We are not here to turn you into something bad

People often come to psychiatry afraid. Not only from what the diseases do to them but also of psychiatry itself. They think it might harm them. They think pills will change them into someone else. Will diminish them somehow. But that’s not the agenda of medical therapy. The agenda is to improve their quality of life. The intention is to allow for a greater ability to experience connection, with themselves and with others.

In our relationship with God, we often think the same thing. We think God is here to restrict us. To limit us. To suppress us with rules. But God’s agenda is to increase our quality of life. To increase our connection to self and others. To heal. To reconnect is in essence healing.

In “Patriarchs and Prophets” it explains that we are purposed here on this earth to love and be loved.

My patient, Evelyn, was telling me at one of her lowest points in life she didn’t pray. She said she didn’t know what to say to God. The pain and suffering of losing her son and then almost losing her daughter disconnected her. That’s the biological psychological and sociological paradigm in action. It was wack. God’s agenda is to bring us back to what we all want in the 1st, middle, and last place. God’s agenda is good. She/He has our back and also the bank to spend on us toward healing.

I can imagine walking into God’s office. Furniture all feng shui. There’s a diffuser in the back and some great lighting. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of myself and my condition, but also afraid of what She/He might do to me. Somehow, I’m at yet able to understand that God is someone pretty great who wants good, and never anything bad for me and I’m willing to engage in treatment.

If God weren’t, it’s got to make us all wonder, what kind of beast are we worshiping here? Who is God? I’m thinking God is at least as kind as I think I am. Probably more. Wink.

Question: Who is God? What’s God’s intention.

Self care tip: Give it a go. There is healing bank there for you and Me.

“Off To Sleep!” with you!

Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s time to go to sleep! Wait. Not till you read this.

PsychU, a patient education website, has invited me to present on sleep. These are their questions and how I hope to respond. Do you have any recommendations, other interests, directives? Please help me! Smile.

1.       Dr. Johnson-Quijada, in what ways is sleep important for our behavioral health?

Sleep rudders our biology ship, (if “rudders” may be used as a verb.) Our biology is the reason we have emotions and behaviors. Take out the brain and we don’t have any problems with emotions and  behaviors. So the biological health of the brain and body is where our focus should begin with when thinking about emotional and behavioral well-being.  This is not in exclusion of other import paradigms, such as the psychological or sociological influences on what make us who we are.

But let me ask you, 

Where do emotions and behaviors come from?

Now think about it and answer your true beliefs.

I was speaking with a wonderful physician the other day to whom I asked this question, (let’s call her Doctora.)

I respect Doctora for her character, personality, standard of medical practice and interpersonal beauty. She is a bulldog in the operating room. When patients need studies done that insurances won’t pay for, she tears barriers to treatment apart with vicious tools of rightness. And she cares.  She sits.  She asks.  And she cares.  She sees the person in the paper gown, each one for the person she knows them to be and the person yet unknown.

I admire Doctora greatly not only for these qualities but also because it gets personal.  I, who have my own special practice of medicine, cannot do her’s.

When just a green bumbler in medical school, there was a fateful day when I shadowed another great artist of medical care into a locker room.  I suited up in that blue sack they call scrubs.  I put little blue sacks over my tennis shoes too.

Do you know why there are blue sacks on the surgeon’s shoes?  So what is on our shoes won’t contaminate the operating room. But also so that when wet things come out of the human body and fall onto their feet, their toes won’t feel squishy. Yep. That’s what was going through my mind as I scrubbed my hands, each finger and each finger nail the ten minutes it takesto reach what is considered clean.

Surgery in progress, the color red mixed with a smell and monstrous sensual force that clobbered me to the ground.  I swooned, gagged and promptly ended my surgical career.

There is nothing more irritating to a surgeon than someone who doesn’t appreciate the “fun” of “cutting.” Yes. I irritated this mentor and others too I’m afraid.

This doesn’t keep me, unfortunately, from pleasuring in telling people, “I am licensed to do surgery.”  I am you know.  Any Jane with a medical license can pick a scalpel up and bring back the dark ages, or contemporary, depending on who holds the license.  I’m irritating to my mentors, remember.  It reminds me how anyone can go online and pay to become a marriage registrar, i.e. perform a marriage ceremony for couples.  My brother did that twenty years ago and has yet to perform the marriage ceremony for a willing couple.  For real judges and clergy, this might be irritating too and that makes me a little happy as well.

Anywho, Doctora and I were rolling with the injustices haranguing us in the practice of medicine, both from the angle of the physician and the patient. I was pumping her up for being the cutting-wonder who she was and she was dutifully marveling at my jabber-mouth work that she would, “never be able to do in a million years.”  Somehow this brought us round to how our culture avoids embracing the biological paradigm of anything inside our skull but is so willing to celebrate it for any other part of our human bodies.

Where do emotions and behaviors come from? 

Doctora answered me with a frozen breath. Then after I warmed and soiled the air with a lot of jabbering and she was finally able to speak, she said,

I would just be horrified if my brain got sick!

I wondered if it was scary enough to clobber her to the ground, but I do agree.  Terrifying.  Don’t you think?

So sleep is important from a basic rudder-rudimentary perspective of healing, restoring, and preserving our biological identity.  

If we don’t sleep well, a disease process may develop. 

