20 April 2015

mental health mondays [rewind ++] :: personality disorders, more questions than answers

i got started on a mhm post for this week and, as sometimes happens, realised that i'd bit off a little more than i could chew in a day and a half. hopefully, i'll have that ready for you next week, but in the meantime, i thought i'd return to a subject that's received surprisingly little attention here. [and whose fault is that? -ed.] personality disorders are poorly understood even in terms of mental illness, because they seem to be linked more to learned behaviour than to brain chemistry. that's a grotesque over-simplification, because mood disorders are often treated with the same medications as conditions like depression and anxiety, and type i disorders usually require some type of behavioural therapy in conjunction with medication. plus, of course, that there's nothing saying you can't have both types of disorder going on at the same time. [brains are very evil and nasty things and it kind of sucks that you can't get by without one, although it some people do seem to manage.]

there are a lot of issues surrounding personality disorders, including how they're diagnosed [often quite differently between men and women], the perceived arbitrariness with which they're defined and accepted, the perceived stigmatization of certain character traits and their potential [ab]use in explaining socially unacceptable behaviour. the post below doesn't deal with any of that. it's just a basic introduction to the world of personality disorders, how they're [currently] defined and what makes them different from other types of disorders.

as a brief aside, one of the most controversial subjects associated with personality disorders is that they are often linked to prevailing morals of the time rather than hard science. [although, when it comes to the brain, hard science is a tricky concept in itself.] labeling people as mentally ill because they are different carries some pretty horrifying baggage. nonetheless, one of the things that treating personality disorders does [or is supposed to do] is to liberate the sufferer from the baseless anxieties that can impair their ability to function and feel happy or at ease. so to that end:

is it time to look at extreme examples of racism, sexism or homophobia as anxiety-based personality disorders? 

there's a fair amount to think about there, and i'm capable of playing devil's advocate on either side. i'm putting the question out there in case anyone else has thought about it.

oh, and for those of you who hadn't figured out the answer to last week's brain teaser [or looked it up on line], cheryl's birthday is july 16th. according to the readers of mental health mondays, however [you can see the comments on facebook], the proper answer is "cheryl is a cunt". [those aren't mutually exclusive. -ed.]


original here

much of our conception of mental disorders is wrapped up in the "biggies", things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that tend to result in dramatic deviations from "normal" behaviour [even though they sometimes don't] and reasoning. but really, that's just the top layer of the crazy tiramisu. there are many further classifications of thought and mood disorders that don't get spoken about as much, but which may affect far larger numbers of people. they also tend to be more controversial, because they are less evident. someone who refuses to eat and bathe or speaks to people who aren't there or who cuts themselves because they believe that they have bugs living under their skin is obviously in need of help. someone who is prone to wild exaggeration or who thinks only of themselves often seems more in need of a boot to the head. ultimately, the fear is that behaviour which is merely odd or eccentric can be labeled as disordered thought, which obviously raises a lot of questions about the limits of individuality. i'm not going to get into the arguments for and against, that's for another day [and should probably involve a lot more voices besides mine]. this is just a quick introduction.

generally speaking, personality disorders are a group of symptoms established over the long term in an adult personality that affects or compromises an individual's thought patterns and interactions with and beliefs about the outside world. so what the hell does that mean?


19 April 2015

armchair centreback :: with friends like these...

normally at this time of year, when it comes to soccer, i'm settling into a nice groove of trying to figure out winners: keeping my fingers crossed for the ones i actually like and quietly poking needles into the voodoo dolls of those i hate. while i am certainly doing that, i've been distracted by a seemingly endless string of stories about footballers being naughty in their off time. well, really it's been just one player, with a cameo appearance from another, but it's also resurrected similar stories from the dead. [and a real time update...]

