Saturday, July 25, 2015

Life with an anxiety disorder - Part VIII: Social anxiety, part two

Having been in the clinic for eight weeks being treated mainly for social anxiety I have learned quite a bit about it to add to the previous post on the subject. Most of it are minor adjustments to what I already knew about it, one major revelation occured as well, though. Overall my first post on the subject was pretty accurate, but yeah, it can use some minor tweaks. And a single large one.

I was pretty spot-on on how common it is, I learned it afflicts as many as one in ten people. To various degrees of course, but that's still quite a lot of people. And my idea of this intense fear of doing something ridiculous, inappropriate, laughable, awkward, etc. is a common symptom to all people suffering from social anxiety, which I didn't know before. So I indeed described it correctly, yet did not realise how these are the same issues millions of people with social anxiety suffer from. That was quite interesting to hear, especially in the social anxiety group when people talked about their problems and they talked about things I have experienced or could experience the exact same way. That's the first minor adjustment, I figured my symptoms were pretty unique to myself, or to a small number of people, but they're symptoms a huge number of people suffer from in that exact same way.

The second minor adjustment I have to make is to my connection between social anxiety and panic attacks. It is not entirely uncommon for panic attacks to be caused by social anxiety, but for most people, the anxiety symptoms of social anxiety are not as extreme as those of a panic attack. Not that they feel great in any way, but the intense panic usually isn't there, just a very broad and unsettling anxiety that is hard to describe, like a weight on your chest. But because I do suffer from panic attacks, and there have been occurances of panic attacks in social situations, then why do I now say I was inaccurate in connecting them? Well, in my case it was always a coincidence when social anxiety and a panic attack occured at the same time, because I have discovered that they have two entirely different triggers and two entirely difference sets of symptoms, and one isn't connected to the other. They can occur simultanously because you can have trigggers for both in one place, and you get confused about what causes what, but from what I have learned now, I do not get panic attacks from social situations. That's a different issue I still need to work on.

I learned a bit about escape and avoidance behaviours, the German term we used for it translates to safety or security behaviours ("Sicherheitsverhalten"), which is something I hadn't known about before but did feel able to relate to when it was discussed. Stuff like playing with your cellphone in social situations, playing with your keys, crossing your arms, playing with your beard if you've got a cool one like mine, having drinks of water and always having the water bottle handy. Anything those suffering from social anxiety think will distract themselves and others from their insecurity. It helps a little in the short term, but we learned that it really only makes you more insecure in the long run because you become dependent on your little rituals and end up completely lost without them, or screw up even more if you put more thought into playing with your cellphone than into the conversation or presentation or whatever you are doing that scares you. 

The key to any social interaction of course is to pay attention to the other person(s) involved rather than to yourself, and that is the key people with social anxiety have lost, because they feel they - we - are so socially awkward that we need to constantly watch out for what terrible things we are doing. The major revelation for myself at the clinic was that it actually turned out I'm not perceived as socially awkward by others in any way. It's all, entirely, in my head. I've had many social exercises where I did small talk, held presentations, moderated groups, did all sorts of stuff with people, and I was always told I am perfectly charming and seem very secure and self-confident, by people who have no stake in lying to me. That was really what hit me the most, that the perception of others I am so worried about is so different from what I worry so much that it might be. 

All this stuff I will have to take with me on my continuing path to recovery. The bit in the first social anxiety post about practice being the key to beating this thing is still valid. Lots and lots of practice. But the additional things I have learned since the first post on the subject helps me reach my goal a lot better and more confidently.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pills against the ageless ills - Part VI: Sweet dreams

Currently I am in a clinic doing long-term therapy for anxiety, and aside from the great opportunity it presents for getting my life in order, it also gives me a lot of ideas for what to write for this blog. There was for example a conversation with a fellow patient about how intense and memorable his dreams have become since starting on antidepressants that made me think that's actually something I know a lot about. If there's one common side-effect that majorly affected my life in the past years, it's that. The success of medications in what they're supposed to do varied a lot for me, but what was there since day one and remained throughout numerous changes is how my dreams were altered by the drugs. 

It's pretty much any psychoactive medication you can take that can have such side-effects. For me, I think it is chlorprothixene that does it. Some medications are known for it more than others. Mirtazapine is the one with the highest reputation for intense dreams, and I can say from my own experience that it is quite effective in doing it. This is not to be confused with another common side-effect, a much more unpleasant one, frequent nightmares. I think an entirely different part of the brain is affected for that side-effect and entirely different meds do it. The intense dreams I am talking about are rarely unpleasant and even more rarely nightmares. 

