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Spiritual Practices for the Dark Night -- Giving Thanks

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions.  They tend to be such cliches.  Quit smoking.  Exercise.  Lose weight.  Well, if you are serious about losing weight, you gather information, you set goals, you plot a course, you prepare your house, you find a buddy (just like in AA), you plan each day, you think a lot and you practice.  It's worth doing, and I did.  The point of all of the above is to change the way you eat.  Permanently.  So I did all of the above and I feel great (at least about the way I eat).  I wish you all the success in the world.

Christians get a second shot at the diet thing in Lent, which begins sometime in the middle of February.  It doesn't fare any better than New Year's diets, because so few people want to change their life.  They want a quick fix for that swimming suit or class reunion.  That's why Lent.  It's time limited, forty days, with Sundays not counting.  Sundays are free days, for all the bad habits you resume once Lent is …

OMGThat'sWhatTheySaid! -- Stigma

On November 26th, the New York Times published an article about the presidential policy not to write letters of condolence to the families of service men and women who commit suicide in a war zone.  These letters of condolence have gone out since Abraham Lincoln started writing them during the Civil War.  Given the upswing of suicides in the Armed Services lately and the attendant publicity, this policy of silence, which began in the Clinton era, is coming under scrutiny and challenge.
In response to this article, psychiatrist Dr. Paul Steinberg wrote an Op-Ed commentary titled "Obama's Condolence Problem," winning him this month's OMG Award for -- oh, it's hard to choose.  There are so many prize-worthy lines.  But let's call it for: Indeed, there is nothing wrong with stigmatizing suicide while doing everything possible to de-stigmatize the help soldiers need in dealing with post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. I will deconstruct this sentence afte…
In the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air,
But His mother only in her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part, –
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.

poem by Christina Rossetti. 1872
painting by Ivan Shishkin, 1890

Prozac Monologues at the Movies

Oh, boy!  Butter up the popcorn, slip in a dvd, relax.  This is one very safe and friendly way to spend time with people during the holiday season, and my final installment of this year's Prozac Monologues holiday survival series.  I want my doc and everybody else to notice the implication, that I will survive to do another series next year.
Well chosen movies can fill time, avoid awkward conversation, provide common ground and keep you in the present, always a good thing for the mentally interesting.  Here are my selection criteria for holiday diversion movie viewing:
Movies For Fun

Don't You Love the Holidays!

Ah, the holidays!  Time when far flung family members travel home and grow close around the Christmas tree.  Time to renew friendships in a round of parties and frivolity.  Time to go crazy?

There are stresses this time of year.  Routines are disrupted, people stay in crowded quarters, those who have reason to avoid each other are thrown together, negotiations between exes require professional mediation, alcohol is consumed in greater quantities, expectations for love and good cheer are bound for disappointment.  Loonies and normals alike need to tend to their mental health.

So Prozac Monologues contines your handy holiday guide, with an assist from NAMI's Peer to Peer class and the University of Iowa Adult Behavioral Health department, covering the basics, planning ahead, mindfulness and quick getaways.

The Basics:  Keep to your routine as much as possible.  If you can't eat like you do at home, get at least one nutritious meal every day.  If your family of origin was a little w…

Unintended Consequences.

A few posts ago, John McManamy and I began a conversation about brain surgery to treat mental illness.  You can follow that thread at his blog.  The link will take you to November.  The comments under Me, Captain Ahab and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex are that conversation.  


It seems that brain surgery for mental illness is the topic of the season.  Yesterday the New York Times published the story of Henry Molaison, who had surgery in 1953 to remove part of the medial temporal lobe, including most of his hippocampus.  1953 was four years after António Egas Moniz received the Nobel Prize for his lobotomy procedure, targeting the frontal lobes, and fourteen years after Moniz retired, when he was paralyzed by a former patient who shot him in the back.

