Monday, December 14, 2009

My current top five

1) Being introduced to Vonnegut. Umm, why didn't I read him before? Must go out and read every book he ever wrote.

2) As soon as I finish these. The arrival of the New York Times 10 best books of 2009. :) My favorite time of year.

3) Vaughn, my favorite blogger over at Mindhack's, response to news that the publication of the DSM 5 is getting pushed back:

owing to the recent shitstorm over our behind-closed-doors policy and strident criticism from past committee members about the scientific quality of our review process, we've decided we need a bit of breathing space."

I couldn't agree with him more in his hopes that this postponement will be used to actually get the best scientific backing for what they are proposing.

4) Discovering Tina Dico and her amazing album A Beginning A Detour An Open Ending

A few of her songs can get a little "I'm telling a story with music in the background and not actually singing" (can you blame here, she wrote all the lyrics for this very long album over a frenzied autumn), but for the most part they are gems.

5) Slowing down, and capturing this:

I promise he doesn't always look this angelic.

What's your top 5?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yes Please

Can someone please figure out how to take these images (taken from new scientist) and make them into posters and send them to me as Christmas presents?

These are nasal passages

Skull and brain

Thank you

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank you...

for books (especially beautiful classics which have been made, well, beautiful)

for nature

for tea

for my new job :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My life in lists (and pictures)

What have I been doing this whole time that I haven't been writing?

1) Visiting friends

2) enjoying the look of fall (not here, mind you, but in New York)

3) Appreciating fine art

4) Shopping (maybe way too much). Finally got my own LBD, shown here two ways

dressed up:

dressed down:

5) Making cookies

6) Laughing

This time of year is so much fun. What have you been up to while I've been gone?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

When standard medicine fails, tell me about your mother

I just spent the last 9 minutes laughing hysterically. Mindhacks pointed me to an awesome 1940's video depicting psychoanalysis. A man goes to the doctor, complaining of loss of weight. All the tests come back negative and the doctor says "we feel the causes of your illness are emotion." Oh no, emotion! He's referred to the "psychosomatic department" in which, what I assume is the psychologist's, first statement is "tell me about your mother." This is so cliched! The video then goes on to show a psychiatrist teaching about psychoanalysis, showing a video of a baby who has been deprived of his mother for three months....oh right, no ethics committee back then :/
When therapy starts, the narrator states "He is placed on a couch to free his mind".
The couch is fundamental to the process, you know ;)

Check it out:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do I have to work tomorrow?

I came back today from my fun filled weekend in Portland. It was beautiful, cold, and full of snuggles. Now I'm back in the smog and heat and I already miss my friends.

I was a pumpkin :)

Now I'm exhausted and what I really want to do is sleep in, have some tea, and curl up with a good book. Alas, I must get back to work tomorrow. But it's not too long until I visit another friend in New York. Let the second countdown begin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I've been a clown, a witch, a black cat, a cheetah, a red m&m, a ladybug, a dinosaur, a 50's girl, grapes, and so much more.

I was almost not going to dress up this year...

Then I realized what a big deal it apparently is at my work. The clients love Halloween and tomorrow is dedicated to all day Halloween festivities. I'm also flying to Portland for Halloween to visit a college friend for her birthday, which happens to be Halloween. I am very excited and therefore not only decided to be something for Halloween, but to get creative and make it myself. I won't tell you what I'm being yet. You'll have to wait for pictures.

In the mean time I guess I can give you a hint: It's often overlooked. It can be scary, but it can also be happy (depending what face it puts on).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The RTPG, reading other people, and....changing other's thoughts?

Mindhacks pointed me to an awesome TED talk by Rebecca Saxe on how humans are able to read other people's mental states. We can thank the right temporal parietal junction for this. I like this talk because its neither dry nor boring and has some interesting implications. Rebecca applies TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to participants heads, temporarily suspending the activity in the RTPG, and sees what happens. It's fascinating- go check it out now! (it's only 15 minutes). The most interesting part may be the questions at the end.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On hearing voices

On my very long commute home from UCLA today in which I spent all day at a training on how to conduct stress assessment interviews I listened to this. There's also a mini video feature which follows.

