You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2007.

Study: Antioxidant Vitamins May Increase Health Risks.

According to the results of a new study, antioxidant vitamin supplements taken by people to promote their health may actually shorten their life. The findings were based on a review of dozens of studies on the health effects of vitamin supplements.

Funny isn’t it? It seems that nothing is healthy anymore.

It seems that anxiety disorders have really been making it into the news lately. At the forefront of the discussion is, of course, the Iraq War and PTSD, but that’s not all it’s limited to. On today’s Diane Rehm show (NPR/WAMU) the second half of the show featured Allen Shawn, author of Wish I Could Be There: Notes From a Phobic Life.

The interview was interesting, although I found myself disagreeing with Shawn on a few things. For example, he places a large amount of faith into Freud. If I understood him correctly, Shawn claims to have an Oedipus complex. Whatever. I can’t say that I’ve ever really found Freud to be enlightening, although some of his theories were unique and a different way of thinking about psychology. Much of Freud’s theories, however, have little conclusive evidence to back them up. In fact, take a gander at this recent Washington Post article: “Was Repressed Memory a 19th Century Creation?”

On the other hand, during the interview, Mr. Shawn spoke a lot about the biological origins of fear and phobias, and I think this discussion is important because many people often forget that fear serves a very important function: it keeps you alive. It only becomes a problem when the fear mechanism is triggered unnecessarily and for extended periods of time.

Anyway, the interview’s worth a listen if you’re interesting. Follow this link and then click on “Real Audio” or “Windows Media Player” to the right of the 11 o’clock segment.

I usually try to stay calm. Not just to deal with the terrible effects of anxiety but also because being angry or annoyed feels good in the short run but, in the long run, it makes life really difficult, especially if you have little control over the circumstances causes your pain. But sometimes, oh sometimes, I just like to get pissed off. So here it is, my constructive way of managing anger. This is a list of things that annoy the shit out of me.

Traffic.

Not too long ago a woman on I-270 decided that I wasn’t keeping up with the stalled traffic, so she laid on her horn. No, I don’t mean she just honked. She held it down for a good ten seconds and then continued to do so. You see, when traffic moves 5 feet, only the morons slam the gas and then immediately slam the brake again. Me? No, that just wastes gas and is hard on my brakes. So I roll up up to the stopped car in front of me. She thought I wasn’t moving fast enough, nevermind the thousands of cars that blocked my path from moving. So, instead of flicking her off or screaming, I just waited for the traffic to move another few feet and I remained still, hoping she’d go around me. Eventually, she nearly killed someone in the lane to the left of me just to get around me, and then I slowly rolled up to her, smiled, and gave her a thumb’s up.

Stupid people.

How you define “stupid?” Well, for me, it’s anyone who is so egocentric that they allow themselves to think that others are just inhabitants of the fantasy world they’ve created for themselves. Stupid people are the ones who are constantly impatient with others, who judge first and ask questions later, who constantly seek social status and define their own happiness by what they own. These people never think about the big picture. They don’t care about the plights of the less-advantaged. They care little for animals (including pets), the environment, history, or other cultures. Their idea of success is having more money than the other guy. Many stupid people hold positions of power because you gotta be an ass to constantly crush your opponents without regard to fairness or justice; in fact, you’ll find many of them in the Federal government.

Anti-Smoking Zealots

I’m a smoker and I try to be a considerate person, so I do my absolute best to make sure that you never have to smell or inhale any of the noxious fumes that I so crave. I’m a strong supporter of totally enclosed smoking sections and some public bans on smoking, but please please don’t give me your treatise on why I shouldn’t be smoking. I’ve heard it all before. I’ve seen the literature.

Bumper Stickers.

This quote from Dimitri Martin pretty much sums it up for me: “I don’t mind bumper stickers. To me a bumper sticker is a shortcut. It’s like a little sign that says ‘Hey, let’s never hang out.'”

Public Cell Phone Chatters

See “Stupid people.”

Television

With the exception of a few shows, television is officially dead to me. By the way, what happened to Saturday morning cartoons? They used to actually be entertaining, for both children and adults. Now they’re just… dumb.

R&B and Modern Rap

I love the old school stuff, but the modern stuff is crap. There’s no rhythm. Most songs can be summed up thus: “I want to have sex with you. I am rich. Look at my car. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”

Advertising.

