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As children we believe that we are the center of everything, that is why children who experience the trauma of problems in the family, such as marital discord and divorce, often blame themselves for it. It is just part and parcel of childhood development, It is even worse when parents appear to blame us by behavior that seems to be rejecting of us. Of course there are times when that is perception and there are times when the rejection is real. But do we know the motives behind these behaviors? Not always, because once again we think it is about us, not them.


Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems in my family were not about marital discord, but something that shook the very foundations of the entire family, the death of my brother. This is perhaps the most traumatic thing that can happen to parents, and it often results in divorce. In my parents’ case, they supported each other, which was good, but that does not mean that the family dynamics were not dramatically affected.

It has taken me a long time to put the pieces together and realize how much of my parents’ behavior towards me was a result of this. Some of the details I only found out about as an adult. My therapist also helped me to understand this better as well. I am now in a position where I am able to finally put myself in their place, rather than letting my wounded inner child carry the whole narrative. Perhaps I should have seen this earlier, I am now 50 years old, but better late than never.

From my earliest recollections, I never felt loved. My mother was critical and rejecting of me and my father was distant. I never bonded with either of them. There are many reasons for this dynamic, but one of the big ones was the accidental death of my older brother at age six. I was only a year and a half old when this happened and my sister was four,

Looking at family pictures is very telling. My sister for instance looked very happy and care-free before this happened. Afterwards I can see the birth of the very serious sister that I knew growing up.

I don’t remember my brother, yet oddly enough I miss him. A piece of the family went missing and never came back. I am told that he adored me, and would crawl along behind me on the floor and call me “baby-doll.”

The trauma didn’t actually start with his death, although that was the climax of it. He was always a sickly child. Born prematurely, he had a defect in his stomach valve that caused him to have serious fits of vomiting, where he became dehydrated enough to require medical attention. Insurance laws on pre-existing conditions back then made it extremely difficult for him to get the surgery he needed to correct the problem. Family pictures show him as a happy child, but pale and skinny. He looked similar to pictures I have seen of children with cancer.

Eventually he did have the surgery, but it did not fix the problem. During another one of his vomiting episodes my mother took him to the doctor. His regular doctor was out of the office, but another one was covering for him. My parents at that time had no idea that he was not a pediatrician. He gave my brother a shot of compazine for the nausea and sent him home.

The following details I only got from my father after my mother passed. I never knew the exact details of my brother’s death but they are horrifying.

In the afternoon my mother got a call from the doctor. He told her that he thought she should take my brother to the hospital. But my brother had stopped vomiting so she assured him that everything was fine. She just thought the doctor was acting out of an abundance of caution.

That night my brother died in his sleep. An autopsy showed that he had fluid in his lungs. The medical examiner believed that he aspirated vomit.

My father was very suspicious about the whole thing and went to see the pediatrician. Having not treated my brother himself he looked in the medical record. He did not have much to say to my father, but he left the record with my dad before leaving and asked for him to take it to the front desk. My father believes this was intentional, that the doctor wanted him to see what was in there. My father took note of what drug he was given and the dosage. When he looked it up he discovered that the doctor had given him the ADULT dose of the drug!

And the most horrible part of the whole thing is that obviously the doctor at some point realized what he had done, which is why he made the strange call to my mother. But he was too chicken to tell the truth so he could get help!

The way compazine works to stop vomiting is to reduce the gag reflex but it also reduces the choking reflex as well. In an appropriate dose that is not a problem. But in the dose that my brother was given it completely eliminated it. My mother gave him water before putting him to bed. That water went straight into his lungs, explaining the autopsy results.

My mother blamed herself for not taking him to the hospital. She felt that she had put finances before my brother’s well-being because my father had just gotten a new job and they did not have insurance yet. Of course it was never her fault but that did not stop her from feeling guilty.

My father put the blame where it belonged and went to a lawyer but at that time the doctors were the ones who had all the powerful lawyers so it would have been almost impossible to win the case. Furthermore my father had no money to pursue this. And it was not going to bring my brother back anyway.

So here was my grief stricken mother who was trying to hold it all together and still take care of two young children, one just a baby. No wonder I felt rejected, she simply couldn’t deal with it all. My sister was probably old enough to be sensitive to the situation and try not to be a bother. Even before my brother died though, my mother most likely was having some trouble taking care of me because my brother was sick all the time.

Things were very bad for my father as well. In fact I can’t even imagine how he had the strength to keep going. He had to take time off from his new job to take care of funeral arrangements. And his boss bullied him over it. And not just him, but my father’s co-workers as well. My father has told me that they actually made sick jokes about my brother’s death. And he also told me something that shocked me even more than that. He said that this is the kind of bullying that makes people want to kill themselves. Then he said “But suicide would not have solved anything.”

