Thursday, February 20, 2014

My thoughts on "true" black metal

Black metal should have been left to die twenty years ago. Everything that needed to be said had been said by then, and everything since then has just been attention whoring with shitty music.

So-called "true" black metal, the way I see it, is even below the retro thrash and retro doom trends that have sprung up in recent years. The reason it is below those is because those two were just passing trends that a lot of people picked on one day and that were gone two or three years later. "True" black metal has been going on non-stop since all the way back in the early 1990s when the first bands began to imitate Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem and other big names. It has had nothing to say that was worth saying from the beginning and it remains unchanged in its monotonous inanity to this day. Why can't that fucking trend die like the others? It is as torturous as being force-fed Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste knock-offs for two decades. Why do people feel the need to play the same music that's been played a million times, paint themselves like clowns and moan about Satan or nihilism or whatever other shit they dig out the cliché box? Shut the fuck up, you're pathetic.

There is nothing "true" about this garbage. Dressing yourself up like Dead on the Live in Leipzig cover or Zephyrous on the A Blaze in the Northern Sky cover and calling yourself "true black metal" makes about as much sense as dressing yourself up like George Washington and calling yourself a "true freedom fighter". There is nothing fucking "true" about dressing up like those who were.

I get that albums like Under a Funeral Moon and Det Som Engang Var are really impressive. I get that a band of violent church burners and murderers playing such great music is a really captivating thought, too. And I get the psychological connection of wanting to be a part of this by association. I get all that because I can relate to the feeling, because I played black metal in the past, I did the music, the face-paint, the stereotypical lyrics, the unreadable logos, the tapes limited to half a copy, I can relate. However, once my body rid itself of the last remains of puberty hormones I quickly came to the realisation of how pathetic that whole circus really is. Think about it: You're taking something that was once great and making a cheap mockery of it. And you're making an ass of yourself in the process with your shitty music, painting yourself like a clown, copying logos, spewing random lyrics that have no worthwhile message, and so on. You're not going to become Varg, Fenriz, Dead or Euronymous in the process, you're only going to be a pathetic loser.

You're really pissing on a legacy here. It became hard to even listen to one of Darkthrone's classics without any association to the shit idiots like Kanwulf or Akhenaten played soon after springing up. You are defiling something that, despite the obvious hype making it seem bigger than it was, had a sense of grandeur and nobility to it, if left to stand as a monument to itself. You are the type of people who, seeing great achievements of civilisation such as the Great Pyramid would fuck it up by building a thousand of your own pyramids around it. Entering the pyramid, seeing the ancient hieroglyphs that have endured millennia, you would have nothing better to do than smear every wall inside the structure with your own hieroglyphs like urban ghetto gangta vandals. You're not "keeping the spirit alive", you are hammering nail after nail in its coffin with every note you steal from Transilvanian Hunger.

Then, to make it worse, you feel like you need to slap your own twist on it and pretend it's the "true spirit of black metal", making your band about suicide and proclaim that's what black metal was always about,  making your band about racial purity and proclaiming that's the "real" message of black metal from the start, or how about reading a few books on occultism and mangling the contents through a thesaurus? Yeah, you are really making a unique statement here, and always make sure yours is the only statement that reflects the spirit of black metal and everyone else gets it wrong, because you are the expert with your band formed in the 21st century shortly after you've heard your first black metal album. You and the thousands of other "true" black metal drones sounding just like you.

If something is great, you don't need to repackage it and sell it as your own. That's not "true". That's false. Appreciate the greatness of the original and leave it as a unique product of a unique set of people at a unique time. Because that's what it will ever be. The only actual "true" black metal is the black metal released up to 1994. What came after that is just a bunch of losers trying to get a piece of the glory-pie. Don't take part in it, don't support it, don't condone it, don't tolerate it, don't give it the time of day. Black metal is a rotting corpse thanks to you people. There's no need to further defecate on its grave, is there?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Restoring sanity to veganism

Parts of this post are taken from this post at the Seitanic Vegan blog I am a co-admin at.

I'd like to devote this post to talking about veganism. I was inspired to write this post by my co-admin of the blog linked above complaining about nobody reading said blog. The thing here is that nobody who isn't into veganism doesn't like to read about it, and there's a reason for that. Let's face facts here, veganism isn't commonly associated with normal, good, decent people eating a different diet. It is associated with nutjobs like PETA, the Animal Liberation Front, people who throw buckets of red paint at others, people who demonstrate at McDonalds, people who call everyone else murderers and animal abusers, people who, if you mention eating a non-vegan diet to them, use every slur in the book to paint you as a horrible bigot and "speciesist" as they like to call it. People who use their lifestyle choice to feel morally superior to others. People who want everyone else to be just like them, and if they refuse, they're worse than Hitler. In short: Assholes.

