Saturday, January 24, 2015

Return of the Bears - Introduction

This will just be a rough outline for the introduction of the new and what I hope to be an improved version of Taming the Polar Bears

To put it as briefly and concisely as possible, the purpose of this blog - which will mirror my book in progress - will eventually be as much as possible all the information I wish I had access to when I first realized I had a serious mental health issue and entered the mental health care system here in the Greater Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada. 

My condition and life became immeasurably worse for no other reason than simple ignorance. I was mishandled by virtually every one of the eighteen psychiatrists that handled my case at various times. No one in my family or wide circle of friends knew what to do, what to say or how to handle my downward spiral. All along the way, instead of help I found instead copious amounts of misunderstanding and ignorance that greased the skids of my sickening decent into mental health hell. I ended up losing virtually everything I owned, worked for and built in my life, including at various points virtually every one of the dozens and dozens of great relationships I'd cultivated over a lifetime (now that things are going better, some are coming back but they'll never be what they once were). 

I ended up virtually crippled by my condition, unemployable and virtually cut off from greater society. 

And all of it completely unnecessary, completely avoidable, completely preventable. I simply did not have to end up as I have (though I am now finally beginning to climb out of the hole I plunged into). 

Everything that I'll put into this blog (and coming e-book) is what could have prevented my case becoming what it became. 

What was shocking, when I started my research, was how many cases there were like mine and even much, much worse than mine. Tens of thousands of people ending up ostracized from society, unemployable, estranged from their families, often ending up on the street and their mental abilities decimated. Thousands commit suicide every single year. 

And all virtually 100% preventable. 

My mission is to everything I can within my means to reduce and dispel the ignorance and the myths in order to reduce the numbers of people whose lives are ruined due to mental health issues they did not ask for and to reduce the suicides that come as a result. 

About the Name

"Taming the Polar Bears" comes from the book Taming Bipolar. One night while reading it when my mind was feeling particularly bombed out and my vision blurred, the title looked to me like taming polar bears. I wrote this down in a forum I was participating in, someone caught it pointing out that they liked the mistyping of the title and the term stuck for referring to taming my personal demons. When I started this blog five years ago, it was the natural choice of title. 

My demons are all those associated with living with bipolar disorder and, it turns out, a bushel load of other disorders as well, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Anxiety Disorder, psychosis and psychotic episodes, and major, major depression (they seem to take turns). But Taming the Polar Bears could apply to whatever your personal demons are. I will address the major ones (schizophrenia, bipolar, various depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder and heck, maybe even the ubiquitous "ADHD", all of which I have some level of personal experience with).

So whatever your demons are, there'll be something for you to help you tame them. 

Who the Hell is Bradley Esau and Why Should You Listen to Him?

I am not a doctor. I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a psychologist. Those are three pretty good reasons to hear and read what I have to say. For reasons I'll outline as we go along, none of these professional groups (or "professional") have much of a clue as to what they're talking about when it comes to serious mental health issues. I am aware that there are exceptions but the vast majority of them do not. There are reasons for this and it's not because they are bad people (though the laws of average dictates that some of them are). It has more to do with how the powerful pharmaceutical industry and lobby hijacked how we look at and treat mental health disorders starting about in the sixties. As doctors and psychiatrists are the only groups licensed to prescribe medications, they fell in lock step with and close alliance with the pharmaceutical industry (this is not conspiracy stuff, it's just the way people tend to hook up and do business). 

Psychology has long been sort of lost and were long ago shouldered aside when it came to dealing with difficult disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar, major depressive disorder, major anxiety disorder and so on. There may be the odd bright bulb that has the training and mental acumen to help out, but the odds are against it. And even if you do find one, they run around $150 an hour or more (some will offer compassionate discounts of 50% but ... well, you do the math). So aside from being innately inept, the pricing of psychological counseling puts it well out of reach of all but the well heeled and thus likely anyone who suffers a serious disorder. There are sometimes group sessions that are affordable or even free but the quality of these vary greatly and these are generally only of benefit to the "low hanging fruit" (IE: the easy cases). 

There is a growing body of research and evidence to show that peer to peer counseling works best. After all, nobody is going to understand how it feels and how to deal with, for example, being driven batty by hearing voices or hallucinating than someone who's been there and tamed those beasts (or polar bears). 