first, it was liverpool starlet raheem sterling smoking a shisha pipe. then it was raheem sterling inhaling nitrous oxide out of a balloon. then it was raheem sterling smoking a shisha pipe again, this time with teammate jordan ibe. this has created a lot of public backlash against the player, who has already been receiving the concentrated stink eye from liverpool fans after holding off signing a new deal with the club. and these images do unfortunately coincide with a rather shocking turn for the worse in liverpool's overall performance, so there has been a tendency to turn young raheem into a debauched scapegoat. [what on earth is a debauched scapegoat? -ed.][see above. -kate]

a number of publications used the story about sterling to remind everyone that arsenal midfielder jack wilshere was caught smoking a shisha pipe earlier this year, which was especially shocking since he'd earlier gotten in trouble when he appeared to share a cigarette with a friend and for an earlier incident where he'd had a cigarette in a bar. [in the time it took me to place the links for the wilshere bits, another story came to my attention about west bromwich player saido berahino inhaling nitrous oxide this week. clearly, the fabric of football society is unraveling.]

reading about this, there were a lot of questions that went through my mind: where do i sign up to get a lung transplant from one of these guys, because i haven't smoked in ten years and i still get winded walking up the stairs to my apartment? are those people who sell balloons at amusement parks really nitrous oxide dealers? why am i supposed to give a shit that these young men smoke and get legally high in their spare time?

with regard to the shit-giving question, i guess the argument is that sport celebrities are supposed to serve as role models for children. since i don't have flesh-children, i don't really know how that works, but i'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a role model who is supposed to possess the sort of dedication to one thing that makes him forgo every silly pleasure and indulgence in the name of success. that sounds like a recipe for a nation of thirty-year old serial killers. but like i said, i don't have kids.

the other argument for the public giving of shits about how men in their earlier twenties sometimes have a cig while out with friends, or inhale laughing gas, or do anything of the sort, is that they're accepting a lot of money to maintain their peak physical condition, and that this should be their first priority. ok fine, but by that measure, i should also be offended if these prime physical specimens drive cars, or walk outside when there's ice on the ground, or play with their kids. smoking a cigarette is lousy for your health, no doubt. i don't imagine nitrous oxide does you any favours either, but it's not like invading poland. [and don't start with me about how the fans are really paying these stars' astronomical salaries through ticket and merchandise sales so they deserve better. believe me, there are far worse things than cigarette smoking being done with your hard-earned dollars.]

the press assures me that raheem sterling has "escaped punishment" for his cigarette-and-balloon sins, however his team manager brendan rodgers says he thinks that both sterling and jordan ibe should make better choices about who they have as friends. i'm in complete agreement, although i don't think rodgers would approve. [note :: and rodgers was way nicer than wilshere's manager arsène wenger has been.]

clearly, rodgers means that they should try to distance themselves from other young men in their late teens and early twenties who do things like have the occasional cigarette and toy around with legal means of getting high. apparently it's no longer good enough for athletes to be squeaky-clean, but now they're not even allowed to associate with the reprobates i like to call "normal". [i'm going to go back to my nation of serial killers fear: it seems like rodgers' point is that a professional athlete should not have anyone in his inner circle with whom he can just kick back and be average. nothing good can come of that, brendan. it's an experiment in creating psychosis.]

my point about choosing better friends is this: clearly, these young men have a lot of people around them who think it's hilarious to take videos of their famous friends doing totally normal young man stuff and posting those videos on the internet. raheem, jack*, saido, i want you to understand something: those people are not your friends. those people are assholes and the fact that they insist on using images and videos of you in private moments in ways that are almost guaranteed to get you in trouble gives me the impression that they're likely harbouring some petty jealousy about your success and talent. rather than performing some great mea culpa about having a cigarette, i suggest you use the ensuing media shitstorm period to contact those "friends" and ask them why they thought it was such a great idea to post this stuff where anybody and everybody could see it. i don't have a lot of friends, but i'm confident that those i do have would never put anything on the internet that would get me public or professional trouble. and believe me, i've given them the ammo. [*in the case of wilshere, a lot of his "problem" photos weren't taken by friends but by paparazzi or onlookers. still assholes, but you have less control over them.]