It's some really weird stuff you get in your dream phase. Just last night I dreamt I was in a sequel to the movie The Thing, and in the dream the thing was a brilliant tactician that perfectly planned out who to take over at what time for the maximum tactical gain. The goal was to frighten me, because I was the prize it wanted to take over for some reason, but it could only take me over if I was scared. At one point it took the form of Cthulhu, but it was sort of a 50s James Dean Cthulhu with a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette. It was destroying things and killing people but it looked ridiculous. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Now imagine I get dreams like that every single night, and they're always extremely vivid and I remember them for hours. It's what everyone who likes dreaming would wish for, if it didn't involve taking pills. 

I think it is up to everyone for him- or herself whether or not you see this as a blessing, a curse, or something you just don't give a damn about. For myself, I see it as a bit of a gift, because I've had many creative ideas from my dreams, and I wrote down or permanently memorised some of the best ones with the intention of making them part of a book some time in the future. But I can see how to some people this intense dreaming may be annoying or unsettling. I can only recommend it as a conversation starter at the very least. A lot of people love to dream and might envy us psychoactive medication consumers if they knew we have some of the best dreams you can get every night. 

For many people, the question probably is whether there could be therapeutical potential in this type of dreaming. Does traditional dream interpretation work with dreams clearly influenced by chemicals? That's provided dream interpretation works at all, it's not without controversy. But it's an interesting question, whether there is important information about ourselves in these dreams, and whether by amplifying them and making them more memorable, meds make our dreams and thereby our subconscious more accessible. At one point I should write down everything I dream and read up on some dream interpretation to see if there's any useful information in it at all. Mental health professionals feel free to give some insight in the comments. 

In the end, to me it's mostly a pleasant diversion to think about the dreams while I am awake, and sometimes an inspiration for creative writing. But in my dream phase, while my brain is coming up with all that stuff, I can't help but think it's the most awesome side-effect any medication could have.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Life with an anxiety disorder - Part VII: Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Last in the collection of anxiety issues I have personal experience with is obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is not nearly as pronounced or bothersome as my social anxiety or my somatoform autonomic dysfunction, but it is still a key puzzle piece of the big picture of what goes on in my mind, anxiety-wise. Perhaps some of you are familiar with some of it through various media, including that film with Jack Nicholson, but reality is often different from popular perception. 

As the name implies, OCD is split into two main components: Obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. The latter is what you'll find popularised in mainstream depiction. People suffering from that component of the disorder are forced to constantly repeat certain rituals individual to the afflicted. This may include washing your hands after every time they are used, or checking whether the door is locked a particular number of times, or locking it a particular number of times, or arranging your silverware a particular way before eating, and so forth. This is generally for the afflicted to feel safe from whatever impending doom he associates with that ritual happening.  Psychologists call it "magical thinking", if I recall correctly, meaning there's a certain magical effect associated with the rituals. And that only performing them correctly and every time will allow the magic to work. 

Personally I don't really deal with any of that sort of stuff. I'm an obsessive thoughts kind of guy. Most OCD people have both types of symptoms, one more than the other, but for me the obsessive part absolutely dominates. It's some of the most bizarre stuff that goes on in my head, and the only reason I don't consider it a major issue is how relatively rarely it happens and how easily it goes away when it occurs. 

Obsessive thoughts aren't really what you'd think at first when hearing the term, having certain thoughts that you obsess over for extended periods of time. That would be ruminating. They're thoughts that just shoot into your head and kind of force themselves into you against your will. It pretty much always is deeply disturbing stuff. It goes against all your moral values, everything you stand for in a profound way. A psychiatrist once told me obsessive thoughts are pretty much the exact opposite of what the person experiencing them actually believes, and it seems quite true to me. 

Examples of obsessive thoughts include situations in which I ride my bicycle and a truck comes the other way and suddenly I have the thought of steering my bike (and myself) in front of the truck. Or jumping when I'm in a high place. Those are self-harm related thoughts. I also get a lot about harming others, such as the thought of kicking a child in the face when I see one. It gets a lot darker and more disturbing than that, but I'm not comfortable putting that in public. There are thoughts about taking off all my clothes and/or jacking off in public as well. All kinds of thoughts that just force themselves into your head against your will and make you think you're some sick, crazy sociopath. 

It's often not easy to talk about, because this stuff is so disturbing, and what gets you in particular is the nagging feeling that they are manifestations of someone you really are subconsciously. But as I said, they are not. They're the exact opposite. That's OCD. Someone has yet to explain to me what exactly causes these thoughts. Because it has never been a major issue to me I have never researched it. But I do know that obsessive thoughts in no way represent you as a person, and that technically, if you have them, you shouldn't think of yourself as the new Jack the Ripper, or whatever your thoughts are. 