This, in a nutshell, is why regular people avoid veganism, avoid reading about veganism, and avoid talking to vegans. Because they don't want to waste their time with assholes and don't want to become assholes themselves by association. The public image of vegans and veganism is somewhat akin to nutjob cults like Scientology, being this brainwashed mass of zombies with no free will or purpose beyond what they are fed by the cult and whose only goal in life is to indoctrinate others. No one wants to become such a person, no one wants to talk to such persons, no one wants to be associated with such persons. Why would they? The people and organisations mentioned in the first paragraph are worthless scumbags and I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with them in any way despite my dietary choices.

So what we need to do here is restore sanity to veganism. First, to shun such people described above in every possible way. And second, bring to the public's minds normal, decent people such as ourselves who made our choice for a variety of reasons, but not to see ourselves as morally superior or others as morally inferior, and not to indoctrinate your loved ones into a soulless cult of obedient drones. Regular people, no better or worse than anyone, who simply eat different food than most people but are otherwise just like everyone else. People of all colours, cultures, classes and creeds. People who won't hate or condemn you if you eat a steak or an omelette, but simply make a different choice of what to have for dinner. People such as myself, my Seitanic Vegan co-admin and girlfriend, and many others who have a sane approach to veganism. And believe me, sane vegans are by far the majority, they are simply drowned out by the more vocal, loudmouth nutjobs who hog all the attention. And this post is my first step towards diverting attention from PETA and its braindead cronies and shift the focus of the public towards those who don't misuse veganism to give their miserable lives a purpose and a feeling of moral superiority, but simply want to live their lives like everybody else.

As for myself, I am not actually fully vegan yet. I did quit eating meat altogether, and I have quit eating eggs, and I gave up most dairy (cheese, yogurt, etc.), but because in Germany soy milk is twice as expensive as cow milk and I drink a lot of tea I am currently still using cow milk while I am short on cash. I am hoping that within the next three months I gain the financial security to embrace veganism fully. Still, considering that a bit of cow milk every day is the only non-vegan vice I have left in my life I am hoping to be able to contribute to this blog properly.

I am the type of person who, not only because my venture into vegetarianism and soon veganism is fairly recent, but also because I currently see insurmountable odds, am not particularly preachy about this choice. The reason I see the odds as so overwhelmingly against veganism is because, quite frankly, most of us haven't even learned yet to treat other human beings with respect. We can't even manage to do that. We still hurt people because of the colour of their skin, insult them for what type of relationships they desire, enslave them because of what continent they were born on, exploit them because of what social class they were born into, and so on. All the while toasting our planet, poisoning our oceans and decimating our forests. It's obvious the vast majority of us are nowhere near mature enough to embrace a sustainable lifestyle.

Gloomy outlooks aside, while we can't make choices on how others run their lives, we can still make choices on how to run our own lives. We might not save the world or even make a dent in the system of decadence our vast majority embraces, but we can live our lives in a way that feels good for us. We can make sure not to gorge ourselves on poison that causes all sorts of diseases, decreases our quality of life and contributes to making us less happy altogether. And why shouldn't we? You have to weigh what you are losing - chunks of chewy stuff that without spices doesn't taste much like anything - and what you are gaining - a rich diet full of flavours and textures. And an overwhelming abundance of nutrients, most of which you didn't even know existed.

I have made this choice to live a healthier life by adding all these nutrients and removing all the poisons that come with animal products, and to live a more satisfying, rewarding life by treating myself to all these different flavours and textures. It's not a choice I made to save the world in between tree-hugging sessions, it's a choice I made for myself, to help me feel better, or more succinctly put, to make my life better. I think this is something everybody could get into, but they don't have to. Besides one brother, all of my family and friends eat meat and animal products, it's no big deal to me. They simply made a different choice than me, and that makes them no better or worse than me, and I am not going to judge or condemn them, because they aren't actually doing anything wrong. They are just living their lives the way they enjoy it, as we all should. Of course I would like veganism to be on the increase, and I'm pretty sure it is, but why harass people and make them feel uncomfortable at best and aggravated at worst just because they live their lives differently? Isn't that how most vegans complain we are treated? Shouldn't we treat others the way we would like to be treated?

So here's my offer: Show up at The Seitanic Vegan some time, read our posts, find out more if you're curious. If you don't want to, that's fine, too. We're not here to push our lifestyles on you. And seriously, fuck PETA.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Alcoholism: A love story - Part III: The strangest night of my life

So in the previous installment of this series I have talked about the very worst time I had during the years of excessive drinking, in a future part I will talk about some of the very good times I've had during these years, but for this part I am going to get into one particular night that sums up just how excessively I did live my life back then. Must have been some time around 2007, but I really don't remember, weeks, months and years kind of blended into each other back then and I couldn't really tell what was when besides certain key dates such as relocations. I know it was in March because it was related to a friend's birthday, but what exact year I really don't know anymore.

