I’m sitting right here – discussion of mental illness at Nethui

Nethui launched with a bit of brouhaha around a couple of jokes from the MC, lawyer and standup comedian James Elliott. A couple of his opening jokes – designed to loosen things up – were of questionable taste; one naïvely implying that the vast amount pornography on the internet was “pictures of naked women”(1) and the other faux-mistaking Vikram Kumar for a Bollywood film maker of the same name.

I responded to the brouhaha, suggesting that the MC was a distraction and not to let upset over his faux pas get in the way of the real business. I had to clarify that I wasn’t saying “let’s support gendered and racial speech”, and I now feel a need to explain what I was really getting at.

The real discourse happens after the MC stops joking. The real discourse is made by the session conveners, and the participants, particularly those who are viewed as experts.

Here are some snippets of phrases I heard variously from people conducting sessions, and personages of importance contributing:

“People who are mentally ill…”

“People who are mentally ill are…”

“You’ve got to be mentally ill to…”

When someone spoke to demean women, there was an uproar.

When someone made light of race, there was an uproar.

If someone had been foolish enough to make generalisations about the capabilities, limitations, features and characteristics of blind people, wheelchair-using people, deaf people, any kind of differently-abled person, of non-normative sexual and gender selves – there would have been an uproar.

The term “mental illness” came up a number of times in the context of the “trolling” discussion, for example. It seems that anytime someone is behaving antisocially, they must have a mental illness. Now, I’m not here to justify antisocial behaviour – there are some interesting works which explore the social constructions we put around “antisocial”, and the differing constructions we create when we wish to make use of antisocial behaviour for societal ends.

I didn’t make an uproar. Other people I know for a fact manage mental illness as part of their lives didn’t make an uproar. In my case, the “forever angry and unwell” Sean discussed matters with the “healed and well” Sean, and we agreed my (to reunite my two halves, as I must do every day to function(2)) planned outcomes from attending Nethui might be disrupted if I started laying into people who so casually prodded my deepest pain. Why? Because every time I expend emotional energy, I have to factor in the risk that I am misperceiving matters, and that my efforts to address a problem I see will make things worse. That it’s not going to change things anyway.

I want to make an uproar now. I’ve spent the last few days increasingly triggered, and I suspect there’s more to come if I maintain silence.

I’m here to say – you’re tarring a lot of good people with the same brush. That’s right – I’m not blasting anyone. My anger, as always, is my own. I’m going to speak, and hope some people listen. I’ll stick with the troll example.

Some people with mental illness troll.

Some people with mental illness experience frustration, bewilderment and an inability to understand the rules that govern interpersonal connection.

Some people with mental illness express frustration through attention-seeking antisocial behaviours at some times.

Some people with mental illness act to seek attention in online communities. In some ways, longlasting online communities are function as economies of attention, and sometimes some people with mental illness use the wrong strategies. What does that say about the other trolls – who don’t wrestle constantly with demons, who are simply choosing to seek amusement? Much easier to blame the loonies.(3)

We are not some people. We are your family, colleagues, and friends. We grit our teeth while people construct a world in which all of the otherness is laid at our doorsteps. How are we to reach out to you when you dismiss us in a way isn’t allowed for any other group in society? Can’t we come inside the PC circle, at long last? Can’t you see I’ve got a headful of bad wiring, and I’m still a good, caring and compassionate person? I know some sane, or at least stable, people who are real pricks.

Most of us mentals(3) don’t bother speaking up, because it’s too hard.

Most of us feel like we’ve failed before we open our mouths, or put hands to keyboards.

Most of us are trying to connect, however badly. Some are doing so pretty well, thank you.

I’m sitting right here. I’m next to you, wishing to work with you. Don’t say we need to stop talking about access and start talking about inclusion when you’re still leaving me out.

(1) Pornography would be vastly less problematic in some ways were this so.

(2) As Paul Simon said: “From what I can see of the people like me/We get better/But we never get well”.

(3) I will take these words back, and I’ll use it any time you want. Don’t you dare.

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State of the Nation Address

OK, so here it is.

Sometimes I am near the world, some times I… wander off a ways. #blogjune pretty much pushed the limit as far as my need for intimate communication goes at the age of then 40 and counting.

