Incognito Press

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Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

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Posted in death, grief, personal, psychology, sadness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Profile of Psychopath vs Sociopath, and how you can tell if you’re in a relationship with one

Posted by E on February 11, 2012

Chances are, we have all encountered psychopaths in our lives, but not thought of them as so simply because when the word psychopath comes up, we think of serial killers and completely dysfunctional social rejects, not successful heads of corporations and even a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Even worse, the definition is often blurred even within the psychiatric community, with the terms sociopath and psychopath being used interchangeably. Even the very definition of psychopathology appears to evolve with each updated rendition of the DSM manual, the de facto bible of the psychiatric industry.

I’m going to take the leap and call it for what it is: for all intents and purposes, psychopaths and sociopaths are the same. They both lack emotional empathy, and are chronic liars and manipulators. They may differ only in the extent of their pathology, and as far as I’m concerned, that difference is not sufficient enough to bother differentiating them.

Now, if you know me you’ll also know that I tend to sit somewhat on the edges of the anti-psychiatry camp, in the sense that I believe too much of natural human behaviour has been syndromized and classified as mental illness when really it was just an excuse for intolerant social mores to enforce discrimination against the marginalized – case in point, homosexuality being diagnosed as an illness until the late 1970s, or the diagnosis for hysteria as a front for patronizing, patriarchal Victorian norms. And of course I am concerned now about young children being classified as ADD and Ritalinized into submission while their small brains are still developing.

However, I also recognize that brains, as transmitters of emotion and interpreters of reality, can be damaged biochemically – as a chronic sufferer of depression, I have personally witnessed how SSRIs have improved the quality of my life, albeit temporarily, hence I am not going to whole-heartedly bash the field of psychiatry. Not in its entirety, at least.

Recent research is also showing increased evidence of biological components in psychopathology – the reduction of mirror neurons in the part of the brain responsible for empathy and emotions. In other words, lack of empathy and “coldness” can be passed on from parent to child.

So how do you know if you have a psychopath (i.e. a sociopath) in your life? How can you tell if your best friend or partner might exhibit signs of this pathology? I’ve assembled a quick checklist to help clarify the profile of this type of person.

Psychopathy is defined by a pattern of interpersonal relationships, emotion, and behavior. The syndrome can be summarized as a cluster of related symptoms:

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions
  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility

Lack of empathy

Psychopaths possess a general lack of empathy. At an extreme they are simply unable to understand the emotional states of other people, except in a purely detached, intellectual sense. Other people are thus little more than objects for their personal gratification. This callousness extends to everybody, family or strangers alike. They neglect other people’s needs and desire and can casually inflict cruelty. A normal, empathic person experiences distress when he observes another human in pain, but the unempathic psychopath feels nothing. Psychopaths are thus capable of stunning acts of cruelty because they are not restrained by any unpleasant reaction to their victims’ suffering.

 PROFILE OF A PSYCHOPATH

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    • They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
    • Grandiose Sense of Self
    • Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”
    • Pathological Lying
      • Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis.
      • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
      • A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
      • Shallow Emotions
      • When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
      • Incapacity for Love
      • Need for Stimulation
      • Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
      • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
        • Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
        • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
          • Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
          • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
            • Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
            • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
            • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
            • Authoritarian
            • Secretive
            • Paranoid
            • Conventional appearance
            • Incapable of real human attachment to another 

Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others.

 For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It’s primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once. To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game.

In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you’ll forgive them, and one day when they’ve gone too far, they’ll leave you with a broken heart. By then they’ll have a new player for their game.

 Where everyone occasionally tells a white lie, a psychopath’s lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. Psychopaths don’t discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat. There’s no distinction between friend and family.

Anyway, I hope this entry will help provide you with additional clarity in terms of what defines a psychopath. It is estimated that psychopaths make up as high as 4% of the population, which results in millions of people around us who reflect these psychological traits. If you suspect that someone close to you is a psychopath, remember that by the time they reach their teenage years the behaviour has become permanent. You cannot change who they are – you can only protect yourself and walk away from damaging relationships with such emotionally-disturbed, cruel and emotionally-harmful people.

Posted in psychology, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 30 Comments »