Quick - What does a lemon taste like?

I know what a lemon tastes like. Tell me something else instead:

What just happened inside your mouth?

David Hoffeld asks another one: Want to know what your brain does when it hears a question?

His article from the website FastCompany.com explores the neurological consequences of hearing a question. Questions temporarily hijack the brain. Did you immediately think about lemons? First, serotonin is released, causing the brain to relax. Next you get a hit of dopamine. The question takes over your thought processes while you think about the answer. The technical term is instinctive elaboration.

The hijacking doesn't last forever. The person who was asked the question can choose to ignore it, can argue against it, can go off on a tangent - though for people with ADHD or bipolar disorder, a question that interrupts our train of thought may cause us to derail.

But Hoffeld cites a number of research studies that document when you ask somebody whether they are going to do something, you increase the probability that they will do it - buy a car, vote in an upcoming election, even donate blood.

Questions not only alter your perception. They can even alter your chemistry. Chances are, when you read the lemon question, you started to salivate.

Hoffeld is a business guy. He has a book, The Science of Selling. It uses neuroscience, social psychology, and behavioral economics to teach a more scientific approach to sales. That's his interest in instinctive elaboration, getting people to buy things or ideas.

Me, my interest in instinctive elaboration is more about mental health:

  • What are the questions I might ask that tell you I care and seek to understand?
  • What are the questions that shut you down?
  • What are the questions that help you sort through your thoughts and feelings?
  • What are the questions that could interrupt an anxious spiral?
  • Would the game of Trivial Pursuits help my family dance around the emotional landmines of somebody's upcoming surgery?

Questions work their magic by engaging the brain. A recent Twitter thread asks, Therapists, what's your favorite question to ask clients?

That's my favorite part of therapy, my therapist's opening gambit. It brings me into the room and puts me to work. It takes the muddle of my brain and begins the sorting process.

I am thinking of other applications, too. What questions could help with emotional regulation? Building trust? Priority setting and problem solving?

So, what's your favorite question?

photo of lemon by Ivar Leidus, used under creative commons license

Why Writing Bar Tales of Costa Rica is Good for my Mental Health


Mayo Clinic describes mindfulness as a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

For some of us, these meditation exercises, "close your eyes, focus on your breath..." are difficult, frustrating, and stress inducing. Particularly for people with a trauma history or ADHD, mindfulness can be a land mine.

For others, the whole enterprise sounds like woo-woo mental health. Add some essential oils and affirmations - who needs therapy or, God forbid, medication?

But there's more to mindfulness than nonsense.

The same Mayo Clinic article identifies several mindfulness practices. Three could be taken as basic concepts:

  • Pay attention
  • Live in the moment
  • Accept yourself

How does that work out irl - in real life?

Let me tell you about my recent five week stay in Costa Rica. First, the back story:

Prozac Monologues

My first book, Prozac Monologues, began with a hypomanic episode during an earlier trip to Costa Rica. I wrote a series of comedic monologues in an effort to not be mindful. The monologues danced around the memory of a recent Prozac-induced traumatic experience. It began with a bizarre thought, and moved on to some other weird stuff: dissociation, thought broadcasting, paranoia, and the like. 

Years later, once I was correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I added edgy essays about that experience and everything I learned about bipolar disorder while trying to figure out what the hell happened to my brain. Like many memoirs, Prozac Monologues is a hybrid of my story and my issue. Sheila Hamilton's podcast, Beyond Well, captures it. Here's the linkIt's also a great read and now available on audio.

Bar Tales of Costa Rica

So what about Bar Tales of Costa Rica? My second book is exactly what the title promises: the stories I heard while sitting in bars in Costa Rica. That sounds like a very different book. Am I a genre hopper?

Yes and no.


Bar Tales is about a milieu, a place and the people in it. It is not about mental illness. There are passing references to my own. But that's not the point. No references to research. No descriptions of recovery strategies. Stories heard in bars - it's a very different book.

Still, it is a sequel. It picks up where the monologues left off. In the first book, my wife Helen and I thought about moving to Costa Rica. Several months later, we did buy a little house in Playas del Coco. Didn't quite move there, but we spend several weeks there every year.

That's where I continued to work on Prozac Monologues. It's also where I gathered my bar tales, most of them at my sister's hotel and restaurant, the Pato Loco, which means "crazy duck." Other sites included El Bohío (referenced in the first book), Pacifico Beach Club, Coco Palms, and Soda Navidad.

You could call the second book a segue to the first. I turn a corner. That would be a right turn that leads me out of my neighborhood Los Canales, on to the Boulevard de Iguanas, and over to a whole new cast of characters: Patricia, Bruce, Andy, Sydney, Monique and André. Bar Tales is about their stories.

So why is this book good for my mental health?

