Analysis, Observations, People, Quirky, Reflection

Owl-Whiskered: A Weird, Beautiful Mental State

This post is an update about my perspective on life and my ‘Self’ but first I want to talk about owls, their eyes, and facial quills. Vision is not solely a function of sight.

A barred-owl photographed by “bluthgirl”: [https://imgur.com/gallery/YIvKsQN]

I learned while surfing Tumblr that owls have quills around their bills that function like whiskers. Their eyes are adapted to sift the distant, fuzzy outlines of prey as they glide through the murk of night. These orbs like a pair of crystal balls are naturally far-sighted; to be owl-sighted is the opposite of myopic. Owls need stiff, sensitive quills to navigate the areas closest to their faces such as nest-chambers or tangles of tree-branches. I prefer to understand myself as owl-sighted. My vision scans the dark and hazy horizons of thought and resolves the obscure and abstract: weirdness. I experience temporary astigmatisms in practical life. Though I appreciate the sharpness of hawks, I wish society was less hawkish; it’s possible to be obliquely keen. I appreciate the owl’s superlatively stealthy-soft wings and the near-ghostliness of their calls. I most admire their asymmetrical ear-sockets that enable them to better determine the direction of sounds– a triumph of mutation! The flawed is sometimes more adaptive than the perfected. Factual or not, I discovered a truth in owls and their whiskers; I hope my owlish qualities can come to the fore.

The notes from last Monday’s clinic visit offended me.

After I moved from Maryland to Michigan, I went to a local clinic to ‘establish care’ and was shuffled into the caseload of a physician’s assistant I’ll henceforth call “Greeny”. He’s nice; I found his comments when I registered on their web-platform. “Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder” sits atop his list, though I never used that phrase. We discussed the stimulant I was taking before I left Maryland; I finished my last bottle weeks ago and started living life in a mode I call max-nonlinearity. This post is quickly becoming an opus for ‘nonlinearity’. A falcon is a raptor but so is an owl… differently. My brain is sneaky-soft-nonlinear rather than wind-whipping-target-sticking linear. I’m miffed that the clinic in Michigan has red-tape to cut before I can obtain my drug. Contrapuntally, each paragraph I write further convinces me that I am valuable, medicated or not.

Stoner on a Rollercoaster sent me a message asking if she could reblog any of my work this May. If readers are willing to be self-aware and embrace a growth process, then they should be proud to be mental-health seekers! I hope that my thoughts provide empowerment to all mental-health seekers, whether pharmaceuticals are added to their tool-kit or not. Psycho-active drugs are not Tylenol for the soul, so to speak. Instead, imagine the giant rubber-bands that physical therapists use to help their clients: the goal is conditioning, not anesthesia. When technique and discipline matter, finding a right-fit therapist helps us train to use medicine as a tool in a repairing process. My former therapist epitomized that, for me. I digress: in lieu of sharing something dated or rushing a WEIRD draft I have started, I decided to write something frank about what’s on my mind as of mid-April, 2019. What happened? I started pontificating on owls and quantum physics.

I am about to talk about physics, so feel free to skip below the “O rly?” owl. It’s only two paragraphs, though… so…

I’ve been reading “The Systems View of Life” by Capra and Luisi (2014, Cambridge), which contains a history of scientific thinking in its early chapters. Isaac Newton’s calculus had tremendous practical applications for engineering and early scientific inquiry; it could take us into space but not help us understand what ‘space’ truly is. Newtonian ideas fail on both the grandest and tiniest scales— they’re an illusion of the meso-level at which we exist. Moreover, Newtonian thinking barely begins to understand life; organismic properties emerge from configurations within configurations (etc.) of parts, not the materials that compose those parts! From a systems perspective, combination gives me emergent properties independent of each parent or a simple addition of their traits— some properties can only be unlocked by going places and doing things they have not. Emergent properties cannot be understood by dissecting parts because emergent reality happens via interactions and relationships among multiple components at once.

