Tag Archives: mental health

Life Is What Happens While We’re Making Other Plans

by Kassandra Lamb

Hubs and I went to his 50th high school reunion this last Friday.

Wow, just wow!

Back in high school, we didn’t really get that we would someday be 50 years old, much less 50 years out of high school.

Hubs' high school

Hubs’ high school

The reunion committee had a rather cool idea. They passed out black and white pics of people’s faces out of the yearbook as everyone registered. Your task was to find the person in the picture and give them their photo.

My husband has a good memory. He was pretty sure he knew who the woman was in his picture, but try as we might we couldn’t find her. She was a pretty dark-eyed blonde, with a thin face.

Tour of the school -- inner courtyard

Tour of the school — inner courtyard

The exercise brought home to us how generic old people look. Most had added a few pounds, some quite a few pounds. Most had gray or white hair. And if they didn’t, it was with the help of hair dye, so hair color was now irrelevant.

We walked around that big room full of old people and stared at name tags until our eyes crossed. We finally concluded that the woman whose picture he’d drawn had opted not to attend the reunion.

Then the mostly overweight, gray-haired cheerleaders and majorettes took over the dance floor and twirled their batons to the old school fight song.

And there was another thin-faced, blonde woman (not the one in hubs’ picture) who had won the genetics lottery for aging. She was still thin, still full of pep, and with no varicose veins spoiling her shapely legs.

dixie-hollins-reunion-cropped

Oh, her face had her fair share of wrinkles when she turned our way, mostly crow’s feet around her sparkling eyes and smile lines around her mouth. “Look at Kerry Ann!” rippled through the auditorium. But everyone seemed happy for her.

It was obvious her well-preserved self was not the product of plastic surgery or anorexic-type dieting. She’d just gotten lucky regarding her gene pool. And perhaps her positive attitude toward life had helped.

But even though she seemed to have more energy than those around her, she didn’t seem to have any more spirit.

And that was the other thing that struck me about this crowd of aging people. They were full of joie de vivre. They were happy.

Of course, some of that happiness had to do with the party atmosphere and the cash bar. But I was reminded of how inaccurate the myth of aging is – the one about how old people are grumpy and discontent.

Most aren’t.

Their lives hadn’t always gone in the direction they’d expected. Some had married young and divorced almost as young, only to remarry the loves of their lives. While others had stayed divorced, or had divorced multiple times.

Others had married their high school sweethearts and were still married 48 years later! Indeed, there were quite a few long-term marriages in the crowd.

Many had gone into predictable professions–like my husband, the French linguist, who was greeted more than once as Mr. Frenchie. And the guy from the automobile mechanics vocational program who now owned his own dealership that he was about to pass on to his son.

(meme made with imgflip --

meme made with imgflip

Still others had become something entirely different than anticipated.

I met one particularly interesting woman who had planned to marry and raise children. That hadn’t quite worked out so she’d devoted her life to her profession and her nieces and nephews. She seemed pretty content with the whole thing.

Indeed, I didn’t detect any of the angst that had been just beneath the surface for some of the people who’d been at my own 30th reunion (the last one I attended before we left Maryland). And there was a lot less of the posturing I remembered from that reunion.

No one seemed to care anymore about what others thought of their success or lack thereof. We were just a bunch of old people who’d gotten together to reminisce and have a good time.

I concluded that, by the time we’ve reached our sixties, we’ve come to grips with our dreams. Either life has turned out as we planned or we’ve adjusted the plan. Sometimes life has actually taken some interesting twists and turns for which we’re downright grateful.

Indeed, life is sometimes what happens while we’re making other plans. And that isn’t always a bad thing.

How about you? Have you had times when life took you in some unexpected direction that turned out better than anticipated?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

7 Things White People Can Do – Because Enough Is Enough!

by Kassandra Lamb

I’ve thought of a dozen different ways to start this post. They all seemed either inadequate, or too much about me, or too controversial.

So I’m just going to say it:

It’s not okay that bad cops are harassing and killing people just because of the color of their skin, and it’s not okay that anyone is shooting at police officers just because of the uniform they wear.

Furthermore, it is not okay that anyone has to be anxious every time they or their loved ones leave their homes, afraid some police officer will misinterpret their actions as threatening, or some bully cop will try to find an excuse to harass or even kill them.

Ironically, what brought on this rant from me wasn’t the latest shooting of a blatantly innocent man, lying on his back with his empty hands high in the air. I started writing this post before that happened, because of a newsletter I received from a young lawyer named Rachel, from whom I took a webinar a few years back.

Until last week, I didn’t know much about her personally, hadn’t really given any thought to what race she was. I just knew that she gave good legal and business advice.

Last week, her newsletter deviated from its normal format to tell a story of something that happened to her last May. I’m going to summarize the event but I suggest hopping over to her blog and reading the whole story (click here). It will give you a much better idea of what black people all too often encounter in interactions with certain police officers.

Rachel was on her way home from work one day, when she entered the EZ Pass booth at a toll plaza, slowing her car appropriately but not stopping, because that’s not required if you have an EZ Pass.

Then a man in a uniform stepped between the booths and in front of her car. She stopped.

The setting sun was in her eyes so she couldn’t see clearly, but she thought he was motioning her through, so once he had stepped out of the way, she eased her foot off the brake and let her car start rolling forward.

The officer made another, wilder gesture that again she couldn’t make out, and again she thought he was waving her through. At that point he started screaming at her, in language that was “the epitome of disrespectful.”

EZ Pass lanes on highway

Since when does driving slowly through an EZ-Pass lane justify lethal force. Oh wait, she was DWB — driving while black!  (photo by Otto Yamamoto from NY, NY, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

He told her he could’ve shot her for threatening his life (rolling slowly through a toll booth after an officer has stepped out of the way is threatening his life?) And other police have “killed people for similar actions.”

Her attempts to explain about the sun in her eyes and misunderstanding his gestures were met with more screaming and threats – to take away her car, to arrest her. She kept her cool, even though she was royally pissed inside (as I would certainly be), and eventually he let her go on her way.

She had a colleague in the car with her. I can’t help but wonder if she might have been arrested, if there hadn’t been a witness present.

