Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #14: Shamanism and Psychosis

For last week’s article, Click Here.

For this article, I wanted to discuss something a bit more serious, as well as very personal. Psychosis, if left untreated can have a negative impact on the individual, causing isolation, loss of financial stability, and self harm (including suicide).

Symptoms of psychosis and treatment: https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis

The New Age movement has a way of exalting mental illness in a way that can be problematic for those already suffering from delusions and/or paranoia. The belief system provides reinforcement of an already grandiose sense of self, and if one has psychosis or anxiety about the world, it can have significant consequences. A person with mental illness who holds the belief that they are a shaman with special powers, gives themselves the green light to simply follow their impulses, as well as anxious ideas, while disregarding any reasonable explanation. This isolates them from support of family, friends, and psychiatric help that could potentially ease their symptoms. The individual will reject any idea that there is anything wrong with their brain function as a personal attack on who they deem themselves to be. Confirmation bias is all they will allow into their consciousness, and they will seek out persons and sources who will fulfill their fantasies of being a powerful entity who sees and hears that which is not present in reality.

As you can see in the above example, the denial is quite strong in this individual diagnosed with bipolar. Unfortunately, he is not an outlier. Most folks with the same diagnosis are very uncomfortable with being told they have a mental illness, since there is a stigma attached to it (though with expanding awareness, not as much as it used to have), but also the medications they offer tend to dampen the excited, euphoric states of mania and heightened self-esteem that accompanies it. While the heightened state of mood provides a wonderful high, the lows are extremely dangerous. Yes – medications suck, but not being able to function is much worse, as is the inevitable crash that ensues after mania has ceased. Bipolar individuals are at a high risk of suicide, and are more likely to abuse drugs, which medication along with therapy can help curb significantly. The idea of gaining a diagnosis being merely a label is an absolute myth. There is so much more to diagnosis than merely slapping on a “defective” sticker – it is a way of identifying an inner struggle, and offering solutions in order to tackle the issues that arise from genetic dispositions.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004, and began taking medications as treatment. They helped somewhat with manic symptoms, such as impulsivity and racing thoughts, but the depression was much more difficult to manage, so I quit taking them in an attempt to wrap myself in the comforting high of a mood I considered better. Soon after, I left the love of my life during a state of impulsive mania – a decision I regretted for nearly a decade afterward. After moving back in with my mom, I began college and found a bit of solace in my studies. After finals that semester, depression hit me with a vengeance. I began to contemplate how much I missed my husband, and felt all alone in a world that no longer seemed to have a purpose. My mother knew about my feelings, but wasn’t very supportive at all. She assumed I was merely being histrionic when I said I wanted to die. Her lack of empathy made the situation much worse. Now there was a sinking feeling that absolutely no one cared, including the very person who gave me life. So I decided merely wishing for death and talking about it was no longer enough. I took the remainder of my Xanax prescription, and slit one of my wrists before passing out in the bathroom floor. To my dismay, I awoke at some point, though memory fails me as to what occurred for quite a few days afterward. Mom urged me to go back to the psychiatrist, and I began the meds once again.

Things got back to “normal” for a few years. I went back to school, and worked as much as I could to keep busy. After my mom’s death in 2008, my self-care went out the window, and grief took over my life for quite a few of the following years. I quit school, and tried to focus on just going to work. After discontinuing my mood stabilizers, the depression and mania I felt worsened, and it got to where I had to drag myself to my stressful job some days, then ride the wave of irritation on others. It was incredibly rough, not only because I was still grieving, but also having to deal with symptoms of a mental illness for which I denied myself treatment. In fact, I felt the only thing motivating me to continue forward was the manic states, which had me working circles around my fellow employees, and eventually I got promoted to management. When the depression hit, I would often become ill from forcing myself to work at the same pace as I did during mania, but would still press onward because I desperately needed the money.

Eventually forcing myself to deal with a stressful state of grief while working through the ups and downs of my mood took its toll on my grasp of reality. During a day of particular high stress at work, I glanced over toward the store’s entrance to see my deceased mother walk in. I knew it was a hallucination, and immediately felt the tears well up in my eyes. In my distress, I ran to the back so no one would see me so upset. It was embarrassing, especially since we were at the peak time of business, so I knew my absence was quite obvious, but at the same time, I knew my ability to wear a mask of functionality had ceased, and this was a psychotic break.