with seasons winding up and competitions in europe going down to the wire, there's certainly lots to follow in the soccer world. however, i will refuse to follow the media histrionics and puritanical rage that accompanies leaked photos and videos of young men behaving like totally average young men. i will continue to file such reports into the "whatever" folder and quietly hope that these guys manage to connect with people who aren't such shitty friends. failing that, if your friends abolutely must post your embarrassing personal moments to the internet...

then i hope that you're at least able to turn the situation into something that just shows that you are still a great player who is awesomely above it all...

and if you'd like to see a few stories that are actually interesting and relevant about the above-mentioned players, perhaps you'd like to check out

... how raheem sterling's story illustrates that the support of family and community, combined with the relatively low barriers to entry for soccer mean the sport really can change the life path for a youth "at risk"

... how jack wilshere had a profound effect on the life of one sick boy [you should probably have a box of tissues on hand for this one]

... how saido berahino is a perfect example of the redemptive potential of the united kingdom's immigration system [so suck it, ukip]

and as for the rest of us, i think we should all pause imagine what life would be like if we had our worst moments posted on the internet. 

16 April 2015

world wide wednesdays :: what is it about greenland?

i am a person of strange preoccupations. this blog wouldn't exist if it weren't for that fact. some of them are very broad, like "politics", which people accept. others, like the fact that, aside from my obvious cat lady-ness, i have a fascination with owls, are seen as quirks. and then there are those that cause people to furrow their brows and ask: why? and most of the time, i have to shrug and say that it's not like i chose to be interested in those things, it just sort of happened. like gil grissome on csi explaining how he chose death as a profession, i like to think that my interests chose me.

of all my weird interests, though. none raises as many eyebrows as greenland. perhaps it's because people rarely, if ever, think about greenland's existence. or maybe it's because, from a certain point of view, there's just nothing there to be interested in. or they could be puzzled at how a person who lives in a country with vast expanses of arctic terrain should be so completely taken with a country made up entirely of arctic terrain. [i get that one. even i can't figure out why i should be so taken with a place that is more or less an offshoot of the canadian north.] in other words: i can't explain my behaviour. [ok, one tiny little bit of pseudo-explanation: i'd been sort of interested in greenland when i was very young- a consequence of the same globe that fired my plan to be the queen of new guinea- but hadn't thought about it for a very long time. then, several years ago, i had an incredibly vivid dream about going to greenland that came out of nowhere. i hadn't discussed it, hadn't read anything about it, hadn't been in touch with anyone who'd been there. i just had this dream and then all of a sudden, i started remembering how interesting i'd found the place lo those many years ago. i've no idea why my brain decided to return to greenland, but my brain is an irascible bastard and i try not to talk to it very much.]

greenland, almost exactly as it looked in my dream
at this point, though, i can't imagine why people would argue why greenland isn't interesting. there's all sorts of stuff going on there that we should know about. for starters, while it may have been mapped, it's remains one of the few great wilderness areas of the world. despite being the globe's largest non-continental island [ok, even i admit that "non-continental" is kind of cheating], it is the least densely populated country on earth. there are fewer than 60,000 people on the entire island and most of them are concentrated heavily in the southwest. there is a giant national park of over a million square kilometres that has precisely zero year-round residents. it has jagged coastlines and mountains and icebergs you can run around on and beautiful, grassy, flowery fields in the summer and the entire inner portion is a gigantic slab of ice and the most revered deity is a sea goddess whose father threw her off a boat and chopped off her fingers when she tried to climb back in and her fingers turned into seals. how is any of that not amazing?

greenland is one of the last areas of the planet to be settled by humans [insofar as it has been]. people didn't arrive in greenland until approximately 2500bce, with only a smattering of settlements present for hundreds of years. the dorset culture of northern canada seemed to push out previous settlers in the west around 800bce, after which greenland remained more or less stable for some time. eric the red arrived around the year 1000 and established a few viking settlements, but there was so damn much room and so much wildlife to hunt that none of the groups was particularly bothered by the others. around the year 1300, the thule group, the ancestors of today's inuit, arrived and drove out the dorset. the norse didn't particularly care and the thule decided that if the norse didn't care and were happy to stick to their little area on the south coast, then they couldn't be bothered to drive them out.