I say "technically" because it isn't easy. For a long time I was deeply concerned about this stuff going on inside my head, and every time one of these obsessive thoughts occurred I used to grimace and try to force it out of my head. And there was a lot of shame about what kind of monster I thought I was. It wasn't until I got a little more information on what OCD is and how common it is that the shame started to subside a little. More so over time. I still hated the thoughts and tried everything to make them go away, which was an extremely stressful situation and only seemed to make it worse. 

In the end, a psychotherapist told me that trying to force obsessive thoughts to stop indeed makes them worse, because it gives your brain the information that these thoughts are extremely important and the neural connections for them need to be maintained and strengthened because they are so important. What actually does help is what some of you have learned or will learn in mindfulness exercises: Let the thoughts come, let them happen, know what they are, don't judge them or assign value to them, and just let them pass. May seem like an impossible task at first, but it's really very easy, and I can attest to that helping a lot in reducing frequency and especially severity of obsessive thoughts. Simple psychological trick that worked miracles for me. 

Yes, these thoughts can still be bothersome and disturbing sometimes, and there are still moments when I think I'm some kind of monster, but it really improved a lot, to the point that I consider OCD the least of my worries. But it's still up there and still a part of myself, probably interacting with my other issues to some degree. Will be interesting to see if I can ever fully get rid of it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Alcoholism: A love story - Part VIII: Sober

At this point I have written so much about the dark side of alcoholism, I think it's time I mention "the other side" that I've come to know recently. After detox in August 2009 I stayed sober for two and a half years. It was a pretty shitty time because there's some sort of post-alcoholic depression that I don't know whether it's something semi-official doctors know about or just my bad luck or my brain's way of punishing me. Symptoms of my anxiety disorders were going rampant, couldn't leave the house, felt like crap all day every day.

I was however in psychiatric treatment, and though I went through many false diagnoses - mainly schizophrenia - and thus went through the wrong types of treatment for a long time, through trial and error, doctors eventually found ways to alleviate some symptoms. More and more of them over time. This is turn made me more social and I generally found myself doing a little more, which helped, too. Anxiety disorder and depression were still a big issue, but I had some slight relief in some areas.

Eventually I felt comfortable enough to have a few drinks here and then. It was never a big deal to me because I was never convinced that you'd relapse from drinking once, you'd have to drink over a longer period of time for addiction to kick in again. And I was right. Drinking occasionally was no issue at all. In fact, doctors told me that it really isn't that much of an issue as long as I pace myself and don't overdo it. It did however become more of an issue every now and then, there were times when I would drink several days in a row, or when I'd drink regularly every week. Those times were usually associated with a general feeling crappy. A lot of depression usually means I am more prone to drinking not entirely out of control, but with less than full control. I did have to do one smaller detox in December 2014, not in any way comparable to the big detox in 2009, but it was something I had to do at the hospital because I had overdone things a little and my body told me it was not amused. After that I was still fine with drinking occasionally, but I still had periods when I couldn't fully handle it.

So about a month ago I decided that's it, I'm going to stay sober for the time being. Things have changed since the last time I stayed sober. As you can see in the first post of my "Pills..."-series, I got new stuff called ziprasidone which helps a lot with my depression and anxiety. Had it since February 2015. With that stuff in my system, sobriety really is an amazing experience I haven't felt in a very long time. All of a sudden there's all sorts of stuff I find myself being able to do. Just look at the amount of posts on this blog I have written recently. I've also been working on a lot of music (I'm a musician, guess the genre), been working on drawing band logos which I think I am quite good at, have been starting to get into learning to code (website stuff, as in html, css, php, javascript), and there's a ton of other things I want to get into. I've even been starting on my idea of writing a novel. I have a lot of creative energy and with the new med and the extended period (by my standards) of sobriety so far I have a lot of drive and ambition to put all my ideas into action, make everything a reality.

Whether or not I will eventually get myself two sixpacks of some nice German beer eventually and have a little party with myself or friends I do not know. Tomorrow I start a long-term inpatient anxiety therapy at a very high profile clinic, which could be around three months, obviously no drinking there. But after that I do not know. What I do know is that right now, being sober works miracles for my disposition. I feel great. I feel better than I have in a long time. It's something every drinker should do sometimes, take an extended/open-ended break, live your life a little. A few years ago, "yolo" aka "you only live once" has been a popular slogan among morons to justify doing some total shit with your life. For me, "you only live once" means that you should use as much of that one life you have to make an impression on the world people will remember. Do something good, or at least something you think is good. Being wasted can be great, but spending most of your time not being wasted leads to something even greater. Something like a rewarding, fulfilling life.

Not trying to preach here, and I certainly didn't turn anti-alcohol. Just enjoying this extended/open-ended break a lot. I'll likely have a couple drinks again some time in the future, but after my current experience with sobriety, I'm going to make long, productive periods my focus in life. It's the true "yolo." And it's awesome.

