Screw Positive Thinking

Screw Positive Thinking

A person I know went to a therapist about 10 years ago to work on some issues. During one session, this person discussed their bad luck with dating. This person admittedly was a bit dramatic about the situation, but they lamented how impossible it seemed to find a good partner in New York City. The therapist, looking them dead in the eye, said, "You have to think positively and imagine getting your ideal partner." 

"What a bunch of horseshit," I said to them and laughed. I didn't mean to be so harsh, and it caused this person to be taken aback. After all about 10 years ago, and the book "The Secret" was widely popular. "The Secret," if you've never heard of it, suggests that thinking and visualizing about things you want will make them appear in your life. That's the secret. So many people bought and accepted this philosophy as somehow true, the absurdity somehow lost on them. Just because I think about being rich or dating Beyonce with all my energy, doesn't mean it will make it so. 

The Racism of Online Dating

The Racism of Online Dating


America is a racist country. (I know, shocking.) Depending on your point of view, it's very easy to draw a line between enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, the birth of slavery and America to the racism we see today. Again, no surprise there. 

Racism bleeds into all parts of American life. Online dating is a particular I've been thinking about lately. There are plenty of articles on the interwebs talking about how online dating is racist. (Here's a hint, it's really good for white men and women and not for a lot of other races).  I don't want to rehash that. What I want to discuss is how I see online dating anecdotally affect people of different races in my sessions. So here are three observations I've noticed over the years about online dating. 

White Men Have it Good

I'm almost always surprised by how easily white men are able to get dates and able to have multiple sexual partners in short periods of time.  These are generalizations, and obviously, it differs from individual to individual, but I see it a lot in my therapy sessions. White men are also far more confident about reaching out to many different people. 

Can Psychedelics Help Prevent Suicide?

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I just finished this fascinating piece about psychedelics and mental health that I wanted to share. It's worth a read yourself but I wanted to highlight this key passage: 

"Creating meaning in life is dependent upon hope, and it begins with the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Consciousness, in part, is a continual narrative we both invent and listen to inside of our heads. And there are brain regions involved in that process, which is why Pollan sees psychedelics as a potentially potent therapy for when those interior voices go awry:

Getting overly attached to these narratives, taking them as fixed truths about ourselves rather than as stories subject to revision, contributes mightily to addiction, depression, and anxiety. Psychedelic therapy seems to weaken the grip of these narratives, perhaps by temporarily disintegrating the parts of the default mode network where they operate."

Thre is lots of truth here. Human beings are narrative creatures. We see our lives as a story. And if the story starts to go awry, depression and self-doubt are common byproducts. In my own life, psychedelics have proven life-changing with regard to my own mental health. It's hard to explain fully in words, but I could see how unimportant all our cultural standards were so much more clearly. I could see what was beautiful and what was worth living for and what was not. I personally recommend everyone try them at least once in their life. It's a bit corny, but they can change your life. 

Alan Watt's Backwards Law And 3 Ways It Can Help With Your Mental Health

Alan Watt's Backwards Law And 3 Ways It Can Help With Your Mental Health

One of his more famous thoughts is the "backwards law," which is nicely summed up in the quote above. Essentially the more you try and grab a hold of something, the more it slips through your fingers.

His "backwards law" is not an original thought by any means. It's origins come directly from the Tao Te Ching or Zen Buddhism. But like a lot of famous white male philosophers of recent times, he has made it more understandable to a Western audience. 

So how does this apply to mental health? I can think of a number of ways:

1) Happiness- Many people's parents tell them "I just want you to be happy." I know parents mean well, but it can create an unrealistic impression for a lot of us and a source of shame. It means that if we don't feel happy, then we feel shame because that's all anyone has ever wanted for us, and yet we can't achieve it still. We become failures. 

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

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I haven't had much time to write today, but I wanted to post something really quick. This article in The Guardian was insightful, I thought:

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

I've written about this topic before. But I think it's important to reiterate. The truth is that we're desperately losing the battle against climate change. Even if we miraculously went down to zero emissions as a planet, the temperature is still going to rise. But it isn't hopeless yet as people like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein have written. And the one thing that all of us can do to help prevent disastrous climate change is to stop eating meat and dairy as much as possible. 

That seems like an impossible, unreasonable thing to ask most people. But almost ever big social change has felt impossible. Does that mean we shouldn't try?  

Segregated Housing and Redlining in Richard Rothstein's "Color Of Law"

Segregated Housing and Redlining in Richard Rothstein's "Color Of Law"

About a month or two ago, I was walking down 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, It was a lovely day. The sun shone down, but there was a crisp breeze to ease the heat. Spring had just arrived, and tulips and daisies and all sorts of other flowers were starting to bloom.

