Archives for category: Not Cancer-the other part of my life

Robin Williams was my middle school homework buddy. Yes, I used to do my homework in front of the television, which is a very bad habit. (Shhhhh, don’t tell my patients or my daughter.) As I recall, Mork and Mindy was a smash hit almost as soon as it debuted. Even as a kid, I could tell that the writing on that show was not that great. And some of the characters were not funny. But Robin Williams improvised a lot of his dialogue. He was fast, charming, impish, hilarious, and able to switch from utterly naive to lascivious in a split second.

As a young teen girl it was not lost on me that he was damned cute. So cute that despite my preference for clean cut boys (remember, I was a very young girl) who were on the pubescent side, I looked past Robin’s manly mane of chest hair that could clearly be seen peaking out of the top of his rainbow colored t-shirts. Mork was a stand up guy even when he’d sneak a dirty joke into each off his lightning fast riffs on the English language, pop culture, history, and astronomy.

Robin Williams went on to be a star and a good actor. I loved him as the lead in The World According to Garp. Very funny, very sweet. This was also the first time I noticed the sadness in his eyes. There is a common image of a comedian or a comedic actor as a “sad clown”. I don’t think that all funny people have to be sad but I do know that a good deal of famous funny people are sad. Frankly, I think most celebrities are sad. There is the drive to get attention with so much rejection interspersed. The attention and recognition are so inconsistent. When they come, I imagine it is like the high of a drug and you can never get enough.

I went on to enjoy most of his films over the intervening years and then he became involved in my school work once again in March of 1997. I was living in Florida at the time for my psychology internship. I had flown back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a couple of days because I was defending my doctoral dissertation. The doctoral defense is a centuries old tradition going back to the Middle Ages and deserving of its own post. Let’s just say that it is the day I wore a business suit, presented my dissertation research to five professors, they peppered me with questions for an hour and a half, then made me wait in the hallway for a half an hour while they determined whether I would get my Ph.D. or not. The whole thing lasted three hours and was the culmination of 6 1/2 years of graduate school.

There was another notable occasion occurring on campus that day. Robin Williams was just a little ways away filming Patch Adams. And I missed him! My friend and fellow graduate student, Jawana did not miss him. I excitedly asked her, “What was he like?” She replied, “He’s a small hairy man.” Ha! Not very nice, Jawana! Robin probably noticed this himself. Perhaps he would have compared himself to a muppet. Hairy, funny, and adorable.

Robin Williams, the world is never going to forget you and I’m not just saying that because I’m sad that you’re gone. You were a singular sensation. I could see the sadness behind your eyes. I could see the addiction to attention as well as other substances. The mania that delighted us when it was at the right speed. Nonetheless, you shocked me. You had lived through so much and escaped alive. You were 63 and somehow even though I’d heard you’d gone back to rehab, I thought you’d keep yourself around.

I am a professional who knows better. I was naive and hopeful. I thought you had enough Mork in you to keep you alive.

To feel alone with such love around you must have been devastating. I didn’t know you but you knew how to make me smile. Rest in peace.

As you may have heard a thousand times by now, my hometown’s professional football team, the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl. It was very exciting. It was a major achievement. There was a parade in downtown Seattle. 700,000 fans came to the parade. Seattle’s population is about 620,000. More than a whole city’s worth of people were crammed into the space of a few city blocks on a relatively cold day. That’s how excited people were.

There were also a number of media articles and FB posts excitedly declaring that the Superbowl win was the first major sports championship for Seattle in 35 years. I remember that championship. It was the Seattle Sonics basketball team when they were coached by Lennie Wilkenson. I was an avid Sonics fan at they time. It was really exciting when we won that championship. But something else has happened in the intervening 35 years. The Seattle Storm, a team in the WNBA has won the national championship. Actually, they’ve won it twice. Given the age of the WNBA, it is particularly impressive. The Storm play in the same arena in which the Seattle Sonics used to play, before the Sonics left Seattle in a huff because most tax payers didn’t want to pay for a third new sports stadium in a small number of years.

