Our sinking boat and Care-Giving

On mental illness.

Generally we think about the individual/the patient. 

Generally we start with what they’re going through. 

  • We don’t generally… 
  • we don’t traditionally… 
  • we don’t naturally
  • I would say…

Our first instinct is not to think about the rest of those without. First, we think about those with mental illness. However considering statistics, the pool of persons who are not ill, is much larger to the pool of persons who are ill. 

It’s just how it goes to think of things this way. The person with the hurt comes first and last. Right?

Contrasting to this, healthy relationships ebb and flow. There is a dynamic. There is a back-and-forth. Sometimes it goes in one direction. Sometimes it goes in the other, depending on who needs what at the time. 

But when someone is ill, the needs tilt. They go more toward the person who is ill.

It’s like saying if you are in a boat on a lake you are likely trying to float. But the boat has a hole in the floor. Water is rushing in. In this boat with a hole on a lake, you with someone. There are two people. Bummer though. One of you has a broken arm. The other person has two healthy arms. Who ends up bailing more water? You guessed it. 

Even with the best intentions, the person with a broken arm is never going to be the same performer as the person with two healthy arms. 

Question. Is there culpability?

The person with two well arms is bailing water at breakneck speed. The person with only one fit arm is doing their best. Bummer though. In this story, they develop tendinitis. Bailing water slows down even more now that they have both a break in one arm and tendinitis in the other. The person with two well arms is still bailing frantically. The person with two healthy arms looks over and says…

What do they say?

Do they say, 

“Hey you! You are a dud partner. It’s your fault this boat won’t float.”?

Or, do they say,

“I am responsible if this boat sinks. I am responsible for your well-being because I have two healthy arms. It’s my job if we don’t float.”?

You see the gap. And both answers are wrong wrong wrong.

Unfortunately, most don’t say what is really going on. 

“No. There is no culpability. There is no fault. It just is what it is.”

Have you ever felt like it’s your fault? On either side of this equation. Caregiver or patient, there is blame we do to ourselves. Being joined, as a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend… with someone who is ill, even illnesses of the mind, puts you in a position of care-giving. 

What is it like to be a caregiver?

You may be saying, “Dr. Q. Are you a dummy?! It’s a tiring thankless job that I do because,” …there are so many reasons. Love. Finances. Religion. Guilt. So so many reasons we become, and stay, caregivers.

Dr. David Kessler, grief researcher, explains that in the grieving process we often fall out of intimacy with others because we are judging how the other person grieves. This took me by surprise. I didn’t realize that in our pain we judge. As pathological as it is, this is a process of self-preservation. Fists up, we are just trying to survive. 

“They are not grieving the right way.” 

“They are getting over it too soon.” 

“They are already forgetting.” …and so forth.

In a care-giving relationship, we get into the same trap. We judge ourselves and others in how we give and receive care. 

No one ever feels quite so lonely as when they are “right” and looking down at others. The other, even being one’s own tired crumbling self. Being at the “top” is a windy cold summit. The pedestal of “correctness” is paper mache. Care-giving easily encargos judgment, even judging yourself. And is isolating. I’ve never felt so alone as when standing in judgement.

Being a caregiver is, well, …giving!  There is a need.  We respond to the need.  We give.  There is also a taking from what is given. When we talk about this, some of us hear the tap, tap of a bookkeeper balancing ins-and-outs.  Tap, tap, take, take. “Keep it fair!” Or, “Keep it right!” There is judgment. Are you giving enough? Are you giving right?

How to pull away from the Judge Judy role:

Understand first that the illness is there just because it is. It’s no fault of anyone. No culpability. These illnesses are, at the most primitive perspective, because of our human condition. We suffer. It is what it is.

These illnesses come because we are human. It is what it is.

These come from biology we didn’t choose. It is what it is.

They come, perhaps, from bad choices, like illicit substance use, texting and driving, or ring boxing and collecting a series of traumatic brain injuries. Bad choices that, although have a degree of selfish beginnings, still come down to the human condition. They happen. Humans make bad choices. It is what it is.

My patient was struggling with her own sense of guilt. “I just feel responsible,” she said. “I’m his mother.” She couldn’t let him “hang in the wing, out to dry.” Rescue after rescue.

And that’s ok, right? It’s ok if that’s what you want to do. Rescue away, I say! But do you loath that about yourself?

While bailing water, take stock. It is your own choice. Think of your reasons why. Own them. Celebrate them rather than judge yourself. You are doing what you want to do. 

At FriendtoYourself, we say, “Everything starts and ends with me.” There is freedom in that. It is putting the judgment down and claiming your life. It is digging in your own dirt for your own worms and feasting. It is spending your energy where it will make a difference. With, “Me.” This is the only person I can account for. This is all I can have any control over, (as little as that is considering biology!) but it is what we have. 

And from this accountability, from this place of freedom, comes connection. Both to yourself and to others. The caregivers-martyr-death is lonely lonely, like a howl sounding that no one ever captures. A caregiver who repositions themself, adjusts and tweeks their lens, to say, “I choose…” 

What? What do you choose? Do you continue to give and bail water? Do you walk, or swim as it were? No judgment here. You are doing the best for others still when you do either of these. Sometimes you are still giving love when you swim away. Sometimes staying and bailing water is worse. It’s worse no matter what your choice is when you choose and perform from a place of judgment on yourself and on others. 

If this is off from your care-giving experience, forgive me and speak. Tell what you are going through. We need to hear.

Self-care tip: It is what it is. Find forgiveness for yourself in your human condition. 

Questions: What is your care-giving experience like? Do you judge? Do you feel lonely? What has helped you gain self care during it all?

Keep on!!!!

Anxiety and an Ultimatum

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

“This isn’t working out for us. The way you…”.

Marcy said this was a repeated conversation between her and Eric. They had been dating for a couple of years. Although Eric was my new patient today, Marcy came with him to clinic to explain.

“He is so anxious and doesn’t get it.”

Apparently it had taken a, “do this or else,” push to get Eric into clinic as Marcy was about “to walk.” This is sometimes described as “rock, paper, scissors.”

