Introversion is Not a Mental Illness

If, like me, you are an introvert, welcome to the American minority. As such, you probably can relate to being treated as if you are strange or broken. You’re considered antisocial. You are expected to explain yourself. You don’t fit in.

You have probably been accused of being depressed, even when that isn’t necessarily so. Introversion does not always equate to unhappiness. The phrase “social anxiety” gets bandied about by your critics. It’s not an anxiety so much as a preference. You are often misunderstood.

Believe me, I get it. I am so sick of being treated like I’m somehow less than, simply by dint of my position on the Introversion/Extroversion bell curve. I genuinely believe that we all have our place, and every place has value.

Introversion simply means that people suck energy from you, as opposed to energizing you. But why is that description couched in that way? Why does no one say that extroverts need energy from outside themselves, while introverts are much more self-sufficient? Why does no one say that introverts thrive in the quiet beauty of isolation? Why are we not praised for our focus and depth?

And no two people are alike. I wish that were more understood. Just as with gender, it’s about time we figured out that this is not a binary situation. For example, I personally don’t dislike people, even though introverts are often accused of hating mankind in general. I just prefer interacting with small groups that I know well, as opposed to large crowds of strangers. I don’t consider myself to be shy. I have no trouble speaking up or asking questions. I just don’t feel the need to constantly put myself out there. I enjoy observing more than interacting.

And I love time alone, which means my job as a bridgetender is perfect for me. Extroverts don’t last in this job. They just can’t handle it. There really are places for us “quiet types”. They’re just sometimes a bit harder to find.

As a child I was constantly berated because I wasn’t making enough friends. I have friends. But I go for quality, not quantity. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think it’s cruel to make an introverted child feel as though there’s some score card that is not up to snuff, simply because that child has a richer inner life, and that’s hard for you to see. We don’t need to be fixed. We are fine just the way we are.

There is no shame in thinking of alone time as a gift. It’s not rejection. It’s not a mental illness. You are still capable of love, loyalty, and friendship. And so much more.

I think that the only time we introverts feel free and well-adjusted is when we stop caring what other people think. Unfortunately, those other people are still out there, thinking, and loudly shaping society. The world would be a much nicer place if people learned to listen to the quieter voices as well. We, too, have our stories.

30 Hilarious Thoughts Every Introverted Person Goes Through

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Empathy vs. Boundaries

The other day, in advance of what was expected to be a catastrophic storm, I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk on the south end of my bridge. She was moaning quietly to herself, and rocking back and forth. I was coming back from doing some maintenance nearby, and was due to walk right past her.

This put me on the horns of a moral dilemma. Everyone should have been taking shelter at this point. And clearly this woman was in distress. But we have a history, this woman and I.

Due to the tragic underfunding of mental health services in this country in general, and in this state and city in particular, more and more mentally ill people roam our streets. And for some reason they often are attracted to our drawbridges. This woman is one of our regulars.

We call her the suitcase lady, because usually she has two large, unwieldy suitcases in tow. Oddly, this day they were not in evidence. But she was. And she scares me. She has cursed me like a sailor in the past, and lunged at me. I had strong reason to believe she wouldn’t welcome any offer of assistance from me.

So I walked on by, giving her the widest possible berth. And then I went into my warm, dry tower. And I watched her from the window as the rain continued to fall on her ragged raincoat.

What to do. Should I call 911? I’ve done it before. Several times. They have made it abundantly clear that such calls are not appreciated. She was not breaking any laws. And while she may pose a danger to herself, she is just one of the thousands who wander around Seattle, posing a danger “only” to themselves every day. Usually by the time the police get around to responding, the person in question has moved on. I suspect that’s intentional.

While I was contemplating my next move, a jogger came by and stopped to talk to the lady. They talked for quite some time. Then the jogger put her arm around the woman and they walked together off the bridge. I’ll probably never know what happened next. I hope it ended well for all concerned.

So which of us did the right thing? Me, or the jogger? I struggle with this on a daily basis. I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps both of us got it wrong. Surely there must be a point where compassion and self-protection can intersect in a healthy way. But how does one find that point?

I would love to be able to save the world, but it’s also important to set boundaries. I’m pretty much all I have these days. It would be foolish to put my life at risk. But I ache for the human condition. I feel helpless to hold back the tide. I want to make a difference. I just don’t want to die trying.

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Where Does Charity Begin?

The other day I was on my way to volunteer to serve lunch at a soup kitchen with some friends. I’ve done this before, and found it to be a gratifying experience. I was really looking forward to doing it again.

