Normalizing our behavioral health response

I keep seeing headlines: MENTAL HEALTH IS WORSE. TEENS ARE STRESSED. ADULTS ARE STRESSED. DRUGS AND ALCOHOL AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ARE UP.

Like they shouldn’t be? This isn’t news. It is expected, because we are in a pandemic, the death rate is up, people are frightened, the scientific news changes daily and now we add a war.

OF COURSE PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS AND STRESSED. And when stress goes up, substance “overuse” goes up too. Add fenanyl to the mix and the overdose death rate is up. Should I call it the “overuse” death rate to be politically correct? I do think that it is stupid to stigmatize “overuse”. But I also do not like the term “overuse”. Addiction may be stigmatized, but to me addiction means the drug or alcohol or gambling has taken over the person’s brain and it is the addiction that is lying to the person and to me. It makes it much easier for me to watch for relapse if I think of it as the habit or substance in control. There is no stigma there: the person is deeply ill and needs help. Part of the help is recognizing relapse. I look for signs.

With behavioral health we learn to watch for signs. The latest guidelines say that we should screen for behavioral health problems at well people visits. One in ten people are depressed and the lifetime incidence is higher.

The online and news articles sound surprised that there is an increase in behavioral health problems. Why would anyone be surprised? We have evolved emotions along with logic and emotions help us to survive. If you are a child in a war zone or a family with abuse or domestic violence, your brain wires to survive the crisis as best you can. These are ACE scores, Adverse Childhood Experiences. Every child’s ACE score is going up during the pandemic. Adults can develop PTSD, depression, anxiety: of course. This is how our species survive. It isn’t FUN but it is not a disaster either. We can help each other. We can listen to each other. We may have to say “I can only listen to this for ten minutes,” and set a timer. There was a cartoon with a father with a stop watch. The daughter is complaining as fast as she can. He stops her: “There. You have had your one minute of whining today.” Limit the news if it is driving you bananas or you feel more depressed or frightened. Turn off the television: if you live in a safe place, go for a walk. I have goldfinches and pine siskins arguing with each other in my front yard. The cats are hugely entertained by this. The cats only go out with harness and leash. I may need to follow Sol Duc up trees. She leaped on top of the outdoor cat cage yesterday, four feet up. I was surprised. No wonder they can catch birds: from a stand to four feet up and she is about ten months old. And see? We are distracted by the cat and relax a little.

If you are not trying to escape a war zone or something else horrible, give yourself the gentle gifts: things that make you relax. Stupid cat videos, old music, reread a beloved book, a gentle walk outside. Yesterday I “walked” Elwha. He spent the whole walk sitting on the porch watching the birds. Two birds landed in the grass and he immediately morphed to hunter, but was still on a leash. I saw a pair of robins in the back yard. One was holding something in her beak. A gift for the other? Nest building? Nestlings already?

My other go to is the trees. I go lean on a tree when I feel overwhelmed. The trees do not seem to mind. Rocks don’t either and I am very grateful.

Blessings.

Our rhododendrons are blooming.

#ACE scores #behavioral health #emotion #fear #normal emotional response

Playlist: Stages of Grief 3

Stages of Grief Playlist 3

All women all the time today. Grieving for their men or our culture. Fighting back.

Denial

Dolly Parton: The Grass is Blue

Bargaining

Ann Peebles: I can’t stand the rain

Anger

Lily Allen: Not Fair

Acting Out/Fighting Back

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Give Your Hands to Struggle

Revenge

Dolly Parton: Silver Dagger

Grief

Tricia Walker: The Heart of Dixie

Acceptance

Bessie Smith: You been a good old wagon

first impressions

I am taking a writing class and our next book is on cultural appropriation.

This interests me. I tend to be a little gender blind and race blind when I meet people. I am using my super skill instead. My skill is developed from a really scary childhood: I read the stuffed emotions. The stuff people are hiding.

No way, you say. Oh, yes, I say.

