Parasympathy

In 2013, Catherine Hodes, director of the Safe Homes Project (a domestic-violence program), started a workshop called “Is it Conflict or Abuse?” An abusive dynamic, she argues, requires one person to have power over the other, whereas conflict involves two people struggling for power. The distinction can be confusing, and in some cases “both people feel like they’re being abused, because they’re not getting their needs met or they’re not getting their way.”

From the Atlantic Monthly article: That’s it, you’re dead to me. September 2022 p. 14.

I think this is a fascinating idea, in the article that questions the internet wisdom of getting rid of “toxic people” in one’s life. When we cut off someone we consider “toxic”, we aren’t peaceing them, are we? Peace me, peace you, how do we actively peace people instead of being afraid, on guard, at war. I think everyone is more afraid after the two years of Covid 19 pandemic and all of the deaths and the Long Haul Covid and war. Everyone has a shorter fuse, everyone is stressed.

Remember that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system. The body makes less thyroid and less sex hormones and makes more adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid and great for short term, but bad for long term. If we are continually stressed, cortisol messes up the immune system and we get auto-immune disorders, the body attacking its’ own cells. The adrenaline raises our heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which are good for the heart long term. When the thyroid hormone is on the low side, we feel tired. The adrenaline makes us feel wired and we have trouble sleeping. The cortisol makes us more likely to get sick and raises blood sugar too. The low sex hormones, well, women can stop menses and men start asking for viagra.

So we as a world, need to learn to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system and go back to parasympathetic. The relaxed one. The one where we have less adrenaline and less high cortisol and more thyroid and our gut works and sex works again. How do we get there?

Breathing is one way. Slow breathing: 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Work up to 20 minutes. One of my veterans said he was not used to feeling relaxed, it felt weird. Ok, it may feel weird, but maybe we need to practice it. He did. There is circular breathing too, 5 seconds in, 5 hold, 5 out, 5 hold. Zen meditation, facing a wall for 40 minutes, works too. We try not to follow the thoughts. The thoughts pop up anyhow, but not following them down the rabbit hole is interesting and challenging. Mindful mediation and Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and tapes work as well. It takes practice. Practice peace, practice relaxing. Doesn’t that sound like a lovely practice?

Stupid cat videos work for me too. Laughter works. What makes you laugh? I like the silly animal videos, the moose playing with the wind chimes, three baby bears rescued (with care) from a dumpster, with the truck driving off to avoid momma bear. Rocking, knitting, sewing, fishing, walking the beach, cuddling a baby, dancing, listening to music, playing music. Which works for you? Silly movies. I don’t like horror movies, and I love cartoons and animation. Engage the child at heart for the parasympathetic nervous system.

In high school my daughter said that most fights were stupid. “One person says something without thinking. The other person goes off and gets upset. She stops talking to person one, who has no idea what is going on, and they often talk to their friends. So there is this big fight over some dumb comment.”

I don’t think it ends with high school, sadly enough. And before we label someone “toxic”, maybe we need to wander off and breathe, or watch a silly cat video. Whatever works for you that doesn’t hurt others.

We need more parasympathy in the world. Yep, I just made that word up. Relax and if you can’t or won’t, consider practicing.

Peace you and please peace me.

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23266-parasympathetic-nervous-system-psns

https://healthnews.com/family-health/healthy-living/how-to-activate-the-parasympathetic-nervous-system/

August 19, 2022

hunger

It is hard to write about hunger

I am always hungry
I am always afraid
I always long for love

How can I always be hungry?
The hunger is partly for food
and partly for love

They are tied together
“You have food insecurity,”
A friend says

I want to argue and do
but I also know that he is right
I am always worried about food

My daughter has it too
she admits that even as she finishes a meal
she wants to know that there is food for the next meal

A friend tell me about running out of food
hiking in Alaska. He is ok with it.
My daughter and I agree we will never camp with him.

My mother says that pregnant
she is hungry the entire time
fantasizes about a banana split and chocolate syrup

After the baby is born
“I did not want the banana split!”
she says and laughs

Maybe it is the baby who is hungry
inside the womb, the fetus that is hungry
“The doctor yells if I gain any weight.” laughs my mother.

