Entries Tagged 'Manic-Depression' ↓

Antipsychiatry playlist

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 13 of 52.

Here’s a playlist of thirteen songs I like with antipsychiatry themes. If you aren’t familiar with the topic, this post of mine from two weeks ago is as good a place to start as any.

I ordered the playlist not in any ranking, but in a sequence I find enjoyable for listening, akin to a mixtape from the days of old. I added very broad genre tags to each title; such categorizations are infinitely debatable, which can get boring. I simply put the tags there to aid hurried people who might prefer not to invest a lot of time trying out a type of music they hate.

After each youtube embed, you’ll find the song’s lyrics and then a paragraph from me commenting on the music. If you can suggest any additional entries for the playlist, please do so in the comments. Enjoy!

1. Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” live in Seattle 1989, originally from their 1986 album Master of Puppets. Genre: Heavy Metal

Welcome to where time stands still
No one leaves and no one will
Moon is full, never seems to change
Labeled mentally deranged
Dream the same thing every night
I see our freedom in my sight
No locked doors, no windows barred
No things to make my brain seem scarred

Sleep my friend and you will see
That dream is my reality
They keep me locked up in this cage
Can't they see it's why my brain says "rage"

Sanitarium, leave me be
Sanitarium, just leave me alone

Build my fear of what's out there
Cannot breathe the open air
Whisper things into my brain
Assuring me that I'm insane
They think our heads are in their hands
But violent use brings violent plans
Keep him tied, it makes him well
He's getting better, can't you tell?

No more can they keep us in
Listen, damn it, we will win
They see it right, they see it well
But they think this saves us from our hell

Sanitarium, leave me be
Sanitarium, just leave me alone
Sanitarium, just leave me alone
 
Fear of living on
Natives getting restless now
Mutiny in the air
Got some death to do
Mirror stares back hard
Kill, it's such a friendly word
Seems the only way
For reaching out again

I must have listened to “Sanitarium” a million times in middle and high school. (I’ve never heard a metalhead call this song “Welcome Home”; everyone just calls it “Sanitarium,” an old term for psychiatric hospital.) The live footage above is from Metallica’s peak period, no doubt accelerated by, not psych drugs, but the recreational kind. It’s nice to see Lars Ulrich putting in effort on the drums, unlike in recent decades. The lyrics portray well how psychiatrists typically just make things worse, leading their locked up patients to resent them and fire back, a doomed dance so long as genuine help remains drowned out by corporate volume. But it’s a little silly to imagine hospitalized patients staging a rebellion; realistically, people confined in in-patient settings are far too drugged and beaten down to resist much, and meanwhile, getting with the program, or pretending to, is how patients get discharged. I once saw a tall, muscular black patient repeatedly insist, for days, to the staff that he didn’t like how he was being treated. He talked with other patients, suggesting that they too speak up. The other patients kept their distance; plenty of patients in general nowadays say their hospitalizations are helpful, comparing them to worse family/friend situations instead of to what’s possible if people just tried. Anyway, the staff kept giving the outspoken black man Thorazine pills, and as far as I ever saw, he was made sluggish, tamping down on his efforts. Back to the song, I like Kirk Hammett’s melodic guitar solos early on. The fast section ending this tune, like the equivalent fast section ending many metal songs, sounds good, though a bit generic to me. A frenzied solo plays and cymbals bang, as more or less as expected. Thankfully the underlying chord progression is dramatic and enjoyable.

2. Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” the single from their 1983 self-titled debut album Suicidal Tendencies. Genre: Metal/Punk crossover

Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn't work out the way I want it to.
And I get real frustrated and, like, I try hard to do it and I, like, take my time and it doesn't work out the way I want it to.
It's like I concentrate on it real hard but it just doesn't work out.
And everything I do and everything I try, it never turns out.
It's like, I need time to figure these things out.
But there's always someone there going: "Hey Mike, you know, we've been noticing you've been having a lot of problems lately, you know? Maybe you should get away and, like, maybe you should talk about it, you'll feel a lot better."
And I go: "No, it's okay, you know. I'll figure it out, just leave me alone, I'll figure it out, you know. I'm just working on myself."
And they go: "Well you know, if you want to talk about it, I'll be here, you know. And you'll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it. So why don't you talk about it?"
I go: "No, I don't want to, I'm okay, I'll figure it out myself."
But they just keep bugging me, and they just keep bugging me, and it builds up inside.

So you're gonna be institutionalized
You'll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes
You won't have any say
They'll brainwash you until you see their way.
I'm not crazy — Institution
You're the one that's crazy — Institution
You're driving me crazy — Institution
They stuck me in an institution,
Said it was the only solution,
to give me the needed professional help,
to protect me from the enemy: myself.

I was in my room and I was just, like, staring at the wall thinking about everything,
But then again, I was thinking about nothing.
And then my mom came in and I didn't even know she was there.
She called my name and I didn't hear her and then she started screaming: "MIKE! MIKE!"
And I go: "What, what's the matter?"
She goes: "What's the matter with you?"
I go: "There's nothing wrong, Mom."
She goes: "Don't tell me that, you're on drugs!"
I go: "No Mom, I'm not on drugs, I'm okay, I'm just thinking you know, why don't you get me a Pepsi?"
She goes: "No, you're on drugs!"
I go: "Mom I'm okay, I'm just thinking."
And she goes: "No, you're not thinking, you're on drugs! Normal people don't be acting that way!"
I go: "Mom, just get me a Pepsi, please. All I want is a Pepsi."
And she wouldn't give it to me.
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me.
Just a Pepsi.

They give you a white shirt with long sleeves
Tied around you're back, you're treated like thieves
Drug you up because they're lazy
It's too much work to help a crazy.
I'm not crazy Institution
You're the one who's crazy  Institution
You're driving me crazy  Institution
They stuck me in an institution,
Said it was the only solution,
to give me the needed professional help,
to protect me from the enemy: myself.

I was sitting in my room and my mom and my dad came in, and they pulled up a chair and they sat down.
They go: 'Mike, we need to talk to you."
And I go: "Okay, what's the matter?"
They go: 'Me and your mom have been noticing lately that you've been having a lot of problems, and you've been going off for no reason and we're afraid you're going to hurt somebody, and we're afraid you're going to hurt yourself! So we decided that it would be in you're best interest if we put you somewhere where you could get the help that you need."
And I go: "Wait, what are you talking about, WE decided!? MY best interests?! How do you know what MY best interest is? How can you say what MY best interest is? What are you trying to say, I'M crazy? When I went to YOUR schools, I went to YOUR churches, I went to YOUR institutional learning facilities?! So how can you say I'm crazy?'

They say they're gonna fix my brain
Alleviate my suffering and my pain
But by the time they fix my head
Mentally I'll be dead.
I'm not crazy  Institution
You're the one who's crazy  Institution
You're driving me crazy  Institution
They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
to give me the needed professional help,
to protect me from the enemy: myself.

Doesn't matter, I'll probably get hit by a car anyways.