I often think that my intelligence decreases the more I see advertising. Sure, some level of advertising is helpful, but I now feel like my entire existence is to be a target for advertising. By the way, you can reclaim your Internet browsing experience by using Firefox’s Adblock Plus plug-in. Install this baby and you’ll never see an internet ad again. It’s free, and if you’re not using Firefox… well… you should be.

Phew. That feels better.

I’ve always been fascinated by the placebo effect, especially after an experience I had when I was in the Army. As a joke, a few of us decided to buy some non-alcoholic beer and place it into real beer bottles. We then decided to spend the day playing volleyball. After about an hour or two, most people were complaining that the beer was weak (and a few immediately knew what it was and we had to let them in on the secret so they didn’t bust us), but there were a few who truly seemed drunk. No one ever got the point where they were physically sick or stumbling, but the effect was definitely obvious. It was good for a laugh, and once we announced the news, everyone was a little embarrassed, some were pissed off, and others just wanted to know where the real beer was.

Anyway, check this story out. The premise: Hotel maids who believe they are getting exercise are healthier than maids who don’t think of their toil as a workout. Even if there’s nothing practical here, this is certainly fascinating stuff.

Now if only I could convince myself that I love sitting in rush hour traffic.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about TeenScreen, a national mental health and suicide risk screening program that is being implemented in some schools. My post was in favor of the program, but reader “Concerned Mom” responded with a well-written rebuttal to my argument, and she called me out on a few of the points. So I’d like to share that comment with you:

————- Concerned Mom Wrote:

What would you think of a diabetes screening for children that had 84% false-positives? (Meaning that 84% of the people screened were falsely identified and didn’t really have the disease?)

Then, with absolutely no objective testing done to show that an actual physical illness existed, treatment was started.

It’s with this view that some parents are objecting to “mental health screening.” The screening “tools” have an 84% false-positive rate. A recent study from Rochester, NY said that this screening should be considered only investigational in nature. The developer of TeenScreen says that the false-positive rate can overwhelm a school with the number of students identified.

Another study shows that 9 out of 10 of the children who see a psychiatrist will come out of the office with a prescription for drugs that the FDA has decided need a “Black Box Warning” for suicidiality.

Screening for mental health is decidely different from scoliosis, hearing vision or diabetes screening, where actual, objective medical testing (x-rays, blood tests, lab work, etc) can be done to determine the existence of disease or problem.

Then there are the issues on school liability. With schools moving into the realm of what has traditionally been the parents job, what are their liabilities?

A lawsuit already exists where a school screened a child without the parents express, written permission. The child came home from school diagnosed with 2 mental disorders. Based on two of her answers, she was told that she was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. The OCD diagnosis arose because she answered “yes,” that she did find herself repeatedly doing something she had little or no control over, which according to her meant cleaning her room and doing her chores.

She was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder because she said she felt cut off from friends. She was given no opportunity to say why she felt this way which was because she wasn’t allowed to go out with her friends on school nights. Her parents explain that they don‘t believe children should be out on school nights and so they limit her social occasions to keep her out of trouble.

Also, since when does a screening for scoliosis or vision and hearing have to resort to offering the child “incentives” to bring back the permission form?

TeenScreen repeatedly uses movie and fast food coupons and lottery draws for mall gift certificates to entice the kids to bring back the consent forms from home. Several school have withheld report cards until the child has brought back the form. TeenScreen’s view on this? “Getting the kids to buy in is such an essential thing because for the most part, you’re distributing the consent forms to the kids to bring home to their parents and bring them back. So you have to get their buy in, you have to get them interested in it.”

TeenScreen’s PR company explains why this is important: “Marketing to young people has always been a sensitive topic. But as an audience of 40 million with annual buying power of $364 billion, teens and ‘tweens’ are important customers in the marketplace of products and ideas.”

Then of course, there is the matter of a 10 minute questionnaire being able to correctly identify a child with mental illness. A survey that asks questions such as:

(1) Have you often felt very nervous or uncomfortable when you have been with a group of children or young people – say, like in the lunchroom at school or at a party?

(2) Have you often felt very nervous when you’ve had to do things in front of people?

(3) Have you often worried alot before you were going to play a sport or game or do some other activity?

(4) Has there been a time when you had less energy then you usually do?

(5) Has there been a time when you felt you couldn’t do anything well or that you weren’t as good-looking or as smart as other people?

(6) Has there been a time when nothing was fun for you and you just weren’t interested in anything?

