September 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

My husband and I drove to Iowa last weekend to celebrate our grandson’s sixth birthday. I helped with the party Saturday morning, and having eight extra children in the house wasn’t as wild and crazy as I had feared it might be. It was my birthday, too, but, let’s face it, it was more important to celebrate his. The bounty of being a grandma is the best thing ever.
We used to live in the same town back in the 1980’s, so we called a couple who had been great friends to see if we could visit with them. They told me they were going to their friends 60th birthday, but if we wanted to stop by at 7, they would visit with us.
When we arrived, I saw my friend inside, but she wouldn’t come outside to visit. My husband pushed me into the room, and I resisted, because, after all, it was someone else’s party. The people were actually singing “Happy Birthday” at that moment. Then I noticed that all of the people were facing towards the door…towards me. They were singing “Happy Birthday” to me!!!
I hadn’t had a surprise birthday party since I was in 7th grade. I didn’t suspect a thing, but apparently, my husband and his brothers, my daughter, and several friends had been busy planning for over a month!
His brothers got into it, because all three of us wives were born the same year. It was clearly a good year! The party was to celebrate all of our birthdays. My two sisters-in-law just didn’t show up until a half hour later. (That’s why they weren’t included in the same birthday song.)
It was amazingly wonderful to see friends I still love even though we moved from the area in 1990. That’s 28 years ago!!!!! I can’t believe I can throw numbers like that around, but it was like no time at all. The affection was still there. It made me think about how connections between people are so important.
I gave up a high school reunion to go to my grandson’s birthday, but it turned out that I gave it up to touch base with wonderful friends. The friends were just different than those I went to high school with. No matter how many material possessions a person has, they cannot compare to the importance of friends.
Connections stay with us and give our lives meaning.
We’ve moved a lot in our 40 years of marriage, but the small town in central Iowa is the place I feel most at home. It was purely coincidence that my son-in-law got a job nearby in Ames, but it had the effect that my daughter and her family are within a nest of extended family and friends. My grandson is starting school in the same school district that my husband attended all the way through, and my daughter attended for elementary school.
The bounty of having connections is that they provide a safety net as we walk the tight rope of life. No kidding. When I’m working with children who suffer with anxiety, we “weave” a safety net out of the names of friends and family that care about them. They work on learning to trust other people to help. They are not alone.
Children (and adults!) suffering with depression work on weaving themselves into a similar net. They are an integral part of the net, making them important to others, therefore a vital human being. (Of course, they were vital before, but this helps them recognize it!)
I am not a huge Shakespeare fan, and I certainly don’t pretend to be any expert in interpreting what the man had on his mind when writing. But the story of “The Tempest” intrigued me. I studied it as part of studying Baroque music, while earning my music degree. The main character, Prospero, and his young daughter had been dumped on an island because the Prospero was a duke and his younger brother thought it would be a great idea to get rid of his brother and be the duke himself. Prospero and his daughter lived, however, and Prospero developed his great powers of magic. After twelve years, Prospero causes a huge storm (tempest) that causes his younger brother and those on a ship with him, to crash and end up on the island.
A lot happens, but the brothers make up, and Prospero goes back to Italy. I like to believe that no matter what wonderful things he could do, his life was not filled until he went back to live within society. What are great gifts for but to help humanity?

Talking PC

September 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

I remember seeing the movie Arthur back in the 80’s. I thought it was hilarious! When I saw part of it again several years later, it wasn’t funny anymore. Alcoholics aren’t funny. As a society in the 80’s, we were too underdeveloped (myself included) to realize alcoholics are not a source of comedy, but we know it now. We are maturing as a society.
I’ve heard many complaints about which comments are “PC” and how we are supposed to know. Some say that the others are just being too sensitive.
I love to go back to the comment made by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. We can’t guess at what another person is feeling until we walk a mile in their shoes. That’s probably a lousy paraphrase. It’s been a very long time since I’ve actually read it, but I think the meaning is there.
We can’t know what someone else is feeling, but when we are in a position of privilege, we have a responsibility to not make fun of people not in that position. If we are wealthy, we should not make assumptions or make comments about people who have little money, because we do not understand things such as what it’s like to fix Ramen again because payday is still five days away. (Been there. Done that.)
If we are white, we should not make assumptions or make comments about people who are not white because we don’t have to face the indignities they endure every day (the profiling, the facial expressions, the assumptions of diminished worth).
If we are smart, we should not make assumptions or make comments about people who are less intelligent because they have gifts we do not have.
Last year, I worked with a young boy who was bullying other boys. He would say mean things, and it took us a long time to work through that. I remember one day sitting there and telling him “It doesn’t matter.”
He would say, “[name] sucks. He can’t run fast at all. I can beat him in a race without hardly trying.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But he’s SO slow!!! I hate it when he gets put on my team!” (etc., etc.)
“It doesn’t matter.”
“And [name] is so dumb! He can’t do anything right!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
This went on for a while, until I turned it around to explaining that every person is important. We all share the earth together. I asked him if there were anything that he could do to help the one boy run faster or be a better team member in some other way.
The next week, when I visited the school again, the teacher said that the boy I had been seeing had stopped bullying one of his previous targets. He had become a mentor instead. Of course, I had been working with him for probably two months before something clicked for him, but I still did a happy dance.
Now we’re working on trying not to beat up anyone else that’s bullying his new friend. One step at a time….

