On Crippling Self-Indictment

square842When someone assaults my mental health, I suffer gravely. Recently, I got called a loser, a control freak, and — worst of all! — a Liberal by someone who didn’t like that I contained his rant in a support group. The person in question had admitted to not taking one of his meds, so there is reason to forgive his crazed outburst, but I felt as if the whole group had jumped on me. Only this one person said anything.

I have to fight this variation of catastrophizing every time I find myself in a conflict. I find the slightest grain of truth in what is said about me and turn it into a crippling self-indictment. If this small piece is true, then am I a bad person? I ask. Should I leave the group? Do the others in the group want me gone for being a troublemaker (a question I ask even when I keep my temper and the other person is by any reasonable estimate the one wholly in the wrong). My anger should be placed outside my self in these situations and directed at its instigator. The onus is not on me.

Friends urge me to see it not as my problem, but as the other person’s. But how did I get into this situation?, I ask. Should I have kept my mouth shut?

I once had a therapist who would have made me feel miserable about this whole affair. In her eyes, it was my poor interactions with the world that led me to these crises. Someone else once said “It takes two to tango” when I was under siege by a borderline. I am thrall to this stupid, American insistence on balance, on not taking sides. And I give it my blessing.

Questioning the Whirlwind

Who is this darkening counsel
    with words lacking knowledge?
                    Job 38:2

square822Saturday is the night when I lay out my morning meds for the week and I nearly always find that I have misplaced one of the bottles. I mark that it is my Effexor once more. Frantic digging in my medication box and begging Lynn for assistance help find it inevitably — if it is there to be found. The Universe seems particularly keen on hiding it from me. If I am well, I curse the coincidence and forget about it until the next time; if not, I go even more mad.

Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to the random patterns of life. But when I am in an episode, a motif like the Effexor that goes missing week after week without any sign of the mechanics that cause its disappearance obsesses me. How come it is always the Effexor? Why do my hands and my brain conspire to hide it from me every time? I ask the question repeatedly until my neurons deflate beyond exhaustion. Someone must know the answer. So I ask the people around me to shed light on my finding, but either they don’t know or don’t want to be bothered with my question. Why is this? Are they cruel? Are they out to get me? Is it part of a greater plot to reduce my brain to a loose mass of gummy worms?

I constantly question the whirlwind. There must be an answer. And that takes over and diminishes the mind.

Voices

square817The mind is not only its own place, but its own population. I dream of many faces. The breakup of sleep shatters them. They lose their bodies, but I am hectored by their voices at all hours. These are your failures, they say as if their task were to humiliate me so that I may not enjoy any of the peace of mind that comes with humility. I stumble as they scratch my eye with the light of their taunts. When they call out, I lose my focus on the landscape or the interior in which I am situated. An insult might crash into my brain as I am hiking a sinuous trail, tumbling my consciousness into a different dimension: I stop, stamp my feet, and try to feel the grit beneath my shoes that tells me where I am.

Typing Errors

square812I’ve noticed a certain style of error that gives away that I might well be thinking faster and more erratically than my fingers can keep up with. This might have nothing to do with my bipolar disorder despite the rapid thinking that causes me to err. But there is a resemblance that is hard to ignore. What happens is that when I get to typing things on a chat channel or in a blog, I change thoughts in mid-sentence. Then I abruptly drag them back.

I need to what for that kind of thing.

*watch

Mistakes like this cause me to enter a highly vigilant state of mind. Am I going manic? Is this due to my meds? Or maybe am I just tired?

That’s the price I pay for having this disease — the blobby uncertainty that flows over every moment; the concern that this kind of thing might be a prelude to the stupidity of mania. Life need not be a progression of symptoms.

Bipolar Cancer Husband No. 2

square787Dr. Rettenmaier had told us that he was waiting for the pathologist’s report. We had forgotten this fact during the two days between the initial discovery of the malignant growth on Lynn’s ovary and the diagnostic paperwork. Lynn had awakened from her surgery to discover that she wasn’t going home, that her doctor had had to remove her whole uterus. After I fetched her computer from home, she pored over all the information she could find on ovarian cancer. The outlook did not look good. I made a point of holding back the grim photo of her excised body parts. She had enough on her plate and everyone was telling me that I had to support her with all my spirit and body.

The exceptions were the husbands and wives of cancer patients, as well as cancer survivors. They told me that I had to take care of myself. One neighbor whose wife had had breast cancer told me that the most important thing I had to do was tell my wife that I loved her every day. But he also empathized with the pressure I was under.

