Where Your Shame Is

One of my strong memories of Marcy will stay, of this Halloween. 

She was tired after her day at school. She had gone back to college to get her nursing degree. She was tired, like a shirt that had been over washed in hot water. She was the kind of tired that looked like the good emotions in her water bottle had been slurped down, and the refill was still in the fridge in her kitchen corner. At home. And she was still in the car.

These feelings started to increase and crescendo, and pretty soon she was tieing into memories of failure in her past. A young child who heard her parents yelling at each other in foul language. Marcy heard, “My family doesn’t love each other or me.” A kid who dressed poorly and Mom said, “Go change. You look terrible.” Marcy heard, “I’m an ugly kid.” A teen who didn’t get invited to the parties that she knew were going on. She heard in this, “I’m not likeable.” A young adult who watched her mother walk out on her father. Marcy heard, “I’ll never be someone worth committing to.” And now on halloween, with her daughter coming home from school, Marcy felt like a failure as a student and as a mother.

She told me about this, last week. We were in the quiet space of my office. Lamp light shone over the beta-fish hiding behind his splashing filter. 

Marcy told me, she was wilted there, in the seat beside her daughter. Saying words in effort of trying to be understood, she spoke, and she cried. At some point, Marcy realized she thought that if she didn’t go trick-or-treating with her kids, it meant she was a let-down. She wasn’t a good mother.

Not only was she someone who gets tired too easily, she was also a flake.  

Marcy threw out a few options; how to make this right for them. Then her mind opened up and processed these. She saw her inner beast let shame go. Something better in her said that she would give what she could, and discharge the rest. 

Marcy, in talking it out with her daughter, made herself vulnerable to what brought her shame. In that, she let the truth surface that she was, actually, not “a piece of crap,” after all.

Building on what our living experiences are, rather than disenchanting, they are healing. The easy fantasy that comes from comparison, from fabricated idealism, and from the personalizing of it, is destructive. We can be resilient by building on real experiences. We can be present and connected both to ourselves and others.

Brene Brown speaks on wholehearted living:  “It’s about the willingness to be imperfect, to be vulnerable. It’s about the courage to wake up in the morning and acknowledge that no matter what gets done and what doesn’t get done, that I’m enough, and that I’m worthy of love, belonging, and joy.”

Halloween will be a reminder to me of Marcy letting shame go, not identifying with the thin logic of her own self-inadequacies, and of getting into the living of it. That’s courage. That is brave.

Self-Care Tip: Start exploring where your shame is, and let your real experiences speak toward your belonging and self-value.

 

Question: In what areas of your life do you feel like you are not enough?

What has helped you discover your reality?

Please tell your story! We need to hear from you. Keep on!

Self-Stigma and MYTH

What is it like when people talk with you, a psychiatric patient?

How do all the areas we are contending with in stigma affecting your interaction with others? – Demonic possession, shame, violent tendencies, weak character, and poor moral choices?

We want to hear from you. Some stories please.

One patient told me that her parents were angry at her teachers when they were advised to consult with a psychiatrist for my patient’s depression. Her parents were so angry, in fact, that they removed her from her private school and enrolled her somewhere else.

I wanted to ask my patient, let’s call her Brianna, how people speak to her now that she has finally engaged in treatment, as an adult! How do her parents reconcile it? How does her church speak to her?

Briana is among many who suffer at stigma, but her best approach would be to ask how she, first speaks to herself, a psych patient. Does she have biased self talk? We need to start with “Me.”

What are the common myths? Get the myths out there.  Some of what the community says are true myths and some are not myths.

  • Time consumption.
  • Danger
  • Treatment skepticism – no recovery, there’s less hope for them
  • Punishment from God for evildoers.
  • Demonic possession
  • Danger
  • I am lessened by my affiliation with the mentally ill

The patient is sick after all. We agree. Brain illness and all that. This is Brianna’s identity; her emotions and behaviors paint what she and others see. Perhaps, Briana identifies herself as someone with depression; someone who went over her church and parents directives. That takes a chunk of courage to do. 

