Sunday, October 12, 2014

On psychopaths - guestpost by Daniel Schuette

First of all, let me forewarn you: THIS GUEST POST WILL CONTAIN ADULT CONTENT.



When I was asked to write a post for Mental Health Awareness, my first thought was: “What on earth qualifies me to even do such a thing?” I mean, sure, I’m on medication for depression and anxiety, I was intimately involved with someone with bipolar disorder, and I’ve been called crazy plenty of times, but that hardly makes me some kind of expert. So allow me to preface this post by saying I am not a mental health professional and am in no way qualified to be writing this post, so feel free to take what I have to say with a whole shaker of salt.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let me explain what I might be able to contribute to the mental health topic and why I think your host asked me to be a part of the conversation. For the past several years, I’ve been developing a character for a series of novels named Aleksandr Zorin. Aleksey is not a nice guy. In fact, he’s a psychopath and a sadist and a serial killer. As much fun as it can be to create such a character, I’m one of those anal retentive types that finds it necessary (nay, imperative) to be as accurate as I possibly can about his motivations and behaviors, and therefore—by extension—his mental condition. And since I don’t have an anti-social personality disorder like sociopathy or psychopathy (as least insofar as anyone knows)—that requires lots and lots of research.

What I have found is that it’s rarely like what you see on TV. If programs like Hannibal and Criminal Minds and Profiler are to be believed, there is a virtually endless onslaught of sadistic psychopathic killers out there, and they will (almost without fail) be brought to justice in approximately 42 minutes. In reality (and though I personally question the accuracy of this statement), the FBI estimates that there are only thirty-five to fifty serial murderers active at any given time in the United States. With the abundance of crime dramas currently on TV, it would only take a few short weeks to declare society completely safe from a horrible demise at the hands of a violent psychopath. So let’s take a bit to separate fact from fiction.

Sociopath or Psychopath? There is much debate on what (if any) difference there is between sociopathy and psychopathy, even among mental health professionals. Both are classified as Anti-Social Personality Disorders. Both are primarily characterized by a profound lack of emotion, empathy, and fear. Some state that the classifications are two names for the same disorder and can be used interchangeably. Others believe that psychopaths are born with the deficiency, and sociopaths are more a product of their environment during early development. Some say psychopaths are charming, cunning and organized; some say those are actually the hallmarks of the sociopath. The Sociopath Next Door suggests that 4% of the population is sociopathic, yet Robert Hare—the foremost authority on psychopathy—estimates that 1% of the population are psychopaths. Considering that is a difference of roughly 9 million people, there must be a distinction between them, but no one really seems to know or define what that is. So, for the sake of this post, we’ll just have to say that between 3 million and 12 million people can be classified as psycho/sociopaths.

Those are astonishing numbers, though, wouldn’t you say? Think of that—at least three million people are psychopaths. They can do virtually anything with little or no fear of consequence, and have no internal moral compass to guide their actions. They frequently view the rest of us as either inferior prey or insignificant pieces to be manipulated in some grand game of their own design—a game we don’t even realize we’re playing.

Contrary to what many believe (and quite fortunately for the rest of us), only a very small percentage of those psychopaths will ever become violent. Many will instead find ways to harness their uncommon skillset by entering law enforcement or enlisting in the military, becoming politicians, surgeons, or successful CEO’s. One might, as you read this, be playing the stock market fast and loose with your money. Any role where a proclivity for risk-taking, fearlessness and emotional detachment are considered advantageous, the psychopath would most likely excel at it. Odds are, you’ve even known a few without recognizing them for what they were. In reality, psychopaths are rarely “monsters” and are much more likely to be the successful leaders that we look up to and even admire.

