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

15592094211_cf638f430a

(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.

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!

NPR interviews Kitty and Michael Dukakis

In an interview with Kitty and Michael Dukakis, journalist Katia Hauser explores the benefits and risks of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in treating depression. Kitty shares her first hand experience with ECT and the ways it changed her life, and Michael provides the perspective of a family member.

Dukakis interview

Start Over

fabio

Muscled and gorgeous, he came in, like dessert, main course, and appetizer. Some people just carry themselves that way. It doesn’t work if they dress low, chest hair accentuated by opened buttons and glimmering chains. It doesn’t work if it’s their agenda, checking to see if you noticed, a finger hovering over the acoustic applause button. No. Attire must be intact, normal, not baptized in cologne. In fact, attire must be worn as if it is completely a non-issue. Attitude of a jack-rabbit, who never thought about his muscled legs. Those legs just hop because that’s what they do. That is the kind of attitude-ingredient to this kind of presence-recipe.

How would a mother name such a son? How could she know he would turn out this way? Greg is an essential name for this elixir to work, as essential as “Fabio” is to its destruction. Everything else may have been in place, developed over years, like a bonsai tree groomed under the tender ministration of Father Time, and caboom! “Fabio.” The bonsai becomes a paint-can-frosted Christmas tree. Greg’s mother named him ‘Greg’, in fact, because it was the dullest name she could think of, not wanting him to grow up to be anything like the sort of philandering infidel his good-for-nothing pig father “Fabio” was. Greg told me this. I didn’t come up with it. He knew it because his once beautiful mother, who worked seventy hour weeks, told him whenever he messed up, “I named you Greg! This is not supposed to happen!”

In came Greg, after three years of absentia. And it was like I had just seen him yesterday. His mother couldn’t believe that the name Greg would hold such a man, an addict. Yep. Greg hadn’t seen me for three years for a reason. There I was. Chirpy as ever.

Greg! Where you been?

Whenever a patient comes to see me, I believe in him or her. I believe. In part, because I believe in Me. I believe in my value. Wink. But I also believe in them because I believe in Love, and because I’m simply wired to. There are more reasons why we behave and feel the way we do, more than colors in your crayon box. It’s not just a moral issue, biology, or an adjustment to our human condition. Heck. His name may have even had something to do with it. “Greg,” is quite a name. But I did believe, more than I disbelieved, that he hadn’t been in to see me for reasons other than relapse. Maybe his primary doctor was filling his meds, and he was so stable he didn’t need psychiatry anymore! Yah! That’s it!

(This is inside information folks. You can’t tell anyone. My patients can’t know this about me. It could ruin my career! I don’t want them to be any more afraid of disappointing me than they already are. It’s hard enough to be honest in these places, and I do my darndest not to project my Pollyanna-agenda’s on them. They don’t deserve that. They deserve the hard-earned poker-face I screw into place when my heart gets broken. I purchased it with ten-years of my life from some magic spiders I quested in a cliff off distant shores. Bargain.)

Greg! (I said,) It’s great to see you!

Every patient wants to please their doctor. And every doctor wants to please their patient. And we all get our hearts broken at some point.

I was really glad to see Greg, after all. And he was looking good. But then I noticed he had more weather in his face, some clouds, lines, and gutters. And I noticed he wasn’t as glad. He had an aura of melancholy and self-loathing rolling off of him.

His little boy was with him, too, (Fabio. …J/K! Gotcha! Good ‘ol “cycle.”)

Greg sat there, thunder in his sorrow shaking his frame, and we reviewed his story. You may know Greg’s story. Greg may be your friend too. Or brother, husband, dad, or You. And you know the high from this addiction feels better than everything, until it doesn’t.

The best line ever spoken in this context is, “Relapse is part of Recovery.” That is from the God of Hope. That is what makes sense in every illness, like Charles Dickens is to literature, timeless and universal content, man. When Bob reaches for that doughnut, when Harriet rolls the dice at Pechenga, when Fabio uses porn rather than intimacy in a meaningful relationship, when Myrtle has to pull over on the freeway in a panic attack, this is when we ask, “Why am I alive?” and demand to start over for that answer.

I’ve asked that question fifty-plus times a week for fourteen-some years, and every time I ask it, I listen for an answer. I’m curious too. We all are, right?! It’s a marvelous question. Every time I ask, I wonder about the magic that keeps this beautiful creation in our community. I listen, because every answer is something that crescendos into the room, the words explosive, the best part of the atom.

I have a daughter. She needs me.

My dogs. Nobody loves me more than my dogs.

I want to know what it is to live without this.

I’m too scared to die.

God.

I just don’t know why.