 

Self Care tip: Discuss and discover the self stigma we have about our mental illness.

Questions – as listed above :)!

What are you Living for?

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“Latest Banksy Graffiti”

Why do you get out of bed every morning? To go to work? You think, “Life i is about working and then, someday I’ll die.” Are you living to go to school? Perhaps a student for life, the best is to gather and gather. A klepto of information.  Ma skzwybe you live, instead, to stay home and not leave. That can be worth it. Leaving home feels like going to one’s death for many, in fact, with anxiety.

Is what you are living for, worth “living for?” Why didn’t you kill yourself last night?m I’m not asking for “13 Reasons” or glamorizing suicide in any way, like it ois, unfortunately, being done in the media these days. I’m just asking. (Straight face. Eye contact.) Why?

Suicide is increasing, this year up by ~30%. It’s sad but I’ve heard the ignorant say, “When our world is being overrun by humans, this is just one more way to improve population management.” Why anyone would say that, let alone to a psychiatrist, speaks toward the unfortunate person saying it more than anything. Even so, these are the people that contribute to our cultural stigma and sentiment, like the wrong colloid for growth. This stigma is best diminished by peer-to-peer influence. Your voice; you speaking up is the painting over the foul-language graffiti. You speaking of your own journey with suicidality or any related diseases changes the ignorance into empathic knowledge. 

We are in the mental health equivalent to the industrial revolution. Fortune. We are wealthy in mental health treatment options. Bling! Bling! It wasn’t too long ago when we were trusting depression medical therapies to crude agents bulky, and bluntly stunning our neuroreceptors. These were a big stick coming down on a flower.

Think of the cart and horse transforming into the automobile; course into sleek and refined; slowly moving and grossly impacting changes, contemporarily working rather as specific rapid responses. Now remember your parent, or mine, who never had the opportunity to receive a treatment that would work in a matter of weeks, and without turning her/him into a zombie-blimp.

A child stands there going through his own vasovagal experience, scared and confused while watching his favorite person in the whole world performing like a broken toy. The child tries to make sense and restabilize their once clarified existence. The parent goes through this at first for about six months and then somehow “gets better.” Was it the prayer that worked? Was Momma finally able to “pull through it?” Was it because the child’s behavior finally became “good enough” to please God who then condescended to make his momma better? Momma does well for another 2 years. She’s connected. She’s filled with purpose. The memory turns into something like, “Boston’s worst winter in fourteen years;” briefly print-worthy and then thankfully, not much more.

Then momma is again dark, hopeless and staying in bed whenever she can. The child, Teddy, is now a preteen of ten. This comes back, like finding another letter from his cheating dad’s girlfriend under a magazine in the back of the closet where his golf clubs are. And instead of six months, Momma’s change lasts about two years. (Can we even call it a “change” when it lasts two years?)

The amorphic improvement comes again though, like a miracle, but who can trust it. Miracles aren’t gotten in vending machines after all. I We can’t buy them with a paycheck.

Sadly, as Teddy feared, another some many months later, Momma drops again. This time she plummets rather than drops, into a drunken, more terrible condition. For longer, and the boy is now a teen. He at first appears more calloused. Yet, if questioned, he will show his grief and bewildered young self, just there behind a gentle touch, or a cluster of inquiring kind words. He loves her well. Why can’t she love him? Moms who love their kids will get up in the morning. They’ll shower and they’ll talk. They don’t write suicide notes or leave their son’s to find them half conscious when they get home from school. Not mom’s who love their kids.

Our moms, yours and mine in the seventies, didn’t have the privilege of taking treatments that worked or worked well, and rapidly. We are so blessed. How to grasp the immense difference in our Age; this Age of mental health revolution.

