October 20, 2008

little frog leaped

I'm now posting to this blog at Wordpress:


Blogger is great, but there's more of a community vibe and tools I prefer on the other side of the pond.

September 11, 2008

you can't spell Freud without feud, but you can have Scientology without science

I came across a great little column piece today, written by Bruce E. Levine at The Huffington Post. "Thinking Critically About Scientology, Psychiatry, and Their Feud" intelligently gets to the point of the source of the friction between society at large and those who counsel or medicate their patients for psychological distress; those who...
...merely assist their patients to adjust [into inhospitable environments], but neglect to validate their patients' alienation from society.

Those comfortably atop societal hierarchies have difficulty recognizing that many American institutions promote helplessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, alienation, and dehumanization for those not at the top. One-size-fits-all schools, the corporate workplace, government bureaucracies, and other giant, impersonal institutions routinely promote manipulative relationships rather than respectful ones, machine efficiency rather than human pride, authoritarian hierarchies rather than participatory democracy, disconnectedness rather than community, and helplessness rather than empowerment.
Levine also nicely encapsulates Scientology's criticism of and therefore ironic similarity to psychiatry:
The source of the mutual hostility between psychiatry and the Church of Scientology, as depicted by the mass media, centers around psychotropic drug use; but my sense is that the root cause of their feud is a fierce competition between them. Both establishment psychiatry and Scientology are competing for the same people -- those more comfortable with authority, dogma, and insider jargon than with critical thinking.

Both the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard and psychiatry's DSM (the official diagnostic manual in which mental illnesses are voted in and out by elite psychiatrists) have much more to do with dogma than science.
This is an important distinction. Many psychiatrists, like medical doctors, seek to heal rather than harm further, but doctors have material tools whose misapplication is generally more directly observable. They also inherit a long history of hard medical science and generally more solid research behind their diagnoses, (non-psychiatric) medications and procedures. Besides, as I pointed out a few posts below, the DSM is printed on dirty banknotes. It makes some awfully dubious claims about conditions that are often only further cemented by poorly conceived diagnostic pronouncements and further aggravated by poorly researched psychiatric drugs.
It is my experience that psychiatry, Scientology, and fundamentalist religions are turnoffs for genuinely critical thinkers. Critical thinkers are not so desperate to adjust and be happy that they ignore adverse affects -- be they physical, psychological, spiritual, or societal. Critical thinkers listen to what others have to say while considering their motives, especially their financial ones; and they discern how one's motivation may distort one's assumptions.
Actually, just read the whole thing. It's short and concise. So short, I've already quoted about a third of it. Thanks to Gianna for my first exposure to the article and this columnist.

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January 16, 2008

Web 2.0.1

Revision notes:

1. I updated the post not a final testament, aka the Mother's Day Special, today; added some lines, fixed a couple more. I know, it's kinda sorta cheating, and you can be as rigid with your own blog as you like.

2. I now have a profile page on Facebook to go with this blog; it includes links of interest, favourite quotes, silly applications that pretend to be serious, and pictures of me as embodied by a frog — in case you haven't caught the poorly germanized reference in my nom-de-blog.* Once I figure it out, there will also be notifications whenever I update this (or my other) blog.

Search for "Froscha Wenig" and add me as a friend. My friend list is inaccessible to people not already added. Bonus: You will appear to be one person more popular in your profile. So will I.

* please refer to "Origin Story" at Narrative Cavity (top right corner, front page) to better understand the nomenclature and my philosophical modus operandi. Besides this, I like frogs. This affinity predates the blogs. As for the bad translation, I'm part-German by birth. This bloodline predates all blogs.

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December 27, 2007

hard to know if he knows

I can relate to these lyrics all too well, as if the songwriter had traced a few brainwaves while I was thinking about the object of my unrequited love or the many reasons why I consider myself to be — new word! — unrequitable. This sampling of my psychic drivel, which I did not consent to, could have taken place at... almost any given time, given the ridiculous frequency of my dramatically mundane thoughts on this subject.
Sophie Zelmani
Hard to Know

I ain't here for fun
Can't be moved around
Maybe that means I can't
Give you a good time

I could spend my time
Looking at you
But as long as you're striving
I've got to do that too

Hard for you to know
I'm dripping of love
Hard to defend
I'm only dreaming of love

I'm not here to make
My voice heard
Maybe that makes me smaller
In this world

I could spend my time
Wishing I was like you
But if you think my life
Looks alright, I'll think so too
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August 8, 2007

sometimes I just know too much

I came across this blog post today that I really responded to, as I have a mild case of the crazies myself. Given the immense popularity of that Gnarls Barkley song last summer, I wonder how many other people do too even if they haven't been designated a DSM label. Yet. Certain quarters of the psychiatric community seem to be busily pathologizing and classifying every aspect of human behaviour that doesn't fit neatly and inconspicuously into middle-brow civilization. This review by L.J. Davis, previously published in Harpers Magazine, is a great (and entertaining!) synopsis of the DSM, its history, and potential misuse: Encyclopedia Of Insanity — A Psychiatric Handbook Lists a Madness for Everyone.

