. I take them seriously – to heart and to mind. I digest them and dwell on them. They upset me because I can identify with you and because I want to help.
I am, however, no therapist.
Just a fellow traveller on my recovery road, like you. With my own fine madness. We all have "a fine madness" of our own – all of us! Forget any "psychiatric" diagnostic label. We all struggle with ourselves, with our inner lives and dreams and desires, with who we are and what we want out of life, with who we want to be! With our realities and fantasies.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the skies... – Jack Kerouac. A gift from my friend Gianna.
It's understandable that with anything that can be classed as "crazy" – emotional trauma, mental illnesses, disorders, disturbances and distresses, with the dualism of mind and body (non-existent, if you ask me – we are whole), with health and well-being, with madness – for no reason, there is a human history of humiliation and disgrace, even guilt. Why? Difference. Perhaps being too different. Being different isn't easy. I think it takes courage and often people think it's madness when it's not. There's safety in numbers. In conformity. Being different is what changes the world. Pioneers are dreamers, lots of people think they're mad, too! But where would we be without the inventors, the explorers, the Mad Men and Women.
Madness goes back to Biblical times. Madness is written on human history from ancient times. Madness and its social background in the Old Testament.
Today, when everyone wants and needs to fit in, it's natural, understandable, to want to speak in whispers about these mad issues. To talk quietly, not out in the open or in the comments to this blog. To send me personal emails, to spill your stories and demand anonymity. Perhaps, here, at Coming Out Crazy, you've found the first perfectly safe place to let all your frustrations and fears come out. To me. Many of you have expressed that very sentiment many times. You feel safe, here. And you are. Entirely and completely. I am a journalist and I protect my sources. Nothing you write to me privately will ever be repeated.
It's understandable that you feel you want to tell me your whole life history of emotional anguish and mental distress, or the history of your family's struggles and sufferings with mental illnesses or madness. It's natural not to be able to see the light of hope. The act of writing an email to me is therapeutic, healing, especially if you've never shared it with anyone else. It's like writing in a diary, reflecting, journalizing. Getting it all out. Unburdening yourself. It feels good.
With one major difference. I read your stories and often, almost always, implicitly or explicitly, you ask for advice and request a reaction. Some feedback. You share your burdens with me. I begin to shoulder them with you.
It is, however, unrealistic to expect me to be your personal therapist. I can listen to you and read your missives, and at the same time, feel for you. Yet, I cannot offer advice. Good therapists don't give advice. They help you to find your own path, hear your own voice, discover your own answers. That's good therapy. With time and work, you can begin to peel your own onion and explore the layers of your life and psyche. And learn more about who you are and why.
You can learn to accept yourself. To like your uniqueness!
So, I am going to continue to read your emails to me, but at the same time, I'm going to continue to implore you to share your concerns and your life stories and your wisdom and your humanity with our "Coming Out Crazy" community. That's what we're all about. Community. Shared goals. Shared concerns. Shared solutions for the greater good.
You are not alone. We're all human. We're all equal. Not the same, but equal. No one is perfect. That's what the word "human" means.
And there is hope in sharing. In learning about each other. In discovering that what you fear about yourself is not unlike what all us fear or have feared ... and have learned to accept about ourselves. Even like about ourselves.
That's compassion. Better still, empathy. A word I prefer. It means we've walked in each other's shoes or each other's footprints on the sand.
I have lots of quirks. Weird quirks. I get excited and raise my voice. Sounds like I'm yelling, but I'm really just emphasizing. (That's also because I have a serious hearing loss and wear hearing aids. I cannot always gauge my own volume because I can't hear myself.) Ask my darling soul mate husband Marty about my quirks. He lives with me and loves me like I've never been loved before. (And I'll tell you a secret. He has lots of quirks of his own! And I love them as much as I love him. They're all part of his very own uniqueness. They make him the man he is! I'm not interested in perfection. I think it would be a bore.)
Forgive me for becoming unhinged a bit last week. Sometimes the world can be a bit too much for me. I'm terribly sensitive. Always have been. That's my nature. But I can recover by cuddling my little dogs and Marty. And by taking naps in the afternoon.
Let me end with another gift, again from dear Gianna.
Happy Mad Pride Day!
July 14 – A Universal Day of Liberation from old stereotypical thinking about mental health and mental illnesses. To challenge mental health discrimination and prejudice. To educate and enlighten and declare ourselves. To celebrate who we are, educate ourselves and others and remember our history. To break out of denial. To stop being afraid. To end our silence.