If you haven't checked out All in the Mind yet, you really should. You find great gems like this one. Part of me couldn't help but wonder if the clients we discharge at the psychiatric hospital I work at look and sound like this when they're home. I can't analyze this one, you'll just have to listen and/or watch the clip.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Nobel Prize Winners you aren't talking about, but should be

With everyone in a tiff about how President Barack Obama won the nobel for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," everyone seems to have forgotten the other extraordinary and revolutionary winners. With everyone debating whether it is too early for Obama to be praised with such an honor, wether it was a political move, and whether he has even done anything to deserve such an award, people have missed the quiet revolution that has been going on in the background. In fact, it didn't even occur to me to look up the other winners until tonight. And boy am I glad I looked them up. The nobel in physiology or medicine went to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szotack "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. " The nobel in economic sciences went to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson for their work in economic governance. Why is this great? Well, there's the fact that since the creation of the Nobel Prizes, only eight women had won in the category of medicine or physiology. No woman had ever won in the economic sciences, making Elinor Ostrom the first. There's also the fact that three women have never won in the sciences at the same time before. And oh yeah, did I mention that five women won a nobel this year, a new record? Women are finally being recognized as outstanding scientists, researchers, and thinkers, and as a feminist this makes me extremely happy. Carol W. Greider gave an interview for the New York times, which you can find here.
I really love her candid answer to this question:

I certainly hope it’s a sign that things are going to be different in the future. But I’m a scientist, right? This is one event. I’m not going to see one event and say it’s a trend. I hope it is. One of the things I did with the press conference that Johns Hopkins gave was to have my two kids there. In the newspapers, there’s a picture of me and my kids right there. How many men have won the Nobel in the last few years, and they have kids the same age as mine, and their kids aren’t in the picture? That’s a big difference, right? And that makes a statement.

Right on. There's a lot of work ahead in terms of women in the sciences, but this at least is a start.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Depression from an Evolutionarly Perspective

This is so interesting, I'm speechless. You're just going to have to go read it yourself. It challenges conventional notions of depression and directly states rumination might actually help alleviate depression and not cause it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Oh the times, They are a changing

My last entry was my farewell to summer and it now being October, I decided to welcome in Autumn. It was very cold for me today and I spent most of the day curled up reading, and finally getting around to e-mailing professors to try to get some research opportunities. And what do you know? It seems to have worked. Two professors e-mailed me back, interested in having me on board. This led me to wonder- why can't I ever take my own advice? I've been telling people to take chances, apply for everything and anything, try to get their foot in the door of their dream, but when it comes to myself, I hide. I graduated in May and it took this long to convince myself I'm smart and accomplished enough to have a professor want me as a research assistant. Of course now I'm stuck with the unpaid gigs that aren't exactly in my research area of depression. I suppose I could easily explain this psychologically- scared of failure, I waited until the last minute and now I can blame the fact that I waited until the last minute for the fact that i'm not getting awesome paid research assistant positions. And knowing that, why do I still do it? This question plagues me, but it alleviates me to know that i'm not the only one asking myself these kinds of questions. The British Psychological Research Digest just came out with its 150th issue and to celebrate they asked some of the world's leading psychologists a simple question: What's one nagging thing you still don't understand about yourself? They had to answer in 150 words and some of the answers are utter poetry. Answers stemmed from why can't we as psychologists avoid the cognitive biases which we study? to who am I really? My favorite is perhaps Dr. Sue Blackmoor's answer

I believe (although I’ve never seen it for myself) that inside my skull is a brain containing billions of neurons connected to each other in trillions of ways, with signals zooming about, setting off other signals, and generally creating massively complicated loops, coalitions, sustained patterns, and multiple parallel organised streams of information that combined together control the behaviour of this – my body. And that’s it. So how come I feel as though there is a conscious “me” as well? The oh-so-tempting idea that I am something else – a soul, a spirit, a mystical entity – is rubbish, although I once believed in it. This question nags at me so much that I have devoted most of my life to it – through research, writing, and thirty years of daily meditation. But I still don’t understand. And the more I look, the less substantial my own self seems to be. What is consciousness? And who is conscious? I really don’t know.

