New Mental Health Disorders, Coming to A Neighborhood Near You—Dysfunction and Diagnosis Enough For Everyone!

Doctor with inkblotWhen bad things happen, like the shooting at Newton or in Aurora, our country revisits the idea of “mental health.” The truth about mental health care is that it is a fairly new field and as such, has yet to grow into itself. Theories abound and medication for what a group of guys in lab coats deem to be a mental illness is often worse than the condition it’s supposed to treat.

We live in a climate that does not fully support mental health. I am not just talking about the ability to talk to a psychologist or have your M.D. write a script for Prozac or Zoloft. I mean that we live in a country that is not conducive to the health of the psyche. We hold little value for personal silence, reflection or the contemplation of life. The community that we all crave is being taken over by inane relationships on Face Book, that we convince ourselves are real. We seem to have lost the ability to make eye contact, because thumbs are flying over the keys of our i-phone hoping beyond hope to somehow “connect.” And all the while, advertisers mark us to sell us the products that we need to make us full and better people—something to whiten our teeth, shine our hair, thin our thighs, make us look cool. And maybe, just maybe if we use some of these products we will attract the friendships, intimacies and relationships that are part and parcel of being a healthy human.

In recent weeks a new manual, a bible really, of disorders, dysfunctions and illnesses has been released by the American Psychiatric Association. It’s called a “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” In this book, with these codes, you have a mental disorder if you grieve for too long and your therefore you may require Psychiatric Intervention. Translation: a drug for what ails you.  Similarly with restless leg syndrome, caffeine withdraw and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Under the guidelines of this new manual, over 50% of the population would require medication for something, and that is good news for the pharmaceutical industry which takes a certain kind of perverse glee in people staying sick and profit margins staying fat.

It’s as though every emotion can now be considered pathological and your lack of happiness is treatable through the chemistry of Big Pharma. There is no normal anymore. Worse, no “quirky” normal. For anyone who is familiar with the suffering and loss of life, familiar with the harmless nuances of “everyday”neurosis, there’s a diagnosis, a handy code for the insurance company, and a new pill coming your way, courtesy of Pfizer. Navigating the rough events within our lives, teaches us to be more compassionate and often more grateful individuals, a process denied us by brain drugs.

This is the last stripping away of any real mental “health” as far as I am concerned. When we start putting the reactions and emotions of people into categories and boxes to be “treated” instead of assuring and reassuring folks that the challenges of life are what being human is, we have forgotten that we are supposed to evolve and mature throughout life as a result of the rough patches. The common thread, not talked about, that weaved its way through the perpetrators of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown and Aurora, was that they were all medicated. The best intention of helping by the psychiatric  industry can and does create a kind of chemical brain soup, courtesy of the drug companies that surprises us with consequences that we cannot yet predict.  A refillable prescription for an SSRI (selective serotonin uptake inhibitor like Prozac), chased by a cocktail of Abilify, a popular anti-psychotic, takes about 10 minutes of face time with your M.D. who may not be trained by anything other than the Big Pharma literature that a perky drug rep dropped at his or her front desk.

Unfortunately, unlike the things that we can put under a microscope to determine the need for antibiotics, no one can put mental health diseases or disorders under the same kind of scrutiny, so the medication of such things is a roll of the dice. I am not against medication. Some people are in such a bad state that medication may help, and I do not think that anyone should have to suffer; but I do think we medicate too much and too often, for too many things– and in too many instances we medicate when it is not needed. Even the best medication is often a band-aid that does not address core issues. It’s interesting to note that there is a diagnosis for “too much grieving,” but I wonder if some of the problem is that we live in a country where people don’t get to, or don’t know how to grieve, and the lack of the grieving process will then manifests itself in symptoms. A pill cannot teach you how to grieve or how to let go.  These are life lessons that should be far removed from medication.

This morning I made my list for achieving good mental health, because I am one of those individuals who left to the devices of modern-day psychiatry would probably be medicated. I deal with a life where anxiety comes and goes; where fear is sometimes way too familiar a companion; and where sorrow can overcome me. But I honestly do not think I am alone in this. I think that what I have described is just part of being alive and that it’s less a disease or dysfunction, and more the nuance of being sensitive, creative and struggling for awareness. So, here is the list that helps me:

