Friday, March 10, 2006

Deja Vu

Blogger Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine wrote a post about his heart rhythm problems, entitled My Disabled Month, that I can really relate to:

Because of my heart’s fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) and tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat), I spent the last month disabled: That is, in an instant, I became unable to do some things that were normal for me the day before. And then, in another instant, with a shock of electricity on Monday afternoon, I was able to do them again. But now I do those things with a slightly different perspective. I learned something in my disabled month.

I do most everything fast. I walk as fast as I talk as fast as I eat as fast as I type. But now I slowed down because if I overdid things by just a hair, the heart rate would go wacky. Walking up a slight hill on a Manhattan street — even walking against the wind — suddenly felt like a force field fighting me.

I have dealt with the heart problems for six-and-a-half years now and can relate to what Mr. Jarvis says. Except in my instance, there is no shock of electricity that will allow me to go back in rhythm-the problems I have will stay with me for life and I can only learn to adapt to them on a daily basis without thinking that I will go back to the way I was. I was always a fast talker, walker, and eater. I loved being a Type A person who was on the go and could work all day, lift weights and run for miles. And now I can't--it has changed who I am as a person and not necessarily for the better like everyone tells you. I can no longer do many of the things that I love. But I have learned how to cope--and I often use my heart trouble to provide comic relief. Maybe I can provide Mr. Jarvis with some tips.

For example, Mr. Jarvis describes his feelings of embarrassment at not being able to climb stairs:

In the PATH station in New York, I stood there with old people, sick people, and mothers with baby carriages, waiting for a lift. I was embarrassed. I wondered whether they looked at me thinking, ‘What a lazy SOB: he looks fit and healthy and the excercise of a few stairs would be good for him: Get moving and don’t take up space on our elevator.’ Of course, it’s New York: Nobody really pays that much attention to anyone else. But I heard that echo in my head.

Several months after my heart attack, I went to my gym to walk around the track. Everytime I would go, a fit young guy would run by effortlessly and tell me to get moving. I tried to ignore him and flatter myself that he was just being nice. But the tenth time he told me I was not helping myself by crawling the track at a snail's pace was the breaking point. I looked at him and said, "I just had a heart attack and got out of the hospital, this snail's pace that you are laughing at is the best that I can do." A look of horror and embarrassment clouded his face and he slunk away. So, Mr. Jarvis, my first tip is, let others be embarrassed about their reaction to your condition--do not feel embarrassed yourself for having human frailties.

Mr. Jarvis notes that he cannot always perform tasks that a normal person can perform:

When I got on the plane coming home, they put me in an exit row and asked me the standard question: Are you able, etc.? I had to say, no, I’d rather not sit there just right now. I didn’t say I wasn’t able, though I wasn’t. I sensed another odd look: ‘What, you won’t rescue your fellow passengers, you selfish, first-class oaf?’ As we used to say in California, I was projecting. But that thought did flash through my head as I thought for a second about sitting there to avoid the embarrassment, though I realized that would have been irresponsible.

Rather than see yourself as selfish for having medical problems, my second tip is to use them to your advantage to get back at those you dislike. Case in point. A secretary at my daughter's school had been impolite to me on the phone the week before. I went to pick up my daughter from school one day and this obnoxious secretary told me that my daughter was at the playground half a mile or so outside and I would have to go fetch her. I looked at her and smiled kindly, "I'm sorry, I am disabled after recent heart surgery and not able to walk that far." She looked troubled at the word disabled (you know, all those ADA rules etc. have school personnel skiddish) and scurried down to the playground while I plopped myself in a chair and read a magazine in the air conditioned office until she came back with my child, apologizing for taking so long. You see, medical problems are not all bad.

And finally, why let feeling strange while on television or when speaking stop you from a peak performance:

But I didn’t tell everyone I felt strange. I did talks and panel discussions and was fine. But as I blogged, when I did an appearance on Donny Deutsch’s show and got pissed at a professional prude and enemy of the First Amendment, my heart really went wacky fast and I thought for a second I might pass out on TV. Now that would have been embarrassing. Luckily, few would have seen it.

Instead, use it to enhance your performance like I did the time I was doped up on beta blockers. I was working as an expert on a crime show and felt so sluggish, I thought I would fall asleep while being interviewed. When I later saw the show, my sleepiness came through as a kind of coy, sly detective type look which I thought really enhanced my performance on the show. Okay, I went home, fell on my face and slept for several hours, but I got through it and sometimes, that is the best one can hope for when dealing with medical problems. Or maybe the lesson, if there is one, is to have enormous patience for our fellow human beings who "look normal" but may be suffering the same way we are or worse. Oh, and continue being a snarky blogger--we can never have enough of those!

Udate: GM Roper has more thoughts on how to cope with a serious illness.