During sleep, we heal from injuries, both physical and mental. Our brain actually shrinks for a small period, squeezing out, like a sponge, the toxins that accumulate during the day. It becomes smaller in mass without the fluid that filled it. The toxins drain into our cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and after a period, the brain absorbs new clean CSF and expands in size again. Without deep sleep, the brain retains the toxins it accumulated during the day and those toxins go on to damage the brain cells, summarily over time, potentially harming the brain health and leading to disease. 

These treatments relating to sleeping well are often better than pharmaceuticals when it comes to processing and treating stress. When we sleep, we allow our broken neuronal connections to regenerate. We re-stock our shed with ingredients like cortisol, hormones, and neurotransmitters that are fertilizer for well-nourished thinking, kind behaviors, and stable emotions. During sleep, our memories consolidate; they find their place in the folds between our cells and root down into our rich minds.

I have seen regular, restorative sleep bring someone from a place of mental decline to no longer needing psychotropic medication. Everything works better with sleep.

2.       What are some of the tools that you like to use to help people develop better sleep hygiene?

Sleep Hygiene, according to Dr. Q! 

1. Bed is for  

The bedroom is only for sleep and for sex. This means no food, no phone, no TV. If you are not having sex, then all you get to do here is sleep. This might be an adjustment for the entire family, if your spouse is used to clicking on the late news or your kids want you to read them stories in your bed. But your subconscious has to recognize this place as a sanctuary, and not the place to read one last chapter or check Twitter. 

(I have yet to have someone tell me that this improved their sex-life, but one would think!…”)

2. Naps

No naps longer than 20 minutes during the daytime. If you are tired and have the luxury of lying down during the daytime, do it! But set your alarm to wake you up in 20 minutes, and then make sure you wake up fully. You can take these “power naps” 20 times a day if you want to, as long as they are no more than 20 minutes at a time. Anything longer will break into your deeper stages of sleep and throw off your sleep cycle (also known as sleep architecture or circadian rhythm) at night.

3. Exercise

Exercise, but not before bed. Exercise during the day can help to regulate your sleep cycle by making your body tired at night, but make sure you do not crowd it against sleep initiation. Try to get 40-60 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5-7 days a week. Look at it like a pill, prescribed by a doctor. This is something you need to do not for your waistline, but for your medical and emotional health. Every day, tell yourself, “I’m exercising so that I will feel good, so that I will sleep good, and so that I can do what I want in life.”  Some say, “I’m exercising for my brain!” 

4. Lights

Keep the lights dim before bed, and turn off the screens early. Darkness releases melatonin from the pineal gland in our brains, which helps to regulate our sleep cycle. Light suppresses it. Melatonin is a cornerstone in sleep architecture. Having your face six inches from the computer or TV before you lie down doesn’t give your body much time to turn itself off. (Some people who feel they must be on the computer or TV before bed have found that wearing sunglasses for at least the last 30 minutes helps.)

5. Routine

Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time every day. Enough said there.

6. 30 Minute Get Up

If you go to bed but cannot fall asleep in 30 minutes, get up and do something else until you feel sleepy. Then go to bed and try again. Refer back to the other rules when choosing your activities (no screens, no reading in bed, etc.).

7. Caffeine

No caffeine in the second half of your day. Period. No matter how good that iced latte looks. Decaffeinated is the way to go!

8. Alcohol

Do not use alcohol to sleep. Alcohol is a depressant (will make you depressed) and also blocks deep sleep. Alcohol hits the same receptors in the brain as the benzodiazepines mentioned above. 

9. Nicotine

Do not smoke before bed or if you awaken from sleep. Nicotine is stimulating. (It also decreases blood flow to the penis, so that’s one less of only two allowable bed activities we are allowed… Bummer.)

10. Sleeping Aids

If you cannot fall asleep in 30 minutes, consider taking a sleep aid. Do not take any over-the-counter sleep aids except natural melatonin, valerian root, or chamomile. Others almost all contain diphenhydramine, which blocks your deep sleep. You may end up sleeping a longer amount of time, but you will not be getting restorative sleep. 

If you talk to a doctor about a prescription sleep aid, do not take benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium,) temazepam (Restoril,) clonazepam (Klonopin,) alprazolam (Xanax,) or lorazepam (Ativan.) These also block deep sleep. Sleep aids that don’t block deep sleep and sleep architecture include atypical benzodiazepine receptor ligands – such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), or zaleplon (Sonata). Trazodone (Desyrel) is also safe for sleep structure and maintenance. The newest FTY (Friend to Yourself) sleep aids are Belsomra and Silenor. Sometimes people will find that combining sleep aids, such as zolpidem with trazodone, is more effective rather than using only one agent. Some of these wash quickly out of the body, and some take a full eight hours.

11. Sleep With Me

Do not sleep with your pets or children. Pets and children are disruptive, and no one gets the rest they need. Get the sweet buddy-dog out of bed.

It is not personal. It is sleep hygiene.

I’ll insert here, that one thing that gets left out of most sleep talks, is how to be awake. 

Because, the opposite of sleep is not just slogging around in a haze. It is alertness, attention, and memory.

Sort of abandon sleep hygiene for a while. Give yourself a break from the disappointment. And then be firm on the effort of daytime alertness.

Practically, all of this means reading, writing, talking, and moving. No nap unless before noon. The body requires all these to be alert. And vice-versa for alertness.

This is where I additionally bring in the concept of a stimulating medication such as provigil. Don’t confuse this with taking caffeine. Caffeine is metabolized way too fast to be helpful in this regard. There are others one may discuss with their treatment provider.