On the flip side of that coin, however, is something that can be truly terrible to behold. Some psychopaths will become violent rapists and murderers. But contrary to what popular media frequently depicts, they don’t look like creepy fuckers/scoundrels, nor are they all brilliant cannibals like Hannibal Lecter. They may be the quiet bloke that lives next door or your asshole/hardnosed/tyrant boss or the cute ripped guy at the gym. Like any other slice of the population, they are quite diverse. They can be any race or gender (but are predominantly male), come from any background, and will have varying degrees of intellect. What most of them do have in common is a frightening ability to blend in. They are the chameleons of our society. They learn to mimic behaviors that they don’t understand in order to fit in; they are often charming and disarming. They are the ones whose chain-smoking, muumuu-wearing neighbors wind up on the news exclaiming: “I just can’t believe it! He was such a nice, normal guy.” Well, no. He really wasn’t. He was actually a vicious predator that wore a very convincing mask.  

            The most asked and obvious question is “why?” What is it that causes one human being to revel in the agony of another? Psychopaths themselves can’t usually provide a clear, objective answer for that. They tend to place the blame squarely on their victims, or their upbringing. But there is some new research that seems to shed some light on the subject. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (or fMRI) of the brains of known psychopaths has shown significant deficiencies in the areas that process emotion and fear. They also do not experience the same brain activity that “normal” people do when shown images or words with violent connotations. In short, the words table and rape elicit precisely the same emotional response in the psychopath—none. For them, hacking off someone’s limbs is no more or less remarkable than chopping wood. 

        Perhaps Aleksandr Zorin can provide us with another part of the answer: Imagine an existence without any feeling at all. A vast desert of nothing as far as the eye can see in every direction. It is an endless ocean of sand. Empty. Barren. Then one day you do something and find it to be… exhilarating. Suddenly within this existence of dust, there is a small oasis—a place that quenches the endless thirst of nothing. Not an emotion, per se, but a feeling. Something you've never experienced. Adrenalin flows. Your stomach knots. Your cock gets hard. Your heart races. Your senses become heightened. It may never be happiness or love but it is something where there once was naught. It is new. It is a stirring. It is enjoyable. It is purpose. It is life.” 

If Zorin is right, sociopaths and psychopaths eventually discover just a tiny spark of what the rest of us experience every minute of every day. It is a glowing ember in the void of their existence. And they like it. They are compelled to ignite it again and again—to feel again and again. Unfortunately, it is sometimes the suffering of others that provides the kindling for those feelings in the psychopath. 

           Are these broken individuals that need to be “fixed”, or are they a natural variant in the evolutionary process? Violent psychopaths are in direct opposition to the laws of civilized society, so they are hunted by law enforcement. They are often referred to as “evil” and punished to the fullest measure—by life in prison, and sometimes death. Still, they fascinate many of us, who perhaps see in them the boogeymen of our nightmares, or the monsters under our beds. But they are far scarier than any of our mythological constructs. They are human beings devoid of humanity, barely (and not always) held in check by our nebulous concepts of compassion and justice. 

         So how might this post relate to mental health awareness? First, understand that the portrayals of psychopaths and serial killers in the media are rarely accurate. Remember that one of every hundred people you meet is completely indifferent to your feelings, and they have a tendency to wreak hell and havoc on the lives of those around them. If someone you know is charming yet constantly takes advantage of those around them and then ultimately destroys those relationships, you may be dealing with a functional psychopath. Urge those that you care about to steer clear—there is zero hope of “fixing” them, or getting them to change. Transformation is impossible for the psychopath. And if the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and you get a shiver when someone approaches, listen to your instincts—you are programmed to sense danger from predators and psychopaths are the equivalent of modern sabre-tooth tigers. 

           While I doubt many with Anti-Social Personality Disorder have read this post, and though I suspect you wouldn’t listen even if you had, I encourage you to seek help from therapists. There are cognitive therapies available that will help you channel your unique assets and minimize destructive behaviors. It is possible for you to lead extremely productive and successful lives, despite (or perhaps even because of) your lack of compassion for others. 
  