Experts say there is no evidence to support that TeenScreen does anything other than guarantee that a large number of children will end up on drugs. In May 2004, after an in-depth investigation, the United States Preventive Services Task Force issued a report with findings that said:

(1) There is no evidence that screening for suicide risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality; (2) There is limited evidence on the accuracy of screening tools to identify suicide risk; and (3) There is insufficient evidence that treatment of those at high risk reduces suicide attempts or mortality.

Two years later, on June 16, 2006, Ned Calonge, the chairman of the Task Force, and the chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, spoke to the Washington Post and said the same findings apply to screening today:

“The panel would reach the same conclusion today… Whether or not we like to admit it, there are no interventions that have no harms… There is weak evidence that screening can distinguish people who will commit suicide from those who will not… And screening inevitably leads to treating some people who do not need it. Such interventions have consequences beyond side effects from drugs or other treatments… Unnecessary care drives up the cost of insurance, causing some people to lose coverage altogether.”

Lastly, any scoliosis, vision, hearing or diabetes screening is not a secretive program. TeenScreen refuses to divulge where they are conducting the screenings, they do not allow parents to view the survey – citing proprietary privileges and copyright protection, and they do not divulge their funding or their sponsors – but their directors and their advisory board is rife with pharmaceutical connections.

So the idea that parents “oppose it solely because they’re uncomfortable with the idea of their children being diagnosed with something that may reflect poorly on” them is not even close to the issue.

There are ways to help our children but screening them for mental health is not one of them.

http://www.petitiononline.com/TScreen/petition.html

19,609 parents, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, social workers and nurses agree, Stop TeenScreen!

Dr. Weil has the low-down on L-theanine and whether or not it may be helpful for those of us living with chronic anxiety.

I’ve been meaning to post this Time article for a while. It covers a wide variety of topics but is centered around the “recent discoveries” that the human brain is amazingly adaptive. For example, changing the way you think literally alters your brain chemistry. The article also explores a few of the methods that people have successfully used to rewire their brains (including meditation) and it makes mention of anxiety disorders and depression. As time passes and the research continues to pile up, the “anxiety is a disease” camp grows ever smaller. Research has consistently shown that most forms of anxiety and depression can be effectively treated with a shotgun approach that includes cognitive therapy, medications, and meditation or other forms of “brain rewiring.” In other words, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you.

The whole “chemical imbalance” stuff is a misinterpretation of the data. It’s your anxiety that causes the imbalance, not the other way around. Your serotonin and noradrenaline problems are real and medication can treat them, but treating the imbalance by itself is only treating the symptons and not the causes of your anxiety and/or depression; therefore, such treatment is only part of the solution.

At the risk of going off on a tangent about my own personal bias for such approaches, I’ll just let you read the article and decide for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:

FOR DECADES, THE PREVAILING DOGMA IN neuroscience was that the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function, so that by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty much stuck with what we have. Yes, it can create (and lose) synapses, the connections between neurons that encode memories and learning. And it can suffer injury and degeneration. But this view held that if genes and development dictate that one cluster of neurons will process signals from the eye and another cluster will move the fingers of the right hand, then they’ll do that and nothing else until the day you die. There was good reason for lavishly illustrated brain books to show the function, size and location of the brain’s structures in permanent ink.

[…]

But research in the past few years has overthrown the dogma. In its place has come the realization that the adult brain retains impressive powers of “neuroplasticity”–the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience. These aren’t minor tweaks either. Something as basic as the function of the visual or auditory cortex can change as a result of a person’s experience of becoming deaf or blind at a young age. Even when the brain suffers a trauma late in life, it can rezone itself like a city in a frenzy of urban renewal. If a stroke knocks out, say, the neighborhood of motor cortex that moves the right arm, a new technique called constraint-induced movement therapy can coax next-door regions to take over the function of the damaged area. The brain can be rewired.

Don’t just sit there. Read this! This new way of thinking about the brain is already beginning to make waves among psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Your doctor is following this stuff and so should you.

Jungian Thoughts – Part 1

I was pretty much in the throes of Panic and Anxiety when I first heard about C. G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who was a young contemporary of Freud’s. I heard a talk in which the speaker mentioned “individuation” and the process of “becoming who you were uniquely intended to be” and how this process, though different for everyone, was the common ground of mankind. Well, I’m not sure of the exact words, but they struck a profound, deep bell in my soul – honestly, I had never heard someone talk like that.

