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!

Medication vs Drugs

I imagine some day I’ll understand why users think drugs are healthier options for them then medications.

“Doctor, I don’t think my wife will be comfortable with me adding another medication. It seems like I’m already taking so many!”

Context: Brennon is using THC “for sleep” he explains. Not recreation. It’s “medicinal.”

Boy. We are going to have to redefine what “medicinal” means in the urban dictionary vs. in the medical. 

It’s as if the masses out there are acting like it is stigma behind any opposition of THC vs. science. Folks, there may be stigma involved but it’s mostly science. THC is, 99%, not medicinal. 

My cousin is a hospice nurse and she and I were discussing this. Along the meandering conversation way, we came across, that in her field, many are taking CBD. (I know most of us think CBD is THC-free but it’s not unless it’s thoroughly governed by the FDA.) When we were in our wandering conversation about this, I imagined out loud to her, “If I were dying, I’d want to take a good trip on LSD, do a line of cocaine, and have free access to heroine. Why not?! “

My cousin politely explained that in end-of-life, most people, not apparently ignoramus blind bigots such as myself, prefer to stay alert in their last moments with their loved ones. 

That makes a lot of sense. My “free ticket” to white clouded oblivion suddenly didn’t look as appealing. I’d like that too. I’d really like to have connection with my loved ones. At any time. 

This is the effort in psychiatry as well, believe it or not. When we medicate, we are seeking to align ourselves with the patient’s agenda, toward connection and not away. Toward quality of life and not to harm. Toward hope. When we encourage to take medication, it is not to seek oblivion and isolation. Rather medication is for connection.

Brennon is not alone. Many think that medication takes us away from connection. Away from connection to ourselves by turning us into something we are not. “Doctor, I don’t want to take anything that will turn me into someone I’m not.”

Away from connection to God by taking our willingness to submit to His/Her will, away from His/Her power and toward depending on science instead, as if there is an either/or. No, there is no either-or unless we put it there. There are no dividers between science and God. He/She made them both. They are fluid to Him/Her.

Nor is taking medication taking us out of connection to our partners, nor our family who thinks medication is a cop out and whom are loaded with their own journey of self-discovery over their own self-stigma toward medication. As if taking medication makes our patients less loyal to their loved ones, thereby less connected.

It’s so layered why we think medication is worse. Even worse than mind-altering THC. Even worse, than the disabling illness, or whichever idea it may be.

Question: What is medication worse than for you?

Self-care tip: Seek connection, “even” through medical ways. Be a friend to yourself. Keep on!

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!

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.

Get You Some of That – Medical Treatment for Medical Illness

…Continued from yesterday.

Cole_liveCole Swindell – Get Me Some Of That

Why do I feel so horrible when I start a treatment that is supposed to help?

Medication treatments for depression and anxiety, and some other brain illnesses, often worsen how you feel before you feel better. I can’t tell you how many patients have told me that if they had known this before, they never would have stopped their mediation(s).


Yesterday, our post discussed a Dr. Jones and Presley.

Presley fired Dr. Jones when after following her directive, he subsequently experienced an extreme panic attack. Dr. Jones may not have done anything wrong in her treatment recommendations. Presley was just an individual, as compared to a “number on the curve” of treatment responders. Escitalopram, the medication discussed as an example yesterday, (one medication option out of many), may have been dosed at an initial amount that Presley’s body couldn’t handle “straight out of the gait”, so to speak. But likely, if he had started at a lower dose, maybe ½ or even ¼ of the tablet, and then waited for his body to accommodate to the medication. Then Presley would have tolerated it. Presley would have tolerated slowly increasing the medication if approached, rather, piece-by-piece of a pill. I’ll even joke with patients,

I don’t care if you lick the pill. Just get on it.

When slowly titrating a medication, it allows the individual’s neurotransmitter receptors to down-regulate whilst the agent floods the receptors. If there is a neuron targeting another neuron, there’s a baseline balance in time. There is a baseline understanding between these neurons. An agreement, of sorts. “I’ll sit here and receive your messages,” (neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine). “I’ll then carry those messages on your behalf to their intended recipients,” (such as the amygdala or hippocampus). But then this person artificially takes a higher quantity of these messengers, for example, by way of medications, and floods the system. The receivers, (or neuroreceptors), have to adjust to this to establish a new healthy baseline. 

In this initial time of treatment, when 1st introduced to the increased neurotransmitter-load, (ex: as released by a tablet of Escitalopram), there can be a negative response, such as panic and/or depression emotions. We call this, “initiation side effect’s.” Once the neuroreceptors get used to the new load, then the response improves. 