I adjusted my posture. The tension in the room wrapped around me like numerous threads and I needed to gain some freedom of body and mind. “Do this or else” packages smell like stink to anyone in their space, but sometimes they are what gets people to “open a window” into what otherwise would continue to feel entrapment.

In her effort to balance this out, Marcy described all the great features in Eric’s persona. He was attentive and faithful. This meant a lot to her, who survived many dramatic abandonments. He was kind. And so forth. But…

Eric and Marcy went back and forth trying to explain to each other what they needed from the relationship and why they did what they did in it. Marcy needed Eric to make more decisions, to socialize, and, in general, proceed with less fear through life. Eric needed Marcy to take him as he was. He did not perceive that these behaviors were problematic. He did not connect that several of his previous relationships had ended for related reasons. He thought Marcy was being unreasonable, projecting her own personality onto his. They were different people after all.

This is what the anxiety-story sounds like. Over and over I hear it. It is familiar and common. Most of my patients think that they are unique in this condition, once they accept that it is a problem, that is. I tell them in a bit of a joke that it is, in fact, so very common, that it populates enough to develop into its own medical specialty.

I asked Eric a few basic questions:

  1. Do people think he is a “worry wart?”
  2. Is the worry distracting to him? Feel like “white noise” in his head? 
  3. Does the worry keep him from connecting with his own self, and others?
  4. Does it affect the way he makes decisions?
  5. Does it affect his quality of life? What he considers life worth living for?

I didn’t ask these question like this. They were more open ended, but this is some of what I was trying to glean. There were a few more questions that anyone can look up under the DSM-V and are certainly interesting to read about. In the end, Eric had to come to decide if the problems from his worry were greater than the problems he feared from medical treatment.

Eric explained that his dad would be very upset at him if he chose to medicate. No one “uses drugs” in his family, apparently. (And you know how I feel about calling medications drugs. It’s misdirecting.) I believe that I was supposed to smile at this reference to “the less extreme”, and through empathy, suggest a different nonpharmacologic (healthier) and less confrontational option – such as a weed that grows out of the ground, or cucumbers with cream cheese and dill, maybe.

It’s true that there are many other options to medications to treat emotional illnesses. However, we are talking about medical illnesses. In this case we refer to – anxiety is to the brain, much like diabetes is to the pancreas, cancer is to the replicating cell, or hypertension is to the diseased kidney. And like these other medical diseases, psychiatric illnesses are also potentially improved by other paradigms of treatment. But why in the world would we put science and medicine as an either or to these other options? Can’t someone eat a cucumber with cream cheese and dill, and also take a treatment that has been studied, that has separated from placebo in these studies, and that has gained indication for treatment through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? Forget the prejudice against pharmaceutical company profits and pick something extremely generic if you prefer. But please don’t exclude medical care. It reminds me of my aunty who thought to treat her colon cancer with clean eating, various body cleanses, and faith. And then some months later when the cancer had progressed and she was running out of life-time, she decided she wanted to treat medically after all. That’s a sad ending story that we are still grieving. 

Back to Eric and Marcy. He is still weighing his options. She is still complaining about his “limitations.” It’s a pretzel.

So I turn this over to you. How do you recommend we work through this? What could better dispel prejudice against treatment and bring people to a place of less suffering?

Please speak! Keep on!

Daughters

To all the daughters, of any age.

My girlness is triggered. Seeing my daughters grow in femininity is a live matchstick. Woosh! What is this edge and sadness and tears that surprise me; me, the well analyzed adult. Ha!

Where did these thoughts come from, like old dirty  socks from the backside of the dryer? 

My daughters explore their own free rights as well bodied young women. Then flashes explode in my mind, just as unsolicited as the original whistles and lewd comments were. “Hey! Chicky Chicky!” Kissing sounds smack in the air as the men encroach on my space.

My daughter wears a top just so, and suddenly I am 17 years old. My cousin smirks knowingly. “Are you going out to have some fun?” Later I understood he was convinced that because I looked the way I did, I was having sex with multiple partners. 

My daughters pick up on my inconsistencies when I warn them. My somewhat frantic words seem over the top and suppressive. They don’t hear my mom calling me an 8-year old hooker when I walk around the house in underwear. Apparently I was too old. The calendar page had turned and I didn’t notice. Time to wear full attire if my brothers and father were home. It was apparently also time to move my best friend out of my room. I was left alone, listening to the newly roommated brothers on the other side of our shared wall talking and laughing together into the night.

What is this arbitrary line I didn’t see? And how do I explain it and warn my daughters? I’d like to wrap them up in caution tape. “Please be careful my daughters. I love you. Please don’t get hurt.”

It felt like everything reinforced my own vulnerability to that line. “You are not safe,” the line read. “You are not equal.” And I can’t even tell you what it was like becoming a woman in medicine. As I walked along through life, the line progressed too, defining me. “You are just just a woman.”

I have worked so hard to smudge this line throughout my life. So hard. I thought it was as close to a nonissue as it could be while still having a vagina and breasts. This must be why it has been such a surprise when these visceral reactions to my daughters’ development jump up, like turning the crank on the jack in the box. Spring! Cue scary clown in my face. Probably my mother had her own jumping thoughts when she parented me just so. 

I’m sorry, Mom, for judging you. 

My daughters deserve to figure this out for themselves without my sleeping-thorns waking up all over them. They will do well. My fear will or will not continue to heal. But I pray that either way, I don’t use it against them. And I pray that my fear doesn’t ironically distance us from each other. 

If I were a wizard, I would twitch my nose, chant a marvelous Latin spell, and they would gain the ability to proceed with both the guilelessness and the smarts that would keep them from harm and still give them freedom. But the only magic I have is this clumsy love. 

The differences are real. The double standard is not arbitrary. I misspoke earlier.

Getting accepted to medical school with the many family and friends’ opinions dropping around me like stinky flower petals – “She’s her father’s daughter. That’s why.” A patient mid interview aggressively grabbing me. The failure of messy hair and weight gain. Being passed over for a directorship. 

And then there are all the wonderful realities of being girl…. Many. 