Popular understanding continues to lag in the mechanical paradigm (a la Newton) but Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrödinger and peers ushered-in an age of quantum-thinking. They discovered subatomic particles were not just smaller pieces. They were patterns. We use wave-equations and particle-equations to describe reality mathematically but our textbooks’ diagrams mis-lead us: an atom is not a collection of marbles made of smaller marbles! Everything is energy moving in fields of space. The analogy I want to make is that whatever “pathology” or “normalcy” ascribed to someone might not be substantive. It could be an interaction effect, something which we have the power to slowly change, decompose, or use under a different paradigm.

This happened the last time I posed for a head-shot..

The “scary part” is accepting that growth and decay are not stoppable; strategies must evolve amid uncertainty. I want to be respectful to those whose struggles are extremely difficult; I am not saying ‘everything is possible’ and expecting a radical recovery for everyone. Still, pin-pointing cause(s) and ‘treating’ them is problematic when what’s both necessary and “scary” is to fundamentally change a whole system of patterns in a person’s life. What I’m saying emphatically is this: don’t judge your possibilities only by the pieces you have because, when parts are combined, they develop emergent powers beyond what can be predicted. If not everything, MORE is possible.

Two d-words are missing from Greeny’s fresh round of diagnoses: major “Depression” and “Dysthymia”.

Measles has its virus and malaria has its parasite but these d-words are not associated with any organisms. They’re reductive descriptions of brain-chemical phenomena which are impossible to directly observe. Mental-health seeking is shadow-wrestling. ‘Dysthymia’ gave a clinical name to what I’d called “the beige ninja”: fatality lurking in the mundane. My therapist described dysthymia as “a lingering, slight depression like a low-grade fever.” The word helped me grapple with patterns. Sometimes I liked the feeling of a ‘definitive explanation’ even if it became a tar-pit but “major depression” stopped being appropriate in August. My tools and training, combined, brought me past the point of being suicidal. “Dysthymia” seems to be less apt every month. As our needs change, so do our tools: words are tools, too.

https://www.sanbi.org/animal-of-the-week/western-barn-owl/

For years, I feared I would be “mentally ill” like my mother (it would ‘make sense’ since she suffers from Major Depression) and avoided diagnoses. Her struggle isn’t endemic to me, though, and I realized her mental illness created the environment that warped my patterns. Having half of her genes doesn’t mean I have a core like hers, or even half-way so, and what comes from within me is (thus) uniquely mine. Thinking mechanistically, we could believe it’s comforting to identify a pathogen or genetic defect “causing” struggle but then cognition would not be miraculously complex; less would be possible. There is no “bug”, anyway, so let it go. Our struggles are unique webs of mysterious cognitive entanglements which, quantum science reveals, mirror the nature of The Universe. Truth is murky. The best we can do is glide into the abyss, hooting, using our whisker-quills, weird ears, and far-sightedness.

What should we do with all these damned d-words?

The ADD diagnosis was the Newtonian-leap in understanding my condition because it allowed for practical changes. Yet a disconnect from truth appears when wedecompose the acronym. First, notice that I didn’t even include the fundamentally asinine “H” for hyperactivity; it does not merit exploration. I am neither deficient nor disordered: get those Ds out of my face. I am neither deficient nor disordered (I repeat). My attention operates in a way that is not optimized to operate in this particular individualistic, capitalist society. Because I understand the socio-economic dysfunction of Western ideals, I have slowly stopped blaming myself.

A future stage of my development could be to embrace a radical self-love — a love of myself as-is.

In my drafts I explored wild analogies about another d-word: disability. “What if most people had wings or if they could levitate to fly? Would stairs be called ‘accommodation’? Would unfeeling people tell us we ought to learn to use grappling hooks?” “What if most people had a racket or hockey-stick instead of a non-dominant hand? Is my racket a prosthesis, then?” “What if most people were born equipped to play baseball: one bat arm, one gloved hand. The bare-handed minority would live in a state of heightened sensitivity, our fingers less protected, but would there also be hurtful stigmas?” I am unsure of how to dispose of this d-word: disability.