Alcoholism: A love story - Part VII: Believe in yourself - say "No!" to AA

This is a subject that is very close to home for me. Those of you who have known me before reading this blog know that I have a long history of addiction, with many ups and downs, good choices and poor choices and a lot of stories to tell. Being an addict is not something that is easy to deal with, and in most cases you need help. The problem is that a lot of people who offer you help do not have your best interest in mind. There are some really shady groups out there, and chances are that if you have dealt with alcohol abuse in your life, there's one you will inevitably have come across.

What I would like to talk about are the lies perpetuated by Alcoholics Anonymous and its subgroups (Gamblers Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, Foot Fetishists Anonymous and a thousand others devoted to just about everything you can develop an addiction to) and an alternative solution to the problems it deceitfully proposes to solve through shady methods. Basically two very different ways to go: Their way, or the right way (one that I and others I have met with similar experiences went.)

First of all, there is their way: The Twelve Steps:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
 Let us examine everything that is wrong with these steps, one by one, shall we?

The first is the worst. Admitting to be powerless is the worst thing you can do as an addict. This is what I would counter with an attitude of "addicts' empowerment" to address the issue properly. You are never powerless. It was you who got you into that mess and it is you and no one (or nothing) else who can get you out of it again. You didn't become an addict as the result of some disease or demons or whatever they have you believe in, you made the choice to go down that road, and you can make a choice to go a different way. You have the power. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Believe me, I know what it is like when one's life becomes unmanageable as a result of one's addiction. There is only one solution: Take control, make a cut, and start back from square one.

Then comes number two. I know from U.S. TV shows that people in the United States refer to taking a dump as "number two", and it seems very appropriate for the AA's second step. First of all there is the matter of addiction and sanity. Yes, insanity can be the reason for addiction: For example, a lot of my meanest drinking habits could be attributed to myself attempting to use alcohol to suppress panic attacks that were the result - I did not know back then, the diagnosis came years after I quit - of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, addiction is not a form of insanity by itself. It is, in almost every case, a symptom of a deeper problem, be it insanity or other deeply entrenched psychological issues. And it should be treated as a symptom. Direct and rapid treatment, read: detox, in the case of alcohol it is over in one week and the symptom is dealt with, works like a nasal spray or cough syrup. Once you have eliminated the symptom, and only then, can you deal with the underlying issue. And here you do not need "a power greater than yourself", in fact that might even do more harm than good because belief in something immaterial might bring some short-term relief but distract you from actively dealing with the problem that led you to addiction. No, I am afraid there is no quick fix. In most cases, that being almost all, you will need proper treatment. How involved this is can be your choice. You can see a doctor once a month or you can commit yourself to an in-patient institution, usually rehab, to work on your problem intensively. But the minimum requirement is a proper diagnosis, from a doctor, not WebMD, research into proper solutions, with the help of your doctor and through research of your own (unlike with the diagnosis, here you can freely search the internet for pointers), and the will to work hard to overcome whatever underlying problem led you to addiction. It's going to be a rough ride, but you want to get out of the mess you got into, no? Toughen up and bite your way through. "Greater power" my shiny metal ass.

Does it get worse than step two? Oh yes, the Twelve Steps have the unique ability to surprise you with yet more revolting and misguided "advice" with each new step. I already quoted it above, but let me repeat step three once more, in all caps for emphasis: "(WE) MADE A DECISION TO TURN OUR WILL AND OUR LIVES OVER TO THE CARE OF GOD AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM." (Love the italics on the last four words. Tacky attempt at suckering people from other faiths into the true path™.) This one makes me furious! First of all: You made a decision? Thought you were powerless. But that's just nitpicking. It's not even the bit about "God" that infuriates me, it is the eight words after "decision": "To turn our will and our lives over." No! You don't turn your life over to anyone or anything! Nothing good will ever come from that. And your will? Are you serious? Turn over your will? Then you lose everything that makes you a human being. I hear Nietzsche rotating in his grave as I type this. What you do with your will and your life is the exact opposite, take control back over them. Adjust them to a new purpose: Beating the burden that bogs down your life and fucks you up in a way you hate more than anything. Your will and your life are what you depend on the most at this point, they are your only hope to get out of this in one piece. Hang on to them, they are of the essence to your recovery. Hand them over to anyone or anything and you have already lost. You, like other AA drones, may stop drinking, smoking, gambling, injecting, snorting or watching porn for a while, but you are running away from the hard road to recovery by refusing to take responsibility of your life.

