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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Breaking the rules. Mental illness as a social deviance

Our society is based on certain societal rules, without which it wouldn’t be able to function. Each society is different and has different rules. For instance, in some societies, mental illness is not considered as illness at all, with totally different consequences for the individual concerned as a result. The individual can receive a special training, for instance, and become a shaman, which is considered as an upper level in the hierarchy of the society where the shaman is trained.
Most Western societies moved away from faith-based systems towards negation of spirituality (or God) and atheist- based systems, where one is judged according to one’s place within a society. We are ‘measured’ based on our social identity. This is how others perceive our place within the society, such as being a mum, a doctor, a wife, an academic, a student, etc. Status and one’s capital are considered as the most important traits within an individual in the majority of Western societies.
Mental illness therefore, becomes a sort of social deviance, because an individual (suffering from mental illness) has stopped following the rules. The behaviour, such as social behaviour is something which we learn at schools (it is not a given, but an acquired trait) and therefore, a step from the norm of acceptable social behaviour has been put in the domain of deviance.
Mental illness is nothing more or less (from the point of view of sociology) as breaking the rules of the societal game. The society in which we are based is a game, but because it is a game followed by the majority, it has become a norm. Most individuals don’t stop and reflect on such deep existential questions as: ‘Who am I as an individual, besides being a mum, a wife of a rich husband, or an English-man based in New York?’, or ‘why should I drive a car in the first place?’, ‘Why do I need to look a certain way in order to be considered as beautiful?’, ‘Why should I earn a certain amount of money in order to be judged as success?’ or ‘Why do I need to acquire a big house or wear certain brands to acquire a better social image?’
Individuals who suffer from mental illness, in their majority, simply saw the flaw of the societal system as such and ‘broke’ away from the game at some point. Mental illness is a deep existential and spiritual crisis, which is not recognised as such because mental illness has been judged as a deviance and moved into the domain of such institutions as psychiatry. It has been called ‘an illness’ for a reason. If it is considered as an illness then it can be treated through medications and delegated to specialists in the field of medicine. It can be then diagnosed, and analysed from the point of view of psychological ‘disturbance’. These are nothing more than some concepts to deal with mental health problems as deviance.
Unfortunately, there is nothing an individual suffering from mental illness can do to change how the society runs. Anti-psychiatry manifesto can do nothing in terms of changing the game. In fact, by blaming the psychiatry, one can do more harm than good. Despite the flaws of our society, medicine is one of its aspects which makes our life better. Scientists and doctors do save lives, and trying to ban the medical aspect of psychiatry risks delegating the problem of how we view mental illness totally into the domain of the argument of pro-psychiatry or anti-psychiatry, while the debate should be in the domain of sociology and philosophy.
It is how we view mental illness as such and how we judge it which is a problem.
So, what can you do as an individual suffering from mental illness in terms of how to position yourself within the society?
First, you need to know that mental illness as a term became known only in the 1900. It was called ‘illness’ only in order to put it into the field of societal deviance.
Mental illness is breaking the rules of societal game, but once you recognise it as a game, you will also see that you simply stopped ‘playing’.
Mental illness is a spiritual crisis but our society is not equipped to deal with it.
Which means that in order to still continue living a happy and fulfilled life you need to rely entirely on yourself. Psychiatry can give you medication but it won’t equip you spiritually and it won’t help you to find your place within our society. It can put you back into the system but without taking into account the existential call of your psyche, which will continue calling back unless you deal with it and recognise it.
Unfortunately, there is no help available in terms of how to deal with existential crisis in our society. From now on, this blog is dedicated to address this problem. I will try to combine different views and teachings (including from philosophy, esoteric domain, different faiths, and sociology) as well as some practical tips (including help from psychiatry and social domain) so that more individuals are equipped with the problem of our society in the domain of mental health. Such as that it treats its manifestations but not the cause.
I also welcome all contributions and advice on the matter.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Rules of the game and core strength: personal appearance

