Monthly Archives: September 2013

Gag Reflex Part Two

Yesterday’s article is still bothering me. It strikes me that there are far more things to be viscerally disgusted by than what other consenting adults do in their bedroom. They’re doing no-one any harm. Unlike:

  • Priests interfering with little boys (and girls). Yeah, it’s a bit of a cliche now, but that’s no reason not to be morally outraged.
  • Entire nations of people being too poor to eat properly
  • Millions of children dying of hunger every year
  • The Catholic Church being one of the most wealthy institutions on the face of the planet, and hoarding the wealth while many of their parishes struggle
  • Evangelical churches paying their leaders well enough to own private jets but leaving it to individual parishioners to help other out in bad times
  • Rampant Western consumerism giving jobs to Asian nations, but only jobs that pay little and under dangerous conditions
  • Church and national authorities discouraging or outright banning the use of condoms, thus encouraging the spread of HIV
  • Child sex trafficking
  • Children in first world countries going without food, warm clothing, or shoes due to poverty

The list could go on and on. Before we complain about what consenting adults do in private, be outraged about some of that. Pick something that resonates with you and do what you can about it. Leave gay people to marry and live in peace.

The Importance Of A Gag Reflex

Today’s piece of outrageous bigotry comes courtesy of a blog on the Gospel Coalition website. It’s a rather long piece, and while I disagree with most of it, there are two pieces I want to write about.

 I said, though it was very unpopular, homosexual marriage could not properly be called “love.” You could choke on the room’s tension. “How could I say such a thing?” I pointed out that the Bible teaches plainly that “love does not rejoice in wrongdoing” (1 Cor. 13). That the Bible also teaches that homosexual behavior was wrongdoing or sin. Consequently, though strong emotions and affections are involved, we cannot properly call it “love.” Love does no harm, and homosexuality clearly harms everyone involved.

I’m sorry, but you sir, are wrong. So wrong. How dare you denigrate the love that exists between homosexual couples? “we cannot properly call it love”? I’m sorry, but you live on a deluded plane of existence in which heterosexual love is deemed the only valid type. The rest of us know that love is love, and that the old piece of mythology that you take your prejudice from is obsolete. I could pull apart the problems with 1 Cor. 13, but that’s a rant for another day. Suffice to say, that passage does not show anything resembling normal, realistic, healthy love.

Having decided that and love that doesn’t fit his narrow ideas of what should and should not be, Mr Anyabwile goes on to the thing that so many Christians obsess so much about – gay sex. And he’s unapologetic about it, because he seems to believe that it’s the key to preventing marriage equality. “Return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth”, he says, because obviously gay sex is icky and everyone is completely disturbed be the idea.

(Warning: Obscene descriptions follow. If sensitive in conscience, skip the block quotes below and go to the conclusion)

We are talking about one man inserting the male organ used to create life into the part of another man used to excrete waste. We are talking about one man taking the penis of another man into his mouth, or engaging in penis-to-penis grinding.

We are talking about a woman using her mouth to stimilute the nipples, vulva, clitoris or vagina of another woman, or using her hand or other “toys” to simulate sexual intercourse.

We are talking about anilingus and other things I still cannot name or describe.

That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling–either at the descriptions above or at me for writing them–that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage is the gag reflex. It’s what you quietly felt when you read “two men deep kissing” in the second paragraph. Your moral sensibilities have been provoked–and rightly so. That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility when it comes to the so-called “gay marriage” debate.

Marriage equality is not just about sex. It’s not even primarily about sex – gay people have sex whether they can marry or not. It’s about extending equal legal rights to a section of society that is very much discriminated against. It’s about them being able to express their love in the same way that straight couples can, if they want to. It’s about extending equal protection under the law to same-sex partners, so they can be legal health proxies or take advantage of tax benefits for married couples. In the grand scheme of things, sex is way down the list.

