The hidden pain of depression

hidden-depressionSome years ago, a middle-aged patient of mine, Joe, walked into my office, and pleaded, “Paul, please talk me off the ledge”. He had struggled through a long period of work and relationship disappointments and problems with his youngest daughter. He grew up in a family with domestic violence and verbal abuse. He was at the very lowest I had seen him for a long time. He was experiencing the suffering of clinical depression.

Robin Williams’ recent suicide has brought the spotlight to this painful, but relatively common condition. Dr. Kay Jamison, a well-known psychiatrist, who has struggled with her own depression, contributed an essay titled “To Know Suicide” (New York Times, August 15, 2014). It is well worth a look. Read more »

Robin Williams 1951-2014

Robin_WilliamsMy wife picked up the newspaper yesterday and broke into tears. She saw the sad news that Robin Williams, a beloved comedian, committed suicide.

I felt the same way. I remember Robin Williams in the TV comedy—“Mork and Mindy” which was a zany show about an alien from another planet. Williams was a genius and his career in the movies, television, and stage was launched. He was one of my favorite comedic actors.

Why are we so shocked? For one, it’s hard for us ordinary citizens to imagine that a successful, famous, talented, wealthy screen personality would commit sucide. He appeared to have everything that anyone would want. How often do we wonder—my life would be so much better if I had more money, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I was more successful, or I bet it’s great to be so famous! At the same time, we feel that we know these well-known adults. After all, we have seen and heard them in so many popular movies. How could he have been so desperate to take his own life? He always was so funny. The contrast between his stage personality and his apparent mental anguish makes it even harder to comprehend. Read more »

Text or talk?—The importance of non-verbal communication

texting-talkingAn acquaintance of mine, Joe, shared with me his irritation with a friend. He planned to get together this weekend with a buddy. Joe texted him—“Just reminding you of our date.” He texted back—“When are you arriving and when are you leaving?” Joe texted back—“Do you still want me to come? We can make it another time.” His friend texted—“OK, we’ll get together later this summer.” Joe was confused. Did his friend want to get together or not?

Joe felt hurt and disappointed. All of this communication was based on digital communication of 50 characters or less! Neither Joe nor his friend thought to pick up the phone and actually talk to each other! Read more »

What are your kids watching?

kids-tvKids are always pressuring their parents to watch the latest action movie or romantic comedy. “Come on mom,” they say, “everyone has seen it. It’s fine!” What will your children be viewing? How do these films influence youngsters? How will these images impact their behavior?

These new movies are often advertised with “G” rated trailers, so it’s difficult to know exactly what‘s in them. Pre-teens want to watch movies made for teens, and teens want to watch the “R” rated movies that older kids are watching. Youngsters want to be “older” and “cooler”.

Thoughtful parents are nervous. They should be. Read more »

Are you “crazy busy”?

crazy-busyI have a very social job. My entire workday is listening and talking to people. It’s fulfilling and stimulating, but I may go through an entire day without any time alone. Sometimes, eating a sandwich at my desk, with the door closed, finishing my charting for the morning, I listen to opera. Even just for a few moments, I am transported to another realm before I begin my next meeting.

Kate Murphy (“No time to think”, New York Times, Sunday July 27, 2014) notes how “crazy busy” everyone is these days. It’s a common complaint. Between work, kids, chores, hobbies, exercise and family obligations, adults speed through everyday life without a moment alone. It’s our 21st century rhythm. Read more »

Pay attention to me!

pay-attention-to-meI remember, as if it were yesterday, when my youngest daughter who was 7 years old at the time, stood in the kitchen, and pointed an accusing finger at me—“Don’t read the newspaper when I’m talking to you,” she demanded. “You’re not paying attention to what I am saying!”

I was listening. But during her short description of a Brownie meeting, my attention wandered over to the newspaper lying on the kitchen table. My ears were open, but my eyes were somewhere else. At that moment, 15% of me was listening to Naomi, 25% was reading the paper, 10% wondered when dinner would be ready, 25% was glad to be home, and 25% was reviewing the events of the day. Truly, I wasn’t giving her my undivided attention. Read more »

I want to feel good

feel-goodThis last week, my youngest daughter was visiting from New York. She is a newly minted “Family Nurse Practitioner” and is providing primary care at a Community Health Center in New York. She observed how many patients come in and want prescriptions for tranquilizers (Xanax, Valium, Ativan), pain pills, or stimulants (presumably for ADHD). “They tell me that when they take Xanax they feel good,” she said. She tells them—“Wanting to feel good is not an indication for Xanax!”

Many of my adolescent patients tell me the same thing about marijuana. “It makes me feel good”, they say. Of course, a glass of wine or a drink in the evening also makes adults “feel good”. After all, why serve alcohol at social gatherings? It’s a social lubricant. And, it makes people feel good. Read more »

Surviving the myth of the perfect parent

myth-perfect-parentWhen my oldest daughter was 3 years old, I had my first (pre)school conference. The teacher kindly explained to me that my daughter was “shy”, but otherwise was “no problem”. I was stunned! My entire parental life flashed in front of my eyes. She must be shy because we moved when she was 6 months old. Perhaps I was too strict, or maybe not strict enough? What had I done to make my daughter shy. I must have done something wrong. I was wracked with self-doubt. Read more »

The Boomerang generation: Living at home after college

boomerang-college-back-at-homeMy close friend Sarah’s 28-year-old son is still living at home. He went away for college, but ended up back in his childhood room after graduation. Why? For one, he graduated in 2009, which was a terrible year for college graduates looking for work. Furthermore, he had no idea what kind of career or vocation he might pursue. Living rent free at his parent’s made sense to everyone while he figured it out. The problem—six years later he doesn’t seem any closer to knowing what he wants to do when he grows up! Read more »

Five lessons kids teach parents

kids-teaching-parentsAfter all of my years of practice working with kids, I’ve come to realize that there is one thing that has remained the same…children have the best insight on how adults should parent!

Recently I was reminded of the time when I decided to visit my daughter’s fourth grade class in search of parenting insight. The teacher, knowing I was a psychologist, allowed me to conduct an informal “consumer” survey. I asked the children simply, “What makes a good parent?” After all, they are the recipients of our parental services. Twenty years after my survey, their nine-year-old words of wisdom are still ring true. Read more »