The intented result of the surgery in 1953 was to relieve Mr. Molaison's seizures, which he had since childhood and were getting worse, so much so that at the age of 26, he consented to this experimental surgery.  And the surgery was in …

News Flash -- Unintended Consequences

If it's still Friday and if you pay attention to science or technology or the brain, or if you think that live feeds are cool, then zip on over to the lab at UC San Diego RIGHT NOW where scientists are peeling 2500 slices off of a man who was brain damaged 57 years ago, during an experimental surgery to relieve his seizures.  Ever after, his short term memory was good for 15 minutes at a time.  He donated his brain to science, and this is what they are doing with it, to study memory.

I have to get cookie dough made, and will fill out this story later.  But they might finish the live feed today.  So watch it now, and read the story later.

Holiday Shopping for Your Favorite Normal

A friend once described what it was like to have cancer.  Like having a paper bag over your head, you can't see anything outside the bag.  It's all about you and your cancer.

Mental illness can be like that.  Try it for yourself.  Put a bag over your head.  Make sure it's not plastic!  Our issues can be all consuming, our fears, our doubts, our grief, our hysteria, our voices...  We lose track of the world outside our paper bag.

But outside that bag are friends, family, allies.  There are more of them, and they are truer to us than we can imagine when inside that paper bag.  The bag, our absorption in our own concerns, makes certain life skills difficult.

Like holiday shopping.

Thanksgiving and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Did anybody decompensate at your Thanksgiving Day feast, when there were no pearl onions in cream sauce, notwithstanding the fact that nobody has ever eaten a single pearl onion in cream sauce, since Great grandma Libby died forty-five years ago?

Was it you?

I think I figured it out.  Unfortunately, this flash of brilliance came to me yesterday morning, in my hypomanic surge that prepared me for my speed pie-making.  Not in time for you to prevent the scene by preparing said onions.

Somebody's anterior cingulate cortex blew a fuse.

Of course, I don't know for sure.  It is one more hypothesis that I would like to test in that Million Dollar fMRI machine that I am not getting for Christmas.  But here is the hypothesis:

The bad economy, the fear-mongering health care debate, the single-payer stillbirth, the war in Afghanistan, global warning -- your anterior cinculate cortex (ACC) is doing all that it can to calm your amygdala.  That is one of its jobs, partnered with the prefrontal c…

Holiday Shopping for Your Favorite Loony

The Day after Thanksgiving, traditional start of the Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa shopping season is just around the corner.  You Hanukkah people better start cracking!  It is Prozac Monologue's attempt to be ever helpful to my dear readers. As my therapist says, " Virgo -- your destiny is service.  Get used to it." (I have a therapist who says stuff like that. The following is a holiday shopping list to guide normals who want to please their loony loved ones.

OMGThat'sWhatTheySaid! -- Language

The following post contains material that could be considered uppity, outlaw, provocative, offensive and paranoid.

This month's OMGThat'sWhatTheySaid Award considers the nature of the vocabulary that we all use for mental illness, in particular, the language that norms the relationship between those who receive a diagnosis and those who make it.

Once upon a time, I wrote a senior thesis for Reed College on this topic.  I was a religion major, and it was 1975, when the Episcopal Church was considering the ordination of women.  My topic was what priests are called.  My thesis was that the language we use establishes the normative relationship between priest and parishioner.  I am discouraged thirty-four years later, that new, freshly graduated priests in Iowa still permit and even encourage little old ladies to call these twenty-somethings "Father."  Oh well.

In the mental health field, this kind of paternalism is out of favor, perhaps the influence of so many women in th…

Nonsense and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex

John McNamany put the thought into my head, the New York Times tickled my fancy and a blog new to me gave me the illustration.

Finally, it's Anterior Cingulate Cortex Week!  This lovely portion of the brain is found in the limbic system, located just above the center, about where Iowa would be, if you flipped the image so that it faced right, as I did here.  Like a true Midwesterner, the ACC modulates emotional response.  A hard-working manager, the ACC handles motivation to solve problems and anticipation of tasks and rewards.  It also monitors for conflict, things that don't make sense.  The brain is unhappy when it cannot detect the pattern.  Confronted with anomaly, the ACC goes to work.

"Researchers have long known that people cling to personal biases when confronted with death... In a series of new papers, Dr. Travis Proulx of University of California Santa Barbara and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these…

Weighing the Risks and Benefits - Will My Life Be Better?