Even as I write this down I am fighting back tears. My poor, poor brave father! No one should ever have to go through that!

He actually stayed at the job because they needed the money. So day after day he had to keep going. He was fired eventually, and this same boss blacklisted him, so he could not get another job. But my father got lucky on one count. He talked to someone who knew this boss and it turns out this guy had something scandalous on him, and told my father not to worry, that he would take care of the situation. The blacklisting stopped.

After putting this all together how can I not have empathy for what both of them went through? I would not have been able to endure that.

I now know that it wasn’t about me. The rejection I felt was from two people who were struggling to keep their heads above water. And they made it. They loved my sister and I enough to keep going.

God bless them both.




Disability benefits are already on the chopping block by the new GOP majority. And they are doing it in a rather unscrupulous way, by pitting the old against the young. I got this in my mailbox today from Social Security Works:

We knew that the new Republican Congress wanted to dismantle our Social Security system brick by brick—but we didn’t expect them to do it on their first day!

They’ve taken what should be a dry, mundane exercise – the adoption of new rules by the newly convening House of Representatives – and turned it into a stealth attack on our Social Security system. This rule is nothing more than an attempt to divide people who believe in Social Security.

We need to tell Congress we stand united on the side of our WHOLE Social Security system! We reject the games and forced crises. Social Security works.

The new Republican rule prevents a simple technical amendment, known as “reallocation” – something that has been done many times over the history of Social Security, something that few persons other than actuaries and other Social Security experts ever know about – from being enacted in the next two years to ensure that all Social Security benefits continue to be paid in full and on time.

The new rule mandates a 20% cut in benefits to disabled workers unless legislation is passed that either cuts workers’ Social Security retirement benefits or raises taxes.


There are obviously MANY things wrong with this, being unfair to both sides. But some people may ask why it would be unfair to cut disability benefits for the disabled if they are capable of working. The reason why is simple. Not all of the disabled are capable of working full-time. The way things are set up now a disabled person can make up to a certain amount of money before losing their benefits. For some this a a good test of whether they can make it in the workforce part-time or eventually even full-time. It is judged on a case by case basis. The amount of money they can make by working part-time before cutting off disability benefits is NOT enough to live on. It is in addition to the amount of money they receive from Social Security which usually is not very much at all. I get $1000 a month on SSDI. The last I was able to work part-time the limit of what I could earn was $700 a month.

This arrangement is meant to provide incentive for the disabled to work and as a test of their ability to work. Periodically for those who are not on permanent disability (as their condition may improve), they will be evaluated on whether they are capable of working full-time. This is done on a trial-basis and if they experience a relapse then they can get their benefits re-instated. With those who suffer from mental illnesses, this is a very important provision. I have witnessed relapses where people end up homeless, in one case it was less than a week. One man who went to the mental health center I worked at lost his job AND his housing after a schizophrenic episode because they thought he was on drugs.

Cutting benefits not only reduces the incentive to work but also makes it difficult for the disabled to save any kind of money for them to fall back on. It amounts to punishing them for working! These are NOT people who are living the “High Life!”

I am probably preaching to the choir here, but still my readers need to know what is going on and those who do not have any kind of disability should know WHY this is a bad move.

This is also a bad sign for those who can’t work at all. I am in that position right now because of my secondary disability, fibromyalgia. I was able to work part-time before. If the GOP is willing to do this now, what are they going to do in the future?  I am not lazy, as anyone who knows me and those who read this blog knows.

As far as people who have mental illnesses, I know people who are able to work and those who can’t. There are people who are “high-functioning” on medication and those who are not. Some are under permanent conservatorship and cannot even live independently. Of course there are some in long-term mental facilities, but that is rare since laws have changed and many such facilities have closed down. A more common thing to happen is for people to cycle in and out of short-term facilities, where they are stabilized and released. The average stay is about a week. There are advantages and disadvantages to that system, which I am not going to get into now. But the point is that no one should assume that just because someone with a mental illness is not in a hospital, that he or she is capable of living an independent life.

This move is about creating more resentment by those who are not disabled and work, and those who are retired. The GOP has already done a fantastic job of convincing people that the majority of people getting help from the government are not working and have no inclination to do so. THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE.

Does anyone really believe that the majority of people that have been brainwashed by the TPGOP are going to go for raising taxes to help the disabled? Not when they have been taught that the majority of them are faking it!

While it is true that more people are on disability it is mainly because of an ageing population. Why not go after the minority who are abusing the system, instead?

Here is the rest of the email I got received. I would encourage people to not only sign their petition but to check their ideas on how to keep Social Security solvent for EVERYONE.