As I am polishing these tales for publication in the spring of 2024, I spent several weeks in Coco for research. Research.

I wasn't sitting in bars, gathering tales - though inevitably a couple got added to the collection. This time I was gathering sensations. Physical sensations.

Trauma and Sensations

Sensations - these are at the heart of my mindfulness technique.

  • The person who has experienced trauma sometimes gets stuck in the past, reliving a loop of troublesome sensations. And let me tell you - being suicidal, as I was, is traumatic.
  • Or, in the face of current strife and stress, that person might dissociate - disconnect from present anxiety by going numb.
  • Or, based on deeply rooted thought patterns about bad things that happened in the past, the person faces the future with dread, anticipating - and pre-experiencing - a repeat of negative experiences.

Each of these are ways that we lose or escape the here and now. I think of here and now as my worst subject.

The thing is - here and now is where joy lives.

Let me repeat that.

Here and now is where joy lives.

So my research, gathering sensations, experiences in the present, kept me anchored in here and now.

And it filled me with joy.

What color are the rooster's feathers? - bronze head and breast, black legs, wings of teal and red.

What sound do the geckos make? - chk, chk, chk. How about the howler monkey? muffler dragging on concrete!

What do mangoes smell like when they are sitting in the field near my house in the hot sun? - like a fortified sweet wine.

What does carne en salsa taste like? Beef stewed in a rich vegetable sauce with hints of smoke when Juan cooks it all day in an iron pot over a wood fire under the mango tree.

What does it feel like to walk in the surf? Caressing waves, then grit in my sandals.

I walked around town with my phone in my hand, making voice memos, describing these sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations. My mind fixed on the present, there was no room there for regrets about the past or anxiety about the future.

Health Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindful meditation has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety, depression, stress, pain, insomnia, and high blood pressure.

There are many ways to do mindfulness. A review of literature published in Clinical Psychology Review, Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health, summarizes the context of mindfulness practice in its Eastern and Western versions and its application in a variety of psychological treatments.

What I offer here is one simplified self-help practice for addressing panic and anxiety, a disciplined version of what I called my research:

Focus on your environment.

  • Name five things that you see right now
  • Name four sounds that you hear
  • Name three things that you feel
  • Name two things that you smell
  • Name one thing that you taste
Yeah, don't get hung up on remembering whether it's three feelings or three smells. I don't remember the order of the sensations and made it up.

The point is to redirect the catastrophizing brain, to pull it into the here and now. Remember - here and now is where joy lives.

This practice isn't the cure all to my mental health issues. And I doubt it will cure yours. But it gives our poor brains, exhausted by the three alarm fires that usually occupy them, a break. It turns down the temperature and lets a different input in.

And that's a good thing.

Why Get Diagnosed with ADHD - And Introducing Jesse Anderson

Am I the oldest new member of the ADHD club? At age sixty-nine, why bother with a diagnosis and treatment?

That was the attitude of my new and now former primary care provider. She said that the prefrontal cortex develops out of ADHD in adulthood, or that people learn workarounds for its difficulties.

She didn't ask about my prefrontal cortex, or whether I had found workarounds. She thought I should just not worry about what I can't do.

As I said, former care provider.

But back to that question - why bother?

Two reasons:

Treatment for ADHD works

Sure, over those many years I developed some workarounds, ways of coping with the challenges of my neurologically divergent (ND) brain.

But they weren't alway sufficient. There were key times in my life when I failed to reach my goals because I couldn't get started, because I couldn't keep going, because I couldn't maintain concentration, because I couldn't remember, because I couldn't turn down the emotional interference that I experienced as a consequence of all the other symptoms. SHAME! Loads of SHAME!

My workarounds got me a certificate in congregational development. But I am not the Rev. DOCTOR Willa Goodfellow, because - I couldn't.

And yet today, I still have more I want to do, big things for which my workarounds have not been sufficient in the past and are not now.

But that pill, that tiny pill, that fraction of a pill after I cut it with my pill splitter, because for me it never takes much. . .

It was like the window opened, the sky was clear, I sat down, like I am right this very minute. . .

And I worked.

That's all. I didn't speed. I didn't stay up late. I didn't go down to the schoolhouse to score some more tabs off a sixth grader.

I simply worked. My brain was clear and in gear. And I got the job done.

There are things I want to do, books I want to write and promote, podcasts on which I want to be a guest, deadlines I want to meet. And one little fraction of a pill has opened the window for me.

Treatment works.

Community for people with ADHD helps

That's the second reason to get diagnosed, community. Just like any other challenging condition, the people who have it can help each other. Breast cancer, kidney cancer, Parkinson's, depression, bipolar, alcoholism, arthritis, eating disorders - whatever you've got, hanging out with others who have it too is huge. Community offers support, reassurance, information, and resources.