Now a little boy sees this change in his favorite person in the world. She is fortunate enough to receive medical treatment, and within weeks is “back to myself again.” This little family escaped years of decomposition by the ravaging damages from brain illness. 

My grandma, Elsie Louise, (isn’t that a great name!), was washing her laundry in a new machine that decreased her labor by many hours. One day, when she was daydreaming about her young handsome husband, or maybe it was the chicken she lost to the fox, when she screamed, jerking out from a terrible pain in her hand. Her fourth finger was gone. She lost it, pulled off by the twisting force of the machine’s internal grips.

Now we place our laundry in a closed lidded box we just walk away from. We don’t even think about the appendages we are allowed to retain. We don’t imagine the privilege. 

In psychiatry, it is like this. The treatments we had generations past were better than none. But, enter now into 2018, and we don’t realize how good we have it. We forgot most of the print-worthy stories back then. Not to use the treatments from this revolution, is going back to the darker ages of medicine. The treatments save lives. They bless. They make us rich in life. Bling! Bling! Look at your wealthy character. Healthy.

Why are you still alive? Whatever you answer, fight for that. Take advantage of the mental health revolution and live well.

Questions: What are some stories of those you have loved who missed out on mental health treatment? What are some stories of those who did not? Where is the difference?

Self-care tip: Speak! We need to hear you. You are painting over the foul-language graffiti of ignorance!

Keep on!

The True Self – Guest Post

 

The True Self

All around me I hear people talking about finding your “True Self.” I hear it in podcasts, coffee shops, in magazines and even books.

What the hell was everyone talking about and if there is such thing, how does one find it?

What is meant by “True Self?”

First, apparently, it depends on who you ask.  If you ask a therapist you get a vastly different answer than if you ask a spiritual guide.  Honestly, even from one person to the next your answers will vary.

Authentic Self.

Real Self.

Original Self.

Vulnerable self.

These are all synonyms of this mysterious phrase. After looking at countless websites, I like what the Huffington Post said in the article, “What does it mean to be your Authentic Self by Judith Johnson.”  “Living in a place of profound authenticity involves being rooted in your deepest beliefs, values, and truth and living a life that is a true reflection of them. It is about being true to yourself through your thoughts, words, and actions.”

So from what I gather, the true self is something that is within us.  Is it nature or nurture? Or is it something in between (the damn gray area that surrounds our lives)?  I don’t have an answer for this, but from what I read and what I have experienced, it is a real thing. It’s ingrained deep in our heart and soul.

Why do I care about this?

When I was younger, I was working at a camp in Ensenada for the summer.   It was one of the best summers of my life and I felt that I was becoming the best version of myself. That same summer I met a girl (yes, you can roll your eyes now).  I fell head over heels for her and we ended up getting married.  We were together for fifteen years, and often I would look back and wondered what happened to the man I was becoming and why wasn’t I feeling any closer to being a better version of myself? I felt that I was slipping away and losing myself.

I wrestled with why.  Did I fool myself that summer? Did that woman I fell in love with strip me of my manhood?  What happened?

The marriage didn’t go.  I decided I wanted a divorce, which happened to be one of the first real decisions I had made for myself since I met her.  Pain of the failed marriage filled me, but I also felt the emergence of the boy 15 years earlier.  My “true self” surface and that I didn’t have to look back in remembrance of that person. I decided that I was going to become the man I had always desired (I do not blame my ex for the hindering of this man, but blame myself.  More on this in another post).

I care about the true self because I struggled for years to step on the road and begin the journey.  Guilt, shame, and fear were around every corner.  This trifecta left me questioning everything I did (and I still struggle with it at times).  Being in that dark place is hard, and I want to help others know there is a better way.  It’s not the easy way, but it’s the better way. Or as my friend, Major Lewis would say, “The hard right over the easy wrong.”

How do you find your “True Self?”

The easy answer is to be real with yourself.  The hard answer is that I only know how I did and it might differ from person to person.

