my brother/ schizoaffective disorder, JME memoriam, mental illness internet wisdom/ links

hi all, a post on mental illness dedicated to JME.

joined open salon myself in early ~2009. my fraternal twin brother died a year later of suicide, brought on by his schizoaffective disorder. it was his 2nd attempt. in his 1st attempt he checked into a hotel and stabbed himself in the chest with a knife. and then called 911. it sounds very strange and weird but of course that is the nature of mental illness. after that 1st attempt my mom told me (according to the doctor, or maybe mental health support group, dont recall exactly which) that some schizophrenics just keep trying suicide until they "succeed".

of course "succeed" is a very weird word to use in this context. our language tends to fail in describing mental illness related situations. its interesting that language is based on logic aka rationality and normal functioning. there is a somewhat famous question in science where linguists and philosophers sometimes remark that thinking and language are so connected that if a language doesnt have a concept, we might not be able to think it. mental illness seems to evoke some of this. other words cross the two worlds meanings or have dual/ near meanings like lucidity.

my brother had seizures in his early 20s. he took medicine which seemed to control them. he never told me about them himself, found out about from my mom. this helps my family understand and come to grips that it was likely a biologically oriented illness. in other schizophrenics sometimes there are no other physical symptoms. there is a lot of literature on the "slightly different" biology of schizophrenics. unfortunately there is no "smoking gun", its a very mysterious disease much less understood than many others, the "causes" are very murky. did read a lot of science & research over the years trying to understand some piece of it. one definitely gets a strong "blind men and the elephant" feel around the whole subj.

schizoaffective is one of the harshest mental illnesses one could imagine. that might sound a counterintuitive thing to say & it would be terrible to rate them, but they do have different impacts. schizoaffective is nearly a combination of two separate illnesses considered full, sometimes utterly devastating mental illnesses alone: schizophrenia and a mood disorder. in other words, in "typical" schizophrenics (which itself is a tricky concept) there is not "also" an associated mood disorder. in my brother, the mood disorder was depression. schizoaffective again has no definitive biological diagnosis so even that is a "educated guess". but it really seems to fit esp in retrospective analysis, connecting the dots.

we (the family) had a lot of trouble even coming to grips with the schizophrenia diagnosis even as he was in the middle extreme depths of it. he didnt seem to suffer the classic delusions. however, for long stretches, he felt that it was unnecessary to eat and that if it really was, god would figure out some way to feed him. so an anorexia apparently not based on body dysmorphia (again, a strange combination). talked to him on phone when he was in the hospital once as he explained that. he was hooked up to a forced feeding tube and was complaining about how uncomfortable it was.

and then finally realized and admitted he really was, to use the impolite and utterly-taboo-among-professionals but very accurate vernacular/ term, to some degree, "crazy". that may have have been my last conversation with him ever, possibly. dont recall exactly. the doctors did not talk about his food belief system as a delusion but it seems very close. he also said that he felt like a "jackhammer" was in his head causing or evoking negative thoughts about himself. in retrospect, almost like a voice although he never described it that way.

sometimes there are crazy crimes in the news like mass shooters. only a few years later james holmes shot up dozens of people and killed a dozen or so at a theatre near my house, where had seen "dark shadows" movie only about ~6 weeks before that moment. there was a trailer for another movie with gangsters shooting up a movie theatre (which heard may have been pulled from theaters after the event, both the trailer and maybe the movie too).

people sometimes ask "why" these crimes are committed. the simple answer does not really have to do with the emotions of the mentally ill people who commit them. their emotions are mixed up and dont connect with reality the way normal peoples emotions do.

we, "normal people", do things based on our emotions which are a sort of mental regulatory system. one might say the mentally ill have in part disabled or malfunctioning emotional systems. so the question "why did they do crazy thing [x]" is logically answered "they have mental illness". (note for example eg re holmes etc that psychopathy is sometime alone nearly a kind of mental illness, or psychopathic thoughts could be regarded as symptoms of some other mental illness, although apparently some "high functioning" psychopaths are not actually thought to be mentally ill.)

