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.”

 

Stay Awake! to sleep well

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(Whomever it is that originated this stinking hilarious picture and quote, thank you!)

The glass half empty view on sleep and age:

When you are a child, you don’t want to sleep. When you are a parent, you could if you would, and you want to, but there are the kids. When you are fortunate enough to grow old, you want to, don’t have kids, but can’t.

 

The National Sleep Foundation Recommends:

Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13) School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11) Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)

Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category) Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours. Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

Should-a, could-a, would-a, right?

“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.”

~Wilson Mizner

One thing that gets left out of most sleep books (um, did I include it in my book??) and 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 Modafinil. Don’t confuse this with taking caffeine. Caffeine is metabolized way to fast to be helpful in this regard. There are others one may discuss with their treatment provider.

Self-care tip: Get awake, really awake, during the day to sleep well at night.

Questions:

What is your daytime energy like? Alertness, attention, and memory? Do you sleep well in relation to this?

Please tell your story. Keep on.

Blood, Sweat, and Imperfections – Mommy Don’t Look!

Naked and Voyer

Naked and Voyer

Blood soaked and layered with fallen governments, the Acropolis remains, a witness and teacher to a summer fling. 

A tour of the Acropolis and its new museum taught much. #1 – Never go on such travel without a tour guide. She made all the difference. Without her, I might have lasted for an hour, or an hour and a half. I would have thought, “Check! Did the Acropolis! Next?” With her, I felt like I couldn’t get enough. Four hours later. Evi was an intelligent, independent woman, making her way in the world, with the talent of putting ideas together. Another mentor to pick up along my life journey. #gratitude.

(I’m going to try to describe Athens, as seen by a psychiatrist. Smile.)

Evi integrated the paradigms at play, seamlessly, and in flow, from the 800’s B.C. to the 400’s A.D. She spoke about the mathematics involved in The Parthenon architecture, the classical culture seen in the architecture such as the emphasis on the human senses, the development of language and democracy, and more.

None of the construction of The Parthenon is “perfect.” The columns slant, and the stairs bow in their middle. All of this is done to capture the human senses. It was constructed so that when you stand at one corner, you can see almost the entire construct, like inflation of air rounds a balloon. When you look straight on, you are almost able to see entirely around the balloon’s girth. The architect sacrificed perfection toward the ultimate and most valued goals – to experience all the human senses to their fullest, and the classical construction. 

The Greeks developed the idea that whatever is created by man, (scantily garbed statues, architecture, ship making, etc…) should demonstrate, but not surpass the excellence of the human at his or her absolute best. Perfectionism smechsonism.

The kids were a bit horrified by the genitals everywhere. “That’s inappropriate!” or “Mommy, don’t look!” with a hand posturing the Stop! sign, improved my experience 10-fold. 

The Greeks in the 400 A.D.’s recognized the irony in the loveliness of human senses; sight, emotions, spirit, intellect, etc, integrated with the flaws. We are greater, in the best of our imperfect self, than the perfect, mathematical, or any other kind of perfection, eg., 1 + 1 = 2, in a perfect world. 

For example, by tilting the columns, the architect understood that it would give an illusion of straight columns, yet still capturing more of the circumference as seen by the individual. Straight would be perfect. Tilted but looking straight is more representative of a human at her best. Never perfect. And the illusion created by the tilted columns made the construct look shorter, thus not surpassing “the human” capacity to sense it’s grandeur. 

Also, the government ruler at the time, Pericles, was the first known leader to integrate a form of democracy. He used citizens and slaves for the labor. Yet he paid them, including the slaves! Furthermore, he gave them freedom in their work to form independent decisions, stating that someone who is told what to do, doesn’t learn anything. Someone who makes their own mistakes, has the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. This was the fulcrum which our civilizations turned on toward human rights and free thought. Pretty powerful.

The Greeks gave their alphabet to the world, from which Latin developed, and thereafter the Latin languages. For example, I never knew that “Agoraphobia,” comes from the location, named at the time, “Agora,” where all the debates were held, again, inspired by this ruler during the 400’s B.C., spurring on freedom of thinking. You can imagine what happened during heated debates. Some people would suffer anxiety in that context, which would deteriorate into a disabling fear of being humiliated by another potential panic attack when in public places.