Hunger and love intertwined.
I don’t see my mother for nine months after birth
because she is ill.

I curl around my daughter ferociously
I want to protect her from any harm
I eat when I am hungry and feed her food and love

____________________

The photograph is me and my mother. She is getting over tuberculosis and is still very thin. I think that my grandparents took the photograph. I took the photograph of the photograph.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: hunger.

city versus country

A friend comments that the country used to outnumber the city folk but now it’s the other way around, and that the split in our country is about values.

Hmmm. I am thinking about that. I am a city girl AND I am a country girl, both. We moved every 1-5 years and I was in cities and in the country. However, my family also had two anchor points. My mother’s family has shacks on a lake in Ontario, summer shacks. My father’s parents had a house on the beach in North Carolina on the outer banks. Wind and water in both places and we never watched tv in either place, because we were outside until we fell exhausted into a tent or into bed.

I don’t agree with my friend. I think we ALL share some values: that no one should go in a school and shoot kids, or a church and shoot people, or a store and shoot people. Right? We all agree on that if we are sane. That is a starting point. I read the mediation books when my (now ex-) husband was getting certified. The mediators start by trying to find the common ground.

I am pretty much equally comfortable in my small town, the woods, on the water and in cities. My friend warned me about Seattle being dangerous now. Well, it’s a matter of scale. I went to high school in Alexandria, Virginia and I lived at 3rd and Massachusetts in Washington, DC back in the 1980s. I was pretty careful just walking to the metro in that part of Washington at that time. I pay attention in Seattle, but in these cities I know what I am paying attention to. I ended up alone on a metro car once at night. A man got on at the next stop, looked around the car, grinned and came and sat next to me. I thought, oh, Sh-t, this is not good. I ignored him and continued staring at my book.

“Hi, what’s your name?” he says.

“I am reading.” I say coolly.

“Come on, honey,” he says.

I shut the book, stand up, and he lets me pass. I stand by the metro door until the next stop, get off that car and get on another car with more people. The car did have emergency alarms, so I could have hit one, but he let me by so I didn’t. I was kicking myself for being alone on the car, but honestly: what a stupid nasty male chauvinist threatening jerk. I shouldn’t have to worry about this crap. But after that, I didn’t get lost in a book on the metro because I had to pay attention to avoid being alone on a car. Annoying as can be.

My friend says he gets lost in cities. I don’t. I start building a map in my head when I arrive in a new city. It is completely automatic. If I am driving, it’s based on the highway. If it’s by airplane, it includes the airport, the hotel, the conference center. I have been to San Antonio once, but I stayed at a hotel along the River Walk and the conference center was towards the center and south. I could draw part of the city, still. I love maps!

I can’t say that I would be comfortable if dropped in a city in another country, necessarily. I was pretty happy on my trip in March, which was abroad. There are levels of familiar and what are the languages in common? Are there any?

What are these values that people might be split on? I read that people are polarized and can’t get along, but I don’t agree. I did Family Medicine in this town of 9000 for 21 years, and I had people from town, from the county and eventually from three other counties. I had nine people who had to take a ferry to see me. Talk about inconvenient for them. My people are all races, all genders, age zero to 104, all different stripes of politics. I don’t care what their politics are: I am there to see if I can maintain or improve their health. This could mean anything from encouraging exercise, doing a pap smear, diagnosing diabetes to discussing hospice and end of life issues or telling someone that I do not think they are safe to drive. This is not about “pleasing” people: recognizing opioid overuse in a person does not endear me to them. But it is about doing the best I can for people and with people. And isn’t that a value we all share too?

Now we have common ground, two areas to stand. Grow that space. Peace me, work for justice and kindness and peace to you.

Covid-19 and walking pneumonia

I wrote this essay in July 2017. Before Covid-19. It is clear that Covid-19 is also causing a walking pneumonia. People are exhausted when they get out of bed. No fever, they may not cough much, but if they get up, they can feel exhausted. The key to this is the heart rate, the pulse. If the pulse jumps 30 points faster or more, this implies lung swelling and reduced lung capacity. Right now, the only treatment we have is rest and time to heal. I should know, I’ve had really bad walking pneumonia four times: the first two times I was out for two months. The third time 6 months with 6 more months half days and chronic fatigue. The fourth time put me on oxygen.

