The Sins of the Fathers, and Mental Health

 

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

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

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

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

So she asked me, “What do you think?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for speaking with us! Keep on!

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

The Perfect Doctor – Healthy With Disease

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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

Media Used Educates

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Me:

Jasmine, I’m so honored to collaborate with you on this important post juxtaposing the various ways media shapes stigma and your own testimony.

Guest Post from Jasmine:

I love old ads, Victorian, retro, apothecaries…  not only are they works of art, but are full of the funniest jokes.

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It would be a lot easier to laugh at the ad agencies if it wasn’t for the fact that we buy it.  These ads are proof that our health depends on our willingness to look at more than media.  Just because we read it on the internet, see a commercial on TV, it doesn’t mean it’s the right path.

I look at my bottles of pills.  “Of course it’s safe, otherwise they wouldn’t be aloud to sell it in the grocery store”, I think to myself.  Or, “they must be okay because my doctor said so.  Somebody would have gotten in trouble for it by now, if it was bad”.

That kind of thinking gives away our power.  We are no longer responsible when we make it everyone else’s fault if something bad happens to us.  Even if the doctors and companies get sued, it is Me who will suffer the most.  There is nothing more important than our health.  How can we deal with life when we are distracted with health issues?  How will we treat people the way they deserve, when we’re not feeling well?

The point is that what we see in popular culture isn’t there to educate us.  It is there to entertain. Or make a sale.  Or push its other entrepreneurial agenda.

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I’m trying to focus on smoking because there is no way anyone could deny they hurt you in some way.  Pills are different because there is a different mindset with that, and I’m saving that for another day…  But smoking clearly isn’t healthy.  My dad was one of those people who smoked 1-3 packs a day and said that it’s a myth that people are getting lung cancer from cigarettes.  He jogged everyday and worked out… with a cigarette in his mouth.  If he was alive, I would like to ask him if he thought he would be a better athlete with more stamina if he at least didn’t smoke while working out.  I know the times are different and we know more now than we did back then… But I smoked enough cigarettes in my day to know that I would hack up a lung every morning and had a regular cough, until I quit.

Questions:  How do we tell people what to listen to?  Not just listen to other dramatic people and what we want to hear… not kid ourselves and run away from the real solution, whatever it may be?

-Jasmine (I’m 39, a wife, a mother and I’m cRaZy!)

 http://lakeelsinorelife.com 

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Self-Care Tip:  Use media material for entertainment and look in better places for education and counsel.

And Then Stigma Disappeared

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Discover Your Sweetness – Value, That is To Say.

This historical post above is what I will start tonight with when we meet at NAMI.

The blooming sense of value that comes when we pause to appreciate our imperfect selves, our abused selves, diseased, pecked at, and unrighteous selves, this we can trust more than the who believes she serves altruistically.

I remember the Scarlet Letter by, Hawthorne, and wonderful dirtied Hester.

But, in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester’s life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too. And, …people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble. …with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded, because unvalued and unsought,—came to Hester’s cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy! Hester comforted and counselled them, …at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness. 

Once we value ourselves, much of stigma disappears.  There is a coming together of that which is “perfect” with that which is imperfect, flawed, “unvalued and unsought,” and we can see the disease in others and not demand perfection in them either.

Everything starts and ends with Me.

Questions:  How has stigma touched you?  How have you, do you, deal with it?  What helps you?  Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip:  Let the imperfect come together with the perfect in you, to deal with stigma in others.

The Energy in Stigma, Yours for the Taking

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There are nothing like lightbulb jokes in the operating room to make you plume your feathers.  The other day, my nurse “enlightened” me with them.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?  One, but the lightbulb has to be willing to change.

How many surgeons does it take to change a lightbulb?  One, because while he holds it, the world revolves around him.

How many nurses does it take to change a lightbulb?  If it’s during shift change, no one will touch it.

That is as far as we got, but please share yours, especially if related to psychiatry :).

Lightbulb jokes are common, clean, dirty, and fairly ageless. It does not take the brightest lightbulb in the room (Teehee!) to know that they are so because they capitalize on stereotypes.  Stereotypes, likewise, are widespread, and fairly ageless.  Even in something as objective as brain disease. i.e., The brain is carbon matter, a human organ, mushy grey stuff. The brain gets sick like any other part of the body, human organ, and people bits. Brain gets diseased, people behave and feel diseased.

A primary care physician’s assistant, “PA,” was sharing with me the other day about how she deals with stereotypes when she approaches patients who need treatment toward brain health.

I tell them about all the executives and professionals who get treatment ‘because the stress gets to them and they have nervous breakdowns.’  Then they don’t feel so bad about accepting treatment because they associate themselves with these successful people.

Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or neutral.  Everyone has them.  We clinicians, patients, grocers, those who want nothing to do with medical care, and even executives and other professionals (smile) have them.  But what, in dealing with stereotypes, is friendly to Me?  It starts there.  With Me, one little, or largely valued Me.

We stereotype ourselves and maybe that is why we stereotype others.  For example, this struggle of what to call illness of the brain is common, widespread, and fairly ageless. A Menninger Clinic blogger wrote eloquently about it recently, “Does reframing mental illnesses as brain disorders reduce stigma? by JON G. ALLEN, PHD.”  Most pithy, I thought was this,

…we should be skeptical of the view that regarding psychological problems as brain disorders will abolish stigma. Although the disease model decreases blame, this shift comes with a cost: It increases pessimism about recovery and might also contribute to perceived dangerousness.

I have never forgotten the Spiral Dynamics idea that in the magical level of consciousness, there is a sense of being disempowered. “Perceive dangerousness” is magical. Behind negative stereotypes, there is magical thinking.  We give over what is not to be given and take what is not to be taken.  We have fear.  We feel victimized.  We lose what is freely our own.  Disempowerment is terrifying. There is a lot more stigma out there than there is information but giving stigma and/or negative stereotypes power is our own choice.

A fellow blogger wrote to me how he approaches it,

Change brain illness to mental illness. Our problems really are brain illness from physical dysfunction but I can accept that my psyche is sick easier than my brain is sick.

Stereotypes may scare us but they can also inspire.  It is up to the individual, to Me, how to respond.  As in lightbulb jokes, we who are targeted by stereotypes can take pride in them.  They are not the same as “stigma” although there is overlap when negative.  Stereotypes can be neutral or even something to be proud of.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? None–the light bulb will change when it’s ready.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? None. It’s their job to help people find their way in dark places!

There is nothing like the kind of energy in stigma and negative stereotypes to inspire us.  Such force, such Magic, these can get the punk in any of us to love who we are.

I used to be quite turned off by the beatitudes thinking I was supposed to want to be a wimp, and couldn’t quite make myself do it.  Now I realize, being a wimp is just what it is.  The blessing is what is inherently available to Me in my “condition.”

1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Questions:  How have you been able to use stereotypes and stigma as something toward friendliness in your life?  

What have you found is inherently blessing you from where you find the condition of life to be?

How might you use the energy in them toward being good to yourself?  Please tell us your story.

Self-care tip:  Use the energy available in Magic to empower you, rather than disempower.