Another Hockey Mask: Andreas Lubitz


square855I must tell the truth here: I do not understand what Andreas Lubitz did. In my suicidal fugues, I thought of many ways that I might kill myself that involved others such as throwing myself in front of a truck or crashing my car into a tree or driving it off a cliff, but the idea of taking others with me — that wasn’t the self-annihilation that I planned. When I came close,I found a secluded place where someone would eventually find me. That was the maximum involvement of another that I planned. Though I thought capital punishment might work for me — and send a message to those who loved me — I did not want to assassinate others.

>Rumor has it that Lubitz was going through some catastrophic issues with his girlfriend. He knew that he was ill and he was seeking treatment for it. The day of the crash, his psychiatrist issued a sick leave note. Andreas did not use it, however, and his doctor could not call the airline to tell them that he was at risk. But Lubitz did not stop at ending his own life:

Andreas Lubitz was breathing, steady and calm, in the final moments of Germanwings Flight 9525. It was the only sound from within the cockpit that the voice recorder detected as Mr. Lubitz, the co-pilot, sent the plane into its descent.

The sounds coming from outside the cockpit door on Tuesday were something else altogether: knocking and pleading from the commanding pilot that he be let in, then violent pounding on the door and finally passengers’ screams moments before the plane, carrying 150 people, slammed into a mountainside in the French Alps.

In a different article, The New York Times reported that Lubitz concealed his illness from those closest to him:

Peter Rücker, a member of the flight club where Mr. Lubitz learned to fly, told Reuters television on Thursday that he knew the young man as a cheerful, careful pilot, and that he could not imagine him committing such an act.

Online, Mr. Lubitz appeared to be a keen runner, including at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt sports club, and had completed several half-marathons and other medium-distance races, including an annual New Year’s run in Montabaur in 2014.

A Facebook page with a few tidbits of his possible “likes” was visible Wednesday but had been removed by late morning on Thursday. It showed a photograph of a young man near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, though there were no clues to when the image was taken or any other details….

Data from the plane’s transponder also suggested that the person at the controls had manually reset the autopilot to take the plane from 38,000 feet to 96 feet, the lowest possible setting, according to Flightradar24, a flight tracking service. The aircraft struck a mountainside at 6,000 feet.

Before Mr. Lubitz, 27, a German citizen, set the plane on its 10-minute descent about half an hour into the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, the cockpit voice recorder picked up only the usual pilot banter, “courteous” and “cheerful” exchanges, the prosecutor said.

Then the commanding pilot asked Mr. Lubitz to take over. A seat can be heard being pulled back and a door closing as the captain exits the cockpit.

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, takes the position that nothing could be done, that even the best system in the world cannot protect the public 100% from such disasters. And they are confident that they have a good one.

I am not a big fan of willy nilly violations of confidentiality. It seems to me, however, that there should have been a way for the doctor to tell the airline that Lubitz was a danger to self and others and see that he was grounded. There should be ways for the pilot to open the door from the outside of the cockpit or to place a toilet inside the cockpit so he doesn’t have to enter the passenger section of the plane. So many things can have been done differently, but I am afraid that this is not where the media, public opinion, and politics will take us. The Times’ restraint will almost certainly be accompanied by more shrill attacks on the mentally ill among us. Lubitz, I dread will become another hockey mask, another poster child who will be held up as a clarion call for denying the mentally ill their confidentiality. Laws stand before Congress that call for allowing “caregivers” to be informed of what goes on between psychiatrists and the most severe mentally ill. Will Andreas Lubitz’s crash take us another step? Who else will psychiatrists be forced to inform? How will confidentiality be broken after this incident? Who else will be able to enter the circle that HIPAA laws now defend? I shudder at the possibilities.

We must look, I think, at another major factor in this crash: stigma. Some out there think that stigma like racism no longer exists or impacts on lives. Believe me, it is alive and well. I know people who have lost jobs because their employers found out about their illness. We are told that we are ax murderers even though we have no history of violence or making threats. Friends decide that they want nothing more to do with us. Spouses panic and file papers for divorce. Now they will say that we harbor these impulses in secret, that we are all ticking time bombs.