But for me the most revealing part of her story is that she didn’t tell anyone but her husband on the day that this occurred, because:

Encounters like this are so commonplace in black communities that it’s not really news. You just accept this as part of your life. I’ve accepted it as part of my life. (rodgerscollective.com, © 2016)

When I read that, I actually sucked in my breath. It’s part of life?

And I couldn’t help wondering how many times my black friends have experienced something like this, and didn’t bother to share it with me or their other friends, because it’s “just part of life.”

This is not OK!

Now back to last week’s shooting in Miami. Apparently, the police officer involved now claims he was not shooting at the black man lying on the ground. He was shooting at the 26-year-old, non-verbal, autistic man next to him and missed. Because he thought the autistic man had a weapon.

Meanwhile, on the cell phone video recorded by a bystander, you can hear the black man yelling “It’s a toy truck. He’s got a toy truck.”

What doesn’t jive about this cop’s story is the fact that both men were then handcuffed.

And Mr. Kinsey, who had been patted down and had no weapon and who had repeatedly identified himself as a behavioral therapist working for a nearby group home,  was left on the sidewalk, handcuffed and bleeding in the hot Miami sun, until paramedics arrived.

If he was the supposed victim of this non-crime, why was he treated that way? I seriously doubt they would have treated a white man that way.

And is it OKAY that the officer was shooting at an unarmed autistic man? And he just happened to be a poor shot?

As the grandmother of an autistic boy who is still fairly nonverbal at age 8, this scares the crap out of me! My grandson would be incapable of following a police officer’s orders because he wouldn’t understand what was going on

But all the noise and negative energy would overwhelm him and he might very well go into a meltdown. And if he’s still nonverbal as an adult…

What would a cop do if instead of dropping the toy truck, he started screaming at the top of his lungs because he was overwhelmed and scared? In today’s culture, that cop might very well shoot my grandson because he wasn’t following orders and he seemed to be a threat.

I understand that cops need to be cautious, that they are putting their lives on the line, and often have to make snap decisions (and I think they should be paid much, much more than they are). But under these circumstances, while I can certainly understand drawing their weapon and approaching with care, I can’t understand why they didn’t try to get close enough to see what the guy was actually holding before they started shooting!

I’m convinced that nothing is going to turn the tide with this shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later culture until WHITE PEOPLE start doing something about it.

We say “Oh my! That’s terrible.” And then forget about it until the next time.

We need to do more than that! First, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our black friends and neighbors and imagine what it’s like to be a little nervous every time you leave the house, to feel your throat close with fear if a cop pulls you over while driving.

And to fear for your loved ones’ lives every time they are out in the world (and now those of us with autistic loved ones will be feeling that fear too!)

Secondly, we need to pressure our local governments and police departments to make changes, before the next person dies! Here are some things we can actually DO that will make a difference:

1. Encourage and support black people who have experiences like Rachel’s to report them to that officer’s superiors.

And by this I don’t mean, saying “Hey, you should report that.”

I suspect most blacks are wary of reporting such events. They don’t really want to draw attention to themselves, and maybe become more of a target. Not an unrealistic fear considering the tendency for some police departments to close racks and protect their own.

So offer to go with your friend, in person, and be their witness (and respect their wishes if they choose not to report it). Once there, use your privilege (sad but true, you may get further than your black friend might) to insist on talking to the highest ranking person available at the police department. Follow up with a letter to that person summarizing the meeting and send a copy of that letter to the mayor of your city, the county executive of your county, and/or the governor of your state.

2. Write to or go visit your local police department’s chief of police or sheriff and ask what measures are in place to identify and deal with overly-aggressive officers or deputies.

It’s really not that hard to identify them BEFORE they’ve shot someone. I have heard from good cops that the easiest way to do this is to look at how often, when this officer arrests people, the other charges are accompanied by a resisting arrest charge.

Frequent resisting arrest charges can mean this officer tends to use verbally aggressive tactics and/or excessive physical force.

3. Follow up with these law enforcement authorities suggesting implementation of mandatory anger management counseling and additional training in deescalation tactics for officers who are accused of using excessive force or who have filed a higher than average number of resisting arrest charges.

And if these officers do not change their ways, insist that they be removed from the police force. Better that we have too few cops on the streets, than we have even a few cops who are hurting, harassing and killing innocent people – and giving all cops a bad name, which paints a target on the backs of their uniforms!!

4. If you get stonewalled, and most definitely if you are threatened because of your efforts to bring about these changes, go to the local press and tell them your story.

Going public makes it very hard for the bad cops and those who might be trying to cover up for them to retaliate. (Note: I am not anti-cop; just anti bad cops. To paraphrase a cliché from the 1960s, some of my closest friends are police or former officers.)

If you’re a white person and wondering at this point, why you need to do these things, here’s why. Sadly, those authorities are more likely to take you seriously and those who might retaliate against a black complainant will think twice before doing so when their white friends are standing by them.

And yes, folks, it is that serious! People are getting shot out there. Everyday people like you and me, who are driving home from work or escorting their autistic charge back to his group home. And good cops are getting killed because of the actions of the bad ones.

5. Pressure your local and state governments to provide better funding for police departments so they can implement these programs and can also attract more high-quality officers.

6. Keep the pressure on until the bad cops have been weeded out and the good cops can once again feel like they are part of the community they serve, not its enemy.

7. And finally, stop expecting black people to not get angry and talk back when they are being harassed by a cop. It may not be the smartest thing for them to do, but it is certainly a natural reaction. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you were minding your own business, and suddenly a police officer is yelling in your ear and threatening to shoot you?
Please, take action to make these changes happen! Enough people have died senselessly. Enough families have been shattered.

Enough is enough!

(I do suggest you click on Rachel’s blog and read her entire story of the event. It will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.)

Do I Look Like a Threat?

Can you think of anything else that we – black and white people, all people – can do in our communities to change them to the safe places they should be?

(Note: Please keep the conversation civil and constructive. Any blatantly bigoted or obnoxious rants will be deleted as will any vitriol against all police officers.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Creativity and the Baby Boom Woman

by Kassandra Lamb

I recently became more active in an online writers group for women of a “certain age.” I’m noticing some interesting psychological trends there.

If you read the bios of the members, your mouth will hang open in awe. These are very accomplished women! I’m honored to be a part of their group.

And yet as our lives have often changed due to divorce, death of a spouse, and just plain aging, there’s a tendency to slide back into the insecurities we thought we had left behind.

