Besmirching God with My Crazy

I’m sitting here in a volunteer medical clinic for a 60K attendee camporee. It’s humid and hot and we are seeing a lot of dehydration, amongst other things. 

As a psychiatrist, I’m humming the Hallelujah chorus as I discover how much general medicine I still remember, from gout, viral rashes, respiratory and ear infections, cuts and bruises, and so forth. The group I came with teases me that if someone comes in for a cough, two hours later they will have disclosed that they were abused as a child and be swallowing prozac.  I am ignoring this implication that I am missing “the point” by treating for psychiatric needs. Ignoring and missing, at least it’s consistent.

Our theme from this camporee week is appropriate.  We have been looking at the life of David. In these, we see a whole lot of psychiatry going on, both medical/biological, and that which has to do with volition. King Saul demonstrated a sure biological mental illness. And David pretended to be crazy – call it, “acting out.”  

God put this in the Bible for some reason(s). Question: What does this say about God’s character? I mean, we certainly don’t look up to people with acting out behavior, like David. Nor do we necessarily look up to people with mental illness like Saul, either. What does this say about who God is? Why does God put this in the Bible?

The Bible didn’t describe this as psychiatric, behavioral, acting out, or general medical.  It just told the story. These ages later, we can do more with the story. Here in time, with the knowledge that the generations have given us, we could say something psychiatric was going on. But generally, despite this knowledge, we ignore the medical condition. We still talk about them with a weighted moral perspective, as if they departed from their spiritual walk in these behaviors, rather than consider the medical condition of their brains.

David is getting a javelin thrown at him while playing the harp. Patton State Hospital for the criminally insane might have housed king Saul if he were alive today. Then, David is in front of the Philistines with King Akesh, where he “pretended to be insane; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.” (1Sam 21.) 

Dr. Martorell, a neonatologist, told me,

“I see so many people afraid to discuss problems such as depression, anxiety, other psychiatric illnesses and even family problems or abuse.  Yes, partly due to the fact that they may be judged as not having enough faith or not taking care of their health or not following certain principles.  

Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Carrie stated, 

“God and psychiatry go hand in hand I believe, but many Christians don’t think psychiatry has anywhere to go in the church. This is sad because my mom had bipolar, but nobody could help her.  She needed the ‘extra help’. The church thinks we should be able to handle it ourselves.”

You may have seen the lock-down type who says, “Keep it in the family. Don’t tell others what goes on here. It’s none of their business.”  

Dr. Martorell said, 

Our cultural or family upbringing has a lot to do with how free we feel to discuss these issues.  In certain cultures mental health problems are simply not discussed.  If it gets brought up, the family directly or indirectly tells the affected person suffering not to discuss these outside the home, as though it were some dark secret that cannot be disclosed.

Nurse Carrie said, 

“Everyone thinks we should deal with things on our own, and we shouldn’t have to talk to people about our problems and what’s going on in our lives.”

Ironically she is describing a condition of the church of independence. Yet inherent to being a believer is the learning to depend on someone else, God. 

Nurse Carrie said, 

“Why is it with depression and such, we can’t work as a church and have medical get it done.”

Many say, ‘If you go see a psychiatrist, it’s a sign of weakness. You’re not a good Christian.’ These are the comments I’ve heard of through the years.  You should just pray, and God can take everything away.”  

When my aunt suffered colon cancer, she didn’t get medical treatment in the beginning, preferring to have herself anointed, and follow a “homeopathic” approach. Later as it progressed, she changed her mind and found it was too late. So although largely, it isn’t only in psychiatry that we misrepresent who God is, we need ask ourselves, Who is God if what we believe about this is true?

