Sunday, December 14, 2014

Taming the Polar Bears - the Final Chapters

Taming the Polar Bears
The Final Chapters

This is going to be blunt and is likely going to hurt. But so be it. 

Why am I closing down this blog and likely removing access to my writing? As always is the case, there are numerous reasons, the most important of which 99.5% of my readers will not be able to get no matter how much they “think” they “get it”.

Personal Boundaries

I may write very openly and honestly but I remain a very private person and I expect personal privacy. That boundary was being crossed too often.

I take a good deal of responsibility, however. At various times since I first started doing the work that would become the basis for Taming the Polar Bears in its current incarnation, I've very much wanted to get involved with helping others. I knew very early on that I had something very special and very powerful; more personal experience with living with a mental health disorder and more experience being within the mental health care system AND being deeply and widely read on not only psychiatric medications but everything to do with psychiatric conditions AND neuroscience. I also knew my writing was very powerful. I also knew I possess unusual levels of empathy and understanding for those who suffer (I had all my life, my family is just that way, but especially since going through everything I have over the past seven years).

So when people reached out to me for help, I found it not only very hard not to want to try help as best I could, I felt it was very much something I wanted to do.

So yes, I can blame myself for appearing to be accessible.

But this quickly spiraled out of control and at some point I could see that though I was very knowledgeable and uniquely understanding and empathetic, in no way was I qualified for helping people deal with their issues. And in various emails and blog posts, I thought I made it clear that I was not available on a personal basis.

I also thought I made it clear that absolutely NOBODY - that would be ZERO people - have access to me regarding my mental states or mental health status.

Yet my boundaries continued to be crossed, people felt they could email me or message me in ways they had absolutely no right to do.

Have a Kit-Kat”

These are words that I will never forget. I probably wouldn't have forgotten them anyway, such is the way my memory storage system etches things into my mind, but I won't let myself forget.

This was the heading of an email I received in response to a private post I wrote on Taming the Polar Bears.

This from a regular reader of mine, one who's always proclaimed to “get it”.

I am, even as I attempt to write this three days later, at a loss to understand this or explain it. I can say a few things that I can only hope might be clear. One, is that an off the cuff dismissive hurtful line like this is so far away from the message I've tried to get across in Taming the Polar Bears, it pretty much demolishes any faith I had that my message was getting through. This is exactly the kind of bullshit I've put up with for years and is EXACTLY the kind of thing that greased my skid downwards towards suicidal hell. I would be devastated by hearing this from the most ignorant person in my life, let alone from a regular reader of my blog.

Then, further in the same email, I get “just chill out and enjoy Christmas with your family”.

This would be the “family” (ex-wife, daughter) that looks at me as a pathetic loser, that kicked me out when I had nowhere to go and wouldn't so much as give me $20 for gas. For fourteen years I worked my ass off and made great sacrifices to keep a roof over these two ungrateful wenches' heads and who “loved” me all that time but when I'm down and out and essentially homeless, they can't get me out of their lives fast enough.

And I'm airily “advised” to just “chill out and enjoy Christmas” with them.

But the defense of this ill fitted “advise” is that it was “well meaning”.

Let me give you all some background about “well meaning advise” and me.

In the seven years I've gone through this, I've never hid anything. I had dozens and dozens of friends who had “front row seats” to my long, sickening descent from successful, financially secure home owner into madness and then poverty. None of that was necessary and it was largely facilitated by people who had no fucking clue whatsoever what they were talking about bombarding me with “well meaning advice”.

I could fill a book with the “well meaning advice” given to me and occupy a condo building with the people who shoveled it to me. All of it completely useless and mostly harmful bullshit. Because NONE of it applied to a person of my unique situation.

And I'd explain and explain and explain and yet the fucking bullshit kept coming. And all the more my skids were greased and the further I descended into hell.

Meanwhile, I've seen twenty or more psychiatrists and dozens more mental health care workers of all kinds and NONE OF THEM could help either.

Meanwhile, I've attempted to make it abundantly clear that I have about the worst form of the worst psychiatric illness (I'd argue that in some ways my advanced form of bipolar is worse and harder to treat than schizophrenia) and that the likelihood of ANYONE going through ANYTHING similar is remotely, remotely slim.

Yet for reasons that I just utterly CANNOT fathom, people feel they're “qualified” to write me and give me “advise”.