Creativity, by definition, requires thinking outside the box – being innovative, taking risks and trying new things. But our generation of women was taught to conform, to listen to authority, to make nice-nice. Conformity and creativity make strange bedfellows. Indeed, they don’t get along very well at all.

(Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers, "Leave It to Beaver" -- public domain) On Air: Thursdays, 9-9:30 PM, EDT. "Beaver" Trio Barbara Billingsley, who stars as Mrs. Cleaver, poses with television sons Tony Dow (Wally) left, and Jerry Mathers (Beaver) on the set of ABC-TV's "Leave It to Beaver" Thursdays, 9-9:30 PM, EDT.

(Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers, “Leave It to Beaver” — public domain)

Our role models were Donna Reed and June Cleaver — who woke in the morning without a hair out of place, vacuumed her house in pearls and pumps and always knew just the right thing to say or do to make her boys feel better (unless of course discipline was involved, and then her husband Ward took over).

These lessons of childhood, many of us are finding, haven’t die; they just went underground.

So when we are faced with tragedy, a crossroads, or just feel ourselves burning out, while our innate feminine resilience usually kicks in, so do those old messages. We get up and brush ourselves off, but we’re much more vulnerable in those moments to the old recordings in our heads.

Be self-effacing.
“Nobody likes a stuck-up woman,” echoes in our brains. Except the definition of “stuck-up” as it relates to females – taught to us in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s – is not true arrogance. It’s being confident that what we produce is good, and that we are good people, with sound judgement.

In other words, good self-esteem equals being uppity.

Please others.
Other people’s approval of what we do is more important than our own. We will stay in jobs that “eat our souls” because others think we should. We will not follow our dreams because others think they are silly or unreachable.

We will allow editors or agents or publishers to dictate how our stories will be changed, even though we know in our hearts that the story was fine to begin with, maybe even great!

Another role model -- Lucille Ball, who was constantly doing dumb things either to please or impress her husband, so he would let her pursue her dream of performing in his club. (public domain)

Another role model — Lucille Ball, who was constantly doing dumb things either to please or impress her husband, so he would let her pursue her dream of performing in his club. (public domain)

Others’ needs are more important than our own.
I was about eleven when the first bra was burned, and I’ve considered myself a liberated female ever since. So when a student interviewed me for an assignment in her Gender Studies class and asked me if I had ever sacrificed my career for my husband or family, I immediately said no. Then I stopped and thought about that.

I found my first true vocational passion (and my second career) a bit late, after I was married with a small child and a large mortgage. When I was looking at educational options to get the credentials I needed to become a psychotherapist, I discovered that to get a PhD in psychology I would have to go to school full-time and might have to move elsewhere in the country to get into a program. “Well, that won’t work,” I thought. I couldn’t uproot my family, ask my husband to give up his good-paying job, etc. So I settled for a masters degree I could get locally and part-time, while still working full-time to help pay the mortgage.

I can’t say that I’ve regretted that choice. I had a good career, even though I didn’t make as much money as I would have with the classier credentials. But one thing blew my mind as I recalled all this when that student was interviewing me.

I had never seriously discussed the “move to another state so I can get my PhD” option with my husband. I never gave him the opportunity to sacrifice for me (and for the ultimate greater well-being of the whole family if I ended up making more money). I just assumed it was my job to make the sacrifice.

Not only was June rarely without her pearls but Ward was rarely without his tie. Not even all that realistic for the times, much less today. (public domain)

Not only was June rarely without her pearls, but Ward was rarely without his tie. Not even all that realistic for the times, much less today. (public domain)

The day of that student’s interview was the first time I realized how subtle the lessons of our youth still are for women of my generation. We can think we’re being all liberated and modern, while our knees are jerking away, following the old patterns without our conscious awareness or approval.

When I first joined this writers group for middle-aged and beyond women, I wasn’t all that active. I was already a member of an online writers group that is awesome in its level of support and encouragement.

But now I’m realizing that these women of a “certain age” can offer a different and more specific support – the recognition of these old patterns and the kick-in-the-butt/cheering section needed to break out of them.

Something women writers of my generation may very well need, again and again, in order to remain creative, and sane.

Your thoughts? Are you a woman (or man) of a certain age, still fighting those old messages?

And now I’m totally not going to act my age as I give you all a sneak peak of the cover for my next Marcia Banks and Buddy mystery. Squueeee!! (In case you hadn’t figured it out, I love this cover!)

ArsenicAndYoungLacy FINAL

COMING SOON!!

And this is the last week to get 75% off of Vinnie Hansen’s book, Black Beans & Venom, during the Smashwords’ Summer/Winter Sale.

This is a fabulous story. Hop on over and get yourself a copy.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

This Ain’t Your Grandmother’s Old Age Home!

by Kassandra Lamb

My husband and I are starting to look into retirement communities. Now wait, before those of you under 50 freak out and click away to some other post… we’re not talking your grandmother’s old age home here.

birthday cake

You get to a certain point where some of the candles represent a decade, not just a year. (cake for an 87-yr-old, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Seniors today have lots of options. And that’s a darn good thing, because people are living longer and living healthier for longer.

“Old age is not for sissies,” is one of my brother’s favorite lines. This is true, but aging isn’t all bad.

Retirement brings the freedom to do the things for which there just wasn’t time and energy when one had to make a living (for me, that was writing fiction!) And there are a variety of places we can live while doing those things.

The concept that old age means either living with one’s children (still an option) or deteriorating rapidly in a dehumanizing nursing home is – for lack of a better term – old-fashioned.

We’ve got 55+ communities and retirement communities and assisted living and multi-level care and…

A 55+ community is basically a housing development that is limited to those over age 55. Children under 18 aren’t allowed. These typically have community centers that offer activities ranging from cards to rumba lessons to monthly parties or shows. They have clubs and pools and fitness centers and shuffleboard and tennis courts, etc. – all right there.

My 68-year-old brother recently moved into a 55+ community. He had lived in the country, about 45 minutes from our home in a medium-sized city. He loved his house and his neighbors, but it got to be too quiet out there in the boonies. He was lonely and bored.

He is loving his new home, and all the activities available, including lots of clubs and an on-campus golf course and restaurant.