I will stand with you, daughters of mine. I will come when you call. I will shake my fist when you are shattered. I will work on my own self care. I will choose, and choose again, to not trip you. And when you mess up, I will still want you. Every time.

Self-care tip: Work on your own self-care in order to love your loved ones well. Keep on!

Questions: How have you found that the condition of your health – emotional, physical, spiritual – has given you more to give to the ones you love?

Hard life

To AnaSofia:

I feel ugly

I feel green

And while I work

I could eat a fly in between 


There are moments in my day

When all I do is think

And I think Of all the things I feel

And now I think I feel a horn on my head


Oh the weapons I possess!

Between my ugliness and horn

And survival skills – I guess

I am just mean


I mean no one will kiss something green

And warts are contagious to hand-holding romantics

And life is just hard

Life is hard when you’re a frog

walking the dog – and grief

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Sheez! Is everyone and their dog going through loss and grief or what?! 2020 has more memes then the president, or ex I guess? But it is TRUTH! 2020 brought so much pain and loss. From deaths, isolation, divorce, housing, jobs or the lack thereof, fires and natural disasters, and all the way to the “COVID 20# gain,” ie., loss of body figure, and more. (Those other people, not me.)

So speak. What have you been going through? Have you suffered through loss? Are you grieving?  Pause and think that maybe that emotion you’re consciously aware of may be coming from a place of grief.

There was a big crashing sound, then a thump. Like someone broke through a week floor board. Ron was in his living room waiting for his wife to come out of the bathroom. It has been a while he noticed when he heard it. An abrupt break in his quiet. Something had happened.

“Megan! Are you alright?”

Ron’s wife Megan was on the floor. Her skin was mottled. “How long had she been in there?” Megan’s pants were around her ankles. Ron ran to lift her up and there were smeared feces on her butt. “Megan. I’ll help you wipe. I got you, Honey.” But Megan didn’t answer or engage. She made no sounds. Ron wrestled the job done anyhow. Megan wouldn’t like this at all. She was cleaned and her pants were up before Ron called 911. Why did he do that, Ron wondered. Should he have called 911 first?

Ron was told that she must have died earlier, and as her body lost its tension, that’s when she fell to the floor, getting his attention. Megan was always complaining that Ron was distracted. She wanted more of his attention. “Hello!” she would say, snapping her fingers. But she said it with a bit of a smile, like she was still trying to be cute after 29 years of marriage.

Ron was devastated. “Megan was my everything; my best friend. I don’t have any other friends. I was always just with her.”

It had been three weeks since Megan died, and he was pale. He looked unhealthy overall. Like he was anemic and like a few other blood dyscrasias had him in their marks. He looked very different from how he had two months prior. Aged. “I don’t want to go on. I wish I’d just not wake up from sleep. I feel like I have nothing to live for.” We were doing telepsychiatry rather than in person, but he looked like he probably smelled too. I had known Ron to be fastidious in his toilette from our history together. I was alarmed.

Here was Ron, seriously suffering. I never want to tell anyone, “I know what you’re going through.” Because the suffering isn’t my suffering. It’s theirs. But for me, in my losses, I have come to a place of my own understanding and hope.

I haven’t had something that has taught me this much about God’s character in a long time than what I have had in losses over 2020. I wanted to give Ron some hope but I was clumsy. What do I say? We are all, even providers in mental health, baffled by death and those who survive. To survive the ones who die before us is a large span of hazy terrain.

When I think of grief, I think of the inverse times to make sense of it. Those kaboom great and wonderful cracks in space and time to try and bring balance in my heart. I’ve had those wondrous moments when God, when S/He, looked most directly at me. Like when each of my kids were born and that jug of oxytocin splashed over my brain. This morning walking by an enormous cactus flower, five bees taking pollen from her petals, He was there. A patient opened up, an honest pose, wanting to receive treatment, She was there. My acceptance phone call into a dreamed over residency program. 9/11. My husband in worship on an early day, door open to the cool and quiet, his profile. These times, I grew. God taught more effectively than a Harvard professor at her lectern.

But it’s been a long time since this much of learning has made its way into human-Me. Dad died and I just don’t feel like I’m completely at home any more. I will be waiting for him the rest of my life. With all his faults, and all his intense and prolonged suffering, yet he was valued. Placing Mom in an assisted living. Losing our childhood home. Death death. My girlfriend’s brother, then her father. My patients. Family. Death and loss. So much death.

I learned more thoroughly that God doesn’t feel completely at home either. Not without us. The sense of missing something. The feeling that the ground isn’t solid under foot. God is pacing the floor waiting for us. This is the big big message I’m getting from 2020.

In this year, I’ve collected a few resources for myself and others who are grieving.

Please message in any others that have brought value to you. We need them!

  1. Nora McInery: We don’t “move on” from grief. We move Forward with it
  2. GriefShare.org
  3. American VI: Ain’t No Grave, Johnny Cash
  4. David Kessler and Brene on Griev and Finding Meaning
  5. I will Follow You Into The Dark, Death Cab Cutie
  6. Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

What you got??? Add add more. Connecting through grief. Be a friend to yourself. Keep on folks! 🙂

Wanting, with a capital “W” …and God

A perfect world for me would include Wanting, with a capital “W”. We would want and have the energy and motivation all included, like a first class Qatar Airline’s ticket with real linen napkins for your glass of water with gas. We’d feel the desire to do things, and good things too. We wouldn’t crave that trash like cookies, ice cream, or chips until we couldn’t taste it any more. Nor would it drape us over couches all day watching tv or fill our heads with cotton-candy audiobooks.

A place of safety would have us full of urge and interest for growing our inside parts, the creative parts, the parts that parallel play with what is Love. We would Want, like a coil that unravels, like my puppy seeks my hand, like the people on Easy Street in a better place.

Wanting is a gift. It isn’t a right. People who have never lost it, they just have no idea about existing in the absence of it. But those poor souls who have lost it, who don’t Want, who have felt it leave them like a mist into the ether, that is hard.

I’d like to tell you a story to help you understand. And there are so many patients clamoring to speak, but my own voice for them is clipped by limited skill and talent. Their voices are most eloquent. For this, I refer you to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI), who are people for people. An awesome resource.