In my first marriage, I was a fraud and could become whomever the person I was talking to wanted me to be.  I was like Julia Roberts in, “The Runaway Bride.” Depending on what guy she was with, she liked a different type of egg.  Poached with one man.  Scrambled with another man. I morphed myself into someone in order to be liked.  Sadly this left my true self-hiding behind layers of falsehood.  I pushed away those close to me in shame.  My unconscious was wreaking havoc on me.  I was messed up.

Be true to yourself.  Look in the mirror, and know who you are.  It takes time and won’t happen overnight.  The first time I went to the shoe store to buy shoes after my separation I ran out in a panic because I didn’t even know what shoe I liked.

I started by giving myself permission to experiment.  I would try things and then evaluate if I liked it.  Slowly, month after month, year after year, I began to understand what I liked.  Then I would do more of that.  The small steps of trying something new and being honest with yourself will start to open your heart up to seeing deeper questions.

Self-care Tip: Take a chance on yourself.  Try something new. If you hate it, great! If you loved it, great!  Either way, you are opening yourself up to new opportunities and trying to ignite the flame of your true self.

Brandon Fries lives in Southern California with his lovely wife and daughter.  It was through his life struggles that he found a path towards happiness.

Daughters of Dementia – book

Introducing a lovely book written by Leslie Birkland, and Lindsey Denhof, who are sisters who felt compelled to share personal and revealing stories about their father as he fell deeper and deeper into the tragic memory robbing abyss called Dementia. The two sisters narrate their experiences born from different perspectives, but very much driven from the same heart.

dementia

 

Please enjoy and comment. Dementia is everywhere. It affects all of us. Whether we have  a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a neighbor with dementia, we are affected. Even if a community member is suffering from this, known or unknown, we are affected, although to differing degrees.

Dementia worldwide is estimated at 47 million and is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030. It is a huge economic impact – in the US, $818 billion dollars a year. People with dementia and those with family members with dementia are often discriminated against. Awareness and advocacy are needed. Dementia is a public health priority. Let us know where you stand. Thank you for reading.

Self-care tip: Everyone has a story. Tell yours.

Keep on!

Family is Family

Family is Family

She must be in her mid-thirties, I thought. Kids – it looks like she has kids. She was well dressed, with a pleasant, kind face. Everyday Mom – a person who is easy to like, a person next door who everyone wants to be friends with.

Just right now though, she was spouting angrily, full of righteous indignation.

“And just to think that they could have easily killed him, I just could not believe it.” Her eyes were flashing. “I told them right then and there, I will never take him back to this doctor. He almost died and ended up in the intensive care for DAYS!”

The reason for the outpouring, my new patient, was sitting quietly, fondly looking on as she continued. He looked to be around eighty, which I knew was about 10 years more than his actual age. Recently diagnosed heart failure, stroke last year – this would make anyone look older.

The daughter was at the end of her rant. “So, we just decided to come straight here and find another cardiologist.” She pulled out a large binder. “Here are all his records – we want you to take over now.”

Usually I try to be understanding of my own profession and not be quick to join in the blame game. After reviewing these records, however, it was difficult not to be blunt in my judgment. Her father’s case had indeed been poorly handled – he was prescribed two medications at the same time with predictable life-threatening interactive side effects. His daughter’s diligence likely saved his life – when his mind started slipping, she had checked his blood pressure, found it extremely low, and immediately called for help.

After some painful experiences in my career, I had learned that instead of pronouncing judgment, it was best to find things to praise.

“You are quite lucky to have such a devoted daughter, sir,” I remarked. “If you are not aware, I can tell you – research shows that men with daughters live longer, so you have an edge there.”

The patient smiled. His daughter looked pleased.

*************

As I was going through his medical records, I was relieved that this new patient had been scheduled into an hour-long slot – there was a lot to cover. Making notations in the chart, I asked follow-up questions – what other medical problems he had, what were his habits, when was he first diagnosed with heart disease. The daughter answered most of the questions – not unusual when the patient is elderly; younger people tend to have better memories.

