There are two words that bother me greatly when I see, hear, or read them. They are: “Mental Illness”. Why does this wildly popular and acceptable term bother me so much? I’ll elaborate.
Quite a few of my friends are “mentally ill” at their own admittance, and those that aren’t, continue to use the phrase easily and without conviction. It’s just what people are known to be that have “mental problems”, right?
But who doesn’t have “mental problems”? Who hasn’t at some point broken down and cried? Who hasn’t felt afflicted spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, financially, health-wise or otherwise? How did it affect you as person? Did you feel defeated? Did you feel like giving up? Did you fret? Worry? Call people? Overeat? Not leave your house for the day? The week? Pace your floors? Cuss? Scream? Throw something? Drink? Drink more? (See where this is going?)
How do we differentiate between a person who is exhibiting (fatigue, duress, insomnia, depression and other) physiological manifestations -very natural responses to his or her sexual abuse or other traumas- combined with their chaotic environments, and a person who is exhibiting these signs when everything is hunky-dory?
One would be classified as appropriate behaviors given the circumstances, and the other would be classified as exhibiting psychological disorders. Both examples describe the same behaviors! But the environmental norms surrounding them separate the two.
If a person has been sexually abused and placed in a normal environment with siblings and other happy folks who have a swell life, there is no way the sexually abused person is going to behave in an expected manner. Who would behave at optimal performance in school, church, family gatherings, etc. after being sexually abused and having to “guard it” like Fort Knox gold? A person who tries to keep it together year after year will eventually break down while trying to process massive amounts of: guilt, anxiety, shame, anger, rage, confusion, blame, self-loathing, envy- the list is very long.
Given the circumstances, it’s actually very normal behavior to exhibit signs of distress, anxiety, anger, OCD-like tendencies, insomnia, night terrors, and other maladaptive behaviors that are associated with trauma. People who have not suffered these traumas do not understand and it is extremely unsettling for them that they do not have answers that they can file away, shelve, and dress up with a tidy bow so that it’s sorted out in their heads.
But there needs to be an understanding in this area that these odd behaviors are very normal for sexual abuse survivors. What wouldn’t be normal is having suffered sexual abuse (especially as a child) and then sailing through life with little or no behavioral quirks. I dislike the word disorder because I challenge anybody to say that surviving sexual abuse is a disorder.
It is a triumph. Sexual abuse is a violation like no other and people give medals to those in wars who have been violated less and call them heroes. Sexual abuse survivors fight in the battlefields of life, and there’s no hero’s welcome. There’s no parade. No medals. We have to be our own heroes and rescue ourselves from the collective trenches of societal stigma and hate bombs that others throw at us and that we throw at ourselves.
Being a sexual abuse survivor is like being locked in a dark, dirty cell and given 5,000 keys: Only one will unlock the door, and you have one hour to find the right one, or you could die! Doom. Doom doom doom! And lots of crying, worry, and fears that you will never find the right key in time.
But again, I reiterate that these horrible feelings are absolutely normal given the circumstances. We need to carefully select the words and labels we assign to people who have suffered such traumas. What if they believe you?!
God forbid I ever believe any labels that have been placed upon me in life. I would be the biggest mess in the world. But I have assigned healthier labels for myself: loving, compassionate, real, honest, valuable, happy. After all, I am the one who has to live with myself and why would I want to live with a pessimist?
The term mental illness came about in the 1800’s after various psychological perspectives disagreed on what actually defined a person to be mentally ill. Some believed that it was evil spirits. Some believed it was “psychogenic”, or psychologically induced, and others believed that it was somatogenic, or “of a biophysiological nature” (that’s a fancy way of saying “relating to your body” rather than your mental processes).
They locked “mentally ill” people up on psych wards and in chains where they were beaten and starved, or placed in a metal contraption that rendered them motionless for hours and days at a time. When the patients in these asylums exhibited paranoia, fear, depression, sleeplessness, excessive anxiety and other abuse-related behaviors (as a direct result of the abuse), their friends and families sadly accepted what the doctors had prescribed them all: mental illness.
Many of these patients were exhibiting very normal responses to being held against their wills and physically and psychologically abused. People were quick to swallow the ideology of “mental illness” because it satisfied their need to classify and understand what was happening to their family member.
In other words, people created the term “mental illness” to be able to better control individuals, societies, groups, and religious wars were often the fuel that kept these controversial fires burning. With the classification of mental illness, the acts of physical and emotional abuse on those who broke society’s norms were not only unpunishable; but sanctioned, approved, and rewarded!
Just as toxic as any sexual abuse is the belief by the victim that he or she is mentally ill, because somebody said so. This is such a powerful weapon of self-destruction, and only the act of sexual abuse itself is stronger.