But while waiting for my friends, a homeless woman came by, looked at me, and started screaming, “Fat pig!!! Gross!!!” She then lifted up a metal trash can that probably weighed more than she did, and heaved it in my direction.

First of all, how fascinating that she could take one look at me and know exactly what buttons to push to hurt my feelings. Would that she could employ her intuitive nature for good. But I tried not to take it personally. It was clearly a mental health issue rather than an attack focused on me.

After she was done with me, she started screaming at a beggar, calling him the n word and declaring that nobody would give him any money. Then she walked down the middle of a very busy street, causing cars to swerve. Then she swung her jacket at a passerby, barely missing his head. After that, she overturned a full trashcan and spread the refuse all over the meal site.

Although I felt sorry for her, I was also rather rattled. Needless to say her behavior was a bit unpredictable. I began to wonder if this volunteering was a good idea after all.

That really brought me up short. Was I there to have fun? No. Was I only willing to help if it was convenient to me? Er… Well… Hmmm…

But soon my friends rallied around, and the soup kitchen staff went out of their way to make me feel safe. And everyone who came for food (including, ironically, the woman in question, who seemed rather contrite after having a chat with the local police), were very friendly and appreciative of our efforts.

In spite of that kerfuffle at the beginning, I have no regrets for having volunteered on that day. After a little moral struggle, I realized that I was not there for me. I was there for them. Once I reminded myself of that fact, my choices became clear.

May we all help each other in our times of need.

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One Slap at a Time

I am convinced that the reason so many violent and/or abusive people in this world get away with their bad behavior is that we have a tendency to break things down into separate incidents. If you look at a wife beater’s conduct one slap at a time, for example, it should still be considered unacceptable, yes, but it’s a lot easier for society to discount. (That is, unless you are on the receiving end of such treatment.)

When forming an opinion about someone, it’s really important to look at the totality of their actions. If an individual has a bad day and is moderately nasty only once, and shows some form of contrition, that’s one thing. But if that person is moderately nasty the majority of the time, that tends to add up. Working or living with someone like that can be exhausting.

It’s an insidious form of abuse, because to the outside observer, who is seeing only one incident, it may appear that the victim of this abuse is overreacting. But context is important. That’s why it’s so vital to speak up. If you don’t share that history with the wider world, then you enable your abuser.

Think about it. Before police agencies were able to share information about criminals, they were able to get away with a lot more. They could just continue their shenanigans in a different city, county, state or country. Now it’s not quite as easy to turn crime into a career.

We are still lagging behind, though, when it comes to disclosing the behavior of domestic abusers and the small percentage of the mentally ill who pose a danger. Knowledge is power. Until dangerous behavior is shared among various social agencies, there is no way we’ll be able to reduce the number of tragedies that occur every single day.

The system is broken. It needs to be fixed. That needs to be a priority. How many more people need to die before it becomes one?

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Scary Small World

I just learned that Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, briefly attended Indian River State College, and was kicked out because he threatened to bring a gun there. I received my last degree from IRSC, and I’m now profoundly grateful that I wasn’t there the same year. Even so, this news has me extremely rattled. He still lived in that town when I did. For all I know we may have crossed paths.

Still, I loved that town. I loved that campus. It’s beautiful. I enjoyed my studies. I always felt safe there, except when I encountered the prison crew that they inexplicably allowed to maintain the grounds. (I don’t think virtually unsupervised convicted criminals and nubile young coeds make a good combo, but hey, who am I?)

The fact is that whenever you are amongst a large crowd of human beings, no matter how tranquil the setting may seem, you never know what the risks are. It’s really disturbing to realize that you can’t control the actions of others. It’s even more disturbing that serious mental illness in this country seems to fall into some strange bureaucratic crack, so many people aren’t getting the help they so desperately need when they lose their way.

Does that mean I’m going to stop going places and doing things? No. I refuse to be ruled by fear. In fact, I’ll be participating in a lot of the Seattle Pride events to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. I’m glad that most of those events will be out of doors. I don’t relish the idea of being trapped in a building at the moment. I also suspect there will be an increased police presence, and it’s a shame that that has to be the case.

I’d be kidding myself if I said that things aren’t going to cross my mind. Are any of the people around me secretly ruled by rage? Do they think death (their own or that of someone else) is something they have a right to determine? Do they have an over-inflated sense of their own importance, or think that someone is out to get them?

I hate to contemplate the hellish existence of the (fortunately) small number of people who reside on the violent lunatic fringe. It makes me sad to think about their suffering, and even sadder to think of the suffering they could rain down upon the heads of those strangers who happen to be within range of their irrational perspectives.

Wishing peace and safety to you and all the people that you love.