Nice. I suggest reading the whole thing (it's very short, as they are all 150 words or less) here

So I'm optimistic about these new prospects, and laughing at myself at the same time. Mostly, I feel good.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

End of Summer

I spent a fabulous weekend soaking up as much sun as possible at the L.A fair and gardening and I realized- it's happened. It's getting darker sooner, colder at night (keep mind I live in Southern California so cool to me is like 70 degrees F), the children are back in school, the parks have found their quiet, and the community pool is closed. It's officially a few days into autumn, which means summer has ended. This is the saddest part of the year for me. If I could, I would have it be summer forever. So, to say goodbye to the summer of '09 I've compiled some of my favorite pictures of this summer.

Goodbye sand wiggled in my feet.

Goodbye summer flowers.

Goodbye walking the dog barefoot.

And last but not least, goodbye to practicing for the hula-hoop olympics.

Until next year.

Check out these good end of summer poems at poetry

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How True is this?

Last night I watched the season premier of House, which I have been anticipating for a while because a) I love House, and b) House is going to a psychiatric facility!

I of course got very excited (maybe a little too much) comparing House's portrayal of a psych facility with reality. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, House is based around a very narcissistic albeit genius doctor (Gregory House) who has an addiction to pain killers and seems unable to love anyone (except maybe Cuddy, the hospital director). He's been slowly descending into madness (hallucinations, addiction getting worse, etc), and so he has voluntarily placed himself in a psychiatric hospital. As I watched I was surprised by how many things the writers got right, and of course noticed some things they got wrong. I thought it would be amusing to share some of those with you all who don't come in and out of a psych facility everyday.

So your wondering what's real? (or at least close to it)
1) You know how the patients (I'll say patients because that's what the show called them, but I'm used to calling them clients) used cigarettes as currency? That is extremely common. Patients place a high importance on cigarettes, almost all the patients smoke, and a lot of fights stem from cigarettes (who has them, who doesn't, who owes someone some, etc.)
2) You may have heard staff on the show call out codes. Codes are commonly used to alert other staff to danger or something that requires attention.
3) manipulation- House does a lot of it. It is very common, both to staff and loved ones.
4) you know House's roomate? There's pretty much someone exactly like that on my unit. Talks fast, always excited (in my real life case, he's bipolar)
5) quiet girl- also very real portrayal. Some of my clients don't speak. period.
6) Group therapy- vital to everyday. The nurse doesn't run all of them, but does do some. And the tantrum House threw announcing everyone's diagnoses and pushing other patients buttons, also very real portrayal
7) medication time- yes, and it happens just like on the show. Come to the nurses station, take a small cup of pills
8) talent shows- we have one next week!
9) a doctor as a patient?- possibility. I know a former social worker who is now my patient.

And what is just false? (these are more fun)
1) patients don't get seclusion simply for disagreeing. Poor House seemed to be getting dragged to seclusion for every minor thing. Seclusion is a last resort. And we don't place hands on a patient unless it is ABSOLUTELY our last resort. And when it happens, we most certainly are not wearing a mad scientist white getup while doing it (but I get it, it makes a good show)
2) this one may be the most important: Doctors and staff should NEVER challange delusions or hallucinations! This may lead to getting punched in the face. Seriously. The doctor on the show outrightly tells a patient he is not a superhero (he believes he is)
3) Patients can't just walk out and drive around a car. This is for obvious reasons. However, there are AWOLS
and last but certainly not least:
4) The nurses are not that hot, and they most certainly don't wear high heels (but one can dream)

I must say, overall the show was pretty sensitive towards mental illness and didn't stray too far from reality. Yet another reason I love this show.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Placing my Ears on the night table

I just discovered this amazing canadian poet and psychiatrist named Ron Charach who writes poetry about psychiatry and mental illness in a very simple beautiful way. His poem "Psychiatrists on the Subway" really hits home for me (its exactly how I felt today, funny enough, on the subway).

