Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

I know how it feels to be passed by. I know how it feels to allow someone else’s success to be my own failure. I know all too well how hard it is to battle a nasty inner voice.” @AmericaFerrera


Inspiration is all around us. I found a little bit of it the other day in the New York Times in an essay about training for a triathlon by America Ferrera: “How a Triathlon Helped America Ferrera Defy Her Inner Critic.”

With every step, stroke and pedal, I turned “No, I can’t” into “Yes, I can,” “I’m limited” into “Look what I’m capable of,” and “I’m weak” into “I am whole, healthy and strong.’” @AmericaFerrera

You’d think that someone who is as successful as she is in her chosen profession would be beyond negative self-talk. Especially with so many agents, publicists and studio execs kissing her (bad)ass on a daily basis.

But no, she does it too. It was also nice to hear someone who is in the public eye openly admit to being human and fallible. I find that refreshing and inspiring. I have to admit that blogging about my own psychological challenges feels a bit strange at times. I’m not one who likes attention, I dislike most reality TV shows, and I was raised not to “air my dirty laundry in public.”

BUT, if no one aired their dirty laundry, how would we know that how we feel is also how a lot of other people feel. We can only learn and grow by sharing what we know, by being honest. So hopefully you appreciate my contribution to the noise as much as I appreciate America Ferrera’s.

And who isn’t guilty of negative self-talk, even though we know it’s not good for us. And it can be as innocent as calling yourself stupid if you make a minor mistake. I’ve called myself that just for dropping something. And each and every one of those comments chips away (subconsciously) at your self-esteem.

I have to admit that I have tried to use positive reinforcement on myself, but it always sounds silly or lame. Or like Donald Trump. “I’m Awesome!” “I’m Huge!” “I’m a force to be reckoned with,” etc., etc… So even if I don’t do that, thank you America for reminding me not to do the other.

I finally got my answer to that question: Who do you think you are? I am whoever I say I am.” @AmericaFerrera

Read Full Post »

Many people today are infatuated with the biological determinants of things. They find compelling the idea that moods, tastes, preferences, and behaviors can be explained by genes, or by natural selection, or by brain amines (even though these explanations are almost always circular: if we do x, it must be because we have been selected to do x). People like to be able to say, I’m just an organism, and my depression is just a chemical thing, so, of the three ways of considering my condition, I choose the biological. People do say this. The question to ask them is, Who is the “I” that is making this choice? Is that your biology talking, too?” The New Yorker, March 1, 2010: HEAD CASE: Can psychiatry be a science? by Louis Menand

I seem to have been in a downward spiral for the past few months. Thus the lack of postings. Miss me?

I can blame it on a lot of things. The weather. The news. The economy. Dick Cheney. The fact that I am forced to deal with bad brain chemistry without the aid of medication.

But whatever the cause, my depression, and the cause du jour, is not a CHOICE.

Yes, the pharmaceutical companies have gone astray and led their Mercedes Benz—home in the Hamptons—trips to Paris aspiring doctors along with them.

I don’t have a problem with people taking Paxil for shyness, Xanax for anxiety, or Wellbutrin for weight loss. But I do have a problem with people assuming that whatever it is that I take (used to take, actually) is a cop-out.

The decision to handle mental conditions biologically is as moral a decision as any other. It is a time-honored one, too. Human beings have always tried to cure psychological disorders through the body. In the Hippocratic tradition, melancholics were advised to drink white wine, in order to counteract the black bile. (This remains an option.) Some people feel an instinctive aversion to treating psychological states with pills, but no one would think it inappropriate to advise a depressed or anxious person to try exercise or meditation.”

For the record, there are those of us who are treatment resistant. But even if you’re not, why would anyone assume that you would choose to take a prescription medication if you didn’t have to?