For us, the issue that will eventually prompt us to move is taking care of a house. Maintenance, cleaning, yard work gets harder as you age. For me, it’s not so much that I can’t do it, but rather that it takes so much out of me. I’m exhausted afterwards, which makes it hard to enjoy the glow of satisfaction of getting the task done.

me and bro in front of house

My brother and I love projects!  Just a little over a year ago, we painted our house. It took several months. We were glad we did it, but we knew it was our last hurrah!  Big projects now get hired out.

Hubs and I are back and forth between a 55+ community or a retirement community. The latter have apartments and cottages you rent (you own your house in a 55+), with more services such as housekeeping, and all maintenance, grounds upkeep, etc. is taken care of, plus there are many of the same amenities as 55+ communities. Retirement communities often, but not always, offer assisted living and hospice services as the residents’ needs change.

Assisted living is a step above the old-fashioned nursing home. Here the residents often can have some of their own belongings with them and retain a certain amount of autonomy. But professional nurses are available to administer medications and such.

I should pause and comment that these services are not free. Those who have a decent retirement plan–whether it be a pension, private IRAs or other savings, Social Security or some combination of these–have options. (For the working poor, retirement is not nearly so lovely.)

Another thing that has brought these options to mind recently has been my sister misterio author, Vinnie Hansen’s re-release of her book Squeezed and Juiced (previously titled Tang® Is Not Juice — see below). A subplot of this story is the protagonist’s mother’s search for the right retirement community. And the protagonist, Carol Sabala, is struggling with the fact that her mother is old.

It kind of tickles me when younger people freak out over aging. Often I got that reaction from students when I was teaching human development classes. I’d try to point out the positives that come with age – wisdom, more self-confidence, no longer caring all that much about what others think, more time and freedom to do what you really want. But I could tell by the expressions on their faces that all they wanted to do was stick their fingers in their ears and sing, “lalalalala.”

old woman

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

So what’s the take-away message here – old age is not necessarily a bad thing! As a good friend of mine likes to say, “It sure beats the alternative.”

Old age may mean wrinkles and moving slower, but most old people are actually pretty happy. It’s the young who fear aging.

And if you’ve got a decent retirement income (something to give serious thought to if you’re pre-retirement age. Those who stick their heads in the sand on the subject are called…wait for it…still working in their 70’s), there are lots of housing and lifestyle options.

Old age doesn’t have to mean boring, lonely or decrepit. It can be lots of fun actually!

How about you? Where are you in the “adjustment to the reality of aging” process? And where do you think you’ll want to live out your senior years?

Squeezed and Juiced, A Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen

book cover

Her first real P.I. case, an ailing mother, and a stalled relationship. As Carol Sabala attempts to juggle the components of her life, they all threaten to crash.

Training to be a private eye, Carol wrangles a job to investigate a woman’s will. The more Carol probes the retirement home where the woman died, the more she grasps how easily one could kill an elderly person in such a facility. It is, after all, an expected last address.

With Carol’s mother intent on moving to the same retirement home, the stakes are high. Will Carol prevent this facility from being her mother’s final address? Can she keep all the pieces of her life in the air as she enters a world of drug addicts and murder?

For those of you who enjoy the grittier female protagonists like Kinsey Milhone or Aimée Leduc, discover how Carol Sabala reacts when squeezed.

AMAZON US      AMAZON UK     AMAZON PAPERBACK

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Mind & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD brain

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

There are still some aspects of PTSD that we psychologists can’t fully explain, but there’s a lot that we do now understand. And our more recent discoveries about the brain, that offer those explanations, give me confidence that someday we will have all the explanations.

Here’s a short list of the most common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1.  Experienced an event that involved a significant threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
  2.  Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images of the event and/or flashbacks (acting or feeling as if the event was reoccurring).
  3.  Recurrent nightmares, insomnia.
  4.  Intense distress and physiological arousal when exposed to internal or external cues (triggers) that symbolize or resemble some aspect of the event; avoidance of those triggers.
  5.  Anxiety attacks and/or outbursts of anger.
  6.  Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  7.  Depression and/or irritability (an early symptom of mild to moderate depression).
  8.  Difficulty concentrating, memory problems.
  9.  Numbing of feelings and/or general responsiveness.
  10.  Inability to recall important aspects of the event (dissociative amnesia).
  11.  Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

PTSD is the only psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of mental health professionals) where the cause of the disorder is listed as one of its criteria for diagnosis. The person has to experience a traumatic event, and it’s not hard to figure out how something that overwhelming would cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

But why #4 and #5? Why such an intense physical and emotional reaction to some minor reminder, that can even lead to a full-blown anxiety attack? Let me repeat the definition of trauma from a previous post: an event so emotionally overwhelming that it cannot be processed emotionally or cognitively at the time that it happens.

The emotions of that event have not yet been processed. They’re stored in the brain in their raw and still quite intense form.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by -Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, think back to last week’s post about where things are stored in the brain and what parts of the brain are and are not easily accessed consciously. Negative emotions, mental images, and learned associations are all stored in relatively inaccessible places–in either the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

So it’s difficult sometimes to intentionally bring these memories and emotions back into conscious awareness so that they can be processed and put to rest. But because of learned associations with those “internal and external cues,” it’s all too easy for the intense emotions from the traumatic event to get triggered in day-to-day life.

How does this work? Let me give you an example.

One of my clients experienced a trauma during her childhood while she was standing across the room from a large fan. (For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t go into details.) Later in adulthood, she became phobic of fans. Whenever she saw a moving fan blade, she would have a full-blown, run-screaming-from-the-room anxiety attack. But she had no idea consciously why she had these attacks over something as dumb as a fan (The fan itself had nothing to do with the traumatic event; it was just present in the room.)

The memory of trauma was stored–as images and raw emotions–in her right hemisphere. The learned association (classical conditioning a la Pavlov’s slobbering dogs) between the sight of that fan and those intense emotions was stored in her cerebellum.

The neural impulses that were triggered whenever she saw a fan would look like a big V on the right side of her brain–the image of the fan in the here and now is processed in the right hemisphere, the neural impulse zips down and back to her cerebellum to the learned association, then is flung back up to the right hemisphere to stir up that old memory and its associated feelings.

