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mental health

Horse Power

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I posted awhile back about horses in Detroit. My friend and former coworker Pasha Ellis organizes monthly equestrian events for kids in his central Detroit neighborhood with the group Motor City Horsemen. He envisions a future Detroit where horses become a prominent form of transportation.

It may seem like a bit of an esoteric goal. In an interview we did this summer, he explained his thinking. He said horses are about:

Bringing people closer to who they are. Helping people find definition without things, objects, man-made products. Yo, riding a horse is an exhilarating experience man, especially for people who’ve never rode a horse before. It’ll definitely cut down on pollution, and it will spark an interest, I feel, in nature and being closer to nature.

As the leader of the Fenkell and Dexter Community Coalition, Pasha organizes a wide range of projects in the neighborhood—tending gardens, cleaning streets, building community spaces in vacant lots. He argues that American consumer culture perpetuates an internalized mentality of white supremacy in distressed black Detroit neighborhoods. Improving the city’s quality of life therefore requires confronting that culture. Beyond the free fertilizer and saved fossil fuel, horses have a role to play in that work:

I think all aspects of nature have a healing aesthetic, whether it’s planting gardens, riding a horse, raising livestock, since it’s our natural element as people. It just puts us in a better place health-wise, overall. And like I say for these kids, these city kids, definitely just bringing them closer to nature and their humanity, opposed to, you know, ‘ooh I like that new car, that new car!’ You know, fuck that pollution, get up on this horse and stop next to that car. See how majestic you really feel!

When I Dream It’s Hounds On My Heels…

The world gets a little bit big and scary when you stop taking Zoloft. It’s been a week, and my go-to emotion since then has often been fear: fear that my boss thinks I’m doing a poor job at work, fear that friends are upset over tiny transgressions, fear that the client who dislikes me is a threat to my physical safety. I have to work to avoid thinking that my wellbeing isn’t constantly at imminent risk.

I started taking the medication a year ago as a ploy to regain control over my own brain, haunted incessantly by demons far more potent than the ones described above.

But that strategy came with a cost. SSRIs have a way of making you feel, as a friend put it, “zombified”—cut off from much of the emotional range that gives life its zest. Coming back from that has been unspeakably satisfying. Sights and sounds and moments have a depth that, for much of the past year, I struggled to experience and almost forgot even existed. I have more energy.  Conversations are more rewarding. I feel more creative, more compassionate. It’s like the minute when “Wizard of Oz” suddenly flips from black and white into full color.

I’ve opted for the full-color world, even if it means being a little jumpy for a while. Despite this rocky transition, the medication unquestionably worked—I can handle the anxieties on my own, and I’m sure they will diminish as time goes on. I couldn’t have said that a year ago.

Making Cents: Rep Payee Clients Tackle Financial Literacy

From my day job:

Have you ever seen an $800 gas bill? Michael Jones has. A year ago, this DC resident was having trouble getting his bills paid, and the gas and electricity in his apartment had been cut off. He came to our Representative Payee Program for help.

“I came to this program because I wasn’t managing my money correctly,” Jones said. “I had my electric cut off because I wasn’t paying that, my gas cut off because I wasn’t paying that. I was back on my portion of the rent that I had to pay. I just wasn’t showing responsibility.”

Read the rest at Bread for the City.

Lunch… In a Cup!

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In Pixar’s WALL-E, future humans live a lifestyle so technologically advanced that they rely on machines for even the simplest of life’s tasks. That’s what I thought of when I read that a third of smartphone users are online before they are out of bed. Look at that picture; I know we still do our own walking, but the resemblance is eerie.

Tony Dokoupil’s recent Newsweek piece argues that constant connectivity—emails, social media, smartphones, texts—can provoke loneliness, depression, and even psychosis. The article is sprawling and often anecdotal in its evidence, but it has a wealth of thought-provoking nuggets about the way the internet impacts our brains and our mental health. Some food for thought:

  • “We are all cyborgs now.” We aren’t just tool-users anymore. Technology is such an innate part of us (think of what would happen if you lost access to all of your online accounts at the same time) that we are now animal-machine hybrids.
  • “Most young corporate employees […] keep their BlackBerrys in the bedroom within arms’ reach.”
  • Compulsive internet users display the same addicted behaviors as substance abusers. Like a gambling addict watched a card flip, “we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine” at the arrival of each text, facebook notification, retweet, and the potential rewards they carry.
  • Brain imaging shows that heavy internet users have a substantially modified prefrontal cortex, and changes in chemistry that mirror those of drug addicts.

Photo from mergy.org. I don’t know if they reproduced it with permission or not.