Unfortunately I never really checked out Suicidal Tendencies besides this one particular song, an MTV hit in its day. The lyrics are probably pretty relatable for many teenagers even today. One of the interesting facts about severe mental health problems is that they usually begin — plenty of exceptions, but usually — during adolescence, when people are expected to transition from childhood to “adulthood,” which is what we call complicity with corporations and their ancillaries (such as the education system) and the adoption of non-philosophies like Don’t think too hard, don’t care too much, get a job any job. There are a lot of ways to bail on this “adulthood,” and one of them is to develop the semi-involuntary, semi-voluntary capability to escape into altered states, especially when suffering extreme emotions, a kind of “non-compliance” with the corporate/military world that surrounds everyone. Thus fittingly, the lyrics of “Institutionalized”, and many other songs on this list, portray characters’ teenage years. I don’t know much about singer Mike Muir, who formed the band as a teen himself, but his vocalizations of the run-on sentence lyrics sound like he lived something like the lyrics describe, see for instance his use of psych industry jargon with the phrase “institutional learning facility.” Musically, I like the dramatic tension created by the chromatic chord progression in the chorus, chords going up and down over and over by just a half step. There’s also a neat bit on the electric guitar that’s easy to miss between about 1:34 and about 1:40, palm-muted arpeggios, I think in the middle of the guitar neck, that sound really dissonant and abnormal/deviant (insane) for a song’s verse section. I also like how in the music video, Muir’s bandmates in their eye-catching white car function as his rescuers; Muir’s existential answers rest with them, and at the video’s close, in the front passenger seat, he rides off with his comrades into the night.

3. Dead Kennedys’ “Insight” from their 1987 album Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death. Genre: Punk

Who's that kid in the back of the room?
Who's that kid in the back of the room?
He's setting all his papers on fire
He's setting all his papers on fire
Where did he get that crazy smile?
Where did he get that crazy smile?
We all think he's really weird
We all think he's really weird

We never talk to him
He never looks quite right
He laughs at us, we just beat him up
What he sees escapes our sight
Sight!

We never see him with the girls
We never see him with the girls
He's talking to himself again
He's talking to himself again
Why doesn't he want tons of friends?
Why doesn't he want tons of friends?
Says he's bored when we hang around
Says he's bored when we hang around

We never talk to him
He never looks quite right
He laughs at us, we just beat him up
What he sees escapes our sight
Sight!

We're all planning our careers
We're all planning our careers
We're all planning our careers
He says we're growing old

I really like this song. It’s short, like so many Dead Kennedys and punk songs in general are. Having grown up on metal, I’m always like, “Where’s the guitar solo?” Anyway, check out the lyrics: they’re told from the perspective of the conformist teens at school, who can’t fathom someone who gets “bored” with them and doesn’t need “tons of friends.” The chorus has some good musical humor that matches the lyrics, not just singer Jello Biafra’s goofy modulation of the word “sight” (right after “escapes our”), but that bass line too. I’m not sure how to characterize it, except both the bass line and the guitar chords in the background are really Beginner 101 stuff musically, and that serves to highlight the stupid conformity of the song’s narrators. Jello Biafra dancing around like a goofball on stage makes it even more indicting somehow… a little like their improvised(?) live song “Night of the Living Rednecks” from Portland Oregon in 1979 — which also mentions pretending to be a mental patient. Back to “Insight,” a quick dissonant chord progression ends the song, with Biafra’s lyrics hitting a usual point for him, the barrenness of careerism.

4. Daniel Mackler’s “The Psych Med Song” from his 2009 album Songs from the Locked Ward. Genre: Folk

Prozac Buspar Xanax too
Haloperidol for you
Zoloft Zyban Trazodone
Antabuse and Methadone

If neuroleptics make you shake
then Benztropine you must take
They profit from the drugs they sell
From the side effects as well

Thorazine Amphetamine
Luvox Carbamazapine
Clozapine and Stelazine
Protripyline lamotrigine

Valium and Ativan
viagra for the modern man
But now some ladies take it too
Off-label is good for you!

Abilify and Mellaril
Klonopin Anafrinil
Naltrexone oxazepam
Rozerem triazolam

Celexa went generic, oh
So let's brand name it Lexapro
Tweak the formula a touch
Sells for thirty times as much

Venlafaxine Doxepin
Benificat and Ambien
Cymbalta and Adderall
Serzone and Propanolol

Bupropion does not sound fun
So market it as Wellbutrin
If its drug name makes you chafe
Change its name so it sounds safe

Effexor and Vistaril
Lunesta and Tofranil
Librium and Nembutal
Zeldox Phenobarbital

It takes a town to raise a kid
But barring that there’s Ritalin
Pills are good for kids I know
The FDA it told me so

Topomax and Trilafon
Depakote and Geodon
Methylin Modafinil
Dexedrine and Dogmatil

Lobotomy has since evolved
Nowadays there’s Risperdal
Zyprexa shrinks a monkey’s brain
You tell me now who’s insane

Nardil Paxil Elavil
Prolixin and Seroquel
Moban Marplan and Navane
Benadryl and Loxitane

Lithium will soothe your mood
If it doesn’t poison you
If you think they’re danger free
Buy the Brooklyn Bridge from me

Mirtazipine Nortriptyline
Procyclidine fluphenazine
Eldepryl and Loxapine
Flurazepam Desipramine
Symmetrel Reboxetine
Halcion Trimipramine 

La la la—la la la
La la la la la la….

“The Psych Med Song” is quite charming, the lyrics and the video both. The rhythm guitar parts are simple and clean, and over them the song has that little silly cute melody on the thin strings (reminding me somehow of the goofy beep melodies in Kraftwerk’s 1981 song “Pocket Calculator“). “The Psych Med Song” really shows what a musician can accomplish by merely using a flawless, even if simple, chord progression chugging away in the background, a nice memorable melody on the guitar repeating a few times (toward the end with harmony), and then clever lyrics with quality singing. The subject is something Mackler knows intimately from over a decade of experience as a therapist and documentary filmmaker, so that clearly touches his singing, and you can hear it in his voice.

5. Daniel Mackler’s “Bullshit” from his 2009 album Songs from the Locked Ward. Genre: Folk

They tell me my problem’s genetic,
I'm born with a flaw in my brain
They tell me I need medication,
and force me to bury my pain

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

Their pills make me shaky and sweaty,
I fear that they’re breaking my will
They told me that this is quite normal,
and added another new pill

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They put me inside a straitjacket,
they locked me inside of a cage
They inject me with Haldol to calm me,
yet wonder why I'm full of rage.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They give me a shrink I can talk to,
but she is just spiritually dead.
She only repeats the same question:
“Are you still taking your meds?”

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They forcefed me E. Fuller Torrey,
But he is sadistic and gross.
I asked them about Peter Breggin,
They replied by increasing my dose.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

Their studies are so scientific,
and based on assiduous work.
But they don’t share their affiliations
with Lilly and Janssen and Merck.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

They absolve all of my traumatizers,
the horrors that they did to me.
They tell me to put it behind me,
and say that I need ECT.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

I said I think I can recover,
And taper off all of these meds.
They tell me that’s just my delusion,
An illness that lives in my head.

Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles and miles
Bullshit, bullshit, I’ve learned to smell bullshit from miles

A very combative song here from Daniel Mackler. His three songs in this playlist are all available on his 2009 album, which I still need to purchase myself. The rhythm guitar on “Bullshit” plays along steadily in the song’s background, like in “The Psych Med Song,” except instead of 4/4 time, “Bullshit” is in 6/4, sounding akin to a music box. I like the descending scalar runs from the lead guitar; it fits the 6/4 time somehow, like we’re placed into this dreamy world, except it’s not a good one; it’s the rose-tinted glasses dreamy world of conventional psychiatry, where if you just keep taking your “meds,” everything will be fine, no need to question or research who came up with the chemical imbalance theory and what the arguments for and against it are. The lyrics do a great, concise job of explaining why just going along with everything is bullshit and what’s really at stake.