3.       What parting words do you have for other practicing psychiatric healthcare professionals regarding this topic? How about for the consumers?

For providers and consumers alike, remember our identity is as humble as the cells from which is is generated from. Our identity is as vulnerable as those cells are. The basic needs of the body, such as sleep, lead to the most beautiful and marvelous developments that this life can bring. Without our biological health, without healthy sleep, everything in our body and what our Me connects to, is affected.

Questions for you, readers: Again, do you have any recommendations, other interests, directives?

Please help me!

(Smile.)

Keep on!

Still Believing Emotions are a Product of Life Stressors and Learned Patterns

Me: So Doctor. What do you think about the concept of God and psychiatry?

(I was speaking with a palliative care physician. We’ll label his answers as “P”, for palliative care physician.)

P: I’m not sure what you’re asking.

Me: Well some of us find it hard to think about emotions and behaviors as anything but related to moral values, right and wrong, good or bad, voluntary or involuntary, by choice. We have a hard time not thinking about them as largely spiritually related and not related to our biology.

P: God cares about our whole person, the “biopsychosocial.” That’s all part of it. It just turns out that culturally many of us mainly focus on the the psychosocial, and not the biological. We don’t think about that.

Interestingly, in the hay-day of homeopathic medical care, God told Ellen White to create an allopathic medical school; a school that taught scientific medical care. Thus, Loma Linda University was born, (then named College of Medical Evangelists). So clearly God wanted us to practice medicine also from a biological and scientific approach.

It’s hard to reach the culture though. If it’s total science or total religion, we’re still missing the whole person. The idea that emotions and behaviors come from our brain, well it’s not in our church. It’s not in our popular community either.

To me, psychiatry should not be distinguished form any medical specialty. But in the public mind, they’ll say, “Oh I’m not going to see a shrink.” They’ll see their general doctor, or pastor, but not go to the psychiatrist.

I wonder, was that problem created by the medical community separating this out or from the basic community culture?

Me: You’re first a product of your culture before you become a product of your medical training and the community of medicine, I suppose. It’s like those old adage’s about taking the person out of the “X, Y, or Z” place of birth, but never taking the “X, Y, or Z” out of the person. So as practicing physicians, pastors, therapists, or girl-friend next door, we’ll go through 30 some years of education learning otherwise, and then still believe at a visceral level that emotions and behaviors are a product of our life stressors and learned patterns, more so than the medical condition of our brain health.

Question: Do you see this in your community as well? Do you see the moralizing, qualifying, and quantifying of emotions and behaviors without considering their biological origins? Please speak!

Self-care tip: Consider what this says about who God is if this is true. What does it say about his character? In doing this as self-care, it will come back, around as a “place of safety” for what may otherwise be full of land mines.

Keep on!!

Emotions come from the brain.

Margarit was a lovely twenty-something, with blue-black bouncing hair above a slim pixy framed physique. She smiled easily and chattered like she was on telephone call that was about to lose reception. Her hands moved, conducting her thoughts between us. She was dressed like one of the cool girls on campus, out of my echelon, and who just might stab me in the back if I didn’t know better. But I did. She wasn’t mean. She was super sweet, like honey, and cane sugar, and mangos. Margarit was nice. But she had always wondered if she was being so nice all the time, because she was too nervous to be otherwise.

She came because she was constantly preoccupied by worries over things, “no one should be worried about”.

There had been the counsellors, therapists, and pastors consulted. Margarit and her parents had done their due diligence. With initiating each effort toward getting help for Margarit’s anxiety, they anticipated some degree of success. They thought things would get better. And sometimes they did, in degrees, and for a period of time. but the anxiety always came back. It got to the point that Margarit was put in home school, referenced her looping thoughts for everything, and was socially immobilized.

Maybe you’ve read, Gulliver’s Travels, 1726 by the Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift. When Gulliver shipwrecked and washed ashore unconscious, the numerous tiny Lilliputians effectively tied him down. The rope anchors were so small, like acupuncture needles, yet Gulliver could not move. That’s what anxiety does to us. We become internally preoccupied by it and can’t think much outside of our thoughts. We are immobilized.

The anxiety Margarit had been harassed with since a child took her freedoms away. It chose for her before she even knew what she would decide. Example; friends want me to go to the mall with them. “No,” Before her thoughts could even play with the option. Maybe she wouldn’t have gone anyways. Or maybe she would have. The anxiety chose first though and she wasn’t given the chance.

By Margarit’s third visit, she had improved significantly. She was getting to know herself, she thought, for the first time. I met the parents this visit and they looked at me as a front. I supposed it had been them up against so much for so long now, that they had learned to go at the world this way, like a man plow they both held on to. They asked me why no one had ever recommended for Margarit to seek medical treatment for anxiety.

"We would have done anything asked by one of these professionals we took her to. We thought they should know what to do, but they didn't tell us to get her medical help."

In my mind, I flashed to Naaman being told by Elishah to dunk in the dirty Jordan river seven times to cure his leprosy (2Kings 5). Psychiatry is the filthy river and dunking in it is the nonsensical act of taking psychotropics based on magic and miracles. They were here reluctantly having preferred to start with clergy and therapists, beat up by inappropriate guilt, but ready now to consider that anxiety, in Margarit’s case, is a medical symptom of a biological illness.

