my brain is still only functioning at 42.718% capacity (as opposed to the usual 60 7/8th) so i don’t find myself to be able to say much. what little brain power i had went to work today and another fabulous mental health chat on twitter. but i feel guilty for not blogging enough so i thought i’d show you what blog posts i’ve liked today in my google reader. i’ll even do the shocking thing and not convert everything into lower case! here we go:
I was alerted by Nathan Tippe to the 5 Days Vancouver campaign, the local branch of the national 5 Days campaign, created by students to raise awareness of the situation of homeless people and at-risk youth. I was more than happy to promote the cause (a) because it is a fundraiser and (b) because the local chapter is being organized by UBC students (and as you know, I teach at UBC).
A March 15th news release from the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
CALGARY, March 15 /CNW Telbec/ – Statistics Canada is predicting that 1 in 3 Canadians will belong to a visible minority by 2031. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has released a report addressing the needs of multicultural, immigrant and refugee groups. The study is part of its mandate to improve mental healthcare across all areas of Canadian society.
from PsyBlog by Jeremy Dean
Which of these would you say sounds like the more dangerous food additive: Hnegripitrom or Magnalroxate?
The majority of people say Hnegripitrom sounds more dangerous. It turns out that the word ‘Magnalroxate’ is easier to think about than ‘Hnegripitrom’, probably because it’s more pronounceable, and people equate simplicity with safety (actually both words are made up).
This is one example of psychological research on meta-cognition: thoughts about other thoughts. Whether or not something is easy to think about”cognitive fluency”is one important type of meta-cognition, with all sorts of benefits accruing to things that are easily processed.
Here are 8 of my favourite studies on cognitive fluency, showing just how much can be explained by the feeling that something is easy to think about (or otherwise).
1. Complex writing makes you look stupid
Many of us did it in school: tried to impress teachers with fancy language and convoluted sentences, assuming it would make us look clever. As we soon discovered, though, most people can’t carry it off.
This has been tested by a study that manipulated text complexity to see how readers would judge the author’s intelligence. It found that as the text became more complicated, readers gave lower estimates of the author’s intelligence (Oppenheimer, 2005).
So if you want to be perceived as more intelligent (and who doesn’t?) keep your writing simple. This chimes perfectly with the standard advice given to wannabe writers. Sadly simplicity can be a lot harder to achieve than complexity.
(Note: the context of this study was students judging other students’ essays. This study might not extend to other types of writing and other types of readers.)
This will be my fourth week on the road; more on that later in the week. At least all that plane time (and waiting in lines time) makes for good reading time”thanks to the iPhone Kindle Reader app. (and no they don’t pay me for saying it).
I’m re-reading Francis Fukuyama’s 1995 classic Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.
It’s the perfect companion for Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System”and Themselves.
Fukuyama’s View of Trust
Fukuyama makes a compelling case that economic development is strongly affected by the cultural norms of a society”in particular, the propensity to trust. In this, he is up against both neo-classical economists (who argue people are rational utility-maximizers), Marxians (who argue it’s all about the money), and a ton of management theorists (who pretty much believe both).
The Chinese, Korean and Italian preference for family, Japanese attitudes toward adoption of non-kin, the French reluctance to enter into face-to-face relationships, the German emphasis on training, the sectarian temper of American social life: all come about as the result not of rational calculation but from inherited ethical habit.
Who we trust, it turns out, radically determines the nature of business we engage in.
One of the most striking features of those suffering from anorexia nervosa is their perception of their bodies. You can put them in front of a mirror and they will still tell you they’re to fat when in fact they’re skinny. A recent publication in Nature Proceedings has an explanation.
This explanation is based on the fact that our spatial experience is based on the integration of two different kinds of input, two different sensory inputs within two reference frames. These two reference frames are the egocentric frame and the allocentric frame.
With the allocentric frame you can “see yourself engaged in the event as an observer would”, it’s the observer mode, you can see your self in the situation. This allocentric representation involves long term spatial memory mostly located in the hippocampus and the surrounding medial temporal lobes of the brain.
unhealthy habits and demographic changes are combining to place an unprecedented burden on the health-care system that may not be manageable, the heart and stroke foundation said in its 2010 annual report on canadians’ health.
so says the CBC about an alarming increase in heart disease and the potential for heart disease, adding `most of this is preventable.” the solution is
encouraging canadians to be more physically active, eat a healthy diet and be aware of their risk factors for heart disease.
“we all eat from stress, or because we don’t have time to prepare things,” said cheryl shapiro, a heart patient in toronto who was diagnosed with high blood pressure eight years ago.
she encourages people to read labels. “we don’t realize what we’re putting in our bodies.”
it is difficult to fit in the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least three times a week, shapiro said, but she does walk her dog regularly.
part of the solution is to create infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk to the store rather than driving everywhere to avoid exercise, abramson said.