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On Mass Shootings

Once again we’ve suffered a tragedy in a school in which a very disturbed guy decided to take a lot of people with him to wherever one goes after this life. It’s upsetting. It also makes me angry.

Naturally, the topic of gun control is on everyone’s mind, and everyone is resigned to the fact that nothing will be done about it, despite popular opinion. For me it’s a no-brainer. No civilian needs an arsenal or an assault weapon. Bear arms all you want. Hunt all you want. But you don’t have to prepare for overkill. You’ve been watching Rambo too much. It’s absurd.

But I had a very fascinating talk recently with someone who has been in the mental health field here in Seattle for 40 years. She brought up some very interesting points. (I wasn’t taking any notes, so any errors are mine alone.)

She said that the number of people in Seattle who have been to the emergency room more than 50 times for mental health issues number in the thousands. Multiply that by every large city in the country and the figure becomes quite daunting.

And yet you cannot involuntarily admit these people for mental health treatment. Yes, there is the Baker Act which allows for a 72 hour hold, but after that, they are released. And it has been thus since Reagan discarded the Mental Health Systems act, which put many people back out on the streets.

Now imagine that you are a family member of someone who is obviously disturbed. You have been begging for help for them for years, but there’s no such help available. You’ve told the police that you are afraid he’ll do something violent. They tell you they can’t do anything until the crime is already committed. Chances are this relative is either homeless or living in your basement, and then you yourself are a prisoner in your own home. You hide your knives. You live in fear mixed with guilt and shame, and no one, NO ONE will help you.

But when this crazy relative of yours goes into some school or movie theater and opens fire, in the aftermath people blame you. They say, “His parents should have done something! How could his family be so blind?”

They are not blind, people. They are just not given the support that they so desperately need. Until we have clearly defined description of what this type of mental illness looks like, and the infrastructure to deal with it, and the legal ability to involuntarily admit such people (which apparently they have in England and their world hasn’t come to an end), this problem isn’t going to go away.

We are more than willing to throw money at the prison system, so these people can be housed after the damage has been done. And thanks to terrorists, we have Homeland Security. So expansive and expensive policy changes can be made. How much more death do we have to experience in the form of mass shootings before the mental health system is revamped?

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Migraine Awareness

June is Migraine Awareness Month. As a lifelong sufferer myself, I know what it’s like to deal with people’s many misconceptions about this malady. The lack of understanding and the crazy ideas about migraines can be nearly as painful as the headache.

The first, most frustrating fallacy about migraines is that “It’s all in your head.” If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I’d be a millionaire right now. Just because a migraine can’t be seen does not mean it doesn’t exist. Why would anyone make up this level of agony?

Here’s a description that my cousin posted on her Facebook page today:

What is it like having a migraine? You lay down to sleep because sleep is the only real thing that is pain free. Only, you can’t sleep. Noise is making the pain worse. Every position you lay in is excruciating. With a pillow. Without a pillow. Side, back, face jammed into the mattress. Doesn’t matter. The throbbing won’t stop. Too hot. Too cold. Shut up, gecko! Don’t you know I’m dying here and your seemingly adorable chirp is like a shrill screwdriver scraping down a blackboard?! Shoulders are so tight from the stress of the pain. Jaw is so tight from grinding my teeth in pain. Every time I close my eyes I think the aura might go away but it’s still there. Twinkling away. Just one spot though. Enough to be annoying. 6am. Still awake. 8am still awake. I just want some rest. 9am finally found a comfortable way to lay however I have ruined my entire day. Migraine, you are not the life partner I imagined. I’ve broken up with you so many times. I just don’t want to see you ever again. We’re through! Sleep. So lovely and pain free. Only to awake and feel migraine waiting for me. I hate you. Don’t you know that you ruin my relationship with others? I wish you’d never come back. You make my life hell.

Clearly this is not a figment of her imagination. Nor are all the pictures of me from childhood with dark circles under my eyes from days of vomiting and lack of sleep a mere mirage. Unlike my cousin, I don’t have the sensitivity to sound, and for that I thank God. But my sensitivity to light means that even the smallest amount of illumination feels like a dagger in my eyeball. When I was too little to have the vocabulary to describe it, I used to say I had a bullet in my eye. We called them “eye aches” back then.

Another mistaken belief about migraines is the implication that since it is “all in your head” it must be some form of mental illness. Yes, people do think that. Don’t believe me? Rent the movie “Dark Water” sometime. At the very least people assume that you “do this” to get attention. That always makes me laugh, because when you have a migraine, the very last thing you want is attention. You want to be left alone in a dark, quiet room. If anything, it takes you away from the people you love, and you miss out on a lot.