Yes, we have entered the age of pharmaceutical advertising (TV, magazines, billboards) in which even the most obscure diseases and disorders are woven into our subconscious minds. Come to think of it, my legs do tingle from time to time—maybe I should be taking something for restless leg syndrome. I’ve also noticed I’ve been a little gassy lately—I’ll just bet I’ve got me a mild case of GERD. And even though I’ve no idea what Fibromyalgia or COPD are, according to recent commercials I have a number of symptoms for both, so…yeah, I’m going to self-diagnose (since that’s what those advertisements seem to be about anyway, and it doesn’t seem all that risky when you consider that “…psychiatrists reached the same diagnosis only twenty per cent of the time…”) and demand my doctor prescribe an assortment of pills and caplets for me to ingest that may or may not work, but that will certainly cause dizziness, nausea, constipation, tremors, dry mouth, blurred vision, weight gain, diminished libido (which in all fairness, may be attributable to the weight gain) and suicidal thoughts. Yeah, give me some of that.

Exercise? Diet? Meditation? All good options. IF you can drag your sorry ass out of bed.

We seem to be living in a very strange time (but then, when haven’t we?). Scientists discovered (in many cases, accidentally) that some drugs had a positive effect, on certain psychological disorders, in a few people, under certain circumstances. And, this being America, land of opportunity and quick fixes, we of course decided to take it one step further. Why feel good when you can feel great? My girlfriend just dumped me—give me a pill. My stock portfolio is in the toilet—better take a capsule. My favorite sitcom just got canceled—better up my dosage.

You know what, that’s what cocaine is for, not Prozac. And quite frankly, cocaine (the few times I consumed it years ago) did more for me than Abilify, Prozac, Zoloft and all of the others combined. WITHOUT impinging on my libido.

For those of you who are suffering from symptoms that are far more profound and harder to treat, and find any kind of relief at all in pharmaceuticals, I am truly happy for you. Whatever relieves you from some of the horrible effects and consequences of depression or bipolar disorder, ADHD or OCD, go for it. And I promise you, even though it’s not for me, I won’t be one of those people standing on the side-lines accusing you of copping out.

Read Full Post »

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life“…attending to…deliberately selected targets, or even making a conscious decision to “veg out” for a spell, you would have had a far better experience than many of us have much of the time, captured by whatever flotsam and jetsam happens to wash up on our mental shores.  In short, to enjoy the kind of experience you want rather than enduring the kind that you feel stuck with, you have to take charge of your attention.”  Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life,” by Winifred Gallagher.

Is everyone bipolar?

Glenn Close PSA

I used to think I was unique.  Yes, a mental disorder is not something to be proud of, and I would give it away with no questions asked if I could, but it was one of those things that made me the individual that I am.  Now it feels like I’m just one more voice getting lost in the crowd of commercials and PSAs that make mental illness seem like the chic new accessory this year.

I’m all for removing any stigma attached to it, but quite frankly, I don’t feel stigmatized.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been in therapy for thirty years.  Maybe that’s because I’ve tried every drug (unsuccessfully) as soon as it hit the market.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always been more concerned with “getting better” than I have been about what other people might think.

Or perhaps I just live in a bubble of educated, liberal people out here on the west coast where I feel comfortable discussing my illness, writing about my disorder and sharing my challenges in conversations, without feeling the need to withhold my condition.  Without feeling the need to pretend to be “normal.”  In some ways it’s good to be “out of the closet” about your condition.

I’m also torn between the idea of talking about the disorder and trying not to think about it at all.  There’s a saying: What you think about persists.  The more I think about my disorder the more I’m aware of it.  And the more inclined I am to use it as an excuse for not accomplishing what I want to in my life.  It becomes a crutch.

Like the quote above from “Rapt” implies, your life is about the things you focus on.  Does focusing on being bipolar help me discover ways of dealing with it, or does it keep me mired in it?

The more I talk and write about mental illness, the more aware I am of it.  The more of a focus it has in my life.  I don’t want my life to be ABOUT being bipolar.

Do these conversations do more harm than good?  Perhaps not if you’re someone like Glenn Close’s sister who doesn’t have a diagnosis yet for what you’ve been suffering with.  In that case, disseminating the information is a good thing.

That being said, I do think it’s important to have the dialogue with our loved ones. They need to understand what’s happening with us as much as we do.  I’ve discovered that it’s a dance.  A dance very few people are capable of engaging in.But families need to not only understand, but accommodate our disorder, and that can be very difficult for many reasons.