Rules of the game are the rules in terms of how you position yourself within society, such as your social status, social behaviour, the way you talk and act in public, your online profile, and image and personal branding.
Core strengths are personal qualities which define yourself as individual in terms of how you view yourself and how you then decide to live your life. Thus, image, for instance, is different from personal appearance, because image is how you decide to project yourself towards the others and how others view your persona, while personal appearance is the care you take of yourself. You can stay the whole day inside your house, but still look good.
Personal appearance is a key core strength because without it, everything else goes down the drain. You can lie depressed in bed for days in a row, but still find the energy to get out of bed and wash yourself and change your clothes. This is where your recovery actually starts. You can’t take care of any aspects of your life without first taking care of the way you look. You might be crying, on heavy medication, without any will to do anything, but you still need to summon all will-power you have and go and wash yourself, put on clean clothes and brush your hair. This is the most important aspect of being an individual with any kind of autonomy. If you take this away from yourself (and yes, you do have a choice in this matter), you also take away your own personal autonomy and loose respect for yourself. Personal appearance is not about how you appear in front of other people (though, in order to lead a more or less successful life within our society, your appearance in front of other people is a first rule of the social game), it is how you look and view yourself. The whole world might be crushing in front of your eyes, but if you contemplate it while being clean and in a clean bed, you will know that it is only temporary. Even such a huge social misstep (in terms of the rules of the social game) as being a patient in a psychiatric hospital is not a big deal if you preserve your main core strength, such as looking after your personal appearance. I once was with a totally depressed woman in a hospital. She would lie the whole day in bed and hardly leave her room, with darkened windows, covered under blankets on her bed. But she would have a bath once a day, every day, wear heels in the dining hall, and a bright lipstick. She would lie in bed, totally out, but in heels and perfumed. As a result, she bestowed a huge respect towards herself, and people wanted to get close to her. She never lost her core strength, such as personal autonomy.
This has to be automatic. The darkest form of depression can strike you, but you need to find the energy to at least reach your bathroom and have a shower. You can then return to your bed, but in a state of cleanness. This is respect towards oneself, which is the main component of your own personal power, including the desire to live.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Mental illness is not a verdict

Mental illness is not a verdict. If you think otherwise, you need to reconsider your attitude to the matter.
It’s very easy to feel miserable, especially if you’ve had a recent episode of mental illness (depression, hospital spell, feeling high, or low). But because it is so easy to start feeling as a victim, this is precisely what you shouldn’t do. In fact, mental illness in itself can point to the fact that somewhere, somehow, you lost a battle with the attitude towards life itself. But okay, it happened, which is not the end of the world, and you should move on. Always.
For inspiration I constantly look at what other people do in similar situations. I don’t like miserable stories since they make me even sadder, but inspirational stories. I try to look at success of other people, especially if they had problems in the past. These stories are all around us. For instance, Robbie Williams, a singer, and who was diagnosed as bipolar and was on drugs. Look at him now! He is happily married, with 3 kids, has a lovely, supporting wife and is a judge on X-Factor this year. He still makes his own music, stopped smoking and looks after himself. Whether you like Robbie Williams or not, he is still a wonderful example of someone who didn’t give up but has been fighting for a happy life.
Or look at Paulo Coelho, a writer. His books sell in millions. However, it took him years to get his first book ‘The Alchemist’ published and he was once chased with a diagnosis of mental illness. He never gave up.
These examples are all around us. You don’t have to look at famous people for inspiration. It is sufficient to look at a friend or a colleague. Someone who overcame a problem and never stopped fighting. A friend, for instance, who overcame a difficult situation in life. I know of a woman who is a single mum with four children, living in a remote village in Siberia. Her ex-husband is a drug addict and a bully. She had almost no money to survive and was depressed. But she never gave up. She continued to raise her four children, started to work as a teacher at school and will soon move to a better town. Her children are all doing well at school and she has many friends around her who are willing to help. This is because she projects optimism. It is all in the attitude. If you are miserable, you will continue to attract misery. However, if you start taking pleasure in small blessings in life, you will start attracting more of such blessings.
These blessings don’t have to be big. The problem with our society is that we want everything at once. The image of success projected on us from mainstream media is always of someone who has great looks, lots of money, with a big house and a smart car. It is no wonder that with such an image, mental health problems are on the increase. Frankfurt school sociologists argued about it a long time ago. Life has become a strive towards instant gratification, a search for false needs. However, what makes us really happy are more durable, non-materialistic things. It is friends around us, our family, a walk in the nature, music, doing a fulfilling job, preparing a simple meal from scratch.
This morning after I dropped my son from school, I took time to capture a small but significant blessing in my life, such as living in the lovely town of Sheffield. The views here are breath-taking! It might not be much, but it is a lot for me, when I can have an amazing walk every day and enjoy such gifts from nature.

How do you overcome struggles in life? Where do you look for inspiration?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Bipolar disorder and dreadful time after hospitalization

Hello. As someone with mental health disorder you might have, as me, spent some time in the hospital. Congratulations if you are out, but if you are still in, I advise you to read my posts on how to have fun while being in a psychiatric hospital. Hard but doable.