I must confess that I still feel a little selfish when I remind people that I am under stress — perhaps more stress than Lynn. The cancer patient has to go through the motions of treatment, but everyone rallies around her or him. People expect the spouse to take the lead in this. The fact remains that my wife has been living with a potentially fatal illness. How can the squeezing you feel in your chest measure up against the palpable tumors that appear on sonograms and post-operative photos? Where’s the drama in a headache? You feel terrifically alone. The party — if you dare call it that — isn’t going to be about you. You tell people, but most of them give you the glass eye.

To survive, I made time for myself to take photos and take walks. I made sure to get home every night to look after the animals. This task made me feel of some use. When someone1 suggested that the filthiness of our condo required that we get rid of the cats, I felt sick and started to cry. Lynn had a massive support system of which I was an important part. But the cats and the dog were going to be my support system. Lynn’s oncologist scoffed at the idea of ridding ourselves of the animals — “You’re not brittle!” he told her — and our vet provided us with information about living with chemotherapy and keeping your pets. Armed with this, I simply told the people who were telling us that we had to do this “The pets are off-limits.”

On the backs of this resolve came better news: Lynn had endometrial cancer. It would be a few days before we got an idea of how bad, but even with a 10 to 15% depreciation of her survival chances2, it was certainly a more sanguine prospect than the 46% assigned to ovarian cancer. I felt that we were going to make it. But there were major projects to undertake before Lynn could move back into the condo.



  1. One of those nonmedical professionals who though s/he read that pets were dangerous to people undergoing chemo []
  2. Uterine cancers usually have a 90% or more survival rate with treatment []

Bipolar Cancer Husband No. 1

I’ve been trying to write this story for months, but the time and the motivation have not been there.

square785Two things tipped me off that something was wrong. First, I looked at my cell phone and realized that too much time had passed. Dr. Rettenmaier had promised a quick surgery — twenty five minutes — and now an hour and fifteen minutes had passed. Laparascopic hysterectomies were his specialties. The grin on his face had been confident and true. It was just a cyst. He did this all the time.

The disappearance of that grin when he came out to see me was the second clue. He led me into a small consultation room. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was that there was a malignant mass on Lynn’s ovary. He’d cut her open and removed the entire uterus including the cervix. He showed me a picture of a pile of bloody organs that he said was what he had removed. They looked like meat from a butcher.

His tone was grave. He made an effort to underscore that he hadn’t photo-shopped anything, that he had followed procedure, and that we were dealing with cancer. I’m sure the fact that I was bipolar danced in the back of his mind. I understand. He had probably dealt with plenty of husbands who, on hearing the news, wanted to shake him and tell him that he had made a mistake. My calm must have surprised him. I accepted fate and asked what questions my shaken consciousness allowed.

He let me call my mother-in-law so she could ask her questions of him. I don’t think she was any more thorough and coherent than I was. “How could this happen to Lynn,” her mother said to me after he returned the phone to me. Who had an answer for great matters of the universe as trivial in the greater scheme of things as this was. Dr. Rettenmaier told me to wait for the pathology report. He couldn’t tell me what kind of cancer it was without it.

Kay Redfield Jamison says that there is a big difference between bipolar depression and grief. I was feeling the latter now. I could walk, talk, see colors. Most distinctly, I could cry.

People in the waiting area who heard my news told me that this was the worst day, the day where you found out the fact and didn’t know the reality. The receptionist took pity on me and told me I could visit Lynn in the recovery room.

I stood by Lynn’s gurney. Her eyes flickered open. Had she heard the news. “What happened?” she asked. “You have cancer,” I whimpered.

“I have cancer?” she said, groggily.

“Yes,” I replied.

The nurse did not let me stay very long. They sent me up to the sixth floor of Hoag Hospital where I waited until they told me that I could go in. I used the time to call friends and family to tell them the news. Ovarian cancer, I kept murmuring to myself. The prognosis would not be good.

Whines of 2012 — Updated 12/17/2012

  • UPDATED: 9 September 2012
  • square780Let me count the ways the events of the past few months have screwed me. Note that there may will be additions as the weeks pass…so keep checking this article. It will be a mega-whine!