Dr. Martorell shared,

As a neonatologist, I see infants born prematurely. Their brain develops outside the womb and are simply not the same as those that develop in a dark, quiet environment listening to mother’s heart rate, free of noxious/painful stimuli inside the womb.  As much as we try to imitate a womb with our incubators we can’t provide the same care.  When these infants are followed up for years, some develop physical deficits such as cerebral palsy, blindness, the need for oxygen, and the inability to eat on their own. These physical problems are easily seen and various treatments can be provided.  They are also at greater risk for developing learning deficits, hyperactivity/inattention problems, depression, anxiety and some academic papers even suggest increased risk of schizophrenia.  The thought behind these is that billions of synapses are occurring during pregnancy and the way these synapses connect is different in premature infants.  It is also interesting to note that the brain volume preset at birth occurs during the last 4 week of pregnancy. As these children grow up they need treatment for physical problems as well as psychiatric problems they may develop.  

I realize that it is not just in our churches that we are afraid to address this issue but I see it in the families of my newborns.  So many of these moms self medicate with illicit substances in order to treat their anxiety or depression.  Our culture as a whole has neglected to look at these issues as a medical problem that needs treatment.  So many children and teens are committing suicide.  Our own “well educated” health professionals have some of the highest suicide rates and yes it is occurring in our christian institutions as well as outside.  

Nurse Carrie said, 

“In this kind of approach, people are saying S/He’s not a loving and forgiving God and S/He doesn’t understand us.  If you deal with psychiatry, you’re a sinner. Why can’t you get it done with God on your own. He’s not a loving God, saying this person is not allowed to take medication. The pastor’s describing a cruel God because he’s not allowing the person to get the help he needs.  Like if someone’s leg is bleeding and you refuse to give that person a band-aid. 

But, God is always loving. This can’t be true.

I don’t think the pastor has a right to tell the parishioner that.”

Maybe we just succumb to the awkwardness of it all.  Too awkward to talk about God in our community.  Too awkward to talk about psychiatry in our church. There are so many reasons we approach emotions and behaviors this way but in the church or outside of it, let’s consider the question, What does this ay about God’s character?

I was cleaning up a leg laceration about 1 1/2 inches long and 2cm deep. I placed the triple antibiotic ointment and approximated the edges with steri-strips, yet still encouraging the patient and her guardians to take her to the urgent care to get stitches. This wasn’t a sterile environment and our supplies were limited. While working on the wound of the young teen, I asked a few brief psychiatric intake questions. It turns out, no. She didn’t have anxiety, or depression, or psychosis. What do you know!? Not everyone does. But she and her guardians were super pleased to pray together before they left and I was blessed by them.  

God is a God of love and the kind of God that cares about all of it in all of us. S/He is kind and not miserly, discriminatory, or punitive in interest and connection to us.  

It sounds like from what i’m writing that psychiatry isn’t seen as a legitimate form of medicine in the church. Or maybe the church doesn’t refer to it, or support it.  

A friend from my group read this post and responded. 

“We hear a lot about emotions and behaviors in the church, and related directives. We don’t hear however about where emotions and behaviors come from. 

I hear, ‘just pray more,’ or that I am lacking in faith. The people in the church get defensive, as if they have to defend God. And that’s not it. Honestly, it’s not complimentary to me that they think I’m insulting God. They are in a way attacking my spirituality. But I know God is helping me and He’s here with me. But I’m still this way. I still feel this way.

There’s a taboo that mental health and disorders all get grouped into this one cringeworthy word, “Crazy.” We’re almost protecting God from crazy by staying away from it in the church. We forget about the sin factor. The separation between us and God. The loss of connection. The word crazy isn’t very nice. So if we say crazy and we say psychiatry and God, it’s almost like we are besmirching God.  

Self-Care tip:  Ask, and ask again, What does “this” say about the character of God? It comes back to “Me.”

Question:  Do see the Bible and your church talking about psychiatry? Where and how? What does it say about who God is? 

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.

Unlikable: Me Too

Poem:

I feel unlikable

It sounds young

Immature

It sounds like I’m fishing

But I feel unlikable and it is what it is

I can list my attributes

And do also remember

What others have said

In their own throws of comparisons

It is disconnected though

Me talking to myself

An echo in a cavern

Otherwise quiet

Unlikable might be better said

Disconnected

And I was created for connection

I’ll never survive any pilgrimage on my own

I’m designed to say, “Me too”

But just this

Improves my sense of company

I can’t know why

Writing it out

Makes me think of you reading it

And saying something back

Selfcare Tip: Look for connection. You are not alone.

