fighting psychosis with psychosis

This method isn’t for the weak-minded:

But I’m not a bit weak-minded and the strategy described below suggested potential when I tested it on myself. (That makes this an n=1 study—hardly scientific—but exploratory research has to start somewhere!).

Background: I carry a long and well-documented case of bipolar disorder, and have become skilled at handling the “lows”. However, the manic “highs” still catch me by surprise. They come fast and full-blown, and I’ve often (until recently) acted recklessly when they occur. The resulting social damage proves costly.

Moreover, a full-blown mania often brings with it some degree of psychosis; realize of course that psychosis lies on a spectrum, it is not binary (sane vs. insane). For my part, I become grandiose and make decisions based on information filtered through that grandiosity, i.e., at some level disconnected from reality.

Now this state is basically a “drug high”, in that it is a chemical situation in my brain causing the mania. As a youth I tried cocaine and the feeling compares.

The psychiatric medicine I take controls the worst of the disease, especially the “lows”, but fails to inoculate me completely against mania. So I still have to learn how to effectively handle these “drug highs” as I don’t expect them to ever go away completely.

It becomes a management game:

So I got to thinking: “Why not intentionally induce manic psychosis in a safe, controlled environment so I learn how to pilot the condition?”. In doing so I’ll develop skill at managing unexpected manic episodes when I experience them in the real world–I’ll strengthen my mental power over them.

This is kind of like becoming well-practiced at meditation when you are relaxed, so that the skill proves easily accessible during an anxiety attack. (For me, the manic episodes impact me far more than anxiety, which also affects me; I’m just trying to draw a useful analogy here. In other words, I’ve ruled out meditation and mindfulness as short-term solutions to my mania challenge, though I’m certainly developing these tools for my long-term repertoire).

So I took a hit of LSD to induce grandiosity, euphoria, and delusional thinking; and then worked diligently and intently through the resulting altered state to learn how to handle the condition effectively, to learn how to take control.

The strategy worked! My recent subsequent manic episode came on quickly and intense, but I was able to recognize the state immediately and take appropriate countermeasures before making any reckless decisions.

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysergic_acid_diethylamide.

thriving vs. merely surviving

Often I lose sight of my longterm goal (to thrive) to make room in my psyche for my short term survival goals related to preventing self harm. Realized this morning that this behavior only “positively” feedbacks into the distress itself—that giving a measured quantity of attention toward thriving will better dampen the distress in the long run. (We call this dampening “negative” feedback in control engineering—the terms don’t sound intuitive: In engineering, “negative” feedback is the good kind of feedback when you want to keep something stable [1]! See the bottom of this post for pictorial examples of the two types of feedback).

So on that note, here are two ways I’m directing attention toward thriving:

Mindfulness proves a well-known strategy for improving mental health [2]. However, the only mindfulness activity that has ever worked for me so far is live performance, whether music or giving a speech. So to increase my mindfulness time, I plan to increase my stage time.

Moreover, I plan to add a mindfulness component to my instrumental practice time. (This has never worked in the past—I become too distracted, but I’m confident I can substantially improve the skill this time). So I’m going back to basics: Fingering exercises on my sitar and basic stick technique on my new drum set. I’m relatively new to both instruments so think that the activity of building mindfulness skill as part of building my instrumental skills will complement each other well.

Inventory of successes: I’ve always been one to count my blessings, but now I’m adding a weekly inventory of each week’s successes. Writing them down. Makes me feel great. Directs my emotions toward states that permit delivery of energy toward thriving!

An Example of Each Type of Feedback Loop

Just extra credit for ambitious readers…

This image comes from [3]. The top part shows how negative feedback keeps a basic ecological system stable. Similar negative feedback loops regulate serotonin production by the brain [4], a key process in stabilization of mental health.

The second part shows how positive feedback causes both system variables, success and motivation, to feed each other’s growth. A mental health example: Consider a system containing only the two variables “mania” and “lack of sleep”. In a person with bipolar disorder, one will feed expansion of the other. This effect is known as “snowballing” by systems scientists; as a snowball rolls down a hill it gets larger, and as it gets larger, its capacity for adding snow increases so it gets larger still.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feedback
  2. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/mindfulness-based-interventions
  3. https://www.scisnack.com/2015/08/04/why-negative-feedback-is-good-for-the-climate/
  4. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4684-3860-4_26

declaring myself an arbiter of proper ladylike behavior

Today I officially declared myself an arbiter of proper ladylike behavior. Issued the announcement via Twitter and Facebook:

Obviously I’m not a perfect lady myself, having immediately mocked the whole concept by using foul language in the second sentence of the announcement tweet.

But this speaks to a fundamental issue: A proper lady will not take herself too seriously! A proper lady knows that “ladylike behavior” is an abstraction and a ruse, yet chooses to employ it anyway. It’s a means to an end, and, for those that wish to participate, one of many pathways an individual may take toward creating a more civil and empowered society (if taken within proper context).

For a transgender lady such as myself, and perhaps for all ladies, ladylike behavior exercises empowerment. It provides an assertion of identity against a world that devalues the feminine. Deep in my transgender femme brain (and I’m only speaking for myself here), becoming a woman is never enough. I need to blossom into a lady. A “proper” lady. This liberates, not oppresses!

