July 31, 2008

Accepting Bipolar: Join the Club

They tell us that one in every hundred people has some form of manic-depressive illness.  My question is where are all these people?  The gays have come out of the closet, those with physical disabilities have the American Disabilities Act, but where the hell are all the basket cases?  Frequently, we're hiding it from the rest of the world. But on the other hand, many people just don't know why, or in some cases notice, a massive change in personality has happened.  To realize you have a mood disorder is tricky, to accept it is a struggle.  My struggle towards acceptance was probably a typical one, presenting challenges that most people with bipolar disorder (BPD) face, but it definitely is worth telling.

I was a pretty normal 12 year old boy; curious, hyper, unattentive, always looking to make a joke.  If you saw me at that age you wouldn't have concerned yourself much with my mental health future.  You would have seen a straight A student who was active in sports, had plenty of friends, was well-spoken to adults, and very independent.  What you wouldn't have seen were the subtle signs and the changes I was going to go through. 

I had a tenuous relationship with my father, he had lived 6 hours away from me since I was 3 and our interactions were limited to holidays and summer.  No matter the circumstances between us, I had a strong bond with my Dad which originated deep in my DNA.  Somewhere around the age of 12 my father and I lost contact, the particulars are rather unimportant, but what was important was the effect this had on me.  I thought I was strong and would be ok, so what if my father didn't want me, I didn't need his approval to feel good about myself.  But somewhere deep in my brain, forged through generations of fathers and sons, a disturbance happened.  Abandonment became my issue, one that follows me around to this day.  The knowledge that someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally has rejected you weighs heavily on the mind.  A boy searching for a father's love and coming to terms with his sexuality and transition into adulthood is not a pretty sight.

The changes weren't noticeable right away, the evolution towards recognizable bipolar disorder was a slow process which seemed to keep encroaching deeper and deeper into my life.  And although the trajectory of my life was changing I was blind to the process.  One person who did notice a change in me was my mother.  By age 17 she had seen enough of the inflated self-importance, high irratibility, striking independence, and disregard for consequences to understand that something was going on.  She took me to a psychologist who I met a total of one time.  As I walked out of the office I decided I would never see a mental health professional again.  I felt attacked, scared, insecure, and exposed.  How could this person observe me for one hour and pin me into this group of highly affected people?  Why didn't anyone else say anything?  The truth is that they either couldn't see it or if they could were scared to approach me.  How is it that you tell a friend/relative/co-worker that they need mental help without them feeling betrayed and judged?  Even having gone through the process I don't know that I can tell you a good way to go about it.  But regardless of my feelings about that meeting with the psychologist I walked away with a very important step, realization.

I may have fought it and not wanted to believe it, but I realized after a time that maybe the psychologist was right, everything I could put my hands on about bipolar disorder seemed to be a reading of my biography and inner thoughts.  But this didn't precipitate me doing anything about my disorder.  As with many people diagnosed with a mental health issue I thought I could control the effects on my own.  I simply would not accept that my brain did not function correctly in certain situations.  This was magnified by awareness of how intelligent I was.  I hate to blow my own horn, but I did very well in school and stood out in all subjects, competed for the top of my class, and was active outside the classroom.  How was it that the brain which breezed me through calculus had a problem?  Wouldn't I be a little dumber if my brain had a malfunction?  The answer was obviously no, and I learned over time that intelligence and mental health do not follow along the same path, many of the greatest thinkers of our time dealt with severe mental health issues.

So I began to believe that I had bipolar disorder at the age of 18, but still had not come to accept it.  This started to change my freshman year of college.  Two aspects of college life brough about a dramatic change in my bipolar disorder; freedom of schedule, and the escalation of relationships outside the boundaries of parents.  Suffice to say that my freshman year was a roller coaster in which I balanced the stressors of college life but also those of relationships.  I became very serious with a girl that lived in my dorm which brought me to the heights of ecstasy, a placed I relished and thrived in.  When things started to sour though I would deny and pretend everything was going to be ok just to get back to that mania, a short shot of that drug.  Eventually that plan won't work in a relationship and of course it failed.  Things got hard and the stress for both of us was continually mounting. 

One morning I sat on the fountain that had become my morning retreat, waiting for the bus to arrive so I could start my day of classes.  Suddenly an impressively clear thought crossed mine, "just walk out in the front of the bus, simple solution."  This image has stuck with me for over 7 years, and not just the vagaries.  I was wearing a yellow Brisbane rugby shirt as well as the Ralph Lauren jeans I hated, Ocean Pacific sandles were firmly glued to my feet and in my hand a blue folder with my research articles for my class.  The bus driver had very short blonde hair, a girl I hadn't seen drive the bus before, the number 7 seemed to be dominated by male drivers (possibly due to the fact it was the busiest busline and sometimes it became a little disorderly), she had on her 2001 Maroon Out shirt and a smile that doesn't belong on someone at work. 

