Wednesday, March 16, 2011

End Date

Taking a review of my health today, I came across the dreaded list of past diagnoses. Having been a relatively healthy girl, I check through the "No" column feverishly. I think my pen is starting to run out of ink. How many medical conditions are they going to list?
HIV? No.
Diabetes? No.
ADD? No.
Bi-polar Disorder? Well, there was that one time that I was misdiagnosed, but that doesn't count. No.
Cancer? No.
Heart conditions? No.
High cholesterol? Nope.
Nope, nope, noers, notta, nein, non, nah....
Oh, wait, here we go: Depression. Diagnosed when I was in my teenage years, I've been taking medication for it on and off since then. For about a decade, I've been on something to treat depression. I've tried Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Effexor, the latter I've been taking for approximately half that decade. I've attempted to discontinue medication and see how I would react to life, as a sort of experiment to see if I could cope with those constant feelings of sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, and the persistent achy feeling I succumbed to time and again that left me unable to enjoy anything that I usually enjoy doing. I'm sure you've seen the commercials with the little wind-up doll. No matter how much she was cranked, she was still incapable of leading a normal life. And, believe me, I was cranked up a lot, but to no avail. I always ended up going back on the Effexor, despite the odd dizzy spells it gave me if I missed a couple of doses.
Recently, however, since it's been approximately 4 1/2 years since I last attempted to discontinue my medication, I decided that I would try again. My thought process was that since I'm in a different place now, with a slightly different perspective and with different (more beneficial) people in my life, I might be able to deal with not having to constantly be on some kind of medication. After all, I don't want to have to be on medication my whole life. Let me at least wait until my body begins failing in old age before I have to ingest a constant stream of medication!
So about a week ago, I ran out of my Effexor, I didn't have any refills left at the pharmacy, and so I decided to attempt self-sufficiency. Despite the withdrawl symptoms of dizzy spells, slight vertigo, and quick dizziness that feels a little like "brain shocks," I don't think I've been this collected before in a long, long time. I feel good. Not only that, but I feel focused. Everything seems more vibrant. The sensitivity has returned to my body. I hadn't realized just how much my medication was dulling the experience of life for me!
But am I "cured"? Is there such a thing for depression?

The medical history chart wanted me to specify when the depression began and when the "end date" was. End date? Of course this chart is designed without individuality in mind, every type of medical diagnosis with the same "Start date" and "End date" next to it. But I really began to wonder: Is there ever an end date for depression? Sure, I feel much better. This doesn't necessarily mean that I won't feel a little depressed at some point in my life in the future, but I think that's normal for most people. The depression I once experienced was a constant, never-ending surge of sadness, cyclical negative thinking, and a complete drain of energy to the point of feeling pain at the notion that I would have to leave my bed at some point to put on a face of wellness for others. That depression has ended, or if anything, as paused in my life.
Will I ever know for sure that it's gone, that this kind of hellish sapping of my mind and energy will never return, or at least not in the full force that it once was?
Like a recovering cancer patient, am I "depression-free" now, with the chance of it returning at a later date? Or, as Ani Difranco has said of alcoholics in her song, "Fuel":
They say that alcoholics are always alcoholics
Even when they're dry as my lips for years
Even when they're stranded on a small desert island
With no place in two thousand miles to buy beer
And I wonder is he different
Is he different
Has he changed
What he's about
Or is he just a liar
With nothing to lie about
Am I always a sufferer of depression, even if I've felt fantastic for years? Am I still depressed, but with nothing to be depressed about? Is there an "end date" to depression? 

After mulling over this question for a few minutes, reluctant to even disclose my past depression, I said "fuck it," and scribbled in the date that I discontinued Effexor. Even if the depression is currently in remission, I think I have ended the streak of depression that plagued my high school and post-high school years.