Paralympians inspire me more than any other class of athlete.

Dictionary.com describes the Paralympic games as “an international competition for physically disabled athletes”, which is ludicrous because paralympians are able to physically compete in their respective events. By this definition, EVERYONE who plays Quidditch is disabled because none of the competitors can actually make their broom fly. Many paralympians do something unlike other athletes, which is perform symmetrical feats like running and skiing with asymmetrical physiology (in this case, missing legs). Their training is outstanding. They’re so inspiring because they accomplish great things under non-ideal conditions. They demonstrate an excellence that relies more on determination than perfection; it ‘gives me the feels’. *big breath and a few tears* Thank you, paralympians: you are more than just ‘able’.

This gorgeous image belongs to Brook Burling; you can add it and other barred-owl prints to your decor by visiting her site: https://bit.ly/2v1Npl

Whether I want to claim “disabled” or not is a question I have not answered; I’m definitely not better than a paralympian, who is physically disabled. Since I have two Bachelor’s Degrees and a Master’s Degree, I think I am not cognitively “disabled”. When it comes time to check demographic boxes on job-applications, my answer depends on whether the question is simply “do you have a disability?” (‘prefer not to answer’) or if it lists PTSD and asks “have you ever…”. I wish employers could legally confront me so I could say “yes, I lived in a conflict-zone for eighteen months and experienced things most people don’t. I needed therapy for post-traumatic stress and I pursued it.” Yet my executive function has been virtually on-trial since I quit my job as a preschool classroom assistant, at least in my mind. I reached the point of collapse in early 2018, months before starting an NDRI with a name like a Pokémon.

Imagine if most people were born with one bat-arm and one glove-hand but a minority does everything with bare-hands.

That would be an analogy for a part of my condition that isn’t widely acknowledged: Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). There is a part of me that is extra-sensitive to acceptance and status. My hand is ungloved in friendship, family, and romance— but in interviews and professional networking, too. It’s not the same as being shy because I can play characters on stage or in constume. I’ve mostly transcended performance anxiety on trumpet: horns are buffers. I’m an extrovert yet I can be overly careful in uncertain situations. Knowing that I’m ungloved is slowly changing my ability to engage as I develop a second, encouraging inner-voice to balance the doubting voice with me since childhood. That is my present. My past is filled with events that need reinterpreted (and more than a few regrets, since I avoided some beneficial risks because of RSD). A sense that I don’t belong has traveled with me, needlessly, for many years. “RSD” speaks to truth about how I interact with the world; I know I’m playing bare-handed (and I cried the other day while watching “Ralph Breaks the Internet”. That sensitivity is not a disability. Once at blues jam, we were playing “The Sky is Crying” and the stabbing ache of a recent break-up was with me. After my solo, I met eyes with one of our harmonica players; both of our jaws were slack with awe at the uncanniness of what I had played.

This week, I questioned what it means to love my life.

Greeny warned me that he doesn’t mind “prescribing [x] but you should know there are long term side-effects; it can constrict the blood vessels and cause rising blood-pressure over time.” I responded that “six months ago, I would just say ‘fine, let’s do it’ because I didn’t care about living longer. Now, I’m wondering if life can’t be better, after all?” Greeny conflated abundant life with longevity, perhaps. I entertained that. I’m glad I did. Nine months ago, longevity seemed cruel. Hopes seemed like restraints to keep me from escaping the torture. I was deep in ‘the trench’, if not all the way to the bottom. As the video below explains, humans want so much for our sense-of-self to remain steady, we’re willing to stay in our trenches a long time. By the time Greeny finished, I decided to pursue the medication.

