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.

Where Your Shame Is

One of my strong memories of Marcy will stay, of this Halloween. 

She was tired after her day at school. She had gone back to college to get her nursing degree. She was tired, like a shirt that had been over washed in hot water. She was the kind of tired that looked like the good emotions in her water bottle had been slurped down, and the refill was still in the fridge in her kitchen corner. At home. And she was still in the car.

These feelings started to increase and crescendo, and pretty soon she was tieing into memories of failure in her past. A young child who heard her parents yelling at each other in foul language. Marcy heard, “My family doesn’t love each other or me.” A kid who dressed poorly and Mom said, “Go change. You look terrible.” Marcy heard, “I’m an ugly kid.” A teen who didn’t get invited to the parties that she knew were going on. She heard in this, “I’m not likeable.” A young adult who watched her mother walk out on her father. Marcy heard, “I’ll never be someone worth committing to.” And now on halloween, with her daughter coming home from school, Marcy felt like a failure as a student and as a mother.

She told me about this, last week. We were in the quiet space of my office. Lamp light shone over the beta-fish hiding behind his splashing filter. 

Marcy told me, she was wilted there, in the seat beside her daughter. Saying words in effort of trying to be understood, she spoke, and she cried. At some point, Marcy realized she thought that if she didn’t go trick-or-treating with her kids, it meant she was a let-down. She wasn’t a good mother.

Not only was she someone who gets tired too easily, she was also a flake.  

Marcy threw out a few options; how to make this right for them. Then her mind opened up and processed these. She saw her inner beast let shame go. Something better in her said that she would give what she could, and discharge the rest. 

Marcy, in talking it out with her daughter, made herself vulnerable to what brought her shame. In that, she let the truth surface that she was, actually, not “a piece of crap,” after all.

Building on what our living experiences are, rather than disenchanting, they are healing. The easy fantasy that comes from comparison, from fabricated idealism, and from the personalizing of it, is destructive. We can be resilient by building on real experiences. We can be present and connected both to ourselves and others.

Brene Brown speaks on wholehearted living:  “It’s about the willingness to be imperfect, to be vulnerable. It’s about the courage to wake up in the morning and acknowledge that no matter what gets done and what doesn’t get done, that I’m enough, and that I’m worthy of love, belonging, and joy.”

Halloween will be a reminder to me of Marcy letting shame go, not identifying with the thin logic of her own self-inadequacies, and of getting into the living of it. That’s courage. That is brave.

Self-Care Tip: Start exploring where your shame is, and let your real experiences speak toward your belonging and self-value.

 

Question: In what areas of your life do you feel like you are not enough?

What has helped you discover your reality?

Please tell your story! We need to hear from you. Keep on!

What are you Living for?

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“Latest Banksy Graffiti”

Why do you get out of bed every morning? To go to work? You think, “Life i is about working and then, someday I’ll die.” Are you living to go to school? Perhaps a student for life, the best is to gather and gather. A klepto of information.  Ma skzwybe you live, instead, to stay home and not leave. That can be worth it. Leaving home feels like going to one’s death for many, in fact, with anxiety.

Is what you are living for, worth “living for?” Why didn’t you kill yourself last night?m I’m not asking for “13 Reasons” or glamorizing suicide in any way, like it ois, unfortunately, being done in the media these days. I’m just asking. (Straight face. Eye contact.) Why?

Suicide is increasing, this year up by ~30%. It’s sad but I’ve heard the ignorant say, “When our world is being overrun by humans, this is just one more way to improve population management.” Why anyone would say that, let alone to a psychiatrist, speaks toward the unfortunate person saying it more than anything. Even so, these are the people that contribute to our cultural stigma and sentiment, like the wrong colloid for growth. This stigma is best diminished by peer-to-peer influence. Your voice; you speaking up is the painting over the foul-language graffiti. You speaking of your own journey with suicidality or any related diseases changes the ignorance into empathic knowledge. 

We are in the mental health equivalent to the industrial revolution. Fortune. We are wealthy in mental health treatment options. Bling! Bling! It wasn’t too long ago when we were trusting depression medical therapies to crude agents bulky, and bluntly stunning our neuroreceptors. These were a big stick coming down on a flower.

Think of the cart and horse transforming into the automobile; course into sleek and refined; slowly moving and grossly impacting changes, contemporarily working rather as specific rapid responses. Now remember your parent, or mine, who never had the opportunity to receive a treatment that would work in a matter of weeks, and without turning her/him into a zombie-blimp.