To be proud.
Wow, is "Mad Pride" ever a red flag issue, though? At least on this continent.
Not in England and other countries, where "madness" is an increasingly acceptable word to describe having a diagnosis of a psychiatric or "mental illness" and that's very significant.
Just click onto the comments to my last post, In the mood for Mad Pride 2009 to see an intriguing discussion that took place over the weekend. Not quite a repeat of what happened in the comments to my post about 2008 Mad Pride Week. That really upset people. Big time.
So, we're making progress. One step at a time.
This morning, I received a Facebook invitation from Mary Ellen Copeland of the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery to join her group called "Mental Health Recovery and WRAP© – Wellness Recovery Action Plan". Copeland is one of the leaders in the U.S. mental health recovery movement and she has a remarkable recovery story, herself.
I met the Stephen Pocklington at a conference last year and posted all about WRAP. These eight week programs offered in Toronto and all over the U.S. Worth considering if you want to add more tools to help you with your recovery. It works!
One last word – five really important words, actually – before I list highlight tomorrow's Mad Pride Week activities.
These are the five key concepts for Mental Health Recovery according to Mary Anne Copeland.
• Personal Responsibility
• Self Advocacy
Meditate about them, too.
Now them, tomorrow, Wednesday July 15th, is "Know Your Rights" Day during Toronto's Mad Pride Week.
Here's what's on tap. Click here for an overview and details about location.
From 11 a.m. to 12 noon: The Dream Team, a group of "consumer survivors" who advocate for safe, secure and affordable house for people living with mental health and addiction issues will share their stories. Over the last year The Dream Team worked with various groups and communities across Ontario to explore the issue of discriminatory zoning. In this presentation members of the Dream Team will illustrate the concept of discriminatory zoning and the impact on people with mental health and addiction issues.
At 12 noon to 12:15 p.m. The Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre or PARC Ambassadors Program is a remarkable grassroots community success story. This Parkdale Community consultation program engages, informs and consults with residents and stakeholders in the community in relation to their building development at Edmond Place. Nine Ambassadors, PARC Members, receive remuneration for their peer and member driven work, which incorporates and builds on the principles and values of the recovery model and PARC’s Mission – PARC – A Place Where People Rebuild Their Lives.
When the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre acquired Edmond Place from the City of Toronto to develop affordable, social housing for marginalized persons in our community there was extreme opposition to PARC by residents and stakeholders in Parkdale. Since the PARC Ambassadors Program's inception in September 2007 this inner-city community has evolved from a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) neighbourhood to a YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) neighbourhood.
The PARC Ambassadors Program is proof positive that through community organizing and public relations, marginalized people have a commitment to their community. They have all the necessary attributes and capabilities to be productive, to contribute to their neighbourhood and to society. They can a do live a healthy, meaningful and fulfilling life. This is a powerful snapshot of recovery.
PARC Ambassadors will discuss their work at this presentation
12:15 noon to 1 p.m. Lunch – light refreshments generously provided by The Raging Spoon
Special lunch time presentations featuring Laughter Yoga with Salimah Kassim-Lakha, and more!
1 p.m. – 2 p.m. – Presentation – Legal Jeopardy by Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS)
2 p.m. to 3 p.m. – David Carmichael
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS
When it comes to treating your own mental illnesses, we often assume that doctors and other mental heal professionals always know what’s best. During this presentation, David will raise a few issues about scientific drug research and help you understand, based on his own experience recovering from major depression, how important it is for people living with mental illnesses to take responsibility for their own recovery and rehabilitation by asking their doctors and mental health workers questions, questions and more questions, and by becoming regularly physically active.
David holds a masters degree in physical education and is the former director of national projects at ParticipACTION. After experiencing his first major depression in 2003 at the age of 45 and a relapse in 2004, he tragically learned the importance of good mental health and does not assume that doctors always know what’s best.
A Q & A session will follow.
3 p.m. – 4 p.m. Street Nurse Beth Pelton
Beth Pelton is a registered nurse currently working with Street Health Community Nursing. Most of her nursing work has been in the community, and with people living with cancer. Her experiences have included working in medical and geriatric and psychiatric nursing, practising from a Harm Reduction Philosophy.
Mad Pride can help you on your Recovery journey. Go for it!