Sex is used as a weapon by conservatives because it’s the only one of those things that has what Anyabwile calls the gag reflex (we shall not waste time informing him what a gag reflex actually is). Straight people are the majority of the population, and they are attracted to the opposite sex, so the idea of two men/women does the opposite of turning them on (except two lesbians can be ‘pretty hot’ . . . hypocrisy rules). I gather it’s the same with gay people – the idea of heterosexual sex makes them go ‘eww’.

The idea of using this gag reflex is a bit sad. If people can’t get past their innate reaction to a particular sexual activity and consider the whole lives of the people who are affected by this, then they are sad, small-minded, shallow people. I want to believe that people are better than that. Even Christians, who I fundamentally disagree with, are better than this. Should be better than this.

In the end, these people are going to find themselves on the wrong side of history. We’re walking toward equality. In little baby steps, yes, but we’re trying. Fifty years from now, they’re going to look like segregation proponents in the fifties and sixties.

I think Winston sums it up nicely.


Where I’m Going Wrong (This Time)

When I write about depression, I think I’m writing about something a bit different from what people read. I think it makes what I write come off in a way that I didn’t really think about. It showed quite a bit yesterday, when I wrote about positive thinking and depression.

It was pointed out to me that thinking positively can be a way of recovering from depression. Breaking the cycle of negative thinking is a part of healing, and learning to see things in their best light is a good skill to develop. So yes, positive thinking can be a big part of recovering from depression.

The kind of depression I think about when I write is the rock-bottom no-way-out non-functional depression, because that’s where I’ve been several times. I lost the last three months to it. I’ve also had periods of less intense depression, but I tend to think of depression in its worst form. Sometimes I think more in terms of my ‘mild’ periods, where I can do more, like washing myself and helping with a bit of the housework.

Whether I’m looking at what I guess is moderate depression, or whether I’m thinking of the more severe, the popular messages of ‘doing it to yourself’ or ‘think yourself well’ are just a joke. There’s no magical way to adjust the way I think. There’s no question of what my lifestyle or your diet is like, whether I have enough willpower, whether I can let go of my troubles. I am nonfunctional, and the only things that can get me out are meds (sometimes, maybe, if I’m lucky) or tincture of time. My own inner strength (and I have quite enough of that) cannot pull me out, at all. Telling me that it’s my own fault, or even suggesting it, is uneducated rubbish.

So the judgements passed on severe illnesses make me angry. They rub me up the wrong way, because people that make them have no idea about the lives of people that suffer from debilitating mental illnesses.

But if someone has a less catastrophic version of depression, then maybe positive thinking, diet, exercise and so on is enough to help them through what they’re experiencing. I never really talk about this because I just never think about it.

So, where I’m going wrong is in thinking too much about extremes. There are a whole lot of people out there who experience mental illness in a much less intense manner, and perhaps I should think more about them.

Some People Just Don’t Get It

I was reading an article on Cracked this afternoon which mentioned suicide. This can bring out some crazy things in the comments section, but it was surprisingly mostly uplifting. However, there were a few comments that made me a touch unhappy.

The first:

“A person has to WANT to be happy: not just SAY they want to be happy. They have to want to make the EFFORT to be happy.

I was chronically depressed for more than 25 years before I started to wake up and realize just how WEAK I was. I just realized that I needed to be strong and be positive because other people just couldn’t carry my weak, helpless, useless, complaining lump anymore”

Honestly, how many depressed people want to be depressed. “Oh, I quite like being miserable and empty, I think I’ll just hang out in the depths of depression for a while. Maybe a lifetime.” Maybe there are people out there that actually think like this, or who start feeling better but pretend they don’t because they like how people treat them when they’re depressed. But for everyone else, and I would guess that would be a majority of depressed people, they really want to get better, because depression is awful.

Then, we have the wonderful assertion that being depressed is weak. That the solution to being “weak, helpless, useless, complaining” is to just be strong and positive. This feels like a bit of positivity woo – the idea that positive thinking is this magical thing that solves all sorts of problems. Positive people are much less likely to be depressed, it’s true – because depression causes negative feelings and robs you of the ability to be positive. The ‘just be strong and think positive’ is very hurtful to people who are depressed, because it sounds like ‘it’s easy to do, and why aren’t you doing it damn it? You’re just so weak and useless. You should be ashamed.’

