Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Know Why People Go Off Their Medication

Luckily--or unluckily if you ask my wife--my medication has had no sexual side effects. It has however slowed down my creative process. Being unable to write feels a lot like being backed up sexually, which is incredibly frustrating because--maybe unless you ask my regular readers--there is no writing equivalent to masturbation.

 A common reason for going off of medication is the belief that you are 'cured' or somehow in a place to handle things yourself. This is not true of course; your wiring is faulty and you need the drugs. Other side effects can also cause a person to go off their meds.

 My meds seem to be working, more or less. There was a rough patch earlier in the month, but I weathered that. It was frustrating when it happened because I had hoped that the meds would make me permanently normal, so when I took a dip it was disheartening, but it wasn't too bad of a dip.

 I've only written two essays this month. This will make the third. That's not a good feeling. I think my writing comes from the same place as my illness. Subduing my chaos also muted my creativity; I had become comfortable in the swirl of emotional chaos I was living in, and now I've got to get used to doing things more deliberately.

 Maybe my writing will be slower but more coherent? Who knows. Regardless, I know why people go off their meds. One becomes nostalgic for their place of origin, even if that place of origin looks a lot like hell. We're pattern seeking animals after all, and even chaos has its patterns.

 Here's to hoping I can continue to adjust to the sane world. Things look promising, I just have to ignore that small voice telling me to go back to the devil I know.


Friday, September 20, 2013

It's Almost Autumn

Let's listen to Pink Moon all the way through, hang out in old graveyards, and drink hot apple cider.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Atheists Should Meet Theists Where They Are At

[re-posted from November 2012]

We have a saying in social work: 'Meet them where they're at'. This means, essentially, that we know where this person needs to end up in order to be healthy, but they are currently participants in a lifestyle or worldview that only allows for gradual progress. Embrace the whole person, and pick your 'learning opportunities' wisely.

I endorse a version of this approach when it comes to interacting with the religious as well.

The difference between the version of this approach employed by atheists interacting with religious folks and social workers interacting with their clientele is first and foremost that a religious person is not necessarily unhealthy. In many cases, the religious person may be far healthier than the atheist. They may be far closer to self actualization, and performing far closer to their peak capacity. They may be more intelligent, happier, funnier, and kinder. Their worldviews are just couched in a falsehood.

The atheist has to ask themselves first and foremost, what can I learn from this other human being that I am interacting with? Their religious views do not discredit the entirety of their worldview, or reduce them to the content of their religious views. The first thing the atheist must do is to find what is human about the religious person they are interacting with. The faithful are often advised to 'look for god in the person', and this is essentially my advice, substituting the word 'god' for the phrase 'what is human'. Religion is a very human thing. It is an understandable human phenomenon. What leads a person to religious belief? Often it is a personal desire to have their life make sense in a holistic kind of way. Often it is the reaction to stress and uncertainty. Often it is simply a framework that is learned in childhood that evolves along with the person as they grow into adults. It is human, and it is something we as atheists should be able to identify with.

Why? Because we are meaning-seeking creatures too. Atheism, as I have discussed in the past on this blog, is not enough. We need more. In our own attempts to determine what that 'more' is going to be, we should be able to sympathize with folks who have discovered a 'more' that works for them, even if it is one that we view to be wrongheaded.

It is from the framework of the 'more' that we need to view our religious brothers and sisters. So they believe in a god and follow a religion. What does this god and religion compel them to do? Does it compel them to contribute to their community? Does it compel them to be kind to their families, their neighbors, and animals? If so, then their motivation should become secondary to their actions in our consideration.

If on the other hand, their religion can be seen to feed into negative and harmful traits, it will need to be confronted at its root. Religious views that lead people to view benign and natural human orientations like homosexuality as 'sinful', or views that advocate for the genital mutilation of children, or refusal to receive blood transfusions, or patriarchal and racist views, will need to be challenged.

First and foremost, we have to encounter each other as human beings, not as infidels in need of conversion or conquer. That M.O. is better suited to the religious fundamentalist than it is the atheist humanist.

I am writing this as much for myself as I am anyone else. I am a white male American. I live in the suburbs and am married to a woman. Atheism is one of the only traits that puts me in the minority. If there is anything that has become obvious lately, white male Americans living in the suburbs are uncomfortable being minorities. So perhaps in the past I have been overly aggressive (read: defensive) in my interactions with religious folks, and perhaps I've discounted many because of their beliefs. After I gave up religion, many of my friends went from being 'My friend ______' to 'My Christian friend ___________'.  That was wrong.