Posted at 11:25 AM in addiction, advocacy, alcohol, bipolar, cool people in recovery, Current Affairs, depression, discrimination, drugs, events and conferences, hope, labels, language, mania, mental health and wellness, recovery, research, self-determination, stereotyping | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
Since I started writing "Coming Out Crazy" 15 months ago, I've been on the steepest learning curve of my life.
At least twice a week I sit down here facing a blank screen on my trusty iMac to muse and investigate issues around mental health and wellness that matter deeply to me and I hope to you, too. Particularly Recovery. Plus any relevant news. These days, there's lots of it.
Your comments are my only barometer, my only way know if I'm plucking at a few of your psychic chords. I live for your reactions, to hear your voices, to learn more about you and this community we've created.
Today, I am launching a short series on Mad Pride, which means many different things to many different people. I believe that Mad Pride is analogous to Recovery because they both share one very crucial quality. Hope.
Perhaps you'll think about what Mad Pride means to you. If you want to know the truth, I'm glad to be mad. I know I'm not normal and I wouldn't want to be. I'd rather be Next to Normal. I think everyone is. No one's normal.
Being different and proud of it affords me enormous freedom, though I've worked hard to get here. Now, thanks to my psychiatrist Dr. Bob and his brand of talking therapy, I don't ever have to dare to be different. I simply am different. I like being different. That's part of my madness. I'm fine with it.
Some of you don't like the term "mad" or "madness" but perhaps you'll change your mind by next week at this time.
Anyway, here goes. A few annotated highlights for the first day or two of Mad Pride Week in Toronto.
• Mayor David Miller has once again officially proclaimed next week, beginning this Monday, July 13 and ending on Sunday, July 19 to be Mad Pride Week 2009.
And for all the folks of MindFreedom International, Mad Pride is central to its ethos as a "movement that celebrates the human rights and spectacular culture of people considered very different by our society."
For this "non profit organization that unites 100 sponsors and affiliate grassroots groups with thousands of individual members to win human rights" and alternatives for people labelled with psychiatric diagnoses, Mad Pride is a constant campaign – one of many.
NOTE: This year, due to the City Worker Strike, many of Toronto's week long Mad Pride Week Activities will take place at the May Robinson Auditorium at 20 West Lodge Avenue. That's one block east of Landsdowne and one block north of Queen Street.
This year, Mad Pride Toronto is up to the minute electronically.You can follow our local Mad Pride Toronto events by watching them on YouTube. Or read the Mad Pride Toronto Blog. Or by following on Facebook.
Mad Pride is a cultural festival of arts, entertainment and heritage activities. Several activities honour and commemorate the contributions of men and women who lived, worked, struggled and died in the former Toronto Hospital for the Insane which was located at 999 Queen Street West.
Here are a few events that intrigue me:
• At 6 p.m. on Monday, July 13, you won't want to miss Geoffrey Reaume's unique historical guided tour of The Patient Built Wall, constructed in 1860 by unpaid patient labourers in what was then known as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) now stands there. Patients lived and died building that wall and Reaume, author of the landmark history Remembrance of Patients Past – Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940 is well-acquainted with their stories. Soft-spoken, thoughtful and profoundly knowledgeable, Reaume teaches a course in Mad People's History at York University, where he is an Associate Professor. He is also co-founder of the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto.
• At 8:30 p.m. a Candlelight Memorial will take place at the wall.
• Tuesday, July 14, is Mad Pride Day globally. It's celebrated from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada and from Australia and New Zealand to South Africa. Celebrations vary, but often Mad Pride is an opportunity to challenge mental health prejudices, discrimination and negative stereotyping by raising awareness through community activities and the arts. Music, theatre, poetry, art and literature can transcend so many barriers, especially the unnecessary ones perpetuated by societal and media ignorance and fear.
• It's no coincidence that July 14th is also Bastille Day, the French National Holiday marking the anniversary of the storming of this Paris prison in 1789 that started the French Revolution. It's a universal symbol of liberation and, according to Mindfreedom, "when the Bastille was stormed, two prisoners with psychiatric labels being detained there for that reason were freed."
(I wonder what those psychiatric labels were, back in 1789, before there were psychiatrists.)
• The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Ontario Human Rights Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall and MPP Cheri Di Novo will be attending the Opening Ceremonies at 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning to kick off Mad Pride Day.
• Following that, a virtual variety show of entertainment, song, poetry and readings is planned.