          Whether we view them as a different species entirely, or those saddled with an unmanageable mental “illness”, the three million psychopaths among us already own a link in the evolutionary chain. We must learn to adapt to—and accept—the reality that there are ruthless predators in our midst. We are sometimes hunted. We are sometimes stalked.

We are sometimes prey.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Giveaways for the Suicide and Mental Illness Theme Read



Hi everyone! 

My first giveaway for the Suicide and Mental Illness Theme Read 2014 is The New Laws of Psychology, by Peter Kinderman. This book is written by the professor who teaches FutureLearn's MOOC Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture, which just began this week. (You can still sign up for it! It's free, and you can meet people around the world with the same interests as you!)


You do NOT have to be a member of the class to enter this giveaway. But I'm trying really hard to participate in this class (on top of working 40 hours per week and being in 12 hours per week of intensive outpatient therapy and 4 hours per week volunteer...soooo...well, not much free-time for me!)

A bit about the giveaway: it SAYS ebook, and that will be Nook, Kindle, iBook, Google - whichever is most convenient and available in your area. (Copyright issues differ from country to country.) Also, there's an option of  a hard-copy from book depository if there are books available at the time of the giveaway, and book depository delivers to your area.

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And...my second giveaway (only moments later) is The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky. This book is a supplemental text for a MOOC offered by edX: The Science of Happiness, which I am also desperately trying to find time for. Same rules apply as above. Winning depends on ebook or Book Depository availability in your area at the time of the giveaway.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guest Post: The Survivor’s Side of Suicide, by Julie Cantrell

The Survivor’s Side of Suicide
By Julie Cantrell





Suicide is one ugly word. It’s the kind of word that swings heavy from lips. The kind that is whispered, and stilted, never sung.

As an author, I build my life around words. Every word has worth. Even those words we are not supposed to say. But suicide is the one word I do not like. I wish there was no need for such a word in our world. Especially since 1997, when my teen brother ended his own life two months before his high school graduation.

It is one thing to be on the other side of suicide, where you may offer prayer or casseroles or even a hug. It is another thing entirely to be on the side of the survivor, after a loved one puts a gun to the head or a rope to the neck or a blade to the vein. That dark depth of despair is no easy channel to navigate because unlike every other form of death, this one was intentional. This one could have been prevented. This one carries immeasurable sting.

The what-ifs and but whys and I wonders never cease. They haunt all hours, whether moonlit or shine. And the stares don’t stop either, the constant conversation that hangs silently between friends -- at the grocery store, or in the church pews, or at the birthday party. No one says it, but they are thinking... That poor mother, how does she stand it? Or - That poor child, knowing his father took his own life.

What people on that side of suicide don’t understand is that we, the survivors left in the wake, are barely keeping our heads above water. We don’t want pity, or sympathy, or stares. We don’t want whispers, or questions, or help. We want one thing only. We want our loved ones back. And there’s one simple way you can give this to us.

Talk about the people we loved and lost. Don’t dance around us as if their ghost is in the way. Acknowledge the lives they lived. Recognize the light they once shined. Laugh about the fun you once had together.

There’s nothing you can tell us -- no detail too small, no memory too harsh -- that will hurt us. We crave it all. We are hungry for any piece of time travel you offer. Bring us back, to that space, when the one we loved was in the here and now.

Suicide is something most of us struggle to understand. It is difficult to rationalize the selfish part of such an act. How could someone not care about the pain they would throw on their loved ones? How could someone not be strong enough to stay alive?

But here’s the truth: suicide was not the cause of my brother’s death. Depression was the cause of his death. And depression is a beast unlike any other. It is an illness we still struggle to cure, despite all the therapeutic and pharmaceutical intervention available today.

Sometimes, even with all the help in the world, a person cannot see through the pain. They cannot imagine a better day ahead. They see only more hurt. And when I say hurt, I mean suffering. Blood-zapping, brain-numbing, soul-bursting agony.

