My Inner Demons and I are on the Same Side – Living in the Now

“I stop fighting my inner demons. We’re on the same side now. T-shirt”

― Darynda JonesSecond Grave on the Left

 

Monday came. I was not ready to tackle the day. I lay in bed a few minutes longer while I started to dread and plan for the day’s appointments, calculating drive times, meals, and accommodate everyone else’s schedules before I had even thought to blink open my eyes.

It dawned on me at some point that I was living out a day that hadn’t even begun yet.

The anxiety of the impending tasks, or the overwhelm that comes with trying to handle everything before it arrives, you know this too? The exhaustion that eventually overtakes us makes us ridiculously absolutely not excited about our lives.

Living in the future instead of now is like sprinting ahead of our own feet, if only we could! The only task we have to do is to actually wake up.

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Stigma from Religion

I’m just leaning on God.

Which was her reasoning for stopping her Lexapro.

Nora’s family lashed out angrily at her. “Why are you so horrible!”

Her husband had left her for another woman from their church, a “friend” of Nora’s who used to come to their house for movie nights. He said, “You’re like poison, Nora. I’m not happy any more with you.”

Nora had now lost her job. She couldn’t focus and cried too much at work. Her supervisor told her, “You are not the same.”

Nora decided she wasn’t going to take her medications any longer because what she needed was more faith to be well and to get her life back. Her plan for recovery from debilitating depression and paralyzing anxiety was to be more dependent on God by way of certain practices, mainly not taking her medication. Although she didn’t see her plan for recovery quite so transparently. She thought it was through prayer and sincere intention to be God’s rehabilitation appurtenant.

Nora did say she was still taking her anticholesterol medication. And so we spoke about the important related perspectives between what Nora saw to be “medical” verses “spiritual” illness.

  • First to lead into the matters, “What are you taking your Crestor for?”
  • Where does cholesterol come from in our bodies?
  • Where do emotions and behaviors come from?
  • Is there a spiritual element that has a relationship to high cholesterol?  How about to emotions and behaviors?
  • Is there a medical change that causes the disease of hypercholesterolemia? How about emotions and behaviors?
  • Why be willing to take medication for a spiritual illness of hypercholesterolemia? Wink.

Nora, it turned out, loved where this conversation took her thoughts. It was hard to encounter inconsistencies in her religious beliefs and practices. But she did because she is a woman of courage!

It got me thinking about what role our cultures, related to religion, play into our emotional health. Is there a source of stigma against getting life saving medical treatment for mental illness that we are missing simply from the religious culture we are quietly woven into through life?  Randy Travis’s song lyrics, “I hear tell the road to hell is paved with good intentions…” implies that we in religion justify the collateral damage, such as death and ruined lives by mental illness, by the belief in the greater good. I’m sure I do this too in my own unconscious way. And isn’t that what this post is all about? I want to take a big stick to this glass and shatter it! (Aggressive much? Smile.)

When I think of Nora, sometimes I can’t believe she actually is taking medication and doing so well now in her life journey. It’s a miracle.

Self-Care Tip: Explore the role religion is in your opinion toward medical treatment.

Questions: How does religion interweave into your stigmas? Or those you’ve broken through? 

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Religion has contributed to your self care and medical choices?

Please speak! We need to hear you!

“The devil is talking to me.”Briefly on God and Psychiatry

“The devil is talking to me.”

Her lips shaped words but her voice was like a robot. 

My gorgeous tall black thin framed model-bodied patient looked at me with a face that barely moved. Almost flat. Her eyes rarely blinked, with orbs that seemed to jump out at me when she spoke. 

This is Talia, a 3.8 GPA college grad last year who just started her first job in marketing. She has been a Jehovas Witness for about ten years and is passionate about her God and religion. She has been attending church related meetings lately about 6-7 days a week and loves to read her Bible for hours. However, over the past six months when she reads the devil and his minions cuss loudly in a cacoffany of foul persecutory language. She is afraid all the time and has high inner tension. 

Talia cannot sleep any longer for more than a few hours at a time. She has been losing weight. She has lost her job, and is panicking, terrified to read her Bible or go to church. 

Her family says she is talking to herself, and has “crazy eyes”.  They do not know what to think. Maybe she is possessed as well as crazy. Maybe both. 

Is Talia possessed by the devil? Is Talia crazy?

I was in Los Angeles this summer with my kids, walking on Hollywood Blvd. We passed several people who were responding to internal stimuli. One extremely saddening lady was slumped against a shadowed corner sitting in her own piss leaking down the street, her shirt half open, as she spoke to various targets. My kids were afraid. We were all, frankly, sad. My kids did wonder, too, were these people possessed by the devil?