It started off as a fairly normal day waking up in my old apartment, doing my thing browsing and chatting around the internet like I have done since 2001 or so to this day. Had a few drinks, had some food, regular day. I was invited to the birthday party of my friend Oliver (not his real name), though, and I was looking forward to it. I was a much more social person back then. Never had many friends, could count them on one hand, but I enjoyed being with them and was generally more outgoing thanks to them. Again, not much more, but compared to the time since I lived in my current apartment with almost no contact to anyone I was definitely more of a people person. Oliver just had a new apartment - his first - near the city center like mine, and it would be a good opportunity to meet him, drink beers, meet my other punk friends and have fun.

I have to add that while I considered myself a metalhead (heavy metal fan to those who don't know) for most of my life, I never really hung out with any other metalheads. All those people ever talked about was work and cars and dick size comparisons and other working class prole things, it just wasn't for me. I despised all those things. I was always a guy who was more for hanging out with the punks. Rarely the clueless punk kids who just acted out because daddy didn't love them, but the guys who were a bit older and actually meant it. People who truly embraced the lifestyle out of conviction. Those were the people who were much more compatible to my lifestyle of misanthropy and self-destruction (at the time) than any working class stiff metalheads. Just felt I needed to add this paragraph for perspective.

So in the evening I went to Oliver's place with a slight buzz already. We went to the grocery store to buy a ton of beer, and one by one a handful of people showed up, mostly the people I described in the previous paragraph plus two or three more "regular" alternative people. So we drank. In between beers, a few guys had pot with them, and while my pothead years were long over (quit smoking it regularly in January 2004), when I was drinking with friends I didn't mind a hit from a joint every now and then. We definitely had a good time enjoying each others' company and the increasing mental haze caused by the beer and the pot.

Eventually a decision was reached to go out. We were all in great moods, and the evening needed to continue at a different location with more people. Back in the day, like today, there was really nothing ever going on in this city, except back then we had monthly goa/psytrance (I never did know the difference between those two genres) parties at the local "alternative" club. Basically, the music is fast techno type of stuff with psychedelic effects, the decorations at the parties also had a psychedelic tone, the crowd was mixed between hippies and alternative people for the most part, a good number of techno people unfortunately, and all sorts of extreme outsiders that did not fit anywhere else. As you can imagine from this description there were a lot of drugs going around, especially since back in the day the cops had not yet caught on to what goes on at those types of parties. Initially I just came to drink beer and meet friends, but things don't always go as you originally thought they would go when you're drunk...

It all started when I was offered a line of amphetamines (aka Speed), then another, then a third. I really didn't care about these things back then, especially when drunk. It's a decent drug, I had used it before, but just a small handful of times because it is expensive and as a jobless drunk I was chronically out of money. Kind of comparable to a high dosage of very strong coffee, fires you up and motivates you. Not bad when you're at such a party and want to stay awake and energised. Eventually I met my friend Martin (not his real name) and we talked about this and that, he was a good friend at the time and I spent a lot of time with him. Soon after we met we got the idea of acquiring some Ecstacy. I was extremely short on money, so was he, so we could only get one pill for both of us and each had half. That one's an entirely different beast than amphetamines. It's sort of a "happy pill", and in fact there are antidepressants with similar active ingredients, except at a much lower dosage and chemically dampened. Imagine it in a way as relating similarly to antidepressants as amphetamines relate to coffee, with the former in each case being a dozen times more potent. Suffice to say I was really hyper and spaced out at that point.

But, you know, I was a drinker, so my main priority was more beer, and that's how it went really crazy, as I was out of money and had to ask my friends if I could have some of their beer. Eventually I began really phasing in and out of reality, which I attributed to the Ecstacy, but my friend Martin was beginning to wonder why half a pill would affect me so much. After a few minutes he met up with me and told me that my friend Thomas (you guessed it, not his real name), who I had scored a full bottle of beer from, had told him that he forgot to tell me he had liquid LSD in the beer he gave me. Nice thing to forget. If you have read my previous posts you know that I suffer from an anxiety spectrum disorder, meaning my mind frequently gives me panic attacks, which is why I have stayed away from hallucinogenics for all my life. The potential for horror in my mind is just too big. But there I was, on a wild cocktail of various drugs with LSD topping it all off. That surely promised to be a night to remember.