We need to start tossing out terms like “mental illness”: those two words alone are TOXIC. I will never accept terms like “mental illness” and “psychological disorder”. Those are conceptual words made up by people who do not understand what it is like to live in a world with wild, technicolor vision. How about that?
How about, “I have a family member or friend who has really been through it, but they have still been able to [insert accomplishments here] despite their setbacks.”
It’s all about perception and presentation, and I think we owe one another a sum of decency as to how we present each other.
I wrote this post so that other sexual abuse survivors might gather strength and comfort. Know that there are others who have suffered the same things in life, but refuse to be labeled! You are who and what you believe you are.
You have to believe yourself into something positive, constructive, hopeful– and be fearless in your conquests! Be bold in who you are, and acknowledge that you are a survivor rather than a victim. And when you learn that, teach others that too. Choose positivity rather than negativity.
Those 5,000 keys?
They all open the door.
Things are incredibly stressful for me today. Right off the bat, I had to be at a business meeting first thing in the morning. I have an egotistical flea (who happens to be the owner of an art website) biting my &^% to appease his ego. I’ve never known anyone so full of him or herself, honestly. The guy blasted me publicly- which is defamation- and you better believe I’m gonna blast back. I don’t take slaps lightly.
When I reach a breaking point, and I just want to hang everything up- shut my door- and “retire from everything”, I go take pictures.
It gives me a great sense of control to be able to compose my environment; even master the very lighting around me.
I think every person wants to feel in control of his or her own life, down to their very eternal destination- if one believes in such.
To be able to “design my surroundings” by manually adjusting the controls- it’s far more rewarding than simply “pointing and shooting”.
I would have little joy as a photographer if I merely pointed and shot. Manually adjusting my exposure in-camera is an integral part of the bonding process with my equipment.
For me, it’s a must.
My head feels blasted in about five areas.
Nevertheless, I can’t simply sit around the house in pain and be pissed off.
So, I’m going to go out and take pictures.
Of what, I haven’t a clue.
I know of an online photo challenge and the theme is colour.
Perhaps I’ll go out and induct a spash of colour into my day…
If somebody were to have told me (twenty years ago) that I would be writing reports on drug prevention on a hot Friday night, I would have belted out a hearty laugh, followed by a shot of straight Tequila.
My typical Friday nights were spent in one of two ways:
a.) I was in church with my friends and family
b.) I was out running the streets, higher than a kite and no doubt on my way to becoming quite smashed.
Sometimes in that order.
If I didn’t puke, I generally wasn’t having a good time. This went on for a good twenty years. I suppose that my extensive experience on the subject fuels my passion for it. I know many people who think you can’t touch a drop to drink (or you’re a raging alkie) or that if you smoke a joint, you’re on your way to harder drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, seeing how pot is considered a “gateway drug”.
But I don’t think this is so. Many things change the brain’s chemistry and can cause addiction- not just drugs. I’ve had many Twinkie battles (when I had a chronic case of the munchies) and I was certain the Twinkie would win, but again, not so. Will power and a solid education go a long way. “Just Say No” simply doesn’t work, and the DARE program was an epic failure.
So what’s the answer?
I ponder these things. Drugs and alcohol littered my youth- they were my second skin.
Now, I haven’t smoked a joint in six years, and haven’t had hard liquor in six as well. I don’t care much for the taste of alcohol these days- that’s not to say I can’t have a beer or two, or a glass of wine with a salad. I just fell out of love with it, that’s all.
Photography has taken the place of drugs I believe. My art is satisfying enough for me.
When I’m excited- I take pics.
When I’m sad- I take pics.
When I’m stressed- I take pics.
When I’m angry- I take pics.
By doing so, I alleviate much of the stress associated with these intense emotions. I can add descriptions to my work so that the viewer can perhaps step into my shoes. It’s absolutely therapeutic. I remember the day I quit smoking cigarettes (six years ago also). I was wondering what in the world I would do when I was stressed. No weed- no whiskey- no smokes! Where’s the fun?!
Then I picked up a camera. 🙂
Maybe someday I’ll design a program for kids and teens, that incorporates “phototherapy” into their lives. It’s not too expensive- everybody has a camera these days, and they can express their pent up emotions through their art.
Good grief, am I really rambling on about drug prevention on a Friday night?!
Yes. I’m afraid I am…
And here’s the Executive Summary I turned in today:
(Copying, “borrowing”, or outright stealing this work for the use of plagiarism is absolutely prohibited and any breach of this written warning could result in prosecution.)