Question: What improves your connection? Will you tell us an example of a time you turned it around; went from feeling alone to then connected?

Keep on!

Live Imperfectly, Dad is dying, and I Have no Power.

wilted flower

Living with someone like tomorrow might be their last is much harder to do when it is actually the case.

My dad told me, after my nine-year old niece died, that a parent should never outlive their child.  When I look at my own children, I know that is true. But with my parents aging process, my dad’s long and difficult past twenty years, and now near end of life condition, I just don’t know how I’d order things, if I could, between us.

When God, (Morgan Freedman,) told the complaining Bruce Nolan, (Jim Carey,) that he could have all of his powers, the audience of “Bruce Almighty” projected both a positive transference and a schadenfreude. Bringing the viewer into the character’s identity is every actor’s aspiration. And we went there. Up. “Yay! Bruce can answer everyone’s prayers with a ‘yes’!” And then down, down, down. The multidimensional disaster’s created by misplaced power, power without wisdom, love, or altruism, was just painful to watch. Power does not God make.

My Dad is dying. Not likely from cancer. Not likely from a failed liver, floppy heart, or baggy lungs. He is just dying.  He’s confused on and off. His spine is failing so he can barely walk. He has repeated blood clots. And he’s recently risen out of a deep depression. Rison right into a confused grandiosity, full awkward, awkward like pants ripping when you bend over type of awkward, and inter-galactic soaring thought content.

The first “word” Dad played in Scrabble last week was “vl.” He explained, “vl, like vowel.” …Okay? For thirty minutes Dad played without playing one actual word. I started crying when he finally stopped connecting letters. The letters floated on the board like California will look after the “big earthquake” finally hits and it falls into the ocean. (We’ve all been waiting.) Now he tells me he called and spoke to Obama and Magic Johnson. Reference point. This is bizarre and out of his character.  He’s been delirious with waxing and waning level of consciousness for a month and a half. He’s dying. Sheez.

Living well while Dad dies is not easy. Would I use power to restore him to his healthy twelve-year old self, like Elli’s seventy-year old grandfather did, in “The Fourteenth Goldfish,” by Jennifer L. Holm? Would I use power to change the order of death? Would I do anything more or less or different, while my dad is dying?

Power does not God make. I am not God. (Ta-da! It’s out of the box now.) But both of us are watching Dad die. I trust that She, with the power, wisdom, love, and altruism, is living with him well, during this time.

In Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, by Camille Pagán, Libby Miller decides to live, just live, rather than die perfectly.  And maybe that’s my answer to this unasked question. Living with someone dying will not be perfect for me.

Self-Care Tip: Live imperfectly to live well, like this is your, his, or her last day.

Question: How do you “live well?”

Keep on!

Making our way through the questions on ECT – Top 3 Reasons for Being an Advocate

  1. How do you address the issue of cognitive and memory impairments?
  2. What are your top 3 reasons for being an advocate for ECT?
  3. What are the differences between ‘old’ ECT and ‘modern’ ECT?

fancy

Ooh La La!

So much fun to play dress up! When I was a scrub, a solid big boned unkempt of the Cleveland National Forest bordered lemon groves, when I walked barefoot, disappeared for the entire day in the rattlesnake infested chaparral, when I followed my brothers around like a desperate child, I still liked to play dress-up. I would sneak into my mother’s long closet, a dressing room really, with folding doors. I could hide behind her dresses, or climb up onto her shelves and be nothing more than luggage. But mostly I remember staring at her clothes and shoes. I remember one of her all time best outfits – a blue knit bell-bottomed jumper. A wide white belt with a hand-made gold buckle was an excellent accent. Yes, it would drag down below, but all the better to cover my brown feet.