in other words the question why sane person [a] did [y] is fundamentally different than why mentally ill person [b] did [x]. we might say we did [x] because we were angry, happy, or sad. to say a mentally ill person eg is "angry" (or other emotions) seems a sort of misnomer. their emotions are mixed up in a way that a normally functioning persons emotions can never exactly be as mixed up, even though we talk about normal people as having mixed up emotions. we might even describe someone eg as "crazy angry" but again this is a kind of misnomer in comparison to mentally ill people who are really crazy angry in a different way.

then there is another followup question "why do they have mental illness". that is a very complex question related to genetics and environment and culture that can fill hundreds or thousands of books, and does so.

regarding the culture: do feel esp american culture may have features that predispose it to a higher rate of mental illness than worldwide. to put it less delicately, its apparently somewhat "rampant". we certainly seem to be more messed up in the way we deal with it. people go to jail instead of mental hospitals. some of this dates to Reagan in the 1980s whose somewhat demagoguic "get tough on crime" attitude (he also apparently cut mental health facility funding) has influenced our current social predicament (eg massive incarceration rates higher than anywhere in the world, etc). was Reagan responding to the zeitgeist, or driving it? probably a little of both as they say, or maybe a lot of both might be more accurate. it might even be a polite understatement to call the US mental health care system "broken".

ie in short, to make it less abstract, a common unifying theme of most mental illnesses seems to be stress (-triggered). and we live in a very stressful culture overall. sometimes doctors advise patients to "avoid stress" somehow. but its a kind of impossible direction in many cases, in many lives. ie the environment itself is toxic.

it is hard to say why any one person gets mental illness. some of it must have biological causes. there is a concept called "Bio-Psycho-Social". however, think we have a very messed up culture in this country, maybe worldwide. our economic system is high-pressure, darwinian, winner-take-all, even more in the US than elsewhere. how exactly do we "pay" to have all these extremely wealthy individuals? dont believe in zero sum economies exactly but do think the wealth inequality is representing a zero sum game. dont blame the individuals, think the overall system is messed up and skewed. ie its a systemic problem. its like the fish in the water that cant perceive the water. but the water is dirty, the fish dont notice directly. they do notice they have trouble breathing or get sick sometimes, but maybe dont realize its the water. or maybe the fish just dont think much and just live in the present.

watched "beautiful mind" in 2001. found the movie very compelling, but could not put my finger on the reason why.

my brother was always "a little bit different" but he was very "high functioning" and we never had any reason to suspect mental illness. we think possibly he was intentionally trying to hide it from us and everyone.

he was in group therapy and taking many (prescribed) drugs (again much more to this story), jobless/ unemployed with nothing to do. there were some somewhat tentative electroshock treatments scattered over several years. not sure exactly how many individual sessions. he said he lost his memory of important stuff after the treatments. he used to hack around on computers and was learning linux, but said he gave up on that after one of his electroshock treatments and he couldnt remember how to do it, the details.

at my brothers funeral, many people told me that they had family member [x] who had mental illness. nobody ever says this in almost any other situation, and then was overwhelmed with others mentioning similar experiences. so, speaking of "dark shadows", mental illness seems almost like the dark matter of the social universe, so to speak. its everywhere & ubiquitous in a way but also well hidden at the same time.

it was not mentioned at the funeral that he committed suicide but it was mentioned tastefully by the minister (as recall) that he had a "medical condition"! in fact do not even recall if he mentioned "mental illness". was a bit shocked almost that maybe he didnt. the reference was very brief, and circuitous, abstract. experienced some cognitive dissonance on that. it seemed a strange omission considering ~5 years of his life, 35-40 ie 1/8th had been seriously affected by his mental illness and had such devastating impact.

hard to remember exactly... or maybe it was that the minister did mention mental illness, and then was thinking that it was slightly strange he didnt mention schizophrenia by name. at a funeral even more so than other social contexts, one of those tricky/ explosive areas that require huge tiptoeing.

funerals and memorials are like that. they might not be detailed on purpose. they are not necessarily a biography. it might not be considered tasteful by the family. dont think my parents gave much direction to the minister. but maybe my brothers wife did. at the funeral his (ex) wife read from his email(s) that were probably close to or basically suicide letter(s). thats a whole other complicated story for another time.

there is some scattered "internet wisdom" on the subject, have collected it over the years, waiting for some moment to write a blog on it. figured/ decided now is it. so heres some of that to peruse.

have bantered with JME quite a bit on open salon over the years in comments, and sometimes in IMs. he was a brilliant/ funny and prolific writer. very well read in religion and philosophy. we were both, shall we say, "admirers of females" and that theme periodically showed up in both of our blogs and was some inspiration for each others reciprocal comments. the cartoon for this blog comes from one of his own blogs. think he may have posted the same cartoon years ago on open salon, vaguely recall it.