I cannot really tell you that much about the hours that ensued, because all the stuff I had in my system didn't do much good for my memory, but there are a few things I clearly remember, and a few things I've been told. I remember that a guy I hardly knew but who was friends with the friends of mine who were there was taking care of me almost the whole evening, keeping me in good spirits and keeping me distracted so I wouldn't drift off into something dark and horrid. To this day I am thankful to him for that. The other thing I remember is that for an hour or so while I was sitting at a table with that guy, a young girl I didn't know was at the same table, yelling at me the whole time about how I was wasting my life. It seemed like a dangerous combination with the drugs, but it was really quite entertaining, and I was amused at her whining more than I was bothered by it. One thing I remember is that it was too noisy for me inside the club and half the time I didn't understand what she said, so I asked her if we could continue talking outside, and she gave me this really disgusted look. I was thinking of outside the door where everyone could see us, and I didn't get what freaked her out about that at the time, but in hindsight I quickly realised what she must have been thinking my idea was. Oops.

As for the rest of the evening, I do not remember a thing, but I was told that I was wandering through the club in sort of a Johnny Depp Fear & Loathing meets Pirates of the Carribean impression and that I was obviously enjoying myself and that everyone was glad I handled it so well. Somehow I ended up home and slept it all off, and life continued as normal. I never had such an experience in my life ever again, I never touched more than one hard drug in one evening since then, and even touching a single one at all only happened a handful of times in the following year or two until I moved to the suburbs and cut off contact with everyone. I certainly never touched LSD again, despite having a good time in that one evening. It was an experience that would forever stick with me as an adventure, but also as a warning, and it is not something I would ever get into again.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No tolerance for idiots

I do not tolerate people who's intelligence is not above average.

There, I said it. My Australian friend Steve (not his real name) read through my blog the other day and told me a few of my posts come across as very arrogant. Well, Steve-o, you're in for a real treat, because in this post I am going to step so far into the territory of complete and utter arrogance that you're going to hate me for the rest of your life. Because, quite frankly, I've had it with idiots. My best friend Sebastian (also not his real name), also of above intelligence, has a real issue with stupid people, so much that he'd like to see them all dead, that he'd like to see a virus designed to target only those less fortunate upstairs. I think of myself as less extreme, but there are days such as today when I find myself almost agreeing with his views.

As some of you know I have a Facebook account. And for about half a year I had been in a group that had absolutely nothing to do with my usual interests, counted over ten thousand members and consisted almost entirely of what you call "normal" people, the type of people you see everywhere, on the streets, in the city, at your job (well, not at mine), at the doctor, in the bank, in the theater, in the bus, anywhere you go. The type of people who don't differentiate themselves from everyone else in any way and form one large, gray, anonymous mass of disposable filler. These people are not inherently bad, many of the greatest minds in history were such "normal" people. Sure, Einstein had funky hair and Nietzsche had that cool moustache, but essentially, almost all the people responsible for all the leaps in human "progress" in the past few thousand years were fairly normal-looking people.

The problem is that these great minds are an absolute and complete exception to the rule. This rule is that for all the "normal" people you see, you can safely assume that a large number of them are complete idiots. And you can safely assume that the vast majority of these idiots likes to run their big mouths nonstop, on subjects they don't know anything about, about issues they don't understand in the least bit, with "thoughts" that don't have even the tiniest fraction of substance or merit. Now, to be fair again, those exist a-plenty in any given subculture, but only among "normal" people do they form this overwhelmingly large, crushing mass that there is no escape from wherever you go. Because be realistic: Fed up with idiots in the heavy metal scene? Don't go to heavy metal concerts. Fed up with idiots in the goth scene? Don't go to goth parties. Fed up with idiots in Star Trek fandom? Don't go to Star Trek conventions. Fed up with idiots among "normal" people? Well, you're shit out of luck, there is no place you can go to escape them. They are everywhere, they shove themselves right in your face everywhere, you have to look at them everywhere, you have to hear them talk everywhere. And I simply cannot tolerate it anymore.

But back to Facebook, which was what started this fit of intolerance that lead me to write this post. I told you about this huge group I was in, full of these "normal" people, most of which were complete morons. I never really contributed it, because in every thread I saw there, after about three or four responses it would start with the idiots running their mouths, starting to insult people and acting like they know everything better. Now, it would be foolish to judge people on Facebook for their spelling and grammar, but that's a bit of a first clue to tell how these people - native speakers - weren't exactly gifted. But it was really the content that was telling. These people wouldn't know a thought if you shoved a cable in their brains and uploaded Stephen Hawking's bibliography straight to their neurons. But they thought as themselves as the wisest people in the group, telling everybody else how to run their lives. And god were they insufferably self-centered about it. They thought of themselves as the standard everybody else should be measured by, and if you disagreed you'd have twenty posts worth of insults hurled your way.

