Emotionality and Me

I was talking to my therapist yesterday, and she brought to my attention my ever-flat affect. We discussed my lack of emotionality, and she told me that I likely dissociated from my emotions as a child. Basically, it went like this: when all I felt was pain, my mind basically said to itself, “Well, if this is what it means to feel emotions, this sucks,” and for the most part cut itself off from emotions to protect me. With the notable exception of anger. Even if I don’t always express it, anger is the one emotion that has been my constant companion for years.

However, now that I am no longer in constant immediate danger, this lack of ability to properly feel and express emotions is sort of a problem. I long ago realized that it made it difficult for me to empathize with people–a large part of empathy is sharing in others’ joys and sorrow, and my version of joy or sorrow is but an empty shell of what I once felt and what I believe others feel. This effectively leaves me feeling isolated, even when surrounded by friends.

I often feel numb. Sometimes, I imagine I should be feeling something, but it eludes me. It’s true; I sometimes feel nothing at all. That used to scare me, but I think I got used to it somewhere along the way, which somehow makes it all the worse.

I could try to work on changing on all this, but there are two problems with that, the first being that I don’t know how. The other issue is something that may exist only in my head, but it’s a very real issue to me: I more or less know who I am with low emotionality. What would happen if I were to suddenly become a very emotional person? I feel like I wouldn’t know myself anymore. Would I seem like a different person? I don’t know. Because as much as I sometimes feel numb and alienated, I at least know who I am.


Guns For the Mentally Ill?

In the United States, those with mental illnesses severe enough to land them in psychiatric wards are not supposed to have guns by federal law. As someone with a mental illness (that did indeed lead to my being put temporarily in a psychiatric ward) and as someone who would like very much to own a gun, I’m not sure how I feel about this.

First thing’s first: you’re probably wondering why I want a gun so badly. Well, the answer is self-defense–I’m paranoid of people breaking in. I know what they say, that Americans love their guns, but really, the fact of the matter is this: in a country where guns are legal, it may be necessary to own a gun to defend yourself against them. If guns were outlawed by some kind of blanket federal rule, then no, I probably would not want to own a gun. But that is a very unlikely event.

But in the wake of Virginia Tech disaster, the public panicked, and the bureaucrats needed to reassure people that laws would be put in place to help prevent it from happening again. They accomplished this by targeting the mentally ill.

Now, yes, Cho (the VT shooter) was severely mentally ill. And obviously, he was violent. Yet this does not mean that the mentally ill population at large is any more likely to be violent than the sane population. But here’s the thing: the law does not apply to everyone with a diagnosis of a mental illness. If it did, then I would absolutely be against it.

The law only applies to those mentally ill who were committed, due to representing a threat to oneself or others.

And this seems to make sense to me. I mean, why hand a gun to someone who in the past had to be put away from society to prevent him from committing a suicide or homicide? And yet, again, as someone with a mental illness, it kind of stings.

I mean, other factors, including gender, are more likely to contribute to violence than mental illness is. Should we then ban all men (the most likely population to be violent) from having guns? Somehow I don’t think that would go down too well.

After doing a bit of research, I believe the law only applies to those who were involuntarily committed. As I was officially voluntarily committed, (I had zero choice in the matter; I simply did not resist being sent to the hospital and so my psychologist had no need to call it involuntary) I believe this means I could still legally own a gun.

But still, the law bothers me.


Punctuation Rant

So I feel like doing another rant, and here’s the basis of it: punctuation and grammar. Really. Is it really that difficult to do one’s best not to mangle one’s native language? And I’m not talking about those obscure rules that no one really gives a damn about save for maybe a professor or two. It frustrates me, perhaps since I am a writer and language is my tool of choice, to the point that I kind of want to shout at the next ignorant person to misuse a word or punctuation mark–perhaps in something similar to Herr Starr’s immortal freak-out: “IMPROPER USE OF INVERTED COMMAS, HOOVER!” Admittedly, that character of the violent and darkly hilarious comic, Preacher, had all but lost his mind at that point, but whatever.

