Sunday, June 22, 2014

Snapshots: What makes us happy, what makes us sad

1.  Where did she go?  She was here just a minute ago.
That's me, first row, far left.

When people say, "I can't help it," meaning they can't help the way they feel, considering how they are wired and what they have experienced, I get it.

Easy for therapists to say, "Sure you can change how you feel, it's all attitude. And we have all of these techniques, you see."

But there are autonomic emotional reflexes that merely kick in when we hear things, see things, and as much as we would will them away, biology rules. Not that it isn't worth the fight. Most of us beat depression eventually, but winning and timing depends upon what kid of depression it is.

Grieving is one that isn't worth the fight, not in the first year of a loss. Just feel bad and accept it, the general rule. I'm coming to the end of that first year, following my mother's death. It will be almost four years since my father died, broke us in a little. There is still a certain amount of emotion, sadness and also reflection, that simply isn't going away. I don't want it to go anywhere.

It' s good sadness now, stops time, keeps us connected, keeps them very much alive. It only takes a word about either of my parents, and whatever else is going on recedes. I'm back to another place, another time, with thoughts not only of my parents, but aunts, uncles, grandparents, my brother, too (the cute kid above).

Just today I gazed at that photo and saw how much one of my sons resembles my grandfather. Never made that connection before. So you see there is value in this gazing, in the trance. With the right. . . attitude.
Don't even try to bake after this happens

2. You have to break a few eggs. . .

What's the rest of that proverb? To make an omelet?
Here's something I don't think my mother ever did, but it came pretty easy to me Friday afternoon, trying to make a quick cake before sundown.

The first thing you do after the splat hits the floor, is grab for your camera, not the paper towels. The zucchini bread fell, too, by the way.

3. The new fish

Have we discussed my aquarium lately? I don't think so. Since we've talked, Blue, my main fish, the large six year-old Niger trigger, the fish that inspired FD to buy me a 120 gallon aquarium, passed away in February. I popped him in a sandwich bag, naturally, put him in the freezer, and when the snow thawed, gave him a proper burial.

The powder blue tang below is a replacement.
Powder blue tang
He cost far more than a co-pay, and so far is a little aggressive, channeling Blue, I suppose.

4. Independence

As long as we're talking about the aquarium, tonight one of my LED lamps stopped working. Aquarium lights are a big business, and I did my best to keep it conservative, setting up this tank. But the lamps cost at least $40.00 each, and a person could buy a very nice table lamp for that. So I found a tiny screwdriver to unscrew the tiny screws, oiled up the contacts, got the switch to move, and put it back together again. It works and I'm feeling pretty good about myself.
Aquarium lights

On the same order, but so much better, my eleven-year old grandson called me on Friday afternoon.

"Bubbie, do you have a bike pump? I'm outside your house and I have the key. Can I come in and use the pump? Are you home? Maybe I should walk over to a gas station instead."

"I'm not home. Let yourself in, find the pump, pump up your tires, put back the pump and lock up after you leave."


"Call me after you accomplish this."


He calls to say he's done it, the delight in his voice difficult to hold back, even as he tries to be cool. Later on I see him and it is high fives all around.

5. Recovery from loss

We do it so predictably that it is heartening. It is good to know that when I tell patients that the depression will lift, but it will take a year, that I'm usually right. The cycle of loss is definitive for most of us, in much the same way that the cycles associated with bipolar disorder are predictable. (Even rapid cycling is predictable cycling.)

I'll bet if you look at posts from October 2010, about 11 months following the death of my father, it shows, the start to feeling pretty good. After a year of dedicated grieving, dedicated grieving being the active ingredient here, most of us do begin to really laugh, smile sincerely, feel the wonderment of living.

That's how powerful the rise of that cycle can be.


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Blurring the Digital and Real Worlds: Child Stabbings in Wisconsin

People Magazine-Morgan Geyser and AnnisaWeier
I know people hunt in the woods of Wisconsin. But deer, not one another.

Two twelve-year old girls stabbed another nineteen times in a wooded park in Waukesha, leaving her for dead. The victim, released from the hospital yesterday, narrowly escaped death, a wound to the heart a fraction of an inch off the mark.

The reason? Curry the favor of an Internet paranormal, Slenderman, a monster developed or perhaps embellished (it is said to be a very old tale) by a story teller at the Creepy Pasta website. Creepy Pasta catalogs all things creepy.

It will come out, the pictures of the crime, the videotape, evidence that will incriminate these youngsters in court, for they will be tried as adults. And here they only wanted to make an impression on a supernatural being, or the brains behind a cartoon, an online horror guru, a cult leader.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, both 12, have been charged as adults with first-degree attempted homicide in the stabbing. Police say the girls told detectives they wanted to kill their classmate in hopes of pleasing Slender Man, a spooky character they read about on a horror website. Police say that after stabbing the victim, the attackers left her lying in the woods. The victim crawled to a road, where a bicyclist found her lying on the sidewalk. 
Slenderman is legendarily a skinny almost human figure who preys upon children in the forest, kidnaps and murders them. Creepy Pasta Wiki hosts many stories about scary paranormals like him.To impress Slenderman, apparently, Creepy Pasta followers must kill a child.