However, in my own effort, know this: Wanting is a gift. I’ve seen what it looks like when it is gone, and it is vacuous, a void, a space where if not filled, devils come to occupy. The devils of our broken minds. Depression, that is dark. Down down, feeling like it will suck you into the earth and plants will grow out of your carbon compost.

Priscilla asked me why she felt this way. Why was the gift taken, without clear reason? That familiar phrase, “I don’t have a reason to feel this way. Everyone says I should feel good about my life. But I don’t. I don’t even care if I die. I don’t care about anything.” It’s a familiar phrase because many in Priscilla’s patient cohort say almost the same thing word for word.

I don’t proselytize in clinic but I am open to whatever religion people come in with and how they practice it in the world of mental health. For Priscilla, this was her conflicted outcry.

“I need help. I can’t go on like this. I’ve prayed for help. I’ve asked God to heal me. But I’m still so depressed. Please pray for me. Please help me.”

All the like minded believers are feeling super fine with her right now. “Yes. Pray about it. God can heal you.” And maybe some are thinking she must even be a little culpable. Even if at a dusty genetic level. Yet for whatever reason, God has gifted them with lovely Wanting. Not her though. Many here would think emotions and behaviors are spiritual issues, moral, and connected to salvation. I do. …As a psychiatrist, may I? But looking too close at that, at moralizing emotions and behaviors, is like poking the IRS, so all is quiet.

Her outcry, “Please help me!,” was a spiritual request synchronous with a physical and temporal one. “Please help me…” feel and behave well. It’s sounds of Naaman asking Elisha to remove his spots of leprosy. Or the crippled beggar, stretching his hand out to Peter. Or Esther fasting to beg for the lives of her people. “Please help me.” The spiritual is there with the body.

In my life, having practiced in medical research as well as clinical care for 18 years, and after a super super long many years of schooling, after having walked through church and daily Bible study, (and this is a run on sentence as that’s what this unfolding in my professional experience feels like sometimes), I am comfortable with asking God to help Priscilla, whilst helping her see and achieve how God, S/He, is going to do that for her through a medical approach.

But the absence of Wanting in her life, wanting to get up in the morning, wanting to read her Bible, wanting to take care of her kids, to shower, to have sex, when she doesn’t want this, it isn’t fair. It isn’t because she was bad, or is less than any of us, or doesn’t have the ear of God. I’m very comfortable saying that she has a treatable objectively identifiable medical illness. Thank God. God is all that is good, and kind, and God has mercy for us bleeders, the jacked up, the mean spirited and the ruined. God sees what is wrong with our bodies and minds, and God doesn’t resent us getting medical help. How absurd otherwise.

Self-Care Tip: Give yourself a break and ask for help. There is a better place. Keep on!

Questions: Have you ever experienced the absence of Wanting? Or seen it in someone else?

What did it look like? Please tell us your story. We need to hear.

Interim Post – floating home

Dad died and maybe it’s been about a month. I don’t remember the date. Now that I think about it, that seems like a failure. A “D” grade. How could I forget the death date? But I have been finding myself edging away from thinking about him and his death.

People talk to me about him and they say things like, “Isn’t it nice that he is resting now? He suffered for a long time.” And it is.

They say, “He really didn’t have much to live for any more. He couldn’t walk, talk, interact much.” And he didn’t.

Dad died about a month ago but Friday was the first time I said the words just so. My poor friend stuck her foot in it and I cringed for her. “How are your parents doing?!” she asked almost aglow. My parents brought that out in people. Good will and community. There was that moment when I wanted to protect her from Dad’s death and Mom’s isolation. But the knowledge grabbed me like a great wind and threw me up against it’s rocky finality. I looked her straight in the eye and responded, like I was gripping my seat in a Boeing 747 going down.

“Dad is dead.”

“He died about a month ago. And Mom is in an assisted living. She’s doing well, thanks.”

I hadn’t said those words out loud till then, to that unsuspecting kind face. Why hadn’t I? Dad is dead.

On Dad’s last night, Mom leaned over his face. (When Dad aged his bones seemed to protrude looking almost like a steering wheel, and the rest of his face sunk inward.) Mom pulled on his bones, trying to make eye contact. Dad had a hard time turning his head. She was crying. “You’ll always be my prince, Rob. You are a prince.” And Mom wasn’t glad for him to leave.

Even now, looking it up feels too tiring. Just when did Dad die? I don’t remember the date. Dad died about a month ago. And this month, has been full of work, and family, and wading through COVID-19. Dad’s ashes are sitting at the funeral home waiting to be buried whenever we are allowed to do it in person. People keep asking when the memorial is. And time is filling in the space between him and I. A foam. A retardant.

Telling my friend, saying the words, cleaned out some of the space. I had been, in general, fine over the past weeks; well cushioned and buoyed. Now, not as much. And I find that although it frightens me, and although thinking about Dad makes me feel unprotected and vulnerable to those somewhat odd congratulations on his death, contrasting with the apologies of others, although all this, the water I am in feels mostly like it is carrying me home.

This post is an interim post. I’ve not got selfcare tips to share. Just my journey. With you.

Keep on!

Your False Intuition

The curse of “intuition” in Data Science - Towards Data Science

You can’t listen to your intuition all the time. You have to have a healthy dollop of distrust for your own inner voice. The siren’s song of our inner self to isolate and “do it on your own”, however dulcet and powerful, are dooming.

When Marsha suffered a dramatic loss in the stock market, she became crippled by anxiety and irritability. It had the further outcome of estranging her from her spouse and friends. She spent all her clean, controlled, but lonely time, alone, like a many thorned beautiful rose in a glass vase.

Marsha and I tugged with this concept, like holding onto different ends of a rope. She did not want to go to therapy. She did not want to disrupt her flow.

Sometimes our lives are “in flow,” but it’s not a healthy flow. We are doing some healthy behaviors, such as exercising, getting our sleep, eating well. However despite this, our emotional disease progresses, unchecked by uncomfortable deliberate efforts. Sometimes we are medication adherent even, and yet our behaviors and emotions are not kind to ourselves. We remain in a condition of suffering, isolated; unable to connect to self and others.