My sister described coming home from high school and stopping when she walked into the house. She was trying to sense what was going on. Were our parents fighting? Was our father drunk? Yes, he was drunk, but which stage?

We talked about the stages and which we hated most.

Stage goofy/silly was annoying but not toxic. We said we had homework.

Stage asleep in a fetal ball in the upstairs hallway. My sister said she would step over him to get to her room.

Stage maudlin. We both agreed this was the worst. He would cry and say, “You can tell me anything.” Once he caught me in that stage and I was in tears by the time my mother got home. I left the room. The next morning mother said, “He said you two were discussing the cat’s disappearance.” I didn’t answer. We never said a word about the cat. I didn’t know if he was lying or was too drunk to remember it the next day, so made it up. Don’t care. Avoid.

He was never physically abusive. He and my mother would scream at each other at 1 or 2 am through most of high school. Reading her diaries, she writes that she drinks too much. I think they were both alcoholics, thought the family story is that he was the bad one. But I can’t imagine yelling with a drunk at 1 or 2 am for an hour. What is the point? They are drunk. So either she was drunk too or needed to fight.

Emotionally abusive, yes, both parents. My mother would take any show of fear or grief and tell it as a very very funny story to every person she ran into. Is it any surprise that I had to go into therapy after she died to learn to feel fear or grief? My sister would say, “She’s got her stone face on,” about me. Um, yeah, I am NOT going to let my family see my emotions…

Anyhow, that is what I read in people when I first meet them. It’s not the suit, the clothes, the make up, the race, the gender. I pretty much ignore those. I was fashion blind in junior high, a girl geek, could not read the code and did not care. I had given up on socializing with my fellow students. I was hopelessly bad at it. I did a lot better with the adults around my parents. I could have actual conversations with them.

I had one patient who was transgender where I couldn’t remember which direction. I didn’t care, either. That was a really angry person. Anger is always covering other emotions, so I avoided pronouns and tried to be as gentle as possible.

I complained to a counselor once that I can’t turn this “off”. And that it’s fine in clinic with patients, but it screws with my relationships with my peer doctors. They do not like it if I “read” them.

It took me years, but I finally realized that I have to use my clinic skills with everyone. I can’t turn off “reading” any more than you turn off your eyes when you meet a new person. But I can be as gentle with everyone as I am in clinic. I realized that as I started on a trip and the trip was amazing, everyone was so nice.

This reading is a product of a high ACE Score: Adverse Childhood Experiences. I score about a 5. One of my patients set off my ACE alarms on the first visit. I asked if he had had a rough childhood and gave a very short explanation of ACE scores. “Oh, I am a ten out of ten,” he said. He was, too. Ran away from home at age 6 or 8.

The ACE scores of all the children are rising from the last two years. The war will raise them even more, worse for the children there and the kids trying not to starve in Afganistan and Syria and world wide.

It will be interesting to read about cultural appropriation. But I don’t care much: I don’t “see” those things when I meet someone.

Hugs and blessings.

The photograph is me and my sister Chris in 1987, before my wedding. We were dancing before the wedding. She died in 2012 after 7 years of breast cancer.

Doctors and nurses and hospital staff are the last caregivers for the elderly alcoholics and addicts who are alone, whose families have finally cut them off. I think this song illustrates their pain. We try to take care of them.

daily changes

Some days this beach is mostly sand. Yesterday it is rocks and more rocks, pebbles, stones, sand, beautiful. We are having lots of cliff collapse and new rocks are washing down. I was walking on North Beach last week when I heard bits of cliff fall. I turn and look and a nice one foot by 8 inch boulder falls from the top and rolls towards me, very fast. I stumble backwards and trip over a big boulder in the sand. I don’t hit my head and get knocked out and I don’t get hit by the falling rock.

The black toes are mine, so this is a stealthie.

I start back a little and another section of cliff rains rock. The tide is fairly far out, so I walk near the water until I am back where there is no cliff. Scary. Sometimes large sections collapse all at once. Death occurs by blunt trauma rather than suffocation.