Voila, anxiety attack. And with little or no awareness in the conscious mind of what was going on (because it tends to be focused mostly on left hemisphere activity, i.e. verbal thoughts).

angry woman

(photo by Lisa Brewster CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Intense anger can also occur with PTSD. This anger is a leftover feeling from the traumatic event. Whenever we feel threatened, anger is part of our response, even if it is trumped by fear at the time. Later, when we are once again in a safe environment, that anger can surface. And it can come out in ways that make it appear (even to the person feeling it) to be about here-and-now events, when it’s really about the past. This can be very destructive to relationships.

I think #6 and #7 are fairly self-explanatory. If something really scary has taken you by surprise in the past, you’re likely to be more on guard all the time, and startle more easily. And struggling with all this would certainly be depressing.

 

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

Up to this point, we have been talking about the intrusive symptoms of PTSD–the ways that this disorder intrudes into and disrupts the person’s life. Numbers 8 through 11 refer to the dissociative symptoms.

The human psyche, like the rest of our internal systems, is designed to help us survive. If something is too emotionally overwhelming, the psyche strives to block it out of awareness.

It may do this by suppressing the feelings, but often it’s not able to just suppress the specific feelings related to the trauma. So all feelings become numbed out to some degree. In the extreme, all or part of the memory of the event may be blocked out. But again this blocking of memory may be more generalized, making it hard to concentrate and remember things in general.

I’ve had several clients who had memory and/or concentration problems that interfered with their schoolwork or jobs. But once certain traumatic events (that their minds were working overtime to suppress) had been processed, they rather suddenly went from C to A students or could now easily remember things (like people’s names) that they’d had great difficulty with in the past.

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

(Note: How the mind blocks out feelings and/or memories is one of those things we don’t yet have an explanation for, but lots of scientific research confirms that this does happen.)

Sometimes that numbing of feelings makes it hard for the person to connect with others. Also, the experiences they’ve had may leave them feeling irrevocably different from most people. Group therapy and support groups are particularly helpful for this symptom, as well as the others.

Besides group support, the most effective therapies for PTSD are the ones that help the person finally process the memories and feelings related to the trauma. Depending on the trauma (and the therapeutic approach used), this can take some time, and it can be painful to relive those feelings. But releasing the emotional charge on those events and putting their meaning into perspective allows the person to move from trauma survivor to getting on with living and thriving.

And here’s an interesting tidbit from the scientific research. In last week’s post, I talked about how memories are stored where they are first processed. Research has found that traumatic memories are stored in the cerebral cortex right next to the emotional parts of the brain (called the limbic system). But after therapy, when those memories have been re-processed, they are now stored further out in the cerebral cortex, away from the emotional limbic system. Concrete proof that the feelings have truly been discharged and the experience of that memory has been changed!

Any thoughts on all this? Do you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or have you struggled with this disorder?

PTSD is on my mind these days because of my new series, About a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Please take a moment to check out Book 1 in the series, To Kill A Labrador.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

6 Fascinating Things to Understand About the Mind (and PTSD)

by Kassandra Lamb

I started out today with the goal of writing about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then I realized I needed to start elsewhere, with a bit of an explanation of how the human mind really works. So this is Part 1 of a two (maybe three) part series on the mind and PTSD.

Freud

Sigmund Freud (public domain)

Sigmund Freud introduced the concepts of the conscious mind and the unconscious mind in the early 1900s. His theory was quite controversial in its day and for quite a few decades afterwards. But a century after its introduction, most of us accept that there is stuff going on in our brains that we’re not currently aware of consciously.

But what exactly are these things called a conscious or unconscious mind (or the term often used by lay people–the subconscious mind)?

They aren’t really things at all. These aren’t actual places in the physical brain. There is no barrier somewhere in there that separates what is conscious from what is unconscious. Indeed, information flows back and forth between the two states of awareness all the time.

Here are six pieces of information one needs to know to understand the workings of our conscious/unconscious minds. I find them fascinating and hope that you do too.

NUMBER 1: Limited Time and Space
What we think of as our conscious minds, memory experts would call our working memories. Whatever one is thinking about at any given moment is in his/her working memory.

brain scan of working memory at work

The active parts of the brain during working memory tasks. (public domain)

Unfortunately, working memory is a pretty small space. There’s only room for about five to nine “chunks” of information at any given time. And unless one is actively focused on/thinking about a particular piece of info, it will drop out of working memory in about ten seconds or so.

Makes you wonder how we humans ever accomplish anything intellectual, doesn’t it?

NUMBER 2: Attention
If we pay attention to something, we can hold it in working memory (aka our conscious awareness) much longer. And if we are not focused on something (some verbal thought, piece of information, feeling, mental image, etc.), it will fade into the background (i.e., slide back into the unconscious mind), crowded out of working memory by whatever we are paying attention to at that moment.

Most information stored in our brains is available to our conscious minds IF the right memory cue comes along to bring it to the surface. But some things can get buried pretty deep in the unconscious, either due to lack of attention for a long time or to active pushing aside by our defenses (more on this next week).

Have you ever had the experience of something triggering a very old memory and you think, Gee, I haven’t thought about that in years?

NUMBER 3: Connections
The third thing to understand is that our minds automatically make a lot of connections between various things. This is called conditioned learning.

Ivan Pavlov

Personally, I think Ivan’s a lot cuter than Sigmund. (public domain)

Anyone who’s ever taken a psychology class has heard about Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who first had the Eureka moment regarding conditioning. He was studying the rate of salivation in dogs when presented with food, but after a while, he noticed that the dogs in his lab were salivating before the food was presented. They’d start slobbering in response to the sight of the equipment used to measure their drool, or to the lab attendant’s footsteps coming to get them out of their cages.

The dogs’ brains had learned to associate these other sights and sounds with the fact that they were about to be fed. And a biological phenomenon over which the dogs had no conscious control, salivating, occurred whenever they experienced these cues.

It’s imperative to our survival and sanity that our brains make all these little connections. They make life so much easier.

A moment ago, I scratched my hand without thinking about it. I hadn’t even noticed consciously that the hand had an itch until I was scratching it. And even then I might not have noticed if I hadn’t been casting about for an example of unconscious connections.

Without these learned associations, I wouldn’t have automatically scratched that little itch. The itch would have had to build until it was so annoying that I became consciously aware of it. Then I would have to stop and think and ask myself what has helped make something stop itching in the past. Oh yes, scratching the itchy spot usually helps.