That’s, the age. As for the stage; I’m easy with it – a good course of group therapy (DBT, do it if you’re a bit stuffed up eh) and an increasing engagement with meditation may have helped.

That’s not to say I’ve thrived; but I haven’t suffered every single minute, nor have I felt an excessive amount of genuine concern – I say excessive, because being bipolar gives two sets of circumstances to manage against, and two different lenses through wish to interpret.

Better yet – therapy helps us to move from the poles and create a middle. Sometimes it feels less exciting than a good dose of hypomania – more’s the pity. Weaning one’s self of “excitement” is a hard sell, but I’ve learnt to do at least a few things for the pure wonderment, and a few for their pure necessity. Both are good for the soul, and better than all the pizazz in the world.

Not that I’m not still a song and dance man – so to those of you who are sometimes commenters – please nag me to do some rehearsal for my upcoming gig. Then the ball will be in my court. It might be a little bit exciting.

Your traumatic stress disorder is in the post (trigger warning)

I’ve been watching a new twitter buddy pour her heart out over the last few days or so. Some real nasty stuff happened to her and she’s apparently feeling a need to get it all out there.

I’m not sure what made her start talking at this time in this way, but I get the motive. Some traumas are such that they visit us afresh throughout our lives.

After this weekend, I’m really starting to realise that the anxiety part of my experience comes from a post-traumatic stress disorder – which my wife immediately said “Bingo!” to, and looked relieved when I mentioned it. I didn’t really experience anxiety in its own terms until my mood disorder became managed. Prior to my thirtieth year I spent much of my time naturally (oh alright, and sometimes artificially) high as a kite or flat numb. I can tell you looking back that my anxiety affected my actions, but I certainly didn’t feel it the way I did post-diagnosis; I just assumed that was part and parcel of my bipolar. I’m starting to suspect that a predisposition towards bipolar cycles was exacerbated by the trauma – essentially fantasy and numbness became my ways of escape.

Over the last few years I’ve really been able to start dealing with this part of my illness, and it’s still the hardest part to talk about. I can tell you about being “nuts” and even turn it into a fun story; I am able to tell only trusted people when I’m feeling my trauma near the surface, and even then I can get five sentences out before a panic attack intervenes.

Well, I’m over doing that, but I’m also over being in stuck in hall-of-mirrors type looped thoughts, so I’ve come here to share. Welcome to my expurgation.

The hard part is – and the reason why I can’t even say five words to close friends without freaking sometimes – a large part of my trauma came out of a culture of verbal attack in my family. My native expectation is that people will use my words against me. If you want a reason for discourse analysis overdose, you have it right there. I can literally (when in a bad space) wear myself out analysing a conversation (or my increasingly fractured recall of it) until I don’t know what’s true and what’s not.

A culture of physical attack is the other precondition. My parents were semiregularly physically violent to my brother and I as well as each other – although with wooden coathangers, for example, semiregularly is more than enough. My brother’s choice to protect me from them and the world, however, was to very frequently subject me to attacks I – much smaller and never interested in fighting – had no defence against. His theory was that he needed to educate me about the world, and help me develop an ability to protect myself. Suffice to say, he overdid it, although he and I are in agreement as to the validity of his original intentions. We have spent decades unable to be in the same room, and I’m so grateful I get to see how he’s a different person in his love for my nephews, and in the brotherly bond we share.

He needed to have a talk about what has been happening between him and mum recently – she’s started getting all over him about his parenting. For some purposes he and I are the only people we have with whom we can talk about this stuff and not have to explain a lot of uncomfortable things. Unfortunately we needed to work through a gob of our personal stuff to get there – so he basically hassled and pushed me until I stood up for myself, and while he didn’t directly threaten me with violence he described a lot of his past fights to remind me of his capacity to harm. As my protective big brother he needed to check he’d done his work well. He did. He’s one of the few people who can genuinely faze me, and when he did so I let him know in no uncertain terms, and that I wasn’t going to put up with it.

