Archives for posts with tag: psychology

This morning, I awoke at 4:15 am. As is usual for me, I typically sleep poorly the night before I have to wake up early to catch a flight. Last night was no exception. I awoke at 11:00 pm thinking that it was morning, again at Midnight, and again at 2:00 am. I don’t know if my mind doesn’t trust that my alarm will go off or if I’m just too excited about upcoming adventures, or if perhaps, I have wound myself into a tizzy getting loose ends tied up before I leave for a trip. I suppose it is likely a combination of all of these things.

Having not slept deeply, I was able to get ready quickly. I am going out to dinner with my friend, Robin when I arrive in Raleigh. Consequently, I used my friend, Cheryl’s conference travel trick of wearing comfortable traveling clothes that will also be suitable to wear at social hours and dinners out. The comfortable clothes part was fairly easy. I have a stylish professional and dress wardrobe. However, I stopped wearing clothes that need ironing or dry cleaning years ago. So all of my dresses are pretty comfortable. I also used my trick of wearing my bulkiest pair of shoes on the plane to save room in my luggage. This morning, it was a toss-up between my blue hiking boots and my black wedge sandals. The sandals are both very cute and comfortable, having been made by a savvy shoe company that caters to the middle-aged foot. Though I am not above wearing boots or sneakers with dresses in an airport, I opted for the sandals.

I typically get to the airport about 1 ½ hours before a flight. Yeah, I know that they say to get there two hours early but seriously, who does that? The cab arrived a little early and the drive to the airport was quick, and my airline was one of the first gates. So I was at the airport 1 ¾ hours early. I went through security (shoes are coming off again), found my gate, and bought a coffee at Dilettante Chocolates (they coffee is so much better than Starbucks’ plus there was no line, they are also local, and did I mention chocolate?)

By the time I sat in the gate area, I still had 1 ½ hours to kill. I sent out some silly Facebook postings, sent an “I love you” text to hubby, and watched the rain hit the tarmac with a steady strum. Time passed quickly, I boarded, and after the usual wait, the pilot’s assurance that we would be underway in a “minute or two” (airplane-speak for waits ranging between and minute or two and a several hours), we took off.

Despite the rain, the lower skies over Seattle were clear. In the early morning darkness, the city lights sparkled like fireflies. I could see the Puget Sound and islands in the distance. It was quite lovely. The effect reminded me of the beauty of my home town as well as a nostalgic reminder of the fireflies I found so enchanting when I lived in the South, which is where I am headed today, to the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. I lived there for six years as a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student at UNC-Chapel Hill. This Saturday, my Ph.D. program is having its first ever reunion, an idea prompted by the retirement of my dissertation adviser, Joe Lowman, after 40 years with the program, not counting his own years as a graduate student there. One of the faculty figured that since Joe had taught almost every living alumnus of the program, it was only fitting to have a reunion for all graduating years.

When I started graduate school in 1990, I was 24 years-old, and a newlywed of six months. I was one of the only married students in my class of 13 students. I had never lived out of the Seattle area having grown up in Renton, WA and attended college at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was one of only two six children to move more than a one hour long drive from my parents’ house. My younger brother, James and his wife, Meagan lived in South Bend, Indiana for three years while she was in law school at Notre Dame. But everyone knew that they were moving back and in fact they moved the day after her commencement.

At that time, I was planning to become a professor and knowing how few universities there are in the Pacific Northwest, I did not think I would ever again be more than a visitor to the part of the country I love so much. I remember at our first grad student orientation meeting, asking our department chair questions to clarify when the school breaks and vacations would be. She and my classmates probably thought I was a lazy student! The truth was that I was anxious and already homesick. I wanted reassurance that I would see my family again. All of these transitions, not to mention the fact that my childhood dog has passed at age 15 on my wedding day, created an abrupt take off to independence.

There were also the cultural adjustments. I had only been to the East Coast once not counting my changing planes in New York on the way to and from my honeymoon, from which I had just returned a week or so earlier. I had never been to the South and by that I mean the southeastern part of the U.S., which for cultural reasons, does not include Florida. (Having subsequently lived in north central Florida, I beg to differ.)

