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

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.

afraid or not?

Photo credit to Dr. W. Strang, with my camera. That is me in front of an truly amazing quartz crystal from Arkansas in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

I was back in the DC area with my daughter, visiting my son and future daughter in law. Hopefully after this year I won’t say future any more. This is round three after two postponements due to Covid-19.

Dr. Strang and I wanted to go to the Smithsonian but we got snowed in. The Smithsonian was closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We went on Thursday. We got to the Museum of African American History and it was CLOSED. They were opening late, at one pm. It was 10:30.

We promptly diverted to the National Gallery, which opened at 11:00. We spent a good 3-4 hours there. We went back to Natural History. I worked in the shop there years ago and wanted to buy a rock. I was underwhelmed by the rocks available currently. More expensive and a lot less of them. On the other hand, I suppose there are only so many rocks.

What about fear? I chose fear for the Ragtag Daily Prompt today. I was not terribly afraid at the Smithsonian, but I was careful. After my fourth bad pneumonia last year, this time on oxygen for months, I did not want to get Covid-19. We have used fear before, but I think some words can be reused.

Covid-19: long haul II

A few days ago my primary care doctor texts that she wonders if I have the autoimmune form of fibromyalgia.

Red alert. I have not heard about this.

I did a search last night and find this: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm.

Now, if you have been paying attention, you know that I was diagnosed with PANDAS in 2012, though Isuspect that it is really PANS. Both are autoimmune disorders. I also think that long haul covid is the same thing or something similar.

Meanwhile, they are now saying Covid-19 Long Haul may ALSO be an autoimmune disorder. Multiple sites below.

There is a paper in Nature that I don’t have access to, annoyingly enough. The fibromyalgia story in the above story is that they have spun antibodies down from human serum of affected and unaffected people and then injected them into mice. The mice get fibromyalgia symptoms from the affected antibodies but not from the unaffected ones. The symptoms in the mice go away when the antibodies fade out, in a few weeks. Aha.

The long haul story says that death from Covid-19 may be an autoimmune response, the antibodies going really nuts and making people bleed or their lungs close down. That is, swell shut. They have been drawing blood to study at different stages of Covid-19 and also checking autopsy patients. Usually autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in women then men but Covid-19 seems to be worse in men. This: “The mechanisms behind the production of such autoantibodies aren’t yet clear. Widespread and long-term inflammation during severe COVID-19 may cause the immune system to produce antibodies to pieces of the virus it wouldn’t normally recognize. Some of those pieces might resemble human proteins enough to trigger the production of autoantibodies.

Excessive inflammation could also boost production of autoantibodies that had previously only existed in the body at very low levels. Vaccination against COVID-19 is much less inflammatory than infection with the virus. In a separate study that looked at COVID vaccination, none of the healthy volunteers developed autoantibodies.” (2)(*)

Here is another fibromyalgia paper: https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmunity-neuroinflammation-in-fibromyalgia-5197944. That paper lists the autoantibodies that they are finding in fibromyalgia including gangliosides. The fourth antibody in PANDAS/PANS is anti-lysoganglioside. Aha! So this is sparking a serious revolution in medicine: it is looking like many of the mysterious and difficult to describe and quantify diseases may be autoantibody disorders. The anti-ganglioside antibodies were found in 71% of fibromyalgia patients. There are seven antibodies listed, including one to serotonin. In PANS, they are blaming two anti-dopamine antibodies. None of the fibromyalgia patients had ALL seven, but all of them had some of them. A different pattern in every patient, because we all make different antibodies. Fascinating.

One more: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28339361/. People with lupus are more likely to have fibromyalgia and visa versa. “Increasing evidence indicates that N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) play a major role in the induction and maintenance of central sensitisation with chronic pain. In this study, we evaluated the role of anti-NMDAR antibodies in the development of FM in patients with SLE.” Lupus and fibromyalgia share an autoantibody. Holy cats. NMDA is ALSO a neurotransmitter. Makes me wonder quite a bit about “psychiatric” disorders.

