Celebrating Your Courage Will Connect You With Your “Me” and With Community

Veterans Day

A seriously cool veteran was cruising Old Town today on his Harley with about fifty American flags affixed in mysterious ways to his bike and person.  I cannot figure how, but those flags were not going anywhere he was not.

I had forgotten today is Veterans Day, even though my kids were all home, off from school, properly running amok.  This man, in his leather skins and industrial number of stars and stripes, reminded me.  As we approached each other from opposite sides of the street, I saw him nod to another biker passing him by.  His nod was enough to say, “Hello.  You are not alone.  I am not alone.  We connect by this brotherhood.”  I watched him in my rearview mirror and immediately dialed my dad, of course.   “Happy Verterans Day.”

Sometimes we do not wear our history as confidently as this cool vet.  How messy that would be, right?  Imagine a world where people used their hard-earned losses as a tool to empathize with themselves and others.  Where people’s pain was used as a force to connect with their Me and with others.  How tiring to receive nods, to accept judgments and applause, as it may be.  Right?  Company can be a burden.

This is my guess as to why not many of us speak up about what electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has done for us.  We hear about the miracles of medication therapies from first person reports, heck, even second, third or tenth hand.  We do not hear much about the miracles of ECT.  Instead, we hear the sound of quiet or else hopeless barbarism.

I was talking with a patient, Carla, about ECT as an option for treatment, and we laughed that we are anesthetized for a colonoscopy for much longer amounts of time than we would if we had ECT.  They seemed like such funny things to juxtapose.  The convulsion lasts around thirty seconds and you are done.  There are no broken bones.  No tongues bitten through.  There are no chickens sacrificed on anyone’s chest.  Carla had never heard about the physician-patient who had undergone thirty-six ECT treatments as a patient, whose morbid melancholia resolved and who later returned to practicing medicine in full capacity.  Why would the physician tell people about his history?  What kind of nods do you think he would get?  What patients would be willing to go to him for medical care?  Carla had not heard about the gamers, computer programmers, the nurses or anyone from the functioning productive public who had the courage to fight for themselves by choosing ECT.

My patients with whom I discuss ECT have concerns.  You have concerns.  Much of the world is concerned.  There are reasons.  ECT has improved farther than Jack Nicholson’s report on One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, though many of us were alive when his movie was first viewed.  The distance we have come in refining the practice of ECT is out of proportion to the distance in time from when ECT was not much more than sticking your finger in a socket and getting voltage in a continuous sine wave for therapy.  Is it shameful being connected to that history?  Is it too soon to say, “These are the ancestors I claim?” You know what to do with shame.

There are few medical specialties that gather as many opinions as psychiatry.  Yes.  Well there are even fewer medical treatments that are found in the company of so much frothing opinions than ECT.  No wonder we are quiet.  No wonder we are concerned.

So, although we veterans of ECT perhaps have not spoken up in our community, although we may not tear up at ceremonies for what our courageous self-care has done for our country or understand how we fit in, although we may not hang flags or tattoo it into our skin, we are courageous important citizens in company.  We are heroes.  Maybe not as cool in leather, but we are where we are because of those who have come before us and for what we have carried on.  We have suffered and died and lived and we are connected.  We have community and we are not alone.

Happy Veterans Day.

Self-Care Tip – Celebrate your courage.

Consider the Barrier Stigma Plays in Your Ability to Take Care of Yourself

Esther... The Girl Who Became Queen DVD Cover

I am just going to come right out and say it.  I have been trying to be clever, a Queen Esther toward her King and Hamon, on behalf of the people she loved.  (Yes.  I am Queen Esther in this story.  You can play her in another one.  Maybe tomorrow.)  I have been talking about treatment options for brain health and it is just not going where I was trying to take us – ECT.

ECT, my friends.  Electroconvulsive Therapy.  Many people see this as an extreme option for the dire, filtered out treatment failures.  That is an ugly description but I believe pretty close to what we have culturally got.  Many of you have told us how you escaped receiving electrically induced convulsions.  You hid from the boogie man and lived to tell us.  (There are chemically induced convulsions but we have more control of the convulsions through electricity, so that is the standard of care.)  Others have testified that it destroyed them with a catalog of specific and nonspecific complaints.

Interestingly we have not heard from you who have received ECT.

Come out, come out wherever you are.

Stigma perhaps hides you, and we can understand why.  Stigma toward ECT is like stigma toward anything – pretty off topic and hurtful.  Although it is improved by education and empathy, it is not fun challenging it “alone.”

Tonight I am not going to talk about the pros and cons of ECT, but to say that you are not alone.  You who are in treatment or have been in treatment or are considering ECT – would you tell us what you know, personal or impersonal?  There are many of us who would benefit from your education and empathy.

(What would that do to stigma?  What would that do for us?)

It would be wonderful to hear questions any of you have, as well, and anything related to ECT that you would like to share.  Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip – Consider the barrier stigma plays in your willingness to receive treatment and to connect with others.