Once again, I got back on the medication, but this time, I had to take something stronger to tackle the psychosis. There were terrible side-effects: some medications turned me into a zombie, others made me confused. It was absolutely devastating and degrading to have to visit the psychiatrist as well. There had to be another way.

I got online, and I found a plethora of ideas regarding bipolar that made me question my condition. One of the ideas I ran across was presented by Phil Borges, who asserts that bipolar disorder is a spiritual awakening as opposed to a “label” of mental illness. It was an appealing idea for me, so I looked into the concept more and more. I became obsessed with the idea that my mom had REALLY visited me, and that I was being called to mysticism, so I quit my job in an effort to dedicate my life to the esoteric. I felt exactly as the guy in the above video felt – I had been misdiagnosed, and my gifts were being suppressed by medications. I was a spiritual being in a physical body, and all that mattered was my spirit, which of course was powerful enough to heal the entire planet. It was so easy to believe this, especially since it felt good during the manic cycle, but as always, the depressive side of me awaited. Regardless of how much time I wasted learning about the mystical realm, I didn’t truly feel healed. Believing in spiritual concepts only widened the gap between my extreme moods. Considering the notion of the physical world being of no consequence, when the extreme lows hit, they were lower than ever. During one depressive episode after my “awakening” I decided to take a stroll down a nearby highway and wait for a truck so I could jump in front of it. Fortunately, there was no traffic at that time.

While in the manic cycle, I was ridiculously motivated to push these beliefs onto other people, and my delusions of grandeur got much worse. Everyone who rejected my ideas were sheep, and those who agreed were the wise ones of my tribe. Conspiracy theories made the most sense, and skeptics were limited fools who simply held no creative energy. My following on social media expanded to the maximum level, and there were a multitude of folks willing to grant me my delusional mindset, and even cheer me on. This was such an intoxicating feeling, especially for someone who had once felt that absolutely no one in the world cared. I found I could induce psychosis by going into trance states, and felt I had amazing abilities to travel anywhere, even to other planets via the astral plane, as well as intuit what people were thinking.

There were moments to doubt my newfound spiritualism, though. Some of the people had notions even I had to reject. I recall getting a comment from someone who claimed he was the Christ, and that people tremble when he “would become”… whatever that meant. Even in my own madness, I knew this was a strange statement. There were others who acted questionable whom I had attracted, including people who believed bigfoot was a spiritual guardian, and that unicorns were a real thing. I began to veer toward skepticism more and more because of this. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I started noticing the consequences of folks feeling their facts, and how a lot of the stories people were sharing were fake. This made me question some of my own sources. The more real evidence I tried to find to validate my spiritual beliefs, the more I found rational arguments and evidence to the contrary.

After some time, I decided to abandon my spiritual pursuits and get back on medication. Now, I am more or less still in recovery from my partially self-inflicted psychosis, and it is very difficult to be around some of the folks I love because I see them falling into the same traps as I did – the conspiracy theories, grandiose ideas of self, a dangerous rejection of science, and the spread of ideas that cause nothing more than a sense of guilt for one’s own humanity. None of these things are healthy, especially for individuals who are already genetically prone to losing their grip on reality. Some of the folks I have known were driven to homelessness because they chose to follow these ideas and reject social norms like holding down a job, or relying on a family that loves them simply because they suggested they get psychiatric help, or they questioned their supposed shamanistic abilities.

There are many other varieties of mental illness that can be worsened by these harmful belief systems that reject science, such as OCD, schizophrenia, substance/alcohol abuse, depression, and other forms of anxiety. The denial and exaltation of these psychiatric problems runs very deep in the New Age community, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues there that can be managed with therapies and medication. The idea that we should play into the delusions of psychotic individuals only makes the problem worse, and can have a life-altering impact. So please, if you are suffering, let go of these unfounded beliefs and get professional help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide hotline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org )at 1-800-273-8255

NOTE: The above is a United States phone number. Here’s the international list: http://ibpf.org/resource/list-international-suicide-hotlines

 

This week, I have an additional contributor to Wednesday Woo. Being a nurse, she has a professional perspective, and I am very honored to have her featured. Without further ado, here’s Stephanie’s very apt addition:

TV-Nurse-Jackie

“A Nursing “Woo” Story.