This is not only with online “friends” but people in real life. There is no possible way on earth anyone could have any idea of what I'm going through let alone what to do, yet everyone seems to think they've “been there” and are thus “qualified” to say something.

This went on for years and greased the skids for my descent into suicidal hell.

Then at some point I just had to firmly say enough was enough (by this time I was finally beginning to get my mind back) and I established a ZERO tolerance policy for any “advice” or “input” into my condition from ANYONE.

I try to establish these boundaries yet people still feel entitled to cross them.

All because I “put myself out there” on my blog.

So this tells me two things:

People SAY they read my blog and get something from it but this crossing of boundaries tells me they don't. Getting told to “have a Kit-Kat” confirms that they don't.

That makes me feel, quite reasonably, that my writing has been a waste of time and my precious, precious energy. But more on this later.

Two, is that if people continue to cross the boundaries I try to establish and further tax my very, very limited energy resources – not to mention pound me down further with ignorant bullshit “advice” - then I simply cannot afford to “put myself out there” as I have.

You see, unlike the majority of you whose “suicidal thoughts” are just boo-hoo feeling sorry for yourself “I can't go on” bullshit, I – for reason that are VERY unique to my RARE form of bipolar – face real suicidal danger. If I slip down there, it's NOT because I'm feeling boo-hoo sorry for myself.

I don't know how many posts I've dedicated to this and people “claim” to “get it” and then I still get bullshit like “have a Kit-Kat”.

MEANWHILE, I have to put up with harassment bordering on stalking from someone who claims to “love” me. And this person too is full of ignorant assumptions and “well meaning” “support” and “input”. And none of this is welcome, none of this is needed, none of this is useful. Yet if I try to explain this and make it clear, I get all this passive aggressive guilt trip boo-hoo bullshit that puts me on the spot. And then I have to waste valuable and preciously little mental energy on dealing with all of THAT.

There are many reasons people do things like this and why they “think” it's “well meaning” but I'm going to have to get to that in another piece.

Meanwhile, I literally CANNOT afford to put myself out there anymore. I walk a tightrope everyday that very, very, VERY few people can know of, let alone fathom and comprehend. I do NOT need people pushing me off that tightrope.

As for deleting the contents of Taming the Polar Bears, I'll get to that in another piece as well.

I am well, well aware how much this hurts but as Wei Wu Wei said:

So yeah, truth hurts but it takes pain to make some people learn. Then again, seeing the amount of pain some people are willing to bear and never learn anything, I'm not so sure even this will help. But that's not my problem.

I have one criteria and one criteria only for my life now - I do WHATEVER it takes to stay alive. If that means hurting some people, so be it. But don't feel bad, I've cut many, many others out of my life for bullshit I won't tolerate, including, just two days ago, my own daughter (more later). 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Evolution and Suicide - Part Two

I ended off  the first part of this series "if evolution is essentially a drive to survive, a drive to reproduce, why would suicide genes have survived?". "Or, on the new understanding of DNA, why would it have developed?"

As I've stated, I didn't particularly feel in control of any of my suicidal drives. It for all the world felt like something else was in control. After coming out of the states of those various episodes, I'd think that it didn't make sense. The survival instinct is the most powerful in any species; why then would anyone be driven to self-destruct?

To answer those questions I suppose it's best to start with two obvious points. One is the super key evolutionary strategy of genetic diversity. It's not the only strategy, it's just a pretty good one. That's why humans dominate the earth. We are more genetically diverse (and this is most true in how our brains vary) than any other species on earth. We are more successful than our very closely related fellow primates because we are more genetically diverse. It's why we produce seven foot tall basketball players, tiny gymnasts, Mozarts, and Einsteins all out of the same basic species. This doesn't work by design (don't listen to the Creationists on this), it happens more or less by blind fluke; produce enough variations and enough of them will "work" to make the whole species better. The environment may well one day trump all this "success" (obliterate the human race in a massive asteroid strike for example) but that's neither here nor there at the present time. Right now we're "successful". And this process has worked by grinding out the weak. Or at least it did until we evolved the smarts to start overcoming many of these weaknesses with modern medicine and other meddling. 