The best thing about this process is that I get to define “proper” and define “lady”. I’m creating something that works for me within the current time and place. Certainly I draw on a multitude of others’ etiquette manuals, blog posts, and how-to videos. I tap the Kama Sutra and the Bible for ideas. But the tiara stops with me—I’m the ultimate arbiter of my intent.

However, I plan to actively influence culture with my process and conclusions. Therefore I will add my voice to the growing worldwide call for promotion of civil, polite, feminine, demure (when appropriate), and of course, “ladylike” behavior by (interested) women of all ages. Will never treat my contribution as mandate, as many fabulous women will find no interest in it. This is perfectly fine.

My perspective proves unique in that no one taught me proper ladylike behavior growing up. The result is that I still “man-spread” and chug my beer when I lose mindfulness. As a work in progress recreating my own social construction from the ground up, I assimilate ladylike behavior as a foreigner learning a new language from scratch. This is beautiful and absurd. And it means all assumptions fell off the table.

So in my derivation of ladylike behavior for this social reconstruction I’m learning a lot about it, and intend to share my findings from a position only a transgender lady can offer.

Let’s get started!

Ladylike behavior involves many “musts”. I now issue my first:

“A proper lady never wears flip-flops in public, except at the beach, the pool, or the public shower.”

Proudly developed this “rule” myself; read it in no style guide or etiquette post.

The world is ours, ladies!

Update 27 April 2018

Received the following perspective-enhancing reply to my Facebook announcement:

Just reminds me to follow what I first admonished above:  “A proper lady will not take herself too seriously!”. Also illustrates how “expertise” lies in the eye of the beholder.

hypothesis #1

Hypothesis: Women generally excel at mindfulness over men because living in a patriarchy forces us to.

I can envision an experiment to test the first part of this hypothesis:  Put statistically representative samples of men and women through a battery of psychological tests to measure mindfulness, and then compare the sample medians.

However, establishing the proposed causality would prove tremendously difficult.

head trip mindfulness

I’m consciously altering the voice in my head–the one I use to think–to match my new feminine voice whenever I become mindful of it. Basically, I intend to think in my new voice at all times.

Awareness will drive this change. Perhaps reading silently will help as well.

In short, I consider replacing my masculine head voice with a feminine one a good way to promote a more feminine psychology, as per my obsession.

repairing jewelry as metaphor

Lately I repaired several pieces of jewelry that have been laying around, cluttering my limited storage space. Not only did that action reduce the clutter but it turned out to be a metaphor for reconstructing my life out of my recent psychiatric crisis.

I own an excessive amount of jewelry, which I cling to psychologically as a symbol of my successful transition and femininity. You see, I quickly discovered that one of the best ways to not get called “sir” early in my transition was to wear bright and flashy jewelry, because that image enters viewers’ minds as “female”. (This is also one of the reasons I never wear pants—more on that in a future post).

Occasionally, pieces break. I decided to fix the several that had piled up. Spent hours on the task, and multiple trips to the craft store to purchase the correct supplies. The act gave me semi-mindful time to muse; not wholly mindful because my mind drifted into problem areas I’m working through (which I permitted), but partially mindful because I kept part of my mind busy concentrating on surgically manipulating small components.

Repairing this jewelry, one of the few material items I value intensely, gave me a feeling I was repairing my integrity and my life. I was repairing a symbol of who I am.

Two Other Takes on My Attachment to Jewelry

I treasure the jewelry given to me by men. Makes me feel special as a woman.

My last post explores the meaning I attach to a necklace I purchased for a woman I love but am not able to give her, culminating in my decision to stop hoping and start wearing the necklace myself.

Update 21 September 2017

I have one piece left that I’m still working on. Not a repair, its just that I’m waiting for thicker beading string to come in the mail so that I can remake a necklace–one I made myself–in a stronger form than previous. (From an engineering view, the beads are too heavy for the original string I used. These beads were expensive, so I didn’t wan’t the string to break!).

The point is, I’m taking my time to do this project right, just like I’m taking an appropriate time to heal by not rushing things.

poise, leadership, and mindfulness

I think a lot about poise: How to cultivate it, how to maintain it, what it means. I also think (and write) much about leadership. Concluded that the two overlap substantially. Further concluded that mindfulness forms the glue that holds them together.

Please permit me to elaborate:

Recently I developed my own description of poise for a witty Twitter and Facebook posting. Here is what I came up with:

Poise is an interesting mix of following tradition and inventing novelty. An interesting mix of following and breaking society’s rules.

This does not define poise, but it illuminates my vision of its practice. We follow tradition with etiquette designed to lubricate social interactions, but invent new ways of accomplishing (presumably noble) goals together as needed. We follow society’s “Golden Rule” but work to transcend society’s moral lassitude.

Realized that this describes a good leader.

Realized that this also describes the woman I want to become.