6. Daniel Mackler’s “Little Bottles” from his 2009 album Songs from the Locked Ward. Genre: Folk

Little bottles in the cabinet
Little bottles full of chemicals
Little bottles from the doctor
Little bottles for your head.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

There's Zyprexa and there's Prozac
And Ritalin and lithium
And Xanax and Risperidal
And the MAOIs
They're for depression and bipolar
And anxiety and schizophrenia
And for panic and for smoking and PTSD.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

But the people who take them
Often get all sorts of funny side effects
Like twitching and weight gain
And some things that are worse
Like loss of feelings
And loss of passion
Loss of focus and no erections
And addictions and heart disease
And sometimes suicide.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

Yet the shrinks all recommend them
With their thousand-dollar consultations
But you should trust them
Because after all, half the shrinks take them too

Numb the symptoms, ditch the therapy,
Support the pharmaceutical industry
Deny the traumas that caused the misery
And pass them all on to your kids.

There's a green pill
And a pink pill
and a blue pill
and a yellow pill
And they're all made out of chemicals
And they make you feel good.

“Little Bottles” is very sad… It’s amazing how much can be accomplished with that simple rhythm guitar in the background (now mostly in 3/4 time), a singer singing of something he’s very experienced with and passionate about, and that repetition of There’s a green pill / And a pink pill / and a blue pill / and a yellow pill. When all is said and done, when all the fancy corporate science studies and voted-into-existence diagnostic codes and abusive legal jargon are over with, once we’ve finally finished hearing the multisyllabic vocabulary from above, then the traumatized person is left alone in the bathroom with a bottle of green pills, pink pills, blue pills to swallow… a ritual that says, You can’t take care of your mind without these, plus all the adverse side effects and no understanding of why extreme, altered emotional experiences are happening to the patients and increasingly more and more of humanity. Continuing to “Deny the traumas that caused the misery” will have really bad long-term consequences for everyone. Thankfully via Twitter and other sources, everyone can see people really risking themselves to improve the world, from climate activist Greta Thunberg to the numerous examples amplified by @YourAnonCentral (see also @yaccreate for solely good news). We can learn things to try out ourselves; we can empower ourselves.

7. Daniel Johnston’s “The Story of an Artist” from his 1982 album Don’t Be Scared. Genre: Lo-fi, outsider

(I don't know.
It's like when you go to read your own poetry
And you get all choked up.)

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold.

Everyone and friends and family
Saying, "Hey, get a job!
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?"

"We don't really like what you do
We don't think anyone ever will.
It's a problem that you have,
And this problem's made you ill."

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old.
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold.

The artist walks alone
Someone says behind his back,
"He's got his gall to call himself that!
He doesn't even know where he's at."

The artist walks among the flowers
Appreciating the sun.
He does this all his waking hours
But is it really so wrong?

They sit in front of their TVs.
Saying, "Hey, this is fun!"
And they laugh at the artist,
Saying, "He doesn't know how to have fun."

The best things in life are truly free.
Singing birds and laughing bees.
You got me wrong, says he.
The sun don't shine in your TV.

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old.
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold.

Everyone and friends and family.
Saying, "Hey, get a job!
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?"

"We don't really like what you do
We don't think anyone ever will
It's a problem that you have
And this problem's made you ill."

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others just like to watch the world.

“The Story of an Artist” is the only song I know by Daniel Johnston. He died in 2019; he was diagnosed with manic-depression and spent time in psychiatric hospitals. There’s a documentary about him that I haven’t seen. The lyrics are great. They make me want to spend more time outdoors instead of at my day job… The music, well, it reminds everyone that technical ability — so often prioritized to the exclusion of everything else by music teachers, music schools, etc. — is really not that important compared with creating/performing from the heart.

8. The Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist” from their 2000 debut album Since I Left You. Genre: Electronica

(Mr Kirk:) Is Dexter ill, is Dexter ill, is Dexter ill, is Dexter ill today?
(Ms Fishborne:) Mr Kirk, Dexter's in school.
(Mr Kirk:) I'm afraid he's not, Ms Fishborne. Dexter's truancy problem is way out of hand.
The Baltimore County school board have decided to expel Dexter from the entire public school system.
(Ms Fishborne:) Oh Mr Kirk, I'm as upset as you to learn of Dexter's truancy.
But surely, expulsion is not the answer!
(Mr Kirk:) I'm afraid expulsion is the only answer.
It's the opinion of the entire staff that Dexter is criminally insane!

That boy needs therapy, psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy, purely psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy
Lie down on the couch! What does that mean?
You're a nut! You're crazy in the coconut!
What does that mean? That boy needs therapy
I'm gonna kill you, that boy needs therapy
Play the kazoo, let's have it tune
On the count of three.
That, that, that, that, that boy...boy needs therapy
He was white as a sheet
And he also made false teeth

Avalanche is above, business continues below

Did I ever tell you the story about—
Cowboys! Mi—mi—midgets and the Indians and frontier psychiatrist
I, I felt strangely hypnotized
I was in another world, a world of 20,000 girls
And milk! Rectangles, to an optometrist, a man with a golden eyeball
And tighten your buttocks, pour juice on your chin.
I promise my girlfriend I'd—the violin, violin, violin

Frontier Psychiatrist.
Frontier, frontier, frontier, frontier
Frontier, frontier, frontier, frontier

That boy needs therapy, psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy, purely psychosomatic
That boy needs therapy
Lie down on the couch, what does that mean?
You're a nut! You're crazy in the coconut!
What does that mean? That boy needs therapy
I'm gonna kill you, that boy needs therapy
Ranagazoo, let's have a tune
Now when I count three
That, that, that, that, that boy...boy needs therapy
He was white as a sheet
And he also made false teeth

Frontier Psychiatrist

Can you think of anything else that talks, other than a person?
Uh um, uh um, a bird? Yeah!
Sometimes a parrot talks
Ha ha ha ha ha !!!!
Yes, some birds are funny when they talk...
Can you think of anything else?
Um, a record, record, record?

“Frontier Psychiatrist” is an electronica collage of surreal samples and lyrics set to a hypnotizing drum beat and a repetitive chromatic progression (up and down a single half step) with various melodies coming and going on top of it. Kind of like how in psychiatric hospitals, patients are recommended to create collages with glue sticks, infantilizing, as if they’re elementary school students. The song, especially with the extremely surreal music video (be sure to watch it!), captures the weird insanity of Freudian philosophy. The video shows old white psychiatrists in suits jabbing their pointing fingers and saying over and over “That boy needs therapy!” while bizarre mental health memes float by: patients lying on a couch, odd references to sex, the repetition of “What does that mean?” (something you must pay a psychoanalyst to find out), depictions of legal power (expelling Dexter from the school system), and more. The song sounds like the internal world of someone dreaming or being psychoanalyzed. Regarding the infectious music (see what I did there), it’s amazing what artists can create when they follow their own curiosity instead of others’ expectations. This song isn’t something generic you’d expect from commercial radio or similar safe sources, but surprisingly, the song did well commercially, including on radio.

9. Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” single from their 1982 album Call of the West. Genre: New wave

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older.
I turn the switch and check the number
I leave it on when in bed I slumber.

I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product but never use it.
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can't understand, just what does he say?

I'm on a Mexican radio
I'm on a Mexican radio
I dial it in and tune the station
They talk about the U.S. inflation.
I understand just a little
No comprende--it's a riddle.

