Jun 10

How to Diagnose Your Own Mental Health Issues (Or Not)

Can you diagnose your own mental health issues? Maybe. But first, one important caveat about the intricacies of self-diagnosis, a much-quoted statement by William Gibson: Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. 

Another caveat is about suggestibility, anxieties, and not knowing nearly enough. This can be exemplified by what’s commonly known as student’s disease (or psychology student’s disease or medical student’s disease). You learn about a specific diagnosis and boom, “that’s me!” Moreover, this can happen often, and usually inaccurately, to the same individual over and over again.

Speaking of over and over again, If you not only diagnose your own mental health issues but also do so continually, there’s another name for the condition you may have: hypochondria. Ironically, this is an actual diagnosis you might fail to consider.

In a Psychology Today post, psychiatrist Srini Pillay offers additional reasons that self-diagnosis of psychological problems is “dangerous.” Here are just a few (which may actually overlap with those already cited):

  • There are many nuances to diagnosis that might be missed
  • Various unknown health/medical problems could be behind psychological symptoms
  • We can’t always perceive ourselves objectively or accurately
  • There can be a tendency to exaggerate how our symptoms manifest

The types of mental disorders one can incorrectly self-diagnose are numerous and include (but aren’t limited to) depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, personality disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictions. If you “give yourself” any of these labels, what next? Will you also self-treat? Won’t your problems get worse in the meantime and/or lead to further issues?

Even if you do intend to consult a professional for appropriate diagnosis and treatment, though, there are actually some benefits to finding out more about yourself and your symptoms before getting there.

(Surprised I went there?)

(I’m not even going to talk right now about the possibility that official diagnosers can also get it wrong.)

A lot depends on whether you can handle your own research. In addition to heeding the warnings already included in this post, consider the following:

Self-knowledge is a good thing. Any worthwhile therapist or clinician will respect that you tried to learn more about yourself and your symptoms, and he/she/they will work with you to further figure stuff out.

Jun 04

“The Power of the Dog”: Movie for Pride Month

If you haven’t yet seen The Power of the Dog (2021), a period-piece Western set in Montana in 1925 that features an intriguing but not-so-informative title and a large dose of toxic masculinity, perhaps you’d be interested to know there’s a queer theme?

For Pride Month’s sake, consider seeing it. The high critical praise (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) is well-earned. If you have already seen it, consider, as I have, seeing it again. Kristy Puchco, Mashable: “…(I)t’s even better the second time around.”

Jane Campion both wrote the script and directed The Power of the Dog. Puchco sets up the plot:

[Benedict] Cumberbatch stars as Phil Burbank, a surly rancher who shares a house, business, and life with his timid brother George (Jesse Plemons), who he has nicknamed ‘Fatso.’ As you might guess, Phil is casual in his cruelty, which is plainly displayed when a cattle drive through 1925 Montana brings the brothers into the inn of fragile ‘suicide widow’ Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst). There, the snarking cowpoke is quick to mock her son Peter (Kodi Smith-McPhee) for perceived softness, spitting slurs and harshly mimicking of the boy’s lisp…

George winds up marrying Rose. Phil, unhappy about her and Peter’s presence at the ranch, makes Rose’s adjustment particularly difficult. For this and other reasons, Rose increasingly can’t stay away from alcohol.

You can watch the trailer below:

As Beth Marchant, Los Angeles Times, states, “…[It’s] less a sweeping paean to the Old West than it is a taut and terrifying psychological meditation on secrets, repression and misdirected rage.” Rather than spoil this intricate movie’s various ensuing threads, here are a few additional snippets from selected critics:

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox: “Some movies announce their intentions from the start, and some sneak up on you. The Power of the Dog is the latter. Its rough-hewn, side-glancing characters are full of secrets and unspoken intentions, thinking thoughts it didn’t even occur to you to imagine are in their heads.”

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com: “Unless you’re one of the few who’s read Thomas Savage’s 1967 book of the same name on which the script is based, there’s rarely a moment that doesn’t feel racked with the queasy, thrilling promise of sudden violence or epiphany. Pinning down the cumulative effect of Campion’s slow-drip storytelling is trickier, except to say that being submerged in her ineffable world feels not just like two hours in the dark, but high art.”

Sandra Cohen, PhD, Medium, notes that The Power of the Dog “has much to say about that old adage: what we hate in others is what we can’t accept in ourselves. And, wow, does the character of Phil Burbank spell that axiom out in spades.”

Kathleen Sachs, Chicago Reader: “The film seems…like a menagerie of oblique character studies, each of the adult leads an animal in his or her own cage. For all his salt-of-the-earth machismo, Phil actually has more in common with Peter than he lets on, having been classically educated and thus apparently quite intelligent. Peter aspires to be a doctor like his late father, but, unlike Phil, he opts for the rigor of study to the hardscrabbles of manual labor. Both may or may not share a certain inborn quality that at the time and in that place was decidedly taboo.”