Mind you, this is perfectly natural on Facebook, where people can hide behind their computers and fear no consequences. In real life you'd assume that they were a little more conscience on how they run their mouths because they could end up with a fist placed right in its center, but they really aren't. Facebook, in this respect, is an accurate reflection of how idiots behave in real life. And so it went. I made a post, and it didn't take more than a handful of posts for them to flock to take the stage for the retard show. First I was naive, then stupid, then I was told to cut my hair, then I didn't understand what they were writing, then I was told my posts were not worth reading, then a few more insults. The problem with this was that the guys did not even understand my post and were running their mouths on something they thought I had said because they lacked the basic reading comprehension to put together in their little brains what I had actually written. Classic internet story, no? No, classic real life story, too.

That really is the problem, that they are everywhere you go, whether online or offline. And they always think they should flap their lips and that everyone should listen to what they are saying. And fuck, am I sick of it. There really is nothing I can do about it, I can't make people smarter, and I don't agree with Sebastian's virus idea. But I can stop tolerating it right now. I can tell myself, and let them know, that they are not worth the air they are breathing to me anymore. I can make the decision for myself to only hang around my own kind anymore in the future, and that whenever I have to deal with idiots from now on, I can make it a point to let them feel that they are beneath me. I am through with seeing these people as my equals. I don't believe in equality anymore. These people are not my equals. They are lesser beings. And while they are too stupid to ever realise that, they can at least feel that I think of them that way.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Alcoholism: A love story - Part II: The year of hell

As I was contemplating how to properly kick off this series after the overview provided in its first post, I had many ideas on where I could start. I could have started at the beginning, how it all began, or started with the great time I had in the early days of entering a state of alcoholism. But I decided against it, because, simply put, for all those young readers out there who are thinking about a "career" in the field of alcoholism, one should not start with the good and glorify the alcoholic life, despite the good times I did in fact have, but instead give you a clear warning that with the good, you are entering sort of a bargain in which your books are balanced between great times on one side and truly horrifying times on the other. In essence, before you considering living the life of an alcoholic I want you to know what you are getting yourself into.

I know a lot of you who lack experience may think that detox is the worst that can happen to you in your alcoholic life besides a slow, agonising death from organ failure, but it really isn't. Detox for me lasted two weeks, and while the first two or three days were abysmal indeed, most of the rest of it was just boring. Nah, the worst period of your life as a drinker is the time prior to detox, the time you are a heavy alcoholic.

Clinically, you could define being a heavy alcoholic by physical dependency, which is true, but doesn't really say much to the average person. To me, it is more succinctly defined as the time when drinking stops being fun. This is, in part, due to the physical dependency that sends you through the horrifying experience of withdrawal symptoms every morning so that you need to reach a high enough level of inebriation to enter a state of normalcy, but, to add insult to injury, is also in part due to the insanely high level of tolerance you develop that it takes ridiculous levels of drinking to ever reach that level - a process which often consumes half the day or more. And many times you would not even reach that level despite drinking all day, eventually only passing out due to exhaustion from the stress caused by withdrawal.

To me, this was compounded by the fact that in 2008 I moved from the city center where all my friends lived and where I could go to the parks or in a pub or many other places, to an apartment far away in the suburbs owned by my parents because no other landlord would take me. Essentially, I lost all diversions and external stimuli, and drinking quickly became all I ever did. This was the beginning of what I call "the year of hell".

Every day would start the same way. I would wake up, and for a few seconds I was very clear, very calm, still half asleep but feeling fine. Withdrawal kicked in just a few seconds after. For me, it took the shape of massive panic attacks. I would feel this intense nausea coupled with an insane fear of choking to death on my own vomit - in fact I would feel my vomit creeping up my throat into my windpipe, which obviously was imagined, but felt very real at the time. This was combined with a feeling of my throat tightening up making it near-impossible to breathe at all. Obviously my first impulse after waking up was rushing to the desk and mixing myself a cocktail. I could not drink hard liquor straight-up because my stomach was so fucked that it would lead me to vomit right away, including the feeling of choking to death on it, so I mixed about a quarter glass of hard liquor with three quarters of beer, making a drink that was about 10% alcohol. Because alcohol abuse leads to a very parched mouth, I could only take very little sips, and even those were hard to swallow, and the taste of the hard liquor made me even more nauseous. But it had to go down, there was no other way. I drank one glass, which with the tiny sips that took forever to swallow and the occasional upchucking lasted about an hour, and then I was back to square one, because after this glass I was feeling exactly the way I was before I started drinking, it had no effect whatsoever. So another glass, another hour of nausea, upchucking, choking, panic attacks and what basically amounted to near-death-experiences.