Andreas Lubitz kept his illness a secret, I suspect, because of what would have happened to him. He would have lost a lucrative job. He might have found himself unemployed for months or even years. Friends would shun him. He would find himself very alone. In the final analysis, because he could not reveal his ache — because he could not talk about it without bringing an end to the life he had worked so hard to create for himself — the pressure built on him. When he found himself alone at the controls of the jet, he forgot the passengers. Only his pain was real to him and he ended it in the most powerful way he could.

Why We Shouldn’t Let Our Loved Ones Do the Talking about Stigma

square850Glenn Close is a woman who I admire for her dedication to her sister and her resolve to upend stigma. When Jessie Close was 51 years old, Glenn drove her to McLean Hospital in Boston where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Their commercials questioning the labels applied to mentally ill family members and their relatives are known to millions. We have every reason to admire and respect her for her work. But recent research suggests that maybe family members aren’t the best ones to be talking about stigma.

The research has nothing to do with the political issues surrounding mental illness. A pair of researchers looking into the rise of a culture willing to accept same sex marriage outline a successful strategy that we who live with bipolar disorder and other organic brain dysfunctions can employ:

Michael LaCour, a UCLA doctoral candidate in political science, and Donald Green, a Columbia University political science professor, have demonstrated that a single conversation can go a long way toward building lasting support for a controversial social issue. In addition — nearly as surprisingly — the effect tends to spill over to friends and family members.

The key is putting voters in direct contact with individuals who are directly affected by the issue.

What LaCour and Green discovered is that voters aren’t very moved by impassioned but otherwise unconnected individuals. I have supported same sex marriage since the late eighties, but I doubt that I have convinced anyone to change their mind. Why? Because I am not gay. Gays and lesbians have greater success persuading people to change their mind about same sex marriage and keep them changed. In the study:

The gay marriage canvassers asked voters what they enjoyed about being married (if the subjects were married) or the benefits they’d witnessed in the lives of married friends and relatives (if they weren’t). Gay canvassers then revealed their own sexual orientation and explained that they longed for the same benefits the interviewees had described, and straight canvassers discussed how they hoped a close relative who was gay could enjoy the benefits of marriage.

The average length of these conversations was only 22 minutes, but the visits had dramatic effects.

In follow-up surveys three days later, the researchers found that attitudes were unchanged among the voters who discussed recycling and those who weren’t visited by the interviewers. But among those who spoke with canvassers about gay marriage, support had jumped eight percentage points.

“The change was equivalent to transforming a Midwesterner into a New Englander on the issue of gay marriage,” quipped Green, an authority on research methods in the social sciences.

Within three weeks, however, conventional wisdom kicked in: Support for gay marriage among the voters who had been approached by straight canvassers retreated to where it had originally been; any effect of the conversation had been wiped out. Among voters who had been approached by gay canvassers, however, the attitude shift persisted. In fact, support for gay marriage among that group grew even further when the Supreme Court handed down its decision — jumping an additional seven percentage points. The researchers also found that among these voters’ the support remained a year later.

Our family members mean well when they speak up about the prejudice that afflicts their loved ones. It is people like me and you, however, — people who have lived through the pain of prejudice and ostracization — who stand in the best position to change hearts and keep them changed. The best any family member can do is give a secondhand report of their loved one’s experiences. We — the ones who have mental illness — put a human face on the issue. We are the best ones to talk about how it feels to hear people call us dangerous psychotics and losers, to lose jobs because our bosses and coworkers see us as threats. We know what the disease has done to our minds. We can move souls to greater understanding and action by telling people what it is like to live among paranoid normal people. No family member possesses this experience.

The struggle is ours.