The first cultural adjustment was the humidity. It was August in North Carolina. I had just been in the dessert near the Egyptian/Sudanese border. This is one of the hottest places on Earth during the hottest time of the year. You know when people say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity?” Word.

Okay, I know what you are thinking. Humidity is not culture; humidity is climate. Well, I believe that it impacts the culture there. The humidity in the South is like a character in a story. At night, walking outdoors among the outlines of live oaks and hanging Spanish moss, it feels like a seductive and exotic embrace. During the day, it is brutal, relentless, and soul-crushing. Life is lived, as much as possible, in air conditioned environments during the hot time of the year.

The second adjustment was the fact that I was only one of three students in my entire program who was from the West Coast. There was only one other student, Steve Geller, who was from Seattle but he was an advanced student who quickly left the area to complete his internship. Five years after I moved back to Seattle, I coincidentally became his office mate in our neighborhood of West Seattle, until he moved to Hawaii in the summer of 2013.

Chapel Hill is a lovely colonial college town. We don’t have colonial era architecture in Seattle. The oldest homes and buildings are from the late 1800’s and those are rare indeed. I only know of one, which is the oldest home in Seattle and the site of a small museum. In Seattle, we have totem poles that old but even Native American artifacts are not in great supply at least in western Washington due to wood being the most plentiful building material and our wet climate. Things rot. To see the old buildings in Chapel Hill, with their red brick that mirrors the color of the Georgia clay in the soil, was a lovely treat, like living in an outdoor museum.

My husband and I adjusted to living in North Carolina. In fact, we loved living there and would have considered settling there. We loved the rich history of contemporary fiction. I remember attending a short story reading in a converted 1700’s barn in Fearrington Village. These were authors who used words that painted characters with deeply saturated hues. And the music of the language was stunning. I loved it. To this day, some of my favorite authors are contemporary southern writers. Anyone who says, “Southerners are stupid” needs to pick up a damn book.

And maybe it has something to do with all of the eccentric, strong women in southern literature that allow my strong personality made waves in the South, it was not as bad as one might predict, though part of that may have been because I was in academia, an environment in which I have felt comfortable being direct and opinionated.

The last adaptation was adjusting to being in one of the most rigorous Ph.D. programs in the country. Psychology is a funny discipline. At the bachelor’s level, it is considered one of the easiest degrees to obtain. Now I took a more rigorous course of study to obtain a B.S. instead of a B.A. but even so my husband’s undergraduate program in computer science was so much harder than mine. But at the doctoral level, especially in clinical psychology, which requires both research and clinical training, psychology is a really hard course of study. Good God, the first semester kicked my ass. And it wasn’t that I performed poorly academically, it was just that I felt that I was working all of the time and running scared. For a while, I feared that I would be kicked out of the program. One of my classmates, who was an older student and therefore wiser said, “Elizabeth, you are solidly passing all of your classes (we did not get A, B, C… type grades). Why would you get kicked out?” Thank you, Craig, wherever you are. Eventually, I became a confident student. Honestly, I loved graduate school.

I have not been back North Carolina for eight years and my past trips have been brief. This is also the first time I’ve been there traveling without my husband. That makes it more of an adventure and a reminder of very exciting and important times in my early adulthood when the world opened up to a big big place.

I look forward to seeing you, my home away from home. You are the place where my husband and I built the foundation of our young marriage and shared our dreams for the future. You are the placed I learned a profession I love deeply. You taught me the importance of friendship and how friends can be like family. For awhile, you gave me a cool accent and you performed the miracle of getting me interested in spectator sports with Dean Smith and the Tarheels.

Chapel Hill, you were good to me, except for that damned humidity.