Someone from high school posted on Facebook about how excited he was that the Superbowl win was the first major championship for Seattle in 35 years. One of his friends reminded him that he has daughters and that the Storm has won two championships. His reply? “No really, that doesn’t count.”

I am not an angry person but I get angry about injustice. Women and girls are discriminated against in this world. It is a fact and a quite obvious one. This is why it is so important to keep working for equality and also to celebrate the accomplishments of girls and women.

Everybody’s had a woman or a girl in their life, right? Mothers, teachers, sisters, daughters, friends, wives, girlfriends. And one would think that if I were to share a non-political post on Facebook like, “Hey, it’s Marie Curie’s birthday!” that I would get “likes” from both men and women. I rarely get “likes” from men on any kind of so called “women’s issue” posts. Seriously? Marie Curie? What’s not to like? Even when my daughter dressed up as Eleanor Roosevelt for Famous Persons’ day in elementary school. Zero “likes” from men. Come on! How adorable and cool is that?

Social media is powerful. It has changed culture in some meaningful ways. Men, how about paying some attention to these human issues posts? They are not just about women. They affect all of us directly and indirectly.

Still not convinced, men? Still not motivated to take action? I have an exercise for you. Close your eyes. Imagine an argument that would convince you to “like” and or positively comment on posts celebrating the achievement of female human beings or calling attention to civil rights issues affecting female human beings. Now imagine that I have made this argument and you are successfully convinced.

Look, gentleman we are just asking you to “like” us not “like like” us, as the kids say. You would be helping everyone. Thank you.

I have a Ph.D. in psychology. This is a science degree. I was a researcher for many years, following the scientific method to answer empirical questions. Before starting a study, there is also rigorous review of research involving human participants by ethics committees, which are comprised of both academic researchers and community members. I also have a number of peer reviewed research publications. The peer review process requires that other researchers in the field (and they shouldn’t be your buddies, by the way, that would be a conflict) review an article and not only weigh in on whether the article should be published but also make sometimes very extensive recommendations about changes to be made in the writing, the logic, the conclusions, or even the type and amount of statistical tests that are performed. And by the way, the authors’ names are taken off of the article by the journal editor and the authors are also not told the names of the reviewers.

It is not a perfect system. It is not totally devoid of bias. But it a systematic process, with built in checks and balances, carried out by in my experience, very smart and dedicated people. I find it extremely powerful that at the basis of statistical testing is the possibility that a hypothesis is wrong. Mathematically, each hypothesis is tested against the null hypothesis, which to make a long story short means, “Researcher, you are wrong. What you thought made a difference, made no difference.” So while an individual researcher might be arrogant, the basic assumption of statistical testing is still steeped in a kind of humility.  In sum, carrying out science involves the hard work of employing logic, making predictions, gathering evidence, and working as a scientific community to continually build a systematic understanding of the world.

I love doing science. I’m no  longer a researcher so I am not engaged in conducting it anymore. But I like to think of myself as an extremely logical person, a scientific person, a person who despite the fact that I am passionate with strong feeling and quick thoughts, tries to examine questions in the time it takes to do so, think about evidence to support my initial judgments, and make revisions as I go.

I am also a person with a strong faith in God. And again, I am not a traditionally religious person but I do have strong faith. God cannot be seen directly, anyway. God cannot really be measured. A belief in God is not scientific. The way I have thought about this is that there are some questions that are subject to faith and others that are subject to science. The existence of God is not a question, at least at this time, that is subject to scientific inquiry. But I have faith and experience God through the love people express for each other and nature’s majesty the latter of which includes Earth and the wide expanses of the universe.

Today, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was a truly tragic and horrible event during particularly turbulent and violent times in our country’s history. People die for no good reason all of the time. It is easy to get desensitized to it. But thinking about JFK, a charismatic, young, idealistic, and good looking president grounds us and reminds us of the horror of violence.

I think most people in the U.S. would agree that there is too much violence in our country. But after that agreement, things tend to fall apart. Today I was reminded of the National Rifle Association slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” I hate that slogan. And as you know, I hate very few things. But I hate it and it’s not just because I disagree, as do most Americans, with the extreme positions of the NRA.