There are two obstacles that I can see. One is that family members may not like seeing us speaking for ourselves. They have their own carefully crafted agenda about stigma that sometimes does not serve our interests. They may fear that we will upset all the hard work that they have done changing hearts and minds. In their eyes, we may be unpredictable and untrustworthy, a message which ultimately undermines the cause of stigma prevention by perpetuating it.

Contradictions such as this cannot be allowed to stand if we are to succeed.

The second is our self-stigma, our belief that if we come out we will be shamed for it, that the attacks of a few idiots will wound us beyond recovery. We may doubt our strength to advocate for ourselves. We may fear being stimulated into an episode. These can be realistic concerns, but we can take steps to limit their power over us. The strength we need is in us. No one but us knows what it is like to live with the economic and social losses driven by the disparagement of our sensitive minds. We can start by asking people what it means to live a life free from the fear of being left out and then tell them about our own experiences. Silent we can do nothing for ourselves. The advances made by our unafflicted friends and families will not last. Only the truths that we alone know can bring us the understanding and resolve of those who persist in ignorance because we are strangers to them.

How Positive Thinking Poisons Bipolar Disorder

square839When you are depressed, society forces you to lie. The American cult of Positive Thinking demands that we do not speak ever about our unhappy experiences or moods. If you live in Europe and someone asks you how you are, it is perfectly fine to say “Well, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep last night” or “I’m a bit down today”. Here in America, you are expected to say “Good” or “Everything’s all right.” If you stray even as far as saying “Fine” or “OK”, the alarm bells in the questioner’s head go off. This is not satisfactory. This suggests creeping negativism and negativism, the Positive Thinker believes, must be ever and always avoided and suppressed.

If you tell the truth, you find yourself saddled with guilt. Other people don’t want to hear about your bad day. They might mock you, call you a “downer”, or tell you to “cheer up and get with the program.” Your bad mood is a burden to others: they don’t like the suggestion that they have to spend a little time listening to you or that they might be a contributing cause. So you say that you are doing well. In summary, you feel guilt for having ruined their day when the reality is that they have ruined yours with their insensitive expectations of a life free from “negative people”.

Your feelings count. Avoid the Positive Thinkers because they are poison. Find people who are real. They have good ears and just hearts.

The Hidden Side of Gia Carangi

square837A cult has grown around the memory of dead supermodel Gia Carangi, mostly due to the movie of her life with Angelina Jolie in the title role. The film explores many facets of her troubled personality including her drug use, her obsession with her lover, her bisexual promiscuity, and her death from AIDS. Her problems, we are led to believe, stemmed from her drug use which made her irritable, anxious, depressed, hyper, and in the end terminally ill with HIV.

Many have speculated that Gia was bipolar. This could be a strong post-mortem diagnosis given her interludes of manic behavior and severe depression. A Gia Carangi fan site says

Gia frequented New York’s jet-set night spots, such as Studio 54, and developed a heroin problem during the latter part of her life. Because of Bipolar Disorder, Gia experienced extreme mood swings and would walk out of a fashion shoot if she didn’t feel like doing it. She constantly medicated herself with heroin. Carangi made several attempts at fighting her heroin addiction, attending rehabilitation centers multiple times. In 1983, she was profiled on ABC’s 20/20 magazine, in a piece focusing on the dark side of modeling. In June of 1986, she was diagnosed with HIV, becoming one of the first famous persons to be diagnosed with the disease, and also the first famous female diagnosed.

The makers of Gia completely overlook the possibility that Carangi’s eccentric behavior was driven by an organic brain dysfunction. None of the semi-fictional “interviewees” alludes to bipolar disorder though likely symptoms are depicted.

Continue reading →

PTSD and Bipolar: Vampires in the Warehouse

square828I’ve been dreaming of vampires lately. The vampires work normal jobs as clerks in huge warehouse stores. You pass through the aisle and then come to the checkout stand where the vampires are waiting for you. There are people who kill the vampires, but when they do, they turn into vampires themselves. Nicholas Gage is one of the vampire hunters. This is never a good sign.