The question of why no one had referred them toward a medical approach for their daughter’s illness is a good one, though. I asked a pastor what he thought, and he spoke of the difficulty of not being a medical specialist; not knowing when to refer people. And what of the therapists? Likewise, I guess, that they generally have been trained to approach emotions and behaviors through a psychological and sociological paradigm. And what of the parents themselves? Did they, when their daughter broke her collar bone in the 3rd grade after Christy pushed her off the swings, take her to the emergency room or to the movies for a night out? The ER. But when her daughter showed preoccupied thoughts that permeated her days, affecting her choices, small or large, affecting her sleep, and so forth, they did not think that the thoughts were related to anything medical, coming from her brain. They did not think that the thoughts were more than coping skills, or habits, or choice.

It is a condition of our humanity to want to look at thoughts and behaviors as many bits of our life control to be manipulated intentionally. As if we could. Like “The Matrix.” Or cooking a soufflé. Or driving a 1969 Chevrolet Camero. Shift already! There’s the good intentioned phrase, “Calm down.” “Take a chill pill.”

Oh good. Someone finally said it. If they didn’t I never would have thought of that. Now I am calm because I was told to be calm.

Emotions and behaviors come from the brain. Take the brain out and no matter what chaos hits, we would feel fine. Take the chaos away, and leave the brain in, we are still left with the brain, and what ever condition of health the brain is in.  So if the brain is ill, it expresses itself in a way that is ill. If the brain is healthy, the emotions and behaviors are healthy. They are symptoms of a medical condition.

Question: Where do you find your sense of control comes from, considering the biological paradigm? Let’s talk folks!

Self-Care Tip: Consider the biology behind whatever it is that feel and do.

Daughters of Dementia – book

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

dementia

 

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

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

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

Keep on!

Looking at your better future

smash

Dr. Kowalski walked into the hospital cafeteria and found me at our usual table, saying, “I hate it when I go to hug someone really sexy and my face smashes right into the mirror.” It wasn’t his joke but he always had something like this to toss at us other onlookers at the caf on our lunches.

He made me laugh and I felt like there weren’t enough of his type of friendship in my town. He was a peer in my community. He was a professional, a parent, a spouse. I enjoyed working with him and I respected so much about him.

Most of the time, with Dr. Kowalski, we talked about random stuff; hospital politics, his parents in England, God in his life, his kids’ latest antics, and the conversation rolled with content and interest. This day, after his short stent with humor, he skipped the food line, and just sat down to talk, starting in with a doozie.

My son is smoking a lot of marijuana.

Dr. Kowalski described the skeletal points of Frank’s, his son’s, journey with anxiety and then with marijuana. Now nineteen, Frank had anxiety his entire life. Paralyzing anxiety at times, and completely preoccupying at others with worries and inner tension.

Once when Frank was seven, “such a beautiful boy,” Dr. Kowalski told me, how Frank reacted when he was twenty minutes late picking Frank up from school. Most of the kids were gone already and Frank had to wait for Dr. Kowalski in the administration lobby next to the “mean secretary,” quietly in a big chair by himself, until Dr. Kowalski arrived. For three months after this, with his fluffy cheeks and round blue-blue eyes tilted up, Frank asked his dad over and over again, if he was going to pick him up from school that day. Would he pick him up and,

“Would he be on time?”

It was super hard for Dr. Kowalski to witness. Sometimes he would get impatient and snapped at Frank in response. Maybe raised his voice, or just ignored Frank’s questions. Dr. Kowalski felt a lot of guilt about this. He blamed himself in part for the persistence in Frank’s anxiety. If he had been more patient with him, if he hadn’t scared him with his voice, if he had gotten him into treatment… If he had been a better father, would Frank still have anxiety? Would Frank now be using three bowls of marijuana three days a week? Dr. Kowalski states that he would do anything to help Frank get better, and often does. Just about anything he can.

Whether Dr. Kowalski did or did not, Frank believed that anxiety led him to using marijuana.

Dr. Kowalski was the director of the adolescent psychiatry unit at our hospital. He knew that, although marijuana use often decreases the perception of anxiety at the moment, over all, in the way it affected gene expression, it exacerbated their anxiety. The disease exacerbated. So the user felt better at the moment, perhaps, but then the underlying anxiety process became worse and worse. Frank told me,

Using marijuana for anxiety is like a diabetic who takes insulin so he can eat a big cake.

But what could a father do for his son in this scenario? Being right, being correct about something, having knowledge apparently isn’t always how things, like convincing one’s son to stop using, are won. Dr. Kowalski did not know what to do.

Perhaps the guilt, perhaps the love, or for other reasons, Dr. Kowalski had spent the last several years of Frank’s marijuana-using and anxiety ridden life, trying to help Frank get into treatment. Treatment for anxiety.

When treating any biological psychiatric condition, something medical, we have to first look at anything we are doing to harm ourselves. Is there anything that is pushing us in the opposite direction of our efforts? Maybe we are drinking caffeine. That triggers anxiety. Or maybe we are using another substance that triggers, and/or worsens an underlying mental illness. With this in mind, Dr. Kowalski spent much of their discussions trying to engage Frank into preventative measures as part of his treatment recommendations. But what could a father do? Dr. Kowalski was not Frank’s treating psychiatrist. He was Frank’s dad.

Dr. Kowalski told me, with lines seemingly appearing out of no where on his usually bright and happy face, about his frustrations.

The amount of energy I am putting into helping him without results bothers me. And a lot of money to help him get better. I feel it is wasted until he puts in the effort to help himself.