What We Will Do For Brain Health – Looking For Heroes

Death and the Maiden #2

Image by CapCat Ragu via Flickr

My dad is turning seventy-seven tomorrow folks.  He could have died a gazillion times before now, but it is the tumbling of those near-deaths into big life that teaches and recruits me.  He makes life feel like open space, warm skin, color and lyrics.  Now his spine is crumbling, his legs are weak, his lips are always moving in and out like a rabbit and he’s almost too hard of hearing to comfortably socialize with.  Still, it is the life, the interest he has, the way he doesn’t stop growing that somehow dims the many times he might have died.  Why does the one time he will die seem impossible to juxtapose against any future then?  Where will life go, if he is not there to infuse us with his humble will?  I think it may fall asleep with him but I know it will not and I cannot imagine it otherwise.

These past few posts we have talked about “special efforts” for brain illness.  We asked, “Is there any treatment you think is too extreme to consider to get brain health?”  We have not said the reason we cannot fairly answer.

I don’t know how life will be without Dad; we never know how life will be when our brain is bad and then more bad.  It’s hard to tell.  We can only imagine and usually our imagination will be wrong anyhow.

Any answer to this question, “Is there treatment you think is too extreme to consider to get brain health?” is shaped by our understanding of what “extreme” means.  It changes shape and margins with the degree of brain illness.  With each turn, as our disease process exacerbates, so progresses our willingness to believe what is reasonable versus what is “extreme.”

Many of you have told us of your own specifics in your fight for brain health.  People do heroic things and I’m thinking you and I might have a bit of a living hero in us.  In part, it is the inherent unknown in growth that testifies to life itself.

“Is there treatment that you think is too extreme to consider to get brain health?”  I imagine my answer would be, no.  Please tell us more about yours.  Your view from your degree of extreme helps.  Keep talking.

Self-Care Tip – Let the hero in you speak, grow you and testify to life.

You are Valuable. Being With You Is A Privilege. Even for You.

A scattering of "brilliant" cut diam...

You are valuable.

Things in life; status, emotions, perception of different realities change – but this will not.  You are valuable.  Any time with you, even if only in your thoughts, is an immense privilege – for me or anyone, including you.  You? Privileged to be with you?  Yes.

Have you ever lost yourself?  Have you felt the heat hit your face when your thoughts fly into a rage, words rushing out as if exploding dynamite.  Bewildering, no?  You know then.

Have you forgotten where your car keys are but do not care because you are still in bed and have no motivation to move.  Your calendar, that once excited the tap of your fingers across your keyboard, holds no interest now.  You hide, ashamed but mostly you just do not want to explain to others.  “Too much energy,” you think.  If so, you know then that being with you is a privilege.

All these things you despise are reminders that you are precious and of immense value.  You are worth anything and everything to have the chance of holding once again.  You are the reason people crossed the prairies, fought against the sun and hunted for food to survive.  You are the reason the ark survived for forty days and forty nights.  You are the reason precious metals are considered lovely.  And it is because of you that you want to be your friend.  You are valuable.

In the previous chapter, we talked about Briggs and his wife.  They did not like the condition they were in, but they valued themselves as evidenced by seeking help.  While taking their history, I gathered together the names of medications Briggs had taken, when he took them, why he took them, how long, why he stopped and what they did for him.  And then the foreboding came.  I started thinking about numbers.

Now, you know that I am not a number person.  Remember?  “Big fat F.”  (F for feeler in terms of Jungian Typology.)  But here was Briggs and when the numbers started obstructing my “F” I got uncomfortable.  That meant to me that Briggs was risky.  He could die.

In Chapter One, I asked you, “Is there any treatment you think is too extreme to consider to get brain health?”  I did not say this directly to Briggs but I said it.  In my thoughts, Briggs is so courageous to fight the cruel sun the way he does.  In my thoughts, he is why freedom and fresh flowers and hope remain.  He is valuable.  I wanted to know his answer.

“Briggs, what do you want to do now?” 

Our culture does not remember that Briggs is the reason that diamonds cost more than more.  Culture tells us that he is damaged and not so much of a treasure.  Culture says, some treatments are shameful and the value of hiding shame is more than the value of Briggs, or me, or you.  For shame.  The value of Me is more than the value of hiding shame.

We are part of culture and culture is part of us.  Knowing what we want to do when what we have done has not yet worked, this knowing begins with our culture and with our self-value.  This knowing of Me increases our freedom to choose.  Knowing the value of Me increases our courage to choose what is difficult, what takes energy and hard work and a standing up against stigma and the taking of risks.  Knowing what we want to do when starts with knowing the value of Me.

You are valuable and being with you is a privilege.

Questions:  

  • Do you know your value?  

  • If you are lost, what are you willing to do to be with yourself again?  

  • How has knowing your self-value increased your freedom to choose?  

  • How has knowing your self-value helped you decide what to do when you were or are ill?

Please tell me your story.

Self-Care Tip – Remember your value.