Social Security isn’t a hostage or a bargaining chip. It is a universal system based on the principle that we are stronger together. The program’s opponents seek to divide and conquer. They seek to turn young against old by falsely claiming that too much is being spent on the old. This time they seek to drive a wedge between retired workers and disabled workers by claiming that reallocation helps the disabled at the expense of retirees – another preposterous claim. All of these divide-and-conquer strategies are intended to turn Americans against each other so that all of our benefits can be cut.

This is no way for elected officials to treat the constituents they are supposed to serve. Hostage-taking to force changes that the American people do not want to a vital program like Social Security is no way to run the United States of America. But if we stand together, this stealth effort to pull apart our Social Security will be defeated.

Tell Congress: We will not be divided. Support for the whole Social Security system is essential to our economic security, and we won’t stand for underhanded attempts to undermine it.

Thank you,
Alex Lawson
Executive Director
Social Security Works

The Need to be Needed

Originally posted on Transitions:

lingu-translation-services3“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

What is the most basic human need? Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs has been a popular answer to this question. Beyond the basic physiological requirements of nutrition and sleep, Maslow held that a sense of safety and security is our most basic need. I argue that this is simply not the case; rather, Individuals may flourish in the most dangerous and unforgiving environments; likewise, those in the safest and most secure environments may experience a great deal of despair. If a sense of safety and security is not the most fundamental human need, what is? I believe the answer is the need to be needed.

What is this need to be needed? It is an individual’s sense of significance; the feeling that they have a community, group, or individual…

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I try so hard to be positive but there are times when I just can’t manage it. In fact, I think often times it is just a cover: I plaster a smile on my face and pretend that I am really doing better than I am. But today the floodgates have opened and I am crying. My fibromyalgia pain is through the roof and there is no point in pretending I am okay, because I am not. I just am not. I am pretty much non-functional and I have been that way for a while. Pain and unrelenting mind-boggling fatigue. I never even knew it was possible to feel this much fatigue. Imagine not sleeping for a year, that is how bad it feels. My pain is from the top of my head to my very toes. Aching, sharp pains and muscle spasms.

Imagine trying to type a simple post like this. It takes forever. My brain is in a fog all the time, I can’t remember how to spell, forget grammar as well. My hand co-ordination is horrible. My eye-sight is fuzzy even with new glasses and magnifying the page. It is the way you see when you have not slept..

Imagine being home bound because you can’t drive anymore without having accidents. I use the dial-a-ride service for the disabled. But when I go out I can’t enjoy myself. A simple shopping trip is torture. I use a cane because my balance is off. I once broke my knee in a fall. My muscles feel incredibly weak and heavy. I go to Walmart and first I go to the in-store McDonalds and treat myself. Then I slowly make my way around the store. I have to take breaks and sit down. It is especially trying if I need to get stuff from both sides of the store.

I used to enjoy browsing, now I can’t do it. I need new clothes and the thought of having to look and try them on is overwhelming.

It may take several days to recover from my shopping. The pain and fatigue is always worse afterwards.

All I can say is if you have good health, treasure it! I am 50 years old going on 90.

Needless to say this is not conducive to good mental health. For a long time before I got sick and when I was working at the mental health social center I thought I would never be depressed again. Never say never I guess.

Conventional medicine has no answers for this except medication. I am already on a ton of medication for bipolar disorder. Some of the medications I take actually are used to treat fibromyalgia as well as they are supposed to reduce nerve pain. But they don’t work for me.

Another option is addictive pain killers. No thanks, I already got in trouble with sleeping pills and tranquilizers years back. Besides one of the insidious affects of pain pills is that your body can get used to them and they are not as effective. So the dose has to be raised. This leads to addiction but that is not all. I have read comments on online forums from people with fibromyalgia where they say that they keep having to be put on harder and harder drugs to get relief, but there obviously is a limit to how big a dose you can get without killing yourself. What ends up happening is that they run out of options, even the strongest ones don’t work anymore.

Now I will say that everyone reacts to medications differently so not everyone has this problem. But the operative word here is “tolerance” People who get addicted to medications when their bodies process medications differently than other people. I have already had that experience with tranquilizers and sleeping pills where the effects wore off and the doctor just kept raising the dosage. After a while I was in a constant state of withdrawal and started to abuse them both.

By the way a good doctor will monitor a patient for signs of tolerance. Mine didn’t. I just thought my symptoms were getting worse. I had never done drugs in my life and so it never occurred to me that I could become an addict.

So…what are my options? I can’t go on this way, that is for sure. Truth be told, many times I do not want to live anymore. But I am not going to take that road again. I have hurt people before with my suicide attempts and I am not going to do that again. But there are times when I pray for God to take me. Since I am still here I guess I know what the answer is.

I am going to do some research online on using meditation for pain management. I have not thought too much about it because frankly, it is pretty difficult to meditate when you are in pain. But since I keep seeing headlines that say that meditation helps then maybe I should look more closely. Maybe it is a different method than what I have tried before.

