Cognitive behavioral therapy

Dr. Aaron Beck, father of cognitive behavioral therapy, died this week, November 2021, at age 100.

Oddly enough, the best explanations of cognitive behavioral therapy that I’ve read is on a writing website. It talks about writing down all of the horrible thoughts and then going back and writing counter thoughts. Psychologists have been talking at me at medical conferences for years about cognitive behavioral therapy, but they never explained it. They said we could do it in clinic. I thought cynically that maybe I could if I knew what the hell it was.

And the explanation by the author is oddly similar to what I think of as the angel and devil on my shoulders. It turns out that I do do it in clinic.

When I react to some event, I let the devil out first. It has a fit about whatever is happening, writes poems, is reactive, paranoid and full of anger and grief. It often imagines over the top terrible things happening to the person or people that did whatever it is. Then the angel wakes up and says, wait. What are you saying? What you are imagining and cursing that person with is WAY worse then what they did. The angel writes the poems of forgiveness.

So I have been doing a homemade form of cognitive behavioral therapy.

However, I would say that it can be overused. We need to listen to patients carefully. If they are in an abusive relationship, it should not be papered over with cognitive behavioral therapy. A friend and I have been comparing terrible childhoods. His involved being beaten without reason.

I said recently that what people hit with in my family is words. They make grief and fear into stories, funny stories, that make people laugh. Shame and humiliation and reliving the feelings. I said that I am reactive and pay close attention to words. But I have reason, back to age 2. I said that books are my refuge because the words are not about me, they don’t shame me, they do not humiliate me, and if I read a book twice, it has the same words. Home, love and safe.

In my maternal family, if I said that I was not comfortable with a comment, I was told that I took things too seriously, that I have no sense of humor, that I can’t take a joke. Gaslight and then dismiss any objection. That is how one side of my family loves. I do not like it. Unsurprisingly, they do not love me, or at least I do not feel loved.

And my friend said, your family, your childhood, was worse than mine.

One of my talents in clinic is that I can listen to insane family stories. I can listen because my family is insane. They are cruel. At least, it feels like cruelty and horror to me. I didn’t ever try to find out if a family story is true. I listen and then say, yes. I think it is appropriate for you to feel angry/sad/horrified/appalled/scared/hurt/whatever.

Somehow that listening and validation is huge. I have people come in and say, “I NEED AN ANTIDEPRESSANT.” They want to supress the feelings. So I had time in my clinic: why do you need an antidepressant? Tell me the story. Fill me in. What are you feeling and why?

And more than half the time after the story, after validation, I ask, “Do you need an antidepressant?”

The person thinks. “No. I don’t think so. Let me think about it. I feel better.”

“Ok. Do you want to schedule a follow up?”

Half do. Half say: “No, let me wait and see. I will if I need it.”

Mostly they don’t need it. They have emptied out the awful feelings in the exam room and they aren’t so awful after all. I say that it sounds like a pretty normal response and I would feel that way too. Because I would. Once the feelings, the monstrous feelings, are in the light of day, they relax and evaporate, dissipate like mist, fly home to the Beloved. Goodbye, dark feelings. You are appropriate and you are loved.

Blessings, Dr. Beck, and thank you.

released like stars

I have had strep A sepsis and pneumonia twice. It was terrifying and I ended up having to take care of myself. I would be dead if I was not a physician.

Not to be named obscure website helped to sustain me, because it was a place I could go while I was alone, terrified and very very ill. The bout in 2014 took me out of clinic for six months and then I was barely able to work seeing half my usual number of patients. My local hospital refused to help me, but other people did. I am deeply deeply grateful to the people who did help me, including people on everything2.com that I have never met.

I wrote this in June 2014.

released like stars

________________

My sister used to tell me

“Everything2 is like a brain.

That’s what attracted me.

All the nodes, like neurons

Connected to each other more and more.”

Or something like that.


Isn’t it annoying?