In this post, however, I want to write about the time immediately after discharge something I have never written about because usually during that period as the majority of mental health patients I had been facing the blank space, the period of absolute emptiness, when simple task of making a coffee is difficult, and even more so, writing a blog post.

Now, three months have passed since my hospitalization and I have the feeling that I am finally ready to face the world again and maybe share some advice about how to survive the awful period after hospitalization. It is that time which is the most difficult when either you realise for the first time that you now belong to the domain of the mental, or get the confirmation that the diagnosis they had given you is still hanging over your head, with everything which comes with it, stigma, tiredness, medication, embarrassment due to some mad acts. This time I proclaimed on all online social networks that I am Jesus, and if my childhood friends or colleagues had no idea about my bipolar disorder so far, now they ALL have. I am not famous and I have maybe something like three hundred friends on Facebook but I kind of sympathise with Britney Spears when she faced the whole world after being admitted to a mental institution.

So, how to deal with this period, the time which comes immediately after the hospital when depression usually strikes, you are terribly tired, want to sleep all the time and think that you lost all your friends, as well any chance for productive life?
Step by step. It might sound as a cliche but it is the only thing which helps. Every day when I wake up and feel awful I tell myself that it will pass. This dreadful period will stop and more energy will come soon. It might take up to two months or more but it will happen. I’ve been here before and I know.

This time knowing how hard it is, this was the only thing which helped me. Repeating again and again that it is just temporary. That the fatigue will go away, that my friends are still there even if I have zero energy to see them, that I still have a job and that I can have a happy and joyful life with bipolar disorder. I’ve had one and am determined to keep it.

So, don’t despair. Keep it on. Don’t harbour any suicidal thoughts. Sleep as much as you need, comfort yourself with nice food, don’t think that you should stop smoking, start exercising and all other stuff you repeat you should be doing. You will do it, but give it time. The recovery will come and you will face again our wonderful, full of wonder world.
And remember, you are not alone. Other people are in the same boat. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Born in the USSR. A story of a perfume

When Gorbachev started his Perestroika, we had a problem with supply of products. The reforms that he had put in place had an initial effect of small starvation problems. Shops were empty and when a product would appear, everyone was after it, regardless of what it was: a vacuum cleaner, sausages, pants or bras or coats.
(image found at Daily Mail)

There was this colorful coat, the image of Moscow at that time as almost everyone was wearing it. I still remember it very clearly, it was a winter coat with stripes of red, blue and yellow. I’d never seen anything as bright and optimistic till then. I, of course, also wanted the coat when I saw it and started to ask my parents to buy it. However, they forgot about it for a week or so, and when, on one Saturday, my dad offered to take me to a friend's who had a stock of these coats, I answered ‘no’. During the week that passed I saw so many women wearing the ornament that the attraction lost its appeal. I wanted to be unique and different.
The incident with one particular perfume was less fortunate though. My dad got a special bottle of the liquid and gave it to me as a present. Oh my god, I never expected that this kind of stuff was possible in life. The smell, the bottle, I would stare and marvel for ten minutes at least and only then put a small drop on my neck, being careful that it was only a tiny amount. I wanted it to last, as no one was sure at that time where the economy, and even the whole country, were going. I shouldn’t have worried as the current choice of perfume is killing me. Not as much as the choice between the BB creams, but I really, really, don’t want to start to talk about the creams.

And so, I loved the perfume for a week or so until a friend of mine came for a visit and we had a laugh about the colourful coat. Two of our teachers at school started wearing the stuff at the same time, banging at each other already at the entrance, where the pupils usually hung out before the school’s start.

“Have you seen Natalia Andreevna's face? She looked like a tomato, so embarrassed she was! Ha-ha-ha." We started to laugh in unison as the situation was indeed very funny, even if, in all honesty, I also pitied the poor teacher. I was fast approaching fourteen, the age when you realise that you don't want to end up in a dress at a party that someone else is wearing.

"But wait, they have another star product at the moment," my friend continued  about the rare goodies we could get access to.
"They released a perfume and almost everyone wears it now. I can't stand it any more, have you noticed it on the metro? That overwhelming smell?"

"Oh yeah?" I asked, as if not really caring, while becoming very anxious inside. Surely she wasn't talking about my perfume, the best thing I'd ever possessed?

“Yes, even the bottle is over the top, copied from the Burda magazine (she was referring to the first foreign magazine in circulation), pink with white, to remind us that bread doesn’t matter but small luxuries do!