After accommodating to the new pharmacology, the brain is allowed to experience the blessing that comes from treatments, and heal.

Some individuals are outside of the curve and cannot tolerate the standard initial treatment dosage, like Presley was. Some are inside, and can without much difficulty. The point in treatment, though, is that the person just needs to get on it.

Get on treatment. However you do it. You have to make the treatment work for you, an individual, in your own way. The prescriptions are there to serve you. You aren’t there to serve the medications. I like to analogize Jesus’ statement,

The Sabbath is there for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Make it yours as an individual and reap the benefits; the blessings inherent there. (See Mark 2:27). 

If you don’t get on the treatment, you won’t get better. Anything less than this will be inadequate. It’s like drying water off your face with a hand towel while still walking in a rainstorm.

What is your agenda in treatment? List it. Write it out. Then, go get you some!

Outside a medical approach is like flicking water off in the context of a rainstorm. If your agenda is getting to your healthy self. Get out of the storm and get dry. Then go get it. 

You have a medical condition. Treat it with the assistance of a medical professional. 

I don’t go to a plumber to help with my electrical home repair. I don’t go to an accountant or a church counselor to treat a medical one. 

The plumber, the accountant, the church counselor are what they are. This is not minimizing their efficiency in their own fields of excellence. But why do we seek care in psychiatry from those who haven’t studied this? From those who are not experts in this? Maybe stigma keeps us away from psychiatric care. Maybe misinformation directs our search for mental health treatment elsewhere. 

Self-Care Tip: Get you some medical therapy for medical illness.

Question: What are further concerns you may have about taking medications? How would you prefer your medical providers to work with you? Please tell us your story. 

But I’m Not Someone Who Likes Taking Meds

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Presley couldn’t breath. A truck just drove through his thorax. A monster-hand was closing around his heart. He couldn’t swallow well. Was something stuck in there? Dizziness nearly dropped him, but instead of moving to sit down, like any other normal person would do, he bolted. A fire chased him. He had to escape or he would die. In the bathroom where he found himself, the mirror reflected a sweaty face and crazy eyes. Was he dying? Presley’s phone looked blurry as he dialed, 911.

Please help! I’m having a heart attack!

That was the first time this had happened. After the third visit to the emergency room over the past month, Presley was able to avoid calling 911, although still convinced he was going to die when the next episode hit. He agreed to seek counseling, where he was taught different skills to connect his mind and body, to slow his breathing down, to process, even when he was convinced he was dying.  For a time, Presley improved. It was like it never happened. He was almost able to convince himself that it wouldn’t happen again.

This turned over and over, feeling like he was going to die while losing his mind, re-engaging in counseling, thinking he was better, stopping counseling, and then another violent emotional event, thinking for sure, he would die.

It was after his second trip to the ER when he received the recommendation to schedule an evaluation with a psychiatrist. But he preferred to work through this in therapy. Presley didn’t like pills. He wasn’t someone who medicated. An olive-skinned athlete, he lived clean and didn’t believe there was much that healthy living couldn’t cure. And Presley did live clean. He ran fifty miles a week. He ate raw foods. He read his Bible.

After several months of this, his therapist, Dr. Wu, recommended he get a psychiatric evaluation. However, Dr. Wu agreed that he would continue to work with him, whatever Presley chose. (Was this the right thing for Dr Wu to do?) Presley chose, no. No psychiatrist. What would a psychiatrist do to him anyway?! He wasn’t crazy. (Except when he thought he was.)

Presley visited his primary medical physician, Dr. Belinda Jones. It had to be better than seeing a shrink!

Dr. Jones, I don’t want to take meds.

Dr. Jones, cleared him for any medical condition that might be contributing to his events. Only then was she able to convince him to try a “safe antidepressant”, escitalopram. After one pill, Presley had the worst event of his life. He’d never had any experience that was more terrifying. Presley didn’t go back to Dr. Jones, “of course.”

When these emotional tornadoes hit more frequently, he became paralyzed with fear that he would have them in public and be humiliated by them. Presley stopped going to work.  If it wasn’t for his rent, he’d never go back. But he had to. So finally Presley agreed to see a psychiatrist. …

To be continued

  • Sincerely, Dr. Q

Questions: What would you tell Presley? 

How would you like your physician and/or therapist to handle this, if it were you?

Why is Presley so opposed to taking medical therapies?

Please speak! We need to hear you.

Self care tip: 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.”