I could go through the illogic of the slogan. It’s not an either or situation. People with guns kill people, both a person and a weapon are usually necessary. Yes, people still get beaten to death with someones bare hands and feet, but this is a minority when all violence related deaths are considered. A tool is usually used and guns are an extremely fast and effective way of killing someone.

There has been systematic research on guns in this country. I could give you all kinds of statistics about how having a gun in one’s home increases the risk of gun death. I could quote all kinds of evidence that our current gun control laws are insufficient in truly protecting people. I could also give you really obvious logic like do people really need assault weapons for duck hunting? Or do you really want to follow the logic of Ted Nugent? I mean have you listened to him? He makes no sense.

I could give you data. Because guns, their use, and their impact are observable. They are subject to scientific inquiry. And yes that inquiry can be subject to bias and given that NRA successfully lobbied to defund grant funding through the Centers for Disease Control (they have a section of injury prevention) on any studies that involve guns, we will unfortunately get less information about a problem that most all of us would agree exists. Too many people are getting killed by people with guns.

But I could not convince most of the people I’d like to convince with logic and data. Because many people have decided that this question is one of faith, not one of science. So there’s really no way to argue. And it doesn’t matter that there is supposed to be a separation of Church and state. A religious belief, by a powerful lobby, in highly unrestricted gun access and ownership is held to not be questioned and is incorporated into law.

As a general rule, I avoid discussing politics especially the politics that get intertwined with religious belief. It’s not so much that I disagree with everyone. I just find that whether I am discussing these issues with a person who agrees with me or not, there’s an incredible intolerance for people who express a different view point. And not only is there intolerance, there is name calling, “morons”, “un-American”, “not real Americans”, “Bible thumpers”, “idiots”.

And then I just come out of the conversation fighting harshly judgmental views. I try really hard not to be harshly judgmental because it is incompatible with love and respect. And I add “harshly” because we are supposed to be judgmental; we make hundreds perhaps thousands of judgments in a single day. But the best judgments are those that are fair, safe, and respectful to ourselves and to others.

You may agree with me. You may disagree with me. If you’ve gotten to this part of this post, I thank you for your kind attention. In any case, I have faith in God. I have faith in the power of  love. And I believe that violence is a problem in our society. And in my work, I help parents and children to use alternatives to aggression. In that sense, I work on the “people” part of the NRA slogan. Along with my husband, I work to teach Zoe how to live as a loving, peaceful, fair, and respectful person. I continue to try to live in this way myself. I am not always successful. Nobody is, there is conflict in life. But I hold peace as an ideal to which I continually strive. To me, that is my personal practical brand of pacifism.

People, let’s get to work.

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This post is from January 2013.

I’ve been struggling with water, the gift of life, aqua, good ol’ H2O.

There was leaky pipe in my office last Saturday, which would have created a deluge had my office mate not been there to see it so a plumber could be called to fix it.

Yesterday, as usual, I went for my three mile long walk. It was rainy, which is not unusual for this time of year. I donned my Gore-Tex armor, which has served me so well-Gore-Tex hat, Gore-Tex hiking boots, Gore-Tex parka, Gore-Tex boots, Gore-Tex pants.

If I lived a considerable distance south of these parts, I might even call myself a Gore-Texan. (Cue music.) The rain at night, lasts a fortnight (clap, clap, clap, clap). Deep in the heart of Gore-Tex!

I came home from my walk, my boots squeaky, my socks soggy, and soaked through my coat, insulated long-underwear shirt, t-shirt, and bra! Only my Gore-Tex pants managed to maintain my faith in the magical rain shedding powers of Gore-Tex.

I took my smartphone out of my ZIPPPED Gore-Tex parka pocket. Uh-oh. It was covered in water. The screen was flickering! I quickly turned it off and opened it up. It was wet on the inside! I dried it off but being fool hardy, I tried to turn it back on even though my brain was telling me, “Leave it off and call AT&T.” It turned on but was frozen on the “Samsung” boot up screen. So I turned it off and broke it down again.