“it’s easy to take shortcuts,” abramson said. “but in the long run, those shortcuts will be disastrous for our health.
there was a bit more about this on the radio but the gist was the same. what i found interesting – always find interesting about such news stories – is that obesity and being overweight is almost exclusively seen as a lifestyle choice. the equation of overweight = fat = out of control, unattractive, lazy, weak-willed etc. is not made explicitly but it’s really just three letters away. indeed, when i looked at the first five or six pages of the comments, i saw the word “lazy” six times. neither in the story nor in the comment pages did i see the word “eating disorder” or “addiction”.
i often get the feeling that in the world of psychiatric diagnoses, anorexia is much more noble than overeating. the overly thin person who uses her will power to deny herself a piece of broccoli is so much more appealing in our culture than the slob who sits in front of his TV, gobbling ice cream. of course both are caricatures and tell only a very, very thin slice of reality (for example, you could have two very similar looking people side by side, one of them struggling with undereating, the other with overeating. it doesn’t always show in the body size.)
there is controversy in the psych community over whether overeating is an addiction. i must say that i find NEDIC‘s approach in can i be addicted to food? just as naive as the above article. it ends up saying “once we begin eating in a normal, healthy way again, we won’t have the same desire to eat as much high-calorie, high-carbohydrate food, or foods we think are “bad”.” that sounds really easy, doesn’t it?
now of course “addiction” is just a label, so let’s not split hairs here (although personally i am firmly on the side of gabor mate’s definition of addiction, which would agree with the use of the word in connection with overeating). rather, let’s be clear on this:
there are many people who eat much more than they want to and are unhappy about it. they try and try and try and nothing seems to work. they experience things like this: they cry during binges because they hate that they are eating non-stop. they go to bed night after night with terrible stomach pains because they have eaten too much. they eat out of garbage bins, eat frozen and spoiled food. they go to great pains to hide their eating from others, often ordering nothing but a little salad when they go out with others. they go from macdonald’s to burger king to wendy’s, pretending they are buying for a family. they spend thousands of dollars on diets that work for a while and then go back to bingeing. they commit suicide over the shame they feel over their out-of-control eating.
this is not a little lifestyle problem that will go away with a bit of education and an admonishment to use more willpower. many people who overeat know a lot about nutrition already and know they should exercise more, just like many people who smoke know what their lungs look like. they are deeply unhappy that willpower doesn’t seem to work. my best friend’s mother, an astonishingly intelligent woman, died of lung cancer, greedily sucking on a cigarette just before she went into her last coma. while not every person who is overweight suffers with such intensity, there are nevertheless similarities. overeating, for many, is a disfiguring, depressing, despairing dis-ease that is difficult to fight. i wish that this will be acknowledged more in the coming years. come to think of it, MentalHealthCamp, our second conference on the intersection between social media and mental health, will be a great way to address this.
(this is another post for national eating disorders week)
by now you must have cottoned on to the fact that i really like therese borchard’s beyond blue: surviving depression and anxiety and making the most of bad genes.
one of the things she talks about in that book is her run-ins with eating disorders. in the chapter BMI (body mass issues) – depression in my thighs she mentions a number of writers in the field. for example cherry boone o’neill and her book starving for attention
in my early years i equated my worth as a person with the level of my performance and i felt that the love and approval of other people would be conditioned upon my perfection. therefore, i expended every effort to be the best i could possibly be in any given area of endeavour, only to repeatedly fall short of my goals and risk losing value in the eyes of others. trying even harder, only to miss the mark again, resulted in compounded guilt and self hatred.
therese then draws the connection between eating disorders and depression, citing dr. raymond depaulo from johns hopkins who observes that young women with eating disorders also tend to suffer from depression. it’s interesting to hear therese compare the two experiences:
i asked a veteran nurse which illness – an eating disorder or a mood disorder – is harder to overcome.
“an eating disorder, hands down,” he said. “because you have to eat to stay alive, and so it’s always there. you are always confronting your behaviour.” butter, flour, and friends are always at the table sprouting horns.
depression has bullied me much more than an eating disorder, and i’d take anorexia or bulimia any day over the intense suicidal thoughts i experienced for eighteen months later in life. but before giving birth and whacking out my brain chemistry, i did get to enjoy several years symptom-free of depression. there were many days i didn’t even think about my mood! but to this day the eating disorder is still there. at every meal.
in the next chapter, she talks about the perfectionism that we mentioned earlier.
like practically every other depressive i know, perfectionism can cripple my efforts to live freely and happily, not to mention plague me with writer’s block. left unattended, perfectionism will build a prison around me so that every shot at expressing myself is thwarted by the fear of not getting it right.