Step four gets into morality. You have read the exact quote above, and you will have noticed how it is deliberately vague. Okay, so you are looking into which times you have done well morally and which times you fucked up. That's not a bad thing to do per se, on the contrary, it's something every addict just as much as every non-addict should do occasionally. The implications of the context of the Twelve Step Program are of course a little more sinister, since it just spent the previous three steps blathering about God and greater powers. So it's not your own moral guidelines they want you to examine yourself by, it's theirs. That's a load of bull. If you want to quit whatever you're into right now, religious rules are the last thing you need to screw up your bearings. But even if there wasn't the shady context of the first three steps, examining every time you fucked up is not something you should concern yourself with in the immediate process of getting out of the addiction, it is something to do when you go through therapy to take care of the underlying problems for your addiction, because these underlying problems are likely the true root of your screw-ups. Basically, what step four is trying to tell you is that you should blame your addiction for the times you screwed up. Prime example: Beat up your wife and kids while drunk? It's the alcohol's fault! Reality check: Nope, it isn't. Alcohol was a catalyst for something seriously wrong inside your head and when you remove the alcohol something is still seriously wrong inside your head (you beat your wife and kids, should be self-evident), you are just less likely to act on it. In the example I just named, you need some SERIOUS therapy. No seeing a doc once a month, this is the stuff for prolonged in-patient rehab. No way around it. And it's going to take a long-ass time. And you have to face the fact that it might be better if your wife and kids ditched you, and if you are serious about making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself you will have to present them this option and let them know you would be okay with it if they left, otherwise you would be, pardon my French, an asshole. That is just one example, there are many other ways you can screw up in ways that are amplified by your addiction BUT NOT CAUSED BY IT, but they all only have one solution: You have to make a serious commitment to fixing this. No scapegoats, no blame game, no greater power, get off your rotten ass and do it.

You may have noticed that step four did not mention God by name. Fear not, he's back with a vengeance. I don't know what else to say about this fifth step that I haven't already said in my paragraph about the fourth step, except for the fact that step five is, well, pretty pointless. Yes, once you reach the point in your road to recovery that it is time to examine your screw-ups as detailed in the previous paragraph, you must of course accept them yourself and, God aside, seek an outside perspective, preferably from a professional. Shouldn't this be self-evident?

The sixth one just gives me a headache. Yeah, that's gonna work just beautifully. Ten Hail Marys and *poof* your defects of character are gone. Do I really need to get into how this is a load of nonsense? You obviously got to work on your flaws yourself. I'm afraid magic tricks from supernatural entities won't get you very far. Quite frankly, provided you believe in God the way Christianity teaches him, and you assume that he created you, and you go to him saying "Hey God, thanks for creating me (and the universe and everything else), but you screwed up here and there, would you mind fixing that?", how do you think he'd feel hearing this, being an all-powerful, all-knowing entity who makes no mistakes, and certainly none a mere human could spot and know how to fix? That doesn't make much sense from a theological perspective, is frankly quite rude towards the guy who created the universe and everything in it, and is most likely just a way for AA to sucker you into becoming more and more deeply entangled in their cult, because if God isn't fixing your character, surely you gotta pray more or something? Go to church more often, empty your wallet, there are still defects in your character you bum!

Step seven is just an addendum to step six. Yeah, God's gotta get rid of those shortcomings for you, too. Because shortcomings are obviously not included in "defects", so they gotta be an additional step.

The eighth step is something that if you went to a psychiatrist or therapist or anyone with proper training in the field and told him a group advised you to do that, they would ask you what the hell kind of purpose that is supposed to serve? I mean, yeah, people close to you, obviously, such as your spouse, your children, your family, closest friends, if you put them through a hard time, you gotta try your best to make it better, especially if they remained loyal to you throughout the years, you owe them. But AA wants you to make a list of all people you have ever harmed. What for? Don't you have enough to worry about without making a list of people on whose mailbox you peed twelve years ago? Nah, you gotta focus on what's important. First, get yourself in order, then get your life in order, then get the lives of those around you in order. Focus your energy on these three things instead of spending weeks trying to find the name and address of the guy you punched in the nose during a bar fight in 1997. Focus on your life and the life of those you love and who love you. AA is just trying to overwhelm you so you offer less resistance to their proselytising. Don't give them a chance to make a mess of your head and turn it inside out, you made a mess of it already, and your goal is to make it less of a mess, not more.

Next two steps are pointless filler again like the seventh, just repeating what was said in previous steps.