I just want to get functional again and maybe even have a little joy in my life. I may never get the life back that I used to have, but I just need to stop this black hole that is eating me alive.

Today is World Human Rights Day and in honor of that I thought I would share a bit about the current state of America’s mental health system, both the good and the bad.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Good News

In many areas there is great improvement, particularly in the area of self-help support groups and community peer-run mental health centers funded by the government. I am especially proud of my home state of California, where we passed The Mental Health Services Act, a 1% tax on personal incomes more than a million dollars a year. This has funded existing and new peer-run community centers, plus other comprehensive program to help mental health consumers in the community. It is a guaranteed source of funding so that they do not have to depend on the state general fund anymore.  The wonderful thing is that we are getting great results which can be quantified, more of the mentally ill are living independently as a result of this Act:

Here is a run-down on how this funding is being used and the outcome so far:

One unqualified success story from the MHSA thus far involves the implementation of Full Service Partnerships (FSPs) demonstrating the “whatever it takes” commitment to assist in individualized recovery whether it is housing, “integrated services, flexible funding [such as for childcare], intensive case management, access to care.”FSP interventions are based upon evidence from such programs as Assertive community treatment (ACT), which has effectively reduced homelessness and hospitalizations while bettering outcomes. But the FSP model looks more like that of the also-popular MHA Village in Long Beach, which is a center that offers more comprehensive services besides those specifically mental health-related. Beyond these guiding principles, however, there has not been much consensus over unifying strategies to define and implement an FSP – resulting in varying FSP structures across counties.

Overall, though, the Petris Center, funded by the DMH and California HealthCare Foundation to evaluate the MHSA, has reported quantifiable improvements in many areas:

  • Homelessness rates
  • Entry rates into the criminal justice system
  • Suffering from illness
  • Daily functioning
  • Education rates
  • Employment rates
  • General satisfaction with FSP

But there is room for improvement:

According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, the 2007 and 2009 California Health Interview Surveys (CHIS) demonstrate continued mental health needs of almost two million Californians, about half of which were unmet in 2011. In spite of steady tax revenue ($7.4 billion raised as of September 2011) earmarked for the MHSA, the unremittingly high numbers of mentally ill who lack treatment contrast starkly with the implementation of new programs like the FSPs, which may cost tens of thousands of dollars annually per person. The MHA Village program, for example, averages around $18,000 annually per person. One of the major growing concerns regarding MHSA implementation is its unintentional but worrying tendency to create silos of care. As directed by the DMH, counties search for “unserved” mentally ill or at-risk individuals to enroll in their new programs, while keeping existing and perhaps underserved clients in old programs that are usually underfunded, but cannot take MHSA funds. Ironically, while the MHSA was established in part to address racial/ethnic disparities in health care, it may be perpetuating the disparity in services delivery between underfunded and well-funded, new programs.

Although these are significant problems, the law was amended in 2012 to address many of these issues. Click here for more information on the Mental Health Services Act. and the amended 2012 Act.

The Bad News, But With a Smidgen of Hope

 As with other states, California’s biggest “Mental Institutions” are unfortunately, jails and prisons. It is unlikely that we are going to get any more mental hospitals anytime soon. All across the nation, the mentally ill in prisons are denied treatment and often are kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Studies have shown that even people without any history of mental illness can develop serious mental problems from being confined with barely any contact with other people. It is a form of torture.

The problem is that prisons have very few people trained in mental health care.  They may have a doctor who authorizes medication and someone who infrequently checks up on the patient, but that is it. No counseling. There may be times when the person has an acute episode and is transferred to a mental health facility for short-term stabilization, but then is transferred back to the prison, living with the same unhealthy conditions as before.

Even for some jails that have mental health facilities, it still is not an ideal place to get treatment.

Things have gotten so bad in the Los Angeles County prison system that the DOJ has stepped into the fray:

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a 36-page statement and accompanying two-page letter criticizing the county for deplorable and unconstitutional jail conditions, and for inadequate suicide prevention practices, as it sought federal court oversight. DOJ acknowledged that “the delivery of mental health services in the corrections environment is difficult and presents unique challenges.”

This is giving impetus for L.A. county to come up with a new way of doing things. No there won’t be any more hospitals, but thanks to the to the new Third District Diversion and Alternative Sentencing Program, many low level offenders are going to be diverted to community mental health programs. This was made possible by the state’s Public Safety Realignment Act, aimed at reducing crowding in state prisons. Implemented in 2011, the act shifts responsibility from the state to county level for supervising people convicted of certain crimes.

Here are some of the changes being made:

Designed for adults who are chronically homeless, seriously mentally ill, and who commit specific misdemeanor and low-level felony crimes, the demonstration project could help reduce recidivism by as much as two-thirds, Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Similar diversion programs have produced promising results in other metropolitan areas — Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas andMiami-Dade County in Florida, for example — fueling hopes for change here, according to L.A. program supporters.