A child stands there going through his own vasovagal experience, scared and confused while watching his favorite person in the whole world performing like a broken toy. The child tries to make sense and restabilize their once clarified existence. The parent goes through this at first for about six months and then somehow “gets better.” Was it the prayer that worked? Was Momma finally able to “pull through it?” Was it because the child’s behavior finally became “good enough” to please God who then condescended to make his momma better? Momma does well for another 2 years. She’s connected. She’s filled with purpose. The memory turns into something like, “Boston’s worst winter in fourteen years;” briefly print-worthy and then thankfully, not much more.

Then momma is again dark, hopeless and staying in bed whenever she can. The child, Teddy, is now a preteen of ten. This comes back, like finding another letter from his cheating dad’s girlfriend under a magazine in the back of the closet where his golf clubs are. And instead of six months, Momma’s change lasts about two years. (Can we even call it a “change” when it lasts two years?)

The amorphic improvement comes again though, like a miracle, but who can trust it. Miracles aren’t gotten in vending machines after all. I We can’t buy them with a paycheck.

Sadly, as Teddy feared, another some many months later, Momma drops again. This time she plummets rather than drops, into a drunken, more terrible condition. For longer, and the boy is now a teen. He at first appears more calloused. Yet, if questioned, he will show his grief and bewildered young self, just there behind a gentle touch, or a cluster of inquiring kind words. He loves her well. Why can’t she love him? Moms who love their kids will get up in the morning. They’ll shower and they’ll talk. They don’t write suicide notes or leave their son’s to find them half conscious when they get home from school. Not mom’s who love their kids.

Our moms, yours and mine in the seventies, didn’t have the privilege of taking treatments that worked or worked well, and rapidly. We are so blessed. How to grasp the immense difference in our Age; this Age of mental health revolution.

Now a little boy sees this change in his favorite person in the world. She is fortunate enough to receive medical treatment, and within weeks is “back to myself again.” This little family escaped years of decomposition by the ravaging damages from brain illness. 

My grandma, Elsie Louise, (isn’t that a great name!), was washing her laundry in a new machine that decreased her labor by many hours. One day, when she was daydreaming about her young handsome husband, or maybe it was the chicken she lost to the fox, when she screamed, jerking out from a terrible pain in her hand. Her fourth finger was gone. She lost it, pulled off by the twisting force of the machine’s internal grips.

Now we place our laundry in a closed lidded box we just walk away from. We don’t even think about the appendages we are allowed to retain. We don’t imagine the privilege. 

In psychiatry, it is like this. The treatments we had generations past were better than none. But, enter now into 2018, and we don’t realize how good we have it. We forgot most of the print-worthy stories back then. Not to use the treatments from this revolution, is going back to the darker ages of medicine. The treatments save lives. They bless. They make us rich in life. Bling! Bling! Look at your wealthy character. Healthy.

Why are you still alive? Whatever you answer, fight for that. Take advantage of the mental health revolution and live well.

Questions: What are some stories of those you have loved who missed out on mental health treatment? What are some stories of those who did not? Where is the difference?

Self-care tip: Speak! We need to hear you. You are painting over the foul-language graffiti of ignorance!

Keep on!

False Thoughts about Getting Healthy

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Think of walking in a rainstorm. Your clothes and hair hang heavily. They provide no protection. They offer no remedy. You take a hand towel out of your bag and try to mop up your icy wet face. Wring it out and continue to wipe. 

This is like choosing to do all the psychosocial efforts in your life, but missing the biological. Until you treat the underlying illness, much of our efforts to heal are like using a hand towel to dry off in the rain storm. We think that we can get better without medication. Or, we may reject other treatment options, like ECT or TMS. We think false thoughts. 

It’s not healthy to take pills. 

I’m better than that. 

All I need is God. 

My parents would be upset, so I shouldn’t. 

If my work found out, I’d lose my job. So I shouldn’t. 

THC is better. 

Exercise is better. 

Some of these are entirely false. But some are just partly false, encased in a disconnected truth. This “rain and the hand towel” idea is not an analogy meant to minimize or bring shame to those who choose not to engage in treatment. It is not meant to talk down. Please forgive me for the crudeness and limitations. It is just meant to crack open this idea.

Yesterday, Louise commented that her physician told her taking sertraline, or Zoloft, was like taking “a vitamin for my brain”. That clicked for her! Vitamins were ok.

Question: How has your physician helped you get past not wanting to take treatment? How could your provider do better with this?

Self-care Tip: Allow healing with medical treatment for medical disease.

Get You Some of That – Medical Treatment for Medical Illness

…Continued from yesterday.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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