one of the people who helps her with that is her editor. she reminds her of something that goes for all of us, whether we’re depressed, deal with eating disorders, are writers, or whatever else. she constantly reminds her to
to write from wherever i am, not from where i want to be, because the journey – full of backward steps – is what makes material real and most helpful.
finally, she quotes anna quindlen:
perfection is static, even boring. your unvarnished self is what is wanted.
this week is eating disorders week. to start it off, here is a song one of my twitter contacts wrote for someone who was struggling with this difficult, often life threatening disorder (the fourth song, “you are not alone”)
and the lyrics:
you are not alone
music & lyrics by bob gray © october 22, 2003
there is a light, beyond the darkness
there is pain, inside us all.
sometimes we trip, on the roads we travel
as we reach up, sometimes we fall
and though sometimes, i know you’re lonely
with all my heart, i need you to know…
you are not alone… i stand by your side.
with so many others, who hide, as you hide.
with all my heart, i hope you will hear me
you are not alone… you are not alone…
there is a peace, that you can get to
it will be hard, but you’ll be fine.
i’ll walk with you, in case you stumble
reach out your hand, i’ll give you mine
and though sometimes, you may be frightened
with all my heart, i want you to know…
bridge: (with choir)
but, beyond the hurt… beyond frustration…
beyond the mountains, we all must climb
there is the dawn, of a new tomorrow
the dawn of hope… i hope we find…
repeat chorus: (with choir)
i was going to offer you another poem of sarah’s in this post but there’s something i need to say before we move on to that.
the braidwood enquiry into robert dziekanski’s death, the polish immigrant who was tasered at the vancouver airport in the fall of 2007.
and constance barnes.
right from the very beginning, the RCMP – the royal mounted canadian police –
lied presented their own version of the truth. through their teeth, fancy red hats and polished black boots. the latest in their sometimes daily refusal to take any responsibility whatsoever is to deny the existence of an email that details how they decided to use a taser on their way to the airport.
now let’s talk about constance barnes.
constance barnes is a vancouver parks board commissioner, single mother of two children, employed at dr sun yat sen gardens – and she screwed up. she drank, she fell asleep at the wheel, and then ploughed into a house.
and then she apologized.
see the difference?
people are complaining that she didn’t apologize at the right time, that she didn’t use the right words to describe that she’s going to AA, that what she did was not a “mistake” but a … well, i don’t know what – etc., etc. who cares!
she took responsibility, and she apologized.
what a concept.
i don’t have a clue what’s going on behind closed doors at the RCMP. is there something even bigger they’re hiding? are they too steeped in a culture of secrecy that they can’t see what they’re doing? is there a boss somewhere who can’t handle looking at the truth? are they getting paid big bucks by taser? who knows.
what i DO know is that responsibility liberates. responsibility is for mature, grown-up people who know that there are no gods among humans, that we’re not perfect, and that we make mistakes. awful, horrendous mistakes sometimes. and that the way to show you’re a woman or a man is to stand as tall as possible, warts and all and to say, “YES, i did this. what can i do to make it better?”
it liberates because after you take responsibility, you don’t have to cower beneath fear, shame and guilt.
here is another interview with someone recovering from an eating disorder. this person used to eat too much, and has been and still is dealing with it by going to overeaters anonymous.
isabella: “you’ve come a long way, baby” – how long HAVE you come? what’s changed?
OA person: how long have i come? i would say the longest i have come is out of isolation. i am very aware of the benefits of talking/writing/meeting with others to discuss what is a core weakness in my life with people who understand. i carried the burden alone in my childhood. i am no longer a silent-suffering victim. i am an active participant in my recovery. so i am greatly empowered.
isabella: what’s the most important thing in your recovery?
OA person: the most important thing in my recovery is: hmm…self love
isabella: how would you characterize your relationship with your body?
OA person: my relationship with my body is greatly healed but there is still some ‘disconnect’ and i still need to ‘care more’ for self (especially losing weight). i am grateful for my body. it is relatively healthy. again, it is an improved relationship, big time.
isabella: self esteem – how does it fit into the quilt of your recovery?
OA person: self esteem is like the threads in the quilt of my recovery. i have to think i am worthy of a better life before i can embark on one. the more i use and grow the threads, the bigger and stronger the quilt!
isabella: any other comments or suggestions for someone with a story similar to yours?
OA person: just keep coming back. don’t give up. try something new in recovery. allow yourself to feel like crap if you do. but then move on. feel the feelings and then let them go. break out of isolation and start talking to people, sharing at meetings, phoning or emailing or whatever you can do today to get out of yourself. my biggest ‘trap’ is self.
a note from isabella: “keep coming back” is a phrase often used in 12-step meetings. it means don’t give up, keep trying. it can also carry the meaning of “keep remembering who you truly are, in all your beauty and health.”
image by open threads
no. 4 in my series on unconventionally beautiful women:
image by cambodia trust