I want to invest in my child! I do! But to help him get better. Not to just spin our wheels. He isn’t working to stop doing the things that actively work against this goal.

Feeling violated to a degree, used, Dr. Kowalski didn’t get it. He was giving his energy, his finances, his time, his emotion. He was giving every time Frank came to him or called in an anxiety crisis. Dr. Kowalski no longer wanted to do the “energy wastage.”

“It’ll be sad if Frank doesn’t get this idea,” Dr. Kowalski said. Frank may never choose to further work on his wellbeing, but the difference is that Dr. Kowalski decided he wouldn’t continue, with Frank, through talking therapies, and talking emotional rescue efforts, pretending they were working on something.

Dr. Kowalski wanted to tell his son,

I’m being taken advantage whether you realize you are taking advantage of me or not.

However, Dr. Kowalski was scared of stopping. He was scared of not staying on the phone for the long long conversations with Frank in crisis. He was scared of not continuing to pay for the talk therapy. He was scared of not continuing to give Frank his monthly living allowance while Frank was in college.

I asked Dr. Kowalski what the difference was between where Dr. Kowalski was now and wherever he thought it would be for him when he wasn’t being “taken advantage of?” If Frank wasn’t going to put in whatever effort Dr. Kowalski thought Frank should be doing to get better, where would that put them? Dr. Kowalski feared that this bond, yes maybe a bond somewhat founded on illness but still a bond between him and his son, would fail.

Their relationship, true, has strengthened, like an Indian trail that is treaded down daily on the forest floor from their repeatedly hashing out the anxiety. If that changed, Dr. Kowalski feared that maybe Frank would not see much reason to call Dr. Kowalski. Maybe what Frank valued in his dad was just that.

Dr. Kowalski told me that he believed there was, in reality, a sustainable bond between them. But Frank? He didn’t know what Frank would believe.

Dr. Kowalski and I rolled this story around in the air between us. After a stretch of disclosing his sincere grief, real fears, and underbelly of sorts, Dr. Kowalski decided, rather than starting with what he would stop giving and doing for Frank, he’d like to ask Frank,

What do you think your life would look like if you didn’t have this anxiety? Who would you be? Who would we be?

Dr. Kowalski said, “I’d love to find out.”

Self-care tip: Start with open-ended questions with yourself and look ahead.

Question: What is keeping you where you are and where would you be if it weren’t?

The Sins of the Fathers, and Mental Health

 

“We know the Bible speaks of sins of the fathers passing to the 3rd and 4th generations while God imbues his kindness and mercy far beyond that to those who love him and keep his commandments.”

Rosa had no experience in the world of mental health, or so she thought. She had spent her formative years studying the world through the perspective of her church and interpretations of the Bible. As you know, there is a lot in both with a lot to say about emotions and behaviors. However Rosa was taught and modelled that these were moral issues and not biological. An either or, verses, part of the same thing. Could we call it sequent variants, maybe something like genetic alleles? Or maybe something better to describe this is out there, rather than an either or.

Rosa Leticia Montoya, at this point in her development, with her own overwhelming emotions and her husband’s plummet into dark moods, felt forced into considering mental health. She did not want to go there, but here in the space of losing control, not trusting herself or Carl any more, and before she was willing to say she didn’t trust God, she was doing what was a last resort. Considering that she was going crazy was the only thing this chaos could mean.

Before she completely surrendered to the idea that biology was behind this sinister change, she had to ask, “Is this because of our parents?” She had spent her life trying to untwist the bad choices her parents had made and the consequences those choices had on her life. Drugs, alcohol, and cheating were what she had grown up with. Quietly. Hiding it in the church. Rosa there, praying a lot to live well and be forgiven. Praying that bad thoughts would go away. Praying to depend on God and not on herself, as seen through her perseverating worries ever since she was a child. Worried and worried. Not speaking of the wrong Bible-breaking life her parents wore like underwear beneath nice tailored clothes. Would she ever be forgiven? Would she ever stop sinning?

So she asked me, “What do you think?”

That’s a lot to work with as a psychiatrist. So I did what most of us do. Ran to the shelter of medicine. Whew! But there is the added benefit that God created medicine, psychiatry, and all that there is in my tool bag worth working with.

Even so, there was only so long that I could avoid the topic of God and His punishments, per her perspective. It came up every visit.

If you believe in God, at some point within your discovery of mental health, this question will come up. Rosa is not alone. Are the emotions and behaviors gone amok, such as seen in anxiety disorders and depression, secondary to moral weakness? Living with “too little” dependence on God’s power? Is it this? Or is it an “either or”, with our biology? …a matter of cellular grey matter composed of DNA-expressing pathology? And is this something evil woven into my DNA because of what parents did? Well, I’ve spent 30-some years in school and now 15+ years in practice in this space and am still trying to understand.

I’m wondering if you would help me articulate this. It’s fundamental for us in self-care. It’s not possible to be very friendly to ourselves with the dissonance.

So in our self-care question today, please answer us. What is the relationship between “the sins of the fathers” and biology? Please speak!

Self-care Tip: Pursue kindness in your belief systems toward yourself.

Thank you for speaking with us! Keep on!

“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?

It’s not my fault

It’s not my fault

The new on-call resident – Jonathan, I think was his name? – was trying to present another admission to me. He was visibly annoyed.