I worry about seeing shoes or feet when I see a newly collapsed section. Happily none so far.

My emotions are like the beach. Some days clear and sun and sand. Other days LOTS of new rocks. Other days stormy and the tide is very high and pulling at the sand and clay cliffs.

I receive a valentine from my daughter. She says she loves me. She says she misses the beach and the water most of all.

I find agates and they are beautiful. Some are clear and some are not and new ones keep arriving.

This agate lights up when the sun is out or a light is behind it.

Let the light shine through, in spite of the weather.

________________________

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: pebble.

mad skills

What are your mad skills?

My maddest baddest skill, shared with my younger sister, is reading hidden emotions. Children of alcoholics and addicts learn that one young. Or die. Or start drinking/drugging to numb young.

Our culture is bloody weird. Emotions are stuffed like turkeys until people are near bursting. I swear that half my clinic time was letting people talk about emotions and then saying, well, those seem like pretty reasonable feelings in view of the insanity going on in your family. There would be a silence while the person thought about the horrible terrible feelings being reasonable and then I would say, “You said you want an antidepressant. Do you want to discuss that?”

Often people put it off. Once the feelings are OUT and present and looked at instead of stuffed/contained/terrifying, the person would say, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I need it.”

“Do you want to schedule to come back in two weeks?”

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If they wanted to start an antidepressant, I would caution that the recommendation was to stay on it for six months minimum if tolerated. Also, if they were starting it in June, I would say, “Don’t stop it in January. Wait until the sun is back. Here that can be July 4th. At least wait until spring.”

The plants are all thinking about spring now. My magnolia would like three more days of sun and then it will burst into bloom. The plums are budding and close to exploding. My camellia is usually first, but I trimmed it at the wrong time of year and so it is not blooming. It looks healthy, though. It is sort of sulking for a season. I would like to sulk for a season too.

Why is our culture, the US, so terrified of emotion? We think everything should be about logic. Emotions are both hormonally and electrically mediated through nerves and blood and they are INFORMATION about our environment and each other. We should let emotions roll through us like waves, and not worry about them so much. I think of myself as an ocean. The emotions are the weather. They roll through. Ok, big storm. Then rain, and lightening. Then low clouds and some fog. Then sun and a beautiful day to sail with a light breeze. But the deeper currents change slowly and the weather is not really that important. I reside in the depths.

The furor over rising prices seems ridiculous to me. The roaring twenties has begun already in housing and buying stuff on Amazon. I have bought two things from Amazon in the last two years. I like to buy local. One order was for my future daughter in law’s wish list. I think people are buying so that they do not have to feel. It is cultural mania. Everyone is rushing around trying to make money instead of grieving. Yesterday I thought, if this keeps up, we WILL have a depression like 1929.

Don’t do it. Don’t buy stuff to avoid the stuff inside. Sit still twice a day, for at least five minutes, and just listen. Try to listen to the depths.

Covid-19: Emotional weather

I do not think of emotions as bad or good. None of them are bad or good. They are information, controlled by electrical impulses and hormones, evolved over millions of years (or endowed by our creator, for those who swing that way).

I don’t dismiss emotions. I listen to them.

I think of myself as an ocean. There is all sorts of stuff happening in the depths that I don’t understand. Probiotics, for example. I don’t take them. If not for penicillin, I’d be dead many times over, from strep A pneumonia twice and other infections. I don’t think we understand probiotics yet. We don’t understand the brain, either.

The emotions are the weather in my life. I don’t really control them but they don’t control my ocean, either. Some days are sunny and gorgeous and then a storm may blow up. I am afraid of hurricanes, one destroyed my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, on the outer banks. I think all the cousins still mourn that house. And I miss my grandparents too, all of them. And my parents and my one sister.

See? The weather got “bad” there for a moment, but it isn’t bad. Storms have their own beauty though we hope to batten the hatches and that not too much damage is done. Maybe there is rain, scattered showers, sun breaks, a lenticular cloud. In the Pacific Northwest on the coast, the weather can change very quickly and we have microclimates. My father lived 17 miles away, but inland from me and in a valley. It was warmer in the summer and colder in the winter.