Psychiatrists on the Subway

One rarely spots psychiatrists on the subway
rubbing the haze of a long day's sessions
from their lean temples,
or thumbing through paperbacks that deal
with anything-but.

Wouldn't they like an update on who's
In the world and how they're doing?
Or would the ridership be wary of men and women
whose briefcases rattle with the tic tac
of pills, whose ears perk
like armadillos' at conversations
two seats over?

More likely we locate them in a bad joke,
in a wing-chair beside a firm couch,
a suicide statistic, a product seminar
with deli sandwiches courtesy of Pfizer or Roche
or Eli Lilly;
perhaps on the beach of a convention hotel
with a panorama of thong-clad beauties
who seldom talk revealingly

Before bed a psychiatrist sets his ears on the night-table and prays for a night of long silence from a god who prefers to listen.

You can also listen to Charach himself reading this poem, here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So Much Yet to Learn

Tomorrow marks the one month anniversary of my job at a locked psychiatric facility and I finally feel like I'm close to getting the hang of things. On the other hand, there is so much I don't know and that does not have concrete answers. Things like, how should we be treating mental illness? Should we even think of it as "treatment" (considering that many of the disorders we deal with don't have cures)? Should we focus on rehabilitation or simply harm reduction? And, importantly, what are realistic goals? (many of the clients I've worked with have been institutionalized the majority of their lives). Today we had one of our recovery conferences in which the recovery team (which consists of me, the social worker, the charge nurse, the rehab therapist and counselor, the psychiatrist, and the psychologist) meet to discuss a few clients in depth. Today's meeting very quickly aired on the philosophical as the psychologist asked a seemingly simple question "What do we want from this client and how can we help him achieve it?" The psychiatrist put his two cents in, saying that in his ideal world we would have a completely different system that involves a reliance on behavioral interventions like a token economy (people get points or tickets or money when they perform a wanted behavior), and to some extent, forced treatment. This kind of approach was very popular in the 60's and 70's and is still used a fair amount today, but not at the facility I work in. We focus exclusively on the recovery model which gives the clients as much autonomy as possible, letting them make their own decisions (within reason), and practicing living in the community. Concretely this means that if a client doesn't want to go to a rehab group or meet with his or her doctor, or take his or her medication, he or she does not have to (the medication, if the client is a danger to self or others, can be injected however). Since starting my job, I have heard both great praise and great scorn of this recovery model. I'm still unsure how the recovery model is taken from theory to practice and next week I have a seminar on it, so I hope I learn more then. What strikes me however is the fundamentally different theoretical perspectives members of my team have with regard to mental illness and its "treatment". Some are very concerned with how the clients are feeling and with talk therapy and integration into the community, whereas others are simply concerned with severity reduction and compliance. The doc said something that stuck with me. He said that in many ways our approach to the mentally ill was better in the past than it is now, in which it is getting too radical (i.e: letting the clients do what they want).

This took me on a tangent in my head with regard to the history of mental illness. Last summer I read a great book called "Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors" which is about the history of clinical psychology from a feminist perspective and I loved it.

It didn't really go into treatment approaches however, so I am now on a hunt for a good book that does that. I'm thinking maybe:

"Treatment and Rehabilitation of Severe Mental Illness"
by William D Spaulding.

As for my history fix: "A social history of the asylum: Mental Illness and its treatment in the late 19th and early 20th Century" by Thomas G. Ebert,


"Reinventing Depression: A history of the treatment of depression in primary care, 1940-2004" by Chistopher Callahan, MD (since my research interests in particular lie in depression). Both sound good.

I'm thinking I'm also due to read "Toxic Psychiatry" by Peter Breggin. I've been sort of avoiding him (he's gone so far as saying mental illness is a myth and doesn't exist), but I think hearing his voice is still useful, if for nothing else, for the impact he's made on our perceptions of mental illness.

Wow, it looks like I have a lot to study up on and these books are kinda expensive (maybe the company will pay for books for enrichment?) ;) I, of course, welcome any other suggestions. Right now I think the best thing I could be is a sponge. Wish me happy reading.

*correction: I was talking about toxic psychiatry when I was really thinking about "The Myth of Mental Illness" by Thomas Szasz. Always get the two mixed up. Toxic psychiatry is also good though.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Speed Therapy?