• At 1 p.m., York University's Geoffrey Reaume will be back to present an intriguing, no doubt healing and historically provocative program called "Hugging Our History: Why Psychiatric Survivors Need to 'Own' our Mad Past." This is a one-hour presentation I'm going to try to see.
• Wednesday, July 15th is "Know Your Rights Day" and features a presentation by The Dream Team – consumer survivors who advocate for more safe, secure and affordable supportive housing for people living with mental health and addiction issues.
Next week, I'll continue with my Mad Pride series and some surprising information about how Toronto has led the world in the Mad Pride Movement.
The original organizers of Toronto's first "Mad Pride Day" was almost called "Crazy Day" back in 1993. Instead, they decided to call their event Psychiatric Survivor Day." But I'll leave the rest of that story until next week.
Finally, to get yourself into a "Mad Pride" mood, why not download some utterly amazing interviews on Madness Radio – "Voices and Visions from Outside Mental Health."
Have a peek.
More of that next week, too. Have a "Truly, Madly, Deeply" sensational weekend.
Posted at 04:14 PM in addiction, advocacy, cool people in recovery, Current Affairs, discrimination, events and conferences, Film, hope, labels, language, mad pride, mental health and wellness, mood, Music, psychotherapy, recovery, self-determination, stereotyping | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
On Monday, I had lunch with an old friend. It all started because of last week's newsmaking announcement about so-called new findings about the genetics of schizophrenia.
I sent my friend a piece in The New York Times by Nicholas Wade which seemed to me to put a sober perspective on all the hoopla that followed. Well worth reading. Rather than a major breakthrough – for nothing would delight psychiatric researchers more than finding a cause for a varied group of disorders described as schizophrenia – what was reported was a big deal about information that's been known for years. At best, a tiny little piece of the puzzle was confirmed by three new studies.
The mysterious causes of schizophrenia are linked to thousands of genes, not just a few. There's lots of work still to be done.
It was this study that reconnected me to my friend. He often remarks that the word "schizophrenia" really describes psychosis – or, to be more precise, a number of different psychosis with several widely varying classes of symptoms.
At 89 and utterly brilliant, he and I met while I was writing for The Toronto Sun on one of my extended forays into psychiatric research and we remain buddies, although I do not see him often enough.
Yesterday, we wandered along College Street until we could locate a Japanese restaurant to our mutual liking and had an enlightening and, as always, fascinating chat.
He is a rare bird in the realm of psychiatry. One of the only people I know who launched his career as a psychiatric social worker in 1948 – the year I was born – after graduating from the London School of Economics in Psychiatric Social Work and studying clinical psychiatry with William Mayer-Gross at the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries, Scotland. Dr. Mayer-Gross authored a seminal text called Clinical Psychiatry published in 1954, before the advent of the earliest antipsychotic medications.
After finishing his training with Dr. Mayer-Gross at the Crichton Royal Hospital, my friend moved to Canada to become director of social work at the former Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. Then he was named advisor in social work in the mental health branch of the Toronto Department of Health before taking the post of Associate Director of Psychiatry at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, which became the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in 1964 and part of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in 1998. He finished his career at McMaster University as a research scientist, Professor of Social Work and Associate Professor of Psychiatry before retiring in 1990.
His professional career in psychiatry spans 42 years from the pre-Chlorpromazine Age to the age of the atypical antipsychotics. He is one of the most knowledgeable and reasoned professionals I have ever known and this week, schizophrenia was on our minds.
My very first psychiatric diagnosis was schizophrenia. A rather dotty and dusty old-maid psychiatrist named Margaret McQuaid gave me that diagnosis back in 1960 when I was barely into my teens. I didn't know it then, but ah, those labels. How they stick!
About six years later, I found out about it in a brutal way. Another mad shrink at The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry – I cannot name him as he's still kicking around – decided he had cured me, so one day, he put me in a glassed-in cubicle on the eighth floor and handed me my chart to read.
There, in correspondence and other documentation, I discovered I had schizophrenia and then, a few years later, the word "catatonic" was added. Scary words for an 18-year-old to absorb. I remember riding home on the subway shuddering. I ran up to my room where my 1966 edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language sat above my desk and looked those two words up.
• "Schizophrenia – a psychosis marked by withdrawn, bizarre and somewhat delusional behaviour and by intellectual and emotional deterioration. Also called dementia praecox, which means premature dementia."
• "Catatonia – a syndrome seen most frequently in schizophrenia, with muscular rigidity and mental stupor."
