Grieving Friends | Seasonal Affective Disorder | Twitching & Stress | & Abusive Relationships ⛈

How to comfort a friend grieving from great loss, the reality of Seasonal Affective Disorder, why a twitch in your eye may be related to stress, and how to identify and approach a friend who is in an abusive relationship.



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“The information we have about children's brains is alarming, as they appear to be much more susceptible to long-term effects of injury than adults.”

SPRING 2014


Q:

"I have noticed there are a lot of zombie movies out these days. Not only movies but video games, costumes, even dolls. Is there anything going on psychologically in our society that reflects this trend? I wonder why the public even likes it at all."

Signed interested.


A:

Everything has meaning. Fads appear and then fade into oblivion. Now there are zombies, where before there were vampires and werewolves. Neanderthals also made an appearance as I remember. But zombies have permeated our culture more deeply than all the other monster metaphors. They appear on TV, in film, comic books, and now 5K runs in costume and parades of the undead. The question of "Why zombies?" is difficult to answer because the metaphor is unclear. On he one hand, they seem to represent the 99%; the down-trodden masses who can't seem to get ahead. But they also feed off the living and represent our fears of death. Last winter the Canadian Parliament help a tongue-in-cheek debate about their readiness to respond to a "Zombie Apocalypse." This was a humorous debate about a serious subject, disaster readiness, and it represents how easily we use the zombie metaphor. Apparently zombies appear during times of austerity and are our way of responding to our fears of postapocolyptic anarchy or having our way of life destroyed.


Popular culture runs deeper than a teenage girl's fantasy with vampires or a boy's delight with zombies. When it's used as a metaphor in the Canadian Parliament or even on our own government's CDC website, it signals a connection with our society's shared unconscious. I have a friend who yesterday said that she felt that the virtual world creates a kind of zombie-ism. She went on to describe children walking down the street with ear buds in their ears listening to their iPods instead of church bells and birds. Or mothers happily photographing their children instead of playing with them. And children sitting next to each other, texting each other instead of talking. In the novel I'm reading now, there was a reference made to a zombie army, meaning the soldiers who were unthinking cannon fodder. You are right when you notice how the idea of the zombie has entered the vocabulary of popular culture. You are also correct in wondering what it means. I think it's a reflection of how we feel alienated and polarized at this time. And perhaps it is a call to respond with kindness instead of anger, with tolerance instead of isolationism, and maybe when the idea of zombies will be relegated to the past.



Q:

"My good friend lost her father last year and then her husband this year. It appears she is very depressed and has difficulties dealing with everyday life. I have talked to her about seeing a therapist, and she gets angry with me and says, "You think I am handling this badly." She tries to put words in my mouth and it ends up getting ugly. I really want her to get better, but I don't know what more to do. Any suggestions?"


Signed concerned friend.


A:

Your friend is in the midst of a crushing amount of grief, having lost both her husband and father recently. Some of the symptoms of grief are irritability and pessimism. Your friend seems to be trying to push you away in the belief that you don't understand, that no one understands. This increases her sense of isolation and hopelessness. It's a vicious cycle that allows your friend to feel alone and misunderstood. She's lucky to have a friend like you who only wishes she would get better. This seems to feel like an impossible expectation for her at this time. Dealing with everyday life may be more than a grieving person can manage. Unless she decided she needs professional help, suggesting therapy might sound like a criticism. She said that you thought she wasn't handling things well. The truth is she's handling things to the best of her ability. Please continue to be there for her. Be supportive and be a good listener, even if you've heard the story many times before. We can be there for each other. Call her frequently and for short conversations. Things such as remorse or guilt or anger can complicate grief. this can spill over onto the people around the grief, stricken person, to their dismay. You might suggest that your friend attend a grief support group and you could accompany her. Sometimes we need to acknowledge the fact that someone is in a great deal of pain, that some days are worse than others, and that there are no shortcuts on the road back to normal.


SUMMER 2013


Q:

"Should I let my son plat football? I have been hearing how concussions can cause a lot of damage later in life. I can't see how it can be worth it to risk my son's health, or for that matter, letting my daughter play soccer when she gets older."


Signed concerned parent.


A:

In the past, we accepted a lot more injury in life and sports than we do now. if a child was injured during recess or on the swing set at school, it simply came with the territory. If he or she fell off a horse or while riding a bike, we accepted the fact that these things happen.