I'm on a Mexican radio
I'm on a Mexican radio

I wish I was in Tijuana
Eating barbequed iguana.
I'd take requests on the telephone
I'm on a wavelength far from home.

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can't understand, just what does he say?

Radio radio…

It might be a little off (deviant, abnormal) to consider Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” an antipsychiatry song, but to me it counts as one somehow. The singer’s radio tuner-like vocal modulations, the persistence of the hyped-up electronica beat (resembling radio equipment or medical machinery), and the mind-bending bleeps at the start and following the choruses, sound like a depleted mental state feels, everything stressed, tense, and crazed… The lyrics express the info-junkie’s addiction to unusual sources of information, whether the border blasters (unregulated radio stations) that inspired this song, or the less known corners of the Internet today; and, some degree of that info-addiction appears common in people with severe mental health problems, in my experience. Perhaps too much of our technology just makes our mental lives worse. That being said, “Mexican Radio” is a very fun song, and without strong conduits to important knowledge (including contemporary samizdat), people just stay stuck in the default corporate/military echo chamber. The character in the lyrics is “on a wavelength far from home.” That’s similar in feel to the pursuit of unusual interests often wrongly categorized as characteristic of mental problems instead of as healthy curiosity. I guess the question is, will the character’s hobby/passion hurt or help the person? The character remains dedicated to radio regardless.

10. Nujabes’ “The Sign” from his 2005 album Modal Soul. Genre: Nu Jazz

Do we wanna watch it fall apart?
Every time I walk, I watch
I look, I notice, I observe, I read the signs
And the signs are pointing in the wrong direction
The signs are not naming the streets
Or leading me to the highway
The signs are naming names.
Tombstones to mark the death of children not even born
And I don't mean abortion, I mean what is to come
The signs are telling me to turn back around
The signs are telling me to research my past
The signs are telling me to learn from my mistakes
The signs are asking me questions.
Do you wanna watch it all fall apart?
Do you have any control?
Is there anything that you can do?
Time is not a nice person
I know because the sign said it
Time can be generous but ultimately time is indifferent
Time does not give two damns or a fuck
So what will you do?
What will we do?

So I'm in the middle of the street talkin' to the signs
And people are lookin' at me pointing and laughing
Like, "This mothafucker's crazy!"
But do they not see the signs?
Do you not see the signs?

If there is one thing in this world
That you can depend on
That you can bet your last dollar on
It's the ignorance of the American people
But still I have faith
And still I read the signs
And they are indeed there
Some of us are lost and will not find our way
No matter what the signs say
Some of us do not see the signs because we are too busy shopping
Some of us do not see the signs because we can't help but stop and look at the accidents and stare
We are in a daze, we are amazed by the world's displays
Some of us do not see the signs because we are giving spare change to the homeless
We are getting gas, we are volunteering for duty, and we are watching television
We are driving around in circles on spinners and we are working eight to six
We are on our way to the club
We are high, we are drunk, and we are sober
And we do not see the signs
We are listening to a moron babble
We are listening to tongues that lie
We give them an ear, we give them a hand, we give them both eyes
So we cannot see the signs.

Slow, there are children playing in the streets
And they cannot read the signs
They are only children.
Stop. Stop!
I fear there is no U-turn
And that this road dead-ends
Because we cannot read the signs
Do you not see the signs?
We must read the signs
And we must turn around
We must turn around
We gotta turn this shit around
And we gotta read the signs

We must read the signs...
We must read the signs...
We must read the signs...
We gotta read the signs...
We gotta turn this shit around...
We gotta turn this shit around...
We gotta read the signs...

The late Nujabes’ song “The Sign” has some really chill music. It’s great to hear an upright bass after all the fretted electric basses in the previous songs on this playlist. The piano is very pretty, and the rain stick (I think that’s what’s used) provides a soothing rhythm throughout. In front of this calming instrumental backdrop, Nujabes collaborator Pase Rock gives a strong, slightly abrasive spoken word performance. The lyrics express frustration with conformity, ignorance, and just going along with things, while at the same time valuing persistence (“And still I read the signs”) and some degree of optimism, that things might could be turned around. The subject of the lyrics is evocative of the delusions of reference experience in altered states, in which everyday perceptions seem to present exaggerated personal meanings, or grandiose personal salience, like supranormal stimuli does in various addictions (e.g., amphetamine seems to reveal that you’re special…but actually you’re just high).

11. A Tribe Called Red’s “We Are the Halluci Nation” from their 2016 album We Are the Halluci Nation. Genre: Electronica

We are the tribe that they cannot see
We live on an industrial reservation
We are the Halluci Nation
We have been called the Indians
We have been called Native American
We have been called hostile
We have been called Pagan
We have been called militant
We have been called many names
We are the Halluci Nation
We are the human beings
The callers of names cannot see us, but we can see them
We are the Halluci Nation
Our DNA is of earth and sky
Our DNA is of past and future
We are the Halluci Nation
We are the evolution, the continuation
Halluci Nation
The Halluci Nation
We are the Halluci Nation
We are the Halluci Nation

The private school, Western philosophy, pro-psychiatry world I grew up in would call it a stretch to suggest that it could have a serious harmful effect on a person’s mental health to walk around where genocide happened while not caring or taking action about it. From all I’ve learned in the last half decade, it’s really obvious such things do have effects on us. Just like savants can memorize mass amounts (or some people can’t forget anything), it’s completely sensible to suggest that regularly driving past First Nation centers or reservations would stir up the subject in people’s minds, even when they try to ignore it. Not in the sense that psychiatrists might accept, as if a little imaginary particle (say) floats from the reservation and penetrating an individual’s barriers and lodging itself into their psyche, causing abnormality. But rather, that we’re all trying to live in this weakened, self-destructive web, surrounded by pollution and other corporate-caused problems, while psychiatrists lecture us about and drug us into showing up for corporate work (or for corporations’ ancillaries) while maintaining a “good work ethic” and being “realistic” and all that, while our human needs are very, very different than our day jobs. If we don’t meet our needs, and instead file bureaucratic paperwork all day in some office job like members of the Imperial Civil Service, we might space out enough to forget our pains, but they’re still there along with the unmet needs, and rear their heads eventually. I like how early on in the song, the lyrics list various insults First Nations peoples have received, and then the song says: “The callers of names cannot see us, but we can see them.” Since their pseudo-scientific justifications are garbage, psychiatrists (after bullying or intimidating patients into not researching for themselves), basically are just name-calling others. You’re an autistic, you’re a bipolar, you’re a schizophrenic, you’re a this, you’re a that. And patients sometimes get so into becoming “consumers” of products produced for their particular label-from-above that they (in one case I saw) tattoo their DSM code on an ankle — the patient I knew who did that, later committed suicide, sadly. People forget the “earth and sky,” the “past and future.” Sure, people might pay some quick lip service to Nature and interconnected, transgenerational history, but when you look at where most of their time/effort goes, psychiatry focuses on maintaining the status quo and telling you it’s “unrealistic” to resist/replace the system in your own life. Ask your psychiatrist/therapist if you should quit your job, sell your possessions, and go defend natural resources with other water protectors as people I’ve known personally have done at great risk to themselves, and see what your mental health professionals advise you to do. So the real hallucination is replacing living in harmony with the environment, with driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic to weekly psychiatrist appointments to find out what you’re permitted to believe to stay “realistic.” And people (for a while anyway) “cannot see” this, but those underfoot “can see them.” And with those underfoot is where “the evolution, the continuation” lies, not in gated communities. As for the music, I like the keyboard’s tone, the reverb and vibrato on the notes. The driven drumbeat is also powerful and declarative.