What the hell is wrong with the people who wrote the eleventh step is inexplicable to me. No one can be that far gone. This is basically "pray the gay away" for alcoholics. In fact, this is literally "pray the gay away" for alcoholics. It's not going to work. It's never going to work. In the United States, people are told by courts to either go to AA or go to jail. And thanks to the poor appeal of U.S. jails, this is what people end up with. This type of shit is not a treatment or help for anything, they are literally saying outright that their only purpose is to convert you to Christianity, and sending you to jail as an alternative is the exact same thing Islamic State is doing to religious minorities in Iraq and Syria right now. That's the kind of thing we want to be like? Joining a cult has never done anything good for anyone. What you want is therapy. You want to work on your problems. You want to get yourself in a position in which you can deal with all your problems without resorting to alcohol or whatever else you may be addicted to. This is hard work, and it requires help from trained professionals who base their work on hard science and decades of experience in how to properly deal with addiction. You can't "pray the gay away", you can't if you're gay, and you certainly can't if you're an alcoholic. Fuck this shit, seriously, it pisses me off to no end.

Last but not least, once we're fully brainwashed into this creepy little cult - at least that's their goal, the smarter ones of us never gave them the satisfaction - we spread the word to anyone we can get our hands on. At this point their intentions become obvious even to those so blind that they could not see them in the first eleven steps. This is an organisation to promote Christianity, and to get people to forego proper therapy in order to maintain their underlying illnesses, keep the relapse potential high so AA can always be sure they will keep coming back. In short, they are deliberately keeping people ill so they can maintain a dependency on the organisation. It's disgusting as shit. How it can even be legal in a civilised society in way beyond me. They are deliberately inflicting harm by preventing treatment of serious mental conditions, all in order to maintain permanent control over the person. And then they openly urge their subject to lure in other people who are at their weakest point in life, increase the flock of submissive drones, brainwashed into believing they are powerless and only the ways of the cult can keep them alive. I repeat, this is enforced as the only alternative to jail in the world's leading superpower. And offshoots of this sickening sect exist in every other Western society and exact a good deal of power there. If that doesn't make you a little nauseous, you have a higher tolerance for modern barbarism than I do.

You are not going to be helped by any of these steps or anything this organisation does. A lot of people say it has helped them, but it is always short-term relief. Since they actively prevent you from seeking proper treatment for your underlying problems, these problems are always going to be there to steer you on the road to relapse. And the numbers are obvious: Do a little Google search on the relapse rate of people going to AA compared to people seeking proper medical/psychiatric treatment. It's horrifying. And this is still done in 2015. Always remember that we live in the 21st century, not the early 20th. Shit like AA should not exist in the world in which we have such great medical advances as we do. It should not exist in any world.

What should exist, and I can't say this often enough, is a mindset that you are in power of your life, that it is up to you to take control back over your life, that you are the one making the decisions, that it is you who is going to work on your issues, that you are going to work hard and not be distracted or deterred, that you are the one who holds the cards and decides your future. You are not powerless. Nobody is powerless because of addiction. You may feel that way sometimes when you lose all control over what happens, but control is not power. Power is something you will always have. And with that power, control is something you can regain just as well as you could lose it. It's up to you to exercise your power to MAKE A DECISION. You decide that you want no more of your addiction in your life, that you want to be in control of your life, and you decide that it's time to stop letting an addiction run your life, that it's time to do something about it, and that you will do the right thing about it. You will not hand over your will and your life and pray the gay away, you will take charge and seek the professional help that you need. Never let anyone tell you you are powerless. You got into this mess, you can get out. Fuck AA. Believe in yourself.

Pills against the ageless ills - Part V: Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine is something I've been guilty of a lot. I no longer do it, but for years I took all sorts of stuff. Used to spend a lot of time on Wikipedia searching for cures for my various illnesses and looking into things that have had one or two scientific studies into whether they might be effective. Usually the control group tests with a small sample size. Not much to go on. But for me it was enough to try a lot of different things. And of course I never consulted my doctor, no self-respecting consumer of alternative medicine would talk to a trained professional about it, that would be preposterous. If the internet says it could work, that's good enough for me!

Thinking back, it really is kind of ridiculous. What went through my mind when I got myself some of that stuff I got and took it? With no real scientific evidence to back it up? Possibly with interactions with some of my actual medication, that just aren't researched yet? There basically two people who do this sort of stuff. Those who see alternative medicine as sort of a way of life, such as hippies, hipsters and other nutjobs. You know the type. And people who are really desperate. People like me. Suffering so badly from your afflictions and seeing no way out, proper medications not helping, we seek out anything that promises relief with however shady half-facts to back it up. It really seems like a ridiculous thing to do when you think about it, but when you're in a really, really bad situation and all you want is some relief, you'll do almost anything that you think can make things better. Does any of it actually work? To give you an idea, let me think of some of the stuff I tried out while acting on my vague hopes.