In 1983, Daryl F. Gates founded the Drug Abuse Resistance Program, or DARE. The program offered a ten week, in-school, interactive learning module taught by local law enforcement officers and others. Authorized workers and guest speakers were to undergo 80 hours of training in the areas of childhood development, communication skills, and other interpersonal tools. Funding for the organization was based on certain criteria being met: The information was to be research-based, and effective. In 1998, funding for the program was cut as a result of failing to meet the required regulations. The Department of Education (DOE) has withdrawn from the program completely and refuses to give DARE any future funding. Recent scientific studies have proven DARE to not only be ineffective, but counterproductive as well. It is difficult to say whether the law enforcement officers’ lack of therapeutic qualifications played a part in the failure of DARE’s program. Perhaps it was a combination of factors that simply weren’t cohesive. Some of the teenagers in the program may have viewed the police officers as a threat. It is a fair assessment to say that minorities and inner-city kids may have been preconditioned to fear police officers, especially if they might have been told the same division put a parent or family member behind bars. Perhaps too, the overexposure to a variety of drugs gave the young DARE members more temptations than they might have had without the program.
Attempts at primary prevention education have been challenging over the years as well. Targeting grade-schoolers, many programs have used catchy slogans, such as, “Just Say No,” without reaping necessary and expected benefits. A major problem with this technique that must be taken into consideration is the exposure to a host of new drugs that many children are not aware of beforehand. By announcing the dangers of these items, children are being tantalized and seduced by an idea, “the forbidden fruit”.
Scare tactics is another method that has been ineffective. When presenting exaggerated effects of drugs to children and teens, but especially teens, they will often discredit the material altogether. When teenagers are shown dramatic images of horrific drug-related events, the emotional connection and fear are more temporal than long lasting. Children lack the foresight to understand what 20 years of hard drinking may do to the body, even knowing, he or she may not care. Connecting with these kids on his or her level is crucial. Targeting a demographic is necessary, but so is having the precision and ability to actually reach these children.
Another aspect to consider when using scare tactics is the often romantic appeal of a thing when it is presented as “off limits”. That is not to say legalization of drugs or underage drinking should be an option, but perhaps emphasizing nausea as an effect, rather than euphoria, may tarnish its overall attraction. The effects of drug and alcohol use are tempting to children and teens because they like to feel good. Toddlers spin in circles to mimic euphoria, even before they are old enough to form sentences, much less understand the concept of drugs and alcohol and their effects on the body. No matter how well packaged or distributed antidrug campaigns may be, unless the parents or caregivers of the child are reinforcing, in the home, what he or she is learning in school, the whole of it will be counterproductive.
Programs like the Child Development Project (CDP) have been shown to significantly reduce drinking and drug use among adolescents and teens between the ages of 5-12. The CDP strives to promote closer bonds between students and their peers, teachers and students, and students and parents. Another useful prevention program is Class Action, which is a universal school-based alcohol-related learning module. Class Action targets children between the ages of 9-12. This program in particular has proven to reduce the onset of drinking among school kids, and has reduced binge drinking among high school students.
One reason for the success of Class Action is the interactive peer-led relationships between the students and their mentors, or speakers. The representatives focus on turning negative peer pressure into positive peer pressure; thereby changing the messages of alcohol uses and abuse altogether. Students who heed the warnings will perceive drinking as something that might be shunned by their peers, in turn, molding their choices into healthier actions. Unlike DARE, which is a tertiary prevention program, the CPD and Class Action are primary and secondary prevention programs.
Avoid using scare tactics in secondary and tertiary prevention programs. The fear-related material can be effective in creating a necessary protective boundary in grade-schoolers. The same fear may compound stress in teenagers, causing them to actually want to try drugs or alcohol, and the same could be said in tertiary programs. Scare tactics are best used during primary prevention, when children are most impressionable.
Avoid using law enforcement officers in secondary and tertiary prevention programs. They may induce rebellion in teens, and resentment among addicts. Again, law enforcement officers are presented and often perceived as “the good guys” to grade-schoolers. A two step interactive transitional program is recommended that would bridge the gap from grade-school over to middle school, and then middle school to high school, promoting the positive images of law enforcement officers. Telling children to “stay away from bad things” simply does not work. Law enforcement officers would be encouraged to engage in activities that children and teens participate in most: gaming, texting, and hanging out at their favorite hot spots.
Abstinence rewards in school is another recommendation.
Reward middle and high school students who abstain from alcohol and drugs.
Develop a program specifically for middle and high school students offering monthly voluntary drug testing. Rather than spend money on building more incarceration facilities, increase funding for voluntary drug testing in schools. Rewards include: Ipods, clothing cards from their local malls, and ITunes cards that allow unlimited downloading of songs. By associating positive material gain (rewards) with abstinence, the fear and anxiety associated with drug testing would be diminished, if not altogether diffused, and kids and teens would develop an appreciation for drug testing that could possibly carry over into adulthood. Just as word-of-mouth among peer groups is drugs and alcohol’s number one promoter, so too, the Abstinence Reward Program (ARP) could be widely spread and promoted by peers among peers.
Catwalk/My daughter, Heidi./Lensbaby Composer pro-Double Glass Ops./Manual ex./RAW/GIMP