    • First, my mother dies of a glioblastoma — brain cancer — the same disease that killed her father. The oncologist told me that he doubted it was hereditary. I am waiting for the announcement of a new hereditary variety any day.
    • Drake gets into a fight with a larger dog.
    • Lynn begins to bleed beyond her period. I talk her into seeing a doctor. She gets referred and referred until she is scheduled for a hysterectomy which is then handed over to an oncologist who tells us that only 2% of the patients her age presenting with her symptoms have cancer. He repeats this just before he performs the operation. It is only supposed to take half an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I notice the time. He comes out with a grim look on his face and tells me that he found a malignant mass on her left ovary. Two days later, we learn to our relief that it is not ovarian cancer, but uterine cancer that has metasticized up the left fallopian tube. She spends nearly a week in the hospital. I tell people, with a sigh, that someone has to be the 2%.
    • We skip my mother’s memorial service. This was supposed to be our vacation.
    • We now need to make the condo readily cleanable. So we have to rip out the carpet and put in new flooring. Everything small in the condo needs to be brought into the garage.
    • My favorite cat — Fiona — dies.
    • The bathroom sink backs up.
    • I hurt my back.
    • I cut my hands and my knees.
    • I gain weight and fall out of the great shape I was in in the fall.
    • My other cat — Little Bo — goes crazy when I send her to board at the vet, so we take her out. I take her to a motel because the people Lynn is staying with don’t want a cat in their house.
    • The floorers discover that our floor is not level. Either because of settling or because the builders screwed up 22 years ago or both, there are large humps all over the condo. We need to spend an additional $1000 to fix these.
    • Lynn’s hair starts to fall out from the chemo. She is given a 75-80% chance to live.
    • Drake runs away three times in one day from the house where we send him to stay during the remodeling. Turns out he is slipping under a gate, so we block the way. I resolve to visit him every day.
    • My dentist informs me that three of my crowns need to be replaced.
    • Weather report promises rain for two days, pushing back the time before we can move back into the condo.
    • Painter discovers the reason why the previous owners covered the bathroom in wallpaper — there was damage to the walls that they were too lazy to plaster over. Plus they used white glue to hold it in place. (What kind of idiot puts wallpaper in a bathroom?) Add more money to the cost of the job.
    • Our new maid asks for a cabinet. She puts it outside on the deck because the weather report says that it will only be cloudy and the weather report is never wrong. It drizzles heavily all night. I do manage to cover it and wipe down the wet parts before putting it in the garage the next morning.
    • We put felt feet on everything except for one file cabinet which has a sharp lip that we can’t find a way of covering.
    • We witness an accident when we come out of a local restaurant. One man hurt. I’m glad it wasn’t one more thing to add to this list, but I would rather it didn’t happen to these people, either.
    • The dentist informed me that I needed to have a tooth pulled.
    • The garbage disposal dies necessitating its replacement. (Yes, we pushed the red button, cranked the main rotor, etc. The repairman did the same things.)
    • The tooth extraction will entail some painful digging around because the tooth has broken into three pieces. Plus I will have to undergo a sinus tap and bone graft three months after the first surgery. Plus insurance will only cover about $78 of the total. How about some dental insurance reform?
    • Drake found a new way to get out by forcing his way through one of the front window screens.
    • Just before we are to get the good news that Lynn’s treatment is going so well, they may end it before they had planned, the phone rings and someone tells me that my dog is out. “No, he can’t be out. We locked him up.” “No, your dog jumped out of the second story window….” Drake is fine, but I am angry with God about heaping so much crap and denying us the joy of the moment when we learned that things were going better than hoped for Lynn. Now we have to put out a thousand dollars for custom interior louver shutters.
    • An old obsession with the number 13 has returned. If I check the time, it is 13 after. I haven’t gotten to the point of counting things to see if they add up to 13 as I do when the obsession is truly out of control, but it is getting there. I wish I knew how to break the cycle. This is not a good sign for my mental health.
    • My country is going to hell.
    • Last Friday afternoon, I am chewing on some licorice when I feel something hard between my teeth. It is a crown. Given the day, I can’t get in to have it looked at, so I wait until Monday. My dentist looks at it, frowns, and refers me to an endodontist. He looks at it, frowns, and refers me to a periodontist to have the tooth pulled. The bicuspid has broken down to where the nerve is. Do I feel any pain? Dare I say that I don’t?
    • So now I have to have two teeth pulled, on opposite sides of the mouth! This will mean liquid diets, I dread.
    • Chest pains. This led to a three day hospital stay. My roommate was a whining biker. My mother who was a nurse had warned me about these and she was right! He bossed the staff and cried when the needles hurt. (Like, duh!) I was going so crazy by day three that I threatened to check out AMA if they didn’t release me.
    • Triglycerides are through the roof. No explanation yet for the chest pains.
    • Doctor cancelled her appointment with me due to illness. Does this really belong here? Maybe not.
    • Lynn had a blowout on the road that took out at least a third of her sidewall. She is all right. Rims were not damaged.
    • I keep getting #1141 errors every time I open up Rosetta Stone. Restarting doesn’t do a bloody thing.
    • We discover that the right front of Lynn’s car has been crushed. Week in the body shop.
    • Night of the malfunctioning software. Can’t move Rosetta Stone to a new computer and can’t get a game program to work on a new computer.
    • Friends don’t like my politics. Plus I temporarily pick up a roach who is against privatization, but sure Obama is going to push us that way. Where do these people get these ideas?
    • I put on 15 pounds.
    • Learn that my cousin killed himself. Attend the funeral.
    • Third tooth slated to be pulled in January.
    • Repairman drops an electric drill onto our wood laminate floor, leaving a dime-sized hole where it can’t be covered by a rug.
    • Massive struggle to install Windows 8. Headphones decide not to work. I buy a new pair, only to discover that the problem is still there. Then I discover a simple fix.
    • Extraction of second tooth has complications — one root takes an hour to pull. Fortunately, I am well sedated.