The stigma I have experienced for being a sufferer of PTSD is worse than that I experience for being bipolar. Though bipolar disorder is not what some call a “casserole illness”, I can at least talk about it without people telling me that my symptoms are figments of my imagination. Standing up for the reality of my bipolar disorder was hard with my mother to be sure, but it was harder to speak about what my childhood had been like. Like many abusers, she denied her part in the emotional and physical abuse perpetrated against me to the very last day of her life. After she died, her friends told me what a great person she was. They did the same for my father. I have learned that the most beneficial salve for this is simply to remind myself that there exist as many different perspectives on each of us as we have relationships. But this comes dangerously close to buying into the denial about what was done to me.

Things continue to trigger me. The other night I was facilitating a support group when a man walked in from the street. We were mid-meeting and were about to listen to a fragile member. “Do you understand what the group is for,” I asked. “I saw the sign that said ‘Quakers’ and thought this is where the Universe wants me to be.” “This is for people living with depression and bipolar,” I said. His eyes lit up. Had he lucked into the right place? I asked him his name. He started bragging that he was a certified NLP1 therapist.

I held up my hand. “You’re trying to control me,” he protested. “We’ll get to you in time. First we listen to Regina.2.” Our NLP therapist took a seat and leaned forward hungrily. I focused my attention on Regina so that the other members of the group would do the same. When she was finished, I made a remark or two, then asked if other members of the group had feedback.

Mr. NLP rattled off a series of probing questions that, in his mind, established him as creditable. The look on his target’s face suggested that she was overwhelmed. Other people looked scared. I held up my hand. “This is inappropriate feedback,” I began.

“You’re trying to control me,” he shot back. “I’m the facilitator of this group,” I replied. “I’m supposed to do that.”

Insert the standard paranoic lecture about people who get off on having a little power into the mouth of Mr. NLP here.

I pointed to the door. “Out.”

His protestation that I couldn’t make him leave was drowned out by five angry women telling that, indeed, he had to go. My wife rose up and crossed the room to hover over him. “You have to leave now!” she said. He stood up and started accusing us of being a bunch of whiners who he could cure. He called my wife bipolar. I followed them to the door where he made his exit. There was shouting, yelling. I saw that the affair was over, so I went back into the meeting room where one member sat calmly in her chair.

“We can just talk you and me if you want,” I said, craving calm.

Lynn came back. Then Regina showed her face at the door. The two other women came back. They requested that we secure the Meeting House so he couldn’t sneak back in. Lynn locked the doors.

I held a moment of silence, then let people talk about what had happened. Many expressed their fear that he was going to be violent. One woman needed to use the bathroom. Lynn went with her. A frantic feeling filled my gut, one of panic not anxiety. I returned the focus to Regina, then continued through the circle. When it came to me I reported that I was shook up and scared. The other members made it clear that they did not fault me.

Afterwards, we gathered in shocked silence in the foyer. Everyone had brought out their cellphones and studied the keypad as if memorizing the correct configuration for Nine One One. I told people that we would all leave together. We went from car to car, checking the back seats as I had learned to do on a college campus years ago. I was the last to leave.

The people in whom I confided my feelings of being scared laughed them off. One person spoke of how she would have liked to have handled the guy and implied that my accompanying people to check the backs of their cars before they left was “oh so American”. “I don’t have that problem because I have a bicycle,” she said.

It has been a chore to write about this in the aftermath of the event itself and the facetious commentary. One fellow survivor of abuse observed on Facebook that people will often shut down the victim relating their experience by outright denying the abuse or otherwise belittling the telling of it. He writes:

It closes the doors for someone to talk about their feelings and forces them to keep it inside. This can destroy a person’s life. Many suicides result from this. Once any of these lines are used, the person may loses trust with the person who used one of these lines. Unfortunately much of this comes from family. The ones who we are supposed to trust to talk about our feelings are the very ones shutting us off. This forces us to seek friends or even strangers to talk to. This type of abuse is worse than the original abuse we went through.

