Monday, October 26, 2009



"I'm only a dolphin ma'am"

"A dolphin? Well ok.."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dogs are awesome!

According to CNN dogs can help kids learn to read. Who knew?

In doggie news, this Sunday is our doggie Halloween parade at a nursing home. Barkley has his shark(ley) costume and we've been having him try it on and then giving him lots of treats. He seems to be ok with it. Hopefully we'll get a few pictures to post. :)

Also in doggie news on Monday B came back from the dog park with a stray black lab he had found wandering in the middle of the street. We took him to the SPCA so he can hopefully get cleaned up and adopted out (I mean really, would they euthanize a purebred black lab that only needs a bath and some flea medicine to be adoptable? I keep telling myself no, but I'm not sure). Man I wish we could have kept him...I love giant dogs, and black labs are totally my favorite. But there's no way we could have him in our tiny apartment right now, especially with Barkley and our other 3 kitties. Speaking of which- our kitties all get along fine with Barkley now, but they were NOT happy at all when the black lab came in for a few minute before we took him to the SPCA. So it seems if ever get another dog we will get to go through the whole fun 6 month adjustment period again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When parents are too toxic to tolerate

When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate

Published: October 19, 2009

You can divorce an abusive spouse. You can call it quits if your lover mistreats you. But what can you do if the source of your misery is your own parent?

Granted, no parent is perfect. And whining about parental failure, real or not, is practically an American pastime that keeps the therapeutic community dutifully employed.

But just as there are ordinary good-enough parents who mysteriously produce a difficult child, there are some decent people who have the misfortune of having a truly toxic parent.

A patient of mine, a lovely woman in her 60s whom I treated for depression, recently asked my advice about how to deal with her aging mother.

“She’s always been extremely abusive of me and my siblings,” she said, as I recall. “Once, on my birthday, she left me a message wishing that I get a disease. Can you believe it?”

Over the years, she had tried to have a relationship with her mother, but the encounters were always painful and upsetting; her mother remained harshly critical and demeaning.

Whether her mother was mentally ill, just plain mean or both was unclear, but there was no question that my patient had decided long ago that the only way to deal with her mother was to avoid her at all costs.

Now that her mother was approaching death, she was torn about yet another effort at reconciliation. “I feel I should try,” my patient told me, “but I know she’ll be awful to me.”

Should she visit and perhaps forgive her mother, or protect herself and live with a sense of guilt, however unjustified? Tough call, and clearly not mine to make.

But it did make me wonder about how therapists deal with adult patients who have toxic parents.

The topic gets little, if any, attention in standard textbooks or in the psychiatric literature, perhaps reflecting the common and mistaken notion that adults, unlike children and the elderly, are not vulnerable to such emotional abuse.

All too often, I think, therapists have a bias to salvage relationships, even those that might be harmful to a patient. Instead, it is crucial to be open-minded and to consider whether maintaining the relationship is really healthy and desirable.

Likewise, the assumption that parents are predisposed to love their children unconditionally and protect them from harm is not universally true. I remember one patient, a man in his mid-20s, who came to me for depression and rock-bottom self-esteem.

It didn’t take long to find out why. He had recently come out as gay to his devoutly religious parents, who responded by disowning him. It gets worse: at a subsequent family dinner, his father took him aside and told him it would have been better if he, rather than his younger brother, had died in a car accident several years earlier.

Though terribly hurt and angry, this young man still hoped he could get his parents to accept his sexuality and asked me to meet with the three of them.

The session did not go well. The parents insisted that his “lifestyle” was a grave sin, incompatible with their deeply held religious beliefs. When I tried to explain that the scientific consensus was that he had no more choice about his sexual orientation than the color of his eyes, they were unmoved. They simply could not accept him as he was.

I was stunned by their implacable hostility and convinced that they were a psychological menace to my patient. As such, I had to do something I have never contemplated before in treatment.

At the next session I suggested that for his psychological well-being he might consider, at least for now, forgoing a relationship with his parents.

I felt this was a drastic measure, akin to amputating a gangrenous limb to save a patient’s life. My patient could not escape all the negative feelings and thoughts about himself that he had internalized from his parents. But at least I could protect him from even more psychological harm.

Easier said than done. He accepted my suggestion with sad resignation, though he did make a few efforts to contact them over the next year. They never responded.

Of course, relationships are rarely all good or bad; even the most abusive parents can sometimes be loving, which is why severing a bond should be a tough, and rare, decision.

Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, a trauma expert who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said she tried to empower patients to take action to protect themselves without giving direct advice.