Of course the first thing anyone will get into is vitamin supplements. Minerals, too, but vitamins are the first thing. Vitamins are of course very important to human biology, and we all need them to function properly. Easily done when you eat properly. Of course we are all told that we don't get enough. Go to a doctor and have your blood examined for deficiencies, test comes out negative, and you still believe you're not getting enough of anything. There's a whole industry around telling people that. Now I can't speak for everyone, some people really do need to take supplements because they don't get enough of one thing for a variety of reasons. But for most of us, if we eat like we should, vitamin deficiencies are not something we should naturally worry about. Being in an awful situation with mental illness and looking into what you can do to help, it's the first thing you think of, though. B-vitamins in particular are praised just around every corner as a cure-all and B-vitamin complex capsules or tablets are a huge market targeting people like us, showering their product with all sorts of praise about what it can do for mental health. So that's something I really ate up. Quite literally. Don't think it did any harm, but much to everyone's surprise it turned out to be a dead end as far as improving mental health was concerned. Could have thought of that considering I did the aforementioned blood test at my doctor and had no deficiencies, and also am a vegetable nut who surely can't complain about a lack of  vitamin intake. Had to try it anyway.

Next came a whole array of things I stumbled upon in various Wikipedia articles. Usually reading an article about the illness of choice and the treatment section. There'd always be bits about how the university of wherever had done a study on whatever substance and it tested well against a control group. Usually only a single study done on it, always with a small sample size. For me, in my situation, that was always good enough to think "awesome, scientific evidence!" and see it as a very promising lead, conjuring up all sorts of hopeful scenarios to the point that I told myself I could be cured if I tried this.

The very first thing I came up with was L-tryptophan. It's what your body needs to synthesise serotonin, the stuff a lot of science-y guys tell you make you calm and happy. So the story goes that if you take L-tryptophan, you get a lot of serotonin and everything works out for the better. Aaaactually it doesn't quite work that way biologically, and what really happens is that you end up shitting out a lot of tryptophan that your body didn't know what to do with. L-lysine is another one that promises miracles in making you calm on the internet. It's another thing that certainly is a nice chemical to have in the food you're eating, but which as a supplement is pretty useless, because the human body just didn't evolve to absorb these things from supplements. Pretty much goes straight through your digestive tract and out the other way virtually unchanged. Money well-spent. Another chemical that's great to have in food, but dubious as a supplement is inositol. I mean, things are a little better here. Your body does absorb some of it, and several scientific studies have shown a beneficial effect for afflictions usually treated with SSRIs (depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, mainly.) You need a whole tablespoon of it at least, but that's okay. Thing is, the positive effect is pretty much comparable to an SSRI at a very low dosage. And that's a type of med that with depression and/or an anxiety disorder (such as OCD) you are already taking. At a medium dosage at least. Basically compare it to taking one quarter of the smallest type of paracetamol pills along with your max dosage ibuprofen for pain. The ridiculously low amount of paracetamol is going to make all the difference, right? Nah, forget about inositol, not much use for it.

At one point came acetylcysteine, the miracle cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Again there were one or two scientific studies into its effect, and they yielded very positive results, but they were also on a very small scale. The results showed signifiant improvement in some of their small samples. They said it was due to it affecting the neurotransmitter glutamate, which supposedly plays a role in OCD. This was a very promising lead. Bought a lot, took the dosage recommended by the study, kept it up for weeks. Can't really give you a scientific reason as to why, because I am not a scientist, but it really did absolutely nothing for me. No effect of any kind. Further research might give us some insight into the workings of this substance, maybe lead to improvements to make it useful for patients, but as is, I can't really say it was something worth spending my time and money on. Not to mention that the extent to which I was starting to test chemicals on myself without consulting a doctor was starting to get really worrying at that point.

The one thing there really is solid scientific evidence on is fish oil. Most of you will have heard about it, and there's a very strong case for its effectiveness in a number of areas. It's no substitute for proper medication, and it can interact with some, but in some cases it is even recommended by doctors as a therapy aid. Of course this is also the one "alternative" medication I can't take, the capsules are about the size of a phone booth and there's no way I can get them down. I tried many times, I just can't get myself to swallow those things. It's a shame, there might actually have been some benefit to it. What interests me at this point is that a friend of mine who is into nutrition a lot told me once that fish don't produce the active ingredients in their oil themselves, they get it from their food, and you'd be just as well off taking algae tablets such as spirulina. That could be interesting for a number of reasons. Getting the active ingredients of fish oil, getting a complete protein with all essential amino acids (spirulina is one such rare protein), having tablets that are easy for me to swallow, and last but not least getting to be more serious about my vegan lifestyle choice. If my friend is actually right, and I unfortunately have no science available to back up that he is, it would be the perfect alternative, and something I could talk to my doctor about trying out.