I didn't recognize myself remotely. Why were these words applied to me, I remember wondering. Can you understand why I detest these psychiatric labels and why language is so important to me? Yet, for the next seven years, through Seneca College and Queen's University, in the back of my mind, that diagnosis was there, though never in my entire life have I ever been "withdrawn."
In 1975, that diagnosis was changed to manic depression.
"You know, this is the 100th anniversary of the word schizophrenia," my friend announced as we perused the $5.99 specials. His first statement has been well documented. According to an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry Paul Eugen Bleuler and the Birth of Schizophrenia, on April 24, 1908, Swiss psychiatrist Bleuler first coined the term "schizophrenia" at a meeting of the German Psychiatric Association in Berlin – as opposed to the earlier label, dementia praecox.
Without recounting all this history of labels, let's just say that the term schizophrenia simplified what had been a grab-bag of other labels. Too bad. I've always thought that huge catch-all categories are more dehumanizing than specific ones.
According to former Boston Globe investigative reporter Robert Whitaker, in his book Mad in America – Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, "Throughout the nineteenth century, physicians had conjured up a wild profusion of insanity types. Medical texts told of such ailments as "old maid's insanity," "erotomania," "masturbatory psychosis," "pauperism insanity," and "chronic delusional disorder."
Whitaker adds, "There was no rhyme or reason for these terms, and they provided little insight into what the future held for the patient." German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin classified them into two streams – manic depression for those with psychosis and emotional disturbances, and dementia praecox for those with lack of emotion. The second group were given a less hopeful prognosis.
In 1908, Eugen Bleuler came up with the term "schizophrenia" which he viewed as a milder form of dementia praecox, according to my friend.
Bleuler wrote a paper about his new term "schizophrenia" in 1911, so my friend considers 1909 – a point in between – as the true birth of the schizophrenia.
Still, not much is really known about its causes today – probably because there are so many. I seriously doubt any one cause will ever be discovered.
My friend announced that back in the 1940s and 1950s, close to 50% of patients who were diagnosed with schizophrenia went into spontaneous remission – complete recovery – with humane care and no medication. There were no antipsychotics back then.
"The prospects of lasting spontaneous remission are greatest during the first two years of illness," my friend quoted in an email from page 267 of Clinical Psychiatry (Cassell, London, 1954), co-authored by Wilhelm Mayer-Gross, Slater and Roth. "After five years of continuous illness they become negligible. If a series of patients whose illness have lasted a year are followed up, about half are found eventually to remit; if the illness lasts two years, the proportion is still about 45%. Thereafter it quickly declines."
My friend notes that with "effective community support, many former patients with longstanding schizophrenia were able to live satisfactory lives without or later with medication."
Having a diagnosis of schizophrenia is not an easy one to live with and today, what we know about psychosis, no matter what you call it, is that early intervention is the key – especially for young people.
This also explains why so many leaders in the modern recovery movement – psychologist Patricia Deegan, Dr. Daniel Fisher and British psychologist Rufus May are three examples of countless people who have fully recovered from serious cases of schizophrenia and now live meaningful lives without medication. Others have succeeded brilliantly with psychoanalysis and medication, like law professor Elyn R. Saks, PhD.
The question is, what about the other 50% who don't spontaneously remit? Why? And what about the standard contemporary biomedical approach that involves prescriptions of newer, very powerful atypical antipsychotics? Do they promote spontaneous and permanent remission? Or are they harmful?
A great deal in psychiatry has changed in the last 40 or 50 years, but not a great deal more is known about the causes of schizophrenia. Genetic testing and brain imaging will be studied in about 100 people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and depression at CAMH, the first hospital in the world to explore these newer avenues of therapy.
We should be able to use all possible tools available for recovery. And recovery should be the goal. Not a belief that this condition is chronic.
The word "schizophrenia" carries enormous baggage. The media hasn't helped. But, I think it's interesting to learn from the past. If many people diagnosed with schizophrenia, experiencing abnormalities in perception, hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thinking have fully recovered with humane support and care – that, to me is a reason for hope. And an approach to be seriously considered. Not isolation, hospitalization, drugging and other inhumane treatments. Instead, inclusion, respect, education, accommodation, empowerment and nurturing. Give people a chance!
Schizophrenia is probably not chronic brain disease, as so many people would have you believe. It involves the mind and the soul, the whole of a human being. There is no scientific proof that it's a disease of the brain.
