Every movie has awkward silence. I just couldn’t think of a fitting movie to watch and pull a quote from. Not everyone is as philosophical as Ferris Bueller or Good Will Hunting. But the awkward silence will do, I think it may be a perfect fit.
Yesterday, I posted a link to a podcast I had listened to during my lift. The past year I’ve been listening to more podcasts, watching more TedTalks and listening to more ideas about science and health. I’m trying to get more perspective as I really nail down what kind of impact I want to make in the world around me.
The Ted Radio Hour is a podcast that I listen to religiously. They combine multiple Ted Talks into a theme. I’ve shared a few individual Ted Talks, mostly around mental health, but there are so many talks that you can listen to or watch, whether you have five minutes or 60. Whether you like poetry or psychology or chemistry – these ideas are there.
Yesterday’s talk was about stigma. Half way through, I knew I wanted to sit down and write this post. I knew I needed to share this with you. I quickly shared on Facebook, but I knew I wanted to sit down and give myself some time to write.
I guess, we should first define stigma.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
If you look to see what causes stigma, you’ll find that it’s a social construct. According to an article written by Julio Arboleda-Florez for World Psychiatry discussing social stigma, “how [stigma] develops is not matched by our knowledge of why it develops, although a model posits that the original functional impetus is an initial perception of tangible or symbolic threat.” So stigma is created by us, which means it can be broken by us too.
There were four talks in yesterday’s podcast. Each one was different and each one had me nodding, but the first one stuck out to me most, then the second.
Johann Hari discusses heroine addiction in his talk and how perceptions of drug addiction as well as behaviors towards addicts contribute to the cyclical nature of addiction. He discusses how environment plays a larger role than we think. He acknowledges that chemical response makes a body dependent, but that environment can perpetuate the behavior that guides a person to the drug.
Hari explains that in the 1970s, a psychologist named Bruce Alexander conducted an experiment to study drug addiction behavior. The experiment is known as Rat Park. Previous studies had isolated rats and provided them with water bottles: one drug-laced and the other free of drugs. What these studies had found was that rats had nothing better to do than drink from the drug-laced bottle. In Alexander’s experiment of Rat Park, the creation of a rat community with multiple rats of both genders, food, toys, space to walk around and mate in provided the opportunity to be less lonely and have more purpose. They found that while rats did still drink out of the drug-laced bottle, they drank less often.
I know you’re probably thinking, well they’re just rats, well yes, because experimentation on humans is illegal, but also that’s how much research is conducted.
There were issues with Alexander’s study. It was far from perfect. It’s not as simple as eliminating stress and believing that you can overcome chemical dependency.
I think what prompted the study was the timing. The United States was having a war on drugs because we always are. Looking through other articles about Rat Park it seems as though Alexander may have been trying to get people to consider how much of an impact our environments have on us. I think he wanted us to stop treating addicts as less than human. He just may have been taking it to far and forgetting a few other things along they way, such as how trauma or environment can impact brain chemistry…
Hari talks about decriminalization of drugs, and that’s another post for another time. But What got me thinking was the parts about environment and what impact that could have on decision making initially.
In my Facebook post yesterday, I related this perspective of addiction to food and to weightloss. Loosely quoting Hari, we have psychological needs that need to be met and if they’re not, we’ll figure out how to fill the void.
I think it’s possible that initially our environment impacts our choices, but eventually, chemically we become reliant.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Over-eating and eventual binging was an escape when anxiety was high, when flashback occurred and when I felt the world crumbling around me. I would black out at times and not remember that I ate so much until I realized my stomach hurt or there were half eaten items on the counter.
My binging didn’t have a particular attachment to any specific food either – it was the hunt. I would take nibbles of everything until I found the right texture, or the right flavor. Maybe it needed a crunch or it needed to be salty. Maybe it would be a bell pepper or a cracker. Maybe it would be cheese or peanut butter. Maybe a handful of nuts. The hunt provided a rush, that immediately crashed when I found what I didn’t know I was looking for. It was like a switch.
I go to cognitive behavioral therapy and I find that it helps. I struggle less to keep my anxiety and flashbacks in check. I know therapy isn’t for everyone, but finding the right fit is like finding the perfect dress. When it’s a great relationship – you know.
I lift, I run, I yoga (yep, totally a verb now), I mediate. I bake – I baked today. I clean. I nap. I color. Each thing helps at different times. I write, I journal, I blog. Sometimes they don’t work and that’s ok to.
Everyone’s eating disorder is different. It’s caused by different events. Sometimes different events can trigger it in the same person. Coping mechanisms are different.
While not everyone that has disordered eating behaviors has an eating disorder, the behaviors shouldn’t be ignored.
I talk about mental health often, not because I want to be a martyr, but because I want people to see that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. I want people understand that what goes on in our heads, isn’t always reflected on the outside. I want mental health discussion to be normalized.
I opened up much more about my mental health in the fall of 2016 because it helped me cope while I was on medical leave. Talking about anxiety and PTSD, helped me face it. It helped me realize that Talking about binge-eating and trauma – helped me find the connections because behavior, environmental and chemical response.
When I screen clients, the last questions I ask are if they have any questions for me and why do they want to work with me. I want to make sure that we have a safe environment where we can be honest with each other to make sure that they get the help they need, even if that means finding someone else. But this end of the exchange is important because it’s opening the door.
What I’ve realized from analyzing my behaviors and then researching them, then working with others – is that context is important. It’s key to figuring out why a behavior exists in the first place. While judging the behavior may be our first thought, we need to pause, step back and ask why.
Food can be an addiction. Exercise can be an addiction. Recognizing compulsive behaviors is a first step, but asking why food is comforting or why food is the enemy, help along the path to reclaiming ourselves.
I’m not a therapist. I don’t claim to be one. I find behavior interesting. What I can do is tell someone what I see and what I hear and I can encourage them to seek help from someone who can help. I’ve done it with about a quarter of my clients with almost all of them accepting the advice and finding someone in that scope.
I want you to think about your behavior and where it comes from. I want you to think about you talk to yourself about these behaviors. Maybe think about how you cope and why those mechanisms work for you.
I want you to think about the behaviors you see around you and ask yourself – why you think they may exist. Then ask yourself about your initial judgements of behavior around you.
Next, I want you to think about how we can break down stigma. Maybe how your story can help someone else? What prevents you from sharing your story? Or if you do share it, what continues to encourage you?
I will never stop sharing my story even though it may change form or location. I don’t know what sharing can do for the next person, but I hope what I say makes someone shake their head and say, “I’m not alone”.