I don't believe in God. I am glad that people find cause to do good in their religion, but I think there are plenty of non-religious reasons to do good. I tend to believe that people do good because they are good, and that my religious friends--in spite of their insistance otherwise--would be good without god. Perhaps even better.

I also don't want to sound like I'm discouraging discussion. Discussion and debate are very important. I'm writing this--as much for myself as for anyone else--as a call not to lose sight of the human heart when approaching a person with a different outlook than your own. I can't tell you how many times I have heard my views cynically rationalized away by christians who would not allow for the fact that I have honestly arrived at the conclusions I have. I've been told I had made a choice not to accept God into my life. The idea that I had just discovered that there had never actually been such a divine invitation was just not something they could consider. I've been told I didn't properly understand christianity, and that is why I am an atheist. I've been told that I am 'taking the easy road'. All of these cynical responses to my belief system irk me, but really, how much more generous am I when considering the beliefs of the religious? Often, not much.

So yes, it would be great if all of this god nonsense was behind us. Evidence indicates that it's on its way to being so. In the meantime, however, do I really need to go around trying to beat it out of people? Leaving religion is a big deal, and it leaves a huge vacuum in a person's life. I can tell you this from personal experience. Is it responsible to try to take this core out of people and not stick around to help them rebuild something sturdier?

Better to seek common ground, I'm coming to believe. There are plenty of atheists out there whose sole concern is removing 'in god we trust' from our money, and making sure that there are no nativity displays on public grounds. I have much more in common with christians, jews, and muslims who are motivated to help the poor and homeless than I do these privileged misanthropes. Better to work with them--and my fellow atheist humanists also similarly focused--and actually make a meaningful contribution to the welfare of my fellow primates.

I'd rather role up my sleeves and build something with people looking in a common direction, and leave the theological discussions for pleasant post-project coffee talk.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Excerpts From a Mind on the Mend

If I had cancer, I would understand my relationship to that cancer with my brain. If I had diabetes, I would understand my relationship to it with my brain. There is something wrong with my brain. How am I supposed to understand that? With my foot?

Suicide is a thing that is always waiting to suggest itself to me. Other people have problems and struggles in their lives, but not all of them turn directly to thoughts of suicide when things go awry. Suicide is the perennial salesman, always on the bullet point.

I don't know how to explain my salesman passenger to other people who don't carry the same passenger. I guarantee you, if you do not have the passenger, there is nothing I could say to explain it to you. If you do have the passenger, there's nothing else I need to say.

I guess there is a loneliness to being down, because the only comfort I can find when I am down is to seek out art created by folks who know what it's like to be down. Nothing direct helps lift me up. I am only lifted by catharsis. There is a song by Florence and the Machine called Never Let Me Go that is a romantic ode to drowning that has kept me afloat lately. I listen to it over and over again and really know what it means. I don't think my disease would be bearable without art.

Similarly, I also have to write. I mean I have to write. Otherwise it knots up inside of me and makes me too heavy to do anything. I have demons that I have to answer to. Some of them are beautiful and some of them are horrible. I use the beautiful demons to chase away the horrible ones. Sometimes it is all I can do to remain functional.

I'm coming out of a fog lately. The medication I have been on has been working pretty well, but there are still cycles. Luckily, I have been able to take some time off of work in order to sort these things out. It's something I need to do every now and then. I feel tender. I wince at human contact. I'm going to grow stronger if I am patient with myself, I know, but it's a matter of waiting. One does not simply walk out of Mordor.

I know it may be unwise to share these things with you, but I'm not the only person with demons out here. Life can be a cold business and it is inherently without meaning. We have to create our own meaning and share our meaning with each other. We all carry this life around on our back, and it is good to share our loads. It's good to let others who have a similar load that you know what it is like bend beneath the weight. At least I think that's true. It has helped me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

10 Reasons to Kill Yourself

  [re-posted from May, 2013]

I have experienced very black depressions, and know how hard it is to get help when you are in such a state. I have pet the black-eyed dog Winston Churchill and Nick Drake wrote about. It has sat on my lap. Its breath is horrible.