So you know that whole concept of speed dating in which you sit down with a complete stranger for no more than three minutes at a time, hoping to find a lasting connection that may develop into a relationship? Yeah, I never much bought into that (although I'll admit, it might be fun). The folks over in New York have taken it one step further, taking the concept of speed dating and translating it to therapy. I ran into an interesting article in the NY Times that explains how this works. Basically, people who need quick advice, or whose therapists are on vacation (I kid you not), can now walk into the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho and sit down with various therapists for three minutes at a time in what the article refers to as "speed-shrinking" (sounds like some warped machine coming out of a sci-fi movie to me). The therapists are either licensed psychiatrists or psychologists.

I'm not sure how to feel about this.

On the one hand, I always promote anything that makes others feels good and is therapeutic. I don't really care what kind of therapy is used (whether it be CBT, psychodynamic, behavioral, etc). Research has shown that all therapy modes are effective because they all employ the therapist-client bond. And spending three minutes at time with various therapists does allow you to shop around and see which kind of therapy and therapist might work for you (something that would be very costly and time consuming otherwise). But how can you bond in three minutes? Is this therapy? I'm not naive enough to think that everyone can afford traditional therapy, so this does seem like a nice alternative for those who have no where else to turn. I'm not a therapist (although I do often provide talk therapy at work), but I do now this: dispensing advice, especially as a therapist, and especially to someone you've only known for three minutes, is a slippery slope. You never know how much harm you can be doing with it. The fact that these professionals are dispensing quick answers in three minutes is a little scary. It also lead me to wonder: why are the therapists risking it by doing this? And then I ran into this short sentence meant mostly as a visual in the article:

"Each of the therapists, many sitting behind piles of business cards and books they had written, hoped to achieve chemistry with their newfound clients."

Ah, now it makes a little more sense.

We are free to do what we want, and if we want some quick advice we can get it in less than a minute from our friends, acquintances, etc. But as professional therapists, we also have a responsibility to protect, and I don't think this is achieving that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Road Ahead

Sorry to neglect you all, yet again. I've spent the past couple of weeks mostly freaking out and partly in contemplation. You see, I've put all my energy into convincing myself I knew what I was doing. I didn't (read: quarter-life crisis: 1, Jos: 0). I've been madly (ok, half-heartedly) studying for the GRE and looking at Ph.d programs and the more I did, the more I realized I was in way over my head. Truth is, I still have work ahead of me (i.e more research experience, finding out what I really want, and actually studying for the GRE general and subject). All of these factors lead to the obvious call: wait another year. Sure my mentor had already told me this, but I guess...I don't know. I guess I was wishing this part of my life would look something like this:

You know, diving right into my future, knowing exactly what I want. Fearless, gutless, take charge woman.

Or Maybe something like this:

Taking flight, moving into the next chapter of my life.

Instead, I've come to realize that the greatest gift I can give myself is time. And maybe my life, for now, can look something like this:

I snapped that picture while on safari in Kruger National Park two years ago.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I have a road ahead of me and rushing into something isn't going to make my life any easier. Given that I usually like to follow a set of steps in my life that I at some point decided would be the end all be all, it's really scary that I'm instead choosing to be stuck in the in-between. And you know what? There's something fearless, gutless, and take charge about that, too (Quarterlife Crisis: 1, Jos: 1).

Given that, it doesn't mean that these next two years won't be full of anxieties, frustrations, and maybe some regret. I mean let's face it, yesterday I realized I'm kinda dating my mother. Yes, my mother. We do everything together these days (mostly due to the fact that all my friends have moved away and its hard to make new friends when you're working in a locked psychiatric facility part-time and the other half you're home, carless). Part of the appeal of applying to grad school was that it wasn't home. But there's something about the fact that I now don't have the safety blanket of "this is only temporary" that puts me in the drivers seat of my story. This is all very terrifying (Jos: 1, Quarterlife Crisis: 2?). And it's all a lot to think about. So, per usual, I did something to get my mind off of it. Today, I went all out and cooked a recipe I saw on real simple of Grilled Bread with Zucchini, Ricotta, and Basil. I added some garlic to the bread before grilling it and skipped on the black pepper (not my fave), and accompanied it with a nice rose. For dessert, I had a couple of dried figs. It was delicious.