Peer to peer counseling is out there but hard to find and harder yet to find something that applies specifically to your personal demons (or polar bears). 

Which brings us to moi. I know what it's like do live with, deal with and tame the beasts, the inner demons. I don't just read about them, I don't just get some training in them, I don't view them through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, I don't have to try imagine what is going on. I live them. 

This gives me an insight into what these mental tormentors do to you that no health care professional can have. They're trying to guess what's going on in your head, I KNOW what's going on in your head (or at least have a very good idea). I know what it's like to hear voices, hear commands, hallucinate, experience psychosis, be incapacitated by depression, be horrendously suicidal, be locked up in psychiatric institutions, battle with doctors, lose everything as a result, be virtually completely incapacitated by the crippling fatigue that can result, feel the full horror of stigma and social isolation and all that other fun stuff. 

So there's that. 

But I am also a scientist. Oh, not a lab coat wearing scientist with a shiny degree from some institute, but a scientist nonetheless. I am part of a grand tradition that stretches back to the very beginnings of science - the amateur scientist (up until the beginning of the previous century, the majority of significant discoveries and advancements were made by amateurs). I am blessed with both being an autodidact (which essentially translates into a voracious and highly adept self-learner) and a genius level IQ. 

I flunked almost every science in high school but once I escaped that dismal straight jacket of learning, I have self-studied science ever since. I consider some of the top scientific minds in the world my mentors and my bookshelves are lined with the works of names such as Carl Sagan (sadly since departed), Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins among many others. 

Two years ago, when I took it upon myself to learn what's really going on in our brains when we suffer all these things we go through, I took up neuroscience. Being blessed with the form of bipolar mania that allows rapid understanding and clarity when taking up a new pursuit and a long background of scientific reading, I took to neuroscience like a duck to water and am considered by a good number of those who know me and my studies to be somewhat of an authority in the study of neuroscience. 

I am also ruthless and relentless in searching for the truest, best, most recent and most relevant science when it comes to our disorders. I have absolutely zero tolerance for bad science or "science" performed in the name of corporate or personal gain (hello there, pharmaceutical industry and the American Psychiatric Association). I can be very unpleasantly blunt when dealing with people who propagate bad, flawed or corrupted science. I also have zero tolerance for anyone - that would be anyone - who fucks over anyone dealing with mental health issues and the long term consequences of such. 

I can assure you, almost guarantee you (I cannot offer a full guarantee because that would be intellectually dishonest), that I will use the absolutely best sources of science available. I will list my main sources in a separate post. 

I have cultured a number of writing styles; sometimes scientific, sometimes in the language and style of the layman. I try my best to make everything I know and have experienced accessible to as many people and as broad a reading audience as possible. 

I pull no punches, I have no sacred cows, I spare no one. I don't, in other words, peddle bullshit. I don't do shiny-happy rose coloured I'm okay-you're okay it's all gonna work out alright bullshit. If you've spent any amount of time in the mental health care system and around well meaning but tragically ignorant family and friends, you've already gotten way too much of that. Bookstores and the Internet are full of that. If that's what you like, there's no shortage of that. This blog is not that. I tell it like it is. 

Yet I'll probably offer more hope than you can find almost anywhere. I just offer a different definition of hope. My hope isn't pie in the sky dreamy "I hope it all works out" hope, my hope is based on bleeding edge neuroscience and what's really going on in your brain and how to reverse/correct/improve it. 

I will give you views of mental health disorders and the lives affected by them that you will either find nowhere else or would have great difficulty finding elsewhere. 

It is difficult to find anyone who doesn't have a vested financial interest in the current mental health care system who thinks it's working. The mental health care system is not working. The numbers speak for themselves. There is virtually no evidence from long term studies that show pharmacological treatment "works". There is virtually no evidence that there is a specific "chemical imbalance" responsible for any given disorder that can be effectively targeted by a specific drug. All evidence and recent research points to a wide number of factors. Your doctor, psychiatrist and likely even psychologist (a field so devoid of cajones that they just nod along with their prescription writing brethren in psychiatry) will not tell you any of this. 

This blog then tells you, as much as practically possible, what the doctors will not or cannot tell you (as the subheading says). 