I am worried for myself. I’ve detected faint flashes around the rims of my eyes. I feel the panic of the dream — that there are vampires around me and people treat it as a joke. Worse, I fear signs that I am becoming abusive. Or that my confessions will brand me as untrustworthy.

The final stigma of PTSD that haunts me is the implication that because I don’t have “a thick hide” I am unfit for being in a leadership role among people enthralled in the suffering of mental illness. My sensitivity is a mark against me even though I feel and others have told me that I am more empathetic because of it. This feels like the final revenge of my dead parents: when I was young, it was always my protests that were the problem — not their considerably more violent rages. For the longest time, I have not stood up for myself and when I have done so, I have done it badly. Now it is my sensitivity — my feelings of upset by encounters with aggressive people — that is labeled the problem. Don’t feel. In cases like the one I have just described, I have felt a distinct uneasiness and shame for having allowed the situation to develop. As I told Lynn: “I am sorry that I put you in a situation where you felt you had to act the pit bull.” After all of this, I am the vampire. So far those with whom I have talked about this have not gainsaid me.

  1. Neuro-linguistic Programming — a scientifically discredited therapy. See []
  2. Not her real name []

Guns and Crazies

square791The so-called sane frighten me. Again. This time it is the NRA which, after the incident at Newtown last month, believes that the problem is threefold: not enough guns, video games, and a lack of tracking of those of us with mental disorders.

If you want to hear my opinions on the first two, you will have to follow my Twitter account. The matter of the mentally ill is a bullet fired very close to home. The simple-minded think that marking us with our own special yellow stars solves the problem of Newtown. But it is based on misconceptions and wrong-headed. Let me explain why.

First, only 3% of the mentally ill actually commit violent crimes Only 3% of the sane do the same. So why single out people like me? I offer that the reason is the same as that which leads them to buy guns: they are afraid. I have to say that in all my years running support groups that I have only one person with a mental illness go off on me. He told me to fuck myself and gave me the finger as he walked out the door. I don’t find that that behavior merits stricter controls over the mentally ill, though I have wondered about some of the people who have appeared on television and Youtube videos.

The making of such a list implies that this fellow — and myself — are as dangerous as sex offenders. Just the level of stigma that I need, right? The last time I went on a killing spree — say, wait. I’ve never gone on a killing spree or even threatened one. Why is it that I have to be registered and Alex Jones doesn’t? Oh, I know. I have gone to a psychiatrist and sought help for my illness, something that Alex Jones has patently declared he will never do because he sees psychiatrists as just another kind of policeman.

I’m not too keen about putting my medical records in the hands of people who have no business knowing it. I take my meds, I attend support group meetings, and I see a therapist. My neighbors have never had a problem with me. The police have never paid me a visit to impose the infamous Five One Five Oh. Though I have gone public, I stand for the right of everyone with my condition to choose who gets to know what they live with. Gun dealers have no business knowing these facts of our lives when there is no clear danger to self or others.

And who can say that it will stop there? What will keep employers from scrying these files like they do for criminal records and sex offender statuses? Once you attach stigma to mental illness with a database, it will be misused to destroy lives.

Stigma has another grave effect. People who have a mental illness often don’t seek help because they don’t want a diagnosis that will brand them against good jobs, financial security, and simple social acceptance. Some with violent inclinations will go completely unnoticed by the system because they won’t seek help. A lot has been said about the Newtown shooter, but if he had a psychotic disorder, no one has come forward to confirm it. In the absence of this, how could we possibly track such people? And how will we get those influenced by Alex Jones — those with genuine psychiatric conditions — to get treatment?

As the statistics I have cited before indicate, having a mental illness is a poor predictor of violence. Drinking alcohol has a higher correlation with violence but when Tennessee legislators tried to bar gun stores in bars, the NRA cried “slippery slope” and talked them out of it. As I said, the so-called sane are making a mess of this by removing the focus from the real problem to an imaginary one.