Oops! Wait. “I just don’t know why,” isn’t good enough. Figure it. Finger it. Cradle it, and answer. What do you want to stay alive for? Because this thing! This thing is part of your recovery. Another day will come.

Greg left our appointment with options for treatment and a commitment to treatment. I’ll see him again and he’s one of the reasons I love life. Can’t wait.

Questions: Why are you alive? Please give us your answer. It will explode into the universe and someone out there needs to hear it.

Self-care Tip: Answer the question and start over. 

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!)

Handout – How to Talk to a Psychiatric Patient.

duck

Finished the CME talk I did last week and thought, you might find some use for it.

I’ve received bad press many times for not being, in so many words, legit or academic enough. Check out the comments on my ECT book on Amazon.com for examples :). Maybe this one leaning into that bosom of greatness will turn public opinion. (Sneeze.)

…Formatting has been a real bear.

As you go through it, please talk out. Tell me what you think. I may do it again. (That’s right. I’m not afraid to threaten. You heard me.)

Keep on, Friends.

How to Speak to a Psychiatric Patient

Introduction:

  • You quack like a duck, avert your gaze, and then hold a fetal position. It’s good for core.
  • Be sure to carry your portable speakers playing zen chakra music in the background.
  • Offer cigarettes.
  • Bring a healthy white chicken to sacrifice over their chest for the exorcism.
  • Introduce yourself with an alias name. Hopefully a superhero.

This is a fail safe method of communication to pretty much hit all the difficult misperceptions we are contending with in psychiatry – demonic possession, shame, violent tendencies, weak character, and poor moral choices.

I’d like to give you the 1,2,3’s on how to talk to psychiatric patients. But as I researched this topic, it became apparent that this wasn’t the direction for us to go in. You have better algorithms, systems, and manuals based on research for this in your own departments. I know you have people who are specialists in the administrative side of things.

For us today, we are going to turn rather toward the innuendos that interplay in communication between caregiver and patient.

The is the first place for us to start, let’s just talk about it here.

What is it like for you to talk with a psychiatric patient?

  • Identifying Me in the mental health treatment paradigm.
  • Not implying that we have skills but no awareness. We are just deliberately putting the practitioner into “it.”
  • It’s a “how to,” but first we need to address our personal limitations.
  • Why do we have these limitations?

I: Clinician/Caregiver barriers

II: Patient barriers

  • What’s over-scored is that the problem is on the patient’s side. The patient is sick after all. We agree. Brain illness and all that.
  • Even so, what is underscored is our side. And that’s what this talk is going to be about.
  • We want to focus on our own thoughts about this. What it says about ourselves. Who am I if my identity changes with how I feel and behave? etc.
  • And then, how do we respond to that?

III: Understand Personal Biases – Likes and dislikes

  • Figure out where we are at. What makes it difficult to talk to patients?
  • What are the common myths? Get the myths out there. 
  • Some reasons are true and not myths.
  • What are some personal biases about working with psychiatric patients?
  • (Bias means – likes and dislikes)

IV:   Define Stigma

1. Prejudice – Attitudes, feelings/emotions (Amygdala)

2. Discrimination – attitudes lead to actions

1: Prejudice

  • Weakness of character
  • Supernatural explanations. (Statistically significant association with superstitions.)
  • The word “patient” not talking about disease, perhaps, but rather about character – something of moral value.
  • Religion. (But only a few believe that spiritual leaders can play a role in treatment! People don’t relate stigma issues to biology.  i.e., It is not biology or medicine that increase the problems, but belief that the person has a personal weakness as demonstrated by their behaviors – A conflict in beliefs, or prejudice, worth exploring.) (…But where do emotions and behaviors come from? The Brain. Thinking they come from a cloud by day or a fire by night fall into the category of prejudice.)
  • Time consumption.
  • Danger
  • Treatment skepticism – no recovery, there’s less hope for them
  • Punishment from God for evildoers.
  • Demonic possession
  • I am lessened by my affiliation with the mentally ill

What are our fears? Fears are an emotion and/or attitude…

  • Brings into play, how do we identify ourselves? …And that part of us that remains even when we are in a changing body (identity).  I call this, “Me,” with a capital “M.”
  • Think about this when we look at responses to prejudice; “discrimination.”

Caregiver stigma – “self-stigma” comes when we internalize public attitudes and turn it onto ourselves

  • We perceive stigma from others due to those we care for.
  • Shame/Embarrassment
  • Fears of what it says about ourselves

2. Discrimination – How we act on those prejudices.

Example:

  • Take “Caregivers Stigma.” We can bring this into our work place as well, from what we glean in our community.
  • We avoid patients who make us feel uncomfortable.

Who has Stigma?

Everyone.  It is in our community, including we who serve and are involved in mental healthcare services.