Here’s the thing. He and I got through it. The trauma we created together was mutual, and protected us (because it was in our shared control) from the more incomprehensible situation of realising that, unlike us, our friends were growing up trusted their parents. That we were the different, and not in a good way, ones. We both wish we’d found other ways to survive – but we’ve both worked not to hand the destructiveness on. We needed to connect, so we revisited that trauma until we could connect as the adults we are now. We had a really good talk and agreed that people who had a zero for two track record in terms of producing offspring able to function socially without serious therapy and/or medications of various sorts had no right to go commenting on the parenting of others. Indeed, after examining the whole situation we came to the happy notion that while we loved her and cherished her, on this account mum could in fact “go to fuck”.*

Now, a few days later, I’m experiencing a boomerang effect. All of my trauma – and there’s decades, because I sought retraumatising situations after I escaped (literally) from home – have come out to visit; I knew when I blurted out my ‘stuff”‘ to a friend who really has her own ‘stuff’ to be worried about following a meeting today. I’m sharing here to keep ahead of the nightmares I have at these times. Constant nightmares when I’m is the mechanism that keeps me in insomnia. Having had an unprecedented run of weeks without, I’m damned if I’m going back. Facing and embracing the darkness is the only reliable method I’ve found, although music and meditation sure help.

Apart from those tools, my close friends, my wife and family – all of them I’m really thankful for this wonderful world where people like me (us) can share who we are.

I’ve been looking for new approaches to community recently, and I ran across a podcast by American comedian Paul Gilmartin called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. In this week’s episode, Lee Thorn talked about his PTSD with the host and his son Jesse, another great podcaster. It really, really helped.

*That act of public inappropriateness is dedicated to the baby in this inspiring blogpost.

#blogjune 27-30: Coming Out Mental

This ended up a combined post, because I knew I wanted to write on this topic, but I needed to think about what I wanted to say first, and that wasn’t going to happen while I spent chunks of pondering time .

I’d like to start by giving my thanks to the LGBT world for giving me a mechanism to describe the process at hand. “Out” is a process rather than an end point and though I’m taking the step of talking directly on the matter here (rather than discussing symptoms such as insomnia) this is far from the first .

My performance persona, seanfish, is very much at times a celebration of my illness, whether I’m acting loopy to make small children laugh or howling angst at an adult audience.

I’ve contributed to the New Zealand book “Caught Between Sunshine and Shadow“, in which ordinary people who manage their bipolar* disorder and  live meaningful and dignified lives share their journey with the hope of lending courage to others. To any library colleagues reading this: The literature is almost without exception written by clinicians, and while many of those titles are excellent resources a key element of long-term wellbeing is the ability to move on from a sense of isolation. If you check your collection and find that you have an 80/20 imbalance of clinical to personal narrative titles, please consider adding this to your collection. I received no money for my contribution, and the editor Georgie Tutt is willing to provide the title to public libraries in New Zealand at cost if it means people in need get access to this kind of resource.

It has been years since I worked for a manager or team leader who I did not make aware I had a history of mental illness. This provoked a lot of fear for me initially, however now I wouldn’t imagine working any other way.

In personal conversations and relationships I will mention the matter as it naturally arises, although I’m generally not interested in pursuing the subject at length unless the other person has their own equivalent journey to share.

Most of the time responses are appropriate. I recently had coffee-and-desert with a pair of my fellow diligentroomers and their respective spouses (you can see Penny’s husband Rod’s excellent photography at his site, Michael’s other half prefers to be anonymous online but I can vouch for her as she is a fellow ex-children’s librarian). I’ve known Penny and Rod for years, and it was the first time Michael and I have met. During the initial phase, I was trying to recall when I’d last seen Penny, only to be reminded it was in a hospital shortly after the birth of her first child, a meeting I have no recollection of. Fortunately Penny reminded me that I mentioned having difficulties with my medication at the time. My response was to say to Michael and his other half, “Oh by the way, I suffer from mental illness”. We giggled, shrugged, then moved on to continue the greetings and introductions.

Sometimes this results in disappointment. I played at a gig organised by one of my small town’s local musical leaders. At that time I using my music to explain the different experiences my illness can give me. The organiser came up to me after I played and said, “Wow, your songs are so varied in tone, are you bipolar or something?”. When I responded with the obvious “Yes,” his jaw dropped and he simply walked away.