“Clearly, treating mental illness in jail does not produce the best results,” Yaroslavsky said. “At present we put offenders into the mental health unit of the jail — it’s the largest mental health facility in the state. We provide mental health treatment and custodial care for approximately 3,500 people each day.”

The program will divert adults from the traditional fines, probation and incarceration typically imposed, and instead place them on a path to secure permanent, supportive housing and treatment, the MOU says.

Up to 50 adults — including as many as 20 U.S. military veterans — who elect to participate in the program will be released to San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center. The diversion program provides bridge and permanent supportive housing, health and mental health care, group and individual treatment and support, and employment and vocational services, said Yaroslavsky.

Misdemeanor offenders will receive a post-filing of criminal charges option and the pre-plea diversion program. Once they’ve completed the 90-day program, they can continue to earn permanent, supportive housing, as well as have charges against them dismissed. For felons who successfully complete the program, the court will consider whether to terminate probation early and or dismiss the case. The program for felons runs at least 18 months, and begins with a court order of 36 months of formal probation.

Let us hope that the pressure to change things continues:

By every measure of public policy, I’d give what the county (Los Angeles) had been doing an ‘F’ grade,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “This is a very positive step. What I hope is that it is not just a pilot program that ends up being a feel-good measure. It would be criminal if the county doesn’t take this pilot and build upon it county-wide for every criminal court.”

Read more on this issue here.

This of course barely even touches on all the issues regarding mental health care in this country. But I do see hope, although changes come more slowly than I would like!


A new theory for why Buddhist meditation makes us feel good


Booze. Cigarettes. Gambling. The human brain is vulnerable to all sorts of addictions. And thinking might be one of them. That’s right – in many Buddhist texts, the endless stream of rumination that runs through the mind of the average person isn’t merely a distracting habit, but a genuine addiction that befuddles the intellect and inhibits spiritual development. In a new article, a leading neuropsychologist makes the same claim – that we’re all addicted to daydreaming, and that the neurology of our addictions is the same as that of addiction to drugs. What’s more, certain forms of Buddhist meditation may release the brain’s chemical hold on itself, releasing us from our addictive daydreams.

The article, published this fall in Religion, Brain & Behavior, outlines a novel model for how meditation works. As such, it doesn’t present any new empirical research, and only reviews prior studies. But its author, Bowling Green State University psychologist Patricia Sharp, is deeply read in the neurophysiology of reward, addiction, and meditation, and her synthesis of material across related disciplines is both rich and compelling.

Sharp’s argument hinges on the claim that, as Buddhist scriptures teach, life’s rewards tend to lose their sweetness over time. For example, people who get rich tend to enjoy a quick spike in happiness – but that spike doesn’t last very long. Pretty soon, their happiness levels tend to return back to where they were. Their new riches don’t make them any happier than they were before. Thus, the pleasures of the world are inherently, well…disappointing.

What’s innovative is Sharp’s claim that thought itself – particularly the ruminative, daydreaming style of thought that consumes nearly half our waking hours – fits this same pattern. Each individual daydream might offer a little internal reward, such as when we fantasize about accepting a trophy or scoring a date with the office bombshell. But over time, the constant barrage of imagined experiences begins to lose its luster, to become unrewarding – and maybe even to inhibit our ability to feel pleasure in general.

Sharp doesn’t mention the First Noble Truth of Buddhism in her paper, but she’s referring to something pretty close to what it calls dukkha, or suffering – the fundamental unsatisfactoriness of life. Dukkha means that all the things we crave and become attached to can’t actually deliver on their glorious promises. Whether it’s rich food, sex, alcohol, wealth, or mere fantasies, the objects of our cravings always leave us feeling dissatisfied after we attain them.

Offering a neurobiological description of this basic unsatisfactoriness, Sharp points out that the nucleus accumbens – a part of the brain that plays a central role in reward and motivation – receives dopamine inputs from other regions such as the ventral tegmental area and the medial substantia nigra. Together, these regions form a circuit that enables reward-based learning, or conditioned responses. Think Pavlov: train a dog to understand that the sound of a bell is always followed by dinner, and pretty soon the dog learns to salivate when he hears the ringing. Inside his brain, dopamine projections into the nucleus accumbens (yes, dogs have them too) have learned to fire in in response to the predicted reward. The dog literally gets a little burst of happy chemicals when he hears the bell, because the conditioned responses have worn grooves into his reward circuitry.