When I was in high school, my humanities teachers, now know to me as Helen and Bob, took a group of us on week long trip to New York City, with a one day stop in Boston.  Bob and Helen worked with us for months ahead of time making sure we would know how to use the subways and get around because we were on our own for significant parts of each day. By day, we visited museums and scoped out architecture. We had a journal for each day with tons of questions corresponding to different paintings, buildings, and exhibits. I remember spending about 10 minutes staring at a series of Frank Stella paintings at the Museum of Modern Art before realizing that I was on the wrong floor of the museum and none of the questions in my book were matching up to the exhibit. I remember my excitement with visiting my first Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Guggenheim Museum. There was a large collection of later Picassos on exhibit. One of my friends was totally disgusted. I was so taken with the colors and the abstract forms that I did not notice that most of paintings were of female genitalia. Come on, like Picasso was the first horny artist. The man was a genius and I got to see his original paintings, some from the Blue Period and some from the Lady Bits Period.

We also went to a lot of Broadway shows. We saw Noises Off (meh), Cats (T.S. Elliot and cats dancing on the balcony; awesome), and the very fun Little Shop of Horrors. We skipped Oh, Calcutta, the all nude musical that was playing at the Edison Hotel, where we were staying. I remember I worked long and hard to charm the cranky and rude man who worked at the front desk. He yelled at us every time we asked him politely to get money out of the safe, to which only he had access. By day three he was smiling every time he saw me and calling me, “Darling.”

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. We saw a very famous play. We saw the Death of a Salesman. Dustin Hoffman played Willie Lowman. He was so amazing. I still remember the uproar caused by his not being nominated for a Tony Award that year. He was invited to present at the awards and received a standing ovation. Although my memory of this event seemed so clear, I was recently reminded that John Malkovich played Willie Lowman’s son, Biff, in that production. He was already famous by that time. His voice was as distinctive as it is now. It was amazing.

The whole trip was an amazing experience and I almost didn’t go. My parents told me that it was too expensive.  A few days after telling my teachers that I would not be able to go on the trip, Bob took me aside and told me that there had been an anonymous donation for my airfare. That allowed me to go. I remember that it was about $300 and that we flew on Continental Airlines.

For many years, I have suspected that Bob and Helen paid for my airfare out of their own pockets. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But even still, the trip would not have been possible without these two dedicated teachers, giving so much of their time not to mention giving up their spring break every year, to teach kids from Renton, WA about the arts and the big world outside of us.

I have kept in touch with Helen over the years. She reads this blog and sometimes sends me a personal email with her thoughts about a particular post. She retired right after my cancer diagnosis. She is extremely beloved by many former students. There’s even a fan club on Facebook for her!

Helen got pretty ill last summer and last I heard, she was getting stronger each day. Maybe she’s even reading this post along with the rest of you who are reading this right now. Helen, I have enormous gratitude for what you did for me in my teens. You are smart and an outlier. A passionate person who enjoyed her career. You were and are a role model to me about living a life of meaning, humor, and service. Thank you for all that you have done for THOUSANDS of students. Not every teacher gets fan page on social media. And not every teacher agrees to meet with former students, still in their teens who miss their teacher and want to talk to her about books.

I have filled my blog with posts of gratitude and appreciation this week, with an eye on paying-it-forward.  I have had the privilege of an exemplary education and you were among the very best of my teachers during my 25 years of schooling. Your dedication to the welfare and education of youth, helped inspire mine.

Thank you and I wish you the very best in your health and healing.

As a clinical psychologist, an important part of my job is what is called “forming a therapeutic alliance”. This is a bond of rapport, trust, and understanding. It is a necessary component whether I am doing a short term assessment or long-term psychotherapy. I work with difficulties that require a team to effectively address.

As a child and adolescent psychologist, the size of the team is bigger than it is for adult clinicians. Although my primary alliance is to the child or teen, I must also form working alliances with parents, teachers, other mental health providers, and physicians. It is also not uncommon for me to have to interact with school principals, individuals with a school district or with the state superintendent’s office, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists, or grandparents. I am fortunate in that my contact with child protection, case workers, and police enforcement is rare, but it does happen.

I work with the “it takes a village” kids. And I often take on the role of training the adults who are with the child daily about how to best support the child’s unique needs. The members of the village with whom I have the most contact are parents.

