Archives for posts with tag: social media

In my work as a psychologist, I work with children and teens who have disorders considered to be primarily genetic in cause. Environmental factors play a role as well, but according to our current understanding, they are mainly factors that maintain or exacerbate symptoms as well as the pervasiveness and persistence of the resulting impairment in carrying out life’s activities and responsibilities.

About 90% of my patients have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the primary treatment for which are stimulant medications, which can make an enormous positive difference in an individual who is responsibly diagnosed and treated. However, even with medication, ADHD can make what we typically see as moral and responsible decisions much harder to make. Environmental supports from parents, teachers, and other professionals can help and as children grow into adolescence, individual psychotherapy can also be useful in helping an individual who has trouble internalizing rules that are good in the long run but not salient right now and to use strategies to promote life skills and success. Nonetheless, based on current longitudinal evidence, individuals with ADHD, even treated ADHD, have a much higher rate of high school drop out, only a 5% college completion rate, and a higher rate of accidental death as well as suicidality, among many scary possible outcomes.

This is why these kids, teens, and young adults are the “it takes a village” kind of people. Actually, I believe that we all belong to the village and as social animals, we rely on one another and impact one another for good, for ill, or for nil. But these individuals are particularly vulnerable. They do not tend to be resilient. They need particular parenting and educational strategies that are often inconsistently or not available. They need effective healthcare that is often in short supply.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate for many aspects of my life that just happened to me. I inherited a strong mind, a basically happy personality, grew up in a loving family, went to good schools, and had my basic needs for shelter, food, and belonging more than amply met. I take responsibility for cultivating these gifts very seriously but I don’t for a minute take responsibility for having receiving this gifts in the first place. I got very lucky and have made very good use of what I have.

Consequently, I have a great deal of love and compassion for the individuals I see, even the ones who are honestly, not very likable. Some of them are not even very nice. Sometimes they are very likeable, nice most of the time, but do really impulsive awful things. A common characteristic of many, but not all, individuals is a lack of consistent self-awareness and a very difficult time connecting their actions to negative consequences. This is a neurological issue and it results in difficulties taking responsibility. It is made worse in that when they are aware of short-comings or consequences, they often respond with very harsh judgement of themselves. This lack of self-compassion makes it harder to own up to personal responsibility. All of this is compounded with the fact that medication often makes a big positive difference because it fuels the belief that control is external.

A common way of framing this tension is by saying, “It is understandable that x, y, or z is really hard for you but it is not an excuse. You are still responsible for your decisions and behaviors. We realize it is hard and that is why we are all part of your team to support you. But you are part of the team, too.”

Yesterday, another heinous racist hate crime, an act of terrorism against African Americans was committed in our country. Many of us are angry, grief-stricken, and overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. We are trying to make sense of this.

I think we need to stop trying to make sense of it, at least in the usual way that we do. The easiest way to explain something horrible is to put it under someone’s control and the easiest way to do that is by laying blame at a particular person. Another easy way to deal with these kind of events is to distance ourselves from them, the “I am not that” approach. Another way we can deal with this is to feel really sad, angry, and anxious for a day or two, or even a week, and then move on to the next horrible news story, further cultivating cynicism and passivity.

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed by this, to be enraged, to feel impotent, to wring our hands in perpetuity. It is even understandable to feel paralyzing and unproductive self-recriminations about the ways that we have acted unkindly to others. It is understandable to criticize the behaviors of others, to join with others in demonizing people we don’t know who have done wrong things; with social media, we join in with the professional media in shaming people in a very intense and protracted way. It has become brutal in a way that makes me fear for our culture. The stockades of the Middle Ages come to mind. Stoning. Throwing acid in a woman’s face.

These are actions that understandably fill our need for agency at times when we can think of nothing else to do. I have participated in these public shame-fests. I have participated in cynicism in the place of effective action. I have participated in judgment that is inconsistent with compassion toward myself or toward others. I have participated in racism, some of which I am aware, and likely some that I have done without self-awareness.