When I think of my top three reasons for being an advocate for ECT, I think of dress-up. There are so many great options to put on, and I can and do exchange them with aplomb, as Fancy Nancy would say. That’s a French word for poise. It’s fancy. If you catch sight of my brown feet here and there, well, you can’t take the hills out of the psychiatrist I guess.

For today, Reason Numero Uno, (Fancy for #1, in honor of the second language I wanna-be speak):

  • It works most consistently, and most quickly of any treatment available. One must pick her fights after all, mustn’t she?

Reason Ithnān, (Arabic for two, in honor of my fancy mother):

  • It doesn’t touch “the body,” i.e. metabolics. Clean.

Reason Trois, pronounced I think like, twa, (Fancy Nancy’s favorite language. Need anyone explain? “French is fancy”):

For example, just by requiring someone to help with transportation, it’s built in. That thereby inherently increases community awareness of mental illness, something we rarely speak of with each other.

Then there is the medical staff. Our nurses are every patient’s advocate. Our masseuse increases oxytocin and other healing neurotransmitters when the patient’s get their massage waiting for treatment and then when in recovery. Our anesthesiologists are knowledgable, see the patient in their “whole person,” often picking up other issues that then will get the patient to receive treatment and improve the patient’s quality of life (QOL); such as hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, etc…

There’s more, but basically in ECT, none of our patient’s are alone. That stands.

Question: What are the top three reasons you prefer the treatments you engage in? 

Self-care Tip: It is always helpful to write out why you are doing what you are doing, when it comes to medical treatments.

Love to Pee

peeThe little boy was standing in the tennis court by the fence, facing out.  Doing what?  Sure enough. 

“I’m nature peeing,” he said.

Have you ever seen as much happiness than in the faces of little people peeing?  Well, I love to pee, too. I think most of us do. That is until we pee inopportunely. Or poo. Ahem. 

I’m getting older and realize that my happy peepee-ing days are numbered.  Three kids later, into my forties, and like the garden faucet outside with minerals crystallized around a corroded fixture, dripping “will,” (ahem,) start. Soooooooo, sooooooome day, …urine will yellow my underwear. Kids, without discretion, will announce that I smell. And for the innocent, and a once happy pee gone horribly wrong, I will be ashamed.

The pelvis is like a woven basket. Muscles criss-cross in a wonderful design between a supportive frame, like plant fronds and wood. 

When I was an eleven-year-old, I travelled to the African continent.  It wasn’t every country, wink, but a few on the southern side. I don’t remember enough of my childhood. Who knows why. But I do remember, in every African market place, I looked on women and children weaving leaves and grasses. They didn’t even have to watch their projects. Their fingers had memory of their own.  Instead, their eyes were watching us watching them. Brilliant more-than-white smiles in chocolate black skin, turned their curious faces up.

My Mom, a lover of all things lovely, looked. She loved them all – the people, the baskets, the freedom of being in Africa, and more. Then the blood of generations of hagglers and market yellers whipped through her Lebanese veins with increasing energy, distracting her from a bigger picture.  She wished mightily for baskets.  She would have purchased every one and made us carry them all back to our home, eleven hours by airplane, if she could. (Those were the days when people smoked inside airplanes. You and I understand what that meant. That air inside airplanes was the same air everyone inside breaths. It was a long flight.)

A decade-plus later, World Market opened. I wondered about all the faces and fingers it must have taken to make all those gorgeous creations, now for sale in Temecula, CA, for twenty some dollars a piece.

How could I be so clueless as a twelve-year-old, but I was, and I didn’t know about the fingers that deftly moved, the brilliant plant dies, the tight strength that remained in a basket, like hands clasping, between each fiber. The baskets held memory.

These are the baskets I think of when I think of the marvel that the pelvis is.  These are the baskets I think of when I think about how much I will despise losing continence. When losing continence, I will also remember that little guy making “nature pee.”  I will pull the backing off another panty-liner and say, I used to really like to pee. 