Now that I’ve taken that memory out

Dusted it off

Embellished it

Who knows what she really said


Flashes of light now

And some where I blank out entirely

For just a moment

Only when I’ve eaten

I’m still avoiding carbs


Could be absence seizures

But she said seizures hurt

These do not hurt

And are accompanied by muscle twitches

Or muscles rolling gently across my frame


I am scared at first

Because I think they are neurons

Bursting into brain flame

And burning out

Brief candles


But I don’t think that’s right either

I think it is plaques

Deposits of antibody

Small pushpins in the wrong place

Being released like stars

Adverse Childhood Experiences 12: welcome to the dark

Welcome to the dark, everyone.

When you think about it, all the children in the world are adding at least one Adverse Childhood Experience score and possibly more, because of Covid-19. Some will add more than one: domestic violence is up with stress, addiction is up, behavioral health problems are up, some parents get sick and die, and then some children are starving.

From the CDC Ace website:

“Overview:Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. However, ACEs can be prevented.”

Well, can they be prevented? Could Covid-19 be prevented? I question that one.

I have a slightly different viewpoint. I have an ACE Score of 5 and am not dead and don’t have heart disease. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about ACE scores and that it’s framed as kids’ brains are damaged.

I would argue that this is survival wiring. When I have a patient where I suspect a high ACE score, I bring it up, show them the CDC web site and say that I think of it as “crisis wiring” not “damaged”. I say, “You survived your childhood. Good job! The low ACE score people do not understand us and I may be able to help you let go of some of the automatic survival reactions and fit in with the people who had a nice childhood more easily.”

It doesn’t seem useful to me to say “We have to prevent ACE scores.” Um. Tsunamis, hurricanes, Covid-19, wars… it seems to me that the ACE score wiring is adaptive. If your country is at war and you are a kid and your family sets out to sea to escape, well, you need to survive. If that means you are guarded, untrusting, suspicious and wary of everyone, yeah, ok. You need to survive. One of my high ACE Score veterans said that the military loved him because he could go from zero to 60 in one minute. Yeah, me too. I’ve worked on my temper since I was a child. Now it appears that my initial ACE insult was my mother having tuberculosis, so in the womb. Attacked by antibodies, while the tuberculosis bacillus cannot cross the placenta, luckily for me. And luckily for me she coughed blood at 8 months pregnant and then thought she had lung cancer and was going to die at age 22. Hmmm, think of what those hormones did to my wiring.

So if we can’t prevent all ACE Scores, what do we do? We change the focus. We need to understand crisis wiring, support it and help people to let go of the hair trigger that got them through whatever horrid things they grew up with. 16% of Americans have a score of 4 or more BEFORE Covid-19. We now have a 20 or 25 year cohort that will have higher scores. Let’s not label them doomed or damaged. Let’s talk about it and help people to understand.

I read a definition of misery memoirs today. I don’t scorn them. I don’t like the fake ones. I don’t read them, though I did read Angela’s Ashes. What I thought was amazing about Angela’s Ashes is that for me he captures the child attitude of accepting what is happening: when his sibling is dying and they see a dog get killed and he associates the two. And when he writes about moving and how their father would not carry anything, because it was shameful for a man to do that. He takes it all for granted when he is little because that is what he knows. One book that I know of that makes a really difficult childhood quite amazing is Precious Bane, by Mary Webb. Here is a visible disability that marks her negatively and yet she thrives.