1. Distinguish between depression and sadness. Sadness is part of the messiness of life and depression keeps you from getting out of bed. Sadness does not need medication. Sometimes you hurt and sometimes you feel good. That’s just the stuff of life.
2. Make friends. Set aside time to get a coffee or go for a walk with someone and listen to their story…share your own. We all need a tribe to which we feel we belong.
3. Exercise. A good, brisk walk, will get the endorphins going and can help snap you out of a melancholy mood.
4. Don’t drink too much. Alcohol is a depressant.
5. If you don’t have an animal, volunteer at a shelter. You’ll meet potential friends and animals are great healers.
6. Nurture a creative outlet: dance, art of any kind, writing. Express the light and the dark. A lot of good art takes form in the shadow.
7. Avoid self-diagnosis and instead rely on something inspirational. I have a few books that I dive into when I get blue. These days I like reading David Steindal-Rast, who has made and entire career of promoting gratitude. Good stuff.
8. Reach out to the world. I have found that a little volunteer work goes along way in soothing a troubled heart.
9. If you are having a rough time—belly breath for ten minutes. It’s good to develop some kind of meditation or prayer practice that gives you a place to let go your burdens and reclaim your breath. When you breath just in your upper chest—it’s like panic breathing, so deep belly breathing can literally lower your blood pressure and make you feel calm.
10. Don’t get too lonely, too tired or too hungry. Did you know that the symptoms of depression look just like symptoms of exhaustion?

So probably none of that will revolutionize mental health care, but it seems worth mentioning that there are too many diagnosis and too many pills and life was never meant to be a smooth, one-dimensional ride without strife.

While Rome Burns–A Morning, Political, Couldn’t Help Myself RANT!

iStock_000014572082XSmallIt’s not government that I have a problem with—it’s the lack of leadership that is so damaging and disconcerting. Here we are, having barely survived a housing crisis that still has not corrected itself, while the villains who recklessly abused our economy and created untold suffering remain the fat cats of Wall Street. Criminality within the financial sector is a revered way of life these days, and the fiddler on the hill watching this Romanesque burning of our nation is the governmental leadership that has turned its back on ordinary and extraordinary Americans so that they may drink champagne with those same fat cats at the party.

This week the house decided on an abortion bill that will do nothing to create jobs, protect the economy, reduce student debt or give a morsel to the poor, but it is a masterfully manipulative pandering of what the GOP still considers to be its base. This bill, is doomed to fail in the Senate which means that the whole thing was all for posturing and has nothing to do with addressing the real issues strangling the country.

I don’t write too much political stuff anymore. It’s too upsetting and the story has been told so many times that I have become almost numb to it. But this morning, once again I read (oh I must stop reading morning news) about two GOP men, of course, who are using my tax dollars, to push forward an abortion bill that has more to do with stripping women of any legal, private, personal healthcare choices that it does anything else.

First there is Michael Burgess, who not surprisingly is a Republican from Texas. He opposes a women’s legal right to choose to abort a pregnancy beyond 15 weeks because he, as a former OB/GYN, has witnessed male fetuses masturbating in the womb! That’s right.  That’s his argument…you cannot makes this stuff up, even though he has.  He postulates that if a male fetus can feel pleasure, than surely it feels pain, a new but totally unproven GOP theory. Makes me wonder about the female fetuses that the GOP would condemn were they to be found with their little hands between their legs. Really!? And you’re a doctor?! The GOP has done everything in its power to paint women as stupid, irresponsible, sluts, whores and idiots when it comes to personal choice, but hey a boy fetus that masturbates—well, boys will be boys and it seems to have provided scientific ground for Mr. Burgess. Meanwhile, Rome burns.

Secondly and unfortunately not last, is Trent Franks also a Republican this time from Arizona, who voiced the “rape” exception quietly added to the bill last week, by stating that “very few pregnancies result from rape.” An author of the bill that will now go to the Senate where it will fail, Mr. Franks backed off of his remarks via spokes-people who tried to make the arrogant standard-bearer for women’s health issues look remotely human.

Do we need to examine our views about aborting pregnancies to a greater and deeper degree? Yes, we do. We also need better sex education for young women that will include learning about birth control, responsibility and choice, so that more abortions are prevented. That of course means, that factions of the GOP who oppose birth control are going to have to get over it and come to terms with the fact that we are all sexual beings! Similarly, we need for women to know that if they are raped, they have more than one choice. But if one more man who has never owned a vagina tells me what the psychological/spiritual makeup of the physiological condition of pregnancy or rape is; and then tells me that he knows better than me and my doctor, I most likely will hunt him down and beat him with a speculum until he shuts up!

These are the bills that our so-called leadership is working on and it will not result in the prosecution of Wall Street criminals. This type of bill will not create jobs or bolster a sagging economy; they will not heal the housing industry or help the poor. These bills, in my view, will only serve to underscore a false theology crammed down our throats by a GOP who fears sexuality in women and wants to control it! Chattel, anyone?

There it is, my morning political rant because I just couldn’t help myself and I had to get my ire out onto the page. I vote and I pray that my vote still counts. That and being vocal about the outrageous abuse of what governance is supposed to be, is about all that I can do. Yes, it is not government that I have a problem with—it truly is the staggering lack of leadership coupled with a stunning ignorance and arrogance that seems to have taken over at least half of the House and Senate and continues to fiddle while we burn.  And you thought you would be reading about baby robins and walks with the dog this morning?