I’ve also been accused of conjuring up a migraine to get out of work or to avoid eating certain foods that I “must not like.” Like what? Chocolate? Oh yeah. I hate chocolate. Not. I’d kill to be able to eat chocolate without the accompanying pain.

If you don’t get migraines you are very fortunate. A great thing to do with that good fortune would be to have a little tolerance and compassion for those of us who do suffer. Or, at the very least, you could keep your erroneous beliefs to yourself.

[Image credit: migraine.com]
[Image credit: migraine.com]
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Shield Man

Not far from one of the bridges where I work is an abandoned building covered with graffiti. A homeless guy is squatting in one of the sheds on the property. He likes to carry a bright pink shield that he seems to have fashioned out of scrap wood, duct tape and a plastic bag. He isn’t doing anyone any harm. He’s a lot safer there than he would be squatting under some overpass like the majority of the mentally ill in Seattle seem to do.

But the other day I saw four teenage boys descend on the place. They were probably only looking for someplace out of the rain to smoke weed. They went into the dark building and disappeared. This rousted shield man from his shed, and he started patrolling the perimeter of the property, brandishing his pink shield. He paced back and forth, back and forth, for about 15 minutes. I was actually kind of scared for him, because these four young men could have easily taken him out if they wanted to, in spite of his protection, or perhaps because of it.

Finally the boys left the building and watched shield man pace for a minute or two. They were obviously thinking. I contemplated calling the police before someone got hurt, but they would have kicked shield man out of his shed, too, and he’d be a lot worse off. So I simply watched nervously. First sign of trouble I was going to get on the phone.

Finally the boys left, and shield man went to where they had been standing and indignantly tamped out their reefer butts. Clearly he has some form of pride of place. He then went back into his shed. Crisis averted.

I can’t even imagine what this man’s life is like. He’s all alone in his damp metal shed with only his shield to keep him company. But he’s doing the best he can. Aren’t we all? Or are we? We should be able to do better for men like him.

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[Image credit: thedirtfloor.com]

Washington’s Mental State

Since I bragged about Washington yesterday, it seems only fair that I air out a little of its dirty laundry today. One of the most shocking and unexpected things I’ve discovered about this state is the unbelievably high number of mentally disturbed people wandering the streets. On an average commute to work, I will see at least a half dozen people standing on various street corners talking to themselves. While standing at bus stops or walking to downtown tourist venues, you are constantly overwhelmed by the number of people who clearly need mental help. It makes me very sad.

You would think that you’d see more homeless people in general, and more schizophrenics specifically, in Florida, where the weather is more amenable to living outdoors. But no. I never saw anything like this in the Sunshine State.

According to this article in the Seattle Times, “Washington trails all but two other states in providing hospital beds for mentally ill patients.” This stuns me. The cost of living here is obscene. The tax base is unbelievable. Sales tax alone in King County is 9.5%. How is it possible that we can’t come up with more beds for those who need them most? Shocking. Horrifying. Deeply disturbing. Outrageous.

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[Image credit: archive.freep.com]

Important Story, but Wrong Angle

It seems that a man in Oklahoma beheaded a former coworker. When you read about this, much is made of the fact that this guy had recently converted to Islam, and was trying to convert others as well. Apparently authorities are investigating his background.

When you read about this story from a variety of sources, several words and phrases jump to the forefront. “Muslim”, “Islam”, “Sharia Law”. What you aren’t seeing, and what seems blatantly obvious to me, is “Mentally Ill” and “Untreated”. Why is no one talking about this? This guy is a nut job. He needs help. Pure and simple.

The fact that his particular brand of crazy was focused on twisting a religion and taking it to a violent extreme is not, repeat, NOT an indictment of that religion. Yes, he spouted a lot of religious stupidity on his Facebook page. He could have just as easily decided he was the next messiah and that the rapture (another twisting of a religion, not mentioned even once in the Bible) had to be brought on through his own personal actions. He could have decided that he was an alien from outer space, and that it was his job to turn us all into the Venusian version of chicken pot pie.

The real story here is that he is yet another mentally ill individual who was showing all kinds of warning signs, and yet nothing was done to help him, with horrifying, tragic results. This could be an opportunity for the media to delve into the problem of mental illness in this country, ways to increase security in the workplace, and come up with a more effective system to get people the help they so desperately need.

Instead, this horrible story has been twisted into an attention grabbing sound bite about the evils of Islam. More and more, news is taken into this strange corporate machine, is twisted, bent, embellished and turned into a product that will draw attention, incite fear, and further an agenda. I long for the days of responsible journalism. If they ever really existed.

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