Maybe I'll have a couple of things figured out tomorrow. Or hey, maybe I won't. ;)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Brains on my mind

I may need to have this asap

And this.

How beautiful is the gray with the yellow on a mahogany background? And who doesn't need a brain trinket box or wall clock?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Poem of the Day

I had one of those situations today in which you look up something on the internet, and it leads to something else, then something else, then suddenly you don't know how you ended up from looking up a GRE word, to watching a 1930's neurosurgery video, to poetry by Pablo Neruda. Mostly this phenomena takes hours and is completely useless (oh right, I'm supposed to be using my day off to study), but sometimes you do find a rare gem. I've been in love with the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda since I was first introduced to him in high school, and I found this beautiful reading of "Me Gustas Cuando Callas" in the abyss that is YouTube. Much apologies to those of you who don't speak spanish. At any rate, I've included the video followed by the spanish text and a very sad, but only one I could find, english translation.

Me Gustas Cuando Callas

Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente,
y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te toca.
Parece que los ojos se te hubieran volado
y parece que un beso te cerrara la boca.

Como todas las cosas están llenas de mi alma
emerges de las cosas, llena del alma mía.
Mariposa de sueño, te pareces a mi alma,
y te pareces a la palabra melancolía.

Me gustas cuando callas y estás como distante.
Y estás como quejándote, mariposa en arrullo.
Y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te alcanza:
déjame que me calle con el silencio tuyo.

Déjame que te hable también con tu silencio
claro como una lámpara, simple como un anillo.
Eres como la noche, callada y constelada.
Tu silencio es de estrella, tan lejano y sencillo.

Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente.
Distante y dolorosa como si hubieras muerto.
Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan.
Y estoy alegre, alegre de que no sea cierto.

I Like for You to be Still

I like for you to be still: it as though you were absent,
and you hear me from far away and my voice does not touch you
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
and it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth.

As all things are filled with my soul
you emerge from the things, filled with my soul.
You are like my soul, a butterfly of dream,
and you are like the word Melancholy.

I like for you to be still, and you seem far away.
It sounds as though you were lamenting, a butterfly cooing like a dove
And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
Let me come to be still in your silence.

And let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
Your are like the night, with its stillness and constellations.
Your silence is that of a star, as remote and candid.

I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
One word then, one smile, is enough.

And I am happy, happy that it’s not true.

Incidentally, it appears that the woman who does this reading is a published poet herself and has many other videos, including one which I greatly enjoyed entitled "Me Gustaria Ser Lesbiana" or "I would like to be Lesbian"


Monday, August 17, 2009

Talking about our feelings

I just read a fascinating article in the New York Times about the Army's decision to include "training in emotional resiliency" (which by the description that follows is basically psychoeducation and psychotherapy)as part of its regular training. It took the army a very long time to even accept terms such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, so I think this is fantastic. The training involves what sounds like cognitive restructuring (in which people examine flaws in their thinking and turn it around). This method is widely used in all sorts of therapy and it is what I regularly encourage my clients to participate in at work. It's an interesting read. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Music, schizophrenia, and the streets of L.A

I am really loving my new job at a locked psychiatric facility and last night, as a reward to myself, I rented a movie called "The Soloist". I've been meaning to watch this movie for a while because there is a remarkable story behind it that hits close to me. Two summers ago I was walking the streets of downtown L.A by Pershing Square when I heard beautiful cello music. I looked around and the music came, quite surprisingly, from a young homeless man sitting at the station, wearing a surgical mask, shopping cart next to him. I stopped my busy day, listened, and took a picture.