JME had a great/ lively sense of humor. he was very jocular. he seemed to make no direct reference to his own depression but possibly alluded to it. suspect some of his online image may have been a persona, partly contrived to deal with his difficult situation. he wrote about a torrid affair with a librarian. what was her name? nicknamed Rena Oblong? was she real? does anyone know? may forever wonder about that. he sure wrote about her in a realistic way, she certainly sounded real.

JME was a huge inspiration for me after my brother died, often thought about my brother when reading JMEs content or writing to him. JME was quite high functioning and there was some reason to imagine/ hope he could live a long life somehow in a tricky equilibrium with his "condition". took solace in having a front row seat to witness that at least one mentally ill person was able to engage with life in a positive way even through the half-documented, half-unstated/unimaginable struggle.

statistically they say that people who are close to someone who has committed suicide are slightly higher at risk to also commit suicide.

another situation known from the schizophrenia or mental illness literature, or also suicides, is that in suicides, sometimes "the family blames themselves". that is a mostly abstract concept to many but in my family it became a devastating reality/ manifestation. have dealt with the "shattered glass" of that for 5 years now. am mostly at peace. but its like big waves crashing for over several years. the little boat rocks hard, sometimes it seems like its tipping, so to speak.

life goes on. or not.

addendum: David Kaczynski, brother of the unabomber, is the one who turned him into the FBI and has recently written a book and his riveting writing is being excerpted on the internet in a few places.[a26][a27] a fascinating case study of (apparent) mental illness & two brothers etc... brother Ted Kaczynski unabomber had earned a Phd. note also Holmes was a high-functioning graduate student.

a. mental illness
  • 1. What Schizophrenia Can Teach Us About Ourselves — NOVA Next | PBS
  • 2. 5 Brain Disorders That Started as Evolutionary Advantages | Cracked.com
  • 3. Is This the Worst Time Ever to Have a Severe Mental Illness? | Allen Frances
  • 4. Debunking Some of the Biggest Myths About Addiction | Alternet
  • 5. The Tortured Genius Just Can’t Help It, Or Why Scott And Zelda Went Mad - The Daily Beast
  • 6. DSM-V: Hoarding, Binge Eating & More New Mental-Disorder Diagnoses - The Daily Beast
  • 7. This Is What Developing Acute Schizophrenia Feels Like | VICE United States
  • 8. How a Cat Parasite Affects Your Behavior, Mental Health, and Sex Drive | VICE United States
  • 9. Anorexic, unmedicated and obsessed with a murder-mad cyber world: Adam Lanza's mental issues went untreated by officials who allowed Sandy Hook shooter's mother to overpower them, probe finds | Daily Mail Online
  • 10. 6 Tips for Recovery From Mental Illness | Dustin DeMoss
  • 11. My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society
  • 12. Bisexual women are 'more likely to suffer mental health problems than lesbians' | Daily Mail Online
  • 13. Mental Health Stigma Creates a Double Life | Elizabeth Barnett
  • 14. Yes, You Can Catch Insanity: Reviving the debate about the immune system and mental illness.
  • 15. The Mentally Ill Have Never Had It Easy - The Daily Beast
  • 16. If Mental Illnesses Were Monsters, This Is What They'd Look Like
  • 17. If You're Skeptical About Psychotherapy... | Dr. Gary Trosclair
  • 18. When Your Family or Friends Need Therapy -- But Are Reluctant to Go | Judith S. Beck, Ph.D.
  • 19. Psychiatrists Analyzed 'Star Wars' Characters And Discovered They All Have Mental Conditions | Alternet
  • 20. Mental Illness--No Motive Required | Dr. Peggy Drexler
  • 21. Mental Illness: A Smoking Gun | Dr. Peggy Drexler
  • 22. Why Do We Fear Mental Illness? | Dr. Peggy Drexler
  • 23. Is Affluenza Real?
  • 24. Artist Suffering From Anxiety Illustrates Mental Illnesses As Real Monsters | Bored Panda
  • 25. You and your Dumb Mental Illness - Beth Mann - Open Salon
  • 26. For the love of a brother/ David Kaczynski knows he did the right t...
  • 27. My brother, the unabomber. By David Kaczynski, Psychology Today
b. jme
  • 1. Anxiety - Our Salon
  • 2. Valued - about JME, and Margaret - Our Salon
  • 3. Goodbye, James Mark Emmerling, my friend from two lives - Our Salon
  • 4. James Emmerling obituary: James Emmerling's Obituary, Columbus
  • 5. Life lost in single-vehicle crash | News | circlevilleherald.com 