    YES I KNOW IT CAN BE WORSE AND THAT IS WHAT WORRIES ME!

    Everyone is telling me that “things will get better”. I sigh and reread Job.

    At least Lynn’s chemo is over and the scans are looking good. And Obama won.

    Cancer Threat

    square779Lynn is seeing an oncologist tomorrow because of an abnormal number in a blood test that might indicate ovarian cancer. It could also indicate anemia (which she has had) or fibroids (the problem which brought her to see a doctor in the first place, two months ago.)

    Everyone is rallying around her even though she is the least concerned of any of us. I am sick with worry and irritable. The main reason for this are my fears that this will prove to be a malignant tumor. Society is well possessed when a woman’s is faced with the prospect that her husband is going to die, but I have to say that few seem to understand or care about the reverse.

    The Universe appears to have taken on the role of the Mafia in my life. Instead of striking me directly, it has gone after the one I love.

    I am faced with the prospect of losing my best friend. You don’t come across these easily. I have to say that few measure up to Lynn’s level of compassion and confidence. Others might be my friend, but they do not possess the virtues I have come to crave in her. Then there is the matter of my life support. If something happens to her, I will gain a small amount of insurance and see the mortgage paid off. But I will not be well off, given that I will have to pay my own medical bills. This is the price I have paid for being a deadbeat.

    Maybe that is why few have offered to talk to me about my fears.

    Bemusement Parks and Drama Queens

    square758 Twitter has been delivering me to a state not unlike a dead whale on the beach, roasting in the sun. This is my own fault. I “have” to keep checking it to see what the news is. Then I get into arguments about just what the role of the president of the United States is supposed to be. He’s not a dictator, I point out. He doesn’t get to write the laws and he doesn’t instruct Congress on how to vote. But they keep coming around with the same old arguments and imply that I am delusional, that I don’t understand the real nature of power in this country.

    It’s become a bemusement park, full of drama queens, and I am the first up to put on the rouge and the cheap blond curls, screaming my politics like a shrill aria. At this historic impasse in American history, I find myself trembling on the inside with rage at accounts without faces. What disturbs me is that I feel I might be the only one wondering if the emotion is getting out of control. While I have my supporters (the numbers are on the increase), I’ve devoted too much time to combating the cynicism and the myths being spewed by the ignorant and the tools.

    I give people advice — like don’t pay any attention to the tools. Concentrate on the good people. Stick to message. But my Seesmic windows remain cluttered by the rants and retorts of people who just can’t let go of their stalkers 1 .

    Of course, my therapist says I should just walk away from Twitter. Maybe I should just let people have the world they seem to want so badly. I’m not into secret agent games. I know that my life is pretty pointless and unimportant. No number of chat victories will make me vital to the intellectual life of the nation.

    But between me and sanity is the Door. Closing the portal on the other side means divorcing myself from other minds who share my interests and concerns. So what have I to gain?

    Right now, I’d just like to spend more time with people who don’t need makeup and wigs.