Yet, at the same time, I don’t really want everyone to follow the rules of grammar and punctuation. Those who don’t leave behind sometimes amusing results.

Those signs that say “Slow children walking” are great, for example. Are we to drive slowly to avoid hitting children, or are we to be warned that some particularly cognitively disadvantaged children are out and about? The difference lies in the placement of a comma, which should be there, but isn’t.

It reminds me of that old joke about the pandas. For those unfamiliar: two pandas walk into a restaurant and order food. When they finish, they produce guns, and begin firing at the other customers. A horrified survivor runs over to them and asks, “Why did you do it?” By way of reply, the pandas pull out a pamphlet from the zoo, and point to the panda section, which reads, “Eats, shoots, and leaves.” The joke is, of course, that the second comma should not be there.

And then there’s the frequent abuse of quotation marks. Good god, people. Why do so many sign-makers feel the need to place seemingly arbitrary words in quotations? I was in the library the other day, and a handwritten sign reminded the library’s patrons to be “quiet.” So, what exactly is that supposed to mean? Are we not really meant to be quiet?

Hell, there’s a whole page on TV Tropes dedicated to amusing instances of abuse to punctuation–mostly in published works, nonetheless.

So, I’ll close with a few general rules:

1) Commas generally go where there’s a brief pause. If you can read the sentence aloud without a pause and it doesn’t sound strange, you likely don’t need a comma.

2) Think carefully about where you place quotations. If you are writing a sign reminding people to keep quiet in a library, odds are that you don’t need quotations.

3) Apostrophes generally are used to show possession. NOT PLURALITY. Hence, “John’s apples” is fine, but “John’s apple’s” is just obnoxiously wrong.

So, follow those rules, and you should be fine. And that’s all I have to say about punctuation.

Hanging On

I haven’t posted anything the last few days because I haven’t felt up to even doing that. I’ve just been so miserable lately, for no reason at all. Times like these, my psychologist reminds me, are due to the neurochemical aspect of my mental illness.

So here I am, in the pit of despair, to the point of even wondering what is keeping me going.

I see my psychologist today. I’m actually looking forward to it. I need someone to talk to right about now.

I feel like I’m hanging on to the edge of a steep cliff. Let go, and wham! I’ll hit the bottom hard, and I probably won’t survive the fall. But my grip on the edge is holding. I’m not letting go. Even if I feel the strain of hanging on, even if my fingers are starting to go numb and white, I’m not letting go. I’ve worked too hard to throw it all away.

Like the Passing of a Dream

Last night I found myself afflicted with a bizarre, psychosis-fueled insomnia. I found I couldn’t sleep, and my thoughts were picking up speed like a freight train and becoming obsessive.

I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling, when suddenly, I “realized” it. I was the only one in the world who could see what was wrong with world; I was so special. And it was my job–my duty to fix it. I was meant to. I almost felt a sense of divine purpose.

And as I lay there stricken with delusional thought, my eyes brimmed with tears.

It was so wonderful, so powerful. I thought I had been appointed a sense of purpose, perhaps from some higher being. My mind was totally enraptured by the idea.

Then, eventually, the psychosis passed as it ever does, and I was left grounded abruptly in reality, my delusion shattering at my feet. And I was not some kind of messiah. I was just another member of humanity.

I had not realized anything.

And this is how I fell asleep.

Forging Meaning

A religiously inclined acquaintance once asked me something along the lines of, “If you don’t have a religion, where do you get your morals?” And I told him that I choose my own morals, rather than simply accepting them because I am told to. And I’m okay with that. But then he asked me, “Well, what do you believe is the point of life, if it’s not to grow closer to God?” Well, I had to think a little harder about that one. My reply was, “There is none.”