The problem? “Overlearning.” If you fire the same circuits often enough, their reward value starts to decline. The job of the nucleus accumbens, in this model, is to reinforce adaptive associations between stimuli and behavior. Dopamine in the nucleus accumbens may serve as a “biochemical stamp” that marks connections between stimuli and behavioral responses. Once the right pattern has been established, the brain doesn’t necessarily need that dopamine signal anymore – the pathway is already there. So the reward signals fade away, suppressed by inhibitor cells that project from the nucleus accumbens back into the midbrain, where they down-regulate dopamine release. The reward pathway is still there, entrenched in the brain through a network of strong, habit-worn connections. But the reward itself – dopamine – is gone. This process may explain the “hedonic treadmill” effect so unpleasantly familiar to us all, in which initially pleasurable or exciting stimuli lose their appeal over time.

One particularly nasty result of this hedonic treadmill effect can be compulsive, addictive behavior. Think about a rat obsessively pulling a lever to deliver cocaine – or a glassy-eyed casino-goer stuffing quarters into a slot machine. These compulsive behaviors arise from long-established reward pathways, now devoid of dopamine but still connective and active. Sharp argues that both chemical addiction and simple habituation to everyday rewards result from this gradual down-regulation of dopamine projections to the nucleus accumbens.

What’s more, our habitual fantasies and daydreams may follow the same pattern. Each time our minds wander, we start to fantasize, plan, and construct imaginative scenarios. Many of these imaginative scenarios come with their own little pulses of reward, as the hippocampus and other limbic regions carry excitable signals into the accumbens. Over time, our brains crystallize patterns of thought that repeat the same types of thoughts and daydreams over and over. Initially, these crystallizations were motivated by dopamine flushes in the reward system. But eventually, the dopamine rewards taper off – even though the thought patterns are still there. We’re left with a compulsive, clinging re-running of the same old thoughts, a repeating of the same mental scenarios obsessively. Worse, the holistic effect may be a general drop-off in happiness, because we’re indulging in lots of mental activity that offers no rewards. Our daydreams may be literally inhibiting pleasure. In Sharp’s words,

our constant engagement in compulsive, repetitive thought patterns tends to cause an ongoing, powerfully conditioned decrease in dopamine release, so that dopamine is chronically below what would be expected in the absence of these ongoing mental patterns.

The solution? Meditation! In particular, Buddhist samatha, or shamatta, meditation entails intense mental absorption and the cessation of thoughts. Sharp suggests that such meditative states, while difficult to achieve, may serve to break up established patterns of connectivity within the brain. These patterns, or “attractor networks,” are sort of like long-established wrinkles in your favorite shirt. You might put the shirt through the wash, but if you leave the shirt draped carelessly over a chair…well, the same crease shows back up again. Likewise, our habitual patterns of neural connectivity – in which the same clusters of neurons are activated synchronously – are always waiting to reappear.

In contrast, previous research has shown that intense meditative states synchronize activity across networks in the brain. These whole-brain patterns of synchronization are structurally similar to certain epileptic seizure states, in which normal, localized patterns of connectivity are suppressed and global synchrony takes over instead. These epileptic states, Sharp suggests, flood the brain with acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that can boost signal connections between cells from widely separated regions in the brain. In an acetylcholine-soaked brain, established knots of habit-bound connectivity may be temporarily relaxed, replaced with more general, dynamic connectivity across the entire cortex.

The overall effect of samatha meditation, then, may be what Sharp calls a “general loosening of the existent attractor networks in the brain.” Importantly, this loosening may be exactly what we need in order to experience bliss. Attractor networks in the brain are tight knots of connections. When the nucleus accumbens is activated by a long-established circuit, it sends signals back to the midbrain to inhibit dopamine production. Thus, when long-established knots of connection are suppressed, these inhibitory signals go silent. The dopamine can start pumping again. And we start to feel good. This, Sharp suggests, is how meditation works its magic: by releasing our brains’ constrictive holds on our reward systems, and allowing the normal flow of dopamine to start up once more.

Sharp’s model is speculative and theoretical. It appears in print alongside with a half-dozen response commentaries from experts, many of which are critical. It doesn’t offer any new empirical data. But it’s fascinating. And it suggests exciting new possibilities for research, and for thinking about how the brain works. Nowhere else has the time-honored Buddhist claim that our daily obsessive thoughts and mind-wandering are actual addictions been so forcefully presented in modern biological terms. Sometimes, speculative science is the most interesting – and the most groundbreaking.

Now for a confession: recently, I’ve nursed curmudgeonly concerns about our growing American enthusiasm for Buddhism and “mindfulness” training. I’m nervous that claiming Buddhist identity has become a marker of upper-middle class bourgeois sensibility, set against the hopelessly uncool Christianity or Judaism of the establishment. (Bizarrely, the bourgeoisie in the United States suffers from the chronic, and dangerous, delusion that it is somehow not the establishment – as evidenced by how canny companies sell their goods by showing off how countercultural and rebellious they are.) And I’m wary of the assumption that all mind-wandering is necessarily bad. We don’t all need to be “mindful” all the time. In fact, as recent research has shown, lack of daydreaming can even hurt us.