A friend met at a conference is working with traumatic brain injury folks. They were starting a study to measure ACE scores and watch them heal, because they were noticing the high ACE score people seem to recover faster. I can see that: I would just say, another miserable thing and how am I going to work through it. Meanwhile a friend tells me on the phone that it’s “not fair” that her son’s senior year of college is spoiled by Covid-19. I think to myself, uh, yes but he’s not in a war zone nor starving nor hit by a tsunami and everyone is affected by this and he’s been vaccinated. I think he is very lucky. What percentage of the world has gotten vaccinated? He isn’t on a ventilator. Right now, that falls under doing well and also lucky in my book. And maybe that is what the high ACE score people have to teach the low ACE score people: really, things could be a lot worse. No, I don’t trust easily and I am no longer feeling sorry about it. I have had a successful career in spite of my ACE score, I ran a clinic in the way that felt ethical to me, I have friends who stick with me even through PANDAS and my children are doing well. And I am not addicted to anything except I’d get a caffeine headache for a day if I had none.

For the people with the good childhood, the traumatic brain injury could be their first terrible experience. They go through the stages of grief. The high ACE score people do too, but we’ve done it before, we are familiar with it, it’s old territory, yeah ok jungle again, get the machete out and move on. As the world gets through Covid-19, with me still thinking that this winter looks pretty dark, maybe we can all learn about ACE scores and support each other and try to be kind, even to the scary looking veteran.

Take care.

broken three

I drop the fragment of rock with the seam a second time. Now I have three pieces. I stop there. When I climb back up the bank, I have an oxygen tank, a camera and rocks. It involves quite a bit of swearing and stopping to rest while I try to get enough oxygen.

Hopefully I will get better. I don’t know when or even if. My friend B says he wants to know what the pneumonia was, that triggered this round of pseudoautoimmune misery. I shrug. “We know some things it isn’t.” I say. “It isn’t covid-19, it isn’t influenza A or B, it isn’t respiratory syncytial virus, it probably is not strep A though I still haven’t had the second blood test. It isn’t pneumococcal pneumonia. It could have been mycoplasma pneumonia or pertussis or a very long list of viruses. Doctors are practical scientists, at least, I am. If the patient is getting better, don’t chase an answer that won’t add anything. I caught something, probably in the clinics where people kept taking off their masks when they were ‘alone’ in the room. They didn’t realize that they were breathing out viruses or bacteria that could take me out.” We aren’t exactly sure if the combined penicillin and clindamycin, high dose, helped or not. I think it did, but stress makes this worse too and it was a very very stressful time. Mean people, you know, and mean family. I just don’t understand what they are thinking.

I really think that post covid-19, we should wear a mask if we go out in public when we are sick. Because you don’t know which people are the vulnerable ones. I normally have lots of energy and I don’t think people would guess that I have had chronic fatigue and that I am terribly vulnerable to infection. In the clinic I owned, after I was sick in 2014, I asked any patient who was sniffling or coughing to wear a mask. “I get pneumonia easily,” I would explain. They had the right to refuse and then I would not see them. After I closed my clinic and went to work as a temp doc, I could not protect myself. I asked the nurses to ask people to PLEASE keep their masks on, but people are people. They didn’t. I had a bit of a PTSD reaction every time I walked into a patient room and they had masks off. I wanted to run out of the room screaming but I was more restrained and just said, “Please, please, PLEASE put your mask back on, other people have been in the room.” I didn’t add “And you might kill me.” because I only had 20 minutes for the visit…..

The pieces of rock are beautiful, aren’t they?

Here is a great song. Got it from this blog: https://reflectionsofanuntidymind.blog/2021/05/07/icky/

This is all for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: workshop. I like working with rocks. I have to decide what work to do next, since it’s no longer safe for me to do family medicine. It SUCKS. I really miss my peeps.

I have to get well first. If I do, what next?

Choosing love

My sister and another writer posted essays under the title Choosing Love here: http://everything2.com/title/Choosing+Love. My sister’s was written in 2002. I posted mine there last November.

Choosing Love

I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
and hug you close if I can
and if you hurt me over and over
I can still love you
I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
from far far extremely far away
I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
I hug you from a safe distance
I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
even if I will not allow contact again
I choose love

The photograph was on the beach. The gull and the crow were interacting. After I watched for a while it was clear that the gull was following the crow and trying to take things from the crow. They were not friends.