P.S. - I do not recommend that anyone else discontinue their medications without first consulting their doctor. Some cases of mental or physical illnesses do require medical treatment, and is, in fact, not their physicians over-prescribing medication (though there are some cases of that as well). Be good and take care of yourself!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bristol Palin as an Abstinence-Only Speaker? *facepalm*

It has been confirmed that Bristol Palin (daughter of failed Alaskan governor, failed vice-presidential candidate, and failed reality TV star) will be the keynote speaker at St. Louis, Missouri's Washington University's Sexual Responsibility Week (aka "Sex Week") conference. In 2008, the keynote speaker was Dr. Drew Pinsky, radio host, TV personality, and an actual licensed physician and surgeon. My question is: how can Washington University go from someone who knows what the hell he's talking about to someone who has no credentials in the medical industry, and is, in fact, the perfect example of how you should NOT behave?

First of all, I would like to note that I'm not discriminating against every teenager that has ever gotten pregnant. As having been in that position, myself, in my teen years, I know how difficult it is. The difference is that I: a) educated myself on the details of responsible and healthy comprehensive sex education, something that my school was severely lacking in (which was blatantly evidenced by the numerous pregnant teens throughout the school grounds, many of which ended up dropping out of high school), and b) got an abortion as soon as I possibly could. The high school in which I attended most of my formative years taught abstinence-only in their health classes, misinforming the student body with inaccurate information regarding contraception, barely, if at all, discussing induced miscarriages, and exaggerating the consequences of sexual activity. The consequences of all this clearly showed through the numerous cases of pregnancies throughout the school. Granted, a lot of these kids had problems outside of school, which did not help their situations. That means that it's more difficult for them to speak with their parents about the realities of unprotected sex that the school was not able to provide for them.

What makes me utterly baffled is that Bristol Palin, poster-child of the failure of abstinence-only programs, will be speaking to college students about abstinence. What would make more sense is if she's going to discuss why it's ineffective, but my best bet lies on the notion that she will be speaking the very opposite.

Study after study shows that abstinence-only education is ineffective and, what's worse, misinforms students about contraceptives and fails to talk openly about abortion. (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/5/gr060504.pdf) And yet, according to the Washington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/26/bristol-palin-sex-week-washington-university_n_814153.html), Palin will be receiving approximately  $20,000 for her utterly useless speech on why she thinks the "abstinence only" method is in some way practical or realistic.
According to a Guttmacher.org article:
Research is beginning to suggest how difficult abstinence can be to use consistently over time. For example, a recent study presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Psychological Society (APS) found that over 60% of college students who had pledged virginity during their middle or high school years had broken their vow to remain abstinent until marriage.
 Also, many people who make the abstinence pledge consider themselves "abstinent" if they avoid solely vaginal intercourse. Everything else is in the gray area, like oral sex, masturbating a partner, anal sex, etc. What they are misunderstanding is the fact that one can still contract an STI through these practices. Finding loopholes in your abstinence pledge is not being responsible with your sexuality, your health, or the health of those that you are involved with.
Encouraging this tripe by paying the woman who is a clear example of why the abstinence-only method is ineffective to talk about abstinence-only is bullshit. It needs to stop. Yes, I will admit, I giggled when I first heard that Bristol Palin would be talking about abstinence, but after the initial facepalm at the irony, I began fuming about the situation. Not just her being paid twenty grand to speak about something that is just as retarded as promoting the use of a Coca-Cola Douche to prevent pregnancy (http://www.momversation.com/articles/9-most-bizarre-birth-control-methods), but the federally funded abstinence-only education nationwide. It all makes me ill.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Expose yourself!

... to new and different opinions!

See, I bet you thought I was talking about exposing your sexual organs, didn't ya? You cheeky monkeys, all of you!

I've been reading a lot of books that pertain to topics that are personally interesting to me. This shouldn't come as a huge revelation, since most people do this. Why would you want to read about a topic that you don't care about? The biggest thing that many who read books/articles (or watch movies/shows/news broadcasts) have in common is that we all tend to read/watch the things that we agree with more so than the things that we oppose. This makes sense. Reading something that we are fundamentally opposed to, or even disagree with to a minor degree, aggravates, frustrates and annoys us. It even sometimes puts us into a blind rage!

Though reading about the topics from the viewpoints that you agree with is still valuable in the sense that you are learning more about the specific topic, I question whether it's as valuable as reading the subject from the opposite perspective. If you already agree with someone or something, then what is the significance of reading only from this angle? It supports your opinions or the knowledge that you already contain, so what else is there to gain from this experience other than mental masturbation?

