200 and counting. I’m still big in Bulgaria!

In today’s Journal Métro is my 200th column. I started in September 2005 and this blog started a couple of years after that. My blog posts are mostly elaborated versions of what I put in my column with a few assorted random postings thrown in.

Every other week I scratch my head wondering what I’m going to write about, certain that I’m out of ideas. Yet somehow, while riding my bike, or when talking to someone, or during one of the never-ending conversations I have in my head, something pops in. I have no explanation for it. It just happens.

I once worked with a woman who kept a fashion blog. When she wrote about a new purse she had 10,000 visits to her site. I write about depression and am lucky to get 500. Still, 500 is a lot of people and far more than would come to a class or a public lecture. In fact, I now have an average of 1,100 visits per month on my blog. I’m not sure if it’s time to break out the Champagne yet but readership continues to grow slowly but steadily. Of course at this pace it’ll take me 300 years to match my fashion colleague.

One of the cool things about a blog is that there are no borders or limitations to access. Every month I get a breakdown of readers. This breakdown includes country of origin. For a while, Bulgaria was on my list among the top five or six countries, prompting me to tell everyone within earshot, “I’m big in Bulgaria!” Now, alas, they have dropped out of the top ten. India took it’s place. How popular am I in India? I had seven visits from Indian readers last month! Yes, SEVEN…out of about a billion Indians. That’s about .0000007 % of their population. (I’m hotter than Mumbai!)

The bottom line however is about teaching through writing in hopes of demystifying and destigmatizing mental illness. So as long as the column and this blog can help me add my voice to all those who advocate for better understanding of mental illnesses I will proudly continue to do so.

Here is today’s column:

One column, 200 parts
(Source: Une chronique, 200 tranches. Journal Métro, June 03, 2014)
SVP, voir plus bas pour la version Française.

OK, so it was just yesterday that I wrote my 100th column for Métro…and yet here I am working on number 200.

Many things are unchanged since I started this gig and yet so much is different. My hair is not quite as dark – that’s not good. I weigh a little less – that’s good. I have become more cynical with age – hmm…good or bad, I’m not so sure about that one? But the main reason for writing is to talk about mental health and human nature. And the only change that really matters is whether our understanding of mental illness has evolved since 2005 when I started La Vie en Tranches.

I write for two reasons. The first is to help demystify and remove stigma from serious mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. These uncommon illnesses strike about one percent of the population and are no different than any other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or epilepsy, yet they are seen in a very different light by the general public. I think this is because it’s difficult to see where the person ends and the illness begins.

If a heart attack causes a driver to lose consciousness and plow into a bus stop, we would feel only compassion for the driver and any injured or killed bystanders. But if some dysregulation in brain chemistry made someone jump in a well or kill someone, then we would somehow be far more likely to blame the person instead of the disease. Cancer deaths make us want to wear pink, or ride a bike, or make speeches to raise money for research. Schizophrenia deaths are usually greeted with shaken heads and confused silence.

Did you know that a person with Schizophrenia is 100 times more likely to commit suicide than someone without the disease? How many lives are forever scarred by a single suicide? Yet when was the last time you walked to raise money for Schizophrenia research?

The second reason I write is to discuss far more common psychological difficulties such as depression, burnout, panic, or obsessions. These problems are experienced by about 20% of us at some point in our lives. But if you are a regular reader you will notice that I rarely use these terms. I much prefer to talk about people and tell stories about common experiences and how they affect our perceptions, fears, and moods. We all go through the same emotions. These mental states are not really “illnesses” in my opinion. The vast majority of people who suffer from debilitating anxiety or depression go through what we all do, only to a more extreme extent.

Many people tell me it seems like I wrote about them in a particular column. I think that if we can see ourselves in other people’s experiences we will quickly realize that we are pretty well all made up of the same stuff.

This does two things. First, it helps us feel more normal and less like the freak most of us think we are. And second, it makes it easier for us to understand others when they are struggling. That, in essence, is what it takes to remove the barriers that keep people from seeking help when they need it, and what it takes to remove the unnecessary burden of stigma from people who are already paying a heavy price.


Voici la version Française:

Une chronique, 200 tranches

Il me semble que c’était hier que je rédigeais ma 100e chronique pour le journal Metro… et me voilà en train de travailler sur la 200e!

Bien des choses ont demeuré pareilles, et pourtant, bien d’autres ont changé. Mes cheveux ne sont plus aussi noirs, ça c’est mauvais. Je pèse un peu moins, ça c’est bien! Je suis devenu plus cynique avec l’âge… bon ou mauvais? Je n’en suis pas sûr. Mais la principale raison pour laquelle j’écris, c’est pour parler de la santé mentale et de la nature humaine. Et le seul changement qui compte vraiment, c’est de savoir si notre compréhension de la maladie mentale a évolué depuis 2005 quand j’ai commencé à écrire La vie en tranches.