1. Patient

2. Clinician

Patient

Example: Mr. Whineheart misses his medications approximately three times a week due to logistical reasons. However, we know that Mr. Whineheart has had a long history of difficulty with treatment noncompliance. As we explore further, we discover that Mr. Whineheart dislikes taking medication. It makes him feel like he is weak. Not taking his medication is Mr. Whineheart’s discriminating behaviors against himself in response to his prejudices, (emotions and attitudes of shame.)

Clinician

Examples:

  • Refusing care for psychiatric patients.
  • Starting with Questions:  How do we respond to challenges to our identity? When our identity’s confronted by seeing our patients with psychiatric illnesses, our patients who demonstrate changes in their emotions and behaviors since brain illness set in, we ask, what part of us remains even when we are in a changing body and mind (identity)? How do we respond?
  • If it is positive, it is not discriminatory toward ourselves. If it is negative, it is discriminatory to ourselves and inevitably to others.

V: What are the barriers to talking with psychiatric patients?

  • The tension is when the patient and the clinician’s personal views, life stories come together.
  • Where those thoughts collide is where the tension is.
  • That’s where the barrier is.
  • Once this tension is resolved it’s easier to go into action

VI: Why bother about Stigma?

Because:

  • Stigma is a feature and a cause of health problems. (Both clinician and patient)
  • Belief —> action.
  • i.e., In caregivers, emotional toll can be devastating – may lead to injury or illness of caregiver

Because It Affects:

  • How we speak to psychiatric patients. (Human Value.)
  • Choices in our clinician-patient relationship.
  • Perceived quality of work experience.
  • “Me” and QOL (Quality of Life).

Because It Engenders:

  • Social distance. (Comes from fear. But connection is healthy for “Me.”)
  • We are robbed of opportunities (Think – Agendas, Connection, etc.)
  • Avoidance. (Comes from belief of danger.)
  • Treatment skepticism (What is “recovery” anyway?)
  • We need to ask, “What are our treatment goals?” (Agenda)
  • Frustration and anger, negative emotions.

Responsibility:

  • There’s an unequal level of power (Us v. patients/clients) – inherently increases our responsibility toward others to overcome this.
  • What about us?
  • Identify that. Then fear can become strength. Presence. Actions of discrimination change to actions of hope.

VII:  Agendas

  • Part of our “belief systems.”
  • Exposing agendas, leads us toward action. 
  • Just like exposing prejudice leads to actions of hope.
  • Just like starting with Me leads to actions of accountability and presence.

1.  Traditional agendas in the medical model:

a.  Serve altruistically.

  • Saying we don’t have an agenda is grossly dishonest.
  • Maybe we are uncomfortable speaking about agendas because it creates tension with the classic view that practicing medicine is supposed to be Altruistic.  Altruism is just another “pressure.”
  • It’s a perfectionistic model. It’s false. To ally ourselves with it is a mistake. Brings discriminatory behaviors toward ourselves, driven by prejudices of shame.

b.   Healing

  • The paradigm that never fits for psychiatry – cure, getting rid of something bad, not joining it and integrating it. (Presence.)
  • Can’t stop disease even with appropriate treatment – Treatment agenda changes to center around QOL experience rather than cure.
  • Caregivers in long-term care are not looking for recovery in their patients.

c.  Serve patient (Service)

2.  Traditional agendas of business

  • $, Profit

3.  Quality of work experience

  • Not only do we get money, we get other stuff (biopsychosocial needs).  That affects how we talk to people.

VII:  Solutions

1.  Start with Me. Own that we have stigma: prejudice and discrimination.

  1.  Protest
  2.  Put own selves in the way of these treatments
  3.  Rely on evidence (biomedical conceptualization or education), not ideation (prejudice, emotions, religious causation…)
  4.  Pay more attention to emotions, senses, thoughts.
  5.  Reconsider your agendas e.g., Not necessarily recovery but rather QOL
  6.  Engender a culture of expectation (ex: We expect ourselves and each other to participate…)

2. “Contact based” solutions.

  • The impact of experience and exposure
  • Best treatment is contact with the mentally ill vs. Educational approaches, which, although are helpful, are not as effective. Nor are psychotherapeutic approaches.
  • Maybe we overemphasize education in our culture and undervalue human relationships.
  • We see this anecdotally, but also notice that nearly all interventions studied, (multiple metanalysis, etc.,) used educational interventions primarily.

3. Education (Still important and demonstrates degree of efficacy)

4. Collaborate

  • Involve family

5. Collaborate

  • Involve community, Partnerships with community resources

Conclusion

  1. Start with at Me.
  2. More contact and exposure to people with mental illness.
  3. More education.
  4. More collaboration.

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