"You have to weigh the risks and benefits."  That is what the doctor says.  It's your body, your decision, your responsibility.

But how do you weigh them?  There is that list of side effects.  They sound pretty scary, but the doctor assures you they are usually manageable.  Then there is the potential benefit of feeling better.  Well, that would be the gold ring, now wouldn't it?  Being able to get back to your family, your job, your life?

It's not a hard sell.  Reach out your hand and the pharmaceutical company will place in it that most precious of all commodities, hope.

Perverse little smarty pants that I am, after my hopes had been dashed six times, I started to read.  For four years I read journal articles about clinical studies.  The basic format begins with a measurement of depressive symptoms, usually the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, HAMD, depressed mood, suicidal ideation, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, etc.  You get points for severity.  Unlike …

Taking a Break

Into the life of every over-medicated lab rat, a little downtime must fall.  Prozac Monologues is taking a bit of a break, with apologies to regular readers.  I hope to tinker with the sidebars to add some resources, while not being able to maintain my own writing standards.

Meanwhile, let me once more recommend Knowledge is Necessity for information about the Pharma/Medico/Therapeutic Industrial Complex, and occasional good clean fun.

Photo credit: Copyleft Attitude http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/

To our Families

To that end, I am going to live with this disease the way Don lived with his. Openly -- I have a mental illness. Actively -- I will answer ignorance with education. Politically-- I will meet discrimination with change. And in community -- I will support and be supported by others who share this illness with me, so that we can survive it together.

I did get to say those words on Sunday night.  

This morning I made a list of all the things you would be reading about at prozacmonologues if only I were able to read more than three paragraphs at a time.  I am tempted to feel badly, especially for all my older readers, who come here expecting to find out about the relationship between nonsense and the anterior cingulate cortex, or Wyeth's research techniques in its effort to get Abilify approved for augmentation in the treatment of major depressive disorder, or "Akathisia: Stop it or Die," or my discourse on the concept of a failed suicide attempt.

But down, damn ant! [automatic …

Hello, my name is Willa, and I have a mental illness

I try to post more often.  The last week has been spent in a story so stereotypical that those readers who have or have tried to get disability benefits will find it banal.  And until it has an ending, I can't tell it in Prozac Monologue mode: reflections and research on the mind, the brain, depression and society. I am not reflecting yet.
So I tempt fate with the following.  Si Dios quiere, God willing -- I will say the following at the opening of Mental Illness Awareness Week Sunday, October 4, 6:30 PM, at the Anne Cleary Walkway, University of Iowa Campus, Iowa City, Iowa, a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died from mental illness and to support those who hope to survive it.

Hello, my name is Willa and I have a mental illness.

Hello, I am the Reverend Willa Marie Goodfellow, an ordained minister, an Episcopal priest who has served congregations, campus ministries, and diocesan staff in Iowa for 27 years. And I have a mental illness.

I have major depressive disorder. …

Loss

John McManamy has been on a theological kick.  So I thought I'd take a turn, it being my profession anyway.

The relationship between GoD and DoG is one of those enduring theological themes.  Here is one contribution to the discussion:



This dog reminds me a bit of my own, named Mazie -- Amazing Grace.  Except there are too many stars in the lower right corner of the constellation, a leg that she lost a long time ago.  Move those stars up to form her crown chakra.  For twelve of her thirteen years, people have watched her run and said, "That's Amazing!" -- the inspiration for her name.

Mazie is a therapy dog.  Not officially, she never received the training.  Now she has renal failure and it's too late.  But everywhere she goes, she finds the person who needs her.  When I took her to visit the shelter for victims of the Iowa floods in '08, she stopped to visit with each one.  After an hour, I was depressed and weary -- the start of my latest relapse.  I thought…

Alive!

Cut the top ten and go straight to the number one reason why Willa Goodfellow should never get herself committed to the psych ward:


I suck at arts and crafts.

