I wanted to explain to you the biochemical and genetic and epigentic basis for all “mental illness.” I want you to know that I am qualified to explain this to you after many advanced studies and research and checking into important data like this here and knowing of course what makes such things true and accurate and to be sure, scientific. Remember, I am not a real doctor – I have a master’s degree! In science. Pharmaceutical sciences, to be exact, with a medicinal chemistry emphasis, which means that I learned how to theoretically help big pharma come up with new meds. This was all well and good until I got diverted right from my Ph.D program into the Disability Industrial Complex.
This explanation comes by way of my 92 year old grandma who is very wise in all the ways of the world and says, “I think you need to go outside.” What I’ve discovered is that when I am facing the daily challenges of my existence and my family and my world, my body fills up with a highly important chemical substance identified to my grandma as piss and vinegar. Sometimes when it is up to my eyeballs and my eyes turn yellow my fangs will come out. Then I get mean and critical and judgmental. I am always judgmental, this is my Achilles heel, but sometimes I get even more judgmental. When I go running or ride my bike or go to Judo practice or play frisbee golf then the piss and vinegar go away and I can come home and be nice to people again.
My friend Ken Braiterman figured this out for me when he came over to my house for his first visit and I had to drive him around in my car. He said, “You really hate driving your car.”
I said, “No, it’s just that when I drive my car, I CAN’T ride my bike. Plus I am just not used to driving since I only do it a few times a year.”
Spoken Word Poem: I Ride to Live!
So we figured out that I can’t skip a workout for more than about 24 hours in a row and we drove together to E.H. Young Riverfront Park in Riverside, MO. I ran sprints around the banks of the Missouri River with him watching me and the sea gulls that fly all the way to the Midwest for some reason. Then I tried to teach him how to throw a frisbee golf disc. He didn’t like it that much because it was raining that day and although he’s a super big baseball fan he’s not much of a thrower. And disc golf is thrown backhanded anyway so none of that really mattered, because what matters most of all, is that we had fun and spent a day together in nature, in beauty, and in companionship. This is what good peer support looks like.
That day was the pivotal moment when I learned how to come off medications, because I figured out that meds were just a way to tolerate the piss and vinegar that I live with in my body, but exercise actually took that stuff all the way out. At least for me. Some people can get rid of it by prayer, gardening, poetry, working with animals, whatever works. We just need something to get rid of it. That’s why when people come off medications, something good has to get built up in its place. This is why it’s useful to go off meds slowly, to get used to feeling your own piss and vinegar again, and learn how to turn it into housecleaning fluid or plant fertilizer or purify it back into water like they did in the novel Dune. Peer support is talking to people who have been there before who can help you do this, shown in these photos from Wellness Wordworks’ advocacy events over the last few years.
And my new husband wants you to know, wants me not to forget to tell you, that there are also other components to this system, like baking soda. Sometimes I can do things that add into my biochemical and genetic makeup like spend time with one of my favorite flowers, cannabis. When I do this I have a super good time the first day but then the next three days I am very tired and have added the baking soda into my vinegar. If you don’t know what this causes, you probably need to walk to your kitchen and just try it and see. For me, it makes my fangs come out for two to three days and the fangs get very long. So I have decided to never again expose myself to my personal baking soda until, of course, the next time it seems like a really good idea and you all know how that is, too.
Another biochemical reaction in my body is when I have been reminded of the other times in my life that I have been overwhelmed, like all the times I have been fired for having an entrepreneurial mentality instead of employee mentality. I have a favorite song, a very funny song called El Sobrante Fortnight from Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel that I may have actually been able to upload here.
Some of the lyrics go:
Brimming with all the hopes and desires of American youth,
He set forth as a leader of sorts.
Just what sorts it is impossible to say at this time.
But he had the imaginary support he needed to venture beyond the
Small environment he`d come to know as his home town.
Friends thought him foolish and felt free to frequently tell him so.
Deep down they all felt envy, Envious that he could muster, where they could not,
The courage necessary to embark beyond the motion that survival was based
Upon the ability to rise at seven a.m. five days a week.
It seemed like I always figured out how to do my job better than my bosses, or at least I thought I did, and felt free to frequently tell them so, which of course does not result in good long term employment consequences. It simply turns out, though, that I am a social entrepreneur, not a beauracrat. If you had problems in the workplace, you might find this list ofcharacteristics familiar. So, with good peer support, I finally realized that when I was challenged at work all the piss and vinegar would completely drain out of my body because I was afraid to be fired YET again. It turns out we need at least a little bit of that stuff in our body to keep spirits up, moving forward, hopeful and willing to fire back at the world. I learned I had to do a few things to put back at least a little piss and vinegar like enjoy my dog or spend time in nature or exercise or talk to friends. Some people call this a reaction to trauma, and there are lots of ways to handle it as well, and learning that was the final piece that helped me come off medications.
Now I just find it incredible that I can use my science degree after all to translate chemistry into English. I will tell you of the epigenetics another day as soon as I get done reading the cool book I’m halfway through, and I’ll tell about the genetics when I’m done figuring out how to get translational medicine to promote recovery for us instead of jobs for researchers. Of course, there are other names for what I am talking about like cortisol and norepinephrine and dopamine and gamma-Aminobutyric acid but I think my Grandma’s terms work better.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
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Brilliant post Corinna! I love the “piss and vinegar” bit and your granny’s exhortation to “go outside”. You bring out many home truths in telling your story. Also love the photos, it’s just like being there.
All the best, Chrys
Bravo!! Yes, your granny’s right (they usually are)! Excellent way to look at things.
Really well written and fun to read.
Yes! Corinna and her grandma explain it all for you!