Whatever strides I made throwing the d-words off my shoulders, I am not where I want to be in my professional and creative lives. There are things I want to accomplish. It was important for me to see that I am not deficient or disordered; a functional (inevitably socialist) society would help me carve a niche that maximizes my gift for nonlinear thinking. But this is America (nod to Donald Glover: video / analysis). The United States is not configured to benefit most of us. It became what it is by exploiting indigenous people, abductees, and immigrants. The Childish Gambino allusion is not made lightly; I think certain acronyms and the pathology they imply are ways to shift blame back onto us (to “shake the frame”) rather than fix the systems that exacerbate suffering. (And just because your struggle is real and unique doesn’t mean that the environment we share is not making it worse). Figuratively speaking, this society expects me to play ball— whether it’s baseball or tennis or hockey, whether we need a bat, a racket, or a stick — whatever equipment we need to keep from having to use our bare, sensitive hands to play these fast, violent games — give us our chemical prosthesis, our bashing implements! Give me my drugs, Greeny, because this game is hard!

The abundance of our lives is related to quality and variety rather than quantity. Longevity is only positive if the prolonged life is a satisfying one.

There are two aspects of my life a stimulant could improve. The first is my hustle. I have talents I could monetize but the career-market is fundamentally flawed (for everyone) and discouraging to someone who relies on flow and authenticity. If medicine helps me hustle to a better place, then the years I forfeit later are a smaller price to pay than Greeny imagines. Every time I start to develop a less-ambitious contentment, capitalism places pressure on me to service my debts. I’m a highly intelligent person and any organization is lucky to have me, especially if I were allowed to operate naturally but, as long as innovation and organizational transformation are held at arms-length, I need a stick to swing. I have to think and behave in ways that employers believe are indicative of potential: that’s the stick, the racket.

Given what I have accomplished without drugs, I am optimistic about what a boost can do.

Secondly, I want to more easily conjure focus at opportune times rather than according to optimal mood. My more tangential tendencies help me make novel connections but I often rely on coffee and tea for enhanced executive ability. With limited time, a more sophisticated stimulant could guarantee a better sense of kairos. I want to aide my pursuits, do what I love to do, fortify my sense of worth with creative outputs because my days are limited. I mean this in two ways: the number of hours in a day is limited and my days alive will end sooner or later, too –probably by unforeseen causes. Greeny can’t prolong my life. When I need to move the puck or bat away an incoming ball, metaphorically speaking, I want to save my aching hands from the trouble: give me a figurative stick to swing on my own behalf!

The gap in stimulant use provided clarity: I don’t want or need to define who I am in my personal life by medication.

Growing-up in the shadow of my mother’s depression, I learned to fear being unlovable. Knowing that I am not ‘normal’, I was suspicious that my owl-sighted ways accounted for the distance between myself and others; RSD can create self-fulfilling prophesies. Fear held me captive because I believed fearlessness would smash me into a reality where I had to accept loneliness– but maybe a stimulant would help? Of course, that’s not the crux of my situation: I am accepted, right now. Circulating myself among more people, with less fear, it’s inevitable that I will be accepted by more people. If I get the chance to be my best self, not because of my medication but because of my totality, I have love and insight to offer new people in my life. D-words are the source of toxicity: depression, dysthymia. There is a star-crossed woman in the Washington Metro area who didn’t have the imagination to anticipate that those words would be gone from my diagnosis by now. My figurative hand still aches from ‘catching’ that whole situation ungloved. The worst part is that she has her own struggles and these insights coulda’/woulda’/shoulda’ changed her reality, too.

This week, I realized I am emotionally ready to date. I am NOT financially ready. *laughter* It’s better to be emotionally ready first. In the mean-time, I can exercise more.

The more sprawling the blog-post, the more difficult it is to say “done”. I went to a social event and met some strangers Thursday night; someone asked me what I liked to do, which inevitably led to “what kind of things do you write?” Reflections were at the top of the list but I hope it isn’t always that way. Fiction and poetry ought to become a greater part of my creative process. Writing this has been part of my mental-health seeking, part of rearranging my cognitive parts and discovering my emergent properties. Whatever label the establishments choose, I will always see myself as “owl-sighted” and in need of facial quills — more ways of sensing the way forward when a tangle of happenings makes it difficult to focus my vision.

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