sedna, patron goddess, bad manicure recipeient
that arrangement suited everyone just find until they realised that they had all arrived during a period of atypical warmth. after a few decades, greenland started to drift back to its old, cold ways, making farming difficult and making game scarce. this brought on conflicts between the thule inuit and the norse, conflicts which the norse lost badly. as a result, the europeans decided that they'd had enough and those who were left alive hauled anchor and went back to whence they came. so in theory, greenland was inuit owned and operated from that point on. but europe saw it quite differently, meaning that several different crowns laid claim to the island, including portugal, because it was so close by, and, after several different claims and shifts in continental power, where everyone said they owned greenland but no one actually wanted to live there, the island was "officially" claimed by the danish crown, who exercise control over it to this day.

that's right, greenland is still in the process of becoming a fully independent country. successive votes for greater autonomy have not yet disentangled it from its colonial clutches. despite a preponderance of natural resources, the island remains heavily dependent on a financial stipend from denmark and cutting that off too quickly would throw the country's fragile economy into chaos. however, successive referendums have called for greater and greater sovereignty, and so progress, while sometimes slow, is being made. greenland continues to elect two members to the danish house of parliament to speak for their interests, but has its own parliament as well, which handles the bulk of national administration. there is some concern in europe over the consequences of allowing greenland to slip away entirely. the united states has maintained the thule air base on the island and, considered from a purely geographical standpoint, greenland is part of north america. however, since it has been politically part of europe in the modern age, that wealth of natural resources i mentioned has remained under european control. it's also given europe [outside russia] a greater say in issues related to the arctic than they would otherwise have. at the moment, everyone is scrambling to establish their own rights to greenland's fishing grounds, shipping lanes, minerals and possible fossil fuels, before things take a turn for the worse- something we'll talk about shortly. the bottom line is that no one wants to wait and see what decisions greenland will make for itself. [side note :: an early test of greenland's continental allegiance may happen within the next few years. for some time, the country has had its own soccer league and a national team, but they have been unable to become a member of international associations because their climate and the resulting layer of permafrost could not maintain a natural grass pitch. not so easily deterred, greenland made a pitch out of field turf, which gained official sanction from fifa in 2010. assuming they are now in the fast lane to being admitted to fifa, greenland would then have to choose the league in which it would compete: concacaf in north america or uefa in europe.]

being as far north as it is, light and dark in greenland is a different experience than it is in most other places. during the winter months, it rarely gets brighter than a sort of twilight. during the summer months, it rarely gets darker. strangely, it is both warmer and colder than the canadian archipelago, of which it is basically an offshoot. the coastal regions tend to get a little warmer, however the inland ice sheet is the coldest place in the entire arctic. it is also said to be the best place to experience fata morgana, which is enough to recommend a visit on its own as far as i'm concerned. the fata morgana is a type of mirage, caused by the bending of light in response to temperature changes. but that description doesn't come close to doing it justice. fata morgana are incredibly vivid, lifelike visions that you can photograph. seriously- the objects don't exist and you can take pictures of them. go check wikipedia, they have the photos. it is a strange and contrasting land. [side note :: as peaceful as it is, greenland holds the unenviable title of being the suicide capital of the world. contrary to what you would think about sunlight deprivation making people depressed, suicides are most common during the summer months, leading some to believe that insomnia caused by the perpetual daylight drives people over the edge. wouldn't that make an interesting plot for a movie? moving on... there are a lot of social causes for suicide in greenland as well. long-term poverty and substance abuse are huge issues and the main driver behind the huge number of suicides. however, greenland is only the worst place for suicides because it is counted separately. if the canadian north were considered as a separate country, its suicide rate would be considerably worse.]

all those are things that i find interesting about greenland and why i hope one day to visit. but there is one really important reason we should all be looking to greenland: it's telling us a lot about where our planet is headed.