I believe that I am a good person in the way that most people use the term “good person”. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t done harmful things to myself or others. It doesn’t mean that I have not contributed to a hateful culture either through action or inaction, the latter because I was either “busy” or clueless.

As a psychologist, it is understandable for me to see yesterday’s terrorism as a mental puzzle to solve. But none of these understandable beliefs, actions, or conditions are an excuse for not taking my own portion of personal responsibility for being a part of a culture that can be hateful, cynical, passive, selfish, violent, and oppressive.

I am not responsible for the whole problem but I can take responsibility for my contributions to it. These are the steps I have decided to take:

1) I do not consider myself to be a racist person as a trait. However, I accept that as a human being, aggression and dominance are part of me and that I am not immune to the socializing impact of institutional racism. I accept that I can be a good person and person who has done racist things.

2) I accept that I have benefited from institutionalized racism due to the privilege afforded members of a dominant race

3) I will exercise self-compassion despite my moral and ethical failings.

4) I will work to be less judgmental, of people I know and of people I don’t know.  In terms of social media, this means objective criticism of ideas or behaviors but not of people and that said criticism needs to fuel a positive purpose.

5) I will work to help children and families be healthy.

6) I will work to maintain my own mental health.

7) I will work to treat cynicism as understandable, but as being incompatible with compassion and effective change, nonetheless.

8) I will work to promote unity instead of division in my culture.

9) I will work to elect individuals who promote unity and fairness instead of division.

10) I try to listen to others with different viewpoints and life experiences with an open mind.

11) I will accept that complexity is common in the very situations during which I feel the urge to simplify to make myself feel less overwhelmed.

12) I will expect myself, despite my best efforts, to fail from time to time. I will work at these times, to keep trying.

I may be wrong in my arguments, in my beliefs, and my actions. That does not make me a bad person. My imperfection and the limitations of my own mind to understand all of this is understandable. But it doesn’t take me off the hook.

It is understandable but it is not an excuse.

Stop making sense.

Start making change for the better.

Lisa Bonchek Adams died over the weekend, at age 45. This is a repost of the letter I wrote to the Guardian, following the publication of an online article about whether it is appropriate or ethical for people with stage IV cancer to use social media to communicate about their illness. Lisa was called out as an example in this article.

I was not a personal friend of Lisa’s but I am very thankful to her for her advocacy. I am very sad about her death and I hope for healthy healing for her friends and family. It will likely be a very long process of grief, especially for her three young children. My hope is that her advocacy and the meaning that it added to her life, will also provide a positive touchstone for them.

My letter, dated 1/12/14,  follows.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Emma Keller’s article, which was published by you on 1/8/2014. The author used Lisa Bonchek Adams, who uses social media to communicate about her life with stage IV breast cancer, as an example of a possible unethical use of social media. I am angry about the journalist’s position as well as how the article stimulated a number of negative comments toward someone who needs no more negativity in her life. I have many objections to this piece and I will delineate a few of them here.

First, I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe in personal and professional responsibility. With all of the corruption and violence in the world, why target a mother of three with stage IV breast cancer, just for using social media to communicate about her experience with a horrible disease? This tact makes no sense at all to me.

I object to the characterization of Ms. Adams’ communication as “TMI”. Journalists cover natural disasters all of the time. They cover earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, and more.  The photos and the written stories describe the devastation that people suffer. They describe the resilience and the heroism. Although not everyone is comfortable with the sadness of these stories, the stories are sympathetic and not considered TMI. Cancer is a kind of natural disaster. It is a disease that ravages and impacts countless numbers of people. Is it TMI because Ms. Adams is reporting on herself instead of being interviewed and photographed by “proper” journalists? If a hurricane survivor decided to get support and communicate about his/her experiences in dealing with a natural disaster, would we call this TMI? Would we as fellow human beings make so many negative comments about this person? I think not.