Newcomers: Read my comments policy.

Shopping at Moods-R-Us

square784This is a peeve I’ve had for a long time. I can understand the reasoning, but I don’t like the additional implications. Due to the media, folklore, and other cancers of popular culture, the phrase “mental patient” acquired some bad connotations. Some people didn’t want to be labeled with it because they had been wrongly committed back in the days when psychiatrists called anything that moved “schizophrenic”. Others didn’t want to be painted with an ax in their hands.

But the phrase we replaced it with was “mental health consumers”. I am all for mental health — isn’t that the reason why I am on so many medications? — but the notion of me being a “consumer” irritates me. It suggests that I am in Psychiatry Land because I am looking for a high or because I am looking for the latest brain fashion accessory. Out there, there must be a mental health superstore — a “Moods-R-Us” where I can pick and choose from the latest manias, depressions and mixed states, each colored to match my attire1 .

There’s a worse implication here: consumer suggests whim. It suggests that our syndromes are less devastating than other physical conditions. Do we hear talk of diabetes consumers or cancer consumers? “Oh, yes, I would like some Taxol to go with my new uterine tumor.” People would rise in anger and cry out in rebellion.

If we are just consumers, then our illnesses aren’t serious and don’t deserve insurance coverage. That’s the bottom line here. It’s a door to disenfranchise us from decent health care. And no one who suffers from genuine psychiatric conditions should just stand by and allow that to happen.

  1. I have a friend who showed up to her psychiatrist wearing ultra-bright clothing. The shrink said “Are we feeling a bit manic today?” “No,” my friend said. “We are feeling depressed and the only clothes we have to wear are the ones we bought when we were manic.” []

The First Refuge of Scoundrels

square763In the wake of yet another act of terrorism by a right wing zealot, we hear the tired cry that this was the work of a “madman”. How quick people are to blame what Anders Behring Breiviks on psychosis! Do they have any evidence at this point? No. It is just an attempt to exculpate all the years of shrill talk from right wing pundits and demagogues that led up to this.

I know the darkness of psychosis personally. I have not been perfect, sometimes sadistic but never to the point where I have wreaked physical harm on others, much less attempted to kill. Do I have to cite statistics that show the so-called sane are more dangerous, that serial killers typically do not have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression — again? Do I have to show that this is the work of a sociopath who wrapped himself in the cross and the Tea Party?

I should not have to. But the Right runs like the Right always runs from the facts. Suppose I said that we shouldn’t take the 9/11 attacks seriously because bin Laden and the men who flew the planes were merely “madmen”? Would you let Al Qaeda and the various associated prophets of terrorism off the hook even if they did nothing but write and make speeches?

“Madman” is right-wing political correctness for white male terrorist.

I think we need a corollary to Dr. Johnson’s maxim about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel. There is a first refuge that the Right always takes when its evilest impulses betray themselves: stigma. Stigma is the first refuge of a scoundrel.

I’m Picking on Batman, Again

square762I’ve gotten in trouble for this before — taken to task not only in the comments section of this blog, but also on Twitter. But what needs to be said needs to be said. Batman is teaching people awful things about mental illness, things that are not true. Take The Joker for instance. How many times have Gotham City authorities thrown him into the Arkham Asylum? Does he really belong there? Psychiatrist H. Eric Bender M.D. thinks not:

“Someone who is ‘psychotic’ is experiencing symptoms of psychosis, a mental disorder, which can include auditory hallucinations, such as hearing voices; visual hallucinations, where they see objects that are not truly there; or have delusional thoughts, despite evidence to show that such beliefs are incorrect — such as believing that one’s movements are being tracked by deep space satellites — or disorganized behavior,” Bender said. “In the vast majority of depictions, the Joker is not experiencing such symptoms; rather, the Joker has shown symptoms of psychopathy.”