Today, we all wear helmets when participating in these sports. We now know better, so we should do better. when my brother and I rode horses bareback, holding on to their manes, galloping back to the barn as fast as they could go, my mother stood silently by praying that we wouldn't fall off. She wanted us to be brave and full of adventure and not be afraid. It's that choice that's difficult to make when you don't want your child in danger.


The information we have about children's brains is alarming, as they appear to be much more susceptible to long-term effects of injury than adults. You are weighing the risks against the positive results of playing these games, as children learn many things like playing sports. You might consider other sports that are less dangers: basketball, baseball, tennis, swimming, golf, and track. I've been told that soccer for young people is relatively safe as they don't know do head butts or sliders. As I said earlier, we now know better, so we should do better. We survived our childhoods, sometimes by the skin of our teeth, but we can find other ways to teach our children important lessons.



Q:

"My sister's husband lost 30 pounds. He looks great. My sister says not only does he look different but his personality seems different. Is that possible with weight loss?"

Signed curious sister.


A:

Yes, it's fairly certain that someone's personality can change with weight loss. when we move the pieces on a chessboard, the game changes. But how it changes is less certain. One woman became excessively controlling, another man became flirtatious and quite extroverted. A large amount of weight loss changes how the world sees us, and we can become more vulnerable. I remember meeting a woman who was in public relations who had just lost 100 pounds. Her biggest problem was that no one recognized her, and it adversely affected her business. She threatened to begin wearing a name tag. You didn't say how your sister's husband changed, so I can't comment directly on her situation. I believe that we gain weight for psychological as well as physical reasons. It's more than just "calories in/calories out." We put on weight because we use food for comfort or we hide from the world behind our layer of fat. when we lose weight, we still have the underlying psychological problem. I know I must sound repetitive but therapy is a good idea. If you can confront the underlying issues for the initial weight gain, you might be able to keep from gaining it back.



Q:

"Do the seasons of the year make any difference in our moods? It seems like everyone was really cranky this last January."


Signed interested.


A:

There's a condition called seasonal affective disorder that can cause depression in some people who have insufficient exposure to the sun. The treatment for that is more sun exposure or the use of special lights to augment the sun rays. But, yesterday morning it was foggy and gray here at my home. My neighbor across the street emailed me that she never felt happier than when it was gray and overcast and the sun didn't shine. there's a healthy dose of attitude in how the weather affects our mood. I've always felt that having the weather determine our mood puts something else in charge of how we felt. How much better it is to adapt to whatever Mother Nature sends our way and not take it as personal affront. This last January was extremely cold and snowy in some parts of the country. Perhaps the crankiness had more to do with the effects of the weather, like cars not starting or snow drifts, than in actual mood changes. I actually know people who prefer that kind of weather to the heat of summer.


FALL 2014


Q:

"I have been under some stress lately with an aging parent, teenage daughter and some work-related issues. I can usually deal with stress pretty well. I have noticed in the last couple of weeks a twitch in my eye. Should I be concerned or is it even related to stress?"


Signed twitchy-eyed 50-year-old.


A:

Eye twitches and other nervous ticks can most certainly be caused by an increased amount of stress. Some stress in life is actually necessary to function. It’s present in our muscles when we hold our- selves upright. Some stress keeps us alert and aware. But when, as in your situation, the stress is constant and unrelenting, it can cause problems with various systems in our bodies. This will let us know that we’ve reached a danger point. We develop symptoms that alert us to the insidious effects of constant stress and strain. Once we’ve been put on alert, what do we do about it? The usual prescription is to get more rest, cut down on the alcohol intake, and generally take it easy. I would like to add that you should learn to say “No.” No to added stress, no to making a cake for the bake sale, no to babysitting your friend’s children, no to all those additional tasks that keep you from having sufficient “down time.” Don’t go out on weeknights, sleep late on the weekends, and go to bed an hour earlier every night. Drive your car more slowly, walk at a leisurely pace, and when you see a friend, don’t just wave, stop to chat. No rushing, no multitasking, no adding on one more thing to your “To-Do” list. Does your house really need to be that perfect? Insist that other people assume some of the load. Get back to enjoying life, and maybe your eye will stop twitching.



Q:

"I have come to the conclusion that there are three kinds of people. Users, givers and decent people. I would like to be come more of a decent person rather than a giver. How can I change myself?"