The second:

“If she really wanted to die she would have, its wah wah me me me. People like this exist all over and its all a big ME ME ME show. Im not dumping on people who need help, Im dumping on people who are dark soul sucking clouds who refuse to seek help, just content to sit in misery because secretly they get a perverse enjoyment out of it.”

“If she really wanted to die she would have.” Ouch. Not all suicide attempts are successful, and even those who are not really trying are in need of serious help. But just writing off her pain, the things that took her to a place where she didn’t want to live any more, as not real because she didn’t actually die is pretty cruel.

And then we have these people who actually enjoy how they’re treated while depressed that they fake it. “These dark, soul-sucking clouds” might be people with various personality disorders, or they might not really exist in any real quantities. But we need someone to demonise, just like we need the welfare queen in discussions about social welfare.

The big thing that both these comments cover the idea that depression is malingering. The second comment tries to say that it’s not aimed at the people that are actually ill, but I struggle to believe that fakers are all that common, and what he’s actually attacking most are people with fairly serious mental health issues that need much more support than a good well-treated depression.

Mental illness is actually a real illness. It’s not laziness. It’s not weakness. It’s not fake. It is a collection of many illnesses, all of which are potentially fatal. The attitude of writing off mental illness is outdated, cruel, and simply wrong.

Whose Responsibility Is It?

Every so often I see or hear someone saying something along the lines of ‘stay out of my way, I’m [pissed off/PMSing/on the warpath] and I will rip your head off’. It’s pretty common, but with the emergence of social media it can be thrown around for several hundred ‘friends’ to see, without any context. I’m not a fan of the phrase, said to either people close to you or to the sum of your social circles.

Saying this it everyone you know says “I’m in a bad mood and I have to share it with everyone I know.” It goes even further than that, though. It tells everyone you know that you have no self-control, or you have no intention of practicing what self-control you have. The world revolves around you, damn it, and nothing silly like social courtesy gets in your way!

Saying it to people close to you is worse. It says “I don’t respect you enough to consider how you feel because my feelings are more important”. It tells those you love that you having a bad day means that they have to tiptoe around you. That privileging your feelings over theirs by fiat (rather than talking things over) sets up an unbalanced power dynamic, and that is a step down a road that can get very ugly.

No-one else is responsible for what you feel or what you do. Trying to make people act a certain way around you just because you’re cranky instead of trying to work out how to deal with the world when you feel out of sorts is self-centred and immature. Of course, there’s always the popular cry of “I wasn’t serious” comes up, and that’s no excuse. Even if you don’t mean it, you’re either saying it to a crowd that wouldn’t know your intent, or you’re saying it to people you care about and you dearly hope that they don’t see it for the immature power play it is.

This is the sort of behaviour that you expect from teenagers, from people still finding their feet in the world. That self-centredness should be put away with childish things, and replaced with a bit of empathy and a bit of communication. The people that never put it away can become the people that you don’t really want to be friends with as you grow up.

Going Too Far in Discipline

A New Zealand radio station has highlighted a case of an angry mother who is selling her daughter’s tickets on eBay, for lying about where she was going to be. The selling the tickets, well, that’s fair enough. What she says is not.

The golden paragraphs come near the end of the auction description. First, she calls her daughter and all their friends ‘trollops’, and then she takes a jab at the ones who were raised by solo mums, suggesting that sneaking around to see boys must naturally result in unwanted pregnancy.

The article doesn’t say how old the girl is, but the attitude shown is sick no matter how old she is. Promoting shameful feelings around sexuality, making it taboo unless you want to be humiliated, is just plain wrong. It messes up kids and perpetuates the idea of the virgin/whore dichotomy, that either you’re pure and worthy, or you’ve had sex and you’re dirty. These attitudes are unhealthy, and we should not be teaching them to our children.