So for now, I’m happy to be part of the conversation as long as it’s helpful.  But as usual, I don’t have any answers, just more questions.

Read Full Post »

Comfortably Numb.jpg“…recovery can exist within the context of illness.  In other words, recovery does not mean cure.  It means living with the illness, managing it, and getting better within certain limitations.”  “Recovery then involves both a coming to terms with symptoms—one hopes in the context of their gradual moderation, but this is not always the case—and finding a meaningful life in their midst.  For many patients, this is a decades-long process of acceptance and resolve.”  “Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation,” by Charles Barber 

Numb is a good word for today.  Of course it just might be a matter of semantics.  Numb?  Apathetic?  What’s the difference? Numb feels like an in-between state.  Not manic, not depressed, but also not “normal.”  It feels a bit like purgatory.  Not Heaven, not Hell, yet with this dim notion of eventual salvation. 

While I have come to the conclusion that there is no “meaning to life,” there has to be meaning for the things in life.   This strikes me as a very complicated, but important concept.  Books have meaning.  Friends have meaning.  Volunteer work has meaning.  Art has meaning.  But to try and apply meaning to life seems futile.  And while my life might not have meaning for me, it might, in context, have meaning for someone else. 

My point here I guess is that those things are inherently meaningful.  The meaning does not have to be applied.  It does not have to be justified.  It’s not trying, it just is. 

Long ago I stopped trying to live a “normal” life.  And I do believe there is a “normal,” a place on the scale of being that most people occupy.  I have felt it on occasion.  Not depressed.  Not manic.  Not numb (which oddly is yet another extreme.)  But normal, thinking to myself during those brief periods, “So, this is how the rest of the world feels most of the time, not happy, not sad, just being.”  

But my reality is something else.  My diseases, disorders, whatever you want to call them, make me who I am.  Sometimes it’s torture and torment.  But those are also the very things that make me the creative, reflective person that I am, that give my life, not meaning, but make it meaningful. 

Would I give up my disorders?  I’d have to know what the trade-offs are first.  I have some friends who seem to be happy, or at least content, but I would never want to live their lives.  They watch “American Idol,” read John Grisham books, and vacation at theme parks with their kids.  While they’re inclined to purchase tickets to “The Drowsy Chaperone,” I’d be standing in line for “Waiting for Godot.”  Now, just so there is no misunderstanding, I don’t consider my choices to be better, just different. I have always been that way.  Even as I child I didn’t see the humor in “The Three Stooges,” preferring instead to watch some Russian Dance troupe on the Ed Sullivan show

So I have to assume that I am hard-wired, both genetically and psychologically, to be discontent.  To always question the status quo.  To search for, but never find that Holy Grail, the meaning of life.  To always strive for something more intellectually challenging.  Part of my identity is the tortured soul, the reflective life.  It’s what I know, who I’ve always been.  Would I trade the angst seemingly inherent in me for a life that was less philosophical? 

Probably not.  I’ll just have to do the best I can with what I’ve got. 

“…some patients can actually say they are glad they have experienced an illness, within reason, as it has enriched their lives and appreciation of things beyond measure.” “Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation,” by Charles Barber 

Perhaps Mr. Barber might want to consider an alternative to the word “glad” in future editions.  Maybe grateful?

Read Full Post »

The Atlantic“…depression turned out to be a major drain on physical health: of the men who were diagnosed with depression by age 50, more than 70 percent had died or were chronically ill by 63.”  “What Makes Us Happy?” by Joshua Wolf Shenk / The Atlantic, June 2009 


Woody Allen opens the movie, “Annie Hall,” with an old joke:  “Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’  And the other one says, ‘Yeah, I know.  And such small portions.’” 

That sort of sums up how I feel about the prospect of dying early from depression.  “Life really sucked.  Too bad it was so short.” 