Humans would have long since died off if they had to give that much conscious thought to every little need. There would be no time nor space in their working memories to solve problems or invent things.

NUMBER 4: The Form Our Thoughts Take
Neural impulses are firing in various parts of our brains all the time, but once we develop a fair amount of active language (usually by age 4 or 5), we tend to be most aware of our verbal thoughts. In other words, we consciously think in language most of the time.

Visual images also play a role. We may consciously call up an internal vision of something that happened in the past, or of a place we’re planning to go.

This morning, I accidentally drove past the post office, where I had planned to mail some letters. No problem, I thought as I visualized the big blue mailbox in front of my grocery store. I can mail them at the store. (My next errand.)

wedding day

I can recall being hot but I can’t feel it again consciously.

Memories of other things we’ve sensed may come into our conscious awareness as well, but most likely those thoughts will be verbal. When I think about my wedding day, during one of the hottest Augusts in Maryland’s history, I remember that it was hot. But I don’t actually feel that heat again. Likewise, I can recall that I felt both scared and excited that day. But I’m thinking about those feelings, not actually re-experiencing them.

The visceral sensations associated with memories and previous feelings are not all that accessible via our conscious minds.

Which brings us to…

NUMBER 5: Where Things Are Stored
First, let me point out that information tends to be stored in the part of the brain where it was first processed (or later, where it was re-processed; more on this next time). There’s a long biological explanation for that, which I think we’ll skip. Please just take my word for this little tidbit.

There’s a lot of stuff constantly being processed and stored in various parts of our brains, but to keep this simple I’m going to focus on the functions of three parts of the brain.

For most people (all right-handed ones and some left-handed ones), language functions occur in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex. (The cerebral cortex is the outer layer and the highest level of the brain, where actual rational thinking occurs, among other things.)

The cerebral cortex hard at work.

The cerebral cortex hard at work.

Visual perception (i.e., the processing of what we see) and sound modulation processing (i.e., tone of voice, etc.) occur mostly in the right hemisphere.

So if someone says, “Now don’t you look lovely tonight, my dear,” in a mildly sarcastic voice with a slight sneer on their face, your left hemisphere processes the words themselves. But your right hemisphere sends out a “snark alert” after interpreting the body language and tone.

But here’s the thing–sometimes those interpretations of visual and auditory info don’t make it into the conscious mind, because that information is being processed in the right hemisphere and we are more prone to be aware of our verbal left hemisphere’s thoughts. If at that moment when the subtly snarky comment is being processed, we’re thinking, “Gee, I’m glad I wore this outfit tonight,” that thought may crowd the interpretation of the body language and tone of voice out of conscious awareness.

But they’ve still registered in the right hemisphere. That part of our brain knows we’ve just been dissed, even if our conscious mind is oblivious. (And the memory of that event is mostly stored in the right hemisphere–the images, tone of voice, etc.)

Okay, let’s look at where emotions tend to be processed and stored. Research indicates that our positive emotions–joy, pride, anticipation–tend to be processed mostly in the left hemisphere, while the negative ones–fear, anger, disappointment, sadness–are mostly in the right hemisphere.

Do you see where this is going? You walk away from that person assuming you’ve been complimented when in reality you’re feeling hurt and belittled, and you don’t even know you’re having those feelings, because none of that ever made it into conscious awareness. So you end up being in a bad mood or maybe you pick a fight with your mate, accusing him or her of never appreciating how you look.

And you’re totally oblivious to the fact that your mood and behavior have been affected by the jerk with a smirk on his face.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan, Wikimedia Commons)

This brings us to one more part of the brain that is important to understanding the conscious vs. unconscious mind. The cerebellum is a section of the brain at the lower back part of your head. It is not part of the cerebral cortex, so it is completely outside of conscious awareness and pretty much beyond the reach of logical thought processes.

Research indicates that all those learned associations I mentioned earlier are stored in the cerebellum. So they operate outside of conscious awareness.

Which brings us to the part of this that relates to PTSD.

NUMBER 6: Memories, Old Associations and Feelings Can Be Triggered Without Our Conscious Awareness
Let’s go back to the jerk with a smirk for a moment. I didn’t make that example up. That really happened to me. The host of a professional gathering met me at the door with that greeting.

My conscious mind (left hemisphere) was preening at the compliment but unconsciously, my right hemisphere picked up on the implied slam that I usually looked like crap.

As the evening progressed, I found myself feeling more and more insecure and self-conscious–not a normal reaction for me. I’m pretty secure in my ability to get along with people and be well-liked. But that evening, I found myself stumbling in conversations and even becoming physically clumsy.

mirror

For some reason, looking in the mirror often helps me connect with my unconscious mind (photo by Surii, CC-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I finally took myself off to the ladies’ room to have a little chat with myself. Looking in the mirror, I thought, “What’s wrong with me? I haven’t felt this awkward since middle school.”

Sometimes when you ask your unconscious mind a direct question, it gives a direct answer, if you’re paying attention. I immediately flashed to a mental image of that scene at the door. Only this time I heard the tone and saw the sneer on a conscious level.

A little background info here. I was what my mother politely called a “late bloomer,” and my classmates in middle school, being the delightfully civilized creatures that they were, teased me unmercifully about my nonexistent figure and overall gawky appearance.

The host’s tone and sneer had triggered an association (via my cerebellum) to those middle school memories and the self-conscious feelings from that time in my life (stored in the right hemisphere). All this happened outside of my conscious awareness and created a totally out of character reaction, both in my emotions and behavior.

Knowing the man as I did, I suspected he’d done it on purpose. This guy, a colleague I could barely tolerate, liked to mess with people’s heads.

I slapped on a big smile and went back into the room where the event was being held. Sailing past him, head held high, I paused briefly to thank him for hosting such a successful gathering, with a hint of sarcasm in my tone. He gave me a strange look. I hope that I successfully hid my own smirk.

Next time – how all this explains PTSD symptoms.

How about you? Has anything like that ever happened to you, where you acted out of character without understanding why? Do you find the human mind as fascinating as I do?

Please take a moment to check out my new release, Book 1 in a new series about a young woman who trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD.

ToKillALabrador FINALTo Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer.

Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

AMAZON US   AMAZON UK   AMAZON CA   AMAZON AUS   APPLE   KOBO

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Let’s All Be “Friends”

by Kassandra Lamb

4 multi-colored hands grasping each other

Social media has changed the definition of friendship dramatically. I used to think this was a bad thing. Indeed, I believed it to be a horrible thing. As a psychologist, I was sure that people interacting mostly online rather than face-to-face would cause all kinds of stunted growth and twisted relationships.

And I’m sure that in some cases it does contributed to such stunting and twisting, but probably only in people who already had a predisposition to be stunted or twisted to begin with. And certainly the anonymity that is possible on social media has brought out the worst in a lot of people who think that bullying and trolling are great sport.

But I’ve made an amazing discovery.

As a writer, I had to get on social media, whether I liked the idea or not. And I didn’t like the idea, mostly because I’m rather technologically challenged. Besides, I’m an outgoing person, so I already had a large circle of friends, acquaintances and family members to keep up with.

But everyone kept telling me I needed a social media platform, whatever that was. So I got on Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook (technically I’m on Google+ but I don’t do much over there). Twitter and Pinterest are okay. I pop in there every few days.

mad scientist

Eureka!! I’ve made an amazing discovery! (by J.J., modified by Wapcaplet and Doctor Dan, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia)

The big discovery, though, has been that I love Facebook. Maybe it’s because, early on, an in-real-life friend got me into a closed writers’ group on FB, and they are so awesome! Their name says it all, the WANAs, which stands for We Are Not Alone. Their encouragement, support and unconditional acceptance has made a huge difference in my professional and personal life.

But I also found that I really liked Facebook as a way to stay in touch with in-real-life (IRL) friends and family, and as a way to make connections with new people.

I’m not one to send friend requests to strangers, nor do I go searching for followers or likes on my author page. On the other hand, I rarely say no to a friend request I receive, since the person may be asking because they’re a fan of my books. (And one never wants to turn away a fan!)

I currently have 326 friends and 27 followers on Facebook (this is on my personal profile, not my author page). I just went through the list and figured out who was who. Out of those 326 FB friends, 63 are IRL friends, acquaintances and family members.

Nineteen are folks whom I know to be fans of my books, and about fifty-four of them are random people who have sent me “friend” requests. I suspect a lot of those are also fans of my books (and probably most of the 27 followers as well).

And 173 of my FB friends are authors I have met online since starting this writing journey. Fourteen of these folks I have now gotten together with in person as well.

Oh, and ten of those FB “friends” are dirty old men whom I haven’t gotten around to “unfriending” yet. (“Hello pretty lady, you have such a nice smile…”)

Sounds like a lot of virtual (and I mean that both ways) strangers to deal with, doesn’t it? But you know what… about fifteen percent of those authors, fans and random folks have truly become friends of mine through our interactions on FB.

friends holding hands

Online friends may not be able to hold my hand, but they are my virtual cheering section. (photo by Mathias Klang CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia)

I feel like I “know” these folks as well as, if not better than some of my IRL friends and family. I cry when bad things happen in their lives and I cheer when things are going well. And I know I can count on them to have my back! I can describe their personalities, tell you whether they’re coupled or single, and whether they’re a dog or a cat person (if they’re into snakes, I am NOT going out of my way to meet them IRL…lol).

I’ve shared things with them (in closed groups, private messages and emails) that only my closest IRL friends know about. And I’ve gotten the same quality of support back from them as I get from my fabulous IRL friends.

And another cool thing about these FB friends is that they are scattered all over the country and the world. I have friends in Texas and California and Michigan and Hawaii, and also in Newfoundland and Canada and India and England and Scotland and Australia and New Zealand…

I’ve also discovered a couple of people who turned out to live within an easy drive from my home, and they are now IRL friends!

So my attitude has changed dramatically about social media. Oh, I still hate that the trolls and the haters misuse it. But overall I think it’s a great way to make and maintain connections with people.

And I’m inviting all of you, as well as all of my FB friends, to come to a Facebook party today to celebrate something really important to me! Book 1 in my new series is officially being launched today. The series is about a young woman who trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD.

FB party banner

I’m so excited about this series!!

There will be games and prizes and all sorts of fun interactions. It’s happening TODAY between 2 and 8 p.m. EDT, at this link. Please click over and join us!!

Oh, and here is the adorable cover of the book (thanks to one of my wonderful online friends, cover designer Melinda VanLone, whom I have now met in person!)

ToKillALabrador FINALTo Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer.

Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

AMAZON US   AMAZON UK   AMAZON CA   AMAZON AUS   APPLE   KOBO

It will be at the intro price of just $1.99 through the party! (then it goes up.)

Has social media changed your friendships? Has it been for better or worse, or some of both?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Service Dogs for PTSD (And a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD was my specialty when I was a practicing therapist, and yet I realized recently that I’ve never blogged about it to any great extent. Well, now I have a really good reason for doing so.

Lately I’ve become fascinated by the use of service dogs to help people suffering from this disorder. So much so that I’ve started a new mystery series about a woman who trains these service dogs for combat veterans, and her experiences with a variety of clients. (More on the first release in this series in a bit.)

service dog with his veteran handler

A service dog with his veteran handler (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the diagnosis given when a person suffers symptoms as a result of exposure to a severe trauma. In the general population, the life-time prevalence rate is 8%, which is pretty high. Only phobias, depression and drug abuse are more common.

The list of symptoms is extensive, so I’m just going to hit on the most common ones, and how service dogs can help manage them.

But first let’s define trauma. This is a word that tends to be overused in our society for anything that makes us feel bad. The best definition I’ve ever heard for trauma comes from Lenore Terr, MD in her book, Unchained Memories (I’m paraphrasing her a little here):

A traumatic event is so emotionally overwhelming that the person experiencing it cannot process it cognitively nor emotionally at the time that it happens.

Such events are often sudden and unexpected. They might be a bad car accident, a natural disaster, a criminal assault, being in combat, etc.

PTSD was first identified in combat veterans. It was once called shell shock or battle fatigue. And this group still has one of the highest rates of PTSD, ranging from 12% (Gulf War vets) to 30% (Vietnam-era vets). The rate of PTSD currently in veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts is 13.8%.

The most common and debilitating of the symptoms are anxiety attacks (triggered by reminders of the trauma), nightmares and flashbacks. Service dogs are trained to pick up on the early stages of these symptoms and interrupt them.