According to Wikipedia, surely as indisputable as the DSM manual itself, "roughly 50% of the authors who previously selected and defined the DSM psychiatric disorders have had or have financial relationships with pharmaceutical industries and drug companies." It is disturbing that you can sometimes track the rising numbers of a particular psychiatric diagnosis (ADD, Bipolar Disorder, etc) to the availability and marketing drive of a new drug. Also good to remember, the DSM once classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. That's how relevant to reality this 'bible' of the psychiatric community can be.

On to the blog that precipitated this post:
Most people who do not have a diagnosis define themselves as "normal". They think of anyone who does have one as "incredibly different" from them, right off the bat, when that probably isn't the case. It's a distancing technique. A way to say, "That's not me, and never will be," but one never knows. We exist along a continuum, I think, and we see how environmental factors influence the onset and the appearance of mental patterns or features labelled as "crazy". The "way florid" exist at one end of a continuum, and those seen as "incredibly stable" exist at the other, while most of us fall somewhere in between. We also move around on this "scale of stability" throughout our lives, as we experience stressful events or changes in our consciousness.
You can read the rest of it at the larmes de pamplemousse blog. Some of the comments at the end are worth reading too. Last quote from the above:
True and lasting empathy for one another often puts us - crazy or not - out of our comfort zone.
To which I would add, displaying true and lasting empathy might earn you the crazy label as well. With or without the DSM.

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(updated January 17, 2008)

June 1, 2007

not a final testament

And so ends the month of Mother's Day, one of the holiest days of the Hallmark calendar. The guilt-ridden obligations of this annual date and its esteemed place between religious observances is appropriate because my mom has put forth more mixed messages and guilt trips than the Old Testament. Sometimes the passages are completely contradictory, and the prescience of the holy book — which heretics refer to as 'self-fulfilling prophecy' — just supports my analogy.
Thou art a little bitch but also a wonderful, beloved daughter. Thou shalt be a disappointment unto thine boyfriends, and yet, when they leave, how could they value you not? Thou needeth to lose weight; thou art already beautiful — but thy beauty shall be more apparent with the loss of weight. Verily, I say unto you that you shall fail; despair not but believe in the power of positive thinking. You are cared for, yet tho ye ask for help paying thy medical bills, thou shalt not receive such unless thou hast made an exodus home to stay.
It goes on and on like a genealogy log in Genesis, while I await the mercy of a younger authority with a new testament. I suspect the majority of people who are products of a troubled childhood have children of their own in order to make the connection of unconditional love that was missing in their own family and to create a unsullied new chapter in the story cycle already produced by generations of dysfunction. So not a sufficient reason, by the way. Since I’ve decided to buck the trend, I will have to be my own younger authority and write my own testament.

With the messages issued by the older authorities in my life, it's often very black and white. But as with most holy texts, there is some great material in between that is sometimes harder to glean and also easier to forget than the more polarizing passages. My sister, who is 15 years older than me, who graciously whisked me away to her house on weekends to spare me the weight of my parents' roof, asked me once why I only remember the bad stuff. Yet she remembers some of that from her own childhood too. She remembers thinking our mother didn't even like her. And the woman wonders why her kids all have low self-esteem. sigh… Our mother does love us, a lot, but misery begets misery. Dysfunction breeds dysfunction.

For instance, she doesn't always know how to show her love physically, except in sporadic bursts warranted only by occasions a little more extraordinary than the everyday. Then she's all big tears and hard hugs. Now I dread 'extreme' emotional encounters, even as I crave them with the people I most want to connect with but instead (usually) keep at a safe distance. Not to blame my mother; not only is it currently unfashionable to blame one's family, it's also unfair and a means to copping out of recognizing our own responsibility to change our own behaviour and outlook. (I'm assuming a much more generous threshold for survivors of the truly hard-core physical, sexual and even verbal abuse — those internalized horrors are much harder to recover from than the lingering challenges of having had one's psyche develop under emotionally distant, poorly socialized, alcoholic parenting.) Both my parents grew up in chaotic homes with extremely dysfunctional families, and have dealt with multiple tragedies in the family they created together. It's a lot to bear and personal insight is a luxury for many, so I don't inflict my own insights on them. Just on anonymous readers of this blog.