This was quite sophisticated talk for a fourteen year old but I was sure that she had heard it directly from her parents. On top of that, it wasn’t a secret that products were becoming rarer and rarer with each step of perestroika, with people lately queuing even for bread.

But yes, she was talking about my precious possession. I was furious inside and not because I knew that I could no longer use it but because I missed, spectacularly, that everyone else was having the same thing. No wonder I didn’t notice the smell of my perfume since I was wearing it as well.

“So, what’s the perfume you wanted to show me?” My friend asked, referring to my earlier boasting on the phone about the fact that I had gotten my first ever perfume. I saw her face changing though, by the middle of the sentence, as it dawned on her that there was only one perfume currently on the market. She even avoided looking at me, but I was doing the same, dying from embarrassment.

“I lost it,” I said, sealing my shopping habit for the future.

Nowadays I can spend ages on shopping, looking for unique items. And many of my friends from that time do the same. One has to, after that years under Perestroika and immediately after when the whole population had to wear the same thing: coats, perfumes, even bras.

And in case you do wonder, that perfume was Anais. And I, obviously, don’t ever buy it. I also have a huge collection of coats, to compensate for the fact that I never had the opportunity to wear that bright coat, the image of Moscow under Gorbachev and his Perestroika attempt.
It was indeed a very colorful coat. Does anyone else remember it, as vividly as I do?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

On Being Mental. How to survive a psychiatric hospital

As some of you know, I have been in a hospital not that long ago, with a psychotic episode.

Before I proceed to discussing how one can survive a psychiatric institution (with humour, there is no other way), I do need to admit that I’ve been lucky.
I received an absolutely amazing care at Sheffield, at Nether Edge hospital. Staff was kind, compassionate and patient, with my psychiatrist being the best doctor I’ve ever met. If there is any problem with psychiatry (something I wrote about elsewhere), then it should come to Sheffield and take example from the hospital where I was. No one then would have any problem with the psychiatry after watching how it should be done (caring after the patients).
It is not the psychiatry which is a problem or the marvel of NHS that the UK is still blessed with, but the attitude of the society and stigma. Prior to my hospitalization I’ve been bullied by someone who, which was so unexpected, that triggered unnecessary stress. One shouldn’t bully anyone, including on online social networks.  Even if an awful car accident was the main trigger of my relapse. 
It was unexpected because, otherwise, I am very lucky. I have really good medication which doesn’t have any side-effects, I have two jobs which I love, great family and friends. I am a very happy person, despite my bipolar disorder.
Having said that, let’s proceed to the part as to how one survives the psychiatric hospital. Because, regardless of one level of happiness, it does require stamina and determination, to come out more or less intact.
One can do it only with a sense of humour and some tricks. I know, if the staff from the hospital where I was, reads it, they might be in slight shock and I would really sympathise with their reaction to this post. They actually face danger on a daily basis from the angry patients, patients who don’t comply with the care, or simply bad people. There are bad people among the ‘normal’ and there are ‘bad’ people among the mad too. This is how the world, unfortunately, works.
Still, despite the fact that I am among the patients who does believe in medicine, and it does help me to lead a good, productive life, where I am also able to contribute to the society, I need to take account of my personality, always.
I am a hooligan. Not in a bad way, but in a way I learned how to live if you were born in the Soviet Union. I don’t like strict rules. I learned how to deal with authority. It is needed, but can be overcome with humour.
For instance, to give you an example. How to get rid of some boredom indeed if you are stuck in a mental institution? You read all the books they have, made friends with all other patients, played some table tennis and had all the baths for the rest of the eternity. What next, indeed?
The next step is to become creative. You aren’t the only one bored, staff and doctors are bored too.
Invite some friends and pretend they are your relatives! Make an appointment with your doctor and have some session of fun, when your friends nod their heads in agreement in terms of your care, while the doctor has no idea that he/she is talking to your friends, and NOT to your auntie and cousin. Released for a leave with them and can finally go to a local pub to have a normal drink? Even better!
Another tip is to ask a friend to bring some ‘normal’ drink inside the hospital, whatever it might be for you. For me, it a nice glass of wine. I live like a French royalty. I like a large glass of red wine in the evening. And no one can deny me this pleasure.
In the hospital it isn’t possible for some obvious reasons. It is banned. And rightly so. It isn’t the alcohol which is a problem but the fact that if you have a bottle inside your room, it can be stolen and used for smashing someone’s head. A good policy in other words.
Still, if you do fancy that glass of wine, ask a friend to help you! One of my friends came with a small bottle of wine, I had a drink and this friend just departed with an empty bottle. A small act of sabotage but an act which made me happy, enjoying my staying more, rather than enduring it in total misery.
Yes, even in a mental hospital you can still have fun.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Born in the Soviet Union. A boy and a book, and House of Artist