Parents are in a very influential position withe the kids I assess and treat. They often feel helpless. They often feel guilty about their children’s challenges. They often take out these painful states on the people they love the most, their children.

And to my patients, the teens especially, I often look like another adult who is going to tell them how they are screwing up their lives and making everyone miserable.

Because I primarily do short term assessment, I have to work fast. I don’t have the luxury of letting relationships and alliances develop slowly over time. In some ways, this is an advantage as the time limited nature of the process creates a sense of urgency to enact change, assuming the family is ready to make changes. Part of working quickly is that I need to communicate directly, I need to make recommendations, and I need to communicate hopefulness but also urgency not to continue to let problems worsen. Some of the kids I assess have long-standing undiagnosed and untreated difficulties leading not only to a worsening of the primary conditions but to the development of secondary disorders.

I don’t work for a system like a hospital or community health center. I have my own little private practice office. I don’t work in a prison but I do work to prevent children and teens from getting involved in juvenile justice. I don’t work in a mental hospital but I work to prevent teens from being hospitalized or help them transition back to the community from the hospital. I don’t work for the welfare office but I do work to support my patients’ educations as much as possible so that they can complete high school and perhaps even complete college so that they can become reliable members of our country’s workforce.

This is my long way of saying that my job involves a big team and a long view towards the future as well as responding to the present issues. Sometimes I forget how hard my job is.

What I do remember more easily are the times I felt like I needed to break an alliance in order to protect a child. Now I don’t mean calling child protective services, though that would certainly be an example. I am talking about other instances that are not as clear cut as making a suspected abuse report.

I am talking about times I have to give someone very firm direction or feedback when it is a risky thing to do and I have either exhausted other strategies or there are no other strategies available. Sometimes it means writing an email and leaving a voice mail with my patient’s psychiatrist who has been unresponsive despite our mutual patient’s level of depression, saying, “You need to communicate with me more frequently. _____ was talking about killing himself just three months ago. He is not doing well. I know you are busy, but I need to hear from you as soon as possible.” (I heard back within an hour.)

I am also talking about responding to a mom of a teen, adopted from another country. She was mad at him and told him that she was going “to give him back.” Since I had already conducted the background interview and he was there for testing. In other words, she was supposed to be in the waiting room, not in my office. I empathized with her frustration but told her that the next step was to do assessment. She kept telling him how horrible he was. Then I told her that her job was to “make things better instead of worse” and suggested that she go take a walk to regain her composure. She kept yelling. I told her that she had to leave. Believe it or not, I think that she really loved her son. I didn’t think she was a bad person. But she was not well herself, depleted, making bad decisions, and her behavior was hurting her son. It was not her fault that her son had the challenges that he did. But it wasn’t his, either. And it was her responsibility to be the adult.

I was pretty sure I would not see that family again and I didn’t. I knew I had hurt and angered that boy’s mother. I saw the opportunity to do was to let that boy know that the way he was being treated was unkind, unfair, and harsh. It was the best I could do at the time.

Most of the time, I am able to navigate these sometimes conflicting alliances.  It is complicated but doable. One of the things that makes it easier is that my professional relationships are not reciprocal. In other words, my patients and allied health professionals are not responsible for taking care of me.

This is not, however, the case in much of my personal life. In my personal life I have reciprocal relationships with friends, my husband, or with professional colleagues. And that’s where alliances get even trickier. Because now my expectations, my wants, and my needs enter into the equation; they become part of the team of my relationships.

With expectations comes fulfillment and disappointment.
With need comes receiving and hurt.
With wants come desire and loneliness.
With dependence comes relief and uncertainty.
With honest communication comes raw hurt and vulnerability.

Relationships bring the best and the worst to our lives, even with the right people. I am kind of impressed that people keep trying and that many people have strong and resilient relationships. This makes me hopeful. Just because my relationships can be difficult doesn’t mean that I am doing them wrong.