“My precious! My precious phone! My extremely complicated work, medical, family, personal life calendar is on there! The names of all of the new patients I will see between now and March 5th are on there!”

“Golem, I feel your pain,” I thought to myself. “I am a psychologist. I am not addicted to technology. I am an excellent problem-solver. Get a hold of yourself, woman!” I took a deep breath and called AT&T.

A very sweet technical support rep named Shannon answered. “Oh, I just did that. I was so worried. I keep EVERYTHING on my phone. Surround your phone with rice to get it to dry out. Leave it for at least a day. I’ll call you tomorrow and see how you are.”

Shannon has felt Golem’s pain as well. I confirmed with her that if the phone didn’t dry out, it was curtains for the information on my phone. (And yes, Google is supposed to automatically back up my calendar but that stopped working and I’ve been procrastinating about figuring out a fix for that problem.)

“My precious! My precious! God, you can take my breast but not my SMARTPHONE!” I was again, I’m afraid, losing some perspective. So I then imagined the Albert Ellis section of classic 1960’s psychologist training film, “Three Approaches to Psychotherapy“, also known as “The Gloria Films”. Gloria, a real person with real life problems, agrees to be taped seeing three super famous clinical psychologists (Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis), one at a time. Pioneers in fields can be kind of extreme. The Gloria films illustrate this quite nicely. By the time I saw the film in the 90’s, it was for historical purposes. The film served up unintentional hilarity with a side of guilt since Gloria was a real person with real problems. They were not getting addressed.

So what does this have to do with my meltdown about “My precious”, you may ask? Albert Ellis was a brilliant psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), which is the foundation of modern cognitive therapy. The goal of RET is to use reason to reduce psychopathology. However, Ellis did this in the absence of stuff like, you know, demonstrating empathy and establishing rapport. He also had a rather distinctive nasal northeast accent. Combined with his lawyerly therapy style, it was pretty funny. “I can see that your situation in inconvenient, but it is not terrible and awful.” Or my favorite when Gloria puts her self down and he responds by telling her that if she makes a mistake it does not make her a “no good-nik”. The sight and sound of Dr. Ellis trying to use 60’s-era hip slang was double hilarious. Check it out for yourself here.

“Elizabeth, your anecdotes require too much exposition! What does this have to do with your phone?”

Thank you, patient readers. Basically, I tried to reason with myself as I often do, but this time I remembered Albert Ellis, and it made me laugh.

That pulled me out of my tizzy and I went about recreating my schedule, piecing it together from memory, emails, and other non smartphone dependent methods.

Today, I took my phone out of it’s rice bed and it awoke!

Thank you, Albert Ellis. Yesterday was inconvenient and more than a little stressful but it wasn’t “terrible and awful.” I hope you forgive me for laughing at you and for being able to do a dead-on impersonation of you. You were definitely not a “no good-nik.”

Psychotherapy is based on a relationship. Without one that is positive and trusting, I can’t help. Work does not get done. Healing does not happen. And in the course of the relationship, some of my patients develop strong feelings for me, even love. I have fondness for most kids and teens because I love children. But some of the kids, especially those I watch grow and change over time, I grow to love in a very powerful way. I imagine that it is similar to what teachers feel for some of their students.

As I have mentioned previously, some of my patients demonstrate this by giving hugs. Less frequently, they bring me gifts, usually something edible. And other times, they invite me to an important event in their lives. It is powerful for a child with social anxiety, for example, to invite me to a school performance in which she has speaking lines. When I receive these invitations, I take them into my heart and treasure them. And then the fretting begins.

If you see me as your psychologist, you can tell everyone, your friends your family, or the postal carrier. It is your private information to share or not share as you see fit. However, it’s not my private information and it’s my job to protect your right to share it or not share it. Sometimes this is not an issue at all. Several years ago, one of my patients had a piece of art on display, along with other students in her high school, at a downtown museum. I was able to go to the museum and no one knew that I was there to see a particular piece of art or why I would want to see it.