So Buddhism may be a little trendy these days, and our conversations about mindfulness could use more depth. But just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s bad. Buddhism has produced some of the most powerful psychology the world has ever seen, and its practices and insights are, frankly, invaluable. Sharp’s fascinating model gives us another useful insight into why.

Read more:

I went into therapy so I could learn to do my own laundry.

English: Wall post with love in different lang...

English: Wall post with love in different languages. Taken in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course it wasn’t just that, but it really was part of it. My mother did everything for us kids. In addition to doing the laundry, she washed our hair for us even into our teenage years and neither my sister nor I learned how to cook because she always chased us out of the kitchen. I was told that I might burn myself.

I guess my sister and I were both lucky that she trusted us with washing the dishes!

One day when I was sixteen I decided I wanted to do my own laundry and asked my mother to show me how to do it. Her reaction was to scream at me and call me “selfish.”

As  with so much of my mother’s behavior, I found that inexplicable and hurtful. I had stored hurt in my heart from my earliest childhood memories. The biggest problem in our family was lack of good communication skills and I was never allowed to speak up for myself and ask my mother to explain her behavior. If there is only one piece of advice I can give to parents, it is to keep the lines of communication open with your children, as it will keep misunderstandings from turning into estrangement.

And that was all this was, a stupid misunderstanding on top of other stupid misunderstandings that at least in part contributed to my first suicidal breakdown at age 16. My thought processes were of course skewed and magnified by my bipolar disorder, but the fact that I had never felt loved by my mother and that I did not feel like I was a good person was the driving force behind it.

My parents got me into therapy, which helped some. The therapist counseled us separately. It certainly helped loosen my mother’s controlling grip on me and after the first appointment with my mother she never called me “spoiled” again. That was her favorite epithet for me.

But the therapist made a big mistake. He never counseled us together. What I needed was not just for my mother to back off, I needed closure. I needed to know why she was so angry with me. Being used to not being able to speak up for myself, I never asked that crucial question from my therapist. He was the authority figure and he ran the show.

The closest he ever came to explaining my mother’s behavior was to say “Your mother loves you but all you feel is her fear.”

The problem was is that it wasn’t fear that I felt from my mother, it was rage and hatred. The statement confused the hell out of me. Again I did not speak up and ask him what he meant by that. If I had he most likely would have told me what I know now, anger is a secondary emotion. It is a cover for hurt and/or fear.

Both emotions were at play in my mother’s behavior.

She did not have a mental illness, I am quite certain of that by comparing my behavior with bipolar disorder with hers. However that does not mean that she wasn’t royally messed up, like 99% of mankind.

It is only at the age of 50 that I have finally gotten a glimpse into my mother’s world with the help of the best therapist I ever had. Unfortunately he has left the county mental health facility that I go to for another job, but I am eternally grateful for what he has given me. I hope someday he may go into private practice and then maybe I can arrange to see him again.

What he told me makes perfect sense. The only way she felt competent as a mother was to do things for us, and when I asked her to show me how to do my laundry what she heard was this: “Mom, I don’t think you are doing a good job, so I want to do it myself. I don’t appreciate anything you do for me.”

Of course that wasn’t what I meant. I was just trying to assert my independence which is normal and healthy. While other kids were doing that by getting into sex and drugs, I just wanted some extra responsibility.

This helps explain many other things she said and did, such as saying to me that she wished she were “like other mothers, who don’t take care of their kids.” Perhaps I was being a bit of a brat, I complained that she was pulling my hair while combing it. After she said that she went to take a bath, and I was so devastated because I thought she meant that she didn’t love me or want me around. That statement seemed to confirm my worst fears. I wanted to walk out of the house and never come back, but I had nowhere to go. I was only 14. Inexplicably, after her bath she was smiling and relaxed, while I was still hurting from the worst thing she had ever said to me.

She passed on in 1997, and I never got to resolve things with her. But I think I finally understand. My therapist referred to the book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I have not read it yet but he did give me a good run down on it. Literally people have different languages or rather ways of doing things to demonstrate their love for others. It seems that we all have a preferred style. Her language was to take care of us. What I needed was a completely foreign language for her, to praise me and tell me that I was a good daughter. I could not speak her language and she could not speak mine.

I think this is a great lesson for any kind of relationship. We always assume that others know what it is that we need from them and they think the same thing about us. Then we think the other is deliberately withholding what we need from them and vise-versa.

My therapist also explained that she likely had a limited repertoire to draw from. He feels that she felt incompetent as a mother and so this was all she knew how to do.