There are few places you can find solace when the dog pays a visit. Few places, that is, if you're lucky. There is very little that resonates. At least for me, certain music could touch me; Nine Inch Nails has shooed the dog away for me before. So has John Berryman's poetry. Kay Redfield Jamison has also helped. But there's not much out there that can do the job; the writing is either too sanitary or too hopeful. When I am with the dog--when his scent overpowers everything else in the room--upbeat motivational speeches don't do me any good. If anything, they make things worse.

When I told my wife I was going to write a blog post called '10 Reasons to Kill Yourself', she cringed. But then I explained my thinking to her; to reach someone in a deep depression, you have to know the terrain. Those of us who have been there know, so it is on us to reach out to each other in a language we can understand.

I thought it would be worthwhile to collect a bunch of reasons in favor of suicide, and then demonstrate that there are actually better reasons not to commit suicide. For example; there is no God, therefore life is meaningless. But if there is no God, then you are actually presented with an opportunity to create your own meaning. I would flesh these little bullet points out, of course, but you get the point. Then it occurred to me that this gimmick would  be too transparent, and may only irritate a person in a deep depression. It would read like too many evangelical pamphlets that present straw man arguments for atheism and then proceed to knock them down with spurious logic.

So I am writing this instead. Maybe it is best just to lay my intentions bare and see what comes from them? When I started my recovery from alcoholism, it wasn't the AA or NA manual that provided me with the most sustenance; it was Richard Lewis's book The Other Great Depression. He wrote about things I understood from his personal vantage point. It surprised me how similar our vantage points were, too. As I began to come to terms with my mental illness, it was Kay Redfield Jamison and William Styron that made sense to me, and made me feel I wasn't alone.

Maybe just writing about our experiences are enough. So that's what I'm doing.

I already have two chihuahuas that I love, and two dogs are enough for me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Different Types of Hunger

Schopenhauer warns against filling our heads with too many other-people's-thoughts, so we can have room for our own.

This seems true, but my soul is always hungry--as an atheist I use the word 'soul' creatively--and I am constantly looking for new thoughts, ideas, feelings to spread throughout my being.

I think Schopey is right, but there is such a thing as not filling your head with enough other-people's-thoughts too. Your brain and soul can become dumb and your own thoughts will become inbred and deformed--looking like the members of the royal family that they keep in the basement--if you don't let your being breath in the air created by other lungs regularly enough.

I don't know how to strike the right balance, but I am always hungry. Always ready to eat. I wake up and think 'what is for breakfast?' and as soon as I begin eating I am already fantasizing about lunch. After lunch, it seems like forever until dinner, and dinner is always over far too soon.

Currently, I'm gorging on William S. Burroughs.  I have been reading nothing but his work for a month now. I have read 'The Cat Inside', 'Junky', and 'Queer', and loved them. I have also read 'Nake Lunch', and enjoyed parts of it--a few good nightmare landscapes in there--but overall left with the sensation that it was the product of the author masturbating into a typewriter. I am currently reading half-heartedly through 'The Soft Machine'. I'm not crazy about the cut-up method. I wish Burroughs would have stuck more with straight-forward narrative. I'm holding out more hope for his late trilogy, 'Exterminator!', and 'Interzone'.

What brought me to Burroughs? I don't know, but I was hard up before I arrived at him. When I get into an author and there is a good match, I like to eat all of his works. I say 'his works' sadly, because I seem to gravitate mostly towards male writers. White male writers, to be precise. White dead male writers, to be even more on point. Maybe I don't like the competition element that might exist between me and living authors. Maybe I feel safer interacting with folks who can no longer hurt me or let me down.

I can already sense the anxiety building. I'll be done with 'Soft Machine' soon, and will need to go out and purchase all of Burroughs' other works. When I'm done with his limited output, I don't know what I'll read. Before Burroughs I was nuts about Alan Moore's run in Swamp Thing, and before that I read all of Kay Redfield Jamison's books (a girl! A living girl!).

There are two ways to over-do it with other-people's-thoughts: to have no compulsion at all towards them, and to rely on them completely. Both orientations--one is to be found in the uneducated plebian, the other is to be found in the over-educated scholar--are caused by the same sin: a total lack of creativity and a fear of conversion.

Creativity may be an inborn gift, so maybe there's nothing to say about that. But the fear of conversion--that's a shame, baby. Why wouldn't you want a little bit of me in you? I think we go well together. I know I wouldn't mind a little bit of you in me.