In the late 1930’s researchers at Harvard began a longitudinal study of 268 college students that would go on for 72 years.  Through interviews and questionnaires they were hoping to find the formula for a/the “good life.”  In the June edition of The Atlantic, Joshua Wolf Shenk shares with readers, for the first time, information contained in documents used to support this study. 

I have to admit, this wasn’t the first time I had heard about how depression can shorten a person’s life span.  The first time occurred while I was sitting in the small, grey cubicle of Caesar C., my Farmer’s Insurance agent, trying to purchase a whole life policy.  At the time, Caesar was unable to explain to me in a way that I could understand, why the rates were astronomical.  In fact, I still don’t understand.  Or maybe I just don’t want to.  Maybe I just can’t stomach the concept that my life will end before I’m rid of this damn disease.  That it will end before the day arrives when I can finally greet the alarm clock without suspicion and dread. 

The second time I realized what I might be up against was in the inappropriately tilted book by Peter D. Kramer, “Against Depression.”  While in theory, its title might be appropriate, anyone who suffers from depression is likely to feel even more depressed after reading it: 

Depression leads to poor health behaviors, through apathy.” 

Depression was (being) implicated as a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.” 

In old age, depression becomes a straightforward risk for shortened life, not through suicide but through ordinary ill health.” 

You see, my life has already been shortened by this disease.  This past week alone I spent the major portion of each morning in bed, sometimes not rising until noon or later, partially because I was depressed, and partially because of insomnia (brought on by hypomania) that hasn’t allowed me to sleep more than two hours at a time. And then there are all of those moments and days that I wasn’t really present because I was manic and out of control, shopping, gambling, fornicating, doing everything to excess, being extreme, being some alter-ego, but not myself. 

I’ve already lost a third of my life (a pretty safe estimate) to this disease.  Somehow I don’t think it’s fair that it’s a statistical reality that I might also have to forfeit another couple of decades to it on the back end. 

I for one have no intention of going down without a fight.  If my mental handicaps have taught me anything, it’s to be a fighter, to hang on, to hold out for that break in the blackness.  To be patient for that one spring day of walking barefoot in the sand watching the sun set on Stinson beach.  That (sometimes,) is worth all that I have to endure on those other days when my entire life seems buried in fog. 

But I was encouraged by a few things in the Atlantic article, most of them having to do with the mind’s ability to overcome all of the obstacles put in our way, if we can only learn how: 

What we do…affects how we feel just as much as how we feel affects what we do.” 

[The] central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how—and to what effect—they responded to that trouble. [The] main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations,” or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty. Formalized by Anna Freud on the basis of her father’s work, adaptations (also called “defense mechanisms”) are unconscious thoughts and behaviors that you could say either shape or distort—depending on whether you approve or disapprove—a person’s reality.” 

Much of what is labeled mental illness…simply reflects our ‘unwise’ deployment of defense mechanisms.” 


“…the key to the good life—not rules to follow, nor problems to avoid, but an engaged humility, an earnest acceptance of life’s pains and promises.” 

I have been off prescription medication (for depression/bipolar disorder) for several months now.  Not one day of it has been easy.  Not one day has been spent without some kind of spike, and usually several, up and then down.  But each day was better than a day spent with my moods chemically altered and the associated side effects.  And each day I get to observe my mind for what it is, for how it works.  And each day holds the promise that tomorrow will be better.  That I might live to celebrate my 83rd birthday sipping coffee in a Paris café.

Read Full Post »

Once over the line, we can’t go back.  We “have” depression.  We can recover from episodes, we can modify our lifestyles to prevent or moderate future episodes, but we “have” depression.”Undoing Depression; What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You,” by Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. 

Mayo Clinic

“Bipolar disorder is a long-term condition that requires lifelong treatment, even during periods when you feel better. Treatments and drugs” by Mayo Clinic staff. 

After several web pages that define what bipolar is, that it “requires lifelong treatment,” the Mayo Clinic staff writers go on to say that “Recovery from bipolar disorder can take time,” if you “stay focused on your goals.”  How exactly does one recover from a lifelong illness?  They seem to be contradicting themselves here. 