    1. I just messaged one friend about a fellow who keeps coming back at her with new accounts: “He’s what we call a Troll. His purpose is to make you waste time and energy so you don’t get your message out.” I’m an old hand at this. []

    Notes on the 2011 DBSA National Conference Part 1

    square729The first big secret divulged to me and a select group of others was that the rumor that Peter Ashenden had been fired by [[Depression_and_Bipolar_Support_Alliance|DBSA]] after embezzling most of its assets1 was not true.2 DBSA had worked itself into the red due to optimistic budgeting based on the assumption that the pharmaceuticals industry would continue its philanthropic support of its customer base. [[Abbott_Laboratories|Abbott]] — long a supporter of DBSA — left the psycho-pharmaceuticals field entirely. Money budgeted was based on what DBSA hoped to bring in. This led to $400,000 in payables in 2010. The board changed it method of budgeting to a zero-sum scheme meaning that you budgeted only the money left over at the end of the previous year. This meant a smaller operating fund — 44% of DBSA’s employees had to be phased out — but payables now stand at $20,000.


    “I have not given up my neuroses,” said keynote speaker [[Patty Duke]]. “I have given up my psychoses. I am just enough neurotic to make me interesting.”

    Duke is a tiny, frail woman (at least as far as I can see), far in figure from the [[Helen Keller]] she played in [[The Miracle Worker]]. Nonetheless, she moved the crowd with her account of her life as a person living with bipolar disorder. “Our disability is not a label we wear,” she extolled. “I wear the label of ‘we can, we do.”

    The most meaningful part of the talk for me was where she spoke of her life as a bipolar harridan who tormented her family. She confessed that “I, Patty Duke, was an abusive Mom.

    It started with the verbal abuse. My children never knew who they were going to meet…These children united with each other. When I was diagnosed and treated, it took some time for them to trust me….I didn’t exhibit these behaviors at the workplace. I exhibited them as soon as I got in the car, as soon as I got on the car phone. I exhibited them on my family.

    Many mothers stood up and confessed to similar predicaments. The men were silent, but I think they knew what she was talking about, too. I, for one, resisted having children in part because I feared my rages. In the 23 years of our marriage, I have never hit or threatened to hit Lynn, even though my disorder seethed and overflowed. I attempted to break keyboards over my knee. I punched the wall. Still, I realized how easily the still hand could turn to a slap across the face. When you united them, they could push and a child is so small. Little bones encased in the slightest sack of skin and flesh could be broken like this. I feared the big man who could hurt. But now, I look at the long loneliness ahead. Other people my age already have grandchildren and children in college. What bonds can I form with my peers? My disorder and my consciousness of it have cost me life.

    Near the end of her talk, Duke said “Our disease used to be a death sentence.” It still remains a prison cell for some of us.

    Patty Duke


    I started overeating after I surrendered my previous tension-cutting activity which was to chew on a pen and roll it around between my incisors. This not only wore down the teeth, but also ground a roundish hole. You could place any writing implement there and see the fit. I had to give this up because I started taking my oral health seriously. My dentist said the habit — along with my routine failure to brush — had to cease. So my nerves led me to substitute food as the all-natural anti-anxiety drug of choice.

    Linda Chase LCSW said that it was all in the hands. She observed that the victims of emotional eating were people who moved their hands toward food even when not physically hungry. It was compulsive and uncontrollable, a self-destructive attempt at self-help. Serious eating disorders may result from it, but it can be overcome through treatment.

    People do it for pretty much the same reasons — save one — that I chewed on my pens. It comforts, sooths, nurtures, numbs, sedates, and distracts. Through the extra-sized burger on your plate, you can escape painful emotions. Tension, anger, or frustration can be discharged by the rhythmic motions of your jaw. Some people reported that the comfort came from the larger body size they attained as a result. People feared you or they did not desire you sexually.3 Intimacy could be avoided.

    There’s a cycle that we emotional eaters follow. First comes the cultural body ideal which suggests that you need to have the same svelte figure that you had at age 20. As fatty tissue accumulates with age — as it does for all of us — we panic. We label our big butts or our guts as ugly. So we resort to extreme diets that approach our former selves. But this is like putting ourselves in prison. Locked away and tortured by a life in which we allow ourselves not even a single chocolate chip cookie, we go stark-raving mad. Then we find ourselves in a store buying up our comfort foods and we eat them — all at once! This destroys any good and any anorexia4 our diet may have accomplished. We look at our recently refattened bodies and feel guilt, shame, depression, and anxiety. So to escape these, we overeat some more until we look at ourselves again, measure our bodies against ridiculous cultural ideals, and return to our prisons. Each time this happens, we gain and lose more weight than before.