Have you ever wondered if the devil was talking to you? Or working on you? 

The question is, if you want to ask this, rather ask, “What does this say about the character of God?” Included in all the biology explanations and psychosocial intersections, we bring the magical and spiritual. If you ask about the devil, ask rather about God. What does this say about God?

Talia had been adhering to her treatments and now celebrates that she is able to read her Bible again, go to her religions meetings, and has even driven around a parking lot once with a family member in the seat beside her. She is sleeping through the night, able to enjoy life, the simple and large things like the touch of shower water or taking a walk. 

When Talia hears voices, she no longer believes the voices come from the devil but rather demonstrate that she has missed something bad inside of herself that she hasn’t yet surrendered. I asked her, “What does that tell you about God? The character of God.”

We are so quick to assign nonbiological causality to emotions, thoughts and behaviors. It turns out that when the brain gets sick, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors generally go the direction of bad, rather than “good.” Naturally we ascribe moral value to what we are culturally primed to believe has moral value – emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The question becomes, “What does it say about who God is when we do this?”

I like to think about the character of God. It is a picker upper. When I get enmeshed in some line of thought that demonstrates a poor reflection on Gods character, I figure at some point that I’m not seeing things clearly. It’s always a relief. I don’t know it all. If it says horrible things about God’s character, than I must have some misinformation or misinterpretation. 

Others may say rather, I am misreading Gods character as good. That’s not a perspective that is friendly to me in the end. One of the reasons I reject it. 

Self care tip: Ask yourself, “What does this say about God’s character?”

Questions: Have you ever wondered if the devil was talking to you? Or working on you? 

Do you ascribe moral value to emotions, thoughts, and behaviors?

What does it say about who God is?

Dead kids and Mother’s Day 


To all the surviving mothers who celebrated this recent Mother’s Day without their children, lost to mental illness, we dedicate this post.  To the mom’s who have outlived their babies. To the mothers who have watched their boys and girls deteriorate slowly with piece meal pincing bites that brain illness has taken from them until they were gone. To the mommy’s of those who left them fast, at the end of a rope, under a car, at the point of a needle, or in the many bits of brain that a gun blows apart. 

I’m dedicating this post to the mothers who continue to live. Who remember more than the moment of their child’s death. Who celebrated on Mother’s Day the individual of her child that was more than his or her behaviors and emotions. 

This post is for the mothers who remain for us, we who need them still. We need you. Thank you for telling us your story and living with us, among us. For fighting for brain health, for freedom, we thank you. 

To the mothers who survive(d) the death of their children to mental illness, happy belated Mother’s Day. You are amazing to us. 

Today’s question is more of a request: Tell us your story please. 

Or, those of you who know these courageous women, and want to share, please do. We are listening. 

Self care tip: You tell me. How do you (they) do it?

Keep on. 

STOP! DON’T STOP! The quandary inside of us when deciding to take medication

Everyone says “Hi” to my dog, Timothy… Way more than to me. Silence.

Is it the springy fluffy hair, I wonder? They walk up, even speed, out of an unseen shadow without inhibition and rub him down. He is pleased every time, to say the least. Do I regret all the painful laser hair removal treatments I got years ago? Hm. I am half Lebanese after all and few really know how much fur I really came with.

(Curly-cue.)

Steve came looking for help. I spied him in the hallway before clinic. That’s always a little awkward for some reason. Running into someone out of context. Like we both are caught out of costume and the curtain just pulled up. (Gotcha!)

His strings pulled in, an inner tension, apparent even then. He looked susceptible to emotional or physical attack when we caught each others eye. I could see him wondering if this was “her”, his psychiatrist. What was he expecting?

When patients come in for treatment, it’s comparable to anyone acting on a realization that they’re vulnerable, asking help from a stranger. It can take immense courage.

Part of this understanding is what contributes to the awkwardness of meeting in the hallway, out of context. We are both a little undefended there.

So what would bring a person to do this to themselves? It doesn’t sound pleasant when put this way – vulnerable, asking help from a stranger.

Steve had a wife, kids, a job, a house, and a pet. Inside this bubble, Steve didn’t think he had reasons to feel the way he felt. He looked for them and felt stupid because everyone told him how good he had it. Nor did Steve see reasons to behave the way he behaved. He described his story, a rolling out of his life, like that of a hand stitched carpet. In it, we saw together that he had anxiety then, and then, and then. He had coped well mostly, until he hadn’t. Then he would spend some time falling out of circulation and incurring losses. Then he’d recover and forget. He’d forget that worse patch and redefine the lines around the man. Then again the lines would smudge, he’d get anxious and irritable beyond “control”, grapple within the darkness of the white noise, which panic brings, grapple for reasons why the anxiety came again. His identity would be so threatened, the suffering, the feedback from everyone around him would pull on him, that the lines of his person frightened him into treatment.