The priests of the Greek gods served also as their community’s medical practitioners. For example, they used snake venom to both treat headaches and prophylactic against strokes. It turns out that snake venom is an anticoagulant. Totally brilliant. Snake venom in Greek, is called, “physika”, which means “venom.” The caduceus, a symbol that we still use for the physician’s medical practice, shows a snake wrapped around a staff. Later Aristotle used “physika” to name his treaty on nature and the work evolved into “physician.” Way cool. 

The self-care tip: Work your damndest, while embracing and integrating your imperfections along the way, and in this Grecian effort, you will gain the greatest sensorial experience with the world around you, the individual beside you, and your own self.

Question: 1. How do your imperfections enhance your best self? Please tell us your story!

The Perfect Doctor – Healthy With Disease

looking

One of the difficulties we have in talking to psych patients is realized with the dawning truth that we are not curing anyone.  Working in those conditions of not curing, you both, patient and psychiatrist, have to come to terms with each others’ agendas.  The physician says, “(‘I’m a failure.’)  I can’t cure anything.”  Now eye contact is even tough.

“If I don’t look them in the eye, some other emotion will surface and they’ll stop crying.”

Rachel was crying and crying hot and hard in the emergency room.  She was unable to stop the lava flow.  It was bewildering to her.  The people around her shifted their gazes.  Those who didn’t, looked angry instead, as if to say, “Pull yourself together, Woman!”

Psychiatrists have the advantage perhaps to these others in the lobby and receiving rooms and gurney shelves. Supposedly psychiatrists can grip and tug at the corner of the large sweater that is human behavior and say, “Emotions and behaviors come from the brain.”  They can imagine, if not entirely believing at a visceral to cognitive level, that the person they observe is responding to symptoms of what is happening biologically, at a cellular level. When they are tempted to avert their eyes, or look back impatient with the messy emotions, they can say, “This is medical.”  Impatience with emotional chaos from psychiatrist to patient, is equivalent to the ER doc saying to the trauma patient, “How dare you bleed in a public area?”

When someone cries on the medical unit, you may hear, “Nurse! Call the psychiatrist! There’s an emotion on the ward!” Later when things are calm, I walk out and they say, “Doctor!  You’re amazing!  What did you do?”

“Well, I bit off the head of chicken and sacrificed a goat on the patient’s chest.  Then I said, take this pill and everything will be as it should.”

Luckily I have several chins now, and when I gesticulate, their quiver contributes to me looking very capable. As if I could cure something.  I don’t know much about art history but, The Thinker, a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin, is probably what that Frenchman’s psychiatrist looked like when they both came to terms with the fact that psychiatrists don’t cure anything. (Heresy.) At least he got to get nude while he did it.

Talking to psychiatric patients can be that difficult.

There are studies on patient satisfaction that demonstrate that patients don’t like us when they think we give them bad news.

You see the predicament here, don’t you? So, some of the difficulty the world at large may be having with talking to psychiatric patients is that we have distorted perceptions of good and bad news. We may have difficulty with our own humanity, frailty, infirmity, and seeing it out there “without a scarf on” for decency, is a hard reminder.

We will never be cured of so many things. All of us. And the best we can hope for…

What is the best we can hope for?

(We are all gluttons and all hope for many unpublishable things but please! Just humor me.)

Say: “I hope to be healthy with disease.” There. Now we will all speak better to each other. It all starts and ends with Me.

Questions: Have you ever had difficulty talking to a psychiatric patient? Have others had difficulty speaking with you? Why do you think that is? What could help? Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip: Hope to be healthy with disease. 

(I bet Carl D’Agostino could make an excellent cartoon with this rich irony to work with! That’s right Carl! You heard me! Maybe a blue ribbon with a hole in it?… Ah heck. I’m sticking with practicing psychiatry and leaving the toons to you!)

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Hello Friends,

I’m enjoying this all too fast passing time at the APA annual meeting in Toronto. What I am most enjoying is the education, the community and connection with new and old friends, and the reminder of what this is all about – you and I. In honor of us, I’m “pressing” this excellent post from our national advocators and stigma-fighters at NAMI.