I'll also say that I probably take mental health issues more seriously than anyone you know or are likely to meet, including anyone in the mental health care system. 

I take them seriously because an inordinate number of people die every year for no other reason than no one understood what was going on with them. A number of people many times greater than that have their lives ruined because no one understood what was going on with them. A number of people that is completely and utterly unacceptable end up on the streets for no other reason than that no one understood what was going on or helped them. 

This is not because they had an "incurable disease". It's because from the get go they were surrounded by ineptitude, ignorance, denial, societal stigma and outcasting and flat out mistreatment at the very hands of the "professionals" charged with their care. 

I was - and remain - one of those so affected by the mental health care system. 

So not only do I have a personal problem with that, my massive empathy centre has an even bigger problem with that happening to tens and tens of thousands of people for no good reason at all. 

And few people give a shit because the mentally ill are one of the three most stigmatized demographics in the world. Don't even remotely imagine that our "modern" society has an enlightened attitude towards those with a severe mental health condition. In fact, all recent research and study points to it getting worse. 

So it is my hope that this blog will go some distance towards putting even a tiny dent in reversing the stigma and mistreatment of those with mental illness. 

What You'll Learn

If you or a family member has a severe or even moderate neuropsychiatric disorder (a term which I favour over "mental illness" and will likely use the majority of the time), then you have a lot to learn. My mission is to help facilitate that learning. My mission is to help teach you how to learn. My mission is teach you how to view neuropsychiatric disorders. In my wide and deep reading and experience, I see little evidence that anyone gets any of this right. Misinformation abounds. Myths, rumour and misconceptions rule over science. It's a nightmare out there for finding out what's going on and how to deal with it. My mission is to cut through the bullshit and deliver the straightest goods possible. 

In other words, we're going to explore everything there is outside of mainstream psychiatry's views, outside of what you can find on popular media and so on. 

But to be clear, I do not associate myself with "alternative medicine" and the charlatans that lurk there. I also do not do conspiracy theories. 

We'll explore the many possible causes to mental health disturbances (and often, that's all they are - disturbances in normal or optimal mental functioning, and often just temporary) along with many approaches to dealing with them. 

We'll explore much about the human brain and what goes on in there and why. 

We'll explore societal, family and economic factors involved. 

We'll explore how family and friends can better support someone going through either an acute or chronic mental health crisis. 

We'll explore both short and long term strategies and lifestyle choices. We'll learn that there are many choices not discussed with you by the above mentioned "professional" groups. 

There will be quite science bases posts, there will be more essay/op-ed like posts and there will be personal posts. It'll all help you understand, it'll all help you fill in pieces of your or a loved one's personal puzzle. 

That is all for now. 

If you are a new reader, welcome to Taming the Polar Bears and if you're a long term reader, welcome back. 

As this is going to be a blog version of my book, to get the most of it I'd humbly ask that you subscribe. It's a painless procedure, I can assure you. :)


  1. I look forward to reading you findings and thoughts.

    I suspect you might enjoy this quote, "...but King Max was one of those who believed that psychology was at the point in its development that surgery was at when in it was practiced by barbers..." -Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

  2. My thoughts exactly! That is precisely what I say about psychiatry.

  3. "Primum non nocere," a Latin phrase, means "first, do no harm." I fear that basic tenet, more than any other, has been trampled and violated in today's doctor-patient relationship. The fundamental need of most physicians is to be in control of the therapeutic relationship and to establish firm boundaries with their patients.Rather than an egalitarian relationship w/ mutual give and take and balanced exchanges in attempting to solve the presenting problem, the physician almost always assumes an authoritarian, almost dictatorial attitude toward the patient which often does not allow, much less encourage, full disclosure from the patient who often feels obliged to omit salient points from their history and descriptions of their lifestyle for fear of losing face or being judged by their health care provider. This reticence and hiding behind a false flag invariably places many stumbling blocks along the path to recovery, yet it has become such an institutionalized pattern of role-playing on the part of both doctor and patient that it is difficult to find more healthy and meaningful patterns of having a reciprocal relationship built on trust and unconditional positive regard where the patient may be willing to take a leap of faith and come clean w/ the doctor without fearing reprisal.