During these times, we need to disrupt the flow. It is laminar, even lovely in its quiet arc, that dishonestly soothes. We need in this case, turbulence and a different direction.

If what you are doing isn’t working, add turbulence and do what is uncomfortable. In Marsha’s case, we both laid the rope down, (smile,) and she pursued a day hospital where she worked on changing her automatic thoughts toward those that were kind to herself. When something triggered her, how she responded, and before she even knew she was thinking about it, was healthier.

Question: Have you ever been misguided by your own thoughts? How do you safeguard against an intuition that may not be kind? Please speak and tell us your story?

Self Care Tip: Don’t let your own intuition be your only voice of reason. Be a friend to yourself.

NAMI – in case you want to join us…

Maintaining Your Mental Health During
COVID-19 Crisis
Due to COVID-19 Public Health protocols NAMI Temecula Valley will be hosting our Mental Health Forum online.
Wednesday May 20th 2020. 


 Our Guest Speaker:    Dr. Johnson-Quijada 

This is from the NAMI website:

Wed, May 20, 6pm – 8pm

Description: The forum begins with sharing, and resources. Following this, every month a pre-selected guest speaker will take the podium and share their expertise with you.
All questions and answers will follow the Mental Health Forum. The forum is held monthly on the third Wednesday and is open to individuals 18 yrs. and over.  DURING COVID-19 CRISIS JOIN US ONLINE.
JOIN ZOOM MEETING
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89884260271?pwd=NllEOXkvRmlNdERWUXVtelRHTzhPUT09

Meeting ID: 898 8426 0271
Password: 417783
One tap mobile: +16699009128, 89884260271#, 1#, 417783# US

Dial by your location. +1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)

Some notes: Share and care will begin at 6pm, and the presentation will begin at 7pm.

 Install and test Zoom ahead of time at the following link: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362193-Joining-a-Meeting

Dealing with it! Covid and Mental Health

Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a young man who couldn’t negotiate the world around him well. He ostracized his peers with his behaviors. He was easily offended. He didn’t enjoy much and people could sense that, like a divining stick whenever he was around. Do you recognize him? Have you heard this story before? 

Let me tell you another story of a middle-aged woman who lost her son suddenly to asthma. He was sleeping in his apartment in New York far from home. They spoke the night of his death on the phone, not knowing that it was their last conversation. This mother was awoken the following day by her son’s wife who screamed at her that her son was not breathing. This mother spent the next three years in seemingly mental silence. She felt like she turned off. She did not understand how this could have happened. She was not forgiving. She was called aloof by others. Other people did not remember her son like she did. Other people did not feel it inside of their bodies; feel it inside of their emotions; feel it inside of their spirit. Other people did not stop hearing God. Other people did not, as she did, and it left her very alone. Have you heard the story? Do you know her?

Once there was a teenager at work. Her boss pressured her to drink while on a break, and then keep drinking until she was drunk. He was her boss. She was afraid. Afraid of losing her job. Afraid of him. He forced himself on her and although intoxicated at the time, she did not blackout. She remembers over and over and over. She remembers, almost like rewatching a movie. Scenes from that day intrude during school. They intrude when she is with her parents. They intrude when she is trying to sleep. This teen avoids anything that reminds her of his stink. She avoids stores with bells that chime over the doors upon entry. She unfortunately hasn’t avoided alcohol though and that has been another form of misery to her. Do you know her? Maybe you have met.

There once was a boy who kept getting in trouble because he couldn’t focus. There once was an elderly man who only remembered his younger days and nothing new would stick. There once was a worry wort who couldn’t get out of her head. There once was… 

There once was you.  What is your story? And how do you deal?

We are currently in a quarantine. (There’s news! Smile.) And people want to know how to cope during this time of unanticipated stress.  

I’d like to ask you. How have you dealt with your emotional pain so far, apart from quarantine? All these stories could have potentially isolated us in our suffering. There’s nothing quite as potentially isolating as mental illness. It destroys our ability to see ourselves. We become disconnected from self and others. We lose empathy, trapped in our own suffering. We are called “selfish” because no one can give what they don’t have. We lose our ability to chose freely, because the mental illness chooses for us. But you know that you have come up with coping skills to deal. You have brought your suffering into the space of your healthy and become more whole doing it.

These are the same coping skills to fight the tendency toward emotional isolation in quarantine. 

Questions: What are your super-power coping skills you swear by? Please tell!

Self-Care tip: Fight the isolation from quarantine with the basics you already know, if you ask yourself. Keep on!

Mother’s Day – tied to a horse

Sometimes I don’t want to respond to the, “Happy Mother’s Day’s,” as I keep feeling all the many conflicting but authentic bits of motherhood under me, like thumping behind a free willed horse I’m tied to, who’s aiming through Nottingham’s Sherwood Forest. There’s so much pressure to be the cherubic woman on Mother’s Day. Really? Heals! Whilst roped behind a horses bum!

Look! There’s Marian! She’s sagging and her right boob is slung over her shoulder. Nifty!

“Way to go Marian! You look terrific!”

See. We all lie for love. 

Marian responded with a rude gesture but she was smiling. Oh, the inconsistencies women wrestle must be expressed!

There’s the number one: Being a mother is the best freaking thing of my life! I’m so glad I’m a mommy! And, thank you for making me breakfast. Yum!

Once a year.

Get away from my babies, world! You can never love them like me!

But numbers two through ninety-nine are always rudely jostling for position. Motherhood is like a stutter on repeat of, it’s really not about you!

Or wait, it is! If they fail, ie, turn into a collage of psycho-murderer blended with a throw-up fake and furry do-gooder, it’s all on me! Like getting ticketed when your kid shoplifts Snickers at Target. All time low. (I know you’re asking if that happened to me.)

One hundred stays quiet, squat and permanent: Those kids will leave you in the end. And then you are old.

But I think the reason we yell, “Happy Mother’s Day!,” to each other (and please don’t forget the apostrophe! There’s nothing that reminds us of what failures we are as mothers than bad grammer! Or is it gramm-ar?), is so that we remember, we have each other. We are really not alone.