“…so, the ER calls me and says, you have a patient with chest pain, and I say, what kind of chest pain, and they say, oh, we don’t know, but the patient needs to be admitted, and then I go down and try to talk to this guy, and he is just the worst historian in the world and just stares at me, and says I don’t understand him, and…”

I cut through the never-ending sentence. “Let’s just go down and see him together, hm?”

The light was on in the ER urgent room but I couldn’t really see the patient. The gurney had its rails pulled up, and I could make out a small lump breathing heavily under the blanket. We stepped closer and I called out,“Mr Jones? We came to see you, can you come out from under the blanket?”

The top of a knitted cap made an appearance, with two dark eyes peering out from under it. “Mr Jones?” I tried again. “I hear you were having some chest pain? Are you still having any now?”

The eyes got suspicious. “Ahah,” came a noncommittal reply.

“Well, can you tell me more about it?” I persisted.

“I waited until the morning”, was a cryptic response.

“What do you mean, you waited until the morning?”

The resident interrupted. “He was actually here last night and was sent home, and he came back today morning saying he has chest pain.”

I looked at Mr Jones again. It is not uncommon for patients who have no place to be, to complain about chest pain as they know it is a sure way to get admitted. This guy really did look sick, however. After some grumbling, he sat up for an exam. Clearly, he was in decompensated heart failure, and had been for a while. I motioned to Jonathan to step outside the room. “Is there anything about heart failure in the chart?” I asked him. “Yes, he has had heart failure for a while now – methamphetamines,” he added quietly under his breath, “EF, ten percent, but noncompliant with treatment, still meth positive last month though he denies using”. EF stands for ejection fraction – the normal being 60 percent – the lower it is, the weaker the heart muscle. I glanced at the monitor – heart rate at hundred and ten, blood pressure 80 systolic – he really should have been admitted last night. The ER attending had completely missed the heart failure part. I suppose Mr Jones didn’t make it easy.

I tried to get a little more information. “Mr Jones, when you say you waited until the morning, where exactly were you waiting? Did you go home?” The patient was evasive. From the bits and pieces of his broken sentences, it became obvious that he had somehow hid himself on the hospital grounds all night and come back to the emergency room when he thought the shift had changed and he would get a chance with a new physician. I decided not to press him further until he had gotten a little better.

As the day progressed, more wrinkles appeared in Mr Jones’s case. It turned out he had been diagnosed with a lung mass two years earlier and biopsies and surgical follow-up appointments had been scheduled that Mr Jones had not kept. He had not seen a health care provider other than the emergency room for at least couple of years. His heart disease was thought to be related to his drug use – initially, he had admitted heavy methamphetamine and alcohol use that he now denied. Unsurprisingly, his urine drug screen still came back positive.

****

The next day, Jonathan and I went to see our patient again. He was breathing a little better but had an expressionless look that was speaking louder than any words. I decided to press for words.

“Mr Jones, what do you know about your cancer?”

Blank eyes turned toward the wall.

“Well, they said I had one but then that’s the last I heard about it, couple of years ago.”

“Why didn’t you keep your appointments then?”

The eyes blinked rapidly. “Well, I didn’t know I was supposed to keep them, did I? They didn’t tell me what I was supposed to do…” The tail-end of the sentence ebbed away as Mr Jones was feebly trying to come up with a justification. The defense was half-hearted, as if he knew there was really nothing to say, and nothing he said changed anything anyway.

Jonathan at my side was struggling to remain silent. As a young physician, he was taught to help people, and it was frustrating to him that the help had not been accepted. Mr Jones was a veteran – all the healthcare for his cancer would have been free. Now it was too late. For Jonathan, it seemed like a failure, and what young physician likes that?

****

In the end, we were able to stabilize Mr Jones’s heart failure but his cancer was already spread to most of his body and could not be treated. He was no longer able to take care of himself, and was packed off to the nursing home for the rest of his short days.

It had been a good learning case for the residents – not because Mr Jones had presented a medical challenge – but because he had taught the limitations in our communication skills. We had never been able to engage Mr Jones in any meaningful way, and he remained as absent on the day of discharge as he had been on admission.

As an attending physician, I struggled to make sense of it to myself, so I could explain it to my residents. Was it supposed to make sense? Had we failed somehow, or was the outcome already determined before we got involved?

I tried to put myself in Mr Jones’s shoes, knowing for years that he had cancer but putting it out of his mind. Was he sorry now? Or was the current indifferent attitude merely an acceptance of his fate, knowing deep down that he would rather have chosen those carefree years again, living alone in his trailer, drinking, smoking cigarettes and weed, and allowing himself a hit of meth whenever he could spare the money? He had missed countless procedures and surgeries, doctor visits, blood draws, and lectures by the likes of me about his drug habit. Now in the end of these years, the choice was no longer his.

Remembering the vacant stare, I suspect Mr Jones may not have known himself.

****

I told Jonathan that he had done well, and that he should not give up on people. I suspect there will be time for more cynical life lessons later.

 

Self-care tip: Good intentions do not always result in good outcomes. Recognize when your help is not accepted – it is not your fault.

Question: Have you felt helpless in a face of suffering or personal struggle, and found yourself unable to help? Tell us your story.

Introducing our new co-author at Friend to Yourself

Finally!

I’ve been hoping, asking, looking, waving awkwardly in the hospital hallways, trying to find someone who would join me in this great blogging experience with you on self-care. And, finally.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Helme Silvet! You will love getting to know her, and she will love, as I do, sharing space with you. Keep on.