There Steve was. Timothy at his feet with his puffy furry head in Steve’s lap. Steve asking for help. At the same time as asking for help, he would also refuse, stating caution.

“I don’t want to change myself.

I like being the person who gets things done so well.

I like accomplishing things.” (He thought it was his anxiety that allowed him to do this.)

It reminds me of the, “Stop! Don’t stop!” that I’d tease my brothers with when we were kids.

People think that taking medication changes who they are. Understand that in order for this to be true, that would mean medication changes DNA code.

“Doesn’t it change my brain chemistry?”

Let’s say that were true, that medication changes brain chemistry. Still that isn’t changing your DNA. The DNA is what gives a person “personality,” or, what many of us say, “Who I am.”

After getting laser hair removal, I didn’t change my DNA, but I don’t have as much hair. When my kids were born, I checked, and sure enough, DNA…. They’re gorgeous! Wink. (That’s done with one heavy cluster of eyelashes around my dark Lebanese eye.)

Question: What are your fears about taking medication?

If you have taken medication, how did you see it affected your identity?  What happened to who you call, “Me?”

Please SPEAK! We need to hear you. Keep on!

Self-care tip: Self-care means taking care of yourself even at the biological level. It starts with “Me.”

 

Desperation – When to Speak

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I’m about to park in LA for the LAX protest against the immigration ban.

Last night my husband and I debated whether to come or not and were both disappointed to realize that we both wanted to be here. I mean, it’s Sunday and we don’t get a lot of down space. We have our kids who, thank goodness, still want more time with us. We have projects and exercise and self care that is on our agenda. We are moving away from a “zero percent progress” every day toward something better, right?

Apparently, I’m a moderate. I haven’t felt the pain. I don’t have the fire. But not very long ago was the Jim Crow era, where our parents came from.  When there’s something I’m passionate about, I have to get my feet moving or I’ll miss it.

But this immigration ban is bad. This is just xenophobia and racism.  It is personal. I think of my Lebanese cousins who have been in the war and immigrated to our country with their hairy arms and scars. I think of Mom. I think of my in-laws who arrived in New York from the Philippines with $5.00 in their pocket.

What have immigrants done for America? Well. Look around. What have you done? This is who we are.


In a protest, community is strong. Unity is strong. Today, there was some prodemocracy stuff, but there was also a lot of anti-Trump-eting and name calling.

The protest felt a little like people were peaceful. They were upset. There was a lot of Trump-fest going on. But it wasn’t just that. There was a little anger with a little despair. Those guys were suffering, but it could lead somewhere.

When we start protesting a person, it becomes a zero-sum. We lose the opportunity. We didn’t waste all of the opportunity today. It was mostly a foreboding of what could happen.

When Martin Luther King marched at the Lincoln Memorial, it was very organized. They had basically shut down the city bus transport by not using them and choosing instead to walk seven miles to work, or set up car-pools, an early Uber system. They were unified in their despair. MLK had been put in jail many times for his fire. He was not moderate. When he spoke, he spoke about justice and equality, and didn’t give stage to McCarthyism. He mentioned him, but that was it. If Trump were president at the time, he would have gotten the same mention in his speeches and letters.

MLK said in his letter from Birmingham Jail, that moderates are just as evil because they are not going against what’s wrong. And that’s what’s wrong with all these things is because we are moderate.

So one of the reasons we go to these things is so that we don’t allow things to passively happen.

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

We have a general idea that this isn’t right. But we don’t have that despair. We are privileged. But we have a sense that this is wrong. So that’s why I move. To help me understand.

Maybe we, in this generation, have not suffered enough to stay focussed on the principles being violated here. We are America. We believe in humanity. We do not discriminate against another race. We do not believe our race is better than theirs.

The world is small. A refugee physically, manually by another human’s own hands, who is being pushed away back into the ocean from a Greek beach because the Greeks cannot feed their own countryman, affects all of us. Starvation changes one’s belief systems, I am told. These people are not moderate. They are being violated. I don’t want to be a part of who violates them. It doesn’t need to be said that I wouldn’t want to be them.

greece-refugees

Why do we march? To get our feet moving. We want to learn more. We march to help us understand.

 

Self Care Tip: Find your fire, take a stand.

Questions: What’s your story about immigration? How is this personal to you? Keep on

 

This is What America Can Give You

I told my patient today,

“You’re smart, you’re beautiful, you’re young, you’re healthy. This is what you have. Go and do it. Fight hard. You can only control yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to fight for you. This is what America can give you. The opportunity to fight hard for yourself.”

Keep on.