As a psychologist, I understand that distancing ourselves from an illness that can strike anyone, especially a young mother of three children, is a way we deal with the realities we don’t want to consider. They are too close. We can’t think about potential personal disaster every second of every day and function as healthy people. But it is also true that we can’t constantly deny the possibility of disaster and be healthy people. We have to incorporate potential malady into our lives. Understanding and accepting that bad things happen to good people is a building block of compassion. Without it, we let our own fear lead to unfairly assigning negative qualities to people, who are ill through no fault of their own, and doing their very best to manage under truly difficult circumstances.

As a breast cancer survivor, I understand how cancer has changed my life and my relationship with the outside world. I don’t know why I got breast cancer. I am a responsible person, a loving wife and mother, and a professional dedicated to improving the lives of children. I don’t know that I will have a recurrence. I am doing my best to live a healthy life but there is no guarantee that cancer, some other disease, violence, or an accident will end my life. I could say that it’s not fair that I got breast cancer and have had to endure its treatment, which even in this day and age, is brutal. Breast cancer, like a hurricane, is not fair. It is a natural disaster. People afflicted deserve compassion. We live with cancer and its threats in one way or another, every day.

I am also an active blogger about my own breast cancer experience. In doing so, I have enriched my life immeasurably in having made connections with wonderful people such as Ms. Adams. Having cancer is very isolating. It creates a juxtaposition of grief with a deep appreciation of the gift of life, which many people don’t understand. And there are aspects of breast cancer that make it particularly isolating. The breast cancer social media community is a very powerful network of women and men. I have drawn strength through the true friendships that I have made as well as the support of an amazing group of people, who live all over the world.

We will all die. Most of us do not know precisely when or how this will occur. People with stage IV cancer know that they are likely relatively near the end of their lives and that further they are likely to die from cancer. So many people with terminal disease spend their last years in isolation, even if when they are still able to work and carry out many daily responsibilities. Many of them don’t even “look sick” until much later in their disease progression. But their lives can be lonely and arduous. Social media can serve as a way for people to connect with others who understand. I have friends with stage IV breast cancer. I don’t know how much longer they will live or how much longer I will live. But I know that I will stay with them even through the cybersphere until our dying days. I so appreciate learning how to be a better friend to someone who is losing abilities while respecting their humanity and resilience. It is scary to know that I will likely lose more friends than I would have as a function of being part of the breast cancer community. But it is worse to think of us not having each other; there is real joy, love, and shared grief over the Internet. I consider it an honor to be trusted as a friend and to be relied upon to be there during the darkest times.

There are a lot of problems with our electronic age. Many products aimed at children, in particular, are harmful. There is nothing “virtual” about the breast cancer community. It is very real. Lisa Bonchek Adams is a real woman with real connections. This community is one of the very best and real things about our virtual age.

Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth P. MacKenzie, Ph.D.

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.

Today I wrote the following letter to the English newspaper, The Guardian. It was my response to an online article about whether it is appropriate or ethical for people with stage IV cancer to use social media to communicate about their illness. Lisa Bonchek Adams, a well known breast cancer blogger and communicator through other social media, was used as an example. I was angered by the article, the singling out of Lisa, and the many criticisms Lisa received in the comments section. The article can be found here. (Update: the article was removed by The Guardian who upon investigation removed it.) Lisa Bonchek Adams’ blog can be found here. Also see Nancy’s excellent essay at the Pink Underbelly. If you’d like to send your own letter it can be emailed to letters@theguardian.com.

My letter follows. I am skipping the use of block quotes because it makes the letter harder to read.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Emma Keller’s article, which was published by you on 1/8/2014. The author used Lisa Bonchek Adams, who uses social media to communicate about her life with stage IV breast cancer, as an example of a possible unethical use of social media. I am angry about the journalist’s position as well as how the article stimulated a number of negative comments toward someone who needs no more negativity in her life. I have many objections to this piece and I will delineate a few of them here.