As you may recall, I completed about 90% of the requirements for an art history degree in addition to my B.S. in Psychology. (Yes, I’ve heard all of the jokes about my “B.S.” in conjunction with “psychology”. Believe me, I had to take calculus, among many other hardcore classes to get that degree. It was no B.S.) One of my professors often referenced Robert Hughes’ book on modern art, The Shock of the New.

Modern art didn’t come from nowhere but it was still a shocking departure from the familiar. Art had been representative, rather than abstract for a long long time. It was often idealized but always recognized.

The shock of newness does not just apply to our external world but also to feeling new. A fellow healthcare provider and dear friend shared a blog post about being a novice in healthcare, in other words being a trainee and new professional. The post made me think about being a psychology trainee in grad school as well as when I was a post-doctoral fellow.

In most measures, I am much better at my job as a clinician than I was when I was less experienced. But there were advantages of being a novice that were therapeutically advantageous.

For one, I was supervised so this made me extra conscientious to do things “by the book”. Supervision, by the way, meant doing my work with a supervisor either in the room with me or in a separate room, observing me on video monitors, all of the while commenting to other students or interns, also in the room, about the rightness or wrongness of my actions. So, I stayed sharp and kept on top of what I was supposed to be doing.

The largest advantage, however, was that my lack of experience as a parent made it much easier to deliver recommendations and teach parenting strategies, with a straight face. During my post-doc, I was a mother of an infant, but I still did not know how hard it would be to rear a child who could walk and talk. And disobey. And not perpetually vote me to be her favorite person in the world in a tie with her father. I didn’t know how parenting touches us in tender places, at our identity, and at the hurts we’ve held with us our own lives. I just said, “Do this!” I had a wonderful optimism. And most parents did what I recommended.

Once I got to understand what I was asking parents to do, I had to make adjustments. Every parenting situation is different. But as a parent, I can empathize with the fact that parenting is never easy and for some, it is incredibly hard.

Even so, I still ask parents to do a lot. I now understand the magnitude of my recommendations, in my gut. But now, because I am no longer a new parent, I have learned that just because something is really hard to do, doesn’t mean that it is not necessary to do.

When I was in graduate school, we had the opportunity to attend colloquia every Monday night as part of the Carolina Consortium on Human Development, held at the Frank Porter Graham Center for Child Development, which is part of the University of North Carolina. The “grown ups” were all developmental psychologists. But child clinical psychology students such as myself, not surprisingly took many child development classes. So, from time to time, we showed up.

The exchanges were lively and fast. The debates were spirited without being disrespectful. It was intoxicating. I remember one psychologist was always asking the main presenter, “But what are the underlying causal mechanisms?” For every presentation, that was one of his questions.

Then it was his turn to present. His talk was brilliant but devoid of any talk of causal factors. So I asked him, “But what are the underlying causal mechanisms?” His response was, “I don’t care about why, there is only how.”

I thought the answer was a bit of a brilliant cheat but it really got me thinking. That exchange occurred over 20 years ago and it still has me thinking!

When I was an older child, I used to ask my mother, “What was I like when I was little?” She’d answer, “You laughed and smiled a lot. You asked A LOT of questions.”

I have long been a question asker. I am a curious person. I like to understand things. “What is it?” “How does it work?” “Why is it?”

I came from a more modest background than most of the people in my Ph.D. program. (Pennie was the exception. She was from Mill Creek, West Virginia and her father worked as a coal miner.) I had many moments of self-consciousness and insecurity as a student. But one of the tools I felt was strong and well honed was my ability to ask questions and to think about the possible answers.

In thinking about my cancer, I believe the question I have explored least of all is, “Why did I get cancer?” I learned about the what and how. But once I realized that I did not have any known genetic risk and set up healthy life habits, I dropped the question for the most part. It certainly could come back, especially the “Why me?” grief question. But for now at least, the question is on the back burner, at least from a personal standpoint. (In other words, I have not backburnered my interest in cancer research.)

In the meantime, I am focusing on how I live rather than why I live.