12. David Rovics’ “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” from his 2007 live album The Commons, originally from his 2004 album Songs for Mahmud. Genre: Folk

Alex is a member of my record label
Teenager though he is
He joined Ever Reviled Records
And the indie music biz
His parents didn't like such turns of events
So they called up a couple of thugs
Send him back to Utah, lock him up
And pump him full of drugs
They say he's got problems with authority
Yes this is what they claim
And their psychiatric analysis
Has even got a name

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
I think I got it, too
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
He's sick and so are you

If you think George Bush is a moron
And Tony Blair's a liar
If you fantasize about setting
Your local Wal-Mart on fire
If you don't like Tom Brokaw
And you think he's full of it
If you feel a Rush Limbaugh punching bag
Might be kinda fun to hit
If bombing other countries
Makes you feel appalled
You have got a problem
And this is what it's called

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
I think I got it, too
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
He's sick and so are you

If you think school is boring
And your teacher is a fool
If you don't like your Congressman
And you called him a corporate tool
If you were not standing
To sing "Save the Queen"
If you turn down hamburgers
And eat rice and beans
We've got a diagnosis
No matter whether you agree
Just do what the doctor tells you
Thank god for psychiatry

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
I think I got it, too
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
He's sick and so are you

“Oppositional Defiant Disorder” is only the second David Rovics song I’ve known; the first was “I’m a Better Anarchist Than You,” on youtube here live in Seattle 1995. When I used to write music, I’d have multiple parts going at once, threaded together, more than I could play singlehandedly or even with a second bandmate. So I’m very impressed when much is done with little, as in “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” just acoustic guitar and vocals. The rhythm guitar is pretty straightforward. The lyrics are clever and fun. A little formulaic compositionally, but a nice, enjoyable song on topic.

13. Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” from their 1983 album Metal Health. Genre: Heavy Metal

Well I'm an axe-grinder, piledriver
Momma says that I never never mind her
Got no brains, I'm insane
The teacher says that I'm one big pain.
I'm like a laser, six-string razor
I got a mouth like an alligator.
I want it louder
More power
I'm gonna rock ya till it strikes the hour.

Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad
Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad

Well I'm remonstrated
Outdated
I really want to be over-rated.
I'm a finder and I'm a keeper
I'm not a loser and I ain't no weeper.
I got the boys to make the noise
Won't ever let up
Hope it annoys you!
Join the pack
Fill the crack
Well now you're here
There's no way back.

Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad
Bang your head! Metal Health'll drive you mad
Metal Health'll cure your crazy
Metal Health'll cure your mad
Metal Health is what we all need
It's what you ought to have

Bang your head
Wake the dead
We're all metal mad 
It's all you have
So bang your head
And raise the dead
Oh yeah!
Metal Health
It's not too bad, bad, bad

Bang your head! Metal health'll drive you mad
Oh get your straitjackets on tonight, oh
The bad boys are gonna set you right!
Rock on, Rock on, Rock on
Bang your head!
Metal health'll drive you mad
Bang your head!

This anthemic song is pretty cheeky. “Get your straitjackets on tonight”? Rudy Sarzo plays his loud bass lines with massive staccato, emphasizing the separateness of each individual note, the way a lot of ’70s and ’80s metal bassists did. “Metal Health” was probably intended to simultaneously get radio play (it’s easy on the ears, nothing complicated structurally or with the notes) — the album was the first in heavy metal to top the Billboard 200, displacing the Police’s Synchronicity record — and piss off worried parents, thus appealing to “non-compliant” teenagers. The album cover art (shown in the youtube thumbnail embedded above) has a guy in a straitjacket next to the words METAL HEALTH. I think that speaks for itself. Hey, gotta rebel somehow.

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This blog post, Antipsychiatry playlist, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/03/antipsychiatry-playlist/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish at least one blog post per week. Here’s entry 11 of 52.

Image shows a small gray notebook. On its front, the notebook says "notes" and "Cambridge edition."
The journal I use for logging my day. Available at that bastion of high culture, Tarjay, at least here in Seattle.

I used to not believe in trauma anniversaries, the distress a person can experience when a calendar date lines up with a past violation of their well-being. To my perspective back then, steeped unawares in the default corporate values, trauma anniversaries seemed too fantastical: how could a person’s nervous system remember all that, and how could it be tipped off that the fateful date was approaching? More importantly, multiple well-paid psychiatrists for decades, their corner offices fancy with diplomas and oak desks, never mentioned trauma anniversaries to me a single time, and consistently portrayed the mania I sometimes experienced as a meaningless, causeless brain fart. But during every April and May for seven straight years, indeed usually on the very date of May 31, I’d experience severe, hospitalizing mania. Despite the timing being as dependable as the Old Faithful geyser, the psychiatrists displayed zero curiosity about it, whereas friends would sometimes ask natural questions (“Why do you think it happens then?”). Unanimously, the psychiatrists told me (not so forthrightly of course): Just take these tranquilizers (“medicine”), these dopamine antagonists, pay up, and you might be able to have some sort of meager life over there in the corner, if you’re lucky. They didn’t say, while the psych pills shrink brains and tardive dyskensia looms at your door.

The image shows a black-and-white page from an academic catalog. It's a full page photo of six old white men in garb that is religious or academic or both: black robes, large crosses on necklaces, and so on. They are walking in a line, most of them smiling.
Page from UD catalog back then. Pies Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Also.

It wasn’t fun. The stigma has been perhaps worse than the mania. I’ll give two examples of hundreds. In 2000-2001, I attended the University of Dallas on a full scholarship to study philosophy and classics (Latin and ancient Greek). It was a small Catholic school, and I was an atheist fish in the wrong, small pond. U.D., as it was called for short, made it a selling point of their school that students would all take a trip to Rome together sophomore year, and I was really excited about it. After mania prevented me from participating in classes for roughly three weeks — this was two decades ago, before psychiatric diagnoses were so common that universities created more explicit policies for mental health emergencies — U.D. informed me I wasn’t going to Rome with everyone else. (Not long after, I dropped out.) Their decision made some sense: what the hell would you do practically with a student suffering manic psychosis, in the hotel, in the airport, etc.? In some cases, it makes sense to give a manic person a tiny bit of benzodiazepine, to help them sleep, and once they wake up, everyone together figure out what’s going on using a process like Open Dialogue; but, colleges weren’t and aren’t prepared to intervene that substantially (although you can imagine it someday, what with K-12s employing special staff to attend to some students’ medical needs, and now campuses outfitting themselves for the horrible idea of in-person classes during coronavirus). Undergraduates in their twenties, with private school backgrounds, haven’t lately been expected to be adults capable of handling themselves. The whole setup was paternalistic to begin with: the U.D. authorities were to watch out for our well-being in these scary foreign lands filled with terrorists or whatever. Bottom line, they looked at me and said No. Just as my K-12 considered kicking me out for the same reason (manic episodes), in a dramatic meeting with my family. The unfortunate “help” I was given for the whole dilemma, the answer from Texas in general was, go to psychiatrists, who will say there are no causes you can do anything about, and take your piece off our game board, get out of everyone else’s way. A very few years later, one of my best friends was going to Japan to teach English (and then went to India for six months); I was going in and out of psych hospitals. It was really discouraging, and I routinely used an imaginative, puffed-up, hypomanic grandiosity to sustain myself, to not think about (to dissociate from) my problems and keep writing music/words and pursuing all my other interests in rude opposition to “having a good work ethic” since I didn’t want to go along with seemingly everyone else’s philosophy of Don’t think too hard, don’t care too much, get a job any job.