My bus made its way and I had to rush off before asking his name. In L.A there are roughly 60,000 homeless people, and unfortunately many of them are mentally ill. I suspected the man I had met with the beautiful music was part of this statistic. The music stayed in my mind for a while, and I couldn't help but to wonder about this mans story. A couple of weeks later my mom informed me that the man I had snapped a picture of was Anthony Ayers, a musical prodigy, who also happened to be homeless and had paranoid schizophrenia. UCLA was bringing him as a guest speaker and a book as well as a movie was going to come out based on his story entitled "The Soloist". Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to UCLA to hear it and for some reason or another I hadn't gotten around to watching the movie. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Steve Lopez, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times ran into Ayer's music, much like I did at Pershing square, and a friendship developed. Lopez wrote about Ayers for the times and found out that Ayers had gone to Julliard for two years before having his psychotic break and was a musical prodigy, playing a variety of instruments beautifully. What I truly love about the movie is the fact that it gives such real hope and portrays mental illness in such an accurate, nondiscriminatory way. Ayer's is able to get some help, but he is never cured (to this day, we can find him on the streets of L.A). It also shows us that sometimes the most important thing we can offer someone is our friendship. I loved the movie for showing that and will think about that next time I go to work.

Check out the preview

and an interview of Ayers on 60 minutes

And if you'd like, the original articles Lopez wrote for the times, here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My entrance into the "Real World"

Dear Readers,
Sorry I have neglected you all as of late. I have been madly preparing myself for my first real world job after college. Ironically enough, it is in a locked inpatient psychiatric facility. Go me! I am very excited but also extremely nervous to begin this job and today was my first day (granted, it was only orientation and therefore involved my sitting and listening to speakers for 8 hours). Nonetheless, my first day was exhausting (read: information overload!) Tomorrow commences day two of orientation and after hearing about dental, vision, medical, and even (gasp!) life insurance, I finally realized, holy fucking shit, I am an adult!
I don't know what to make of that, and I don't want to think about it too much lest my head explode. However, I will say this; you can make me an adult, but that doesn't mean that tonight I won't be sitting in my bed eating a fudge pop and possibly playing some guitar hero with my twelve year old sister.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When I want to laugh

I've been feeling a bit anxious lately, what with my first real world job at a mental hospital starting monday (gasp), and the realization that I really, really suck at math and thus need to study my ass off for the GRE, lest I do badly and not get into grad school. I'm what people call a spiraling thinker. A spiral of pure and utter darkness in which I almost always end up dead or homeless or living in an apartment with nine cats. It's funny how anything from missing the bus to doing badly on a test always ends up this way in my mind. When I'm spiraling this bad, there's only one person that can save me- David Sedaris.

Sedaris seems to be as paranoid sometimes as me, but he has something I lack. Sedaris is funny. I mean really funny. Not the kind of funny that ends just as abruptly as it started. I mean the kind that creeps up on you, that comes after looking at something many of us have seen before, and making a curious and witty remark on it. "When you are engulfed in Flames" is his latest set of essays, mostly centering on gross or unfortunate situations and observations. Upon finishing this book I was still unsure of myself, but I thought, at least I don't have an open sore above my crack, or struggling to get my message across in foreign countries, nor of course, am I engulfed in flames. Thanks for reminding me of that Sedaris.

Friday, July 31, 2009

WTF of the day

Apparently sandwich preference says something about your personality. Like tuna like I do? Then you're aggressive and intolerant of failure. What strikes me is that the makers of this "study" don't even bother to try to make themselves clear, they simply throw out words like "Rorschach" and "MMPI" hoping that they sound more scientific.

Listen to this:

"We looked at sandwiches much like you look at the Rorschach tests … the ink blots that look like a butterfly or a bat depending on how you interpret it," said the study's author, Dr. Alan Hirsch. "We basically did the same thing with sandwiches."

Umm, wtf?

This is nothing like the Rorschach (which has its own set of problems), and I'm still confused; they gave participants a battery of personality assessments and then saw what sandwiches they liked, and later went back and hypothesized that liking tuna meant x and liking turkey meant y? or was it the other way around? The author states, quite amusingly, that the study has flaws, including that they only included sandwiches full of mayonnaise and not old standby's like pb&j, because of course, their popularity would skew results. The study was commissioned by Hellman's and Best Foods Mayonnaise. Right.... I'd really like to see this study in full. Check it out, and see what your sandwich preference says about you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

I'm not going to lie, I kind of want to watch this.