Shannon Keating, BuzzFeed: “It’s a slow build, and for most of the time, I had no idea where this was all heading — which only made its shocking but well-earned ending all the more gratifying.”

May 29

“Joyful Recollections of Trauma” by Paul Scheer

Although I’ve been barely familiar with actor/comedian Paul Scheer, author of the new memoir Joyful Recollections of Trauma, his wife is June Diane Raphael, a favorite of mine since Grace and Frankie. Add to this that trauma was a therapy specialization of mine, throw in the kind of bittersweet title that never fails to attract me, and bingo: this post.

An excerpt of Joyful Recollections of Trauma (Vanity Fair) reveals that in childhood Scheer experienced abuse at the hands of his stepfather, Hunter. Scheer recounts the lack of help he and his mom received—from extended family, the community, and therapy.

Although his family’s inability to help was perhaps the most grievous for Scheer, the failure of the professionals is something I feel the need to highlight in this space.

After hearing about Scheer’s victimization, the family therapist said she’d call the police if Hunter was ever abusive again. She failed, however, to do so. “She treated him like she had caught a kid stealing an Oreo from the pantry. I had never felt more helpless. I knew she was never going to call the police, and I knew we were never going to family counseling again, because Hunter had gotten lucky, and he wasn’t going to double down on his good luck. We left that office and never returned, and the therapist never followed up with us.”

It was only when Scheer anonymously called Child Protective Services himself that the police did come to the house, accompanied by a counselor.

They interviewed Mom and Hunter together in the same room. It was like interviewing a kidnapper and kidnappee together: you aren’t going to get the true story. My mom was too scared to say anything. Plus the counselor never spoke to me. Suffice it to say, CPS didn’t find anything wrong—once again reinforcing the idea that if you live through it and have no scars, you’re fine and why complain. I often thought, Maybe one time he will break my arm or leg, then I can finally get some real help. But he never did. That was the trickiest thing about his violence: it didn’t leave any physically permanent marks.

On the brighter side, individual therapy proved to be effective when Scheer, left with severe anger and aggression issues into his adulthood, chose to try it out.

As he told interviewer Stuart Miller, Los Angeles Times, another helpful factor in his life was his move from his home state of New York to L.A..

It’s the self-help capital of the United States and people here do wild things. There’s a culture where people are fine talking about their issues and there’s a lack of judgment. Los Angeles is open to everything: scream therapy or this or that. They say, ‘My healer does this’ or ‘I’ve done this ceremony’ or ‘My myofascial release took out trauma.’ I have a friend who went to Peru and did ayahuasca and changed his life, but I also have friends who do ayahuasca in an afternoon around somebody’s pool and I say, ‘You’re just doing drugs.’

So L.A. has freed me of a certain amount of self-judgment.

Married with two kids and successful in his career, Scheer is truly a survivor. Kirkus Reviews sums up Joyful Recollections of Trauma: “He chronicles his journey through abuse and into the life he dreamed of to show how he did it: through therapy, self-acceptance, and prioritizing his family.” And Jack Probst, Paste, says, “He expertly balances the humor with heartfelt ruminations on resilience, personal growth, and parenthood. Scheer’s candid exploration of these themes makes the memoir relatable and profoundly moving, even as it keeps you laughing.”

May 27

“Opioid of All Opioids”: Anne Wilson Schaef, Michael Moore

In a recent commencement address at Brandeis University, filmmaker and historian Ken Burns had many great things to say. Among them were words, as he stated, that departed from the neutrality he usually takes: “There is no real choice this November. The Presumptive Republican nominee is the opioid of all opioids.”

The opioid of all opioids…

I immediately thought of Anne Wilson Schaef** (1934-2020), who believed that we all have at least one addiction of some kind, which has a lot to do with society’s dysfunction and demands. Beth Ann Krier, Los Angeles Times, writing in 1990, quoted one of Schaef’s frequent lecture statements: “We live in a society that demands addiction. The person who is best adjusted to this society is not dead and not alive because if you were fully alive, you couldn’t support the system.”

In contrast, being “fully alive” and not numbed by addiction, she’d stated in her 1987 When Society Becomes An Addict, means…

…you are constantly saying, ‘No’ to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interest of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict. 

Both addicted individuals and the phenomenon of society-as-an-addict can exhibit many of the same traits:

  • Self-centeredness: The U.S. believes it’s the center of the world.
  • Arrogance: …And the rest of the world revolves around us.
  • Control Issues: The main aim of government.
  • Perfectionism: Too-high standards regarding both policing the world and helping it.
  • Depression and stress: Can lead to irrational decision-making.
  • The need to create crisis: Such as unnecessary wars.
  • Dishonesty: Equals much of politics.
  • “Stinking Thinking”: Always with the quick justifications for misguided actions.
  • Confusion: Just look at the bizarre process of choosing presidential candidates.
  • Denial: Should be a river in the U.S., not Egypt.
  • Forgetfulness: Thus, bad actions repeat themselves.
  • Dependency: Many “hostage-captor” type of relationships.
  • The Scarcity Model and the Zero-Sum Model: Not enough of anything to go around for everyone.
  • Negativism: Because of continually failing to meet unrealistic standards.
  • Communication gap: Ineffective countercommunication and interrogation are the norm.
  • Avoidance of responsibility and blame: Dems vs. GOP, e.g.
  • Tunnel Vision: And light at the end of it is an oncoming train.
  • Frozen Feelings: As in, out of touch with them.
  • Ethical Deterioration: Or, “spiritual bankruptcy.”
  • Fear: Drives many actions.