Two is that "you" are not important. The survival of the species is. Yes, as much as the "everybody-is-"special"-and-gets-a-gold-star" liberals would like you to believe otherwise, you and your survival are actually extremely insignificant. It's the survival of the species that's important. The odd individual may prove significant (those that made those medical discoveries for example) or sometimes individuals band together to become significant (the Bolsheviks for example) but by and large most individuals are completely insignificant. Your disappearance won't make even the tiniest little difference to the survival of the species. (yes, I know, quite sobering, isn't it) But take heart, entire civilizations have disappeared or been wiped out and the homo sapiens species, in case you haven't noticed, has carried on quite fine. 

So if we accept that the species is more important than the individual then the idea of suicide genes starts to make more sense. I know this runs counter to every liberal's core thought process but we're not talking philosophy here, we're talking raw evolutionary forces. The latter has been around for four billion years, modern philosophy for about ... what? A couple hundred or so? Evolution could give a fig about our puny thought systems. 

In truth, I shouldn't disparage left wing
 philosophy so much. It's actually pretty important and itself has an evolutionary basis but that's for another time and place. It's just that it doesn't overcome all countering evolutionary forces (evolution is all about back and forth jousting between competing forces, after all). Or at least not yet. So I shouldn't imply that those so inclined shouldn't try. Trying is the whole point in making any given evolutionary strategy "work". 

"Stress" is not a modern invention. We've certainly created infinitely more sources for it, but it's hardly new. What we experience as stress originates in the stress response system, a very old piece of brain hardware indeed. It involves the limbic system and some deeper brain hardware. Not all animals experience stress to the degree that we - and our higher evolved animal cousins - do which is why we have developed such a wide variety of illnesses that arise from stress. 

The stress response system evolved for situations of danger or injury. Like a charging rhino for example or getting gored by that rhino. Those are acute, short term examples. But there are chronic examples. Like long term starvation. Chronic hunger will trigger the stress response system. This is, of course, to kick a person into action (fight or flee, or in other words, do something drastic (like wipe out the next tribe over and take 
their food) or go elsewhere in search of food). 

It's not useful - and we're talking strictly in terms of evolutionary design here - to have weak people around in situations like this. Which is of course why so many people don't survive these situations. Don't fight or flee properly? Out of the gene pool you go. Now I was dead wrong about lefty liberals before. I was wrong because somewhere along the line we - human, primates, elephants, dolphins/whales and a few other species - evolved "empathy centres" in our brains. 

Empathy centres mean we feel others' pain along with our own. It impels us to help those others when they don't fight or flee properly. This helps the tribe, you see (and hence the species at large). So despite what the right wing conservative or libertarian kooks believe, there is a massive evolutionary advantage to lefty liberalism. (sorry, just had to sneak all this in there). 

But life on earth is tough and always has been thus (and of course today's version of "tough" doesn't hold a candle to tough times from the past (thanks in no small part to all those strong empathy centre liberal types)). And there are only so many of the weak that can be dragged along in times of chronic stressful conditions. Somebody has to go or the whole tribe (and species at large) will be in danger. 

It's never really been "cool" in our evolutionary history to just up and cull out the weak. We may have let them die, but it's not cool to kill them if they don't just die out themselves. So what to do with those who are too weak and are a drag on the whole tribe? 

Evolution of course has an answer and that answer is the suicide gene. Certain people will be "pre-programmed" to self-cull if the going gets too rough. 

The going gets rough, this triggers the stress response system, the brain and body gets flooded with stress hormones and the presence of these hormones will activate certain genetic responses (this is extremely well known and established) and one of the possible responses is to self destruct. The weak must be culled from the herd and if no one else will do it, then it must be a self-activated act. 

Bing-bang-boom, there ya go. The answer for my quest for "why?"

And on a deep subconscious DNA level, the tribe approves. Because the tribe knows that this self-culling is necessary for the tribe to survive. Which is why no one really gives a shit if someone commits suicide - on a deep level we understand that it was meant to be and for good reason. 

And even those with strong empathy centres that 
want and try to help have limited reserves of empathy and energy when the situation is really difficult. 

The sixty-four thousand dollar question then becomes; to what degree should our modern day tribes - society and smaller family units - be willing to help those in danger of "self-culling"? 

And of greater importance, what should that "help" look like? 