Television-Brain Connection

September 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

This week one of my interns was dealing with a small boy with behavior problems at school. Interviews revealed that he hadn’t been sleeping well. He told her he’s been having nightmares.
He’s six years old, and among other things, his parents let him watch “The Living Dead.”
Parents!! We have the ability to recognize that the story we are seeing on television or in movies is make believe. It’s all done with make-up, and no pain is involved. Children, on the other hand, do NOT have this ability. Even if we tell them it’s make believe, they do not have the ability to believe that dead people don’t walk around eating other people. No wonder he couldn’t sleep! Then he couldn’t learn in school, either
In fact, a couple of years ago, I worked with a TEEN who believed that everything he saw on TV was true. He suffered with terrible insomnia! His cognitive ability was lower than most kids his age, but still. I would have thought that he knew better. We can’t assume that our children are processing information in the same way we are.
Generations ago, the phrase, “You are what you eat” became popular. I would like to expand that idea to “You are what you watch, read, and listen to.”
Children absorb so much, and they have little or no filters. Personally, I don’t believe that material about dead people eating people is worthy of anyone’s attention, but at least adults can make their own decisions. Children voice their opinions, but that does not mean that they have the ability to weigh all of the parameters involved in opening up their brains to the presented material.
Parents have the responsibility of making sure children get healthy food, healthy programming, healthy everything as much as possible. I realize that fulfilling that responsibility is more difficult when you’re tired, and when the number of decisions you have to make for your child seems to climb into the hundreds in a single day. That’s one reason I also believe it takes two adults to raise a child. I encourage single parents to partner with each other for parenting support. It’s so tremendously difficult for one adult to take on the task by themselves!
But back to the topic at hand….. Some children can’t even distinguish between real characters and cartoon characters. They don’t believe real people are cartoons. They believe the cartoon characters are real. Their brains have a lot of developing yet to do!
For example, if you have a dog, you may be one of those families that say things like, “He thinks he’s human, just like us.” Dogs often seem to have a “personality,” but they don’t think they are human. They do not have the capability to perceive a living thing at a greater level of development or capacity than themselves. They think you are another dog.
They don’t understand “human.” They understand other animals, but since you are clearly their family, you are just funny-looking dogs.
Children process things through their own level of development as well. Please try to look at what you are letting your children watch on television, in video games, in movies, in books, in the music they listen to, with a critical eye. Is this going to give them nightmares? Is this teaching respect for themselves and others?

Watch for symptoms in children

September 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

This week has been filled with preparations for the upcoming school year. An intern I’m working with and I gave a presentation about symptoms of mental health problems to teachers for professional development. Children are not immune to emotional problems. We need to watch them for symptoms of things such as depression, anxiety, or inattention.
When we see symptoms in our children, it is wise to pay attention, but not panic right away. First of all, consider the obvious possible explanations of variations in behavior before turning to diagnoses such as depression or anxiety.
First check if the child has been sleeping well. That doesn’t mean that they go into the bedroom at the proper time, or even laid down in the bed with the light off. Many times when a parent brings a child to my office, the parent says the child sleeps enough. Then the child will admit that it takes him a long time to fall asleep, or many she wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. A lot of events can affect one’s ability to sleep, but if sleep is interrupted chronically, it’s best to take a closer look.
Both anxiety and depression can impact the quality of sleep. It’s a good idea to check with children in the morning. Ask them how they slept.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, insomnia was one of the long-term effects from the brain injury I had as a child. I didn’t see it as a problem. I would wake up at 4:00 in the morning, turn on the light, and read until it was time to get ready for school. Unfortunately, I shared a room with my older sister. She didn’t find it humorous when I kept turning on the light at 4:00 in the morning. I was moved to a bedroom in the basement where I couldn’t bother anyone.
Anyway, lack of sleep can be cumulative over time.
Another area that has become more and more important to me over the last three years or so is nutrition. Forgive me if I repeat myself, but it’s important to know that a lot of those chemicals we need to fight anxiety and depression are made in the gut, not just the brain. If the gut is not the correct environment, the neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine cannot be manufactured. Then we are depressed…or anxious.
I now recommend to all patients that come see me that they keep a food diary for at least a month. They then note when they have good days and bad. What works for one person might not work for another, but after reading three books on psychoneuroimmunology, (isn’t that a cool word!!??), I believe that most people would benefit from taking probiotics. Please note, however, that neurobiology is not my field of expertise. I’ll share more of what I learned in the future, though! It’s actually pretty interesting.
The reason I got into learning about the gut what that I had a patient that began exhibiting symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in her mid-thirties. Typically, Bipolar Disorder “rears its ugly head” in the early twenties. I always allow for exceptions, but because she suffered from depression that then morphed into mania, a doctor diagnosed her with Bipolar Disorder and prescribed medication for it.
I never like to contradict another professional, but having sudden-onset Bipolar Disorder at that time in her life would be unusual. I suggested tests for other explanations.
To make a long story at least a little shorter, it was discovered that she had Hashimoto’s disease—an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid. With her thyroid medications as well as NO gluten, her Bipolar symptoms are gone.
It took a while to figure out the gluten connection, and again, the same would not necessarily be the case for everyone. I am certainly NOT suggesting that actual Bipolar Disorder does not exist!! I am saying that in some people, symptoms that appear to be a mental health disorder might actually be something else.