And really, I believe that. There is no point to life. We are born, some of us pass on our genetic code, we die. And all the while the world remains a dismal place, full of suffering. I simply go through the motions of life like a robot. Eventually I’ll die, too, and my death will be as meaningless as the life I lived–the life we all lived.

It has, in the past, occurred to me that the only reason I allow myself to live is for the sake of others I care about, who remain under the illusion that their lives have purpose.

But is this the way it has to be? I’ve been thinking harder about this.

I will always see the world as a terrible place, and humans as inherently destructive (not “evil,” which is a concept which I’m not certain exists) because I believe those to be facts. And I also believe that life has no inherent meaning. But, I’m beginning to realize, that doesn’t mean I can’t forge my own meaning.

So, what, I’ve been asking myself, constitutes a meaningful life? I think my answer may be tied to my greatest fear–being forgotten after death. I have always, whenever I happened to pass a graveyard, read as many of the names on the headstones as I could. Perhaps it’s as a sort of tribute to the people who have died and been forgotten. If not for a fading name on a piece of rock, nobody would ever know that they were people once, save for perhaps a few descendants–but some may not even have had that. And eventually, even your own progeny forget you (Do you know the name of your great-great-great grandmother?).

I want to be remembered. I want to have impact on people’s lives.

I may not be the next Sigmund Freud or Carl Rogers, but if I can manage to become as brilliant a psychologist as I am capable of, and if I can help as many people as I can, then maybe my life will be meaningful.

Understanding the Un-understandable

“We are not ourselves/ When nature, being oppress’d, commands the mind/ To suffer with the body” –William Shakespeare, King Lear

We are not ourselves, indeed. I was talking to my mother the other day, and during the conversation I realized that the hardest part of having a daughter with mental illness, second perhaps only to seeing me suffer, must be not understanding it. She had asked me why I couldn’t try to ask myself if what I was thinking was rational if I felt a psychotic episode coming on. I tried explaining that I didn’t know when I was splitting with reality, that my thoughts always seem perfectly normal and logical at the time. But I don’t think she understood.

After detecting that something was wrong during the course of our conversation, I asked her about it. She told me that her best friend had attempted suicide, and her friend’s mother had called her, as per her friend’s written request, to inform her. Her friend is currently still in the hospital, in an induced coma. My mother was deeply hurt.

“I made her promise me she’d call me if things got bad again,” she told me tearfully. “Why didn’t she call me?”

Not only was she terribly sad about the whole ordeal, but she was also furious with her best friend. She told me repeatedly, “How could anyone be so selfish? People don’t realize the hurt that they cause when they do this.”

First, I did my best to calm my mother down. Then, I explained to her that when someone is in that state of mind, he or she is not thinking rationally. Even promises made to best friends become meaningless. Everything grows meaningless, and the dismal “truth” looms ever greater against the horizon of suffering: the only way out is death.

When my mom continued to press the “selfish” thing, I asked gently if maybe it was a little selfish to think immediately of the pain that she was feeling, and to try to imagine the pain that her friend must have been feeling. I told her that when (I was careful not to say “if”, though in all honesty, her recovery is a great uncertainty) her friend recovers, she should go visit her, and not to “kick her ass” as she had stated earlier, but to offer comfort and reassurance.

Unfortunately, that may be not immediately possible. My mother isn’t the only one with difficulty understanding mental illness. The law (yet again) shows an uncaring lack of understanding about mood disorders: attempting suicide in some states, including the one in which my mom’s best friend lives, is illegal. And yes, punishable by jail time. How incredibly stupid is that? I understand it’s meant as a deterrent to potential suicidals, but no mere law is going stop someone in that state of mind. And then, when they survive their suicide attempts, they are sent not to a hospital, where they could receive adequate treatment, but to a jail, which undoubtedly amplifies their misery. Nice fucking job, politicians.

Anyway, here’s to a better understanding of and compassion for the mentally ill. And also, here’s to the recovery of my mother’s best friend.