“Sometimes we consider a paradoxical intervention and say to a patient, ‘I really admire your loyalty to your parents — even at the expense of failing to protect yourself in any way from harm,’ ” Dr. Herman told me in an interview.

The hope is that patients come to see the psychological cost of a harmful relationship and act to change it.

Eventually, my patient made a full recovery from his depression and started dating, though his parents’ absence in his life was never far from his thoughts.

No wonder. Research on early attachment, both in humans and in nonhuman primates, shows that we are hard-wired for bonding — even to those who aren’t very nice to us.

We also know that although prolonged childhood trauma can be toxic to the brain, adults retain the ability later in life to rewire their brains by new experience, including therapy and psychotropic medication.

For example, prolonged stress can kill cells in the hippocampus, a brain area critical for memory. The good news is that adults are able to grow new neurons in this area in the course of normal development. Also, antidepressants encourage the development of new cells in the hippocampus.

It is no stretch, then, to say that having a toxic parent may be harmful to a child’s brain, let alone his feelings. But that damage need not be written in stone.

Of course, we cannot undo history with therapy. But we can help mend brains and minds by removing or reducing stress.

Sometimes, as drastic as it sounds, that means letting go of a toxic parent.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College

When people find out I no longer talk to my mother they make faces like it’s a really sad thing, and some of my friends occasionally ask if I have ‘made up’ with her yet. But I have no plans to resume contact with her. I don’t think I would have been able to cut her off if she hadn’t cut me off first. But our relationship was never great, ever since I told my parents at age 17 that I was no longer religious- and every time I talked to her I felt like she was trying to shame me. By cutting me off first I feel as if she actually did me a favor.

After this experience I feel a certain kinship to gay people…having been disowned and kicked out of my family for “coming out” as an atheist and having a partner who is also an atheist. At least now I know how to NOT treat my own children.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brief update on life

It's been a while, I know. I guess in Jew news, my uncle from Israel called last week. The one who called me the day of my wedding to say I was still in the family. That wedding day phone call was actually the first time he ever called me, so this was the second. We talked a bit about my dissertation (he actually also has a PhD in sociology, except he now teaches chumash (bible studies) to elementary school students), and he tried to convince me that I should go to shul with B for Simchat Torah so B can "check it out" and see how awesome Judaism is?? I told him I'd think about it, cause I still don't have the ovaries to just flat out tell my relatives no apparently. Need to work on that.

In money news, I finally changed my cell phone plan yesterday after waiting 2 farkin years for the old one to expire. See, two years ago some dude from my cell phone company called me up and somehow convinced me that it would actually be cheaper to get 2 phone lines and a 'family plan.' Why I bought into this I will never know, especially since at the time B hadn't even moved in yet, so what the heck would I need two lines for! So then I was trapped in this stupid cell phone plan for 2 years that cost me $80 a month because this dude lied and it was NOT cheaper once you took into account taxes.

Anyways, it finally expired a week ago so yesterday I got rid of the second line and reduced my plan for the first line- so instead of paying $65 + tax a month for 600 anytime minutes + free roaming + free nights/weekends starting at 7pm, I'm now paying $35 + tax a month for 200 anytime minutes + free roaming + free nights/ weekends starting at 7pm. Oh did I mention I also looked at my minutes usage for the last year, and I have NEVER talked more than 200 minutes a month during daytime hours? It seems that actually living with the one person I want to talk to on a regular basis (and keeping in touch with other friends on the internet instead of the phone) means I never use my phone minutes. I'm very pleased with actually having a bill go DOWN in price for once. Next to tackle is the cable/internet bill which has risen from $93 a month to $170 a month over the last 3 years (with no change in service) because my cable company is a monopoly and is full of bastards.

Anyways, the point of this whole rant is to say that these companies are full of shysters. The cell phone lady kept trying to convince me it would be cheaper to get a plan that was actually more expensive (The $40 a month plan that has more minutes), when it would clearly not be because of, well, math. Then she tried to tell me it would be $7 extra a month to have my free minutes start at 7pm, when I had the website open in front of me that said $5 a month. Then I had to talk to some dude, who offered me a $50 credit to keep my second phone line. Then he finally transferred me to some other lady about canceling the second line, who started off by being all "ARE WE IN DANGER OF LOSING YOUR BUSINESS TODAY?" in an accusatory tone, and then tried to convince me that I could still use a second line, even though I (lied and) told her I live alone! Are you farking kidding me? I'm getting much better at dealing with them though- two years ago I clearly was not great given that this dude convinced me to get this horrible plan, but in the meanwhile I've had 2 years of dealing with students trying to put one over at me, and those skills totally translate into 'fighting with cell phone companies' skills! :) Totally proud of myself right now! :)