The Race Card

Do you ever get tired of the onslaught of "enlightened" television and movies that tell us what a bunch of bigots and homophobes we are? I do. I was sitting at work yesterday waiting on my next client when I happened to catch an article in People Magazine about the new reality series Black. White. which is similar to Wife Swap except that the families swap races rather than wives.

Apparently, two families each with a teenaged kid, one black, one white are made up to look like the opposite race and the cameras follow the families in different settings as they experience being a different race. The show is described as being about exposing the subtleties of racism:

Cutler, whose documentary films and TV series include the acclaimed “The War Room” and “American High,” was joined by Ice Cube, the rapper, actor and producer, on the project proposed by FX Networks President John Landgraf.

His hope for the project was to “expose the subtleties of racism, the layers of racism,” the musician told The Associated Press. “Everybody thinks of a Klan man standing with a shotgun, yelling, ‘Keep it white.’

“Everybody is worried about the guy with the black power, leather jacket on, Afro ... worried about those kind of people and not really knowing that racism is not just the obvious,” Cube said.

The series’ timing is notable, with race brought into renewed focus by Katrina and the disproportionate suffering it caused for blacks in New Orleans. But “Black.White.” was conceived before the hurricane, Landgraf said.

It is disappointing to me that the show seems to take the predictable road of how bigoted whites are:

In black makeup, Rose gets the brushoff when she applies for work at stores in a white area. One shopkeeper glances in a drawer and unconvincingly announces she’s out of job applications.

Sitting in as a white woman on a focus group discussion on race, Renee Sparks is shocked to hear a young college student relate how he was cautioned to wash off the handshake of a black person.

“I thought, here it is, 2005, and people are still teaching their kids this,” Sparks said in a recent interview with reporters.

In the People Magazine I read at work, the article on the show mentioned that the black father was angry with his son who did not realize how prejudiced the world was. The son commented that he did not see prejudice against him in his world with the father insisting that he did. Is this helpful? In what way? To prepare his son for all of the horrible things that are to come as a result of being black? I think the way that Condi Rice's parents prepared her for the world is a much better psychological tactic to take. In Dick Morris's book, Condi vs. Hillary : The Next Great Presidential Race,Rice told Ebony magazine, "Our parents really did have us convinced that even if I couldn't have a hamburger at Woolworths, I could be President of the United States." She was taught to "blast through the barriers." She adds: "What's the alternative? Decrying the barriers? I tend to think that societies move largely through the force of individuals breaking barriers."

Well, I don't see shows like Black. White. breaking barriers as much as decrying them. This does little to further race relations and emphasizes victimhood, rather than self-sufficiency. But if this emphasis makes producers and rappers feel better about themselves, then obviously, it is worth it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is This Really Breaking News?

I'm sorry, but is Terri Hatcher being sexually abused as a child really "breaking news?" As a psychologist, I deal with people who have been sexually abused. Is it hard on them, difficult to deal with, devastating at times? Yes, it can be (or not), but is publicizing all of the victimhood really a good way to help those who have been sexually abused? And frankly, from Oprah to Ms. Hatcher to Angela Shelton, it seems like everyone owns up to some abuse at some point. I can't help but feel this play for victimhood is not a good way to promote healing for the sexually abused.

I remember once sitting in on a group session at a sex abuse clinic for women years ago. I observed the group leader getting the women to open up about their abuse, but frankly, no solutions were put forth. The women cried, moaned and described their abuse in excruciating detail, more info than I ever wanted. One woman could no longer talk and was mute (although doctors told her there was nothing physically wrong with her) because of the severity of her abuse. I observed a number of sessions but noted that no one ever seemed to be getting better--in fact, some seemed to be getting worse--and I decided then and there that the way sex abuse victims were handled and the emphasis on victimhood was not the answer. I later talked to patients who had gone to similar group therapies or been told by mental health professionals or others about how devastating their abuse must have been. Rarely did this seem to help.

I am not downplaying the emotional upheaval that can be caused by sexual abuse, but I disagree with the methods that our society uses to deal with sexual abuse. A person who has been abused often gets the message, if not directly, then indirectly, that they are "damaged goods" or that this one event in their life defines them in some way. Or that if they do not feel pain, vulnerability and damage from the experience, then they must be repressing something. My concern is how to help people overcome sexual abuse experiences and get better, not how to help them wallow in victimhood. If the mute patient in the group therapy session I described above is any example of how one should deal with sexual abuse, by offering victimhood as a lifestyle, then count me out. I would rather see people heal and move on.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Mental Health Blogging

Dr. Sanity's round-up of the psychosphere is up. Assistant Village Idiot has a post on when Christian and nutritional myths collide that I found quite interesting:

Things like this just make me crazy. A quote from The Maker's Diet, by Jordan S. Rubin.