Events like that bring out a dual feeling in me. On the one hand, I’m completely unsurprised. I’m very comfortable with talking about my illness in casual conversation, and I’m used to occasionally seeing similar – and sometimes more negative – reactions. In the times where the other person has found the courage to address their issues – much preferable to those who try to make it all my issue – I’ve found they either (a) themselves suffer from a disorder they are afraid to talk about, or (b) have had someone who suffered from a mental disorder in their life who caused them some personal distress. Having experienced both situations (a) and (b) I am completely able to empathise.

Owning one’s illness is a long series of steps, and this post represents another such step. I am in the first stages of planning a small speaking engagement to promote the book with Georgie and have also had initial discussions around presenting on mental illness to a library profession audience.

My life isn’t perfect and some days are harder than others, but even on the hardest of days I’ve developed an awareness that those struggles are temporary. Because of my choices around openness, I’ve heard from a lot of my fellow information professionals who sometimes struggle and are afraid to share. I’m here to say – you don’t have to share with everybody, but your working life will be better if you take a small risk and choose at least one person who you already get on well with who you can talk to them on a hard day.

*My set of swings and roundabouts has the mood characteristics of bipolar disorder (much improved since medication) with a type of social anxiety (much improved since therapy – about four years ago I had the exciting experience of being able to go shopping without having a panic attack) that a friend recently suggested to be related to OCD. As I spent my entire childhood avoiding stepping on cracks, making sure I put an alternate foot first over each such crack and working through a roughly 30-minute pattern on my fingers based on scales and arpeggios, I think she may have a point.

#blogjune 25: Blogjanarama: A tentative summary

I think I’m close enough to the end of the month to examine some of the benefits of this exercise for me, and I’m doing this before an INSANELY busy week happens.

Rather than faffing about with French baked objects I’ve used my tagcloud as an aide-memoire. This would be a different post had Helensville an authentic boulangerie, or had I gone to music practice at the Alliance Francaise last night (I didn’t) and asked them to recommend a late-night boulangerie in the central city area (I also didn’t). So what learning have I encountered?

 Themes.

I reminded myself further that I’m simply not into themes. I wouldn’t describe myself as incapable of them; certainly when writing some kind of memo, email or otherwise for work I stick very much to the point.

I started by declaring this the “month of superlatives”. It has only been so in that it’s been one of the bloggingest months of my life and the failingest theme this month on banjosinthestacks. I sometimes had similar levels of activity during the height of my engagement with livejournal, but not usually with a theme.*

I’ve also discussed this with other children’s librarians in relation to themes in programmes. One friend suggested that I “was the theme” in my storytime sessions. As much as a complement as that is, I think it’s overhyping my abilities, or at least misreading where they lie. I do engage well with young children, but my programmes are ultra-structured – I’ll have the same games and songs in the same order every time with differing books. This allows me to modify – pull elements in and out – in response to my energies, and the energies of the children on the day without having to have a think. I achieve infinite variety in the songs and games because I ask the children for elements such as the animals for “Old MacDonald”. I also pursue other themes, such as sharing joy, creativity, support, love and humour through modelled behaviours. Oh all right, and love of reading is in there too. It should be implicit.

So I don’t so much fail at theme as have more investment in structure, tone, style and participation as creating continuity between differing elements.

It is possible.

The same as I don’t see a point in theming, I don’t see a point, other than an exercise, in blogging every single day. As opinionated as I am I don’t feel a wish to find something to express a well thought-out, edited opinion every day. That being said, at this end of the month I have found that when I do blog, I prefer to do that editing and thinking rather than do “something quick”. Even yesterday’s dinner break post, one of my quicker that wasn’t just complaining, had two days of distributed discussion and occasional pondering behind it.

My shortest one I didn’t publicise except through RSS, which I acknowledged in the post. This in itself sparked a fun discussion.

Creative activity enhances wellbeing.