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness | NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Check it out and let me know your thoughts. How does this resonate, or not, with you. We need to hear!

Be well and keep on!

Q

Why do I Keep Living? – Chronically Suicidal.

trainwrecklife

Carl D’Agostino is a retired high school history teacher. His interests include woodcarving and blogging. Cartoon blog at carldagostino.wordpress.com.   Cartoons published in book, “I know I Made You Smile, Volume I.”

Marvin lived hard for years, used up his bank, his talents used up like putting a flame to his wick.  He was wired to live in the moment. Living that way, when he had gifts galore freely given, living was different than when those gifts were used, diminished, and broken. Marvin was smart enough to rationalize his way into a chronic suicidality thereafter.

What is the point of living, after all? Marvin asked this question, answered it, and asked it again, to the point that it separated itself from Time and place. It is a question that is infinite anyhow.

Sometimes Marvin, with this infinite question, this question that occupies the time of God, kings, and beggars, Marvin would sit in my office with this infinite question in his nicotine-stained and inked fingers, and he would in this bring together the infinite with the finite. I remembered that the whole point, the meaning of the infinite and finite, is increased in value by the other. Marvin, living in the moment, even now years after his coin was thus reduced, was living in the infinite.

Why do I have to keep living? I just need someone to tell me it’s going to be ok if I die.

Marvin, If you are looking for a doctor to help you die, you need to go somewhere else. I will always choose life.

(It seemed like that “FYI” was in order.)

“We” made a plan …that Marvin wasn’t entirely in agreement with. I told him he could not come back to my clinic if he wasn’t engaged in that plan.

Marvin, we are just going to do what the data tells us will work. We don’t have to feel it or even believe it. We have the data at least.

Every time I have ever seen Marvin, I took a hard look, memorized him, knowing this may be the last time. Setting boundaries with him was freaky. It felt like trying to hold broken glass. Would Marvin be back? If not, I knew I’d be hurt.

The patient-doctor relationship is unique to each patient. It is unique to each doctor. For me, in my patient-doctor relationships, if it wasn’t for the hard grip I keep on the seat of my chair, I’d have too many of my patients in a big, but likely awkward, (and my Academy tells me, “Inappropriate”) hug.

This flashed through my mind in fair warning again. I compromised, saying instead,

You matter to me, Marvin.

I think Marvin’s lip actually curled and his canines grew. And I quote,

How can you say that? I just don’t get it.

This was a moment of road’s diverging, 31 Flavors, coins in your hand in front of a mother-loaded vending machine. I could see philosophers, all over the now and then of the ages, slobbering like they were at a nudie bar.

Once, when I called 911 on behalf of a patient who needed to go into the hospital for safety, the police person looked like that, bouncey even, on her toes. I had to check her feet to see if she was actually standing on a pedestal, she sermonized my poor patient so thoroughly. I think she was even eating a candy bar as she left my office, satisfied, (without my patient, by the way. Apparently she thought her tonic words had medicinal powers.)

Marvin was fishing me. There were so many ways to lose with that question. He was hoping I’d flop around with straining gills sucking air for hours while he tugged on the hook.

I’ve done that often enough, and will do it many more times. We can count on mistakes. What took me by surprise was, this time I did not.

Well, I’d guess it has something to do with me and something to do with you.

Yup. It surprised me. The surprise brought a wave of gratitude. “Thank you God.”

And if you aren’t as surprised or grateful by that liner, I can only explain that it was right at the time. Marvin lost his handlebar lip curl. I lost my grip on the chair. Marvin’s still alive, (I know everyone’s worried about the “for now” part of that.) And our universe cares, finitely and infinitely.

To the Marvin’s of the world, the wasted, the used, and the squandered, work your programs.

To the lonely and distorted, to the ones who have tried to die, to you who don’t know why you keep living, follow what the data offers by way of direction.

To you who may not get the same freely given gifts in this life that are now gone, you have good things coming.

We choose to live with you, than without. We choose you again. We choose, every time, what Love will bring. Keep on.

Questions: Have you ever asked yourself and/or others, “Why do I keep living?” What has your answer been? What is your answer now? For yourself. What would you tell your own Me?

Self-care tip: …I think I waxed on and off enough already with that – smile.