Views: 699

Comment by alsoknownas on January 25, 2016 at 12:37pm

Thanks for your heartfelt insight.

Comment by koshersalaami on January 25, 2016 at 12:53pm

Yes, thank you

Comment by JMac1949 Today on January 25, 2016 at 1:51pm

"...a higher rate of mental illness..."  This may be a diagnostic distortion generated by our Big Pharma insurance driven medical industrial complex.  Write a prescription refer the "patient" to a group therapy session and reduce the costs of treatment.  If we took an honest look at the media/internet news feeds on any given day, we might be inclined to diagnose the consumer/stuff, entertainment/gossip driven US economy as the manifestation of mental illness in the vast majority of our society. 

Acceptable social behaviors aside, my experience with dealing with Americans tells me that the vast majority of our population suffer from a paranoiac, neurotic social disease, statistically  mis-characterized as "normality", while a significant percentage are un-diagnosed self-medicating mentally ill who use alcohol, both prescription and illegal drugs, nicotine, caffeine, sugar and other foods to assuage their symptoms so that they can function in the midst of mass neurosis.  Throw in the economically and racially segregated work-aholic, shop-aholic, media addicted, social climbing hyper-religious "normal" folk and we're probably looking at well over 60% of the population who are in need of a "reality check.".

"...my mom told me that some schizophrenics just keep trying suicide until they 'succeed'..." Over the years I've lost several friends and acquaintances to suicides, "overdoses" and "accidents."  I would never presume to imagine their motivation or cast recrimination on any of them, because no one could ever comprehend what they thought or how they felt.  JME wasn't the first and likely won't be the last.  With that said, I expect we'll miss him much more than he could imagine.

Comment by Heidi Banerjee on January 25, 2016 at 2:32pm

Thank you for your open statement on mental illness.

Comment by nerd cred on January 25, 2016 at 2:58pm

I don't see how mental illness can be even mostly social in origin. Maybe social conditions can set it off, make it worse, change the way it presents but it, some part of it, some kind of manifestation of a biological inclination or condition would be there anyway. Why do some guys get PTSD in war conditions, others don't? Why did some WW1 soldiers get shell shock, some not? A friend who had spent a long time in the Marines in Vietnam once asked me if I thought PTSD was a real thing. He wasn't sure. He had coped well all his life with ADHD. In our time there was no treatment. His kid not so much.

he also said that he felt like a "jackhammer" was in his head causing or evoking negative thoughts about himself. in retrospect, almost like a voice although he never described it that way.

For one person I know this phenomenon was described as constant crowd sounds and separately as an inability to filter ambient sounds.

The medical profession tries to give the impression the have this stuff well defined, I think (so we'll have confidence in them, which is necessary for them to do any good.) They don't, I think. I think schizoaffective is what they call crazy when all the boxes can't be checked for schizophrenia. If it's all that plus really selfish, angry and disorganized it's borderline. I may be a tad cynical but still I'm mostly right about that. I don't blame medicine or pharma entirely - some try sincerely but it's a complicated and individual thing and the human brain - who really understands it? True craziness, every time I've seen it and I've been close to a few, is really, really painful. Treatment can be, too.  I can't blame someone for being desperate to escape it.