Readers who have been following for a while will have seen mention of insomnia. I tend to have this when I’ve a lot to think about, although this tends to be abstract topics such as “what are some useful models and modes of thought which can support engaged information literacy” and “if I listen to my new song fifity times in my head with my fingers twitching that’s the same as practicing it” rather than “the big boy next door called me names”. In fact I get on with Brett, my large and tough next door neighbour, rather well.

In the past I’ve tended to avoid engaging in writing about these topics or developing musical ideas at times when I should be sleeping because I haven’t wished to stimulate myself further. This month has convincingly demonstrated to me that fully engaging my creative faculties leads to better managed sleep patterns.

I can talk about information profession things.

While I am linked to a small handful of active projects at work presently, my main role right now is to explore and propose a definition and related useful functions for my role, knowing that other related roles and functions may or may not be changing.

A necessary process at for success in this task is the active avoidance of prejudicing the views of people one is seeking  input from. Admittedly this is impossible – in an organisation of capable people, nuances are as deftly derived from what isn’t said as what is said.

This isn’t to mention time factors. To speak to an informed and representative sample of an organisation, individual conversations must be limited. Interesting and compelling topics must be touched on then left aside for progress in the key tasks at hand to be made.

So, getting a place to talk about the information profession, the  theory that surrounds it and the wonderful culture that springs forth from it is a good thing.

So what?

So I’ll keep on letting structural and stylistic approaches serve as my themes and not worry about it. I’ll stop worrying that creative activity is something I risk using up, although I won’t blog every day. I think now that I’ve cleared a regular window in which writing happens I’ll allow some of that to happen in blog form, and some of that to happen in the many other writing projects  I’ve got sitting round on scraps of paper and in little files.

I’ll not only continue to share my infoculture thoughts, I’ve got some new people whose thoughts stimulate to share with to add to the wonderful, but less new, people. *waves*

And I’ll look forward to enjoying some good nights of kip.

*Bonus content: Three years, two months, twenty days, seventeen hours, fifty minutes and twenty-six seconds ago I shared** the following Beetle Bailey cartoon on my livejournal. I still think it’s a pretty hilarious statement for an ostensibly unironic newspaper toon:

Beetle Bailey loves them Goth girls

** If you hack me and find content you find uncomfortable, serves you right for being prurient.***

*** Also I will hack you back. Just saying.

#blogjune 23: Not sticking my neck out

And I mean that literally.

I’ve had a bit of problems with my back and neck over the last month, an adjustment to my new working environment exacerbated by a minor trip that had me flailing to protect my vitals. Note to self: a bruised tummy is better than twisting my spine through a complex three-dimensional path.

Things were improving nicely to a point with exercise and stretching to the point that my back was entirely remobilised, but it became apparent last week I’d need physio on my neck.

I’m pleased to say it looks like I’ll just need three sessions and maybe to pull my neck around a little bit, for which I’m grateful.

I’m supposed to keep checking myself to make sure I pull my neck in, so that it is as if my head and whole body are suspended from a thread.

Injuries of this nature can be very debilitating. I had a strain injury early in my career which fortunately I was able to recover from.

I’ve talked to many others experiencing similar illnesses, and they’ve reported social conflicts as being the hardest thing to deal with. Strain injuries cannot be seen from the outside and not everybody is able to believe in an injury they can see no evidence of. I consider myself fortunate that I was very much supported during that time.

The real hardship was mental. The discomfort from these kinds of injuries is constant rather than intermittent, and anybody who has had a bad back will know the inevitable drop in mood that constant pain can bring, even with the appropriate use of painkillers. With that mood drop, tunnel vision can set in and it’s possible to foresee a future in which the condition never ameliorates. Our posture tends to reflect our mood, which creates a vicious circle.

I’m lucky in that I have inherited from my mother an ability to judiciously turn medical advice into gospel. She, famously in our family, astounded her doctor when her high cholesterol rapidly normalised after he recommended a treatment regime. Her secret? She followed the medical advice – lifestyle components and all – to the letter.  According to some studies (abstract only) up to 80% of patients fail to do this, depending on the advice. I do the same, and so once I was working with a physio I attended to my posture and performed the stretching exercises he gave me at the frequencies he recommended.

I’m not advertising myself as a poster boy for anything here, by the way. For a start, I ought to give myself a break from typing about now.