The answers to that are not easy nor one dimensional but the exploration of which is more or less the raison d-etre of this blog. A more concise summary of what I think that help should look like is in the works but I always start with my Positive Difference Making Fundamentals.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Evolution and Suicide - Part One

[updated July, 2015 - BGE]

All my interest and research into mental health issues began with a single question - why? 

I wanted to know why I was driven to take my life. I've been through many episodes of high suicidal risk and none of them felt particularly under "my control". None of them particularly felt like a "decision" by "me". It for all the world felt like a deeper drive than that. 

So I simply wanted to know why that was. I simply wanted to know "why?". My search for the answer to that simple question took me through somewhere around a million and half words worth of science books and research papers. I explored every field of science there is that's related to human behaviour from genetics to evolutionary psychology to social sciences to the science of addiction to neurobiology and to neuroscience itself. As ALL behaviour originates in the brain, thus neuroscience provides the best answers to questions regarding human behaviour. So I spent considerable time and effort studying neuroscience. As genetics and environmental conditions shape the brain, I explored those two fields a lot too. 

While I became very, very interested in ALL aspects of mental health, my biggest interest was in the science of suicide. After all, that is by far the most serious consequence of a given mental health disorder.

The following series explores one possible explanation that I found. It's just a theory of course but I think it's a very good one. It's based on solid science and something most people don't get to study - what it's like to have this drive within oneself. 

This series is a rough draft for now. I hope to one day flesh it out more and include all the proper citations. 

The Evolutionary Basis for Suicide

Almost everyone will experience emotional pain in their lives. (1) Sociopaths and psychopaths are exceptions (definitions of these vary but the basic point is that they don't feel emotions and especially empathy and empathetic pain like most of us do).

Many people who commit suicide do in response to acute or chronic emotional pain. But if almost everyone experiences emotional pain, what makes the pain of suicide victims different? Is it that much worse?

I've spent a lot of time talking to people about emotional pain or hearing or reading their stories. I've talked to numerous street people and heard their stories. I heard many stories during group sessions in the hospital. There are a LOT of VERY painful stories out there. 

What makes one person's pain more severe than another's? This is virtually impossible to quantify. One person seems to be able to bear unfathomable amounts of pain and carry on. Another person gets diagnosed with PTSD after the death of a cat. 

And why are some people so driven by pain that they actually kill themselves? Or are driven to kill themselves? 

This is an extremely hard question to answer (and no, you don't have the answer). I have seen and come up with some good possibilities though.  

One of my lifelong interests is the study of evolution and how all that works. I accept that all life is shaped by evolutionary forces. This has been demonstrated on so many levels under so many conditions that it is really beyond doubt. All that is in doubt - and which is the never ending subject of debate among those in the field - is the precise mechanism for this or that present day feature (like homo sapiens' vaunted frontal lobes or a particular wing design on a certain species of bird and countless so on). The thinking among the leaders in evolutionary theory (evolution itself is not a theory but the processes of it are) is that nothing exists without an evolutionary basis. If it exists today, it exists for a reason. If it exists today, that means it survived the millions and millions of years of evolutionary grind (which is not to say evolution won't eventually grind out of existence many of today's "features" if conditions change). 

All things evolve to adapt and any given feature of any given species today will have evolved to either adapt to something or for purposes of genetic diversity (a very key and basic element of evolution often overlooked. A lot of what is passed on through genetics may not have a discernible purpose for current conditions but is there in case of differing conditions that may arise. In other words, some sort of change in environment conditions could trigger that gene into expression). 

So if one accepts this as true - and I do (and I've not seen any convincing arguments to the contrary) - then one has to look at suicide in this light. It must be here for a reason. In the world of evolution, all animal behaviours have a reason. Or had a reason at one point (and its present day redundancy hasn't been eliminated by adaptive evolutionary forces yet). 

Evolution grinds out the weak. That's what it does. Present day bleeding heart liberals can get themselves all in a tither about that but the relentless forces of evolution could care not a fig for such baseless sentiments. Evolutionary forces will grind on regardless of our pathetic little efforts to stop them. 

And so it is, I believe, with suicide. Those that commit suicide are the weak and the inner drive is one of evolution's neat little tricks to cull out the weak. 