First, I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe in personal and professional responsibility. With all of the corruption and violence in the world, why target a mother of three with stage IV breast cancer, just for using social media to communicate about her experience with a horrible disease? This tact makes no sense at all to me.

I object to the characterization of Ms. Adams’ communication as “TMI”. Journalists cover natural disasters all of the time. They cover earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, and more.  The photos and the written stories describe the devastation that people suffer. They describe the resilience and the heroism. Although not everyone is comfortable with the sadness of these stories, the stories are sympathetic and not considered TMI. Cancer is a kind of natural disaster. It is a disease that ravages and impacts countless numbers of people. Is it TMI because Ms. Adams is reporting on herself instead of being interviewed and photographed by “proper” journalists? If a hurricane survivor decided to get support and communicate about his/her experiences in dealing with a natural disaster, would we call this TMI? Would we as fellow human beings make so many negative comments about this person? I think not.

As a psychologist, I understand that distancing ourselves from an illness that can strike anyone, especially a young mother of three children, is a way we deal with the realities we don’t want to consider. They are too close. We can’t think about potential personal disaster every second of every day and function as healthy people. But it is also true that we can’t constantly deny the possibility of disaster and be healthy people. We have to incorporate potential malady into our lives. Understanding and accepting that bad things happen to good people is a building block of compassion. Without it, we let our own fear lead to unfairly assigning negative qualities to people, who are ill through no fault of their own, and doing their very best to manage under truly difficult circumstances.

As a breast cancer survivor, I understand how cancer has changed my life and my relationship with the outside world. I don’t know why I got breast cancer. I am a responsible person, a loving wife and mother, and a professional dedicated to improving the lives of children. I don’t know that I will have a recurrence. I am doing my best to live a healthy life but there is no guarantee that cancer, some other disease, violence, or an accident will end my life. I could say that it’s not fair that I got breast cancer and have had to endure its treatment, which even in this day and age, is brutal. Breast cancer, like a hurricane, is not fair. It is a natural disaster. People afflicted deserve compassion. We live with cancer and its threats in one way or another, every day.

I am also an active blogger about my own breast cancer experience. In doing so, I have enriched my life immeasurably in having made connections with wonderful people such as Ms. Adams. Having cancer is very isolating. It creates a juxtaposition of grief with a deep appreciation of the gift of life, which many people don’t understand. And there are aspects of breast cancer that make it particularly isolating. The breast cancer social media community is a very powerful network of women and men. I have drawn strength through the true friendships that I have made as well as the support of an amazing group of people, who live all over the world.

We will all die. Most of us do not know precisely when or how this will occur. People with stage IV cancer know that they are likely relatively near the end of their lives and that further they are likely to die from cancer. So many people with terminal disease spend their last years in isolation, even if when they are still able to work and carry out many daily responsibilities. Many of them don’t even “look sick” until much later in their disease progression. But their lives can be lonely and arduous. Social media can serve as a way for people to connect with others who understand. I have friends with stage IV breast cancer. I don’t know how much longer they will live or how much longer I will live. But I know that I will stay with them even through the cybersphere until our dying days. I so appreciate learning how to be a better friend to someone who is losing abilities while respecting their humanity and resilience. It is scary to know that I will likely lose more friends than I would have as a function of being part of the breast cancer community. But it is worse to think of us not having each other; there is real joy, love, and shared grief over the Internet. I consider it an honor to be trusted as a friend and to be relied upon to be there during the darkest times.

There are a lot of problems with our electronic age. Many products aimed at children, in particular, are harmful. There is nothing “virtual” about the breast cancer community. It is very real. Lisa Bonchek Adams is a real woman with real connections. This community is one of the very best and real things about our virtual age.

Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth P. MacKenzie, Ph.D.

Separation anxiety is common for children. And some of them have it really bad. They follow a parent from room to room. They won’t sleep on their own out of fear that robbers, bogie men, or bad guys from t.v. will get them. They have nightmares with separation themes like being kidnapped, one of their parents dying.