My goal with my weather emotions is to pay attention to them, let the storms blow in and out, and try not to harm anyone else because of my weather. When my sister was in hospice, we had a sign up in my small clinic. It said that my sister was in hospice with cancer and that clinic would be cancelled at some point with little warning. Patients were kind and gentle with me. And then it was cancelled, when she died. I got cards from people. They were so kind, thank you, thank you, and I could barely take it in. My maternal family then dealt with grief by having lawsuits. I don’t think that is a good way to deal with grief, but we just see things differently. Maybe it’s the right way for them. I don’t know.

Whenever I was having internal emotional weather that stirred me up, I would tell my nurse or office manager. Because they will sense my weather and need to know what is up. I had enormous support from them during a divorce, while my partners treated me horribly. My nurses and office manager knew me and my partners didn’t. My partners distanced me as if a divorce were catching. Whatever. Their loss.

Sometimes patients sensed that I was upset. I could tell by their faces. If they didn’t ask, I would. Bring the emotions out. Reassure them that I AM grumpy but not at them. Stuff in my own life. No worries.

Sometimes clinic is about a patient’s weather. They ask if they can tell me something. Often it is prefaced by “Maybe I need an antidepressant.” or “I feel really bad.” When they tell the story, usually I would say, “I think it is perfectly reasonable and normal that you feel angry/hurt/shocked/horrified/grieved/upset.” And then I would ask about an antidepressant or a counselor and most of the time, the person would say, “Well, I don’t think I need it right now.” What they needed was to know that their weather was NORMAL and REASONABLE.

I am seeing things on Facebutt and on media saying that mental health problems and behavioral health problems are on the rise. Maybe we should reframe that. Maybe we could say, “The weather is really bad right now for everyone and it’s very frightening and it is NORMAL and REASONABLE to feel frightened/appalled/angry/in denial/horrified/confused/agitated/anxious or WHATEVER you feel.” This weather is unprecedented in my lifetime, but as a physician who had very bad influenza pneumonia in 2003 and then read about the 1918-19 influenza, I have been expecting this. Expecting a pandemic. Expecting bad weather. This will pass eventually, we will learn to cope, be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Everyone is frightened, grieving, angry, in denial or in acceptance. The stages of grief are normal.

Hugs and prayers for all of us to endure this rough weather and help each other and ourselves..

I took the photograph in color. My program made a black and white version. It looks like the back of a stegosaurus to me, a dinosaur now living as a mountain.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: rainbow. Because sometimes the rain and sun combine to make a rainbow.

deep

today goes deep

I let it

when someone says “You are too emotional.”

it means “I am not comfortable with your emotions.”

it is them not me
I could care less
what they think
what they feel
whether they are comfortable with my emotions
they will be on my shit list
until they learn

I am comfortable with my emotions

today goes deep

I let all the darkness rise
grief
anger
disillusionment
humiliation

and my small child

is wild
with joy

this day is yours
small child

I am with you today
all day
you I the Beloved

no shoulds today
no list
nothing that you do not want to do

food
music
warmth
church
beach walk

I will not clean
I will not pay bills
I will not sit with fools
who say I am too emotional

we can laugh
or cry
or rage

would you like to smash a plate?

no
says small child

food
warmth
outdoors
birds
deer
music of the spheres

here
dear one

we go deep

ease

Feeling ease. Is that a virtue or a vice? What makes you feel at ease or relax or stretch langourously? Boa cat is enjoying spring sun through the window and warm fur on warm velvet.

For the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, last year I chose envy. This year ease and rest and letting the muscles warm and stretch in the sun. I wish for some ease for all the children in the world, in frightening places or with frightening people, for some time of rest and warmth and safety and ease….

I am supposed to be at letter G today…. I will have to stop lying in the sun and get moving….it’s cloudy today anyhow.