Happy Mother’s Day, Peeps! You look great!

(Ow! Don’t throw things at me!)

And if you don’t get it, than you don’t get. Maybe read this again in ten years.

Self care tip: Stay connected. You are not alone.

Questions: Tell us about your Mother’s Day. Boys too! We want to hear you.

Connection in Loss

Visiting Mom today, we were separated by a window. Our mobiles were our speakers, like a microphone between a jail cell and her visitors. She put her hand up and splayed her fingers over the glass. Mom so wanted us to be glad visiting, not bummed by her condition, that while crying about the many things worth crying over, she pushed laughter out, and tossed her hair back and animated herself. Her act of love. Literally.

This month, my brothers, cousins and I have been closing down my parents house. We go in turns, distantly from each other, to do what our bodies can. My folks moved there, to Crown Ranch, more than fifty years ago. There’s been a lot to work through. Because of the quarantine, Mom hasn’t been allowed to participate. And so, through these two weeks since Dad died, she, and we have been saying goodbye in foreign ways. Goodbye Dad. Wave at Crown Ranch. Eyeball each of our individual idea relationship constructs, like the person with her suitcases would before moving to a different country. Awkwardly. Lumps of emotion in closed throats.

Mom was crumpled in her chair, crying. I, and my family, were on the other side of the glass.

“It’s all gone.” Mom’s voice came through the speaker phone. Her hands covered her face for a moment. We quietly sat on the other side.

I want to talk to you about loss and connection but I’m not able to do much more than tell you bits of this story. Finding connection through loss is a win though. And as we always say here at, Friend to Yourself, we are created for connection.

Mom received Dad’s belongings from the nursing home last week. When we left her today, she said, “I’m going to go smell Daddy’s clothes.”

We put our hands up against hers for a moment. And we were glad. She did it.

Questions: What have you lost?

What do you remember? 

Self care tip: Find your connection even through loss. You are not alone.

Briefly Loved

I used to gather rocks shiny stones precious metals and things, I thought had permanence, but now I will only go for cuttings with stems just so, bright red or pink I think on top

I like to look at hunks of wood, see the life-rings layered, a round embrace, years upon years in evidence

I like to see a cloud well formed in a frameless sky, or wispy shapes of nothing but Cyrus percolating droplets, hints rain

I once liked mountains and property, a deep footed house surrounded by trees, I once liked, permanence

now I prefer the open, unlined, spaces that cannot be so easily defined

I like to remember that I am temporary as was my father dead now, his ashes are breath behind my ear, dead like my niece some 15 years ago dying like my mother whose days blow down the sidewalk, crumpled leaves

I like to see things of beauty that are short-lived reminding me why pretend I am more than just barely, I thought barely a moment barely worth reckoning in fact nothing at all, wetted pages of Mozart or Chopin I’ll reach for them and watch them tear in my hand

I want to see a mood a whim and other changing things give me nothing that stays or I know you lie you are not any greater than Babylon nor am I

I am nothing but for who made me, else to pretend I want not, I have an old set of China from my mother’s wedding day you can finish that thought

When I was young my legs were strong my joints did not hurt my hair was thick I had potential like you I had use I had years ahead like a thick bank roll of quid and now my neck has wrinkles and I am gray and

my dad died a week ago today

I don’t want anything more than a flower than the truth that we are this this creature this creation this borrowed bit

I will holler louder come Lord Jesus come I will shake my fist it’s just temporary anyways like this

This is enough, “Carry-on,” the officer said, “nothing here to see,”

my dad died a week ago today 

and even that is over please delete when you are done, no tip on self care just a poem. Keep on.

Blessings surround me

David Robert Johnson, MD

Hello Friends,

Thursday, Redlands Community Hospital was able to make an exception and allow us to spend three ultimate hours with Dad In the ICU. He was smiling and attentive. Interested and listening. He had a happy day. We told him our thoughts. Read to him your many notes of love. He especially perked up with my cousin’s report of starting to read a Bible Dad had apparently given him some time ago. That kind of thing has been his and my Mom’s life passion and I don’t think there was much of a better way to say goodnight.

Dad was getting tired. He had started to grimace. There was blood coming out if his ngtube. His pressures were rising and his heart rate was up. Dad said he was ready for his fentanyl. Then he fell asleep.

Around 2am the next morning, Friday, we are told, Dad was asleep and then he wasn’t.

This is the “time,” and he’s not suffering. We are all glad about it. But there is so much of me that still wants him here. My right-arm feels like a knife is in it. My joints hurt. I have a headache. Even in the condition he was in, I would take him if I could.

I will be waiting my whole life for him; for that fortune of being loved by him again. The ground will never be the same under my feet.
Today my Dad died.

There’s never been an Easter weekend like this for me. I’m super grateful for the many layers in our experiences. I feel like blessings surround me. Goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Thank you for being a reader here and sharing in life with me so well. We will wait together.

Goodnight for now Dad.

Living, Ready to Die

Mori-To-This-Favour-Oil-Painting

Do you ever have thoughts about wanting to die?  If so, why do you want to stay alive?  What’s worth living for?

Think of 3 things worth living for.  For me, I answer — to lose the rest of my baby weight, (my last child was born 13 years ago), God, and family.  Whatever any of our three things are, I call those “hope”.

Hope only belongs to the living.  Even when you are actively dying, hope means you are indeed still alive.  Those three things you think are worth living for now are the things you will reflect on during end of life. They are what you will use to determine whether you have lived a life worth living or not.  In all the in between moments, keep those things in front of you and then you will be ready to die if you must.

Self-care Tip: Live, ready to die.

Questions: Are you ready to live and to die? What is in that space for you?