Imagine this: you wake every day as a prisoner. You are trapped in a cell with no freedom in your future. You are tortured -- physically, emotionally, psychologically. The anguish never stops. Just when you think you cannot survive another blow, it comes again. More pain.

You try to ignore the ache. You cannot. You try to numb the hurt. You cannot. You try to rise above the pain. You cannot. The brutality persists. And you see no end to it.

If you knew you had to endure only one more round of abuse, or one more month, or even a year, or longer. If there was an end in view, you could be strong enough to handle it. You could take whatever is thrown at you because you want, more than anything else, to live.

You are a sensitive soul and you have so much left in you to give. You want only to love and be loved. But the cell has you trapped. You have tried everything. There is no end to the insufferable situation.

A person with depression becomes suicidal when they finally give up all hope. When they accept that nothing they do, no matter how long they survive, no matter how many medications or prayers or therapists they turn to, the pain will never end.

Can you imagine the pain you would have to be in to take your own life? Can you imagine the fear of a suicidal person (regardless of faith), daring to face the unknown because even the possibility of eternal hellfire or permanent purgatory or absolute absence seems less scary than another day in this world?

When Robin Williams passed away, the world was abuzz weighing the controversial issues of mental illness, depression, and suicide. While some people were unable to extend kindness or understanding, proving we have a long way to go in our culture’s recognition of chemical imbalances, the international conversation gave me hope. It proved that people are finally willing to say the word SUICIDE out loud, without the hushed whispers and back corner gossip. Putting this word on equal footing with all the other words in our vernacular is important. It lessens the sting.

I consider this progress, and I am optimistic the forward momentum will continue. It is time.
I write this blog today for several reasons:

·         One, I am proud to have been the sister to an amazingly bright spirit who left this world too soon and whose memory I want to keep alive.

·         Two, I want to increase understanding and support for the millions of people struggling with chemical imbalances.

·         Three, I want to offer support and empathy to all who have lost a loved one to suicide and encourage you to speak out loud to honor their spirit and to educate those on the other side.

·         Four, and most importantly, I have a very important message for anyone struggling with depression.

One week after my brother died, we received notice that he had landed the career opportunity he wanted with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. That job may have been enough to offer him the key to that cell, the something to cling to, the reason for reason. Maybe, if he could have stuck it out one more week, he would still be alive today. Seven days, and he may have had hope again.

Today, when I see someone struggling for hope, looking for a signal, a reason, proof that their life matters and that the pain will indeed end, I think of my brother and that phone call that came one week too late.

If you are struggling with depression, please remember... you are in this world for a reason. You have a very important journey you must complete. You were born to accomplish something, something only you know. You will suffer, you will hurt, you will feel hopeless and alone at times. But you are not in that space forever. Keep walking, keep moving forward, and you will find your way through in time.

When you hit bottom, please remember this: You are loved. You are never alone. You were born with everything you need to survive this journey. You matter.

And once you are on the other side, as you will soon be, then, you will look back with wiser eyes, the eyes of a survivor. You will know your soul survived the stretching season. And you will move through the world with greater empathy and understanding, a gift like none other. For you, sensitive one, are the blessed. And we need you here. In this life.

Be brave. Wage war. Hold fast to the light inside of you.

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Into the Free and When Mountains Move. She works to promote suicide awareness and prevention in memory of her brother, Jeff Perkins. Learn more: www.juliecantrell.com

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Emotional Fitness - Happiness

This post comprises my thoughts for several activities this week. First, Novel Heartbeat's topic for Life of a Blogger this week is Fitness. Because I've been focusing so much on my own mental health lately, I'm going to cheat a little bit and talk about emotional fitness. Don't get me wrong. Physical fitness is really important. And usually I'm out there training for triathlons and zombie runs, etc. But this year I was whacked upside the head with mental illness which gave me pretty severe fatigue. So, I'll have to focus on emotional fitness and hope that physical fitness will follow. I thought this post would also be nice for Create with Joy's Friendship Friday

So. Mental fitness. What is it? I think the first step to such fitness is happiness. I found this little book stashed in my mom's sewing basket today. It was rather uplifting if you like thought-of-the-day sorts of books. 