I want to offer hope to the people with Long Covid-19. Having been through four bad pneumonias, with increasingly long recovery times, and now disabled for doing Family Medicine, I have experience to share. I will write more about that in the next essay.

From 2017: Walking pneumonia is changing.

The classic bugs are four “atypical bacteria”:

mycoplasma pneumonia
chlamydia pneumonia (this is not the STD chlamydia. Different one.)
legionella
pertussis (whooping cough)

However, streptococcus pneumonia can also be a walking pneumonia OR a lobar pneumonia. In a lobar pneumonia the person usually is short of breath, running a fever of 102-104, and they point to where it is: hurts in the right upper chest. On chest x-ray there will be consolidation: whited out from fluid or swelling instead of nice ribs and dark air. They are often tachycardic and hypoxic.

In walking pneumonia the person often has no or minimal fever, they just feel tired or short of breath when they do things, and the chest xray can be “clear”. It isn’t really “normal”, it’s just that the bacteria or virus affects the entire lungs and causes some swelling throughout and doesn’t white it out.

“Double” pneumonia is when the chest film is whiting out on both sides. We also see the lungs whiting out with ARDS — acute respiratory distress syndrome. So after trauma in a car wreck and lots of broken ribs, the lungs can be bruised too and white out. Ow. Influenza virus can cause lung swelling and in the 1917-1918 flu infected military recruits lungs were swelling shut. They would turn blue and die.

“My” strep that I’ve had pneumonia with twice is streptococcus A, not strep pneumonia. It causes strep throat mostly though it can invade and cause sepsis or pneumonia or cellulitis. There are currently 4000+ known strains of strep A, and some are resistant to antibiotics or can cause kidney damage or do all sorts of nasty things. I think that “my” strep is resistant to azithromycin.

The current guidelines say to treat walking pneumonia with azithromycin. However, a paper came out this year saying that resistance to azithromycin is rising among streptococcus pneumonia and that nearly 50% of strains tested were resistant. Uh-oh. That means that azithomycin doesn’t work and the person can get sicker and may die. I talked to a pulmonologist in Seattle when I needed help with someone. He said that he would have said there weren’t any resistant strep pneumo strains here in Washington except that he had one intubated and in the ICU right then. “I’m convinced now, ” he said.

A lobar pneumonia is easier to diagnose. Abnormal chest x-ray, reasonably healthy people run a high white blood cell count (so my frail folks, immunosupressed folks and 90 year olds don’t raise their white blood cell count), and a fever (ditto) and look sick. The walking pneumonia people come in saying they have been coughing for 3 weeks or 4 weeks or two months. I am doing more lab testing because of the resistance.

This winter I have seen 6 different causes of walking pneumonia here: influenza A, respiratory syncytial virus (In more than one person over 60. That is NOT who the books say it should affect. It’s supposed to mostly cause bronchiolitis in babies and preemies), pertussis, strep pneumococcus, strep A and none of the above. All looking pretty much the same, but with different treatment.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/15/8/08-1187_article
https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/mycoplasma/index.html
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/820736
https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/pdf/ar-threats-2013-508.pdf#page=79
RSV: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/rsv.html
Mycoplasma resistance to azithromycin has been reported too: http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/36/4/969

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

Fibbing Friday in the movies

  1. Finish the quote: One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous lines is, “I’ll be…” “I’ll be PEEEEACE!”
  2. Finish the song title: One of Randy Newman’s best known songs is “Why Can’t We…” “Why Can’t We Peace Each Other!”
  3. Twilight wasn’t about a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. What was it about? The Forks Vampire/Human/Werewolf Peace Consortium that healed the entire world.
  4. What made Blade different from the vampires he hunted? He changed his name from Blade to Peace and his very touch brought peace to the hearts of the world of Vampires.
  5. In what movie did Billy Crystal play a character named, Miracle Max? WORLD PEACE IS HERE
  6. The Goonies wasn’t about a group of kids searching for a lost treasure. What was it about? Some silly kids who start a peace movement in their neighborhood and end up leading the UN.
  7. What was name of the character than Alan Rickman played in the first movie that he starred in? PEACEMAN.
  8. In The Professional, who does Natalie Portman’s character shoot with a paint pellet? The Horseman of WAR. Peace ensues.
  9. The Phantom of the Opera isn’t about a disfigured man who terrorizes a Paris opera house. What is it about? A Peace Phantom who keeps changing the tragedies into Joyous Hymns to Peace.