If it is a smaller community event, things get harder. I had a patient ask me to go to her school play a few years ago. The school happens to be across from my office and my daughter used to go there. There was a day time and evening showing. I walked over, during the day, and took a seat in the back. My plan was to scoot out before I bumped into anyone I might know. And I had some vague but believable responses prepared to any questions I might be asked by community members.

I watched the show with my legs crossed. Apparently, they were crossed for awhile because when I got up to leave before the rush, my leg wouldn’t support me. So I stood there hanging on to the back of the chair to keep myself upright and waited until my blood started circulating again. But I was feeling self-conscious and wanting to leave so I took another couple of steps away from the chair. I was also wearing my high-heeled pirate boots, which didn’t help. I fell right into the wall and knocked myself on the forehead before falling to the ground.

Unfortunately, after making this spectacle, my leg was still asleep. And now I had attracted the attention of many people. Somebody helped me back to my seat. Then a very nice older couple, looking to be in their early 60’s, started chatting with me. They said, “Whose grandchild is yours?”

Okay, so I should probably let you know that this play occurred during “Grandparents’ Day” at the school. And I have nothing against grandparents or being a grandparent. But people, I was probably about 43 or 44 years old when this happened. Although grand motherhood was possible, it was not likely. Not to mention that I was wearing a pair of kick ass pirate boots that were arguably too young looking for a 40 something year old woman.

I looked over at the couple and noticed that they were wearing stickers that said, “youngest grandparents.” They’d won the sticker for youngest grandparents!!!! If I were going to be a grandparent, I would at least win the “youngest grandparent” prize from a couple that appeared to be at least 20 years my senior!

Although my dignity was destroyed, on the plus side, the confidentiality of my patient was maintained. So although a personally embarrassing event, I had managed not to break any laws.

But not all of these events are so awkward. This morning I attended my first bar mitzvah for a boy I have seen for some time now. It was very important to him that I be there. He asked me to mark the date in my calendar over a year ago. I knew no one there except his parents. (Phew.) He was so happy to see me. It was a beautiful and powerful experience.

I sang, I prayed, I cried, I danced. And when I scooted out before anyone could ask me any probing questions, I was sure-footed and proud of this boy who has come so far in the time I have known him.

My state of Washington uses an absentee ballot system. There are no more poll booths. All votes are cast, signed, mailed, and then counted.

I have voted in every primary and general election except for one (a primary) since I was 18 years old. That is almost 30 years of doing my civic duty.

About a year ago, my vote wasn’t counted. I received a letter from the county informing me that the signature on my ballot did not match the signature on file. The asked me to sign another form and send it in. I subsequently learned that they were still not happy and they ended up NOT COUNTING MY VOTE!!!!!

I was able to vote in a subsequent election. However, while I was recuperating from my most recent surgery, I received a letter from the county recommended that I send ANOTHER official signature to avoid future votes from being dismissed.

Sounds easy, write? I just put my John Handcock on a form and order will be restored.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case. After YEARS of fast note taking as a psychologist, I wore out my hand. My signature is different EVERY time I write it. I had previously attached evidence of this in the form of a scanned photo, but one of my lovely “watchin’ my back” blog buddies reminded me that it is not prudent to post one’s John Hancock in public. So, you will have to take my word for it.

But I will provide an alternative writing sample. This is a page of notes that I took during a parent interview earlier in the week. (No clutching of pearls, it is very generic and nothing identifying is here.)

Okay, my signature is in cursive and about 500 times less legible than this.

Okay, my signature is in cursive and about 500 times less legible than this.

 

I see so many patients with handwriting and written expression difficulties. They can be extremely frustrating; this is the reason that there is a writing curriculum called, “Handwriting Without Tears.” Sometimes, I turn my clipboard around and show them my chicken scratch and say, “See, some day you can become a psychologist!” So, that is one silver lining to the writing that is produced by my worn out right hand.

So what to do about voting? I think what I will do is photocopy the signature on the form they sent so that I can forge my VERY OWN signature!

Touch was a subject that came up with some frequency in my psychology training. Namely, how much and when is it appropriate to share more than a handshake with a patient?