This is shocking, if not as shocking as the chilling murders of Elliott Rodger in Santa Barbara only a few weeks ago. Both acts of violence are associated with influences beyond the family, advisers on the web, film and television violence. The research tells us that a steady diet of violence has an impact upon personality.

Some psychiatrists are saying that Megan and Annisa (sweet names), child perpetrators of this crime, blended fiction and reality, that they didn't know the difference between the two. In the case of severe mental illness, perhaps auditory hallucinations, this is believable. One child, possibly, either Megan or Annisa, could be that sick and could influence the other, enlist her help.

But what we're hearing is that neither girl suffered a mental illness, which is entirely possible, and that both suffered a blurred reality of fantasy and reality. This is a new diagnostic category, perhaps, one that should be included in the next DSM. We'll call it Virtual Blurring Disorder. Elliott Rodgers is said to have merged with fantasy heroes, too, the ones who take on fantasy vendettas against mankind. Now this, children who believe in Slenderman.

They lured her into the woods to play Hide and Seek.  One girl held her down while the other stabbed her.

The victim loved school, fashion, pets. She intended to volunteer for the Waukesha County Humane Society this summer. A well-rounded, happy little girl.

Her parents:

"Our strong, brave girl loves school and her teachers. She is looking forward to the summer, but has voiced that she will miss attending her classes even more."

Pick on the kid who loves school.  Hate the ones who are the kindest, the ones who are the antithesis of the person you feel you can be, of who you are. Thus is the profile for the new antisocial personality, motive nothing new. These are kids who hate kids who are positive, who are happy.

When I was a young therapist, being antisocial meant juvenile delinquency, stealing cars, using drugs, breaking into basements. These were unhappy kids expressing their anger about life the only way they knew how. (Yes, a simplification, but it is what we heard in the office often enough. Their parents would bring them for help, we talked about what it is like to be a kid, never easy). Now antisocial means killing. The rest, stealing cars, etc., is too easy, proves nothing about one's metal. Steal a life, now you're somebody.

Is the line really blurring between fantasy and reality?  In some ways, those of us who are obsessed with our phones, who check them twenty times an hour for that fix, the electronic stimulation, are living a step removed from reality. We know it but don't care. Some of us are conscious of this, trying to curb the habit. We worry about being, glued to electronic devices, spending more time with screens than people. Our mothers shared coffee with neighbors, looked one another in the eye, laughed and cried. We have our needs for connectivity met digitally. It is good, in so many ways. Dangerous, apparently, for our children who fear nothing.

It is no stretch to think children are seeking stimulation, too, as well as attention and approval, as kids do. Whether or not people are who they say they are on the internet is not even the question, although it matters greatly that writers (yours truly, for example, for now) are so often anonymous. But it isn't only malevolent advice that threatens our kids, but the modeling, the new normal, that is the enemy. Kill and you will be accepted, admired. Kill, either yourself or someone else. (Kill yourself, is a reference to websites that recommend suicide and describe means to accomplish it. Kill someone else is a directive from the Slendermen out there, and however many there are like him.

One online psychologist tells us that by the age of two and a half we know the difference between fantasy and reality. I would say no, actually. At that age, reality is what our parents tell us it is. By age twelve, however, what our parents tell us is suspect; they become less psychologically significant, children less attached. Adolescence implies differentiating from family, developing a new self, a separate, unique identity.

No matter how their parents socialized Morgan Geyser and Annisa Weier (the girls who admitted the attempted murder), they were likely unaware of Creepy Pasta, had no idea about the competition.

In fifty states we have laws about sexual violence, and one of the more salient features of state law (most of them, not all fifty) is that a minor has no right to consent to sexual relations with an adult. Informed consent doesn't apply to minors. They haven't the capacity to consent. Such is the language of statutory rape. The thinking behind this is that until we reach a certain age we are likely to make terrible decisions about relationships, regretful decisions. Parents who care discuss these decisions when they feel they are pertinent, and hope that their children make good choices.

They won't always. In the process of differentiating from parents, becoming our own selves, we will make bad decisions, choose poor role models, hide from those who love us. It is called growing up.

But the stakes are higher, now, and what we are witnessing is a call to arms, a reason to talk again to our kids, to have these conversations, again, and yes, to stalk them, to know what websites they enter. We need to break away from our own digital lives and enter theirs, discuss reality, life, values, consequences, and empathy.

No small job, being a parent. It never was. But kids are going to need a shorter leash if we want to be sure we aren't visiting them in prison, as they seized their independence, forge their ways in this new world, real, or not so real.