Two people sat next to me on the fountain, regulars at the fountain who shared the same class with me.  I had introduced myself to them a week earlier which suddenly weighed heavily on my conscience.  If I step out in front of this bus these two people are going to see someone they know and had met commit the ultimate of mistakes.  Perhaps if I hadn't spoken with them earlier that apprehension to hurt those around me would have never stopped me.  I would have simply been a troubled stranger who they were unconnected to and could go on about there lives without wondering what they did or didn't do that caused my rash decision making.  As it was I stood up and froze, suddenly acutely aware of the thoughts running through my head.  An immediate rush of adrenaline shot through my body, my senses heightened, a light coat of perspiration seeped onto my skin and the urge to run came over me. 

My dorm was only 50 yards away but it seemed like an eternity, by the time I reached the door my excitement had turned into nausea.  Although the story ends with me vomiting in my bathroom and calling my girlfriend it could have easily ended with me flattened on the pavement and having the coroner visit a place I'm sure he would rather avoid.  I was lucky the way it turned out, a single thought had scared me, almost to death.  Acceptance became very much easier after that, a simple turning point with profound and eternal consequences convinced me that something needed to be done.

The next time I went to the psychiatrist I didn't feel attacked or insecure, but the feelings of being exposed and scared were still there.  But this was enough to establish a relationship with the psychiatrist and eventually my negative feelings towards the visits evaporated.  I learned a little then but was still rather arrogant about my situation.  My father came back into my life and I allowed this lull in tension to catch me off guard, and when he left again I had not prepared myself for a shock like that.  The depressive and manic issues I dealt with through that situation claimed another one of my relationships as I again buried myself deep in denial, far away from the acceptance that had brought me such progress.

Now the story is different, after sacrificing two different relationships due to my inability to accept my disorder I am facing it full force.  The pain of losing those close to you far exceeds that of personal deficiency.  Admitting and accepting those things that come with a mental health issue is a painful experience that leaves one feeling alone, stigmatized and exposed.  But this is a far cry from the pain of losing family, friends and significant others because you're scared to face your own problems.

So come on, join the club, I promise there are a few of us here that you wouldn't expect.  The club offers you peace for what is by definition an unpeaceful existence, but you have to want to join, you need to accept what qualifies you entry into the club.  Doing that is the only way you'll solve all of those other problems you have running through your mind.

More After the Fold...


July 30, 2008

How to End a Terrorist Group: A Survey from 1968-2006

The RAND Corporation has conducted the first systematic review of terrorists groups and the primary reason that the group ends its operations. Between 1968 and 2006 the study identified 648 terrorist groups, a total of 286 ended during that period while another 136 groups splintered and 244 remained active.

Policing (penetrated and ended by local police and intelligence agencies) and political accommodation accounted for 83% of the termination of group activities. Two reasons (victory and military force) included fighting until one side achieved victory, and interestingly enough the terrorists won (10%) more than a state's military (7%). Looking closer into military force reveals that it is far more effective against a large, well armed, and well organized group; indicating that military force was usually too blunt an instrument to deal with most terrorist groups.

Religiously motivated terrorist groups took longer to eliminate than other groups but rarely achieved their objectives; no religiously motivated group achieved victory during the period studied. The report continues to offer suggestions on how to more effectively deal with al Qa'ida.

More After the Fold...


Logical Fallacies in Politics

On Sunday, George Stephanopoulos presented Justin Wolfers "gas tax challenge" to John McCain. The challenge, which still remains unanswered, is to find any coherent economist willing to support Senator John McCain's proposed gas tax holiday. Here's the bizarre conversation:

Stephanopoulos: Not a single economist in the country said it'd work.

McCain: Yes. And there's no economist in the country that knows very well the low-income American who drives the furthest, in the oldest automobile, that sometimes can't even afford to go to work.
This is a pretty good example of the fallacy of ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the man, argument against the man), something that has taken the political world by storm. Th fallacy works like this; Person A makes claim X, there is something objectionable about Person A, therefore claim X is false.

Using that formula we can break down the argument into it's pieces.

Economists claim that the gas tax holiday will not benefit the public.
Economists are not part of the lower class who struggle to pay for gas.
Therefore the claim that the gas tax holiday will not benefit the public is false.