But as I walked I had a strange moment. I'm not sure why it rarely occurred to me, but I noticed that everyone on the block was white. The only people of color were working at the Chipotle, Starbucks or Just Salad. "What gives?" I thought. In a city that is 43% white, Park Slope was nearly 90% white and overwhelming upper middle class. I saw injustice there, but I couldn't explain why it was injustice or how this segregation was created. But no one else around me seemed to notice. Everyone else was going on about their day. 

I thought about that moment as I read "Color Of Law" by Richard Rothstein. It's required reading for anyone who is interested in why do our neighborhoods look so segregated today, as it unearths recent history that has largely been forgotten. The common view, it seems, is that neighborhoods were not segregated because of anything the state did but by private citizens that wanted to not mix races. This is unequivocally false. 

Lester Spence's "Knocking The Hustle"

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I've been reading more about Lester Spence, a professor at John Hopkins University. His work is controversial. Although he is African-American, he frames political discourse in economic terms, such as pushing back against neoliberal capitalism, instead of identity, which has been the main political discourse in American politics. 

Because he is so out of the mainstream and pushes back against a lot of identity politics, his work is very contentious and incendiary. But I find a lot to like here. This passage from the link I found particularly enlightening and worth sharing: 

As Spence notes in his recently published book, Knocking the Hustle (Punctum), from the early 1970s to the present, American labor productivity has increased 80 percent while wages have stayed stagnant or declined. That we work more to earn as much as we once did—or even less—is a standard woe of the American economy in 2015. How these hip-hop celebrations of the hustler function in African-American communities, though, is what Spence finds disconcerting. Hustling is embraced as the appropriate adaptation to living in today's economy. The individual's having to learn whatever it takes to get by is a virtue in today's economy. Anybody who isn't constantly looking for ways to improve the return on his personal human capital simply isn't hustling enough. And for those people who are too lazy to maintain a level of at least subsistence hustle? Their failures and their poverty are a cul-de-sac of their own making. The black church will tell them that. Black elected officials and business elites will tell them that. Hell, Jay-Z himself will tell people that. In his song "Can't Knock the Hustle," he sneers at day-job drones who only work 9 to 5, "lunching, punching the clock."

 

Exercise, Depression And Staying Away From Antidepressants

Exercise, Depression And Staying Away From Antidepressants

Depression is on the rise in the United States. The common knowledge says that depression is organic and about chemical imbalances. But this cannot fully account for its stark rise in the general population. Many, including Johann Hari,  have proposed other theories about depression that resonant with me far more. This includes lack of community, lack of friendships, jobs we hate, trauma and more. 

Antidepressants are also used to treat depression. There is no doubt that they have helped many, and I think they are useful and should be prescribed for deep depressions. But too often they are prescribed like candy to anyone going through a little sadness. Any PCP with little understanding of mental health can prescribe you one. 

The truth is depression is mostly telling us something about our lives. It's saying we don't have enough connection in some way. And because physical health and mental health are definitely not as separate as we might think, depression often times can be telling us that we aren't taking care of our bodies. 

Existential Dread: The Struggle And Search For Meaning

Existential Dread: The Struggle And Search For Meaning

A friend of mine is really struggling with anxiety. It's not your typical anxiety. It's a deep existential anxiety. This person no longer sees the point of living. 

"What's the point? I know people who work at restaurants and have been doing that for years. They hate it," they told me recently. " But it's what works for them. Imagine doing that for the next 40 years. And then dying... you die. What is that for? What did it mean? Nothing, right?"

The truth is I largely agree with this as I told my friend. But it is a pessimistic viewpoint. Life might be meaningless in the grand sense. And yes, most of us do not get to control how we spend our time. And there's just an endless list of injustice in the world from climate change to vast inequality to the American prison system. But it is not the only thing. 

Marx and Free Trade

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I wanted to write something today to keep a consistent habit, but have been struggling for a topic. So I thought I'd post this Marx quote from the "Communist Manifesto": 

“The bourgeoisie has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”
— Communist Manifesto

I read this book when I was 18 or 19 and liked it but reading this quote now was sort of an "A-ha" moment for me. So much of what I've been thinking about and writing about in recent times has focused on the profit motive and how it twists our values into naked exploitation and how it robs us of our humanity and wrecks havoc on our mental health.  So much of what I believe about therapy and mental health has changed in the last year, which sees our mental health crisis as a symptom of a sick society that values individualism, competition, and materialism above all else.

But apparently, my ideas aren't that innovative haha. Marx said it better than I ever could 170 years earlier. It's a bit humbling to realize this again but has motivated to return to his writing and distill any more wisdom I can get from it...