The Elusive Skill of People-Drawing

I don’t know what it is about drawing people that is so very difficult for me. Give me an animal, fine. Give me something inanimate, fine. But give me a person, and I’ll struggle.

I mean, I can do it. But for some reason the human anatomy is more difficult for me than anything else. I don’t know, there’s just something about the shape of a person that I can’t memorize very well. And I’ve taken anatomy class!

I just keep studying comics. The typical comic style is what I want to be able to master. So I read a lot of comics (which is no problem, for me, being the nerd I am) and study how the professionals draw people.

Last year, I finished scripts for a trilogy of graphic novels. I won’t say much about them other than this: the trilogy is a science fiction. My eventual hope is to be able to illustrate them myself, but I may just end up finding someone to illustrate them for me, maybe a graphic design major.

It all depends on whether I can learn to draw people well.

Cruel and Unusual

I was cramming for an exam with my textbook last night when I came across an anecdote involving insanity and the legal system. Basically, it went like this: in Arkansas back in the ’70s a young man named Charles Singleton suffered from schizophrenia and in a state of psychosis, killed a woman by stabbing her to death. Singleton was, of course, deemed legally insane. Now, here’s the part that bothers me. They should have sent him to a hospital where he would receive treatment. Instead, the court ruled that he should be forcibly medicated so that he would be competent enough to receive the death penalty.

Yes, you read that right. They treated him so that they could kill him.

According to the Supreme Court, executing a mentally ill person, who is incapable of understanding why or what is happening to him or her, constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment”. But the Arkansas court forced medication so that he could be deemed sane. Am I the only one who sees something fundamentally wrong with this picture?

Apparently not. Amnesty International disapproved of Singleton’s sentence. Human rights activist groups appealed to Mike Huckabee to commute the sentence to life in prison. Huckabee refused.

Singleton was killed via lethal injection in 2004.

Toward the end of his life, he began to ask his attorney to stop fighting his sentence. According to his attorney, he welcomed his execution.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel terrible for the woman he killed in his psychotic state. But I also feel terrible for the killer in this case. I have been psychotic, and I can personally attest to the fact that in that kind of state, your thinking seems perfectly rational to you, even if in reality it is completely irrational or even dangerous. A person in a psychotic state really can’t be held accountable for his or her actions.

I can’t help but hate the Arkansas court and their governor, Huckabee, for their backwards thinking. It is this kind of insensitivity toward mental illness, coupled with the media’s often-negative portrayal of mental illness, that turns the population against the mentally ill.

The man was insane. He should have received hospital care.

Instead he received a very final kind of treatment: death.

Batman: Arkham City

So, since I’m feeling much better of late, I thought I would change gears and make a post about the video game, Batman: Arkham City. A while back I did a post about the first game, and so I thought I would do one about the sequel that I finally bought and recently beat.

To sum the game up in one word: excellent.

It really was. It managed to combine the best of all versions of Batman and the other characters: you had the backstories of the comics, the voice talents of the great animated show that I grew up watching, and the batsuit, as well as the dark-and-grittiness, was based off of Nolan’s films. The plot of the game managed to integrate several classic characters (and managed to keep them all in-character), including the Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and everyone’s favorite serial killer, Zsasz. And, though the game was inspired by stories from the comics and graphic novels, it certainly had some unique and original twists–I won’t give away any spoilers, but the final scene especially was rather shocking.

Gameplay was also improved. Batman’s combat moves flow together better than ever, and there is a greater variety of gadgets to use. Enemy AI was also improved: the boss fight against Mr. Freeze displayed brilliant video game AI. The riddles left throughout the game to find and solve have also gotten significantly more challenging. (And, in a satisfying twist, this time you actually get to fight and subdue the Riddler once you solve enough of them).

So again, a great game overall. Certainly a game worthy of its impressive predecessor, and certainly a game worthy of the legendary character.