I don't think one can understand genetics and deny there is a genetic component to something. Evolution works through genetics. Evolutionary "features" are passed on through genes. Not all genes will necessarily be "triggered" into action though. The basic ones that make up our physical features and most brain features will but a great deal need some sort of environmental trigger to activate them. People with a genetic predisposition towards heart disease, for example, won't necessarily get heart disease; there needs to be certain environmental factors (or the power of belief in their own mind might well do the trick). 

So if we accept that there is a gene for every conceivable and possible human condition (and we should), then there is a "suicide gene". It won't necessarily kick in but certain environmental factors will do just that. And those factors will involve stressful situations (things that trigger the stress response system). Each individual's response to stress will itself be genetically determined. Genes decide how much or little one responds to a potentially stress triggering situation. So put together a highly sensitive stress response system and a suicide gene and you've got the potential for a self inflicted death.

Further on genes and genetic expression; it has recently been discovered that DNA does NOT, as has been the belief all along, stay the same throughout its carrier's life. People's DNA can change through the course of their life. It's a pretty big discovery and it's completely thrown for a loop a lot of science based on the previous notion that DNA was "set for life" (including the science of DNA identification). Why does it change? For the simplest of evolutionary reasons, I'd wager - to adapt. (and if one understands and accepts the basics of evolutionary adaption, that DNA would "adapt on the fly" makes perfect sense). 

What this means in our case here is that if you didn't start out life with a suicide gene (or DNA), then you may well develop one as life's conditions kick you this way or that. It also might mean you develop more beneficial DNA but we're looking at suicide here and the downsides of this changing DNA. Or why such a gene might have an "upside". 

The reason I bring up this seemingly trivial bit of recent scientific discovery is that it's particularly relevant in my case. 

For those of you who are not aware, I have a genetically identical copy of myself. Identical twins are the only humans on earth that start out with identical DNA. This is because the fetuses of "identical twins"  are the result of a single fertilized egg splitting in two and two different life forms growing from that single split egg and thus having an absolutely identical string of DNA. This is in contrast to fraternal twins who develop from two separately fertilized eggs and thus quite different DNA. Each egg and each sperm carries slightly different DNA. Which is why every single solitary person on earth and in the history of earth is different. With the exception of identical twins. Which is why identical twins are so highly coveted by science for genetic and environmental research. 

I respond very severely to environmental stressors. I have been highly suicidal and driven to suicide. I experience bipolar far more severely. 

If my twin and I started out genetically identical (and this is beyond any dispute), why do we react so differently to life now? 

The answer is twofold.

One is that though we have identical genes, not all of them will be activated in either of us. That is up to environmental conditions. And since childhood, we have experienced different environmental conditions (this alone requires almost book length examination though I touched on this in my post on Genetic and Environmental Factors in Brain Development). These differences greatly accelerated following high school. The big difference is that I ventured out and explored the world and he stayed close to home and stable in one field of vocation. So our differing environmental experiences would be a factor.

Two is this recent discovery of DNA "changing on the fly". DNA expression happens on the cellular level. Stuff is going on at that level all the time. And now it appears that DNA itself is changing, all in response to environmental conditions. So as cells replace themselves, they may well do so with a somewhat different DNA code than the previous generation of themselves. As DNA and cells change over a lifetime, so "we" change. Simply put, my twin and I are likely not genetically identical anymore. Which means that not only will our environments be different, we'll respond to environmental conditions more and more differently. 

And on this model I appear to have "adapted" to eliminate myself (potentially ... the deed is obviously not done yet). 

This leads to the question of "if evolution is a drive to survive, why would a suicide gene have survived?". "Or, on the new understanding of DNA, why would it have developed?" Which are excellent questions.


Much Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins

Many books and research papers on neuroscience

Numerous, numerous research papers on social psychology, neuropsychology and other related behavioural studies

Please proceed to Part Two.


I hadn't read this since originally writing and posting it a year and half ago. I was in a pretty dark place when I conceived of and composed this, having just recently being discharged from yet another hospitalization to remove myself from danger. Yet rereading it now, it still holds up strong and I have seen nothing in the interceding time since my original writing to change any of the foundations for my theory and in fact would say that I have only accumulated more evidence (and I may at some point flesh this out further).

I can say that I have moved considerably away from being tortured by this "self-cull" self-destruct drive. It's still there at some times, which I touched on in Random Thoughts on Bipolar and the Inevitable and its follow up companion piece but overall I continue to improve many aspects of my mental health and outlook towards life.