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Helme Silvet, MD, MPH, FACC
Loma Linda University School of Medicine
Chief of Cardiology, Jerry L. Pettis VA Loma Linda Healthcare System

Hello!

 

My Blog Journey

Sana (or Dr Q) and I have known each other for two decades or so (and yes, we have lived that long). We have spent hours talking about what makes us excited to be physicians, what gets us up in the morning, and what makes us upset. Finally, we decided that it was time to share some of these thoughts together. Taking care of self is a principle that we both try to teach our patients, but also practice ourselves in order to be effective parts of our families, communities, and humanity. The goal of this blog is to attempt both from the, perhaps, somewhat unique perspective of biology, and medicine as the starting point to self-care.

My Professional Journey

My medical experience started in the “old country” behind the Iron Wall – I grew up in Estonia and graduated from medical school there. After the Soviet Union opened its borders, I made my way to the U.S. and finished an internal medicine residency at Loma Linda University and cardiology fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Lown Cardiovascular Center. Starting in 2003, I have worked at the VA system as a cardiologist. Along the way, I also graduated with an MPH degree from Harvard School of Public Health. I am passionate about making people get better – this includes preventing, treating and managing heart disease as a cardiologist – but also helping my patients make sense of their life journey. One cannot treat and prevent disease without caring for the whole person.

My Life Journey

Between my two sisters and myself, we have lived in 5 different countries – this has made for interesting holidays! Seeing different parts of the world up close has given me plenty of experience, but has also come with a certain sense of displacement. It has been a continuous struggle in my life to figure out where I fit in the wide world in general, and in my little microcosm of a world in particular. In this context, it has been fascinating to learn different things from different cultures, and observe how people with different life experiences can effectively communicate with each other. And I noticed that somewhere along the way, my quest for truth and knowledge is giving way to a quest of understanding and compassion.

Disclaimer

The thoughts on this blog are my own and do not represent entities I belong to in a professional capacity. The stories that I tell are true in principle but the details may have been changed to protect people’s privacy. The blog is not meant to offer professional advice or treatment advice for specific medical conditions; the goal is to share ideas, general principles and stories of a personal journey.

 

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.

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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.

Bad Sleep is Not Sexy

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I tell my patients some rough version of this:

My agenda is that you get sleep.
My agenda is not that you take your sleep meds the way I prescribe them.
Just don’t take them at a higher dose than prescribed.

When prescribed medication, sometimes my patients tell me they think, from me or from other physicians, that they need to do it exactly as prescribed. And that may be true. With most. But there are some medications, which must be specifically described by one’s prescribing provider, that may be used in the way that the patient determines is most useful. The patient needs to look, to think, to speculate, to reflect. Adjust the medication dosages, and try again.

Going forward, before I tell you how you should sleep and what to take for it, think about how your sleep is.  What are the difficulties you have with sleep?
Falling asleep?
Staying asleep?
Early morning awakenings?
Is your sleep refreshing?

Renaldo, (“Please call me Ren”), can’t fall asleep. He lays there for hours, before he finally falls asleep in the early morning hours.

In Spanish we call the early morning hours “la madrugada”. I’ve always enjoyed that word.

It’s been happening on and off for Ren over the past year, but is worsening lately. He is now afraid to go to sleep. Afraid to looking into the dark night while in the company of his thoughts. He has a feeling of dread as his evening comes around. He finds himself avoiding going to bed.

When dealing with insomnia, first we look at these personal observations. They are called “symptoms,” when they are involved in a pathology, a medical illness.

Then we look at why. Why?

To answer this we consider what regulates sleep in our body and outside of our body. These pathologies we suffer come from what is in our body and as they intersect with what stressors come to them from outside of our body.

There are so many medical illnesses that produce insomnia.
Inversely, there are so many medical illnesses that come from poor sleep.
There are also many behaviors and outside-of-our-body stimuli that affect sleep.
Hmm.  Well it’s not either/or. It is likely a tangle of these roots that make this ugly plant grow.

Where to start?

We have covered sleep hygiene a couple times. Have we made the changes in our home and personal sleep culture to groom our sleep accordingly?

Say we have. We don’t read in bed. We don’t have a TV in our room. We don’t use the bedroom except for sleep and for sex. Hey! Sleeping well is sexy! Ahem….          ….We keep the lights low. We try to go to and out of bed around the same times every day. And so forth.

If these were not attended to, a disease process may develop. It is during sleep that our body heals. None of our body rhythms heal during the day. All the neurotransmitters, chemical messengers, hormones, all of these replenish and regulate into a healthy rhythm during sleep. Also, all of our memories consolidate during sleep. That dumbing in parenting syndrome, which I’ve respectfully labelled “DIPS”, may come more from the broken nights, than by the busy busy kids.

Okay. Say we are practicing good sleep hygiene, yet continue to have poor sleep.

There is a reciprocity between symptoms and disease etiologies. In other words, a broken sleep cycle may trigger certain genes to express themselves, and vua-la! Ren is suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Or, Ren’s anxiety genes become triggered for another reason, maybe simply his age, maybe he has low testosterone, maybe he has a thyroid disease, or he snores, and his circadian rhythm, (ie, sleep cycle,) disrupts. Vua-la! Ren is suffering from a sleep disorder.

It’s like the wheels of my mom-van. I bumped the curb the other day and pinched my tire. I disregarded it, …and the orange hazard like on my dashboard. Don’t judge me.