This went on for hours. All the while I tried to somehow distract myself from the panic attacks for just a few seconds of comfort, but if I did that and snapped out of the distraction, I would just end up feeling exactly the way I did when I woke up, and needed to start the whole routine over again, despite having six beers mixed with half a bottle of hard liquor in my system again. So again with the 10% mix, tiny sips, nausea, upchucking, choking, panic attacks, you get the idea. A lot of the time I was so worked up that I was pacing all the time, trying to take deep breaths but just gasping for air like a fish out of water, trying to drink water to alleviate my parched mouth - but that would only diminish the effect of the alcohol, and I am man enough to admit that sometimes I would just be sobbing like a little girl, which again only made me feel more nauseous and more like my throat was tightening up. Whether I would somehow calm myself down by the time it was evening was never certain. At the height of the year of hell I at times had two bottles of hard liquor and two sixpacks of beer in one day and still felt no effect. And forget about ever getting drunk, you're not even getting close. You're lucky if you feel sober after a day of non-stop drinking.

So many things were out of the question due to this routine. I could only eat every couple days when I hit a rare calm-ish moment, and even then only a small amount was possible until I would start freaking out again. So I was quite underweight, about ten kilos below the healthy minimum, twenty kilos below ideal weight. Personal hygiene was also not possible, because I would never be calm enough to do anything about it, and in the rare cases that I was I would be completely freaking out in the process and be a wreck after I was done. I was very lucky to be in an apartment owned by my parents because paying bills or even opening letters is also not something you generally do when you're stuck in a routine that needs you to just drink non-stop to somehow keep it together. Eventually I had a psychiatric nurse coming to my apartment once a week so that with his support I could at least go to the grocery store if I felt calm enough, which a lot of the time I didn't and begged my mother to do it for me. It is in no way a sustainable life, because if I didn't have that support, I would not even have had a way to buy booze. And without having the luck that my parents own an apartment that was free I wouldn't have had a place to live, either. Life in that state was doomed.

It took a long time for me to decide to go to detox, because honestly, in that state that's a hell of a scary thought, but there was no future, not even a near future, going on the way I did. I had made my decision and talked to my psychiatric nurse about how to go about it. The final nail in the coffin was when I went to my doctor (general practicioner) and had him examine my blood in case the doctors at the detox clinic need to know anything about the state of my body, and a week later I got a letter from his office saying I "urgently" needed to come in. Went in with my mother, and the doctor told us that I was in the early stages of cirrhosis. Okay, yeah, definitely detox. Made an appointment in early August of 2009 and got a spot in mid-August. The year of hell was over.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Tales from the schizophrenia ward - Part V: Therapy?

Anyone who voluntarily enters inpatient life goes into a clinic with the expectation that he will receive help with his/her mental issues through therapy. Some of the veterans might go only for changing their medication, but to those who are new to the routine, medication is either perceived as a necessary crutch to support actual therapy, or entirely unnecessary while therapy does the actual work. Well, I can only speak from my experience, and from the experience of the many people I have met during my three tenures as an inpatient, but frankly, therapy is a load of crap.

First off, you know how politicians always whine about how the government is out of money? Yeah, that's when they privatise government-run institutions. That is what happened to mental hospitals all over Germany, and probably most other countries in the western world. And once they're private businesses, it's all about economics, which translates to firing just about anyone but a skeleton crew. I have spoken to people who are a few years older than me who have been to mental hospitals prior to privatisation, and they told me they had a jam-packed daily schedule of various therapies. After privatisation? Well, read the first part of this series (incidentally the first post in this blog, easy to find), and if you decide to go inpatient, prepare for eight to ten hours a day of smoking cigarettes, because thanks to economics, clinics are now very spartan when it comes to giving patients something to do.

And that is just the quantity. When it comes to quality, things get even more dire. There were two branches of therapies, one branch was therapies offered inside the ward by members of the staff, the other was therapies outside the wards in buildings specifically hosting these therapies, offered by staff wo were paid just for doing these therapy programs and nothing else.

Of the first branch, there were psychoeducation, metacognitive training (MCT) and integrated psychological training (IPT). The theory behind these is to educate you about your illness and thereby better help you manage it. In practice, and anyone who has been through any of those three can confirm it, all three are a complete waste of time. Psychoeducation tries to explain what is causing your illness (they don't really know) and how the medications they give you alleviate the symptoms, but you can tell half of it is guesswork because science just hasn't made it that far yet, and it doesn't help that they stretch material anyone of average intelligence can learn in 20 minutes over seven units that are one hour each. Metacognitive training attempts to teach you that your perception can deceive you if you don't know the whole story. Yeah, really. How that isn't obvious to everyone is beyond me, but again they stretch it out over weeks in hourly segments repeating the same idea over and over again. Finally, in IPT we played some word games and a board game, neither of which seemed to serve any purpose. I usually understand the intended purpose of therapies in principle even if I do not think they are very useful in practice, but IPT honestly just seemed like a way to kill time.