Interestingly, as she’d written in Women’s Reality: An Emerging Female System (1981), our dysfunctional society derives from the “White Male System.” What would she say today about the way many in our country have fallen prey—in an addicted, cult-like fashion—to one particular white man, “the opioid of all opioids,” and what would she say about his mostly white male enablers who would ruin the world to achieve their self-centered goals?

Filmmaker Michael Moore is someone who can also imagine a better society with women as rulers. Moore’s 2015 Where to Invade Next is about “how other countries around the world — with their happy workers, superior schools, humane prisons, healthy sexual attitudes and fully empowered women — are putting U.S. progress to shame,” noted Justin Chang, Variety.

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “Watching it made me feel like a deprived child with my nose pressed against the glass of a magical toy store in a faraway land. On one side is a happy, harmonious land of productive people. On the other is a world of misery, anxiety, war and greed.”

Guess which side is the U.S.—then watch the trailer:

**Allegations found online indicate Schaef may have exploited clients in various grievous ways. This post is not an endorsement of her practices, and I did not know her personally or professionally.

May 21

“The Quiet Girl” a Must-See: Thoughts and Spoilers

While I have nothing but praise for the award-worthy 2022 Irish film The Quiet Girl, set in the 1980’s, it feels unfair to reveal much about it to those who haven’t yet seen it—it’s just one of those kinds of movies. On the other hand, if, like me, you have already seen it and have wallowed in its meaningful poignancy, maybe you’d like to revisit what makes it so special and/or relatable.

IMDB: “In rural Ireland, a quiet, neglected girl is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with relatives for the summer where she blossoms and learns what it is to be loved.”

Source Material

Based on the novella Foster by Claire Keegan.

The Main Character, Cáit (Catherine Clinch)

Nine years old. Jessica Kiang, Variety:

The easily overlooked kid in a household of scrappier siblings, she is first seen hiding in the fields while her frustrated mother, pregnant again, calls for her to come in. At school she’s miserable, rejected by her peers, and at home she’s mostly invisible, especially to her ne’er-do-well father (Michael Patric), who is too busy gambling to work much on the family farm, let alone to take much notice of this mousy little thing under his feet.

Michael Shelton, MS, LPC, Psychology Today, recommends The Quiet Girl for movie therapy and educational purposes. He highlights Cáit’s role as a “lost child” in a dysfunctional family. “Lost children are almost invisible in families, remain isolated, and rarely engage in any behavior that would attract attention, including complaining.”

The Main Plot

Jessica Kiang: “So when her mother’s wealthier cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her farmer husband Seán (Andrew Bennett) offer to take the girl off her parents’ hands for a summer, Cáit’s dad drives her the three hours to Waterford and deposits her with them, with something close to relief.”

Alberto Cox Délano, Pajiba: Eibhlin “joyfully [takes] up on the motherly role. Unlike in the novella, the husband…is much more reluctant to embrace Cáit, but he is slowly melted into a doting, if not effusive, papa bear. Cáit, in turn, begins to blossom and enjoy herself, for the first time. However, a melancholy hovers over the Kinsellas’ home, something which becomes very evident from Cáit’s first night there.”

Secrets Versus Omissions

It becomes clear that Cáit has believed that all families have secrets. (By the way, she also wets the bed. Two possible signs of sexual abuse, though this is never spelled out as such.) Eibhlin wants her to know there are no secrets in their home—secrets mean shame. We learn, however, of a significant omission.

Loss and Grief

The omission? Their beloved young son recently died. Cáit’s been wearing his clothes.

Finding (And Losing Again) One’s Voice

As she absorbs their love, Cáit eventually opens up with this couple. It’s sad for all three that she has to return home after the birth of her newest sibling. Eibhlin and Seán bring her there; inside that home Cáit instantly, again, clams up completely.

…And More On That Ending

The highly distressing ambiguity: Will Cáit stay home or will she be able to keep her new parent substitutes? (The ending I choose for her is the love and safety she deserves.)

The Quiet Girl  Makes Grown Men (And Women) Cry

David Fear, Rolling Stone:…one of the single most moving, heartfelt, and heartbreaking movies from any country in the last decade. That only sounds like hyperbole until you see it.”

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, FilmFestivalToday: “…I have found myself bursting into gentle tears at the most unexpected moments, the memory of its painful beauty still fresh.”

Nick Schager, The Daily Beast: “…a finale of such desperate love, distress, fear and acceptance that it earns every one of the many tears it elicits.”