Our emotions and behaviors are similar to the joy of peeing and the pelvic basket. We at one point in our life may have loved to live, loved to speak with friends, loved our hobbies and our stamps, and our cooking pans. Some day later, we wake up, and people notice the difference, like the urine smell in incontinence, people notice our emotions and behaviors “leak.” Kids point, even, “Mommy, why does Bridget’s Mom always wear those sweat pants? She’s in the same sweat pants every time we see her!”

It’s awkward. People don’t know what to expect from us. Our emotions and behaviors are not what is socially acceptable and they stop knowing how to speak to us. Our professionals who are supposed to help us don’t even know how to speak to us. They shorten their visits with us. They tell us how to feel, “Just decide. Make a choice. Choose to be happy.”

When people don’t know what to expect, it divides us and separates us and is uncomfortable for all. This discomfiture, (less often consciously aware,) is a barrier in knowing how to speak to a psychiatric patient. It takes a heck of a lot of self-awareness on each party’s side to look inside ourselves and figure out where our discomfort is coming from.

What will you think of when you “wet your pants?” Or of someone you are with? Feel your energy get sucked into the earth by a depressed colleague? Notice acid escaping your stomach into your throat when an angry child’s emotions fill a room? Your thoughts start to buzz when the white noise of anxious Dad comes around.

Remember the pleasure that came back in the day, see into our Me, identify the nidus of discomfort, and then let it lose it’s power over us – then the unexpected with be an encounter of mutual respect.

Knowing how to talk to a psychiatric patient, means that we are okay not knowing what to expect, not personalizing what isn’t about us, and allowing for a context that is in many ways unknown. With this, we will pull the backing off a panty liner and get on with it.

Questions:  How has the unexpected behaviors of your, or of others you know, been treated by your medical providers? How have you treated yourself in those scenarios? Please tell us your story.

Self-care tip: See into your Me to be better at speaking with the unexpected.

Join us at, Seams of Gold!

The University Surgery Center, Department of ECT, and myself will be joining our community at Seams of Gold, where we will share life changing stories of ​resilience, restoration and hope.

Thursday, May 1, 2014  

​6:30 pm to 9:00 pm, Doors open @ 6:00 pm

“Event is Free”

PLEASE COME!  🙂

 

A Father’s Lament  contopolos

On May 29, 2010, we lost our 26 year old son, Nick, after a 14 year struggle to find long term, affordable, quality recovery and care from mental illness and addiction. During Nick’s brief life, both he and those of us who loved him were left with a fatal absence of hope while we struggled, as do many others, to navigate our society’s haphazard, fragmented “system of care”.

Months after Nick had died, I recalled a former broadcast on CNN with a woman who had suffered enormous loss after Hurricane Katrina. The interviewer was asking this lady how, in the face of such loss, she was able to continue on and now help others. She said, “at some point, I stopped asking “why me” and began asking “what now”. That statement, in conjunction with an honest admission from my pastor that “during Nick’s life, he had absolutely no idea how to understand nor how to help us”, was what led to the “what now” of Seams of Gold community service events.

Seams of Gold is named after the ancient pottery art of “Kintsugi”. In this ancient art form of Kintsugi we find the inspiration in how we respond to the fragile beauty that surrounds us.”

Seams of Gold is a FREE multi faith, multi denominational community service event. All are invited.

We are asking that all who have been affected by mental illness and addiction as well as those who love and serve them, to come and be inspired, informed, educated and equipped. Join us, as through the prism of our tears, we pilgrimage together towards a “better day” of empathy, compassion and care for those who suffer.

Recovery is Powerful, it is Possible and it is Beautiful! 

                                                                                                                                  –  Jim Contopulos

 

The beauty of the Santa Rosa Ecological Reserve in southern California provides the backdrop for a father’s lament. Seams of Gold founder Jim Contopulos invites the viewer to join him on a journey as he reflects upon losing his beautiful son to addiction and mental illness.

“Birthed from Pain… Inspired by Art”

                                                                   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGZ1ESOlvbM