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.

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.

Mar 20

Mark Twain Prize: Humorists and Mental Health

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor has been awarded annually since 1998 to individuals who’ve made us laugh. First was Richard Pryor, followed in chronological order by Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Burnett, Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, David Letterman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart, and Adam Sandler. On March 24th Kevin Hart will be the proud recipient.

Now, please indulge me as I make the Mark Twain Prize pertinent to Minding Therapy….

EllenDeGeneres, David Letterman, and Neil Simon (1927-2018) have had depression. Jon Stewart has referenced depression, though I don’t know if this was a clinical or looser definition he had in mind.

Both Will Ferrell and Tina Fey have struggled with shyness. Really.

Steve Martin on his history of panic attacks: “(F)or those who have them or had them – I don’t get them anymore, thank God – but it’s a terrifying experience of disassociation from your own self, and it’s a morbid sense of doom and you feel like you’re dying.”

Whoopi Goldberg famously feared flying, apparently because of witnessing a mid-air collision many years ago. It’s been reported that she’s overcome this with the use of a technique called Thought Field Therapy, or TFT.

Jonathan Winters (1925-2013) admitted to having bipolar disorder.

Richard Pryor‘s (1940-2005) substance abuse issues were well known.

As forever-producer of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels has overseen the work of many comedians in trouble with alcohol, drugs, and various mental health issues.

Carol Burnett had alcoholic parents; at least two of her daughters battled serious substance abuse.

The decidedly unfunny real-life predation of Bill Cosby, sexual assaulter, was determined by a psychologist representing a Sexual Offenders Assessment Board to be linked to a personality disorder—but this does not excuse his behavior.

Several of the Mark Twain Prize humorists are known for their portrayals of shrinks or their potential or actual clients:

Bob Newhart not only played Dr. Bob Hartley on popular sitcom The Bob Newhart Show in the 70’s, but a MADtv skit featuring his character’s special brand of brief therapy is probably the most-watched video on this site.

Billy Crystal is the reluctant psychiatrist-to-the-Mob-boss in the movies Analyze This and Analyze That.

Lily Tomlin as Trudy the Bag Lady in Jane Wagner‘s play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: “I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.” On TV’s Web Therapy, Tomlin played the mom of shrink Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow), who admits her to a mental hospital.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus played a therapist in an episode of Web Therapy.

In the film Reign Over Me (2007), Adam Sandler plays Charlie, who suffers from PTSD and severe grief following the deaths of his family members on 9/11.

Bill Murray was the unstable client in What About Bob?

On her sitcom Ellen, DeGeneres addressed her coming out process with the help of a therapist.

Tina Fey portrayed an alcoholic therapist in the series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

It’s very likely I’ve missed some things. Any readers have anything to add?

Dec 27

“Dry January” Versus “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace

Dry January can be extremely positive or can actually reinforce the stronghold alcohol has on someone. Here’s why. When we give up something we feel is benefiting us, we feel deprived. While you might be able to get through the 31 days of January without drinking, there is a good chance that…you have actually created more of a desire for it. As soon as we tell ourselves we can’t have something we tend to want it even more. Annie Grace to Jess Cording, Forbes

If you’re concerned about your drinking and not sure about Dry January as a strategy, consider Annie Grace‘s book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life. Grace has not only successfully worked on changing her own alcohol use but has also helped many individuals in similar circumstances.

Notably, Grace’s strategies are not for those who may be physically dependent on alcohol,  which can require a different kind of detox under a professional’s care. From Grace’s website: “It is strongly recommended that you seek professional advice regarding your health before attempting to incorporate any advice…Withdrawal symptoms due to a physical dependence on alcohol have the potential to be severe, and in some cases life-threatening.”

If you’re dealing with psychological dependence, though, Grace declares, “I can put you back in control by removing your desire to drink, but be forewarned, getting rid of your desire for alcohol is the easy part. The hard part is going against groupthink, the herd mentality of our alcohol-saturated culture. After all, alcohol is the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.”

Want to broaden your horizons? Consider reading her blog or listening to her podcast. Join her support community. Or all of the above.

Instead of Dry January, try her 30-day Alcohol Experiment. Click on this link if the following five possible benefits, per Grace, interest you:

  1. clarity and focus
  2. your time becomes freed up
  3. better health and sleep, increased libido, reduced anxiety, no hangovers, etc.
  4. whereas failing is not possible, learning is inevitable
  5. mindful relationship with alcohol

Selected Quotes from This Naked Mind

Let me ask you, from a purely physiological perspective, how could alcohol possibly make you happy? The effect of alcohol is to deaden all of your senses, to numb you, to inebriate you. If you are numb, how can you feel anything, happiness included?

We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

Ask yourself if you are happier than before. Ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life dumber, with your senses deadened, experiencing tunnel vision, and unable to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

The problem with alcohol is that once you start drinking you can’t judge the point where a little is good and a lot becomes a disaster. When you are making a fool of yourself, or when your conversation skills wane, you remain unaware. Even if you could gauge the exact amount to drink, booze doesn’t make you cleverer, funnier, more creative, or more interesting. There is nothing inherent in alcohol that can do this. 

But when you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink. This is the mystery of spontaneous sobriety…

Aug 02

“We Are the Luckiest” Followed by “Push Off from Here”

In the world of “quit lit” two books by Laura McKowen are in vogue: memoir We Are the Luckiest:The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life and the newly released Push Off from Here: Nine Essential Truths to Get You Through Sobriety (and Everything Else). 

McKowen is the CEO and founder of The Luckiest Club, a supportive online community for those seeking recovery from alcohol addiction.

I. We Are the Luckiest

Fear of losing her preschooler daughter provided McKowen the main impetus to seek help for her alcoholism. Publishers Weekly: “McKowen makes the case that her addiction, while incredibly painful and difficult, ultimately made her lucky by allowing her to experience an alcohol-free life. Even as she encourages others to follow her path, she acknowledges it is excruciating…but promises it’s worth it. McKowen’s moving story will be a boon to those seeking help with addiction.”

Selected Quotes from We Are the Luckiest

One of the students raised his had and said, matter-of-factly, ‘I’m afraid I can’t stop drinking.’

The room went silent. All eyes went to our teacher, David.

Without missing a beat, he smiled, looked at him, and said, ‘Of course you can. Are you drinking now?’

‘No.’

‘And now?’

He smiled, and said softly, ‘No.’

‘…and how about right now?’

We all smiled this time.

‘No.’

Loneliness started to abate only when I began to really let people in and tell them the truth, and that took a long, long time. The antidote to loneliness wasn’t just being around others or sharing common ground. It was intimacy.

If something is keeping you from being fully present and showing up in your life the way you want, then deciding to change that thing is a matter of life and death. It’s the difference between existing and actually living.

II. Push Off from Here: Nine Essential Truths to Get You Through Sobriety (and Everything Else)

From the publisher: “When Laura McKowen was two years sober, she received an email from a woman whose sister was struggling with alcohol addiction. McKowen had barely climbed out from the dark place the woman’s sister was in, but she made a list of the things she most needed to hear when she was deep in her own battle.”

Here is that list on which Push Off from Here is based:

1. It is not your fault.
2. It is your responsibility.
3. It is unfair that this is your thing.
4. This is your thing.
5. This will never stop being your thing until you face it.
6. You cannot do it alone.
7. Only you can do it.
8. You are loved.
9. We will never stop reminding you of these things.

Hello Someday Coaching offers a brief description of each of the above. Scroll down the page (on the link provided) to find it.

Readers of Push Off from Here emphasize that people dealing with challenges other than alcohol addiction can also benefit from this book.