Separation anxiety is treatable but it is intense because the way to break it’s spell is to prove it wrong. Children (and their parents) need time away from one another. They need separations. They need practice being alone and finding out that the world did not end and that everyone is okay. It takes a lot of practice to do this and you start with really tiny separations and work your way up. I typically have kids rate the stressfulness of different separation scenarios (ex. being alone for 10 seconds versus a minute versus ten minutes) on a 1 to 10 scale (10 being most stressful.) I tell them that with relaxation methods and the right incentives they should be able to face a situation as high as a 6.

A 6 can seem like a lot. So with little kids, I might have them give mom and/or dad a hug to “fill up the love tank.” Then it is his/her job to use whatever coping strategies they have to keep it full and stave off the anxiety that typically makes them run back to Mom or Dad, thereby reinforcing the spell of irrational anxiety.

I have been applying this concept to myself, not so much that of a “love tank” but to no longer think of myself as some limitless supply of energy, emotions, and thoughts. I need to do things that fill me up. It is part of my mindfulness practice and my commitment to better self care.

There are plenty of things I can do that fill my time. I don’t have the bandwidth I used to have. Maybe it will come back and maybe it won’t. Although I am getting stronger, there’s still a discrepancy between the amount of mental stamina I need to function the way I used to and the amount I actually have. I have not yet been able to return to my normal reading habits. I used to read a book everyday. I’ve done this since I was a young girl. Every once in awhile, I would have a couple of week period or even a month when I was not reading a novel or a work of non fiction. I have read very little besides blogs for the past couple of months. It is too hard to concentrate after I’ve completed everything else on my to do list.

After my brief barrel of monkeys experience with hyperactive Facebooking, I find myself striving for balance, once again. You know what one of the harder things about balance is for me? It’s not black and white. It’s about having some but not too much of one thing so I can have some, but not too much of another thing, and so on and and so on. It is simpler sometimes just to go without. I spent about 4 years of my 20’s never eating sweets. I just thought it was easier that way. It helped me keep down my weight. But I missed out on some good grub. Four years is a long time. I still don’t eat a lot of sweets but I eat some and have learned to be more moderate about it. And a little chocolate is good for the soul, people.

A problem with excessive use of electronic media is that it doesn’t fill people up. We can’t be healthy with chocolate all of the time, even if it is that tantalizingly delicious Dagoba chocolate. Excessive screen time just occupies minds. I see this with kids with ADHD all of the time. Contrary to appearances, they are actually typically under-stimulated. All of the daydreaming, screen use, jumping around, etc serve to increase alertness by increasing dopamine activity. And screen time is the easiest way to keep their minds busy and occupied. And they will play them forever if allowed to do so. And when the plug is pulled, there’s often acute distress. “World, stimulate me! I am depleted! This is too hard! I can’t entertain myself! Give me back my screen!”

 
There are so many aspects of blogging, social media, and just the Internet in general that are extremely valuable to me. But others, not so much. And too much makes me unable to deal with the quiet of my mind. “Entertain me, world!” But the quiet of my mind is important. Silence is important. It is important for me to be alone with my thoughts and to not fear where they will take me in this very uncertain time in my life. I can’t occupy my mind to fend off the what if’s and the what could be. I know that the more I avoid these silences, the harder they will be for me and the more I will try to avoid them. Avoidance of being alone, just alone with my thoughts, even the scary ones feeds a spell. It feeds the spell of separation anxiety, not just the fear of being separated from my family by death but the fear of being bored. That’s sounds ridiculous, right? But I ask you to look at a bus stop full of people tomorrow morning. You will see that all of them are looking at their Smartphones!

I don’t want an occupied mind. I want an active and creative mind that also knows how to tolerate the slow parts of life, the parts we need for restoration and peace. I am not leaving the land of screens. I am just trying to be more careful about how and why I use them. So I am now asking myself, “Does this fill me up or does it just occupy my mind?”

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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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