    95 to 98% of who experience this drastic cycle gain all the weight back plus more. What we don’t realize is that there are happy and unhappy people in all sizes. True we should eat healthily, but do we need to excise chocolate chip cookies entirely from our lives? Do we need to exercise every day, eschewing every other activity that gives us pleasure until we feel like rats on a wheel? It is healthier to be large and fit than to be thin and unfit.

    I liked some of her suggestions: First, seek a stable weight. I am aiming for 220 pounds rather than the 180 pounds of my youth for example, and when I get there, I will do what restraint and what necessary eating to stay in that region. Second, avoid yo-yo diets. Chase does not endorse radical surgeries for controlling your weight mostly because it does not address the emotional eating issues. She also warns us to be aware that some medications cause us to gain weight and require that we guard ourselves against entering a diet/binge cycle in an attempt to control it. Third, eat when you are hungry and eat what you want. This requires that you learn to recognize true hunger as opposed to emotional gratification. Successful challengers of emotional eating stock the foods that they occasionally love. Instead of turning your kitchen into a desert island, have those chocolate chip cookies around. I am diabetic. But I keep my favorite foods around, marking very carefully how much of each I eat and not eating too much of anything. Fourth, love your body as it is when it gets fit. Be nurturing towards yourself so that you don’t stampede into bad eating habits. Exercise in ways that give you pleasure. 5


    Cheese pursued me everywhere. It arrived on the table in the Southwestern-style lasagna the hotel served for lunch during the Chapter Leadership Forum. It lurked on the pizza they served for those who went to the Friday night focus group. It lay in wait on the sandwiches they served for lunch on the main day of the conference. The hotel staff spared me the suffering a migraine or starvation by bringing me steamed vegetables on the first day’s lunch. I skipped the pizza and ate a salad rich in pickled peppers. During the second day’s lunch, I stripped the mozzarella from the turkey and passed it over to my friend Chato. The others at my table assumed that I was lactose-intolerant. I explained that I could drink milk, spoon up yogurt, and enjoy the cheesecake they brought for dessert. The [[tyramine|tyramines]], I explained, were what spoiled my equanimity. No one had a clue what those were.


    Charles Willis got me to thinking about how a child is a captive audience who often does not get a chance to learn how to establish boundaries for her or himself. Parents can insist that their opinions reign supreme and that the child must internalize them. This can be the source of much misery later in life. And I will define this destruction of boundaries as one of the hallmarks of abusive parenting.

    I think that abusive parents destroy boundaries because they, themselves, have trouble having them. They feel impelled to reach out and encompass their children. In the abusive family, the members are not allowed to accept their condition — they must drop the walls and be their condition as the hierarchs of the family define it.

    I told one mother who was worried that her depressed sons would end up as failures that I personally had been sucked down by such thinking in my parents. I was told not to seek care for my illness. My family members worried that they would somehow be accused of doing what they did (of all things!) It meant the ruin of my life. I’m not sure Willis understood where I was coming from, but that is what issued forth.

    The key to recovery is to acknowledge feelings and exert choice in how we respond. We may not be able to control our triggers, but we can plan for them. I can agree with this.

    To be continued.



    1. Ashenden left because he was offered a job working for former DBSA head Sue Bergestrom at United Healthcare. The worst that can be said about him is that he sold out to Big Insurance. []
    2. Thankfully I never spread this one. Nor is it true that our next conference is going to be in Hawaii. []
    3. This could also be true of someone with bad teeth as I had. []
    4. Not every objective of a starvation regime is positive []
    5. I love to plug in my Droid and listen to music when I get on the treadmill. Losing myself in the music helps me move on. []

    Mindful Moment

    square710Hands open, palms upward as I call the paradise within to mind. Oh that it were tangible, real! A gentle hill green with grass slopes away from me. My line of sight is clear in all directions. Blue sky swells above. A layer of clouds at my feet obscures that frantic world of freeways and streets and appointments. Wisps of these clouds break away and give substance to the empty firmament. Cool breezes and warm sunlight decompress my anxieties. There is no Internet here, no television, no reason to fear the intrusion of politics or aggressive media. You are not oppressed by the vexations of daily life. This place is away, beyond. The grasses stroke your tense limbs, neck, and scalp. The creak of mental torment gets sucked away into their roots and dissipates into the ground.