greenland is positioned at the "tipping point" of the gulf stream, where it makes a turn southward. here's an informative and hypnotic nasa video to show you the basics of how it works:

the problem is that greenland is melting. now, there is always some melting of the greenland ice sheet- the movement of the gulf stream actually depends on it- but in the last fifteen years, as global temperatures have continued to rise, there is a lot more of the greenland ice sheet dissolving into the ocean. how much more? well, there was a steady loss between the turn of the century and 1970, after which it became stable for the next three decades, until the turn of the next century. between 2001 and 2011, melting increased by over 500%. then 2012 saw the largest annual melt in recorded history.

city life, greenland style
under normal circumstances, the fresh water from the greenland ice sheet mixes with the heavier salt water from the gulf stream and helps zip it along its merry way around the rest of the globe. unfortunately, when there's so much fresh water being added, the difference in density is too great and the two types of water can't mix, which means that everyone just sort of sits there wondering what the hell to do next. [now is the moment when i wish i'd paid closer attention in science classes, so i could come up with a better, smarter way of explaining that.] the fresh water essentially forms a semi-permeable barrier. the salt water can continue to flow, but its momentum is impaired and not as much of it gets past the blockage. i'm sure everyone has had this problem with at least one sink or tub in their home. unfortunately, this clog will not be moved by dumping a bottle of drano on the problem and poking at it with a wire coat hanger. [i know i'm not the only person who does that.]

indeed, there is credible evidence that the gulf stream has slowed by about 7% in recent years and as that has happened, the distribution of nutrients carried by the gulf stream has shifted. also, because of the clog in the global tub, there has been a tendency for the warmer water to back up in the south atlantic, which makes for even hotter temperatures and stronger storms in those areas. further up, along the coast of the united states, the back-up is felt in the most literal way- as a substantial increase in the sea level. although there is always significant fluctuation from one year to the next, the average change along the northeast coast of the u.s. is around 2.5mm per year higher. from 2009-10, there was a rise of 100mm. that represents the kind of change that should happen once in a millennium.

because the slowdown of the water current we all depend on to keep our climate steady, our soil hardy and our sea levels under control isn't worrying enough, our friends at science discovered something new about the greenland ice sheet last year that bodes even worse: it seems that they were a little bit off on their guess of what's under the greenland ice sheet. until last year's breakthrough research, it had always been assumed that the ice sheet was anchored to a very large slab of bedrock. and there were good reasons to think that, because most giant ice sheets are anchored to a very large slab of bedrock. but as it turns out, the bottom of the greenland ice sheet is less bedrock and more... muck. as much as that sounds problematic, it generally hasn't been. greenland has been around a very long time and it's always been sitting on this underground bog, but it's really heavy and there's a lot of water pressure keeping it in place and the muck is pretty thick. the problem now is that, as more and more water comes pouring out of greenland, the muck is becoming slippery and unable to absorb the excess moisture. that means that the entire ice sheet is considerably less stable than we'd assumed. ice sheets move and crack naturally, because the earth is more elastic than we'd like to think, but in this case, we're talking about a giant island that could apparently just sail off into the sunset while we're not looking.

ok, that's not going to happen. none of us will wake up and see greenland floating by our window. but with the ground underneath it shifting more than it should, the ice sheet will start moving and cracking more than it should. as a little experiment, take two ice cubes out of the fridge and put them on small plates. crack one of the ice cubes into two or three pieces and observe the plates to see which of the original cubes melts faster. the greenland ice sheet is an ice cube with enough water to raise the sea level over the entire world by about seven metres. it's already melting faster than it should, and if it starts to split, well, that's where the ice cubes are instructive.

our friends at science say that it's still unlikely that we could see a disastrous melt-off before the year 2100, which is not that comforting to me at all, since i didn't even know that melting greenland some time this century was even on the table. and they're saying it's unlikely with the assumption that there won't be any more spikes in the melting trend, not like the last decade and a half. this is the sort of thing that makes my dreamy vision of greenland turn nightmarish.

i don't expect that everyone will feel as excited by greenland as i do. i don't expect that most will want to travel there. its stoic beauty, magical light shows and remoteness stir something up in me, but that's a personal quirk and everyone's are different. my point [yes, there is one], is that we all need to be a little more interested in greenland. we need to know what it has to tell us and we need to figure out how to heal it. because it turns out that this strange country is holding our future, very precariously, in its fingerless hands.

p.s. :: here's a little greenland-inspired music for contemplation.