I didn’t decide to be a nurse until I was in college. I was fascinated with medicine growing up but didn’t feel confident enough to pursue a medical degree. Since then, I have found a love for the nursing profession and am very fulfilled. I do not believe I would have found the same satisfaction in medicine.

Having said that, there are disappointments in nursing. One is that while nurses are generally bright individuals, the educational requirements are more rigorous than many paths, the scientific rigor required to practice is extremely variable. Remember that many nurses enter the field with as little as 1 year of vocational school training. As many as 40% of practicing nurses do not have a bachelor degree and have never taken a statistics course or research methods. I did not take these until I was 20 years into my career. I say all this to try to excuse one of the most egregious uses of “woo” within a so-called science-based profession.

Going through nursing school I learned of an alternative therapy called “therapeutic touch”. In short, a nurse trained in therapeutic touch (TT) holds his/her hands over a body part that the patient or nurse feels may be the source of discomfort. By sensing temperature differentials, the nurse is able to tell where “energies” are imbalanced and by some technique (I’m not versed in this) is able to balance the energies and heal the patient of the imbalance. I thought this was crazy when I was in nursing school because I was a good Christian and this sounded like New Age hokey. Later on I became more educated, more secular but had forgotten about TT.

Then I found an article from the late 90s of a school child who tested TT. Unsurprisingly her mother was an RN who disbelieved in TT. Her child had seen her mom watching video of the techniques and supposedly suggested a way to blindly test the practitioner’s ability to perceive energy fields. Previous experiments were not this rigorous, generally had small sample sizes, poor design and a plethora of other issues.

The 11yo helped design, recruit and perform the experiment where the practitioner, who could not see if a person’s hand was behind a curtain, had to feel the energy of the hand and report that the hand was present or absent. The results showed the practitioners had no better success than chance would give them. The parents helped the child write-up the results and they were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Granted, the AMA has on occasion had a contentious relationship with the nursing profession but the data was made available, they were quite transparent. A Cochrane review (one of the most respected reviewers of medical effectiveness evidence) has warned of the unproven nature of the treatment and that any positive effects are likely due to the positive interactions between the patient and the practitioner.

So sorry for the length of this woo story. My take home message is, even respected healthcare providers can be questioned. This technique is still widely taught in nursing schools and is part of many (if not most) of nursing textbooks. One reason I want to be a nurse researcher is to drive the profession away from unproven methods and toward proven methods of helping and healing. The more I read on nursing history and underlying theory, it is really sad how many of them integrate unproven or unprovable premises for nursing practice. The supernatural beliefs run the gamut from Christianity and other traditional religions to more modern versions like New Age spiritualism.

So please, if your healthcare provider wants to try therapies that sound strange, ask them for the supporting evidence. They might not be able to instantly present it to you but should be able to get you a couple of articles at minimum or at least some searchable key words for Google Scholar.

And that little girl, Emily Rosa, she entered the Guinness book for the youngest author of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal and is now a college graduate. I have to believe her parents are so proud of her.

 

Cochrane review:

https://www.ahcmedia.com/articles/33533-therapeutic-touch-and-wound-healing

Emily Rosa’s article:

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/187390

A quackwatch article by one of the co-authors exploring questions on method:

https://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/ttresponse.html

The Diary Of My Mind

An Atheist In Iowa: The Holiday Special

Deck the halls with boughs of Holly, falalalala-lala-la-la!

So I haven’t written in a long time….at least it seems like a long time…and so I was sitting here just thinking about the holidays that are soon to be upon us. I thought that it might be a good idea to offer some of the tips to other people who are new to being an atheist.

1.) Celebrate however you want

Personally I celebrate Christmas, some Atheists celebrate the Solstice, while others may choose not to celebrate at all. It’s up to you. There is no wrong way to celebrate or abstain from celebrating. In my own case, I will be listening to all the Christmas songs and carols throughout the centuries. I love reading about mythology and I see Christmas as nothing more than a big celebration of various mythologies. It’s pretend and fun so I enjoy it in all the ways one could.