This type of logical fallacy can be powerful and cause people to shake their heads in agreement, "those who aren't like me can't understand." The reality of the situation though should be clear using a few other examples. By McCain's reasoning only those infected with HIV should be allowed to assess the potential good or harm a new treatment program will offer HIV patients. Also by his reasoning only those in government are able to hypothesize about the effects of a new law or directive. These examples should make it pretty clear that this type of reasoning in false.

Dissenters love this type of attack because it avoids the question of whether or not the policy would work and falsely associates the presenters faults as faults of the argument. Here's the real truth behind this type of fallacy. It doesn't matter whether Hitler or Gandhi was the person presenting the argument, their personal characteristics have no bearing on whether or not the statement is true or false. If both were alive today to give their assessment of the gas tax holiday there is a possibility that they would reach the same conclusion. On the same token two people who have lived awfully similar lives and hold the same values could come to different conclusions. A gas tax holiday will act according to the laws of the market and large economic principles I don't understand, nobody's personality will change its effect so it is false logic to attack the personalities and characteristics of those presenting an argument.

Economists by and large base their decisions off of the optimal societal outcome, that is, they analyze the proposal and base their judgments off of the merits of the argument in question alone in determining whether there will be a net gain, loss or push due to the proposal. It is disturbing that we can appeal to expertise when it is convenient, yet dismiss it as out of touch and irrelevant with it conflicts with illogical policy prescriptions. Who turned on the rationality vacuum?

Besides, wasn't this supposed to be a summer gas tax holiday, my calendar says summer is almost over!

More After the Fold...


How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic

I've been using this resource for a little while now and I thought I'd pass it on, How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic. The material has grown into a well received and used web resource for those willing to continue the fight against those who deny the reality of anthopogenic climate change.

More After the Fold...


July 29, 2008

Evolve - Eyes

Tonight on the History Channel the first episode in a new series is coming on Evolve: Eyes.
They are one of evolution's most useful and prevalent inventions.
Ninety five percent of living species are equipped with eyes and they
exist in many different forms. Learn how the ancestors of jellyfish may
have been the first to evolve light-sensitive cells. Discover how
dinosaur's evolved eyes that helped them become successful hunters.
Finally, learn how primates evolved unique adaptations to their eyes
that allowed them to better exploit their new habitat, and how the
ability to see colors helped them find food.
I'm going to record it and check it out, hopefully I'll enjoy it more than it will anger me, these types of shows seem to do it to me with their overgeneralizations and inaccurate story lines. The History Channel though has pretty high standards and I am looking forward to checking this one out.

More After the Fold...


July 28, 2008

Thomas Friedman on Two Leaders in Oil Independence

Although I detest T. Boone Pickens, the guy is on to something and will be close to powering the whole state of Texas after his massive wind farm is built in the panhandle. Thomas Friedman writes an article in the NYT about Pickens and an Israeli leader in oil independence, Shai Agassi.

Op-Ed Columnist - Texas to Tel Aviv - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com

More After the Fold...


July 27, 2008

NYT Gives a Voice to Bipolar Disorder

The New York Times has an interesting audio piece about bipolar disorder. Listening will definitely help you feel a little less alone and help those who love someone with the disorder to get a better understanding of what it is like to live with it. It's pretty short and well worth the listen.

A few extreme cases in there but it is interesting to hear people living with the disorder speak about their experiences.

More After the Fold...


July 31 is National Orgasm Day

Not here in the US but in Britain, either way it is a good time to celebrate with the one(s) you're close with. This holiday is promoted by Scarlet magazine and the makers of the PelvicToner who conducted a survey of over 2000 women across the UK and found that shockingly 46% of British women never or rarely achieve orgasm. The study is still ongoing and can be found here if any ladies want to participate.

The survey found that women with better pelvic floor muscles were enjoying better sex lives, which I'm sure will please Arnold Kegel, who developed an exercise program that in 1952 was tested in a 3000 patient study and highlighted the link between muscle strength and tone and orgasm achievement. Of those women who were deemed "sexually dysfunctional," being taught and practicing a resistive exercise program helped many of them achieve orgasm for the first time. The technique Kegel developed is rarely taught to women.

Now there is the PelvicToner(TM), which is a progressive resistance vaginal exerciser designed to help women meet the fundamentals of Kegel exercise to help identify and isolate the vaginal (pubococcygeal) muscle and then to exercise it properly against a variable resistance with the appropriate bio-feedback.