Example number two. Here in Seattle, I went to a party for Clarion West Writers Workshop (which I completed in 2008), sometime between 2016 and 2019, honoring an author whose name I can’t remember (she was writing fiction about presidential assassinations, if anyone recalls…to be clear, that is people assassinating presidents, not presidents assassinating people). A random party guest was an employee at Navos, a greater Seattle mental health clinic, as a therapist or some related occupation. I happened to be standing in the small group to whom she was talking, merely happenstance party conversation, people holding drinks and the like. She asked if anyone was familiar with her workplace, this entity called Navos. I said yes. She blinked and said, “Wait, you volunteer there?” And I said, “No, as a patient.” She then literally raised up her nose in disgust and turned away from me. The other surrounding partygoers followed suit, showing disgust and turning away from me also. The look of disgust is a common expression made at someone slotted into a negative image role. Before the pandemic, once patients were called up the stairs from the waiting room at brick-and-mortar Navos, where the security guard watches them from his desk, the therapists would use key cards to let them through locked doors, under the rarely correct assumption that these medicalized humans might act out dangerously. It felt like being a zoo animal. A zoo animal in the social services, mind-twisting, smiley face version of a prison.

Reasons for admission to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, 1864-1889. (Source)

It’s taken several years, but I’ve made a deep study of the extensive decades of literature disputing the genetic theory of manic-depression, how the twin studies are used, the chemical imbalance theory, and other falsehoods, plus participating in a Hearing Voices Network chapter and devouring multiple books, podcasts, and documentaries detailing the success stories of psychiatric survivors (the secret that people have made full recoveries from repeated bouts of psychosis and tapered off their drugs is slowly becoming more widely known). I’m still studying this material and related helpful information, much of it published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not that practicing psychiatrists read those (they’re busy going on ski trips with the money, possibly bringing their manipulated patients along for sex, too). But for those who might be unfamiliar with this vast literature, let’s just take the chemical imbalance theory briefly, a widely advertised theory which lately mainstream psychiatrists have had to start backpedaling. Millions upon millions of people in the United States today swallow psychopharmaceuticals daily, often antidepressants or sleeping pills; taking “meds” for the psych diagnoses considered less severe has become ordinary, a recommended way to survive the impossibilities of paid-work, while those with the harsher labels (schizophrenia, psychosis, etc.) are considered an abnormal, bad underclass. These millions and millions of people, whether with the “normal” labels of depression etc. or the more severe ones, are commonly told they “have” chemical imbalances. Which I suppose is like “having” a pet rock, only it’s invisible. The mystique of the doctor in the white coat can take over, preventing patients from asking obvious questions. How often do we hear, in place of evidence and logic, about a doctor, politician, or other idealized figure: I trust him; he’s a good guy? Yet we don’t need to feel an affinity with a prescriber; we need to ask the prescriber questions obvious to an impartial observer and verify what’s going on. Which chemical is imbalanced? How much of that chemical per microliter is too much? How much of that chemical per microliter is too little? What’s the safe range, per microliter, for that chemical, whichever one it might be? Who invented the chemical imbalance theory? When was it invented? Was it initially published in a scientific journal, and if so, what’s the citation for that article (and obtain a copy)? These very basic who what when where why and how questions are too often not asked, among other reasons because patients sometimes outright fear their doctors, their legal powers, and their way of snapping back at questions they dislike. The patients’ brains are being dramatically altered without enough questioning from the patients, as if psychopharmaceutical treatment is simply taking clocks to repair shops, to use sociologist Erving Goffman’s analogy in his 1961 book Asylums. With no time or motivation for curiosity, customers taking broken clocks to repair shops do not ask the repair-workers, Who invented clocks? Why do clocks need springs? The customers simply expect the gadgets to be fixed, then they pay the fee and bring the clocks home. People treat their own brains just like that. The error is supposed to be from birth — but sorry, there are no blood tests to prove it (no answers to the microliters questions), and all the vaunted genetics has persisted at a research level for a very long time, scrutinizing without holism people crammed into pidgeonholes, nothing definitive found — and you are to take the pills to remediate your inherent wrongness and then get back to the miserable paid-work for evil corporations and their ancillaries. Mental health suffering is increasing, understandably because humanity, in big picture terms, is seconds from self-caused extinction; watching humanity kill itself and many other species, psychiatrists do not have much to offer for explanation or success stories, but their industry does have criminal convictions at Nuremberg for enabling genocide, and see also the American Psychological Association’s more recent participation in CIA torture. Trusting these people to make dramatic alterations to your brain without asking questions isn’t a good idea. It isn’t mental health.

The image is a popular meme of Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It shows him in his captain's chair, hand on forehand, exasperated. The image has text at the bottom reading: So much fail.
Shy? Correct that chemical imbalance, too little alcohol, by drinking daily!

The chemical imbalance theory came about because scientists began noticing that when people were given certain pharmaceuticals for unrelated physical conditions, they would also act in different ways, so if it was considered good for them to act in those new ways, then they must, the scientists thought, lack enough of that chemical supplied by the pharmaceutical, and therefore they need to swallow some of it regularly to act right. In other words, if you aren’t doing such-and-such, but this other thing makes you do such-and-such when you swallow it, you must have a deficiency of that other thing. This is very bad reasoning. It’s like saying, imagine a shy person. The shy person is at a bar, they’re nervous about their clothes and hair, and they don’t know what to say to the other patrons, to the bartender, etc. But when at the bar we give them alcohol, they suddenly start talking more! Therefore they must need alcohol supplementation, a bit of booze each day, to correct their alcohol imbalance and act with the proper gregariousness. This specious reasoning — X makes you do Y so not doing Y must be caused by a lack of X — fits multiple types of causal logical fallacies. Imagine a psychiatrist in a critical reasoning class! You’re not lying on the floor currently, however when I punch you in the face, you fall to the ground; so, if you need to lie down, the obvious solution to your postural imbalance is to have me regularly punch you in the face a little bit each day for ongoing maintenance against your being-punched deficiency!