Clinical psychologists, although by and large are a touchy feel-y lot, also tend to be behaviorally conservative around their patients. We want to maintain good boundaries. We don’t want to confuse folks about the nature of our relationship with them.

This is particularly true of patients who are hospitalized for severe psychiatric disorders. I spent 3 1/2 years of my graduate school training working with adults at the local state psychiatric hospital, located amid tobacco fields in rural North Carolina. The hospital has since closed.

There are three situations that come to mind related to this topic, the first two occurred during my very first year of graduate school. The third occurred at the end of my 3rd year of graduate school.

#1 The two ladies sitting on the front porch incident

As part of my adult assessment course, I practiced interviewing skills with an elderly woman on the gero-psychiatry unit. She had dementia and a history of psychiatric illness. I was a 25 year-old at the time. She thought I was a young neighbor who had come to visit her and that we were sitting on her front porch. At one point we moved from one part of the ward to the other. She held my hand while we walked. Although I had a little thought of “Am I going to get into trouble for this, my supervisor is watching,” my gut told me that it was appropriate. This is something that I had done with my grandmother and great aunts. I didn’t see the harm in it. At one point in the interview, this sweet confused lady remembered that her husband had died, an event that had occurred years and years previously. But due to her memory impairments, it was as if she were learning the news again for the first time. I reached out for her hand as she cried and held it until she was feeling better. It seemed the kindest thing to do at the time and fortunately, my supervisor agreed and told me he thought I’d acted very appropriately.

#2 The what-are-you-doing-in-my-face incident

This incident is actually worthy of a post of it’s own because there is a lot more to it. But I will keep it to the topic at hand. I was doing an assessment with a 27 year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia, the latter of which I would later learn from his chart. I also learned later from his chart that there was a specific behavior plan on file to deal with his sexually inappropriate behavior. (The onsite psychologist did not allow students to review charts prior to meeting patients. That is one reason that this incident is worthy of a full post. Supervisors, don’t do that. It is called “hazing trainees” in the guise of giving us an unbiased experience.)

Looking back it is actually comical now that the chairs in the room had wheels on the bottom. There was no one else in the room with us. He kept scooting his chair closer and closer to me, while I kept scooting back. And they were those super old WWII-issue chairs that are really squeaky. So his squeaks would be followed by my series of squeaks. Suffice to say, I was keeping a good eye on him.  But I had to look over to pick up a new Thematic Apperception Test card (a.k.a the TAT and it is a projective personality measure) and when I straightened up I saw that his face was RIGHT IN MY FACE.

I quickly stood up while putting my hand on his shoulder, firmly guiding him back into his chair, and saying, “That is not appropriate!”

He said, “I was just trying to kiss you.”

I said, “I know and that is not appropriate. You stay in your seat over there and don’t try to kiss me again!”

I was able to finish testing and the rest of the story is for another day. The moral of this story is that while it is okay to grasp the hand of a sweet old lady who just remembered that her husband died it is not okay to return the kiss of a 27 year-old horn dog, even if he has paranoid schizophrenia and an extremely hard time with boundaries.

Incident #3: The case of the disorderly orderly

I spent year 3 of graduate school working 16 hours/week at the hospital for my practicum placement. I primarily did assessments but one of the social workers asked me to do psychotherapy with Doris, a 58 year-old patient who had been hospitalized for the 30th time in 30 years. He just wanted someone to give her some experience in normal interaction and not get too fancy. I thought he made a pretty good argument and agreed to do it. (My supervisor, an onsite psychologist was very entertaining during supervision but that was more about constant joking and outrageous personality. He did not object.)

Fast forward to the end of the academic year. I had seen Doris twice a week for many months. I would not be returning to see her. I gave her a hug and we said our goodbyes.

I walked into the nurses’ station to write a progress note in her chart. Danny, one of the health care techs (what we used to call an “orderly”) had witnessed this exchange. My guess is that he was in his early 30’s at the time. I don’t know how to write a rural North Carolina accent anymore, not to mention that Danny always spoke with a cheek full of tobacco, but what follows is my best shot.