Indeed, if there are topics where the information continually changes according to new evidence, such as almost any subject in the realm of science, then I can understand the urge to retain these new reports. Keeping updated on all of the facts is essential, especially if you work in a particular field, such as evidence-based medicine. A physician who continues the practice of bloodletting is probably going to run into a few problems in his field.

However, as far as the topic is concerned in its general context, what else is there to glean from reading and rereading the information that you are already aware of? It probably doesn't engage your faculties of reason and critical thinking skills as much as reading the same topic from a contradictory viewpoint. Even if you don't think you will be convinced that the opposite position is more correct than the one you currently hold, it is still important to be aware of the arguments from the other end of the spectrum (and even the ones in the middle). Reading books about something that you don't agree with (whether it's due to it being factually incorrect or because it's not how you were raised to believe in something) can encourage you to think about why you believe what you believe. It's a fantastic method of exercising your patience (if it's a topic that really gets you pissed off), as well as your critical thinking skills. Find something that you inherently disagree with, write it down word-for-word and include the context in which it was written, and then think about why you think it is incorrect. Research why it might be incorrect. Test your hypothesis as to why it's wrong. Explain it to yourself and to others. See their reaction to your reasons and your conclusion. If there are criticisms about your methods of reasoning or the conclusion, take them up on their reasons for their criticisms and research them further.

Understanding and being capable of articulating why you believe what you do and how you've come to this conclusion is often more important than the conclusion itself. Even if the conclusion is factually correct, if your confidence in its correctness is based on faulty reasoning, this does not aid you in your ability to clearly understand the topic. If you don't know why something is correct or incorrect, you will not fully comprehend the topic. If you want to argue that something is correct or incorrect, you must understand why so as to establish your reason why others should think the same thing. If your conclusion is based on faulty reasoning or without utilizing critical thinking skills, you will have a more difficult time being able to discern whether or not something else is correct. New information, no matter how silly it may be, may seem completely valid (despite that not all ideas are equally valid) because your ability to weed out the complete bullshit from the more probable ideas is compromised by your inability to think critically.

So I encourage everyone to EXPOSE YOURSELVES to ideas that are completely contradictory to your own. Get fired up about it! Understand why you believe what you believe. Is there a chance, no matter how minor, that your conclusions are false? Challenge yourselves!

Above all, always learn. Never stop learning. If you do, you might as well be dead.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Zoinks! G-g-g-ghosts!"

"I believe that there are things in this world that can't be explained."
Words announced by those who go ga-ga for ghosts, the faint apparitions in photos, videos and sometimes from first-person witnesses after their slumber was disturbed. They "ooh" and "ahh," slack-jawed and wide-eyed when presented with alleged evidence for the existence of ghostly beings. These are the people that accept at face value the preconceived assumption that the blurred or transparent human-like figure captured by a poor-quality camera is a ghost, insisting that those who do not share their credulousness are close-minded.

I retort in sarcastic fashion, "No, no, no. It's a time traveler who got caught by the camera during his travel through the time-space continuum." This is when I am met with a stupefied stare by the ghost believer, who often responds, "That's just ridiculous."

My thoughts exactly. It is just as dubious, just as probable, as the ghost hypothesis.

Recently, a picture was taken by a hotel manager at a North Carolina hotel. In the photograph, there is a figure perceived as a boyish apparition next to an ice sculpture. The manager claims that he looked over the surveillance video to check if there was someone at the hotel with similar looks. How mysterious. Welp, it must be a disembodied spirit/soul of a dead person! There's no other possibility. Why are you shaking your head at me? Don't roll your eyes! You're just too close-minded to accept that there are things in this world that we don't know about yet.

Indeed, there are many, many things in this world and in this universe that humans are ignorant of, have yet to discover, and possibly will never discover. However, the difference between an idiot who believes in ghosts and a person who suspends their judgments until the evidence is properly analyzed by more than one layperson or investigative team that suffers from confirmation bias...is utilizing critical thinking skills.