Trauma can play a part in the development of the symptoms that suggest a diagnosis of schizophrenia, as can genetics, intrauterine factors, early childhood environment, psychology, neurobiology, social and cultural influences – even drug abuse.
Until we have more information, the jury is out and anything is possible, including recovery! It's time to rethink our knee-jerk reactions to this condition. See it not just a medical context but in an historical context. In a post-psychiatric context, too, and in the context of the recovery movement.
Madness, a word I prefer to all the others, has many meanings. Love. Anger. Insanity.
Let's open our minds to all them.
Posted at 12:46 PM in bipolar, Books, cool people in recovery, Current Affairs, depression, drugs, hope, labels, language, mad pride, mental health and wellness, psychoanalysis, psychosis, psychotherapy, recovery, research, schizophrenia, Science, self-determination, treatment | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
Yesterday, I started blogging about the question: "Is Text Messaging vs. Talking emotionally healthy?"
A couple of weeks ago, lunching with a friend, she confided that she had never spoken on the telephone to her current amour. They communicate entirely by email and on Facebook and Twitter – texting rather than talking to each other or hearing each other's voices.
"But we've had a lot of face-time," she said, sensing, I think, my surprise and dismay.
I must admit I was shocked. Has interpersonal communication – romance – come to this? If it has, how sad.
What's happened to interpersonal communication?
Then last evening CBC broke the story about the University of British Columbia medical research finding a 10-fold increase in the use of atypical antipsychotics in young children – drugs not intended for use in children, not tested with children, and potentially dangerous or even lethal. You should see the comments. They go on for more than 20 pages and counting. Over 100 of them.
First. Let me say that I've taken antipsychotic drugs since the 1960s – though never a steady diet of them. I was given them mostly when I was hospitalized. Sporadically. From Chlorpromazine, also known as "the chemical lobotomy" and Haldol when I was a teenager. Those drugs hit me like a sledgehammer and deadened me emotionally. They also caused side-effects. Facial ticks for which I needed to take another drug, Cogentin. This went on for years, even after I was started on a steady prescription of Lithium at the age of 27 and repeatedly, almost annually hospitalized for mania.
Later, I was given several of the atypical antipsychotic drugs sited in the CBC story – Seroquel and Risperdal – but only "as needed" which turned out to be rather infrequently and only in miniscule doses – and I was in my late 40s and early 50s. I haven't taken or needed any antipsychotic medications of any kind for the last 9 years.
During the early years, the 1960s, I was given these antipsychotic drugs in hospital – never a steady diet of them – because I had episodes of psychosis. I was having delusions and hallucinations. I couldn't sleep. I wasn't thinking clearly. At one time, for four months in hospital, I was catatonic. The psychotic episodes started when I was 17 years of age.
At no time, to the best of my knowledge, did I ever "act out" in school or become violent or threaten a teacher or another student. Members of my family described me as "histrionic" – dramatic, theatrical, emotional, larger-than-life. Attention-seeking. Clearly, I did not conform.
It occurred to me that there may a connection between my original question regarding "texting versus talking" and young children today – why they're acting out so violently and being prescribed drugs that could seriously and permanently hurt them. Drugs that numb them emotionally but do nothing to get at the real reasons causing their behaviour.
Something is very wrong. It's all wrapped up, I believe, in our ultimate loss of humanity. The change in the nature of our interpersonal communications. Our social world. People are using their eyes, but what about their ears and their hearts? Listening, actively, intelligently, emotionally and with empathy?
The difference between animals and humans is that humans can talk to each other. Animals can't. Animals communicate, but they don't use words and spoken language, and they don't engage in verbal conversation or thoughtful, rational, articulated, cerebral communication with each other.
The keyword is engage. You cannot call texting talking because it's not. Nor is email. They're both toneless. Flat. Dead. There's no real spark. No real human excitement or demand for live, engrossing, involving, absorbing, demanding thought, articulation, conversation. Simultaneously and emotionally.
There's no engagement. Think about what's happening. Instead of talking with each other, more and more people are texting. What does that mean?
Rick Pukis, an associate professor of communications at Augusta State University, has said that texting may affect the way we interact with each other. In one of many articles on how communication is breaking down, written in August 2008, Pukis states, "Text messaging has made us a very impersonal society today. People are not communicating, not using facial expression, like smiling so when they get back into a situation where they're talking to someone, they don't smile."
We may be constantly "connecting" but are we "communicating"?