Remember that we make up all the words. So the autoimmune diseases are usually found by testing for a few antibodies. In the most common autoimmune disorder, hypothyroidism, we usually check the TSH and T4 level, so patient hormone levels rather than antibody levels. Over the last 30 years, we are able to test for more antibodies. Systemic lupus erythematosis, celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. When I was in medical school in 1989, the rheumatology book was an inch and a half thick and there were loads of different patterns of disease. I am sure it is twice as thick now. Our initial test for autoimmune disease is for inflammation: an antinuclear antibody and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Some people have rheumatoid arthritis but their RF is negative: they have “sero-negative” rheumatiod arthritis, which is more likely “a different autoantibody that we have not tracked down” rheumatoid arthritis. In chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, the antinuclear antibody and erythrocyte sedimentation rate are usually normal. I suspect both disorders of being “post” inflammation.

My prediction is a serious medical revolution, where we start regularly testing for autoantibodies. Whether that will be something like a pregnancy test but with hundreds of autoantibodies tested for, or whether there are some key indicator ones that we can find, is not clear. At any rate, trauma, stress and infection all increase the likelihood of getting one of these disorders and we have to figure out how to lower the load of all three.

Do you think people are instinctively quitting their jobs?

I had a phone visit with my pulmonologist yesterday. She was running about 35 minutes late, I sat on Zoom until she showed up. She looks exhausted. “We have less doctors and more patients.” she says. “I was on call for the critical care unit last week and I am on call Monday and Tuesday.” “Please take care of yourself,” I say, “We really need you.” She is smiling the whole time. She is worried about me dropping weight and I am worried about her.

Prayers and blessings all around.


1. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/covid-19-can-trigger-self-attacking-antibodies/
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/autoimmune-response-found-many-covid-19
1. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/covid-19-can-trigger-self-attacking-antibodies/
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/autoimmune-response-found-many-covid-19
3. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/591528-long-covid-study-author-explains-four-factors-that-can-predict-how-you-get
4. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/studies-identify-risk-factors-for-long-covid-69648
5. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-10436473/Is-people-sicker-Covid-19.html
*If that paragraph does not make people get the vaccine, they are living completely in a mad dream world, IMHO.
6. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/misdirected-antibodies-linked-severe-covid-19

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: flickering. As in flickering hope.

Ode to defiance

Is oppositional defiance running YOUR life?

I am oppositional defiant. I have been for as long as I can remember. I ALWAYS want to argue when someone tells me to do something or gives me advice. BUT, I have learned to work with it.

I work with it by arguing with myself.

Give me a topic. Or advice. I will promptly argue the opposite, internally or externally. Then I will argue the original side. Then my demon fights my angel until they are both tired and decide to go have a beer. Somewhere along the way I will make a decision and also I will laugh, because it’s funny.

B has figured this out. “You argue with EVERYTHING.” he says.

“Yes, and if there is no one around, I argue with myself. All the time.”

However, he is also oppositional defiant. He is smart too, and doing some self examination.

“I am thinking about my life. I think ALL of my important decisions were oppositional defiant ones.”

“Someone told you you couldn’t do that?

“Yes.”

He’s chewing on that. Heh. He accuses ME of overthinking. I replied that I am making up for his underthinking, heh. He suggests that I STOP overthinking and I say, “You want to DESTROY the SOURCE of my poetry?” Double heh.

The point is, some of us are oppositional defiant, but really, we don’t want that to run our lives EITHER. We don’t want ANYTHING or ANYONE to tell us what to do.

B says, “I think that everyone refusing the vaccine is oppositional defiant.” He has a lot of friends, both liberal and conservative.

“That is interesting.” I say. And I wonder if it is worth dying for, to be oppositional defiant. Not if it’s running your life, right? I don’t want ANYTHING to run my life except ME.

So then I spend a bunch of time arguing with myself about the causes of refusing the vaccine. And I have not reached a conclusion. Yet.

I took the photograph at the Bellevue Mall on Monday. A three story waterfall. Really? Isn’t there enough rain in Seattle? We should have a three story sun instead.