 First of all, the hypothesis that one makes must be falsifiable. If it takes "faith," or the belief in something without sufficient or credible evidence for this belief, then it's not falsifiable. Now, the first step in the process of utilizing the scientific method involves considering the problem at hand, trying to make sense of it, and researching for any previous explanations for this problem (is this apparition a ghost? What camera did he use to take the photo? Have there been any other instances of apparitions in photos? What were their explanations?). Next, you must state an explanation if nothing else is known (Didn't find any research about ghostly apparitions in photos that were explained by credible investigators? Think of some way to explain the alleged ghost). Then, hypothetically, if your hypothesis is true, what can be predicted from it? (If ghosts exist, you could predict that they might appear in photos -- though I'm not sure how, since they wouldn't reflect light very well...). Lastly, test your hypothesis! Look to falsify it, not verify it. If something doesn't add up, making the hypothesis false or only partially true, go back to the beginning, researching some more and then coming up with a new hypothesis to test.

Often, many people afflicted with confirmation bias will fall victim to fallacies. One fallacy is called "affirming the consequent," or "converse error," a formal fallacy. An example of this is mangling logic by concluding, "If ghosts exist, we would see their apparitions in photos. I see a photo of an apparition. Therefore, it is a ghost and they exist." This is where the conclusion can be false, even if the first two statements are true. Another fallacy is an informal one: Assuming that ghosts have not been disproved, so it may still be true. However, this is not the way the world of logic works. If something had to be disproved for something to be believed, we would believe everything until they were reasonably proven false. For the idea to be true, that someone should disprove ghosts before I can not believe in them, I must also abide by this rule by believing in three-headed monsters with blue eyes made of gems that live beneath the sea, as well as any other implausible idea that may pop into my mind. This is an appeal to ignorance, shifting the burden of proof from the person who is making a positive assertion (that ghosts exist and that this particular apparition in this photo is a ghost) to someone who finds this conclusion highly unlikely. Unfortunately for those who make assertions based solely upon faith, it is their responsibility to prove their belief with reasonable certainty.

I, on the other hand, as the individual who does not think that the picture of an apparition is a ghost (or any spiritual entity), do not have to go nearly as far to assert my belief that the picture has a more reasonable explanation. If I utilize the scientific method and first analyze the problem at hand, seeking research that has been conducted on an issue similar (or identical) to my problem, I would find a plethora of evidence that suggests a simpler conclusion. Though I am not sure of what kind of camera the hotel manager was using, if he was using a (non-digital) SLR camera, there are the issues of long exposure (the shutter being open on the camera for approximately ten seconds), overlapped pictures (when the photo has not fully advanced in the camera, taking a second picture on the picture that was already taken, much like negative layering), bad film being used (old or otherwise defective film used), mistaken identity (often, our eyes will see what it expects to see, whether or not the figure is what we perceive it to be), or outright fraud.

If you think about the problem with Occam's razor in mind, finding a conclusion that makes the least amount of assumptions, it's more likely to be the correct conclusion. For the apparition to be a ghost, one would have to assume that ghosts (or spirits in general) exist. If they exist in the way that we think of them, then they must be spirits of people, retaining their features as well as their clothing (why the hell would ghosts/spirits need clothes?). There are too many unfounded assumptions that we would need to make in order for this hypothesis to be true.

More than likely, there is a rational explanation for these kind of phenomena. It's not faith that I have which makes me believe this. It's confidence based on the several hundred other instances of ghostly figures in photos that have been found to be something logical and based in reality.

I firmly encourage people to investigate a problem thoroughly before making allegations. Be comfortable with uncertainty. You should be taunted by the chance (however slim) that you might be totally incorrect in your hypothesis. It's true that it's more difficult to constantly question every solid belief that you behold, tearing apart your beliefs and doing a massive amount of work to come to a conclusion that will always remain, even slightly, incorrect. If you're comfortable with your convenient assumptions about yourself, others, ideas, and the world without conducting a fair amount of research, you're doing something wrong. It's all about learning as much as you possibly can about the world around you, other people, yourself, and getting as close to the truth as possible. It's about admiring and respecting the world and its inhabitants, attempting to see it all at face value, and exploring the wondrous aspects provided by the natural world and the universe within which it resides. It's about being responsible, owing yourself and those around you to be as informed as possible before making critical decisions in your life.