I have always been a natural leader. Not a natural executive or manager, just charismatic. Cut my teeth in leadership development as teenager organizing rock bands, an environment rich in people-skill development opportunities because you have to deal with creative conflict, egos, and drug addictions. (Compare to performing in a youth orchestra, where adults tell you what to play and how to play it, and the biggest conflicts are resolved by the same adults).

When your bassist is high and your guitarist demands the spotlight, you quickly learn to remain poise lest the whole endeavor falls apart.

But other than that I’ve never thought much about poise (until recently). I wore t-shirts and jeans exclusively, cursed like a punk rocker, and didn’t give a damn about etiquette. My best redeeming features were deep kindness and compassion. For better and worse, I moved forward in life by fully leveraging the “sexy rebel straight guy” ethos.

Likewise, I never thought much of cultivating leadership skills until recently. I just “winged it” when I needed to lead something. Also led culturally by inventing and promoting intellectual output, whether new music compositions or new ways of designing nucleotide sequences.

What changed? I decided to become a “lady”. (Please note that I used the word “lady” instead of “woman” here—they form very different concepts). This led to my search for feminine poise. This also led to a complete reevaluation of my workplace skills: I realized that my talent lies with people and technology, not just technology. Many a transgender woman reports this shift—I think the reason emerges from a combination of cultural expectation and consuming large doses of estrogen. Whatever the cause, I emerged ready to lead and/or facilitate in a formal manner.

But that’s my story. Lets get back to the intersection of poise and leadership, and throw in a discussion of mindfulness, because that might prove more useful to the world than my navel-gazing:

Leaders gain the confidence of their followers through poise. During the last presidential debates, Hillary Clinton made a conscious choice to maintain her presence and delivery rather than stop to confront Donald Trump for hovering in her space. While either decision would have been appropriate, she believed the best way to win voter confidence was through the action she felt showed the most self-control, the most poise.

Any loss of poise, though really often just a result of human frailty, knocks down a leader. Consider Donald Trump’s approval rating at this moment. The man can’t sustain a solid presence and has reaped the fruits of it.

Compare to Jesus, whom the Pharisees always tried to trap in some legal black hole. He (reportedly) always held it together with them, delivering nothing less than wit and wisdom. Jesus also provides a model of when it is appropriate for a leader to lose their cool: We consider his anger at the money-changers in the temple justified.

And here is the first place mindfulness comes in. I bet Jesus held complete in-the-now presence of mind while overturning those tables.

Poise requires mindfulness to execute, and leadership requires poise as I’ve demonstrated above, so the three concepts interact. In my example of Hillary Clinton’s debate decision above, she mindfully delivered the content while evaluating the circumstance. To manage this her mind could be nowhere else.

Similarly, in my work toward developing stereotypical feminine poise, my mindfulness skill strengthened as I learned to live my regular life while monitoring how I walk, sit, stand, talk, etc.

So my formula for leadership development from here on out involves mindfulness practice.

working out my concept of “lady” (part 2: my revolutionary demand)

I’m developing a vision of what “being a lady” means to me (and only me!), with the full intent to live it out boldly and dramatically for the rest of my life.

Notice I said “lady” here, not “woman”. I feel I have to constantly remind people that these are different concepts. As I’ve stated before, I’ve achieved womanhood, but not my personal ambition of becoming a “lady”.

The first challenge is one of defining what it means to be a “lady” for myself. The second is the mechanics of adopting the habits, mannerisms, and skills for external presentation of the identity; and the mindfulness and psychology for internal ownership of my ideal.

On this blog I have wrestled with these concepts. Will continue to. Broken it down so far into two (there are more to come) major themes: accepting and embracing sexism, and “stagecraft”.

Accepting and Embracing Sexism

From my post “corset training”:

…and it involves taking on many of the classic social constrictions women have faced through the ages. I’ve made a significant personal commitment to this process…

While I fight the patriarchy ideologically, and believe that no woman should be subjugated to it against their will, I’ve accepted that the patriarchy isn’t going away in my lifetime, and that being a woman means dealing with it. I suspect that one yardstick for evaluating how much of a “lady” a woman is measures how well they conform to the patriarchy’s social expectations of women.

So I’m allowing myself to be subjugated. Going to enjoy every moment of it! And that last statement is where my feminist revolution continues—I’m claiming the oppression and re-spinning it for my own ends. For my own liberation.

Plan to live demure while simultaneously expressive. Quiet while loving at full volume. Poised while punk.

One of my favorite things to do is tell men off for not treating me properly. Men frequently send me unsolicited photos of their hardware, and I take extreme joy in responding:

“I am a lady and expect to be treated like one.”

This is my revolutionary demand: I am a lady and expect to be treated like one.

Stagecraft

Here I’m referring to behaviors such as posture, how I walk, how I talk, etc. I see a clear role for the adage “fake it ’til you make it” here: I’ll work on feminine presentation consciously until it becomes habit, and then I’ll keep working on it. For example, while typing this post I stopped myself from “manspreading” multiple times—frequently put my knees and calves back together where they belong.

See Also

My post “double agent for the patriarchy” explores the concept of embracing sexism (and liking it) while holding feminist ideals.

The post “working out my concept of lady (part 1)” begins this series by exploring ancient Hindu evaluations of ladylike behavior and social expectation.