Bender says psychopathy is a personality construct and not a diagnosis of a mental disorder.

“Psychopathy reflects interpersonal characteristics and behavior that are often rooted in a lack of empathy,” Bender said. “In the comics, television shows, and films, the Joker is much more akin to a psychopath and is not psychotic1 .”

What our comics and what our cinema say about mental illness transfers to the minds of people who are too lazy to pick up a genuine work about abnormal psychiatry. These same people vote and the representatives they choose make decisions that affect my life. So it behooves me to be aware of what comic books promulgate and to challenge their errors wherever possible.

Art is not above criticism for its values. It is not to be ignored when it suggests bad policy. To go by Batman, you would think that most criminals of the like of The Joker trick the system into putting them into mental institutions. Nothing is farther from the truth. As the same article notes, only 1% of all criminal cases center around legal insanity pleas and, of those, only 20% actually succeed. So we’re not in danger of giving the criminal masterminds of this world an easy ride.

What is actually happening is that many of our mentally ill end up in prisons where they are victimized by the real sociopaths. We have closed down our asylums2 and thrown the psychotic out onto the streets. To get treatment where community mental health centers have not appeared as promised, some of these have resorted to petty crimes. In jails, they get the meds they need to function, but they also get beat up and raped.

When this happens on the outside, people who might otherwise have helped turn their back because they have learned to equate the mentally ill with serial killers or other violent denizens of the demimonde. Some go past indifference to outright hostility: they beat those who are sick. And when it comes to the community, there are those psychopaths who have risen to places of power. Their lack of empathy results in policies that prevent the mentally ill from getting the treatment they should have for their sake and the sake of the economy.

I hope that when the new series starts coming out in September, Batman will become a new kind of Caped Crusader, one who knows the difference between the psychopath and the psychotic. As one of the latter, I am tired of getting the blame for crimes I don’t commit, much less imagine.

  1. More here []
  2. Remember that word means “place of refuge” — except as run in the past, it often was not. []

Bachmann’s Migraines: New swing on stigma

square761Once again, I find myself in the position of having to run to the defense of someone who I detest. Michelle Bachmann has migraines. This has instigated widespread tweeting on her fitness to be president. Never mind that Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy both suffered from these headaches1 . Now people who would just shrug their shoulders if this were Obama suggest that this disqualifies her for office.

There are plenty of reasons to want Michelle Bachmann at any address other than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is mean-spirited. She hates gays and women who want control over their bodies. She rails on about pornography but has no workable plan for ending unemployment in this country. She takes her marching orders from her husband who we will not get to vet2 . She has lied about her qualifications for the job and about her relationship with the 23 foster children who marched through her house. She eagerly hopes that she will lead our nation into the Apocalypse. The list goes on. But migraines should not be one of them simply because we should not be in the habit of disqualifying people for every little sniffle that plagues them. Either there will be no one to elect or we will elect liars.

Stigma should not be the basis of an electoral decision. Did we not end a fight to put a black man in the White House in 2008? Are we progressives and liberals the ones who fought the hardest for the Americans with Disabilities Act — to put the disabled into the workforce? I can think of no reason to disqualify a migraine sufferer from office. If John F. Kennedy could get us through the Cuban Missile Crisis with the threat of migraines hanging over him, this issue should be dead, cremated, shot into space, and buried in a black hole.

But there’s another reason that my progressive and liberal allies can better understand: it has to do with the average voter. Our aim must be to get the average voter to concentrate on whether Bachmann will make a good president. If we raise the hype about migraines, all she needs do is assert that they don’t affect her. So what message does the average voter get? That nothing should bar Bachmann from becoming president. That’s not a message we should allow to develop. We must emphasize the issues that make Bachmann and the rest of her Tea Party host a very dangerous proposition for this country. It’s not about migraines, it is about destroying the government. Bachmann has voted repeatedly to steer us toward default and collapse of the central government. She wants to end Medicare and Social Security. I do not doubt that she would like to see the Americans with Disabilities Act repealed in full or in parts. These don’t disqualify her, but they amount to solid reasons for voting her out of any kind of government job. Michelle Bachmann is one of the worst candidates for the presidency at this time. If her migraines miraculously disappeared, she would still be. Her politics should be what we focus upon, not the pains in her head.