The second branch, by comparison, seems a little more like some sort of effort was put into giving the patients something to do other than sitting on a chair looking at spreadsheets. I did music therapy for two hourly sessions twice a week, which was a small handful of patients jamming on instruments with the music therapist. Fun, but not much more. Supposed to improve group interaction or something, but no one really listens to what anyone else is playing. I also did a drumming group twice weekly, which was a group of people with congas (African drums) sitting in a circle playing the same simple rhythms every single time. That one wasn't even fun.

The four main therapies you had to pick one from were painting, dance and theater, gardening, and animal husbandry. Painting was exactly how you imagine it, a bunch of people painting pictures. There were three different groups with different therapists, one of them more by-the-book painting by rules, the other more free-form, the third one I don't know. I was at the more free-form group two or three times and the atmosphere was very awkward, people were just doing their stuff and there didn't seem to be a point to any of it except keep people busy. Dance and theater I did not attend, but it was the most popular therapy in the clinic, so I heard a lot about it. Apparently they did half an hour of aerobics, then did improvisational theater. I do sort of see what they are aiming for with this, aerobics, like any physical exercise, has been known to be beneficial for people's mental health, and I guess with the theater they are supposed to train their interpersonal skills, or something? Seems like one of the more decent ideas there, but it wasn't compatible with my social anxiety so I never tried it out.

Gardening was what you imagine, taking care of the plant life around the huge clinic grounds. You even got paid for it, €1.50 an hour, €3 per unit - there were two units a day, but I only took the afternoon one because in the mornings I did music therapy and drumming. Since I was there in winter there was no actual gardening to be done, so I got to rake leaves every day. Fun. Guess this therapy is supposed to simulate a work environment. I just went because of the €3 and because the ward staff badgered me to pick a therapy (or else), and it seemed like the least stupid one. Animal husbandry was the same as gardening, except with animals rather than plants, also with the pay. I didn't take it because I thought it would be mostly scooping poop, but in hindsight I'd rather do that than rake leaves.

What the four have in common is that they are about as mentally challenging as an Adam Sandler movie, which is why I hated the two of the big ones I tried, the two minor ones, despite being music-related, and most certainly the ones offered at the ward. And none of them provide any therapeutic benefit for your illness, either, because they don't have anything to do with it. Those are the two big problems, and a third problem is that they only take up very little time of the day, so you have nothing to do for most of your time. But let me focus on the two big ones.

What really bugs me is that so many people I met during my stay at the schizophrenia ward were of above average intelligence, yet all of us had to pick what can only be appropriately called "idiot therapies." Could have done so much to challenge our brains, flex our cognitive muscles, but instead we were treated like we had Down's syndrome. The official explanation is that psychotic people are too easily stressed out by using their brains, but that's a load of crap. Being treated like toddlers was far more stressful. And why in blazes was there no group therapy where we could directly exchange experiences with our illnesses? Before privatisation every ward in every clinic everywhere in the country had a ton of that, and I have heard so much good about it, yet that seemed to be the first they got rid of when making their new private business more "economic." All we got were patronising toddler therapies that did nothing but kill time, and didn't even kill very much of it because we were still bored two-thirds of the day.

And no, you can't opt out. You have to take therapies in the morning and in the afternoon, or else. They never told me what they would do if I refused to do any of that nonsense, but considering the variety of ways they blackmailed me throughout my stay I figure I'd rather do my pointless music therapy and raking leaves than deal with whatever they would have decided to throw at me. If anyone who runs a private mental hospital ever reads this I can only respectfully request something that stimulates the brain a little, or something in which we can confront our illnesses, or both. Don't save money in areas that benefit your patients, that's like a steakhouse only offering bread because steaks are too expensive - hint: people go to steakhouses to have steak, that's what the business is about. You're a mental hospital, people want proper therapy. That is the service you are supposed to provide, so do it.

Tales from the schizophrenia ward - Part IV: It could be worse...

You know, going by the accounts of this series' first three parts you'd probably think that I had a hellish time at the schizophrenia ward, but it really wasn't all that bad. Yeah, the Haldol stories I talked about in parts II and III were pretty damn bad, and the boredom detailed in part I was somewhat bad, well, mostly inconvenient, but as a whole, I didn't have such a bad time, and neither did many of my fellow patients. Sure, none of us had the best time of our lives, that's in the nature of such a place, but there was a good spirit between patients, a spirit of camaraderie and at times - after a while - even friendship. We hung out, talked, had fun, it was pretty nice a lot of the time. So while some aspects of this episode of my life and the lives of those around me at the time were pretty dismal, sometimes you gotta see things positively and think of the less fortunate.