I don’t care if California falls into the ocean and other perceptions

To all the Californians, the colored, the women, the children, the childless, the divorced, the unmarried, the impoverished, the uneducated, the honking laughers, the unclicked chicks, the benchwarmers, the undistinguished, the immigrants, the gay, the mismarked, and the misunderstood:

On a dry freezing day in Montana, while the barometer read, “2 F,” I waited for the shuttle to take me into town. My child had developed congestion in some sort of viral expression and just couldn’t breath well. The nearest pharmacy was about 10 minutes away and I thought, “I can do this.” 45 minutes till the next shuttle, so I parked myself by the door as a look-out. I let the valet men know so they could assist, something like wrangling a wild Montana horse, I supposed, to get me into the shuttle. (Not sure who the horse is in this metaphor.) I felt like I was in the team. We looked warmly at each other in between this moment and that. I thought, “They are on this.”

At exactly 1045am, when the shuttle was scheduled to come through, I approached the desk. “Have you seen it yet?” One of the men there smiled at me. It looked inclusive. Then he said, “They already came and left.”  “You’re joking,” I said. Sure that he was having a laugh with me in our conspiratorial way. Team members, you know. “No I’m not. They left about 5 minutes ago.” I was out. Suddenly I was alone and it felt cold and I thought, “My child! I’m letting her down.”

I turned away from the valet men, non team members, and reported to the front desk about it. “They left me.” Humiliating tears sprung to my eyes. Oh my word. I had survived strip down yelling sprees from attendings on the hospital wards, pimping teachers, discriminating male figures, angry patients, bird droppings on my head, and I didn’t cry.

I wonder if the front desk felt more awkward with a grown woman crying over a shuttle ride, or if I did. But within 20 minutes they had one of the security men put to task.

Security-man started right in. “Where are you from?”

Me: “California.”

Security-man: “Oh. I think Californians have something wrong with them.” Chatter chatter.

“If California fell into the ocean, I wouldn’t mind.” Chatter chatter.

“If the wall went up around California, and just left the rest of us alone, that would be fine.”

Security-man was in his second career, after having retired from working security in a prison. We commisserated on our mutual experience working in prisons. Me in psychiatry and him in security. He was happy to empathize, “Yah! I’ve seen some crazy ones! There are real wacko’s out there. People who eat their poop and stuff like that.” “You psychologists are treated rough,” and dropped the label, psychologist, several times in a knowing way.

He threw in a few more pearls. “I don’t believe in abortion.” “Californians who work, pay for all the unemployed lazy people in their state.” And then with a confident nod, “Trump is going to win the elections.”

Security-man was graciously driving me, what could have cost $40 for a private shuttle. He smiled and probably thought the whole time, “This girl gets me.” Or, “Isn’t she lucky to get a free education on the way things should be?” To him, he was engaged in friendly banter. By the time he dropped me off back at the lodge, he used my first name, saying, “Sana, people like to visit California, but living there?!” Chortle chuckle.

I didn’t cry, but wouldn’t that have been a more reasonable time to have teared up? Visceral responses can be unpredictable. The generosity, the kindness, the friendship, juxtaposed with the aggression was bewildering.

I was sputtering about all this to my home huddle when we met up for lunch and I guess wore them out a bit in a self-righteous diatribe. My wise child asked me, would you have rather taken the ride with Security-man or have paid $40 for a hired shuttle? Or have waited for the next free shuttle 1-hour later? Sheeze. Can’t an elite Californian wallow a little? Fine then. I prefered Security-man in his inconsistencies, kindnesses and cruelties. I know he is defining the world from his brain.

Sometimes we don’t think we are being aggressive but we are. I thought to myself, “How am I being aggressive toward others?” I know I am stigma-imbued and bigoted toward others, but by definition, I won’t be able to see it. That’s how stigma works. We think we are pure minded. We think we see things clearly. We believe in “the right.” It’s not always this kind of abutment, not always this stark, but it is there. It is here.

Back in California, I am checking the tide, water sloshing up to my knees and I’m touting, “Everything is ok folks. We are good. The rest of you though….”

Now I see through a glass dimly…

The brain is vulnerable to our humanity, our health, the condition we find ourselves in at any point along life’s line of time. (Job security… Too much?) Some day, we will have a healthy brain. A healthy everything and then we will see clearly and face to face. Until then, I’m confident we will, all of us, define what we believe is true and real by the condition of the brain in our head, along with the perfect super-human protective grace of God.

For presently we see through a glass in obscurity; but then, face to face. Presently, I know in part; but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1Cor 13:12

Self-care tip: When being slammed by the hurt and twisted brains around us, contemplate our own distortions and the grace we are surrounded with despite ourselves. Then look forward with hope.

Question: How have you improved your life experience when stigma and bias hit?

Keep on!

Science and God Awkwardly Related

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God and science are as awkward together, culturally, as someone walking in on you in the bathroom, mid stream.

People think science and God can’t be related. Like there’s a gap.

My son and I watched, “The Exodus Decoded,” a 2005 documentary, directed and starring Simcha Jacobovici, and James Cameron. In this, the history of the Biblical Exodus is presented through a scientific paradigm.

My son was discombobulated. “Mommy do you believe that!? What do you think? Do you think science explains the miracles God did? I don’t.”
True. He hasn’t had the benefit of decades of higher education to influence his thoughts but irregardless, he is not alone in this.

A pharmaceutical representative I was speaking with explained, “People feel like religion or spirituality are emotion-based whereas science is coming from a field where you have to be objective and unbiased. I think also like you get too much feelings involved, you know? No go.”

Is it like, “God and state,” so is God and science? Like it’s wrong to relate it. Is it not ethical?

Many of us think, mixing these ideas leads to less validity. If that were true, what does it say about who God is? That would be a pretty limp God, who is separated from “one” of His creations with another. Nor is it that kind to “Me”. Me Me Me. Remember? Everything starts and ends with Me here at Friend to Yourself. If keeping science and God separate were true, it increases disconnection in my life. And we are created for connection.

Question: In the words of my son, “What do you think? Do you think science explains God’s miracles?” Or what?

Self-care tip: Allow the gap to fill in between your Higher Power and the explained in your life, however you will. It will improve your self-care.

God in the Space of Synthetics

Hello Friends!

I’m going to try something a little different today. I’m posting a dictation between a patient of mine and me because I think it has flow and a nucleus. (There are a few small changes made in liberty, and no identifying data.) Let me know what you think of the content.

