A Tangle Of Connections
It started with my usual morning "round of sites I check when I'm bored" (insomnia made me get to work half an hour early today so I've had lots of free time) and a completely random Jezebel article suggested a related article entitled Do Bullying Victims Have Bad Social Skills? Despite the rather "Department Of Stating The Obvious" conclusions (weird kids with poor social skills are more likely to be picked on, in other news, Pope still Catholic) there was a lot of interesting debate in the comments. (Such as the vicious new Post-Columbine Bullying tactics of officially persecuting the already persecuted.)
Obviously I've been thinking a lot lately about bullying and persecution (complexes?) due to recent events. It's a kind of vicious cycle, if you have poor social skills to start with (for any reason - perhaps Autistic Spectrum disorders, perhaps, as in my case, simply being moved from place to place, school to school so quickly I never got the chance to develop a secure grasp on local cultures, let alone develop social skills appropriate for them) you are more likely to be bullied. Once you have been bullied, you are more likely to become socially withdrawn, less likely to acquire any social skills, and what's more, prone to interpreting the behaviour of others as "making fun" or threatening because, hey, that's what you know, that's what you've come to expect.
But, like I said, the comments managed to get past the borderline "blame the victim" tone of the initial post. I was especially struck by a woman who talked about the mirroring of the behaviour she encountered as a kid, bullied for having Aspergers at school, in the behaviour of her colleagues at the psychiatric hospital where she now works. And her response to this is yes, teaching bullied kids social skills as a survival tactic is important, but so is teaching "normal" kids to be more understanding of difference with regard to neurodiversity.
Anyway, I started reading her linked blog because her comments were fascinating and she seemed very perceptive. It's really interesting to me reading about Autistic Spectrum disorders - firstly because that's where the idea of Neurodiversity popped up - that many of the mental things we think of as disabilities or illness are just natural differences in the way that the brain works. And that diversity isn't "better" or "worse" - it's just that. Difference. And secondly because, although I'm fairly certain I don't have Aspergers, I routinely score quite high on some tests for autism (because, you know - weird, smart, geeky, obsessive, poor social skills, excellent systems thinking) and I think I could probably stand to *learn* a great deal, in terms of coping strategies.
So she had a post about Inertia and Perseveration - and I did not recognise that odd word, perseveration, but when I read her description, I thought "Hello, old friend - THOUGHTWORMS." But her post seemed not so much the bad, OCD kind of thoughtworms, but more the calming, helpful repetitive behaviour that forms so much of my art and my music and offers me a respite from the more harrowing aspects of mine own mental illness. (But also the thought about how much of the process of learning a craft involves the same thing, albeit consciously? How many times, as a musician, have I played endlessly repeating scales? How many times, as an artist, have I drawn the same subject until I felt I got it *right*?) And then BOOM! There's a link to her own post about depression and rumination and the purposes it all seems to serve.
I've previously seen discussion of the article she linked to - it's a way older idea than Evolutionary Psychology, this idea that since depression is so common, it must *serve some purpose*. The more I read these experiences of Aspergers, the more I realised how the autism-like experiences I sometimes have are usually correlated to periods of deep depression. It's like the parts of my brain I use to ... I wouldn't say *empathise* with, but more *understand* people just shut down. Social rituals like simply going to the pub become confusing, meaningless, terrifying. I lose my sense of humour - or more specifically, I lose my ability to understand when other people are joking or threatening. I become intensely routinised, and my flexibility (which is, when I'm *not* depressed, usually quite good) and my ability to tolerate exceptions to those routines utterly disappears, leaving me anxious, tense, irritable, snappy.
In short, much of this paranoia, my inability to read people and their intentions, my utter loss of a sense of humour, it's all symptomatic of depression. Yeah, THAT's a surprise, right? Bipolar person in being depressed shocker, in other news, bears still shitting in woods.
But what brough me up sharp was something buried towards the very end of the article. I went off antidepressants earlier this year. They were no longer working for me, I did not want to up the dose because of the weird side effects I was experiencing, the only reason I continued to take them was to stave off the withdrawal and I had recently read a whole host of literature suggesting that on a statistical and an anecdotal level, medicating mental illness has exacerbated rather than ameliorated the problem.
In recent years, Thomson has cut back on antidepressant prescriptions, because, he says, he now believes that the drugs can sometimes interfere with genuine recovery, making it harder for people to resolve their social dilemmas. "I remember one patient who came in and said she needed to reduce her dosage," he says. "I asked her if the antidepressants were working, and she said something I'll never forget. 'Yes, they're working great,' she told me. 'I feel so much better. But I'm still married to the same alcoholic son of a bitch. It's just now he's tolerable.'"
People on antidepressants had a 76 percent chance of relapse within a year when the drugs were discontinued ... "The high relapse rate suggests that the drugs aren’t really solving anything," Thomson says. "In fact, they seem to be interfering with the solution, so that patients are discouraged from dealing with their problems. We end up having to keep people on the drugs forever. It was as if these people have a bodily infection, and modern psychiatry is just treating their fever."
So how does this resonate with the idea I've been told my whole life, that I have Bipolar Disorder, which is supposedly just this lifetime unsolvable problem that I have to medicate away with substances that destroy quite important parts of my psyche? What about this other idea that there is, actually, a qualitative difference between being Depressed as a chemical thing (which I know how to deal with) and being Deeply Unhappy, which is something I have to be not-medicated to inspire me to move and change and deal with?
Because I have not been steadily Unhappy and Miserable since my early teens like the Bipolar Script says. I have actually had some quite long periods of stability and contentment and even bursts of incredible creativity and productivity (or you could just cast them as "manic episodes" if you're so inclined) and many of those periods have been during times when I was not medicated, but my life met other criteria which are not being met now. And it would be a much better idea to try to change my life to meet those criteria again, rather than alter my brain to meet the current state of my life.
This is the problem with Diagnoses - that once you are in a box, it is very hard to get out of it. Once you have been framed so that you are Manic Depressive, you start to see yourself in that box. If you're bored and miserable and stressed and unhappy, it must just be because of the Manic Depression, not because there might actually be something in your life making you that way. In a way, it's almost like an excuse. Why should I try to alter my life when I have this convenient "blame this" box I can put everything in?
Anyway, enough with the navel gazing and back to the linking. I found a beautiful quote on The Alternate Lexicon, so perfect that I had to go and dig out the Aspects of Asperbers, the blog it came from. It's crisply and beautifully written, insightful glances into the inner workings of someone with Asperger's, framed with such perceptiveness that someone like me, who is not on the Spectrum, is able to understand and even *relate*. (And also, although it's specifically about Autistic Spectrum disorders, the polite yet insistent demand for mutual *understanding* could really apply to any aspect of neurodiversity.)
One of the most frustrating things about Asperger Syndrome is that I find I sometimes react to certain things in a way that is quite different from what is considered the norm. This is because my brain sometimes perceives things differently from other people, and often has different values and priorities. And so there are times when I can't understand why people are reacting the way they are, and times when people can't understand why I am reacting the way I am.
I think it's important to draw attention to the fact that this lack of understanding goes both ways. I find that when people on the autistic spectrum fail to understand someone's reaction, this is seen as 'lack of empathy' – but, when someone who is not on the autistic spectrum fails to understand the reaction of an autistic person, this is seen as a case of 'autistic people are a puzzle' and a justification for representing us as a jigsaw puzzle piece. These double standards are unhelpful. They place all responsibility for lack of understanding on the autistic person, and create a divide between those who are on the spectrum and those who aren't.
And now the blog has pretty much come round in a circle. Even if you didn't enjoy my whinging, I hope that you enjoyed the links.