My mom has a little insight of her own; she reads a lot of self-help books and articles, though she is sometimes misdirected by the Dr. Phils of this extremely popular arena. I believe she has grave regrets, as well as the latent guilt I see flare up whenever she feels defensive about her parenting record. She alienated the younger parents of my friends in grade school because their permissive parenting style apparently betrayed a lack of caring: tough love is real love. But maybe the permissives just didn't know how to 'properly' express their love either. Like translating ancient religious dictates, it's a matter of perception and interpretation.

So… after a little procrastination, I phoned home for Mother's Day. I moved away from my home province six years ago and haven't been back for a visit in over four. My mother understood, or at least didn't openly begrudge my choice to move this far away. (I had only expected to be in Toronto for six months when I first arrived here, with the boyfriend I had been prophesied to disappoint. When we had broken up two years later, I was sure that Toronto is where I was meant to find myself, and my intellectual family. Verily, I stayed. I have since found most of me, and my new family has grown.) How could my mother complain when she and her fiancĂ© flew away from their own toxic family lives over 50 years ago? They had escaped from the meteorological and familial extremities of the prairies to the moderate and fresh west coast. In Canada, the western-most province of British Columbia is where many restless souls end up, unable to go any further from history without leaving absolutely everything behind. I started out from Terminal City, which was ushered into the future by Expo 86 and its mascot robot Expo Ernie, so my path went instead in the opposite direction. I have been ruminating on history ever since, but also learning how to access the current.

My father answered that night when I called for my mom. His heart troubles have become harder on him in recent years and I'm not used to his voice sounding this meek. During my childhood, he was often yelling loudly or not saying much at all. Present-day Dad told me that they had gone to Sea Lovers for dinner and that my mother had eaten oysters. She had oysters for the first time, he told me, when they first moved to Vancouver. I pressed on, surprised at this spontaneous recollection from someone once so reticent. They had gone for dinner at a place on Skid Row, he continued. He meant at Main and Cordova, which now falls within one of the most notorious neighbourhoods in Canada. The oysters looked green and she wasn't sure she should eat them. After I got Mom on the phone, she explained that she had been feeling adventurous because she already knew she liked frogs legs. I've never known my mom to be a courageous eater, besides unidentified dim sum in old Chinatown which is remarkably brave if highly localized, so I kept asking questions. Turns out she had tried them in Windsor, Ontario when she was 19. She couldn't remember if she had been there for six months or a year. She had worked as a waitress for one aunt on weekends and another aunt and uncle during the week at their record store where they also sold radios and television sets. TVs were still new, she explained, so not many people had one yet. Backtrack a few details. She worked in a record store?! I work in a record store! Even though the circumstances are different, I felt like I had a little bit more in common with my mom, which is to say a little more than next to nothing. I mean, besides the neuroses I inherited. Obviously.

This new information did kind of blow my mind. I was only aware of the brief time she had worked in Winnipeg before taking off with my dad. I knew she had been close with her aunts in Windsor but didn't know much about that chapter in her life. I know her visit to Windsor about ten years ago had broken her heart because she witnessed Aunt N. drinking herself to death. I had met her when I was around seven and I still possess vivid memories of her because she was larger than life and also larger than most people. I remember riding past the low-lying tomato and tobacco fields in the backseat of her old black Cadillac, which seemed to me like the perfect car for a vampire because the leather upholstery was deep red, cracked and covered in cobwebs. She lived in a trailer with her final companion and drinking buddy. The trailer fascinated me because I had never been in one before, and the walls were covered in plaques with low-brow humour that appealed to kid-me. My great-aunt died not long after my mom's last visit.

I miss my parents but this time and distance has allowed me to put my childhood and family life in perspective, allowing me to get over some of the psychic damage that's been holding me back from really living. But I can stay away for only so long, and waiting for the day I've either lost enough weight (oh, to be less than average size) or figure I'm able to withstand my mother's fat phobia (sarcastic comebacks, notwithstanding) will only add additional years to my self-imposed exile. I'm almost ready to fly home for a visit. That might be when I'm finally able to put down the heavier parts of my baggage. When the good stories start to match the number of bad stories, the greater narrative arc starts to balance out and you don't feel so compelled to drag the volumes with you to remind you of who you are and who you don't want to become.

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