Exercise in this area is definitely important but just as important is a woman's mindset as well as personal knowledge of their own sexuality. I have been with women who have been helped to orgasm by simply settling their fears and building trust, this is probably a big thing with younger women as guys are simply worried about the act while there is certainly more going on inside the woman's head (social stigma, abandonment issues, emotional connection, etc). Another reason I think women have trouble achieving orgasm is the unwillingness to masturbate. If you want to do really well on a math test you will practice the problems by yourself in a low stress setting and then when you get into the test room when the pressure is on and your professor is expecting a good performance you know how to solve the problems, what the steps are and how to complete them. In contrast, if you simply walked in cold-turkey and expect to perform well you would most likely be unable to perform as well as if you had practiced.

It is a crude analogy but masturbation is about equal to sexual practice, for women it is an important part of learning their bodies and what it takes to reach orgasm, which to men probably sounds a little ridiculous. But I remember being told by a woman, after having been with her for a reasonable period of time and working to achieve regular multiple orgasms, that now she knows "where it is" and "what it takes" to reach orgasm (Hi mom and dad, glad you read this blog!). What a novel concept to men, learning how to orgasm and what it takes is usually a very rapid process once puberty is reached. For women though it is a much more complicated process (there's a lot more than just one big piece) that does require a bit of knowledge and practice. In my mind this is easier to achieve individually instead of with a partner. Being with a partner requires you to worry about another person's needs and worrying about whether you're pleasing them, individual masturbation though doesn't require you to worry about anyone but yourself. You can try different things without having to build up the courage to ask or worry about the response you'll get for a request. This takes the pressure off of performance and you can concentrate on yourself and what you're feeling. After a little practice I'm sure everyone can find out what hits their buttons and how to translate that into sex. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Let's take a look at the survey results so far:

Nearly half of all women are not getting their share of orgasms!
75% of older women claim they have a G-spot, but a third of under 25s can't find it.
Women with a "good" pelvic floor have twice as many orgasms.
Women who followed the PelvicToner exercise program reported a much improved sex life within 4 weeks.

More results: Over 2000 sexually active women have already completed the 2008 Orgasm Survey

72% say they are aware of their G-spot but its location varies significantly!
50% place it just inside their vagina nad 35% deep inside. The remaining 15% locate it elsewhere!
46% never/rarely achieve vaginal orgasm during penetrative sex.
Only 31% claim to do so often or always.
69% are aware that the strength of the pelvic floor muscle is implicated in the ability to achieve orgasm.
70% of women claim to exercise sometimes or often but 92% would like to be shown how to exercise properly.

Those women who rate their pelvic floor as good or very good, or who exercise regularly, are twice as likely to achieve vaginal orgasms as those that rate their pelvic loor as poor or very poor. (42% v 22%)

Two thirds of women who rate their pelvic floor as poor or very poor never or rarely have vaginal orgasms.

42% of women using the PelvicToner said they became more aware of their pelvic floor immediately, rising to 85% within 2 weeks.

62% of women using the PelvicToner reported an improved sex life within 2 weeks rising to 82% after 4 weeks.

62% of PelvicToner users said that their partner noticed the improvement in muscle tone/tightness

Just because the PelvicToner was the promoted product by the survey conductors don't let that fool you. Any exercise program designed to strengthen the vaginal muscle will produce improved sex results, and if you're embarrassed to go looking ladies send your man, if he's not willing to jump up and help when you say you want to improve your orgasms (or achieve an orgasm) you need to find one who will. The internet has plenty of good advice about how to perform exercises and here's a little secret to you ladies who go once a year or every 6 months to a gynecologist; ask them, they are very informative and can find you literature on the subject.

(Due to a concern raised by a female friend) Gynecologists should never judge or make you feel uncomfortable talking about sex, this includes simple concerns to the safety of a certain fetish. It is their job to maintain the safety and performance of your reproductive organs and I promise any good gyno will be willing to discuss aspects of your orgasms (or lack thereof) and give you good answers, if not you need to find another gyno. It is not their job to judge your actions, morals, or beliefs and if you're scared to ask then take someone with you (a bf, you'd be surprised how uncomfortable you thought you were until you bring him in with you, maybe the scariest experience of my life) and have them either talk to the doc or just be there to give you support while you're discussing your concerns.

Either way ladies, simple exercises are really a great way to improve your sex life and can be done easily, such as in the car or before bed. Your partner will appreciate it as all men want the feedback an orgasm gives and hopefully it will reduce stress surrounding sex that can come with a non or rarely orgasmic woman. So go out and celebrate one of the great British holidays, maybe we should petition for the introduction on this side of the pond.

More After the Fold...