2.) Not every argument is worth having

Being the atheist at a holiday dinner can be awkward at times. If you are out as I am, someone might make a snide remark about your atheism. I have found that it is not worth ruining the holiday in order to be right and so I just don’t engage when someone mentions something about faith or “the real reason for the season.” Families often times have prayers before meals and I have been asked before to give thanks. It’s easy enough to give a short statement of thanks, without ever bringing god into the picture, instead of refusing and possibly hurting a loved one.

3.) Remember that Atheism should free the mind and not chain it to a new form of dogma

I understand the anger that you might feel when you leave the faith. Most of us have gone through this and while it does get better, you might still experience it from time to time even years later. Anger has a way of setting us in our way and making us close our minds to the thoughts and ideas of those around us. During the holidays you might hear something that really pisses you off. However, take a moment to think things over before taking a huge stance against it. Atheists can actually be just as dogmatic about their lack of faith as a fundamentalist can, as strange as that may sound. So try to remember, your atheism shouldn’t define you, it should just be.

4.) Maybe lay off the drinks

Look, it’s going to be a bit awkward and tense, especially if you are out about your atheism. So what will almost certainly make matters worse? Alcohol. Listen, we’re human and I know that we think a couple of drinks will loosen things up and make it a bit more comfortable. However, a couple of drinks can also loosen the tongue and lower inhibitions. It might feel right, to the drunk you, to tell grandma about all the contradictions in the New Testament. However, sober you the next day will more than likely be making a very awkward apology call to your octogenarian grandmother.

5.) Have Fun!

Enjoy your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The holidays, when you get right down to it, are actually….as sad as it may seem….anti-suicide celebrations. Now that might seem like a strange statement bit think about it and notice how all the big holidays are during the winter months, when the days are shorter and the nights seem so much longer and colder. Holidays help break up the monotony and bring people together so that they can share the love and warmth of their fellow human beings. So enjoy yourself as much as you can. While there may not be a higher purpose, we are still all in this together.

Much love to you and yours during this holiday season. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Saturnalia, Yule, or whatever else you might choose to celebrate.

Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo: New World Disorder

New World Disorder

One would be hard pressed to have browsed youtube for any period of time without running across the plethora of videos pertaining to the unseen, powerful reach of the so-called “Global Elite” AKA “The Illuminati” conspiracy theory. In fact, these theories have been a pop culture sensation for several generations, and is a favorite of those who have a deep-seeded need to gain an explanation for an authority responsible for their life’s issues; a scapegoat to bare the burden of all their ailments, shortcomings, and missed opportunities in life. Psychologically, it seems to be a way for adults to point the finger at a shadowy group of parents who guide and interfere with major aspects of their lives, and no worldview is immune from this way of thinking. There are lots of symptoms of this shadowy elite, including significant news events like assassinations, mass murders, elections, any scientific advancements, and world banks. It would take a lifetime to debunk them all. Instead I will focus on some of the more extreme ends of the spectrum in an attempt to offer an insight into the type of worldview the conspiracy theorist will hold.

Alex Jones

From a Christian conservative viewpoint, the NWO is an attempt to break away from the good ‘ole days when everything was considered simpler, and guided by religious institutions. That old time religion dominates their ideology, and their main fears are biblically based. “Worship is for God, not government,” thus many of their theories have to do with some deep state movement that will supposedly usher in the era of the anti-christ. Their brand of paranoia is largely an innate fear of losing their religious identity to a more global, diverse and materialistic existence that is open to scrutiny, doubt in God, and critique of their traditionally held beliefs. They are often skeptical of any new form of technology, science, and secular movements as a threat to their traditional way of life. Often times they hold bigoted ideas, and will justify xenophobia, racism, a hatred of sexual freedom, and a reluctance of education for their fear of the globalism.

Well, it’s 2017, and I still have yet to receive my microchip, but I am rather enjoying the Obama dictatorship. Oh wait… Nevermind.

On the New Age more liberal end, the NWO tries to obstruct progress, keeping everyone docile, by opposing free-thought. Ironically, this side tends to be more concerned with an appeal to nature; being skeptical of geoengineering, genetically modified foods, and vaccinations to prevent disease. They have the same kind of traditional ideology, but it claims to be less religious, and has a more “natural law” flavor to it. They tend to hold very conflicted ideas regarding tribalism, since their love for a time when folks roamed the planet like animals, foraging for their food, and disregarding modern hygiene conflicts with their wish to evolve as a species as well as their claims to inclusivity of differing cultures. Most have no idea of the hardship this would all impose. They claim society enslaves people through television, chemicals in medicine and in the water, contrails, GMOs, HAARP, and employment. Yes, being able to work for money is considered slavery because it isn’t enjoyable to the woo crowd.