I didn't used to.  I used to produce Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses that made adults and children alike respond, "Oh! My! God!" -- though not the way this cake does.  I used to make big gingerbread houses.  No kits. and no showing off with royal icing and special decorating tips (which might have improved this cake, if I had been able to find them).  I used Golden Grahams for shingles, individually placed sprinkles on the door wreaths, graham bears ice skating in the yard, pretzels for fences.  I made Dr. Seuss-like trees out of marshmallows and gummy savers, M&M's for roofing material, or maybe candy-canes for the Swiss chalet touch -- those were a bitch to hold in place until the frosting glue dried.  Once I used peanuts to construct a fire chimney.  All color coordinated.  I must have made thi…

To Survive

To all of us who are surviving treatment resistant depression.



I’m coming up only to hold you under
I’m coming up only to show you wrong
And to know you is hard and we wonder
To know you all wrong we were
Ooo Ooo

Really too late to call so we wait for
Morning to wake you is all we got
To know me as hardly golden
Is to know me all wrong they were

At every occasion I'll be ready for the funeral
At every occasion once more is called the funeral
Every occasion I am ready for the funeral
At every occasion one brilliant day funeral

I'm coming up only to show you down for it
I'm coming up only to show you wrong
To the outside, the dead leaves, they are alive
For'e (before) they died had trees to hang their hope
Ooo Ooo

At every occasion I'll be ready for the funeral
At every occasion once more is called the funeral
At every occasion I am ready for the funeral
At every occasion one brilliant day funeral

by Band of Horses

Ten Plagues

I dreamed about ants this morning.  Little black ants, covering every surface.  Gnats, too -- so thick I had to breathe them.  There was some kind of family gathering going on, pretty much oblivious to the ants and the gnats.

I woke up and thought -- the ten plagues.  [See Exodus, the second book in the Bible.  The Prince of Egypt was based on it.]  Then I remembered, last month in Costa Rica I woke up one morning from a dream and thought -- the ten plagues.  I don't remember which plague that one was.  Frogs?  Blood?  It wasn't the deaths of the first-born.  I would remember that, being one myself.

I get these dream series every so often.  For a couple years before I went back to school, I dreamed about vehicles that broke down.  The tire went flat, the axle broke, the runner fell off the sled... The first couple years of my current episode, I dreamed of a young man.  I thought his name was Steve.  I thought he was my depression, though he didn't like it when I called him t…

Suicide Prevention Cake

Okay, I know.  It's supposed to read Suicide Prevention Week.  I had a post all written, an attempt at a thoughtful response to an exerpt from Nancy Rappaport's book, In Her Wake: A Child Psychologist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide.  I found it on Knowledge is Necessity, one of my favorite blogs to follow.

But before I ever heard about Suicide Prevention Week, I gave the topic a whole month just last June.  And I do recommend that you look at those posts, especially the ones that refer to David L. Conroy, "Suicide is not a choice.  It happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain."  Those two sentences open his book, Out from the Nightmare, help to make sense of a topic that people would rather hold at a distance, and give a simple program for suicide prevention.  Reduce pain and/or increase resources.

So after I did my best at one more profundity, I thought again, really, how should one mark Suicide Prevention Week?  It occurred to me, wh…

Costa Rica and Depression

This is my breakfast view on the left.  It is called patita, a vine on the edge of my porch.  I planted the seeds myself.  A stranger gave them to me when I admired it in his yard.




If I look to the right, I see "bird of paradise," outside my neighbor's door.
Some friends invited us for drinks and this view at sunset.  Why the hell would anybody be depressed in Costa Rica?

I prepare my answer for friends back in Iowa.  Most of my friends already know the answer, or else are too discrete to ask.  I really just ask myself.  Why the hell am I depressed in Costa Rica.

Five years into studying this disease, it still baffles me.  I know the answer, too, and yet it baffles me.  There are psychiatrists in Costa Rica.  There are psych wards in Costa Rica.  I have seen the boxes of Effexor on the shelf of the pharmacy where I go to buy contact lens solution.  There is even Electro-Convulsive Therapy in Costa Rica.  I have read the brochure.

So there must be depression in Costa Rica.  I a…