The most disconcerting thing about their website is their attempt to address the issue of alternative medicine: Under the title, Alternative Medicine, the Mayo Clinic staff writes:

Some people with bipolar disorder turn to complementary…treatments to help manage symptoms, improve mood and reduce stress. These treatments may include prayer or spiritual healing, meditation, and vitamin and herbal supplements.”  

That is all they have to say on the matter.  They are almost dismissive in their insinuation that there might be alternative therapies to drugs.  While others may not have been “cured” of their disorder, there are certainly numerous enough cases out there of people who have tried yoga, acupuncture, SAMe and other holistic products and exercises, either separately or in conjunction with each other, and found some degree of success. 

I believe it is this blatant disregard for all things non-pharmaceutical, from clinics, from therapists, from traditional media, that keeps us both trapped and stigmatized. 

I would venture a guess that more money is spent by Coca-Cola and Banana Republic trying to figure out what motivates us psychologically to spend money on their sugar water and chinos, than is spent by all of the corporations and all of the labs combined searching for ways in which we can shift our thinking and alter our lifestyles so that the effects of mania and depression are, if not eliminated, significantly diminished.  

Our brightest minds should not be sentencing us to a life of pharmaceuticals (antidepressants mixed with antipsychotics, alternated with anti-seizure pills and mood stabilizers.)  For too many of us, pills don’t work.  And we only find this out through trial and error (each trial taking anywhere from one to three months) all the while suffering from the terrible side effects of each, and in some cases (my own included) suicidal thoughts. 

Read the blogs.  Do a search for bipolar/depression/suicide/mental health.  For every person typing away with glee that the latest in a series of medications has finally begun to give them some relief, there are ten or twenty others who can’t get out of bed, who are cutting themselves, who are quitting school, ending marriages, contemplating suicide.  For too long psychiatrists, psychopharmacologists, and pharmaceutical companies have held out false hope, and we bought it. 

What else have you got????

Read Full Post »

For those of you that are forced to live or work with someone who is excessively, endlessly cheery, there is hope.

Read Full Post »

Choose To Be HappyThe mind strives to keep everything just as it is and you and everybody around you just as they are.” “Choose to be Happy; The Craft and the Art of Living Beyond Anxiety,” by Swami Chetanananda

The mind likes the status quo. That’s a huge disadvantage for the person who suffers from mental illness. We become very good at deceiving ourselves. Of rationalizing our behavior.

I did it just the other day. Wanting a respite from the drag of my melancholy mood, exhausted from resisting it, even though I’m not trying to resist, I’m simply trying to observe it, I gave in to the idea of self-medication. For me that meant a trip to the grocery store for a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk.

I felt guilty as I unpacked the contents of the shopping bag.  I knew what I was doing was wrong, but that didn’t make it any easier to stop.  While I only consumed one martini (a hint of vermouth and 2 olives) and (later) only one half of the (full sugar/full fat) pint of ice cream, that was enough to both ease the downward spiral, and compel me to promise never to do it again. The truth is, neither the alcohol nor the desert were very satisfying, and both will only result in depressing me more, cause me to be sluggish, and make me fatter which will of course make me even more depressed.  It’s a vicious cycle. The mind wanting to maintain the status quo.

When I read through my previous posts, I am struck by a sense of autonomy. Of detachment. As if the whole concept of living life more fully is simply a function of mind-over-matter, something that is well within my grasp if I just put forth a modicum of effort.  A delusion no doubt manufactured by the disease itself.  As I’ve said before, I’ve gotten good at depression. And that means accommodating it, rationalizing any and all behavior that allows me to get through the day with it. But all of those rationalizations have made me weak. Made the depression stronger. Allows it to over-ride my adult rational self, resulting in quick fixes instead of long-term solutions.

But I know better than to chastise myself for my behavior. That only leads to low self-esteem and more bad behavior. What I need to do is learn from it. Remember that a quick fix is no fix. Remember that there are other alternatives, even if one of them is wallowing in it until it passes. Because it will pass. But the destructive behavior that I engage in doesn’t. It becomes a habit, an excuse, a rationalization. It not only maintains the status quo, it reinforces it.

Read Full Post »