The trauma anniversary I was experiencing was combined with dissociation. Dissociation is tuning out in the face of overwhelming emotion. For instance, families in hospital rooms of a dying family member will too often largely, or almost completely, ignore the dying person, and stare at their phones to distract themselves and prevent themselves from experiencing the intense emotions and meanings regarding the impending death. After all, why say goodbye to grandpa when you can scroll instead? Anyway, I did many things to help overcome dissociation to some extent, mainly noticing when I was doing it and then slowly testing out feeling and expressing the emotions instead, which by the way, has physical analogues: feeling and expressing emotion isn’t just rearranging your internal world (like most of psychoanalysis is), but action-y, doing things outwardly, like cursing and kicking a trash can across the room if you’re really, really upset. This took me several years to get comfortable with; I still have a lot more to go. Further, the mania was dissociative in itself: escaping from overwhelm into delusional, grandiose fantasy. Sometimes it seems many people do not even know when they’re overwhelmed, since psychological education is insufficient or nonexistent, not to mention people understandably have blocks against considering what these terrifying topics mean for them. Even though for years and years, April and May meant mania for me, especially May 31, the calendar date of May 31 would roll around and I wouldn’t even know it was May 31. You would think, this most consequential date in my life, that sent me to in-patient lock-up over and over, would register on my radar as it neared. But it was too overwhelming, so I by habit didn’t even realize when it was coming. Among PTSD there are two types (I didn’t learn this from any psychiatrist): the popularly known one where you can’t stop thinking about the trauma, and the other type there’s less awareness about, mine, where you don’t think about the trauma at all. Not being able to find what was causing the trauma anniversary was as habitual as putting one foot in front of the other while walking: something I later was able to focus on starting a little at a time (baby steps), but for decades was more comfortable just going about on the autopilot approach, not thinking about it. Even if I tried to think about it, I could never pin down any specific trauma that happened to me during any long-ago April or May. My mind wouldn’t surface images or facts about any long-ago events in connection with the April/May period. Plus, it somehow didn’t seem “scientific” that something might have happened during those months in my past, a specific example of corporate propaganda (corporate portrayals of science) obscuring a person’s life from him. To top it all off, psychiatrists repeatedly found nothing about any of this worth talking about, same as the instance when an orderly physically assaulted me in a hospital, knocking me to the floor violently just for making a sarcastic comment, and multiple psychiatrists (attending and out-patient alike) said not a damn thing when I mentioned it. In fact, they used what educators call extinguishing. This is the classroom management technique where you ignore a student’s minor misbehavior, not reinforcing it, hoping it’ll disappear on its own, as it usually does (if indeed it is misbehavior; why should students be compelled to sit in cramped desks all day and penalized for “misbehavior” if they refuse?). Whenever I brought these reasonable topics up to psychiatrists, they used extinguishing. They’d just be silent. And then they’d change the subject to something comfortably medical in vibe, like dosages or the side/adverse effect of hives I got from neuroleptic. The psychiatrists felt far more comfortable talking about little checkbox algorithms for physical symptoms. Like eliminative materialists in academic philosophy departments insisting that minds don’t even exist, the psychiatrists kept diligently away from topics such as dissociation, which are actually decently understood by trauma experts. But again, practicing clinicians don’t read that material; that’s why they bully you instead if you ask too many questions, a trick they probably pick up from grand rounds questioning in medical school among other sources. In Fort Worth around 2002 or so, I once saw an orthopod with a sign in his waiting room that said something to the effect of, Any material patients talk about from the Internet will be ignored. Before the widespread adoption of the Internet and especially social media, medical professionals could easily tell each other at conferences how much their patients loved them (perhaps mistaking fear for respect or love), but now I think they’re slowly seeing the pitchforks approaching their insular world. Though some of them still talk blithely on youtube’d recordings of their conventions, making fun of their patients (accustomed to what they are doing, the psychiatrists might consider it merely analyzing their patients for their colleagues’ benefit), maybe unaware that those outside their myopic cult hear them and disagree. If you show your psychiatrist recent articles like this one from earlier this year — “What I have learnt from helping thousands of people taper off antidepressants & other psychotropic medications” by Adele Farmer/Altostrata, the founder of SurvivingAntidepressants.org, published in the peer-reviewed Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology journal — it’s not like the psychiatrist is going to say Thank you, and I think we all know that. Maybe it’s time for people to stop identifying so dogmatically with psychiatric labels (voted into existence by psychiatrists at conferences) and obsessing over the band-aid commodities sold for those labels (marketing categories), as if it’s the patients’ fault rather than corporations’ for wage-slavery, widespread pollution, and the rest.

The image shows a page from my logbook. The page shows my writing as described in the post, and the month and date circled. A portion of the page is redacted for privacy.
Captain’s log, stardate March 8, 2021.

Trying to figure this stuff out, I went to a Seattle psychologist who was very knowledgeable about alternative views, and understood that emotional distress is a human problem, not a chemistry set or test tube problem. I gained some very good information from him, although I wasn’t really ready for it until later in my life. One thing he did with me was called brainspotting, an offshoot of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I’ve heard the psychologist Daniel Mackler (different person) describe EMDR as a way to helpfully shortcut someone toward discovering what might be causing a traumatic reaction, though not something that heals the psychic injury on its own. A discovery tool, not the cure. So this other, Seattle psychologist pointed a red light at my eyes in accordance with the brainspotting procedure. It caused me to blurt out a single word. I won’t specify it here for the privacy of myself and others, but it was a proper noun, let’s call it R. A few years went by before I recognized the significance of it.

In the meantime, I decided the best way to engage with this mysterious trauma anniversary was to always know the calendar date, so I’d be prepared to use grounding techniques and anything else I needed when April, May, or May 31 arrived. I found a very helpful type of journal, pictured above left and at the start of this post, that lets you circle the date and month. That physical action (as opposed to, say, the endless musings of psychoanalysis) of finding the month and the day on the horizontal lists and circling them helps me always know the current calendar date. Before the logbook, when I was picking out a box of fresh spinach at the grocery, I’d have to check its expiration date against the date on my wristwatch. But now I always know the date and no longer need to do that. Whereas previously, the April/May, and/or May 31, time period would stay in my subconscious, below awareness, too scary to be confronted, I was now bringing this feared problem into my awareness every single day, and I still do this daily. (Makes me think of Jung’s shadow concept or Le Guin’s novel A Wizard of Earthsea.)

I also use the logbook for other purposes too, most importantly to center my life on my calling of writing, which I’ll get to in a moment. I use the logbook to record my dreams each morning, if I remember them, and each night I use it for two exercises psychologist Terry Lynch recommends (his psychology courses are the most helpful material, bar none, that I’ve come across for understanding mental health issues). The exercises are writing down three things I did well that day and three things I’m grateful for from that day. The did-well exercise definitely makes me less susceptible to angry thoughts about how I’m supposedly no good at anything and the like; the exercise encourages me to have my own back, to defend myself from occasional automatic thoughts that are really internalized oppressions, not truths. The gratitude exercise makes me more optimistic in general. However, the benefit from both exercises has started to wear off somewhat, because over time I’ve reached the point that, seeking to go to bed quickly, I just scribble down the six things quickly like rushing through a crap homework assignment. I’ve started reading the six things aloud to combat the unthinking, rushed behavior. Finally, I use the logbook to check off certain foods I try to eat each day for nutritional purposes (a large navel orange for myo-inositol, pumpkin seeds for zinc, and so on), plus certain tasks, a.k.a. areas, I attempt to work on daily: writing fiction (it’s set in 2036), nonfiction (a book about hacktivism), and self (journaling and reading psychology stuff or books that teach practical skills). In years past, when I tried to keep a record of what I was up to, I’d give up after a day or three. But now I’ve been using the logbook consistently for months and months (and I always know the date!).