After the talk, I asked what books he could recommend and thus began my journey. He gave me three names. Morton Kelsey, John Sanford and Linda S. Leonard. This was back in the days before amazon.com and so I went to bookstores. I found a book by each of them, and devoured them. Went to the bibliographies and found more books, more authors, more titles. For the next year I probably read over 180 books. This is an amazing feat if you know that I also had three children under 5 years old, and was having panic attacks almost daily.

The common themes in these books began to resonate within me. The first that I latched on to was the idea that I, personally, was here for a reason. Not some vague “here to be good” kind of reason, but that I represented a crucial thread in a tapestry and without me the world would be lacking. This language, of metaphor and rich imagery, drew me in and warmed me. It calmed me. I took deep breaths for the first time in years. I wasn’t just taking up space, I’m SUPPOSED to be here.

The second thing that I grabbed like a life-line is that the desires I had to be creative, and the images that sprang from my mind and heart, were parts of my healing. Painting, drawing and making art was not about getting hung on a wall in a museum, or scoring a huge gallery deal. It was about expressing something that without my voice (or choice of color, or line of pencil) would never be expressed. This changed how I thought: Thought about myself, and how I thought about others. For the first time in my life I felt connected to a deep voice in me that needed to get out! And so I painted. Sheets and sheets of paper, covered in colored pencil, acrylic paints and oil pastels. I drew and painted and tore paper, and made collages, and drew and painted some more.

(As a side note – my three daughters just LOVED this new me!! We lived in the play room with paint and paper and glitter. )

This was the beginning of a transformative era in my life that would forever change the way I lived. For three years I read books, created from my own imagination, and grew in an awareness of a rich and infinite inner wellspring that I would eventually refer to as God. But not in the beginning. It simply was my Soul. And that was enough.

I continued to do the things I had learned to do for panic and anxiety, but after this time period I never had a debilitating, paralyzing Panic Attack. There became, in me, a meeting place for inner and outer worlds that brought a sense of grounding, and on which I could depend. I became trustworthy to myself, and I was part of a much larger, grander and very interesting whole!

That was about 16 years ago. There have been many wonderful experiences with dreams, fairy tales, body work, analysis and I’ll share these in posts along the way. But for now, that was the starting point. And I am eternally grateful for that 30 minute talk on Individuation. As Robert Frost said in his immortal poem “And it has made all the difference.”

Lately it seems that I’ve been hearing a LOT of people in my life ask “why” questions. “Why do I have panic attacks?” “Why do they happen?” “Why don’t the meds work?” and even in non-Panic/Anxiety realms of my life I hear “Why don’t I have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” “Why didn’t I get that job?” “Why did that have to happen?”

I’m sympathetic to the problems of others. Compassionate even. I truly do care about the suffering of my fellow human beings, and I hope that my prayers and thoughts — and even my listening — will help them find some relief.

But lately I say – “Why ask why?” And what I mean is, in all my recovery, spiritual learning and best mindful living the ‘why’ questions just seem to lead me further into insanity and fear. Who could possibly answer my why question? Another human being? God? And as I’ve sought peace in my life, rather than a particular physical or material answer I’ve learned that there are far more valuable questions I can ask.

Such as: “How can I help?” or “What can I do now?” or even “Am I okay right this minute?” The longer I work on formulating a helpful question, the more I am beginning to see how VERY helpful it is. Maybe not for the person who wants to know why. But it seems to make all the difference for me.

My panic attacks are virtually gone. My anxiety level rarely gets above a 4 on a 10 point scale. I’m aware when things are getting dicey, and I ask “What can I do to help myself?” and I answer with one of the many tools at my disposal. I have questions that lead me back to healing processes. Experiences and choices that really work for me.

It is not out of indifference or lack of caring that I say “why ask why?” but out of a great hope that whoever is asking that question, may find a more helpful question … AND an answer.

One thing I’ve realized lately is just how powerful a thought can be. When you think about being in pain you project pain upon yourself. You start to feel pain. When you think about the fear of dying you begin to feal that fear. You begin to die. The thought process is the same. You are actually preparing for your impeading doom and the fear of death is realized fully and in reality.

So. You have to train yourself to let go. To move away from that reality and tell yourself that it is enough to face it when the time comes. When you actually are in pain or when you are actually facing death. It is enough to experience and live through it when it happens and there is no need to go through an imagined projection of the situation.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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