In  Instant Happy, Karen Salmansohn tries to break negative thinking patterns by introducing positive thinking patterns - with the belief that every time we think a negative thought, it reinforces that negative thought in our minds; therefore, if we break that pattern, we can become happy. Although I'm skeptical of instant happiness being anywhere in my near future (that's just too easy, isn't it?), I did enjoy the book, and I appreciate the theory behind it. Obviously, I can't tell you all of the thoughts that I found compelling - that would take the fun out of it for you. But one page asked: What's your pet excuse? It listed a bunch of typical excuses. My pet excuse is: I can't until. I can't start working out again until I'm not fatigued by my mental health. I can't find the perfect job for myself until my metal health is better. If I hadn't planned for a couple of months for my Suicide and Mental Health Awareness theme, I probably would have postponed even that for "this year," just as I'm thinking about postponing my Social Justice and Human Rights Awareness theme at the beginning of next year. Because I can't until my mental health is better. I read a fantastic post about NOT waiting for the "perfect moment"  on Jeff Goins' Blog.


Another activity that I'm combining into my happiness post is a pre-assignment for the upcoming MOOC from edX The Science of Happiness. (Yes, everyone, you can still sign up! It starts on September 9th and is free open enrollment!) Our pre-assignment is to introduce ourselves with a short video saying what makes us happy. :) 


video


Doon, by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

Let me tell you about an adorable little series of teen romance novels published through Zondervan by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon. 

Genre: Teen romance / Fairy Tale

Reason for Reading: The publisher, Zondervan, provided a copy of Destined for Doon in exchange for an honest review. 


The first book in the series is Doon

Summary: For Veronica's entire life other people have walked all over her and abandoned her. When a recent break-up leads to Veronica hallucinating a handsome Scottish boy, she's half convinced she's crazy...but as she continues to see flashes of him, she realizes it is her destiny to cross over the Brig 'O Doon in Scotland and meet her destined. MacKenna, her best friend, has other plans for herself and Veronica, though.

Review: This was a sweet teen romance for people who are fans of fairy-tale endings. It had a nice combination of adventure (saving an imperiled kingdom from a nasty witch, while dodging angry mobs) and angsty teen romance. It was fun to watch how close Veronica and MacKenna were, despite their differences in personality. They each had strengths and weaknesses, making them a fantastic team. This is a story just as much about friendship as it is about romance.

Destined for Doon  ●  Authors: Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon
Zondervan ● September 2, 2014 ● ISBN: 9780310742333
Hardcover/$17.99 U.S. ● Ages 15+

The second book in the series is Destined for Doon 

Summary: Unlike Veronica, MacKenna didn't have a fairy-tale ending in the first book. She chose a difficult path, and one that didn't make her as happy as she'd wished. But when MacKenna is given a chance to redeem herself (as well as save the imperiled kingdom of Doon from zombies), she snatches it up. But can she redeem the mistakes of her past? 

Review: For me, this book seemed faster-paced than the first one. It picked up a few months after the first one left off, and instead of focusing mainly on Veronica's relationship with Jamie, it focused on Mackenna and Duncan. One thing I liked about this continuation is that (unlike many teen romance series) the problems that must be overcome in the second book are not simply continuations of problems from the first book. Mackenna and Duncan, as a couple, are so different to Veronica and Jamie. Again, this story is a nice combination of adventure and angsty teen love. 

And, of course, the moment you were all waiting for - this is where I give a free copy of Destined for Doon to one lucky winner. This offer is for a hardcover copy of the book, and it's good for anyone within the US. 