When I was eleven I fancied a boy. It was that innocent, first-time crush when the ultimate wish is to spend more time together, and a kiss on the lips. It never happened.
What did happen, however, was a love of a book thanks to that boy.
His name was Andrei and he was a son of a famous painter. Andrei, as I, was a member of exclusive club of young painters at the also famous ‘House of Artist’ in Moscow. The House of Artist was renowned and still is for its amazing exhibitions and a nice restaurant and cafeteria, with grounds next to the House stretching to Moscow river, giving a beautiful view and a time spent in peace, culture and tranquillity.
(picture made by MarcMarc)
I got into the club thanks to my grand-dad. At some point, a Cossack who had been first sent to Ural because he had marched by foot from Germany after the war, and thus, couldn’t be traced among members of the Russian Army, was later sent to a political prison in Siberia, where he ended up sharing a cell with another famous painter. The painter taught my grand-dad how to paint, and on his return to Ural and then, ultimately, to his Cossack village in the South of Russia, together with my grand-mum and their sons, he became a teacher of art at a local school. One day, when, as usual, I was spending my summer with my grand-parents, during the long break from school in Moscow, he started to teach me how to draw, and these lessons landed me a place in the club in the House of Artist, a small group of ten children among hundreds who didn’t get a place.
It soon emerged that I wasn’t doing that well when my artistic expression had to be supervised at certain hours. I wasn’t that interested in learning further technique of painting or in spending an hour trying to figure out how to draw a still picture of some fruits at the back of the studio. I was eleven years old and was more interested in socializing. Another girl, Nastya, had the same ideas as me, and we would bring our tiny collections of barbie girls and spend all our breaks on playing (more about my obsession with barbies can be found in my post about how I jeopardised a date due to barbies).
There was also a boy, Andrei, who was very interesting. He wouldn’t play barbies but draw in that dismissive way of a rebel. If we had to do a still picture, he would draw a portrait of a teacher, and then it was time for a landscape, he would make a still picture of a tree.
Needless to say, he was a subject of admiration of all girls in our group, me including.
Andrei had a liking of me, since he would always try to sit next to me and engage in some intellectual conversation. Even at that age I would catch myself thinking that here was an intellect way beyond childhood, and that Andrei was simply a genius.

One day, on the way home, when we travelled together for something like five underground stations until his stop, Andrei asked me whether I had already read ‘The Master and Margarita’. I hadn’t and for a good reason. ‘The Master and Margarita’, a masterpiece written by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was published only after his death, is a story of a Devil who visits the Soviet Union under Stalin’s regime, with a parallel story of Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. It isn’t a book that one reads at the age of eleven.
But because I admired Andrei and didn’t want to appear stupid, I answered that ‘yes, of course’, which provoked a zero reaction on Andrei’s face. I reckon he would have been much more surprised if I had answered the truth. I had never read any work by Bulgakov by that point.
“What did you think of Woland?” Andrei then asked me the next question, sending me into frenzy of trying to guess who the hell Woland was. If you haven’t read the book yet, I strongly advice you to do it now, as it is the best book ever of satire on the Soviet regime and has amazing insights into the character of the Devil. Professor Woland is the devil who seems to be so ‘impressed’ by the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, that he can’t stop making practical jokes on Moscow and its establishment. It is both funny and mesmerising, especially that Bulgakov gives us a human insight into what had happened to Christ.
Not knowing what to answer, I asked Andrei’s opinion on Woland.
“He seems quite an interesting character, someone very unusual,” Andrei gave a prompt answer of someone who had read the book and had thought about its message and meaning. Thankfully, we reached Andrei’s stop and he would never discover that I had lied. He stopped going to the club of young artists (probably he was bored due his rebellious nature) and I haven’t seen him since. Andrei has remained in my life that mysterious boy who helped me to discover my most favourite book ever.
Because the first thing I asked my mum once I was back home was to give me ‘The Master and Margarita’ to read. Even if surprised by such request, she didn’t say anything and just gave me the book. In our family the rule was that one could read anything as long as one would read. And in any case, we only had good books in the house.
I started to read the book that night, starting to laugh on the second page thanks to its humour and couldn’t stop for two days. ‘The Master and Margarita’ became my most treasured book which I reread every two or three years, discovering every time something new, thanks to a boy who was way too smart for his age.