13 April 2015

mental health mondays :: the tease

here's a little something different for mental health mondays: a brain teaser. what's the link, you ask?

well, many people argue that the brain is much like every other part of the body, in that you need to keep working it in order to maintain its good health and superior function. as it turns out, the scientific evidence is divided, although the theory sounds reasonable enough. [at least until you think about it too hard. after all, the brain is an organ, not a muscle and encouraging other organs to work harder doesn't generally make them healthier. if it did, alcoholics would have healthier livers than any of us.]

that said, there are a couple of good reasons why i think that exercising the brain is a very good thing for staving off mental disorders. first of all, it forces the brain to focus on something other than depression or anxiety. since those conditions often rob the brain of focus at all, merely the act of concentrating on the problem is fighting them. at the very least, it's a distraction from the things that might be making you feel depressed or anxious. second, problem solving is linked to the brain's "reward" system. we persevere at brain teasers because we know on a molecular level that when we solve them, our brain will reward us by releasing sweet, sweet chemicals. it's the same sort of high you get from doing drugs, but it's a lot cheaper. [and has no side effects!]

so here's a nifty little teaser that i picked up from the guardian [their website has an article with the solution and how to find it if you get desperate, but i'm not linking it, because i'm a very mean person].

to be clear, i'm not saying that these sorts of tests will work against serious mental disorders, so don't think that solving the new york times crossword puzzle is a good substitute for your medication. but if what you need is a break from everyday stresses, or if you just need a dopamine hit, there are a lot worse things you could do.

[feel free to let me know if you got the answer!]

12 April 2015

making faces :: fuchsia fever with armani

oh, you know i love me a good fuchsia. so when i heard that armani had a spring collection called "fuchsia maharajah", i immediately had a conversation with my bank account about the shock it could expect. because when i go to the armani counter without warning, i'm sure the poor account thinks it's dying. as it happens, i ended up doing less damage than i'd initially thought, but due entirely to the fact that not all of the collection appears to have made it to my counters. really, the combination of armani + bold pinks and purples is something that i'm not going to be able to resist.

the collection is inspired by shades of fuchsia used in indian fabric dyes, the bold, saturated shades of cotton and silk, that put europeans in mind of passion, intensity and the exotic. this does continue on the orientalist theme that armani established late last year for their holiday collection, although there isn't any obvious link to southeast asia apart from the name. [the model used for the collection is white and the look she wears has no particular influence from indian makeup trends.]

the collection is very much focused on the lips; it's like the second part of armani's spring collection following the release of the eye tints. there are three "sets" [although each item is sold separately] of colours, featuring a new and limited rouge ecstasy lipstick, a coordinating gloss and a nail polish. the shades are as follows:

"pink blush" : bright, cool pink
"maharajah" : an reddened fuchsia
"garconne fatale" : a deep purple

there's also a shimmery base coat for nails and one new and limited shade of rouge d'armani lipstick, also called "maharajah" [i swear they did that just to confuse their sales associates]. i limited myself [haha] to three lipsticks: the rouge ecstasy shades "maharajah" and "garconne fatale" and the rouge d'armani "maharajah". i thought about the glosses and am still thinking about them, but i'm always questioning how much i'm going to love a gloss, given that i don't wear them a lot. [and while i like the newer armani glosses, i don't love them the way i did the short-lived gloss d'armani formula from 2011.] also, i couldn't find "pink blush" lipstick anywhere, or i imagine that would have come home with me as well.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...