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Carey Corpe: Carey Corp lives in the metropolitan Midwest with her loveable yet out-of-control family. Carey wrote her first book at the age of seven, and currently begins each morning consuming copious amounts of coffee while weaving stories that capture her exhaustive imagination. She harbors a voracious passion (in no consistent order) for mohawks, Italy, musical theater, chocolate, and Jane Austen. Carey’s debut novel for teens, The Halo Chronicles: The Guardian, earned her national recognition as 2010 Golden Heart finalist for best young adult fiction and was featured at the 2012 RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago in YA Alley.  

Lorie Langdon: Lorie Langdon has wanted to write her own novels since she was a wee girl reading every Judy Blume book she could get her hands on. So a few years ago, she left her thriving corporate career to satisfy the voices in her head. Now as a full-time author and stay-at-home mom, she spends her summers editing poolside while dodging automatic water-gun fire, and the rest of the year tucked into her cozy office, Havanese puppy by her side, working to translate her effusive imagination into the written word and continue to build the young-adult-focused blog, HonestlyYA. Read more at HonestlyYA.com.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Suicide and Mental Illness Theme Read Kickoff!



Hey everyone. September has come and the first week of the annual Suicide and Mental Illness Awareness Theme Read has begun!

As I've said repeatedly during my "plug-my-own-event" campaign, it is very important for people to be open and supportive about mental illness and suicidal ideation. Some people have absolutely no empathy for suicide - they feel that if someone wants to die, let them die. What these people fail to see is that suicidal people are ill. Their perception of reality is often distorted, and they honestly feel that death is the only way out. They need to be reminded of why life is wonderful. They need (and want!) help. Suicide is a tragedy - not only for the individual, but for all the friends and family. 

Stigma pollutes our culture, discouraging people who need help from speaking out - it's the people who talk who end up healing. We need more healthy people in the world, and suicide and mental illness advocacy is one way to promote this goal. 

To participate, all you need to do is post about something related to suicide and / or mental illness. This can be a book you've read, a movie you've watched, or just some random thoughts you want to share. You can share publicly on FB or Goodreads etc if you don't have a blog. So anyone can participate. 

Here is a list of movies and book suggestions that I posted a few weeks ago: 

Popular Mental Illness books (Goodreads list) - Several of the books on this list I have already read or are on my TBR mountain.

11 of the most Realistic Portrayals of Mental Illness in Novels - This is a pretty interesting article with some good suggestions. And don't miss the embedded list of 20 Greatest Memoirs of Mental Illness

Mental Illness in Fiction (Wikipedia) - This interesting list includes some much older books as well as some unexpected inclusions (LOTR? - Ok, yeah, I guess Golem was mentally ill, but...it DOES make kind of a fun list, though. And you can feel free to be )

Contemporary YA books featuring mental illness - What is a list of books without YA these days? ;)

NAMI Blog: The Top 10 Movies about Mental Illness - This is a really good list (should be, coming from NAMI). I've seen 6 of them. :)

10 Gripping Films about Mental Illness - This list seems pretty good, as well. 

10 Best Portrayals of Mental Illness in Modern Movies - This list, I suspect, is more about the acting than about psychology. From I totally agree with the assessment of great acting on this list!





Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why I'd switch places with Emma


This week's Feature and Follow Hop, hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, asks us to write about characters we'd like to trade places with. This was a really hard question for me, because the books I love the most tend to be about people that have problems galore. Hermione Granger? No thank-you. Don't want to battle Voldemort. I have my own demons to battle.

After a while, I realized the character I'd most like to switch places with is Emma from Jane Austen's novel of that name. Reason? Clearly I'd be better at handling Emma's problems than Emma. ;) Of course, I also have 15 years on her...and maybe if I grew up all spoiled and rich I would be just as stubborn as Emma. Emma is so sensible but misapplies her sense so gratuitously - and Mr. Knightly loves her anyway - that's what makes me want to change places with Emma. Although this isn't my favorite Austen novel, and Mr. Knightly isn't quite as romantic as Colonel Brandon (from Sense and Sensibility), Emma is my pick. :) You can see my review of Emma here