Signed person who needs a change.


A:

There is a common misconception that if we aren’t a giver then we’re automatically a taker or a user. But there is a middle ground, a point halfway between the two extremes where we can achieve balance. Where we can help others, but not at the expense of our own well- being. We’ve been taught that a good person is a giving person, one who can always be counted on to say yes. Sometimes it can lead to folks taking advantage of you and your giving nature.It will be difficult for you to make the change. Not only will it involve a change in behavior on your part, but also a lowering of expectations on the part of others. They will wonder what’s wrong with you or if you’re upset about something. Hold your ground and simply say that your available time is limited and you won’t be able to help out. Like all things it will take practice to set the boundaries, to protect yourself and your priorities; namely, having balance in your life.



Q:

"My adult son and his girlfriend are eat- ing partners. They both weigh twice as much as they should. I am concerned about their health. Every time I bring it up, they get upset with me. What can I do to help them?"


Signed concerned mom


A:

We have drinking partners and dieting partners, so why not eating partners? I understand you are describing a relationship that reinforces each others’ compulsive behavior. My Favorite Eating Partner is often one who doesn’t choose healthy food, who doesn’t raise an eyebrow if you order two desserts, and generally likes more of everything. We’re all susceptible to being influenced by the food choices made by those around us. It’s easier to order mac and cheese rather than a salad when that’s what our eating partner just ordered.Your question, though, was what you can do to stop this behavior in others. Actual confrontation rarely works. The best thing you can do is to mirror good behavior by eating healthy yourself. Don’t comment on their eat- ing habits. Don’t be critical; it will have the opposite effect. They must decide for themselves to become healthy eating partners.


WINTER 2014


Q:

"My good friend is in an abusive marriage. She hasn’t been physically assaulted, but she is definitely afraid of her husband, and I think he belittles her all the time. She is convinced she can’t survive on her own and if she tried to leave she would be in danger. His health isn’t very good, and she seems to be trapped as his caregiver. I want to help her, but I am not sure what to do."


Signed concerned friend.


A:

Verbal abuse leaves no bruises, no scars, no broken bones. It usually occurs at home with few if any people watch- ing. It’s usually

the husband. who is the abuser, although they don’t have a corner on the market. Many mothers have verbally abused their children for years. Teachers can abuse students with their words and name-calling, and let’s not forget football coaches who are notorious for their brandishing of words as incentive for action on the field. We speak of a “tongue lashing” and being ripped by someone’s verbal outburst, words that conflate physical and verbal abuse. When the victim speaks up and defends him- or herself, they are attacked again, being accused of being too sensitive and just trying to start a fight. “Here we go again. How can you stand to listen to your- self whine?” When the verbal abuse is complicated by the addition of drugs or alcohol, the intensity is increased as well as the fear.Verbal abuse can be incredibly subtle, disguised as wit or teasing or joking. “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you take a joke?” It has been described as verbal sparring and then the underlying pain is ignored. It can destroy a person’s self- esteem and humanity.


They become browbeaten and constantly afraid of not doing the right thing. But of course, no matter what they do, it will be the wrong thing; the perfect reason for their husband, father or mother to blow up and let them have the full force of their anger.When we see this happen- ing to a friend such as you have described, what can we do? Recently I gave a friend of mine a book by Patricia Evans called The Verbally Abusive Relationship. It is written very clearly and helps folks see if they are in one, what the signs are and what to do about it. Sadly, women who have been verbally abused for years have come to believe what they’ve been told. They believe they could never exist on their own, they aren’t smart enough to manage their lives and that they are lucky that some- one is willing to take care of them. Patricia Evans is on YouTube, you can listen to her and her colleagues talk about the scourge of verbal abuse. Does your town have a mental health center? Is there a group that has as its focus, the verbally abusive relation- ship? We need to confront the fact that these people are often isolated and certain that no one else has ever suffered a similar fate. As her friend ,you must walk a very narrow line between being her friend and supporter and encouraging her to look at the reality of her situation. I remember a situation where the adult children stepped in to protect their mother who was her husband’s primary caregiver when he became physically abusive. They did not do so when he had been verbally abusive for years. Verbal abuse often slips into physical abuse, in fact physical abuse is always preceded by verbal abuse.



-Romona Scholder, M.A., RNCS, Psychotherapist

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