"History reveals that the healthiest people in the world were generally the most primitive people as well! Our ancestors rarely died from the diet-and lifestyle-related illnesses that kill most modern people before their time, mainly because they ate more healthfully and had more active lifestyles. (p. 32)"

I don't know anything about the value of Rubin's subsequent advise on diet. And I'm not going to find out either, because this is so amazingly stupid that I won't trust a single thing I read from this point forward.

They died young. Their "lifestyle" consisted of brutal labor and frequent malnutrition. Before 1700, life expectancies were in the 30's worldwide. As recently as 1900, the life expectancy in America was 46 -- and that was the highest in the world. Certainly the many deaths in childhood, and the many deaths in childbirth cut down the average, but do the math. A life expectancy of 35 means way less than half are living to age 70.

Yes, it must be nice to rewrite history in a way that makes the primitive lifestyle seem full of life and health. Sorry, but I would rather be alive today eating a Big Mac and frequenting a cardiac surgeon than to have been subjected to the brutal labor and spartan diet plan of my ancestors.

Is Math Necessary?

Well, the 10th Carnival of Homeschooling is up and hosted by Anne at Palm Tree Pundit. As I scrolled through the line-up, I checked out the posts on "Why They Need Algebra" and "Life Without Algebra? I Think Not." I thought of my own child who insists that she "does not need math." When I hear this, I cringe. My father was a mathematician who spent hours (I mean hours) a day teaching me Algebra, Trig and Pre-Calculus. In my first year of college, when I thought I would be an Aerospace Engineer (fat chance of that), my dad still coached me through my first year of advanced Calculus.

This is why I get disheartened when I read journalists like Richard Cohen at the Washington Post giving advice like this to a girl who had failed Algebra six times:

Here's the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know -- never mind want to know -- how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later -- or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

It's amazing that this journalist is so egocentric that he doesn't see the need for knowing a subject outside of his own field as something important for kids. When reporters at newspapers think that writing is the highest form of reasoning, we have to question where their priorities lie. Knowing something about the world is nice--but knowing how the world works is the ultimate knowledge.

I came to see the beauty, complexity and sheer enjoyment of doing math and have been forever grateful to my dad for instilling in me a sense that math was important. But so many kids hate math and this extends into the teen and adults years. Just go to any check-out counter and ask the clerk to calculate change without a machine of some sort and see the glazed look of puzzlement in his or her eyes. It's a shame because we need more mathematicians and young people in the hard sciences, not fewer. Anyone got any clever ideas on how to interest kids in math?

Update: Joanne Jacobs has more thoughts on life without algebra.

Monday, March 06, 2006

More of Your Cardiology Questions Addressed

A new medical blog, The Heart of the Matter, has been kind enough to answer some of the questions our readers asked about heart problems. If you would like to see if your question was addressed or just want more information on heart concerns, see Heart of the Matter Blog and scroll down to view questions and answers. One of the topics addressed is what firemen can do to reduce their risk of a heart attack--if this is a concern to you, check it out.

Toxic Disinhibition and Blog Comments

Have you noticed how free people feel to make comments on blogs to others that they would not necessarily make in the course of normal conversation? John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University, has a good post on aggression and cyberspace and an article on the online disinhibition effect:

It's well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn't ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly. Researchers call this the "disinhibition effect." It's a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign disinhibition.

On the other hand, the disinhibition effect may not be so benign. Out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats. Or people explore the dark underworld of the internet, places of pornography and violence, places they would never visit in the real world. We might call this toxic disinhibition.

On the benign side, the disinhibition indicates an attempt to understand and explore oneself, to work through problems and find new ways of being. And sometimes, in toxic disinhibition, it is simply a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.

What causes this online disinhibition? What is it about cyberspace that loosens the psychological barriers that block the release of these inner feelings and needs? Several factors are at play. For some people, one or two of them produces the lion's share of the disinhibition effect. In most cases, though, these factors interact with each other, supplement each other, resulting in a more complex, amplified effect.

Suler talks about how people hide behind anonymity on the internet and feel they can say more hostile and aggressive things online than they would to a person's face. As I have said before, I do not mind if commenters wish to stay anonymous but I will ask my readers and commenters to please remember when responding to others, do not say things that you would not tell someone to their face--that goes for identifiable commenters also. I happen to be one of those people who is not terribly afraid of conflict. If I saw you in person and we were having a discussion, I would say the same things to you in person that I would online. I have a strong tolerance for negative comments, etc. (Remember, I deal with the most negative aspects of human behavior on a regular basis). They do not bother me terribly, however, they do bother others so please, respect the other commenters on this site and disagree in a polite manner. Any other suggestions for how to keep comments civil are welcome. Thanks!