Being nasty to the children of single mothers is just cruel. Solo mums do the best they can, and they are the victims of a whole lot of prejudice. This mother adds to the load of insults that have rained down on the single mothers, and she thinks she has a right to. Single mothers are not a warning to others. They often have children as wanted and loved as those in two-parent families. Their choices are their own, and using them a shaming tool is inappropriate and nasty.

The beginning of the letter is full of insults, calling the daughter “lippy” and all her friends “bitchy”. This insulting diatribe is the perfect way to alienate a teenage girl. Once this round of insults is done, the girl is told “your PARENTS are the ones that deserve love and respect more than anyone.” How is this supposed to inspire love and respect? Those don’t magically come out of nowhere, and you can’t demand them. There are people that think that respect for parents should just be automatic, but I think that’s wrong. There are too many parents out there that deserve no respect. Those that do deserve respect work for it, by being good parents.

I know that this auction was put up b a very angry mother. I understand why the tickets are being sold, and that’s not an unreasonable punishment. But the insults, the slut-shaming, the demands, none of those are reasonable. They do not add to the punishment in any way, but they will produce a very angry young woman. I’m not saying I know what to do in the situation, but I know that this is a good example of what not to do.

Finally, the comments section of the article is full of people saying that this is good parenting, that the mum is awesome. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. You’re approving borderline abusive behaviour. It’s good entertainment, but it’s not good parenting.

More New Drugs

And so we ride the merry-go-round again. This time, the new star of the show is the anti-psychotic aripiprazole, with a side helping of lamotrigine, lithium, olanzapine, bupropion, and propranolol. I feel like a walking pill bottle.

But it’s working. I can’t do much, because I get tired very easily, but I’m wanting to get up and do stuff. I made a salad a couple of days ago, one that can last a week in the fridge, to have when the rest of the family are having fish & chips or things similarly bad for my waistline. It’s the first thing I’ve felt like doing in three months.

The weight that olanzapine gifted me is starting to come off slowly, but the hunger isn’t. I’ve just had to accept that I’m going to be hungry all the time. I have controlled portions of food and then that’s it, because I can’t trust my body to tell me when I’ve had enough. I can utterly gorge myself and still feel hungry, so I can’t use that signal to tell me when to stop.

This time around, the hunger has come with an obsession about food and eating. I hear sounds, smell smells, or even read about a food and I crave it, RIGHT NOW. The crackle of crumpling paper sounds a bit like chippy packets, and suddenly I want chips. Thick cut sour cream and chive, to be specific. Stuff like that happens all the time. I’m tormented by food. But the other part of the obsession makes me feel incredibly guilty about eating. I feel like I’m just blowing up like a toy orca, and I’m afraid of it continuing. I’m still not well enough to go to the gym, which adds to the obsession. I must not eat bad food, I must not eat too much food, or I will end up looking like the Michelin man.

My days are still not great, and I have a new slew of problems to face, but the drugs are starting to help. There is some hope.


These past few months, I have learned I am a hypocrite. I say one set of things and I think another. And it’s not very pretty.

You see, I advocate for a better understanding of mental illness. I tell people that mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses. That you can’t think your way out of them. That they are potentially fatal illnesses, like cancer or diabetes, and they needed to be treated the same way, with some combination of medicines and lifestyle changes. I get angry at people that tell others to harden up, to snap out of it, to get it together. I guess I could be described as an advocate, except that I don’t have much of an audience to advocate to.

This round of depression has been a particularly bad one. I lay on the couch, reading to stop myself thinking, for more than two months. I don’t remember anything happening in that time. It’s just a dark fuzz. And this time around, my thinking was everything I hate about people judging the mentally ill.

There was a lot of ‘should’. I should just get up and do things. I should just stop being sick. I should just get over it. I should pull myself together. I should be looking after the kids and not relying on my partner. Myriads of ‘should’ statements that tore at me. I became a hypocrite, and I turned on myself. I still advocated for others to be treated well, but I did not extend that thinking to my own life.