Two principles have helped me stay consistent with using the logbook daily. One I call “focusing.” I looked at myself and thought, what do I really want to focus on with my life? Do I really, truly want to be investing free time in playing Dungeons & Dragons with online friends, or rehearsing Spanish vocabulary flashcards? Those would be nice to do, but I’m actually here to accomplish various specific writing work. Thus I made a powerful commitment to spend my time actually doing that, not distracting myself with secondary goals that might be nice someday (such as more Spanish skill). Implementing that helps with mental health, too, because I’m not hiding from the challenges of writing by doing something I deep down know is less important to me. I vigilantly circumscribe who I spend (very limited) time with, because all sorts of friends and frenemies habitually criticize me and how I spend my time, or tease me at length as to why I should be playing Dungeons & Dragons with them or coming to this or that offline event, maybe because what kind of weirdo writes longform blog posts anyway, who does that? But I have to protect my availability, especially since writing is exceptionally time-consuming work, particularly when I prefer a thorough and research-intensive style. Second, I jettisoned the idea of deadlines or pressuring myself to write however many words daily. Instead of trying to fit those perfectionist demands, I decided to follow my own curiosity and work on the projects however that curiosity leads me. I still task myself with, besides my day job, spending at least an hour a day on three writing areas — fiction, nonfiction, self — plus doing some form of exercise, so four or five hours total, but since all that is frequently not possible every day (yet), I came up with a simple solution, a way to look at the situation with compassionate objectivity (to borrow Hillary Rettig’s phrase). My real task every day is just to to write on different lines in my logbook Exercise: Fiction: Nonfiction: Self: in case I complete any of the areas and can check it off. That simple chore, which takes perhaps 15 seconds, means that I’m still focusing on these three/four primary areas of work. I’m still caring about and trying to do them, even if it’s just writing down those four words in my logbook. If I don’t work on, say, fiction some particular day, well, life is life, just do the best you can. So I jettisoned all the crazy stress about deadlines and words-per-day, which really came from other people’s expectations, like a lady who once randomly lectured me for not writing as fast at a writing workshop as she thought I should, even though she wasn’t even part of the writing workshop! (She was there hunting for business intelligence for her company, I think.) When you really look for it, and aim to stick up for yourselves and others consistently, you realize there are many people circling around the world, prodding for weaknesses that they can mock you for if you’re vulnerable like a sitting duck, not skilled with firing back counter-insults or leaving the situation. I’ve learned to try not to ask others for their thoughts on these provocative topics too much offline, because bringing up a trouble or curiosity or passion I have all too often gives them an opening to mock or assert superiority without providing any sort of expertise to justify it. So over hanging out, I much prefer writing down the four areas in my logbook, working on them if I can (longhand feels so much more connected and channeling than typing!), and then checking them off one by one. If you’re thinking about trying this logbook technique, it might help to recall that you don’t have to do it the exact same way as I do. Over time, you can learn to trust yourself and your judgement, if you don’t already (many people with mental health problems don’t, though they might not admit it, not even to themselves, like political radicals asking their psychiatrists for permission, or oh excuse me, if the psychiatrist would think it’d be a good idea, before becoming a water protector or the like). You can vary the logbook as you see fit.

Back to the trauma anniversary and R. The idea for the self area — for journaling every day for some 30-90 minutes — came largely from Daniel Mackler’s thought-provoking youtube videos and Terry Lynch’s amazing book Selfhood. I won’t here describe how precisely I do my journaling, as that’s enough to fill a whole separate blog post. The point is, when I first purchased my blue journal (pictured below to end this blog entry), I immediately had the thought come to mind that I should use the journal to write about R. A powerful felt sense told me that doing so was going to be extremely helpful, and I no longer needed anyone else to confirm this for me or debate it. As Lynch says in this hour-long video on recovery from bipolar disorder (where he also mentions how important it is to take baby steps out of comfort zones; and, how important it is for people with manic-depressive tendencies to notice when, in a precursor to psychosis/delusion, they start using grandiose fantasy, such as daydreams of being a superhero, as a coping strategy for avoidance anxiety / putting off addressing problems), when people have severe mental health diagnoses, a crucial piece of their trauma history might not be the big trauma everyone’s looking for, the really obvious horrible thing that happened to them that everybody knows about and talks about. It could be some event that seems small in comparison, or even mundane from a very macroscopic perspective, something that commonly occurs in most people’s lives. But that “small” traumatic event could still be very meaningful yet unresolved for the particular person; usually, it’s events in childhood or adolescence, through which later life can be filtered. That’s how it was for me with R. Over the next several months, working diligently and just about daily, I filled up the entire blue journal with my thoughts and feelings and notes, almost completely about R, sometimes using investigative journalism techniques, researching public records and maps and so on to ensure accuracy (it needs to be a story with personal meaning, but also a story with factual currency in the social world).

Guess what I discovered! The boiling point of the R situation happened in April 1997, and just days later, I exhibited strange emotional distress, something I’d never done before. (I obsessed over packing and unpacking a bookbag and couldn’t respond in conversation with my family, as if I couldn’t even hear them, when they were asking me from across the bedroom what was wrong.) I was that exact month sent for the very first time to a mental health provider. Putting together these pieces wouldn’t be challenging for an impartial, outside observer with skill; in fact, they could probably do it in just a few minutes if presented with enough raw material about a client. But because I had/have the form of PTSD where I tended not to think in any detail about the trauma (except perhaps to haughtily dismiss its relevance), and because psychiatry was of no help (and in fact, with their extinguishing and their dodging subjects like dissociation and abuse by orderlies, psychiatry made matters worse), solving this has taken me decades. It’s no longer difficult for me to acknowledge that people remember, even if only subconsciously or somatically, what happened to them long ago (see savants’ feats of memory for instance, or the fascinating book The Woman Who Can’t Forget by Jill Price), and that something like glancing at the clock at the corner of a laptop screen might inform the subconscious that the date is May 31, even while the conscious mind is running madly away from the trauma anniversary. There’s actually another trauma anniversary for me in August, of lesser strength; on August 24th, 1998 came my second incident of psychosis. It was August 24th 1998 that got me put on psychopharmaceuticals. Second only to the April and May months, August has statistically been the next most common time period for the mania episodes. Tomorrow I’ll start filling up my new, second journal about that August trauma anniversary, and that August 24th 1998 event, whatever it was: I currently and for the last decades have had only a single image of it accessible in my memory. So I’ll have to piece it together, with investigative journalism-type research, looking at archived computer files, finding old school yearbooks in libraries, and so on, as well as by describing and narrating that one single accessible memory-image in such immense detail that additional memories begin surfacing. I’m glad I filled up the blue journal about R; now I no longer fear the April and May time frame, and indeed, I’ve made it through April and May unscathed recently, with the seven year nightmare stretch receding into the past.

Rather than psychosis, we should actually say extreme emotional distress. Whereas the word “psychosis” makes a person seem different, nonhuman, a deserving target of stigma and shunning, extreme emotional distress can happen to anyone, and it does. The handwaving about genetics and chemical imbalances, from which no conclusive evidence or tests have ever been provided, papers over the reality that millions upon millions of people are diagnosed with psychiatric labels and put on mind-altering brain-shrinking drugs, some of which already went into shortage during the pandemic and might go into shortage again (there will come a day when these pills are no longer readily available in this or that region, and patients are left to dangerously cold turkey off them), that elders are being force-drugged with neuroleptic in nursing homes (to make them easier for staff to manage), and that any calamity, from another coup attempt in the United States to a hurricane or an earthquake to the loss of a beloved pet, can be the last straw that causes your mind to snap if you don’t know how to address the psychic violation, and sometimes even if you do. You’re not immune from humanity, and along with so many other psychiatrized people, I am not excluded from it, try as some might.

I hope this post helps someone else suffering from trauma anniversaries and/or the PTSD where you don’t or can’t think about, where you dissociate from, can’t even remember, the specifics of the trauma.

The image shows a blue hardback journal. The cover has impressionist-style art flowers, a tree, and a bay of sea.

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This blog post, How I addressed a trauma anniversary that psychiatrists weren’t curious about, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/03/20/trauma-anniversary-curiosity/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net