My steering seemed to wobble over the next hour. I pulled over and sure enough. A flat. I wisely (grimace) decided I could just drive it to the repair shop, rather than get a tow. By the time I got there, my wheel was bent and my van alignment was off. There’s a reciprocity to the wellbeing along with the demise of my van’s health.

In my book, Sleep Well, I cover some of these anxiety illnesses. I don’t cover affective illnesses such as depression, or hormone imbalances, or so many other physical pathologies that are involved in generating poor sleep. They are also reciprocally important to emotional health and a quality of life.

I told Ren,

So what do you think is going on with your sleep?…

Questions:
What are your sleep symptoms?
Do they come from a pathology?
Are they triggering other pathologies?

Self-Care Tip: Sleep Well. Be a friend to yourself.

Robin Williams’ Widow Recounts His Story

Robin Williams saw me through my developmental years. His prolific cinematic accomplishments, whit, depth of character, courage in living with and dealing with mental illness – all this configured him into my life story. Never even thought about him dying. Until he did.

Enjoy reading an excellent interview with his wife.

Here’s to Robin

http://m.neurology.org/content/87/13/1308.full

Who Am I? The Threat Of Exploring!

“Talking about me, I sometimes feel like it is scary to know more about me. I’ve found out who I am through very difficult situations so I have an association.”

My hunch is Ericka had many times when information and experiences came to her in her life on gentler carriers than those with this kind of emotional trauma. But she didn’t notice. The coming of kindly delivered insights are easily absorbed and drop from consciousness.

“I feel I overlook those and pay more attention to the bad things.”

It’s like gratitude, a muscle that grows when deliberately developed. That is why we call it the exercise of gratitude. When we deliberately practice noticing, (flex,) recognizing, (now we apply a little fragrant oil to the lovely bulge,) one more rep, (Oh yes! Look out Venice beach!) practicing gratitude, indeed, increases self insight. 

Ericka and I had this discussion in context of discussing her career. The starting point of exploring career choices brought us to look at the different paradigms that may be used to understand our identity, as well as it’s strengths and weaknesses. Poor Ericka felt that using the paradigm of “Personality Typologies” to be like inviting a bully into her living room. One that confined her, boxed her, took away her windows and doors.  However the paradigm of personality typologies is just a paradigm, useful or not, with the power or lack of power that we allow it. It is not a concrete cell, that defines us. It is one more way of increasing self insight, among others.

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“Footsie” by Carl D’Agostino, at, “I know I Made You Smile.”

How to Approach the Myers-Briggs:

Take Three times. Each time, read the descriptors to hone accuracy. (It’s a biased test. Taking it multiple times, as well as reading the descriptions helps eliminate the bias.)

The fourth time, the test is to be taken by someone who knows you the best in the world, answering the questions as if they were answering in your stead, with you standing by. Then read descriptors together.

This approach helps diminish the inherent test-bias in the Myers-Briggs personality test.

Example of free online test, (there are several,  http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

We don’t have have to give it more power than you are comfortable with

2. Read, Please Understand Me, vol II

-Keirsy

3. Go have fun and…

Keep on!

Disrupt Your Work Agenda

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In the entire South wing of the LA Convention center, jammed packed with bodies, a teeming crowd was organized into sectioned exam rooms, per their needs. I’m writing to you at the tail end of “Pathways to Health” (PTH) in LA. There were some 4,000+ providers who gave their time and resources to many thousands of patients.

It was nice to  work with them for many reasons. The tossing of my standard business agendas was particularly refreshing. Many would have guessed, rather, the patients made it “special.” And the patients did bless me. But all my patients bless. Each person who comes to clinic or surgery, comes as an individual. One person. They are their own story, worth hearing. Worth serving. And worth receiving a blessing from.

When I go to work, I go mainly for three reasons; to serve the needs of my patients, to make a living, and to be to true to my spiritual mission. Going to PTH left two of those in my day and the other was gone, like it slipped into a parallel universe. Removing the agenda of making a living is disruptive, almost to point of being disorienting. And that is why it stands out to me. It was experiencing what was left when it was gone, that tossed my salad.

I’ll tell you one story, …nah. Patient confidentiality and all :). There were a lot of good ones though. Keep on!

Self-care tip: Do something disruptive to your work agenda and see what is left.

Questions: What is your agenda when you go to work? What have you done to disrupt it? What did you get for yourself when you did?

Please tell us your story.

Putting Out and Getting Creative

putting out

Hello friends. I’d like to write more to you. I’m grateful for what I am able to write though. In turn, I’m grateful for your comments. And…I’d love to hear more! But you, like I, might experience difficulties in getting the words out.

Finding “my voice” is sometimes like finding the other sock, a frustrating endeavor that the Universe conspires to obscure. Sometimes we get the best of Her, and match the pair, twinkle toes and all, only to be out, vulnerable to the spin cycle all over again.

My favorite book of all time on this topic is, Bird by Bird, which you’ve probably already devoured before hearing from me. But you might be thinking about your spoken voice, rather than written voice, of course. However, knowing that these share waters, this book by Anne Lamott may still resonate.

I hope you are not frustrated or losing steam. You are important. Keep talking. Keep writing. And, Keep on.

Self-Care Tip: Keep putting yourself out there. Speak. Write. And Keep on.

Question: What helps you write, and speak, and put out into the world creatively? What helps you give of your thoughts?