 

 

 

Today I thought I’d revisit the words of Rumi with a horrible pun! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But seriously, I’ve been thinking back to a Rumi quote that I encountered at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, also near the beginning of my cancer treatment in 2012.

Don’t turn away.
Keep your gaze on
the bandaged place.
That is where the light enters you.

At the beginning, the bandaged places were literal. Dr. Beatty did my first three of surgeries. He left a single 2 inch wide strip of Arglaes film dressing over each surgery site. This was even true of my mastectomy. One piece of adhesive film. I know that it was called, “Arglaes” because he was so excited about using it. And having had subsequent surgeries with more traditional dressings, I could see why. It was comfortable, flexible, didn’t bind, and it was waterproof. I could shower immediately.

I did look at my bandaged places. I know a lot of women don’t like to deal with their surgical drains or to see their mastectomy incisions, especially prior to reconstruction, if reconstruction is chosen. And I know that some women don’t even like to look at themselves after reconstruction. But as a naturally curious person who is trained both as a scientist and as a healthcare provider, I wanted to look. I was calmly fascinated with how surgery is done, about how my body was changed, and about how healing took place. This helped me a great deal in coping with the physical losses and to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

I realize now that my training in observation and data gathering helped set a perfect stage for me to start mindfulness practice. I am very good at noticing things in the present as well as noticing patterns across time. The adjustment that I had to make was in minimizing the interpretation and even harder, to let myself have my experiences without trying to immediately change them. I am a very good problem solver. I will continue to solve problems in my life. But sometimes I do it out to avoid feeling anxious, guilty, or sad. And some problems can’t be solved through problem-solving. Some problems just need to breathe. They don’t even need a bandage.

I am a mother, a wife, a psychologist, and a friend. I deal not just with my own hurts but the hurts of my loved ones as well as those of my patients and their families. I am paid to help solve people’s problems and to not only look at their bandaged places but find the sources of the bleeding. And even as early as middle school, boys and girls solicited my advice about relationships and other typical teen issues.

In my professional life, it is a challenging process to adopt an appropriate role with my patients and their families. I can’t solve all problems and ultimately, I can’t solve their problems for them even if I am fairly certain that my recommendations will improve matters considerably. I teach people strategies for coping with life, I offer ways of thinking about things that may be helpful. But I don’t carry out the strategies or do the thinking. And I can’t control every aspect of a child’s internal or external environment. Wow, when I put it that way, I am kind of amazed that I can be effective at my job at all!

What is even more challenging, though is seeing wounds on family members and friends. Even when I am right about it, they may not see these wounds themselves. Or they may be desperately trying to cover them to avoid appearing incompetent or weak to the rest of the world. I remember when I started graduate school, I was pretty open about my anxiety. I flailed openly! A number of my classmates looked incredibly nonplussed. How could they be so confident? When I found out that one of these folks was keeping a running score for how all of us had done on exams and assignments so that he could gauge his place in the pack, the fact that I was always seeing him taking aspirin started making a different sort of sense to me. Those people don’t tend to ask for help even if they need it. They do not want to be exposed for the failures that they fear they are.

Other people in my life have been very open in their distress and instead of having trouble asking for help, they ask for too much. Help to solve problems that don’t really exist. Help to solve problems that are best solved by oneself. Help to avoid solving problems altogether and other types of reassurance seeking.

I am learning more and more with my loved ones when to speak up and when to listen. The hardest for me, however, is to say and to do nothing. To watch someone suffer and want to do something active to help. To turn down requests to bail someone out when I know it would be better for him or her to solve the problem independently.

I am growing a lot as a person. I have so much more to learn and thank Heavens for that as it makes life rich and interesting.

 

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.”

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.

Earlier today, I referenced the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity. It was a real psychology journal. Actually, it was a real fake journal. It was kind of like The Onion for psych nerds. I’ve read a couple of the articles over the years and they were pretty funny. The Etiology and Treatment of Childhood is particularly funny.

If you know some psych and research lingo, you might want to check it out!

We can all use a little polymorphous perversity from time to time.

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. 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, Carol 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.”

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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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