For Fibbing Friday.

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.

abuse, enabler style

I am raised by a family of triangulating enablers and enablees.

The enablers are my mother and two uncles. They are very very smart. Let me qualify that: they are very very smart intellectually. Emotionally, not so much.

The two uncles have PhDs and are professors. They marry wives that are lessor in their view. One tells my mother that he wants a woman who is not as bright as he is. I don’t know if she is less bright, but she is a hella better athlete. I also have the impression that she had a time where she drank too much.

The other uncle marries a woman who tends to be a hypochondriac. He takes her to India, where she gets polio while pregnant. She is then a sick hypochondriac, which is very difficult. The ill can control their families by planning things and then getting sick at the last moment. On the other hand, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are very real and we are on the edge of figuring them out. That uncle divorces his wife and I instantly like both of them better. They stop being a weird unit and are suddenly individuals.

My mother tells me, when I am in college, “I wondered if your father was an alcoholic when I married him.” I want to hit her. She won’t leave him, she won’t stop enabling him, they scream at each other at 2 am often. Now I wonder about that and conclude that either screaming at someone was something she needed or she was an alchoholic too.

After my mother dies, I ask my uncle, what about his parents? After all, the three of them learned enabling somewhere and it pretty much has to be at home.

My uncle tells me his parents had a PERFECT marriage and that my grandmother LOVED being the wife of a physician and professor.

Um, so, then, why did she pay my tuition to medical school, uncle?

And I think about my mother’s stories. Once, she says, your Uncle Jim bet his friend Dick that Dick was too chicken to shoot a cigarette out of Jim’s mother’s mouth. Ooooo. With a rubber band shooter. Yes, my grandmother. Bob took the bet and succeeded. My grandmother roared with anger and the two boys ran like hell and hid.

And someone in the family tells me: your grandfather helped your grandmother control her temper.

There it is. The enabler/enablee.

The enablers die first. My grandfather of cancer at 79, my mother of cancer at 62. The cousins are all angry at me because I won’t follow the family rules and triangulate in a satisfactory manner, and I don’t care any more. I am ignoring them. I got my father’s banjo back and I am done. The two cousins I own land with jointly are not the worst triangulators.

I have to remind myself: for them, this is love. For some people, controlling or being controlled is what functions as love and intimacy. Fighting and tears when person A talks to person C about person B and person C then lets person B know, that is how they feel close. It is not only families, but communities. Clay Shirky’s description of a group being it’s own worst enemy describes the same patterns: identify an enemy inside or outside the group and then everyone comes together against the enemy. The enemy says the wrong thing, doesn’t worship the right god/desses, wears different clothes, looks different. And the group feels safer once the scapegoat has been killed, the guy has been burned. It would be nice if we could burn a ritual guy instead of torching each other.

The real anger is in the enabler. They control it by having the enablee express it. Then it is not “theirs”. They can feel superior to the enablee who is out of control. Sadly, the problem is only fixed temporarily and they will need their anger expressed again and again and again.

The cycle can be broken. It is a lot of work.

Blessings.

______________________________________________

One must go through the water.

One must go through the water.

One might choose not
avoid
there are ways to avoid feelings

Another one might choose not

I let go
and fall
and the water closes over my head
and I let myself sink
all the way down

even
if I am over
a deep trench

once down
once deep

I open my eyes
and let my breath out
and let the deep rush in

I don’t know why
people avoid this place
it is dangerous
but so beautiful
the darkness
with beings that glow

some attack
of course

but I too am a monster
bare my fangs
and receive respect
or fear

or friendship

I am very safe here
it is so familiar
in the deep