Happily Ever Whatever

Basically, we all tell the same stories. The characters and the settings may be different, but the stories are the same. We long for certain stories and certain endings with our whole lives. One of the endings that I long for is the “ride off into the sunset” ending where everyone lives happily ever after. The story that I am in now has harsh, jagged edges. If you have read my “About” page, you know that I suffer from a lack of courage sometimes—what a psychologist would call “dysthymia.” It usually comes in the middle of the night, when I am sleeping soundly and I don’t know about it until morning when I wake up with what feels like someone sitting on my chest ready to strangle me.

Fear is an old and unwelcome friend that seems to find a way to seep under locked doors like yellow smoke, wrapping its self around me. Though I cannot explain the how and why of such events in my life, I have learned to live with it. This morning, I got out of bed, feeling the physical symptoms of the dysthymia and I did deep belly breathing for ten minutes. I am doing that even as I sit here writing. Writing is another tool. Giving voice to the demons seems to make them less, and gives me some small sense of power: I am not a victim.

When I get like this I wonder if the rest of the world has it all figured out and I have somehow missed the bus. I feel guilty for the challenges life throws me and embarrassed by its sorrows. Now, I know this is temporary because I have lived with the on again off again condition for all of my adult life. I have read way too many self-help books; attended enough process groups to be equal to the processing of a Velveeta Cheese block, and prayed myself to sleep in hopes that the fear and sorrow would leave me. Still, even this morning, I don’t feel like a victim, I just feel uncomfortable, and I know I have tools.

In my musings about these states, I wonder about the guy who works hard all day and goes home and takes a hit off of a joint to take the edge off of the day. Does he have demons too, albeit un-named? Or the woman who pours the third glass of wine alone in her kitchen…is she lost in sorrow too? I think we have given psychology way too much credibility over such things. Is it possible that the sorrows and fears of being human are just part of being human and don’t really deserve a diagnosis? Does having a diagnosis make things worse?

So, I will make another cup of tea, take a walk with the dog, keep breathing deeply and know that as the day wears on, the physical symptoms will fade and my mind will be on other things. I would love happily ever after in a life with out challenges. It seems like such a friendly place. I just don’t think I would be willing to give up the textures of the shadow that in a strange sort of way make my life rich, interesting and creative.

 

The Eggs Have Hatched

English: American Robin in Nest lies on the eg...
English: American Robin in Nest lies on the eggs, picture taken in Ontario Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nature has everything to teach us if we are willing to be still and spend time being with her. A few weeks ago a robin chose to build her nest under the portico that offers shelter above our front door. It was a good place–protected from the elements and other critters, like the neighbor’s cat. For days, the robin named Isabelle by my husband, scattered building material all over the front porch and we watched through the window as she carried one strand at a time to the small ledge. It seemed an impossible task, but one day we looked outside and there was the perfect, most beautiful nest ever.

Isabelle spent days sitting on the nest and a little research revealed that robins gorge themselves on worms and grubs in the morning and the lay one egg in the afternoon. They do this until they have the desired size of family, I guess. The eggs hatch 12 to 14 days after the last egg is laid. A patient mother, Isabelle sat on the nest day and night and we avoided using the front door so as not to disturb her. Whether it’s a human or a robin, impending motherhood does make a woman beautiful and Isabelle had a special glow about her.

Here is the surprise: Isabelle’s husband, whom I name Igor—brought worms and fed Isabelle as she sat on the nest. Sometimes Isabelle just needed to stretch her wings, and Igor would perch on the nest guarding the eggs. Before this miracle unfolded above my front porch, I never would have described a robin as “macho,” but Igor is a macho guy. When guarding the nest he had that “don’t mess with me or my family” look to him, a puffed up chest to emphasize the message.

It was touching to watch how he protected his family, gave his wife a much-needed break and brought food to her. A few days ago the eggs hatched. At first we couldn’t see the babies, but we saw that both Isabelle and Igor brought food and were feeding something in the nest. Then one morning we saw two bald heads with mouths open wide accepting food from mom. I am still not sure if there are two or three babies, but I imagine that we will find out as they grow.

Isabelle and Igor got me thinking about my marriage. My husband isn’t what I would call much of a romantic, but like Igor, he brings me food, never fails to ask if I need or want anything when he leaves the house. He holds my hand when we are watching movies and he keeps an eye on the oil levels in my car. I know that he would protect me with his life and he encourages me to stretch my wings. He would make Igor proud. It’s a practical and mature love that has an organic sweetness to it that far exceeds a dozen roses.

Nature can teach us a lot about how to live a balanced and happy life. Having Isabelle and Igor show us how it’s done, helps me observe the natural world  with a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity. Sometimes, well most times, humans think we are the be all end all; that we know everything and that we are a superior life form. I don’t think so. I think we have more to learn from the natural world than we realize. In fact, it may be our salvation.