I know, I know. Pop-psychology, giving in to the therapy cliches. But it also looks amusing, and the fact that they added some Sufjan Stevens in there is a bonus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Lives They Left Behind

I just found a fascinating exhibit that looks into the lives of those who were housed in Willard Asylum in New York from 1869-1995. Many of these psychiatric patients never left and their belongings were found untouched in suitcases in the hospital attic. What we get is a glimpse of what life was like for these people and an eerie look into the history of mental illness treatment. The site also includes fascinating history of the hospital itself as well as audio recordings and information on the book that goes along with this exhibit, also titled "The Lives they Left Behind." It's good to know the common treatment for mental illness today isn't ECT or water submersion.

Monday, July 27, 2009

If the Quarter-life Crisis really exists, I'm making a bouquet

I woke up this morning ready to stop procrastinating and open that "loan payment" folder I made months ago, while still in college. A sense of dread came over me and in the back of my head, like a faint whisper, I heard the words: quarter-life crisis. A couple of months ago at the WPA conference I met Aby Wilner, who coined the term "quarter-life crisis" to describe this period in my life in which I am presumably at a crossroads and experiencing much anxiety in regards to making the transition into adulthood and deciding what I want out of life. She wrote a book, which she pitched to us at the conference, and presented us with many facts, including that depression and anxiety disorders are at their highest in one's 20's. At the time I didn't know what to think. On the one hand, I was experiencing much anxiety and liked that somebody out there was paying attention to that. On the other hand, the scientific part of me thought it a bit dangerous to put labels on something that is a natural part of life. Everyone becomes an adult at some point; do we all experience a "crisis"? Can this quarter-life crisis be quantified, tested, examined? Can somebody please help me?
I found the Wikipedia entrance for the quarter life crisis rather amusing. The emotional aspects include:
* feeling "not good enough" because one can't find a job that is at one's academic/intellectual level
* frustration with relationships, the working world, and finding a suitable job or career
* confusion of identity
* insecurity regarding the near future
* insecurity concerning long-term plans, life goals
* insecurity regarding present accomplishments
* re-evaluation of close interpersonal relationships
* disappointment with one's job
* nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life
* tendency to hold stronger opinions
* boredom with social interactions
* loss of closeness to high school and college friends
* financially-rooted stress (overwhelming college loans, unanticipatedly high cost of living, etc.)
* loneliness
* desire to have children
* a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than you
* frustration with societal ills
I, especially, like the second to last bullet.
These "criteria" if you will leave me constantly checking. Do I have stronger opinions? Do I want kids? Is this going to be added to the DSM? Oh god, is there a medication for this?
I guess at the end of the day, if this quarter life crisis is true, there's nothing I gain from worrying about it. Sure, I'm up to my elbows in loans I need to pay back, sure I'm sitting around the house, wondering how to intellectually challenge myself, sure I don't know what the hell I'm doing. But at the end of the day, I realize how freeing it is. I can do whatever I want, and today, with my anxiety, I decided to make a bouquet with the flowers in my backyard.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Music Comes out of your vegetables

What's synesthesia?
Most artistic renditions I've seen involve color- graphemic synesthesia, in which letters or numbers have a specific color ascribed to them. Terri Timely takes it one step further. Sadly, I don't think synesthesia is this beautiful. Wouldn't we all love to make music out of vegetables.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I knew there was a reason I love sushi

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times reporting that older adults in Asia and Latin America are less likely to develop dementia if they regularly consumed fish. What is perhaps even more surprising is that the opposite effect was found for meat- the more you eat it, the more likely you are to develop dementia. Now, before you throw out all your meat and worry about the irreparable damage you've done to your brain, keep in mind that the results should be taken with a grain of salt. All the data was gathered from observational studies, inviting many confounding variables which could just as well account for the results. The New York Times is once again very vague on how the studies were conducted (sadly, it is not an academic journal and not many people want to hear about sample size, research protocol, and statistical tests used). Nonetheless, it's interesting stuff, and I invite anything that encourages my scary obsession with sushi.