And we did think of the less fortunate, because there was no way around it. That is because half of us - excluding myself - were the less fortunate prior to their joining the ward I was at. This ward was what they call an "open" ward, which means you agreed to come there, you were free to roam the clinic area, and you were free to leave if you should choose to do so. And where there is an open ward there sure enough was a "closed" ward not far away - about 50 meters from our building, the building next door. This was a place where you'd be brought against your will because you were deemed "a danger to yourself or others", and where you could not leave the ward (either entirely or just for a stroll) without express permission of the doctors. Once doctors decided you were no longer a danger to anyone you would be sent to our open ward, mostly to get your meds down and prepare you for release. So a lot of the people I met at my ward were at the closed ward next door prior to my meeting them, and the first-hand accounts I heard from them were truly horrifying.

One big issue is that in most clinics, there are numerous different wards, each with a different focus. When you decide to become an inpatient by yourself, you have your doctor sign you up for the ward that is deemed appropriate for your diagnosis and you wait until there is a free bed. When you are brought to the clinic against your will however they obviously can't keep you in the ambulance for a week until a bed in a ward appropriate for your diagnosis is free, so when one isn't, you are simply redirected to another closed ward with a different focus in which there is a free bed. This is problematic because most patients' diagnoses require a long-term stay at a ward that offers long-term therapy, but because such wards do long-term therapy, rotation is lower and a bed is less likely to be free at any given time. Wards that do have a high rotation and therefore are more likely to have a free bed are those for short term intervention in an acute problem - most commonly detox or suicidal ideation/suicide attempts.

Since I was at a schizophrenia ward, the majority of people there suffered from schizophrenia or related illnesses such as schizoaffective disorder. So most of those who had been in a closed ward prior to their arrival at the open one I was at were committed there as a result of such a heavy psychotic episode that they were deemed a danger to themselves or others. Now most people who have never experienced a psychotic episode or similar phenomena will never quite understand what happens inside these people at the time, and from my own experience I can only relate to the intense paranoia that my diagnosis (obsessive-compulsive disorder) shares with schizophrenia. Now imagine being in a state of intense, overwhelming, unmanageable paranoia and being committed to a mental hospital against your will (which is bad enough), but because there is no free bed in a ward appropriate for your symptoms you end up in one place with 20 Russians on heroin withdrawal or 20 suicidal people who are intent on trying to end their lives any chance they get. To call that counterproductive would be one hell of an understatement.

But let us assume that you do get a place appropriate for your symptoms, a closed schizophrenia ward, as a good number of people I have met did. Here's where the really ugly truth comes to light: Doctors and nurses, no matter how much training they have received and how competent they are assumed to be, do not know how to handle people who are experiencing a heavy psychotic episode other than with mental and physical violence. You read correctly. This is the "enlightened" 21st century and we live in what supposedly is one of the most civilised countries on the planet, and patients at mental hospitals are being treated with violence by the staff. They are not being beaten or anything like that, but the mistreatment that is going on can only be described as violence. I have heard many such examples by a number of patients, but one in particular stuck in my memory the most as one of the most horrifying stories of mental hospital abuse I have heard in my life (so far):

There was this young woman, a bit younger than me. She was experiencing a massive psychotic episode and wanted to go to the clinic. Naturally, she wanted to come to an open ward since it was her choice to come and she was not a danger to herself or others, but there was no free bed, so they wanted to send her home until something opened up. She however was in a horrible state of mind and felt she desperately needed help, so it was arranged that she could go to a closed ward for a time. While there, her psychotic episode got worse and she was freaking out. Not in a way that would endanger herself or others, but in a way that was horrifying to her. Doctors, unwilling to deal with her, had a perfect solution: Trying to give her Haldol. Now she worked in the field so she knew very well what Haldol was, and she was extremely paranoid about it, so she refused. Here's where it gets ugly. The staff's reaction was simply beyond disgusting. They strapped her to a bed, and she knew from her experience in the field that they would want her pants off, so she begged them not to do it because she had been very badly raped. Two nurses, both male, ripped her pants off anyway. They injected her with the Haldol she refused and left her strapped to the bed overnight. They left a bedpan for her to pee in, despite her saying that she can't do that, so she didn't get to pee for, if I recall correctly, over 24 hours. Once they let her loose from the bed she had massive renal colics and spent the next day lying in a bathtub crying in pain. That was Christmas Eve.

I trust her enough to have told the truth when she told me this story. If you don't think something is very fucked about that, you clearly lack a basic sense of humanity. That is the type of stuff that is done to thousands of patients in hundreds of clinics all over Germany. So yeah, what I experienced where I was at was nothing. Fifty meters away in the building next door, things were a lot worse.