There was a reason for the way I was thinking. It’s not the only reason, but it’s a big one. The reason is that the dismissive, cruel treatment of mental illness is so prevalent that it seeped into my subconscious, to be dragged out when I was vulnerable. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it might not be the last, because I’ve internalised the message, both by experiencing it and by fighting it.

I am a hypocrite, but only toward myself. To you, and your loved ones, and everyone else in the world, I believe that you should be treated with dignity and not have to deal with stigma. In my head though, I don’t deserve such consideration.

Sticks and Stones

A large part of the abuse I lived through was verbal and emotional, rather than physical. I’ve always felt that this made my experience less legitimate. No-one was beating me to within an inch of my life – it was just being slapped around a bit (I minimised the physical stuff as a kid, and I still do so, because I still live in the mindset of ‘it wasn’t that bad). I wasn’t sexually abused, I wasn’t burned or branded or stabbed. It wasn’t that bad.

New research, however, challenges my idea that it wasn’t so bad. The research says that people who were verbally abused, by peers or by parents, have permanent changes in their brain structure. These changes predispose the person to a range of mental illnesses.

Maybe my abuse left no visible scars, but ten years after escaping, I believe that there’s a good chance I’m suffering from the results of the mental scars. There is some history of mental illness in my family, but as far as I know I’m the first to suffer from whatever the hell I have. I was shaped by the experiences that I had, and the experiences were bad enough to damage me, badly.

There are probably plenty of people that lived with verbal abuse and walked away psychologically sound. I wish I was one, that I could just walk away from that part of my life. But it’s changed my opportunities and my functionality. It’s changed every part of my life. And I curse the woman who did this to me.

It Takes Too Many Deaths

Today’s NZ Herald carried an article that is both hope and despair for the mentally ill of this country. A coroner has referred the deaths of two Tauranga men on to the Law Commission because of his growing frustration with the failures of the mental health system. There’s hope that maybe this might begin a path to change for the system, but despair that it is taking so long, and fear that this will just disappear into the wasteland of bureaucracy.

The cases he highlights are pretty bad. The first is that of young husband and father Brad Milne. He was transitioning between two psych medications, and appears to have been under the care of just his GP rather than a specialist. Medication transitions can be messy and dangerous, and I contend that they should be done under the supervision of a psychiatric team. Knowing about and being able to trust the local crisis team is another thing that I see as important during a transition. His family believe that he had no-one to turn to when the crisis came, which suggests that he did not know of or feel able to use the services of the crisis team.

The second case was awful in different ways. Eighteen-year-old Brendan Russell became depressed, and ended up self-harming. He was referred to the crisis team after seeing his GP, but he refused to see them. He was worried about mental illness affecting his career opportunities, and about how it would look to others if he was hospitalised. That’s just heartbreaking. The stigma of mental illness stopped a very unwell young man from accepting help. During this time, he made contact with other young people, telling them that he was going to harm himself. Finally, after telling a counsellor he was going to kill himself and being told to buy a notebook to write his feelings down (what? He threatened suicide! Warning bells, people!) he took his life.

These two cases are representative of too many New Zealanders, particularly young ones. They highlight some of the worst failings of our system, and our culture. The system fails us. It is understaffed and underpaid. GPs are trying to deal with complex mental illnesses as best they can, while waiting on the resources they desperately need. Resources that are stretched far too thin. There are too few psychiatrists, working too few hours, and they need to shuttle people out of the service as quick as they can, back to the GPs. The system fails us because we underfund mental health care, and we watch as people die because of it. Mental illness can be fatal, but with good treatment it doesn’t have to be. We just don’t have enough good treatment.

Our culture also fails us. The ‘toughen up’ attitude is so common that it’s not surprising that some people risk death rather than exposure as a mental health patient. We’re stigmatised. We’re treated as less worthwhile than normal people. We’re discriminated against in the workplace because of the chance that we might get sick and need time off. Even if we are stable and well, we still don’t get an equal shot. This is the truth of mental illness, and Mr Russell was not being unreasonable in his fears.

Perhaps this one angry coroner can stand up and change some of this. Maybe if people like him keep standing up, then their voices can be heard.