In that same article, William Shea, a university student, adds that he "feels widespread cell phone use and text-messaging is hurting human communication, not helping it. "Rather than face interpersonal dealings head on, we can hide behind our phone until we can talk at our convenience – or not talk at all.'" People can text instead, which is not well-thought out sentences, but abbreviated communication which can be problematic when trying to express our feelings, he says.
"Is there a real problem with replacing 'you' with 'u'? It isn't as though we are going to forget how to spell the word, but we may forget how to communicate in intelligent, thought-out sentences," Shea said.
We may be forgetting or never learning how to engage in real, thoughtful, articulated, nuanced interpersonal conversations about ideas – live speech. Interactive, real, emotionally coloured communication. If you can't articulate your feelings, what do you do, I wonder? Do you know who you really are?
Communication takes practice. Conversation is an art. Who's teaching that? Twitter? Facebook? MySpace? Email? Even if it's in real time?
If you're a young kid, without a way to "process" your feelings verbally, to understand and express them accurately, to be heard and listened to, you can get so frustrated you lash out and act out. If you're used to engaging with a computer or cellphone – an inanimate object – I guess you don't get any practice in dealing with real emotions in a thoughtful rational human interpersonal way. That can cause anxiety, stress, frustration, anger. Built up emotions that explode when you're confronted with someone who doesn't respond to you the way you want or expect them to.
Telephones, even landlines and not cellphones, I suggest, have their purposes.
The first contact I had in July 1999 with the man that I married almost nine years ago was a voicemail message quickly followed by a telephone call. His voice mail message was lovely, but it was our live telephone conversation that did me in.
In a split second, I fell in love with the sound of his voice. It was, and remains, a deep, resonant, smooth and warm bass inflected with his charming sense of fun. The most mellifluous voice I've ever heard.
When I asked him, thinking he was around my age, how old he was, he quipped, "I'm 63, but I don't know how I got here."
So he's 13 years older than I. Who cares about numbers with a man of such wit? I adored him even more and desperately wanted to meet him, which I did the following week. It was love at first sight and in about three weeks, we'll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of that meeting. We've never looked back.
How can one gauge sincerity, warmth, charm through bald black words on a white screen? With emotions? Give me a break.
I venture to guess that had this exchange happened not on the telephone, but on email or Facebook, I would never have considered going out with him in the first place. That number – 63 – would have scared me off.
Today, I cannot imagine my life without him. And the sound of his voice still thrills me.
First of all, the whole notion of "play" has changed dramatically. Socialization of children has changed. I think it's been sacrificed so that kids can accelerate through school. Before they're physically and mentally developed to handle the material they're expected to absorb.
When I was in nursery school and kindergarten in the early 1950s, we played. We socialized. In the sand box and outside in the fresh air. We had naps on mats and had snacks – juice and cookies. We played musical instruments like the triangle and drums. We finger painted and did lots of arts and crafts. We had recess. It was fun.
Now kids go into day care and then nursery school and junior kindergarten and their childhood is compressed. They start learning numbers and the alphabet long before they hit grade one. After school, they're rarely if ever are allowed to run freely around their neighbourhoods playing simple games without constant supervision. Understandable, but sad. Neighbourhoods have become dangerous for kids.
Also, kids see their parents on computers for hours and are given play computers at the earliest of ages. They mimic their parents. They watch more television. Computers can become their closest companions and by the time they can use a real one, they often are.
Between video games and then later on, email, they learn to engage with a machine far more easily than they do with each other. Play is about free engagement. Being social. Face-to-face social. Talking and engaging social activities together.
But, many children, not all, are denied that unless their parents actively plan "play-dates" – a term that didn't exist when I was a kid.
Free, social engagement – not planned activities and lessons – seems to have diminished enormously today. I won't even begin, as well, on all the nutritional changes – the fast foods and processed foods – that have replaced the home made-from-scratch meals that I was given throughout my childhood. Balanced meals. In my case, my histrionic behaviour cannot be blamed on nutrition or the lack of play and/or the lack of a loving, caring, stay-at-home mother. I'm still histrionic, by the way. That's my nature.
Too much has changed and we're not much happier. In fact recent research has shown that women are less happy than they've been in years.
With the advent of digital technology, the computer, the cellphone, voicemail, email, Facebook and the subsequent demise of what we used to call interpersonal communication and the lost art of conversation, children are invariably being seriously affected along with their parents.