There are a few more minor things I gave a try at some point, but I don't think they need specific mention. I ended up really liking turmeric (curcuma) as a spice after trying it out based on something said about possible benefits, and use it a lot now for its taste. But really, the whole idea of self-medication just doesn't work for me anymore. I want something that had some real, extensive scientific work put into it, with solid proof of its effectiveness. And I want everything I take to be discussed with and sanctioned by my doctor, who is a very smart man and someone I trust to know a hell of a lot more than an article on the internet written by whoever. Alternative medicine has never done anything for me, and the only semi-positive thing I got out of it is that at least it didn't do any harm. My recommendation is that no matter how desperate you are, and I know how desperate one can be, the best address for proper treatment is always trained professionals. Get off the internet and see your doctor. Just trust me on that one.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part VIII: Morpheus Descends - Ritual of Infinity

Since this "best metal albums"-series is starting to appear a little lopsided towards more well-known albums again, I think the timing is perfect to throw another bit of a curve ball since "best" does not always mean "most famous" or vice versa. Morpheus Descends is not a band that is entirely unknown, or known only to die-hard tape traders from the early 90s, especially now that they've been picked up by Dark Descent Records. However, they never were and still aren't a band that achieved anything near noticeable fame. In fact I doubt they are known at all outside the circles of those curious about what the New York death metal scene has to offer besides the big names and those curious about hidden gems in old school death metal, and both those groups are limited in number. To this day you are more likely to have heard of Incantation knock-off #74553 than this band - a band which ironically is pretty much on par with the Incantation original quality-wise - though not all that similar in style.

The type of death metal Morpheus Descends play is actually not that straight-forward to define, since you could group them in either old school death metal or brutal death metal, and yet they are not really all the way on either side of the fence. They're generally more brutal than the average old school death metal band, but also generally more old school than the average brutal death metal band. It's not like they mix elements of both in a way that'd be the most obvious to imagine, as in first an old school death metal part, then a brutal death metal part, and so on. Rather it can be described in the way that a child does not look half like its father and half like its mother, but rather a perfect intermingling of elements from both, with a distinct identity of its own. It's a unique product of the New York scene in the early 90s, something you could only possibly find right there, right then.

If I was forced to draw comparisons, the Immolation debut would be the closest match I can think of, but Morpheus Descends were far, far ahead of what Immolation were doing at the time. It's Dawn of Possession not only on steroids but an array of stimulants as well. Where Immolation at the time played pretty simple stuff (compared to what they would later win acclaim for), Morpheus Descends crammed as much material into the tight space of a few minutes per song as possible. Dark, menacing riffs of the unique New York death metal variety follow each other in quick succession, riff after riff, they don't let up, and every riff is better than the last. And to spice things up they often bridge two riffs with a technical but commanding half-riff that only lasts for a few notes. There's something going on constantly, they never give things time to settle down. There is a commanding presence to the dominance of riffs that won't let you escape, you are sucked in relentlessly, powerless to the primal yet complex force these songs command.

It's impossible to get over just how good this band was, especially for 1992 when technical leanings were still in their infancy. I would not call Morpheus Descends a technical death metal bands by any means, they are too much of a cavernous old school act in essence for that, but the complexity and precision of the instrumentation makes drawing comparisons to the technical side of the death metal genre inevitable. And what makes it so good is that everything has substance. They don't string up random notes, everything has well thought-out progressions that set moods and create atmosphere, it's all highest quality stuff that is both incredible catchy and incredibly intelligent. For the nutjobs who compare death metal to classical music, Ritual of Infinity might actually be a good candidate, because it has that perfect combination of drawing the listener into another world created by the music, while at the same time keeping the listener's mind busy with the perfectly crafted complexity of its songwriting. Morpheus Descends certainly knew how to turn the dark and malevolent riffing and song structuring of New York death metal into an experience.

But that isn't all. Aside from the complexity and intelligence of the material, those of us who don't delude ourselves into thinking we're listening to the new Prokofiev, those of us who want something to profanely bang our heads to, Ritual of Infinity also gives us all we need. With all the aforementioned elements in the mix, the songwriting on this album is also incredibly catchy, with a commanding (using that word a lot and it really applies) intensity urging us to swing our hair windmill-style. The sheer amount of quality of its riffs and the amazing songwriting contrasting these riffs with each other creating tension and release on a relentless level, it pumps your body full of adrenaline and gives you a real rush of undirected fury for which there is no other release but to raise your fist, throw the horns, flail your head around like a madman.

This is really death metal at its best: Dark, menacing, complex, intelligent and fucking awesome to rock out with your cock out to. It unites all the qualities you could desire from a death metal album. That this album does not get the recognition it deserves is a crime against art. Best thing to do for the moment is to get the new Dark Descent compilation immediately, skip the awful new songs and go straight to this album, and prepare yourself for an onslaught of every quality of greatness death metal offers at its highest level.