Psychiatrist:  …And so we were talking about perfectionism, right? 

Patient:  Yes. 

Psychiatrist:  And about how you are not being kind to yourself when you expect yourself to be all healthy.

Patient:  I’m not being kind to myself when I don’t want to take this or that because I don’t do synthetics. (This is what my patient was using to describe medications.)

Psychiatrist:  I like that you used the word synthetics, because I’ve never put it in that perspective with patients, and you did that for me. 

Patient:  Well, there are non-synthetic and there are synthetic. 

There’s body recognizing things, plants, and then there are the synthetics, what the pharmaceutical companies produce. And I’m a very negative pharmaceutical company person. 

Psychiatrist:  Compare that to other inconsistencies in our life. Such as, I’m going to be all-natural, I’m only going to wear hemp.

Or take it to the point where I’m going to weave my own clothes because it’s really natural and I know exactly what’s in it. Versus saying that I’m moving forward and I’m going to take what science has offered to us. I’m wearing polyester right now. 

Or, I’m willing to take over the counter “herbs” because they don’t have the pharmaceutical stamp on it, or maybe I like that it grows out of the ground. But none of that has been governed. Aside from the “he-said-she-said evidence,” there’s often little science behind some popular over the counter remedies either. 

Let’s consider that perhaps the study data, comparing in a regulated way, one patient with another, defined synthetic agents, and then allowed my body to be its healthier self. It gave us objective data. Numbers. Sure they have their flaws and weaknesses as we learn in statistics that all does. Poke holes in it as you wish, but at least there is a degree of transparency.

Patient:  Maybe for me it’s more trust, because I feel like people are so over-medicated today. And it’s easy to write out a prescription than to really deal with the issue. 

(Me, on the sly: This view, that practitioners prescribe for reasons other than for the medical benefit of the patient, is one that I honor with humility, and stand up and listen when others voice it. Annals fill the internet search engines on it, I’m sure. I will still pick at it a little, I’m a stubborn nubby person like that.

Let us note together that the word, “easy,” in this context isn’t so kind to our person. Taking medication to treat a medical illness is often not easy. It is one of the most courageous acts in someone’s life. And this wonderful lady, who came into my scary office, was a great example of this kind of courage. She wasn’t here doing what was easy. She was giving her emotional entrails a work-over with her psychiatry venture.

This patient, whom I will name hereafter, Lady Courage, was “really dealing” with the issue, in contrast to her self-described mores. Might we suspect the insidious tendrils of “Mister Stigma” shaming her? Yet here she was… Just fabulous!)

Lady Courage: I’m more one that, “Let’s really deal with your issues, and then your mind should come around, everything should come around.” That’s how I view it, because if you don’t fix the underlying problem you’re never going to fix the problem with meds.

Psychiatrist:  Okay. But you’re willing to say there might be some inconsistencies in that right now.

Lady Courage:  Right, no, I’m not … 

Psychiatrist:  It might not be entirely false, but it might not be entirely true. 

Lady Courage:  Exactly. 

Psychiatrist:  We were saying, “I can be healthy but still have disease in my life.” 

Lady Courage:  Yes, that’s true. 

Psychiatrist:  Because I don’t have to be perfect. 

Lady Courage:  Right. And I do find that a little bit hard. But since you put it in that aspect of being, “healthy with disease,” I can see that. I probably never saw that before, because I did always separate the two, either you’re one or the other. 

Psychiatrist:  Wow. 

Lady Courage:  Yeah. 

Psychiatrist:  That’s poignant. Is that how you see God as well? 

Lady Courage:  In what aspect? Like, yeah … Well, you know what? I try to strive to walk in His ways. I haven’t always walked in His way, so I do have guilt about that, but I shouldn’t have that and I know He’s already said He’s forgotten it, He’s washed me clean. So it’s just receiving it for myself. And that just is faith. And I know then it makes me feel like I’m lacking a little faith, but I know I should be stronger. But, yeah, The Word is something that I strive to follow, and it’s hard. 

Psychiatrist:  So do you feel like God is, “either/or,” in the way He looks at you? What about the parts of you that are diseased? 

Lady Courage:  Well, no, yeah, He’s going to heal that. 

Psychiatrist:  But what if He doesn’t right now? What does that mean about who God is?

Lady Courage:  Well, He sent me here probably in hopes that you can help me to heal. He provides these avenues for us, so that we can get healed. 

(Folks! So good! Smile.)

Psychiatrist:  So you somehow think that God enters into the space of the synthetic. 

Lady Courage:  Well, yeah, I guess so, yeah. I do, okay. It’s so contradictory, but in one aspect I do take a thyroid medication that is a synthetic, but I know I have to take that and I understand it and I don’t feel it’s abusive. And I look at my blood work and I know where I’m supposed to be and how much I should be, so I feel confident. But when it comes to things like this that I’m not used to taking, and that don’t show up on labs, and it involves transforming my brain, I’m not really on board with that. 

Psychiatrist:  So when you use the word transforming my brain, I understand you’re saying that it’s making you into something different? 

Lady Courage:  It can alter your brain, yes. 

Psychiatrist:  Okay, so that’s the part I think that’s very scary for people, because they think it’s making them into somebody they’re not. But in reality the medications are there for healing who you already are. So for example, today you feel more like yourself than you did last week. 

Lady Courage:  Well, yeah, last week I was desperate and hurting and losing weight and scared. 

Psychiatrist:  And today you’re closer to who you think your healthy self is. 

Lady Courage:  I think today I’m … Yes, I’m much closer to my healthy self. 

(Q: Closer to who God is creating you to be? Closer to God’s will even?)

Psychiatrist:  In all of these scenarios, at each point we want to think, “What does this say about who God is?” If He or She, (but we will say He to simplify because it’s culturally appropriate,) is kind and loving like you mentioned, then would this belief, X, Y or Z, be true?

Self-Care Tip: Lay out our beliefs next to that standard, that premise in our life. And because we’re a lot crueler to ourselves, then we would allow other people to be, it can rescue us on occasion.

Questions: “What does this say about who God is?” Please speak out!!! …and, Keep on!