Working through the records, I noticed a condition the daughter had not mentioned.

“So, the prostate cancer – when did you have that?” The daughter looked confused for a moment and then turned to the older man. “When was that, Dad? This must have been a long time before I met you.” They started discussing the possible dates – the patient did not have the best memory.

This snippet in the conversation caught me off guard. First I thought I had misheard the word ‘met’. Surely one would not use that word for one’s own father? Should I ask? Social history is an important part of the medical exam. Also – let’s face it – I was curious.

“That was an unusual word choice,” I started carefully. “So, I assume you are adopted then?”

“Oh no,” the woman answered cheerfully. “As biological as can be.”

The utter confusion must have shown on my face. She decided to have pity on me.

“Well, of course, I didn’t know who he was.”

…. That did not make things any clearer.

“My Mom refused to tell me who my real father was – so after she died, I started looking for him. Went through as many genetic tests as I could – and I finally found him!”

There was an unmistakable triumphant note in her voice.

The patient just smiled and continued looking at her fondly.

She went on. “So, then I asked him to come visit us last year. That’s when he had the stroke. Of course he would be better off here, so I just asked him to stay and he lives with us now.”

I tried not to react. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure how one would react. The commitment she described was flabbergasting… and to a father who had never been in a picture. This woman had taken a virtual stranger into her home and into her life and acted not only as a forgiving daughter but as a caregiver to an elderly man with multiple medical problems.

“Family is family,” she announced. “I am so happy I could finally be with my Dad.”

*************

I must confess that there was a small suspicious part of me wondering if she will stick to it. The old man was not healthy and with the recent stroke needed a lot of help. After the initial euphoria of having a father wore off, would she think it too much?

On the next scheduled visit, the daughter was there, with the same updated binder. The father was looking better – the combination of optimized medications and stable home care had done wonders for his health.

On the visit after, the granddaughter had joined them. She was a bright-eyed little thing, curious about everything and intently looking at her new grandfather’s heart pumping on the ultrasound screen I was showing them. The daughter was making notes about medication changes. While I talked to the her about the home care, the granddaughter was trying to talk the grandfather into playing a game once they got home. The whole visit had an atmosphere of care and contentment.

*************

I never asked more questions about their history. Why had the mother refused to talk about the father? What skeletons were in that family’s closet?

She probably would have told me. But it was not my place to ask. As a physician, I was happy enough that my patient had good social support.

Family is family. In this case, family that almost wasn’t.

 

 

False Thoughts about Getting Healthy

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Think of walking in a rainstorm. Your clothes and hair hang heavily. They provide no protection. They offer no remedy. You take a hand towel out of your bag and try to mop up your icy wet face. Wring it out and continue to wipe. 

This is like choosing to do all the psychosocial efforts in your life, but missing the biological. Until you treat the underlying illness, much of our efforts to heal are like using a hand towel to dry off in the rain storm. We think that we can get better without medication. Or, we may reject other treatment options, like ECT or TMS. We think false thoughts. 

It’s not healthy to take pills. 

I’m better than that. 

All I need is God. 

My parents would be upset, so I shouldn’t. 

If my work found out, I’d lose my job. So I shouldn’t. 

THC is better. 

Exercise is better. 

Some of these are entirely false. But some are just partly false, encased in a disconnected truth. This “rain and the hand towel” idea is not an analogy meant to minimize or bring shame to those who choose not to engage in treatment. It is not meant to talk down. Please forgive me for the crudeness and limitations. It is just meant to crack open this idea.

Yesterday, Louise commented that her physician told her taking sertraline, or Zoloft, was like taking “a vitamin for my brain”. That clicked for her! Vitamins were ok.

Question: How has your physician helped you get past not wanting to take treatment? How could your provider do better with this?

Self-care Tip: Allow healing with medical treatment for medical disease.

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