COnspiracy

What both these groups have in common is misconception, a longing for a simplicity they can comprehend, and a fantasy of unbridled freedom from a society they feel is an unbearable imposition to them. They’re bored, are suffering because they feel left behind, and seeking some sort of pattern to their disfunction. The internet has provided a breeding ground for the spread of this nonsense, and anyone who is skeptical of their claims is immediately told to, “do the research.” Since science has guided the progression of our social norms in many ways, these folks also tend to be luddites – wary of any sort of technology. What I find hilarious is how the Church will say New Agers are Illuminati, but New Agers consider the Church to be Illuminati, but in reality, the Illuminati is no longer a thing.

The Bavarian Illuminati, founded in 1776 by Adam Weishapt was a movement against prejudice, superstitious beliefs, and government overreach. It challenged the catholic church, as well as its power over the public. As a result, the Bavarian Duke-Elector issued a number of edicts banning secret societies, and arrests ensued. Weishapt was eventually exiled, having been labeled a conspirator with Bavarian’s rival at the time, Austria, as well as a heathen who dared to critique the religious institutions. Of course, while there were documents found by police discussing not only the benefits of atheism, but also suicide and abortion – two very much taboo subjects for the times. The lies constructed to demonize the group were plentiful and ridiculous, but when you sprinkle a little bit of truth in them, lies become somewhat believable to those who want them to be true. Many of the conspiracy theories have survived the lengthy passage of time, including how the group planned to poison its enemies, pull the strings of power in order to gain control over the masses, and destroy the constructs of society in an effort to usher in a new world order. This was a backlash to the enlightenment era of science and philosophy, and was often a means to shut down free-thinkers by conservative religious organizations in the late 1700’s.

But this faction of the enlightened was claimed to have survived in secret, and influenced the French revolution in Augustin Barruel’s “Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism” and John Robison’s “Proofs of a Conspiracy”. Literature made its way to the United States, keeping the ideas of these religious apologists alive. For a lengthy period, it remained on the fringes, and most people would chuckle at their crazy uncle when he would strongly maintain that: “The global elite had their scientists create the AIDS virus to create a public panic to distract us from their plans – IT’S TRUE! Look it up!” But these ideas have wiggled their way to the mainstream, thanks to easier access and the potential to capitalize on credulity. Even the History Channel, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have a plethora of “documentaries” describing secret societies and the “truth” of how they dominate the world. The books by Dan Brown, like “Angels and Demons,” having been a best sellers and adapted into a movies, revived the crackpot theory of a super powerful world dominating Illuminati, that is hellbent on keeping the truth of their power a secret by any shady means possible.

Another aspect of all of this is how the theorists come from entirely different worlds views, yet aspire to be fighting the same people, who they claim are working together. I find this notion highly unlikely, since many folks, even ones on the same side, tend to fight one another, and can’t keep activities secret. There’s no way that opposing forces would be a dominating world power while keeping it under wraps. I think it is more likely that folks are taking their expanding their own ideologies and creating an enemy to reinforce their bias. Remember confirmation bias?  The conspiracy theory confirmation is also largely based on symbolism, which could mean anything the believer wishes it to mean. Don’t like a certain pop star? Illuminati. Don’t like the current Prime Minister? Illuminati…. (of course!)

gaga

 

The truth is, human beings are hard wired to seek patterns and intelligence behind circumstances in their personal lives, as well as the entire world. Sometimes we pick up on real patterns, often we get a false positive.

It’s important for us to have these processes, but also to gain an understanding of how they function in order to avoid making cognitive mistakes like conspiracy theories. These types of ideas can be very harmful to relationships, as well as instigate a feeling of paranoia. It’s simply not good for one’s mental health to take up conspiracy theory ways of thinking.

More information:

http://www.bavarianilluminati.com/2011/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/07-08/profile-adam-weishaupt-illuminati-secret-society/

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Illuminati

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories/

http://theconversation.com/why-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories-and-how-to-change-their-minds-82514