Once I knew I had ADHD I no longer felt like I was keeping a shameful secret - my failure to do what everybody else on the planet could do and what I expected myself to do.

And then I discovered others.

Twitter is a godsend for all things diverse, including neurologically diverse. It's where you find the people like you. Because there are people like you.

So if you have or wonder if you have ADHD, head for the bird app. This link will take you to the posts that people have tagged with #ADHD. That's a start.

Jesse Anderson

And this link will take you to Jesse Anderson on Twitter.

Jesse has a newsletter filled with ideas and strategies to help people with ADHD manage our time, energy, and motivation - those workarounds that we all supposedly discover on our own by the time we are sixty-nine. We don't all have to reinvent the wheel by ourselves!

Jesse has a podcast called ADHD Nerds that's just getting started. Personally, I am glad that they come in at around thirty minutes. Because who has the attention span for those ninety minute podcasts? - Not somebody with ADHD! Four episodes so far. I hope he finds it interesting enough to keep it going, because I find it interesting enough to keep listening.

And he's writing a book, Refocus: A Practical Guide to Adult ADHD. Not out yet. When it is, I'll drop a review. But get this - he is inviting input about what should be included. So go to that website; see what's already in the table of contents; send him your own thoughts.

So yeah, folks, even if I am the oldest kid in class, I am glad to have gotten here. I really like the consequences - being able to get stuff done, stuff that matters to me.

And finding my peeps. You rock!

photo of old lady and last meme from memes.com

photo of window to the sky, taken in the Dingle_Peninsula,_Co._Kerry,_Ireland by Maoileann, used under creative commons license

photo of handshake by shark, used under GNU license

How Do You Keep Your Eye on the Ball - Maintaining Attention with ADHD

First step: Get started.

That was the topic of my last blogpost, dealing with the activation aspect of ADHD.

Following my own advice, just now I did two quick little internet tasks and crossed them off my list. Got a dopamine hit off that, like taking one bite of a piece of pie. So now I have a long task in front of me, writing my next blogpost on attention.

Oops, damn. Just took a break to eat a banana. And then I started a timer on one of my games. And now I'm remembering it's a friend's birthday and I haven't sent a card yet.


NO! I will get back to the blogpost. Ugh. Even with a med on board, this is hard.

So. How do I keep working when my friend really deserves a birthday card and I really want to send it?

Here are my tricks:

How Do You Get Going? Working with ADHD

Screens for ADHD measure five clusters of symptoms: 

  • organizing and activation for work
  • sustaining attention and concentration
  • sustaining energy and effort
  • managing affective interference (emotions that get in the way)
  • utilizing working memory and accessing recall.
The DSM checklist assumes that ADHD is a diagnosis for children. If you didn't have it as a child, you don't have it now.

Well, okay. I am not qualified to quibble with the American Psychiatric Association about how many angels dance on the head of a pin and when they showed up for the dance. But the problem of diagnosis is this: I can't remember which of their criteria I demonstrated in my childhood. And my mother certainly never noticed any struggles that her brilliant and perfect daughter may have experienced in the early 1960s. I mean, she didn't even notice suicidal depression...

So what do I make of that DSM assumption?

CHADD - Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder has this to say about diagnosing adults:

There's That Squirrel Again! How Do I Know if I Have ADHD?

There is a reason why I haven't posted in months. My latest diagnosis -- ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome -- the adult version.

I have a fistful of posts in my draft file that were never finished before they seemed beside the point. That is not an unusual state for me. Many years ago my brilliant brain was unable to write the doctoral thesis for which I had already conducted extensive field research and had a thorough outline. Periodically I would write whole chapters in my head. But when the laptop was in front of me...


I was stuck.

We'll see how this post goes.


Wait a minute. Don't I have bipolar disorder? Where did this new diagnosis come from? What are the chances a person could have both?

My Holiday Wish for Us All - Trip the Light

In my darkest bleak midwinter, I find the following. And I believe again. I do believe we can get back to this. And if the video were made again, with everybody in masks, it would not detract from the joy. It really wouldn't.

PS - While you are watching, dance!

If all the days that come to pass
Are behind these walls
I'll be left at the end of things
In a world kept small


Travel far from what I know
I'll be swept away
I need to know
I can be lost and not afraid


We're gonna trip the light
We're gonna break the night
And we'll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

Remember we're lost together
Remember we're the same
We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts
We hold the flame

We're gonna trip the light
We're gonna break the night
And we'll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

I'll find my way home
On the Western wind
To a place that was once my world
Back from where I've been

And in the morning light I'll remember
As the sun will rise
We are all the glowing embers
Of a distant fire

Come on and trip the light
We're gonna break the night
And we'll see with new eyes
When we trip the light

Music: Garry Schyman©
Lyrics: Alicia Lemke and Matt Harding©

Source LYBIO.net

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