And thanks for another interesting reading list.

Comment by vzn on January 25, 2016 at 3:19pm

thx for responses all.

NC: my answer: the human is an extremely resilient organism and can tolerate toxic social or environmental conditions, but that does not mean the toxicity of those environments is not present. so your examples show that the environment cannot consistently trigger mental illness. agreed on that. as for the environment not being a major factor in starting most mental illnesses, dont know/ not sure. if you look at the environments of people with mental illnesses, they can often be pretty bad. but our reductionistic medical system tends to fail at figuring stuff like this out. its more of a pragmatic attitude, like fixing a car, as if it doesnt matter what caused the tire (like really bad roads), just figure out how to patch or inflate it again. also, the again idea that suicide is primarily an escape may also be a paradigm/ framework that the healthy impose on the mentally ill. it seems like another way to look at it is that the basic/ near-universal instinct of self-preservation (even among animals!) gets mixed up. much like all the other emotions. eg in line with my brother not eating (again a basic instinct even for animals). also re JMs comment: it seems like a suicide due to drug addictions may be much different in various ways than one by a schizophrenic with delusions. etc....

Comment by vzn on January 25, 2016 at 3:22pm

JM we seem to agree on most of that. "Write a prescription refer the "patient" to a group therapy session and reduce the costs of treatment." not sure exactly what you meant. prescriptions and group therapy are considered part of treatment. what else is possible even in a non pharmaceutically-focused system? totally agreed Big Pharma overprescribing (questionable/ marginal) drugs may be (a big?) part of the problem.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on January 25, 2016 at 3:54pm

"...I don't see how mental illness can be even mostly social in origin..."  Mental illness has a huge spectrum of origins, from autism to PTSD to genetic predispositions.  The stigma associated with crazy, skews the probability of proper diagnosis so that many people just self-medicate, or "tough it out" or seek some kind of "spiritual or religious" help.  Alcohol, substance abuse and domestic violence add to the mix.  Like I said, "...my experience with dealing with Americans tells me that the vast majority of our population suffer from a paranoiac, neurotic social disease, statistically  mis-characterized as 'normality."

Add to that systems of politics, mass media and government that exist to protect an economic system based on the consumption of natural resources and unlimited market growth to the extent that we poison the atmosphere and destroy ecological balance.  This appears to me to be a form of denial, fantasy and narcissism that could be described as a slow form of mass suicide.  In other words:

To Trump and Cruz and the angry misguided people who would vote for them, I would say, if you're crazy enough to want to destroy yourselves fine.  Just don't take my grandson with you.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on January 25, 2016 at 4:15pm

VZN, In my personal experience with the "treatment" of my own various forms of mental illness, on and off for over 40 years, Big Pharma drugs did nothing but blunt emotions with little or no effect on the root source of my afflictions which were a light weight disposition toward bi-polar disorder inherited from my mother, PTSD from growing up in a psychologically and physically abusive dysfunctional alcoholic family and a tendency to self-medicate with alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and the occasional toke of herb.  Of the clinical professionals that I met along the way only two out of seven were of any real help to me.

I never imagined that I'd live to see my 30th birthday, but in 1982, I met my second wife's son and then I mostly grew up.  Over the last thirty odd years, that kid taught me more about myself than any therapist I ever met in forty years.

Comment by vzn on January 25, 2016 at 5:05pm

one other thought on NCs example. a war environment is one of the most dysfunctional, toxic environments to humans imaginable. "war is hell" is actually probably an understatement. the military is designed/ structured to largely conceal this fact/ reality. ofc PTSD is a real psychological condition. but the entire military system is somewhat in grudging denial. a history of this would probably reveal that PTSD was discovered/ isolated outside of the military and pushed inward by well-meaning psychologists against major organizational opposition (just my rough understanding). 

the interrelation between the military and mental health/ psychology field/ professionals etc is interesting to ponder and delve into at length. consider the case of psychologists hired by the CIA to whitewash the torture aka "enhanced interrogation" techniques employed at Gitmo & elsewhere. etc

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