“Elizabeth, when do I get mah hug? Mah life would be so good if Ah got a hug from you evrah day.” Then he spat into the plastic cup he always carried to use as a portable spittoon.

Now, I actually liked Danny. He was good-hearted, made 13K a year, and in the extremely rare event that a patient became assaultive, he would be the one to save my hide. Danny was also not the first health tech to bend the boundaries with one of the young female psych students. My friends had similar experiences on occasion. It was particularly obnoxious on the mens’ wards when it was done in front of patients, thereby setting a very bad example of how to treat us. But again, there were the good-hearted and would save our skins factors to consider.

I touched Danny but it was not quite what he had in mind. I smiled, picked up his left hand by his wedding ring, and said, “Danny, if you feel that you are lacking a daily hug, I believe it’s time that you had a talk with YOUR WIFE.”

Touch is something we all need. But as a psychologist, sometimes it’s okay and sometimes it’s not. And by the way, my comfort with the contact always figures in, even if I think that the contact would be okay for the patient. I’m not expected to be a therapeutically indicated hand holding, hugging machine. Working with children, it is usually less complicated. Although I never initiate hugs, I will return one that’s offered. And that’s one of the best parts of my job.

My dear friend, Rachel, just posted a comment on Facebook, “I think I’m about to get in trouble on a friend’s page. Best shut my yap.” My response was the following comment: “Do a cost/benefit analysis and then proceed accordingly. I saw my comment in print and thought, “And to think I used to write poetry.”

But when it comes to sticking our necks out and debating, it is probably pretty good advice. As I have described elsewhere, I am naturally argumentative and love a good debate. You may recall from an earlier post that my fellow grad school mate, Penny once described me in her amazingly wonderful Appalachian drawl, “Elizabeth would argue with a post.”

Some of those arguments were transformative and some were just fun. At other times, they were draining, left me in a lingering state of emotional turmoil either because I felt hurt and/or that I felt that I had hurt someone else. I am not a mean person but I am a quick thinker and when hurt or angry, I can use my verbal ability in a very aggressive way. This was particularly true in my teens. One of my high school teachers wrote in my senior year book, “I will miss your acid tongue.” I don’t think he missed it because he ignored my Facebook friend request when I put it out there a couple of years ago. And I could see that he was active on Facebook and friends with other students.

An excellent lesson I learned during the horrible work situation that led to my first of two major depressive episodes was to trust myself and choose my battles carefully. I spent nearly three years at that workplace, surrounded by some amazingly competent and dedicated people and others, well not so much. And since the folks in the “not so much” category were in management, even us amazingly competent and dedicated underlings misbehaved. I spent a lot of time in conflict with managers and coworkers because I felt both personally and professionally attacked and unable to do my job. I was given two managers, with totally different training, and totally different goals. In other words, it was a structural set up for failure. Before I fully realized how futile my situation was I spent a lot of time questioning in my head, “Is it me or is it them?”

Sometimes arguing for me is an intellectual exercise or sport. At other times, it has been a way of seeking reassurance when I am anxious. I did a lot of that kind of arguing at that place of employment. The illogic and chaos of the place was so disorienting. If only I could explain my ideas logically or counter criticisms in a reasonable manner, the universe would become organized again.

The universe didn’t reorganize itself until after I was laid off from the job in a very nasty way. But it was freeing. I got my depression treated. I got my Washington state psychology license and planned to start a small private practice in case my research career, the one I had fought to achieve and maintain over the span of 20 years, wasn’t viable. I wrote a small grant with a software company that designs web-based training, using a rather ingenious curriculum design developed by a professor at mid-west university. The grant was from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a pilot educational program. This was truly exciting as I had been working in computer-based parent education program research and development since my doctoral dissertation. Telehealth was a new, growing, and much needed research area. I live in a metropolitan area but I spent my training years, six years in North Carolina, one year in northern Florida, and two years in southern Indiana, working with rural families with very little access to even the most basic parent education on how to help little kids learn to cope with the difficulties in life in ways other than hitting, kicking, or throwing tantrums.