  1. And what about Lincoln’s depressions? []
  2. If he wants the power so badly, why isn’t he running for office? []

Beyond Stigma Education: Life or Death Politics for the Bipolar

square755Ask most people living with bipolar what threatens them most from society and they will say stigma. This past year, that answer should have changed. After the disease itself, we are most threatened by the same things that affect other Americans: The playing field has been tilted for all and we are sliding into a boiling pot of poverty and lack of treatment.

Yesterday, I was saddened by the news that my state legislature — that of California — cravenly chose to avoid raising taxes and made drastic cuts to social spending beginning, as they always do, with cuts for programs supporting the recovery of the mentally ill. It was not as if we have raised taxes to the maximum level and still are wanting for enough. America’s taxes are the second lowest in the developed world and, for some, the economy is paying them off well. AHnold Schwarzeneggar produced a generous tax cut for millionaires. In Minnesota, Republicans are staging a government shutdown because they don’t want to raise taxes back to levels where we could support these programs. Again, let me say America is not broke. We are the richest country in the world thanks to what has been a generous economy in our past. But the money has flowed straight to the wealthy and less than 1% has gone to people like you and me.

A video celebrating patriotic millionaires who are calling for their taxes to be raised says “Millionaires are the result of a healthy economy, not its cause.” And our economic tenets are twisted. To say that our values are crazy at this time is an insult to those of us with serious mental health problems. But this is a matter of stigma that I have dealt with before on this blog and right now it is not what I think should be the chief concern of people with bipolar disorder. The Republicans are out to destroy our ability to find and hold jobs, to receive appropriate treatment. If you are not lucky like me, you may find yourself on the street in the next few years. And that is a kind of disenfranchisement that we should not tolerate.

The issue is taxes, taxes that could give us a life but aren’t being raised because of an insane addiction on the part of the GOP to lowering them ever lower. We must reject the Republicans and vote — if not for ourselves, then for our peers — to put them out of office. Of course, we must avoid grandiosity, but this is holy war. If the Republicans succeed people like us will be put out on the streets to die. Higher taxes for the wealthy can save us and our friends. We fought against suicide, hallucinations, and paranoia. This challenge lies in the real world. The Republicans of old are dead and in the thrall of people who want you homeless or dead. Stand up for your right to be human and to contribute to this society of ours.

Cruel Hacker Tricks: Bullying the Mentally Ill

square733We cheer for [[Anonymous_(group)|Anonymous]] as it strikes against those who are out to destroy our freedom through corporate interference, but there are currently faceless individuals who undermine the point of that kind of freedom by attacking political rivals1 and those who are advocates for change and understanding. This [[cyberbullying]] is now focused on Beckie0, a young woman who has created several videos and photographs informing her audience about [[trichillomania]]. She does not advocate trichillomania, but tries to get people to understand why hair pullers pull.

We who live with mental illness periodically put up with this kind of dirty trickery. I have been subjected to it, but not on the level that Beckie is being made to experience. Every morning at 4 a.m., the hackers start on her accounts. She is going through the British equivalent of her final exams, which is layering anxiety upon anxiety.

To the hacker(s): Your behavior indicates that you are one of us. It is time to face your insecurities. I cannot see what kind of threat that a talented young woman such as Beckie0 represents to you. That is a matter between you and your therapist. Get a grip on these issues before you end up in jail or, worse, before you go full throttle after the most helpless victim you can ever choose: yourself.

  1. Witness the hacking of [[Anthony Weiner]]’s Twitter account over the weekend which not only inconvenienced him, but embarrassed a Washington state woman who received a picture of a man in his undershorts. []