The fact is of course that if my mother had not loved me she would not have gotten me therapy when I needed it. But to me our relationship was a confused mess of contradictions. She would say the most horrible things to me and then in the next breath say, “I love you.” I couldn’t process it.

I wish she were around so I could ask her about these things, but I am certain that this is the truth. She wasn’t a bad mother, she was a confused mother.

I hope I have given people some food for thought. There are other things about my mother’s behavior that my insightful therapist has helped me with and I will share those in future posts,

Mary Rogers:

These are wonderful uplifting quotes to help keep you going ;)

Originally posted on Bipolar Bandit:
















don't let life

puzzle pieces

be strong enough

don't try

you cannot convince

10 lessons from einstein














no worries2
















a23 jamolina.blogspot

Most of these quotes/sayings were created by me. However, some were found on Facebook. It is not my intention to use someone else’s quote and/or picture without their permission. However, it was hard to figure out who was the original poster.

Therefore, if you see a quote that is yours, please email me at and let me know. Put in subject line Claiming Saying. Also, most pictures of my sayings/quotes are mine or ones I found on sites where pics are supposed to be free. If you find your picture and want credit, please email me at the same place and put in subject line “Claiming Picture”  Thanks!


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 Here is truly a great list of principles for recovery that I have found, adapted from the work of Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, whose self-help workbooks and programs such as the Wellness Recovery Action Plan have been used in Mental Health programs nationwide, including at Mental Health America, where I used to work. I highly  recommend her work! ;)

The Foundational
Principles of Recovery
Adapted from M.E. Copeland
Nanette V. Larson, B.A.

Learning all there is to know about
one’s health, wellness, symptoms
and treatment, in order to be
equipped to make good decisions.
Being open to, and seeking out,
new information.

Finding meaning and purpose in one’s
life. Gaining a sense of identity, based
on one’s own values and beliefs, which
may include one’s relationship with the
divine or a power greater than oneself.

“Going for it” with courage,
persistence and determination.
Expressing oneself clearly and
calmly in order to get
one’s needs met.

Relying on oneself, with help from
others, while working to control
one’s life and one’s symptoms.
Making choices which reflect
one’s life priorities.

Recognizing that recovery
is not a journey that anyone walks
alone. Drawing on support from
friends, family and healthcare

Having a vision that includes hopes
and dreams! Setting goals, while
refraining from negative predictions.
Fearing ‘false despair’, not ‘false hope’.

Nanette V. Larson, B.A. CRSS., Director of Recovery Support Services at the Illinois Department of Human Services /Division of Mental Health. Ms. Larson has spent the last few years developing and directing statewide recovery programs, including Illinois’ Wellness Recovery Action Planning Initiative. Ms. Larson’s passion for recovery stems in part from her personal experiences with bipolar illness. She is a nationally recognized leader in the mental health consumer recovery movement and has provided numerous presentations to diverse audiences on recovery, spirituality, and related topics.

Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, is an author, educator, mental health advocate, and mental illness survivor. Copeland’s work is based on the study of the coping and wellness strategies of people who have experienced mental health challenges. She is the author and designer of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), a self-help mental health recovery program. She is also the author of numerous self-help workbooks for Bipolar Disorder.

In 2005, Copeland’s work led to the creation of the non-profit, the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery which continues her work through trainings around the world.

Copeland was awarded the United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association’s USPRA John Beard Award for outstanding contributions to the field of psychosocial rehabilitation in 2006.  She received Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration‘s Lifetime Achievement Voice Award in 2009.

Are We Too Sensitive?

Being sensitive is a double-edged sword, for sure. But without that sensitivity we would not have empathy for others and also would not have the capacity for introspection. Both are necessary qualities for a spiritual path.

Pressure Sensitive

Pressure Sensitive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The key is not taking on that as a harsh judgment against ourselves. It can be difficult. For me it started in childhood with a verbally abusive mother. Every time I am rejected or perceive rejection it takes me right back to that vulnerable place. I have to remind myself that the situation is not the same and that I am not powerless like I was before. And that my mother was screwed up and her judgments of me were not correct.

Therapy is very helpful in this process. At the same time of course I have made mistakes and hurt people so I have to face that and see what changes I need to make. Frankly at this point the best way I can differentiate between situations that are my fault and those that are not is to talk to my therapist. He is very good at helping me to understand other people’s points of view. That in no way means that other people are always right, but they are not always wrong either.

Ironically, sensitive people can come across as uncaring, even when we care a great deal. That is because of defensiveness. We are afraid that what we have done is an indictment against the core of our being.

In order to face the things I have done wrong and not be defensive I have to remind myself that I am a Child of God and that despite what I have been taught I am not evil, I only make mistakes. There is that part of me that is Divine and wholly good and that will never change. I simply need to align myself with that part of me.


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