For my doctoral dissertation, I had carried out an independent project (as opposed to working on a professor’s project) a clinical trial evaluating a parent education program that I developed along with my husband, who is a software engineer. The results of the trial were modest, but positive and statistically significant. Working with an established professor translating parent education to his web-based instructional design meant continuing a line of research using technology as an additional mental health service delivery method.

You know I love writing about context. This is why I am not making a long story short. If you have not yet gotten my message, I was REALLY invested in my line of research. Getting help to under served populations. Preventing the really treatment resistant mental health problems that can develop in folks who don’t get early intervention, many of whom end up being “treated” in our penal system. This may sound overly self-important or idealism bordering on delusion, but I really viewed it as a vocational calling of sorts.

Back to the grant. We spent the $50,000 the government provided very very well. The pilot project was a success and something of which I will always be extremely proud. The parents who used the program loved it and they also provided me with very positive feedback regarding the email-based discussion thread moderation and coaching I provided to them as they completed our little program.

Although I enjoyed working with my co-principal investigator, the Big Time University Professor, I was extremely unhappy with a key staff member at the company, with whom I interacted daily. I think it basically boiled down to his taking a different role on the project than the one that he had been accustomed to, which was being in charge functionally if not officially. In other words, management had been very hands off. He really did not like this and fought me over everything including the program content and learning objectives.

I also disliked managing a project being carried out in the Midwest while I lived in on the west coast. It was time to write the “big grant” the one that was the follow up for the pilot grant (the granting mechanism was defined as a two-stage grant, the little grant followed by the big grant.) If the government were to funded the second grant, it would have been a $250,000 grant, which is not enormous in the research world but it is significant and a huge amount for a researcher at my career level.

I knew people in Seattle with relevant production and project management experience. REALLY GOOD PEOPLE WITH WHOM I’D WORKED WELL IN THE PAST. I’d contacted nationally known researchers, primarily psychologist and they had agreed to serve as consultants on the grant with no financial compensation. (That is standard, by the way. Psychology professors do a lot of stuff for free.) The pool of possible Internet programmers in Seattle was huge compared to a small university town in the Midwest. The professor and I set up a meeting with the company C.E.O. I wanted to request that I hire a Seattle crew to carry out the project, should the grant be funded. Big Time University Professor thought this was a grand idea, in fact I think he was even the one who suggested it.

C.E.O.’s response was a surprisingly loud and angry, “You work with the team you’ve got or we part ways.” I REALLY wanted to write that grant. But I was clear about what I was and was not willing to put myself through in order to get that chance. He had made a bold and seemingly bullying move. I calmly replied, “If the only choices are to keep this team or to part ways, then we will part ways. But I think there are other solutions to this problem. Let’s discuss those.”

I didn’t argue but I stood my ground. The small grant was over. I was back to collecting unemployment. My family needed for me to make an income. It wasn’t just about my idealistic goals or my career. It was about putting food on the table. The meeting ended on an ambiguous note something along the lines of “Let’s keep talking about this.”

My gut told me to get out and that what looked like a wonderful possibility would not be in reality. The C.E.O. was not a bad guy but he was disrespectful and I had no confidence in his ability to treat me like someone with something of value to offer the company. They were also struggling financially, had been through a number of rounds of lay-offs, and a few years later, the company folded. So he was also trying to protect existing staff rather than to expand the company into Seattle.

My husband agreed with me and I declined to write the grant. It was disappointing but felt like the exactly right decision. I ended up getting on research staff at the University of Washington and starting my psychology practice. I ended up loving both jobs, the former as long as it lasted, which was three years.

These days, I keep my arguments with posts (figurative or literal Facebook posts) to a minimum. I try to think about the costs of acting as well as the costs of not acting. I think about what things I will not get to do if I am busy arguing. I think about the fairness and strength of my argument. I consider the other side. I consider other solutions to the problem. I think about whether I am trying to solve the right problem.

Conflict is a fact of life. Some conflict is even necessary for life, especially if one has relationships with at least one other human being. But conflict as a way of life? No, thank you. I’ve got too many other things I want to do with myself.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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