    Here, I can be free and true to my own person.1

    This post is in response to Day 17 of the Health Activist Writers Challenge: “Mindful Moment”.



    1. I’ve been suffering greatly from anxiety these last several days. The chief cause has been uncertainty about the economy and about the future of my health care. I failed to write this yesterday because an attack of nausea prostrated me. I took my anti-nausea meds and experienced a several hours long bout of diarrhea. Nothing that I ate seems to have precipitated this. When I set my mind to relaxation, I started feeling better. Nausea, they say, is a product of the brain, but new research suggests that a lot of our emotive processes lie in the gut. Could this be the reason why we eat food to calm ourselves and throw up when our fears shake us? []

    Amygdala in Overdrive

    square707My [[amygdala]] has been in overdrive. Every morning between 7 and 7:30, I wake up with my breastbone trying to break out of my chest. My thoughts immediately turn to politics and the Tea Party. I don’t think this is paranoia because I don’t look out my window to see if [[John Boehner]] and [[Eric Cantor]] have dispatched minions to watch my condo. The future is my topic. What will become of [[Medicare]]? What about the [[Social Security]] trust fund that my wife and I have paid into all these years? Will the Republicans find a way to steal the next election? Will progressives be stupid and sit this one out because they have not received a perfect package for their pains? Wave the bloody shirt and I am on Twitter screaming about it, trembling.

    Recent studies suggest that our fears never go away: they are merely masked:

    Fear is commonly investigated in mice by exposing them simultaneously to a neutral stimulus — a certain sound, for example — and an unpleasant one. This leads to the animals being frightened of the sound as well. Context plays an important role in this case: If the scaring sound is played repeatedly in a new context without anything bad happening, the mice shed their fear again. It returns immediately, however, if the sound is presented in the original, or even a completely novel context.

    Deep in the amygdala, there are two groups of cells — one that generates the fear response and another that suppresses them. It’s a classic example of evolution’s shoddy engineering. When the suppression mechanism goes to work, it does not operate by stopping the fear response: it merely prevents it from being transmitted to other parts of the body. The fear is still there, waiting for the cells dedicated to suppressing it to drop their guard — as what happens when the sound is played in a novel context in the example above. Then the same old dreads run the show all over again.

    I cannot help but tie this finding to another article I read recently about the amygdala. Scientists have discovered differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. Your typical liberal has a larger [[anterior cingulate cortex]] which lets her pull concepts together and not be distracted by conflicting information. Conservatives have larger amygdalas, which researchers say makes them better able to “recognize a threat”.

    My experience suggests that this is a politically correct way of saying that conservatives are often panic at the slightest implication that they are being threatened. Witness how they can be made to vote against their interests by campaigns based in racism or other types of hatred. Witness how some hoard guns beyond what they actually need to defend their homes1 . Witness how they allow military spending to overwhelm the federal budget even when specific programs prove to be unmanageable, unworkable, or a boondoggle2 . Witness how they will stream to the polls if an appropriate [[robocall]] or commercial tells them that they are being threatened — even if this goes against all reason. Conservatives are eminently controllable by their fears. This has proven true in election after election.

    The trick relies on a simple tactic: move conservatives out of the safe zone of discipline that they have surrounded themselves in to prevent their emotions from running wild. Conservatives are often better behaved in environments where they are taught to do as they are told — such as the military. Control of the emotions is vital. But change the context and the conservative is once more his old, fearful self. He might be a nice guy to everyone around him because he has been conditioned to be so, but remove that environment through bright flashing lights and loud voices preaching doom if the…3 are allowed to get the upper hand.

    So liberals need to develop tricks to fight these tricks that turn good people into reckless fools. Sometimes we will need to use the fear. Sometimes we will need to train conservatives to ignore the lights and sounds, to become the true masters of their anxieties, their souls, and their political and economic destinies. The best society is one where the problem-solving power of the liberals and the threat detection power of the conservatives coexist to serve the whole.

    This post is in response to Day 10 of the Health Activist Writers Challenge: “Post Secret



    1. I don’t own a gun nor have I ever needed one, even in some of the rough neighborhoods where I lived as a young man. []
    2. If it is for “defense”, they’ll buy it. The amygdala doesn’t do well at discerning frauds. []
    3. Fill in the blank. []