J’écris pour deux raisons. La première, c’est pour démystifier et déstigmatiser les maladies mentales graves, comme la schizophrénie et le trouble bipolaire. Ces maladies peu fréquentes frappent 1 % de la population et s’apparentent aux autres affections neurologiques, comme la maladie de Parkinson, la maladie d’Alzheimer ou l’épilepsie, mais elles sont perçues différemment par le grand public. Je pense que c’est parce qu’il est difficile de déterminer où la personne se limite, et où la maladie commence.

Si une crise cardiaque fait perdre conscience à un conducteur et qu’il emboutit un signal d’arrêt, nous ressentirons de la compassion pour lui et pour tout passant qui sera blessé ou tué dans cet accident. Mais si un dérèglement de la chimie du cerveau pousse une personne à sauter dans un puits ou à tuer quelqu’un, nous aurons beaucoup plus tendance à blâmer la personne que la maladie. La mort à la suite d’un cancer nous incite à porter du rose, à faire un parcours en vélo ou à prononcer des discours en vue de recueillir des fonds destinés à la recherche. La mort à la suite de la schizophrénie est habituellement accueillie par des hochements de tête et un silence confus.

Saviez-vous qu’une personne atteinte de schizophrénie risque 100 fois plus de se suicider qu’une personne qui n’en est pas atteinte? Combien de vies sont marquées à jamais par un seul suicide? Et pourtant, à quand remonte la dernière fois où vous avez marché pour recueillir des fonds destinés à la recherche sur la schizophrénie?

La deuxième raison pour laquelle j’écris, c’est pour aborder des difficultés psychologiques beaucoup plus courantes, comme la dépression, le burnout, les crises de panique ou les obsessions. Environ 20 % d’entre nous éprouvent ces problèmes à un certain moment dans leur vie. Mais si vous lisez cette chronique régulièrement, vous savez que j’utilise rarement ces termes. Je préfère parler des gens et des expériences communes qui ont des effets sur nos perceptions, nos craintes et nos humeurs. Nous éprouvons tous les mêmes émotions. Ces états mentaux ne sont pas vraiment des « maladies ». La grande majorité des gens qui souffrent d’anxiété débilitante ou de dépression traversent la même chose que nous, mais à un degré plus extrême.

Bien des gens me disent qu’ils ont l’impression que j’écris à leur sujet, dans une chronique en particulier. Je pense que si nous pouvons nous identifier aux expériences des autres, nous constaterons rapidement que nous sommes tous faits du même bois.

Nous pouvons en conclure deux choses : premièrement, cela nous aide à nous sentir plus normaux et moins nous étiqueter à tort. Et deuxièmement, cela nous aide à comprendre les autres qui éprouvent des difficultés. Cela est essentiel pour faire tomber les barrières qui empêchent les gens de demander de l’aide quand ils en ont besoin, ainsi que pour éliminer les préjugés à l’égard des gens qui en paient déjà un prix élevé.

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Posted in Mental health, Random thoughts.

Posted on 03 Jun 2014

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One comment to 200 and counting. I’m still big in Bulgaria!

  1. Pina
    On Jun 4th 2014 at 13:49

    Hey Dr. Z, first a big congrats on your 200th column!! I look forward to Psychospeak with Dr. Z appearing in my in-box. Being part of the 20% mentioned above, many of your columns resonate with me. Since the start of my challenges with depression I have not hesitated to share my experience with others who I see suffering in silence as I had for many years. Getting the word out there is so essential in bringing understanding for these conditions that sometimes can be viewed as irrelevant and to rid the view of “just get over it”. As in my case, finally seeking help at the strong encouragement of a friend who had been through it led me to having to take anti-depressants on and off over the years but most importantly to talk therapy which essentially led me to a much better understanding of triggers, that it was not all in my head and I what I was going through was normal and fixable…in the end leading to a much better quality of life. Having said that, I still feel hesitant about telling folks of my struggles have not gone through it because of the stigma attached to it. The messages you communicate through your column and blog are so very important and essential in removing the stigma attached to mental illnesses. Awareness campaigns like the Bell Let’s Talk are terrific but education and awareness needs to be kept in the forefront throughout the year and it’s folks like you that do this through this medium and your talks. Thank you for all your words of wisdom that we can all understand and relate to. Take good care!