If you have a dog, you know how sensitive they can be to their owner’s moods. When you’re depressed or anxious, they tend to sense it and often try to offer comfort. In service dogs, this natural tendency is enhanced through training and then the dog is taught to do something about it.

I’m still learning about all this myself for my new mystery series, but I know that for nightmares, this may mean waking their handlers by barking or nudging him/her with their noses. The service dogs also provide grounding and a calming effect. Again, if you have a dog (or a cat), you know how soothing it can be to stroke their coat and their silky ears.

hand petting dog

Both human and dog benefit from pets and ear scratches. 🙂 (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

(Research has been done on this aspect of therapy/service dogs in general. Petting and interacting with them lowers heart rate and blood pressure and improves mood.)

With anxiety attacks, the dog often can alert their human that the attack is starting before the person has become consciously aware of the building anxiety. Then s/he can implement strategies (taught by his/her counselor) to nip the attack in the bud.

Service dogs also make it easier for veterans suffering from PTSD to go out in public. Two other PTSD symptoms are hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response. Scary things have taken this person by surprise before, so now their nervous system is constantly on the alert, which is not good for their mental nor physical health.

There are two things the service dogs are trained to do to help with this hypervigilance. One is called the cover command. Whenever their human stops moving, the dog turns around and faces the way they came. The dog literally has the person’s back. S/he signals the handler if someone is approaching from behind, usually with a perking of their ears or a tail wag.

The dogs are also trained to step between their handler and anyone approaching them. These may sound like small things to most of us, but for those who suffer from PTSD, they can allow the person to relax a good bit more when out and about in the world.

service dog with his handler

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

This and also the strong sense of connection with the dog are particularly helpful for overcoming one of the most subtle and potentially destructive of the symptoms, a sense of isolation from others. People who have experienced extreme events sometimes are left feeling like they are different from others in some irrevocable way; they may even feel like they are “damaged goods.”

Being more comfortable in public and experiencing the unconditional love of a canine companion can go a long way toward overcoming this feeling of otherness, and help the veteran become more integrated into his/her community.

Combat veterans should only feel set apart in a proud way, that they have served their country well and are respected for their sacrifices. Service dogs can help them hold their heads high and get on with their lives.

(Stay tuned for more about this wonderful boon for veterans as I learn more myself.)

And today is the cover reveal for my new series. Another masterpiece by Melinda VanLone. Ta-da!! (Psst! The book is available for pre-order for just $1.99; it goes up after the release.)

ToKillALabrador FINALTo Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer.

Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

AMAZON US  AMAZON UK   AMAZON CA   AMAZON AUS   APPLE   KOBO

AND, I’m having a Facebook party next week to celebrate the new series. Click here to check it out and sign up. There’ll be lots of prizes and fun!!

FB party banner

Are you a combat veteran or do you know one personally? What obstacles have you/they encountered in the reentry-into-civilian-life process?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Ask A Shrink: “ADHD is a Fictitious Disorder” and other Myths Perpetuated by the Web

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple of months ago, I ran my first Ask A Shrink post, and invited our readers to ask questions about psychology. Some questions I answered privately and one that I thought would be of common interest, I answered here on the blog.

But there was one question I have been putting off answering. One of my fellow authors asked how to best research mental disorders and other psychological phenomena.

computer

Computer research on Wikipedia may be fine for most things; not so good for psychology.  (photo by Jeff777BC CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve put this one off because there is no easy answer to it. The first thing I would say is to be very skeptical about sources of information, especially if you are, like me, using the writer’s favorite research tool, the Internet.

We find out all kinds of cool stuff much easier than in the past. Before the World Wide Web, we writers had to find an expert in the field and either talk to them on the phone or perhaps go visit them. Now, we just Google it.

But the risk here is that there is a lot of garbage on the Web. And sometimes that garbage is so oft repeated that it begins to take on the ring of gospel.

Also, even “experts” in a certain field can hold biases. Then you factor in what sells books and magazines and builds reputations, and you’ve potentially got even more bias.

In recent years, there have been multiple posts on the Internet claiming that Dr. Leon Eisenberg, the child psychiatrist who first identified ADHD as a developmental disorder in children, “made a deathbed confession” saying that “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease.”

Here’s what really happened. Seven months before the man died (hardly a deathbed confession), he was interviewed by a German journal. In that interview he made a statement that could be mistranslated and misconstrued, if taken out of context, to mean what he is being quoted as saying.

Here’s what Snopes.com says about it:

However, when one allows for the vagaries of translation from German to English and reads the statement in context, it’s clear that Dr. Eisenberg wasn’t asserting that ADHD isn’t a real disorder, but rather that he thought the influence of genetic predispositions for ADHD (rather than social/environmental risk factors) were vastly overestimated.

Having now pointed out that what multiple posters on the Web said that Dr. Eisenberg said wasn’t really what he said, I’m sure I will get some comments and maybe even some nasty emails telling me I’m wrong. That he really did say that.

Why will I get such comments and messages? Because people tend to believe what they hear first if it seems the least bit plausible (and especially if it concurs with what they already believe). Then they filter later information through that belief, discounting what doesn’t confirm it and believing what does confirm it.

There are even psychobabble terms for these tendencies: belief perseverance and confirmation bias.

So bottom line, while the Internet might be a viable place to research how to get out of a straitjacket or how to build a secret room in your house (both topics I have researched for books), it is often not a reliable source for accurate information about psychological topics.

What are reliable sources? Usually information on the websites of professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers can be trusted.

However, even there, an individual article may be biased.

Probably the most reliable source of information on psychological disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-V).

DSM-V

DSM-V (photo by Yoshikia2001 CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

This is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and years of scrutiny of the scientific research goes into each new edition. Committees of experts on each category of disorders meet for several years to review the most current research to determine what disorders should remain, what new ones should be included, what the diagnostic criteria should be for each disorder, etc.

The problem is that this book is written for mental health professionals, so sometimes you may need an interpreter to make sense of what it is saying. It also does not usually address causes of disorders nor treatment approaches.

Another problem is that not all psychological issues have been formulated (yet) as diagnosable disorders per se. For example, before 2013 when this fifth edition of the DSM was published, there was no diagnosis for childhood abuse or spousal battering (neither for the abuser nor the victim). In DSM-V these are still not diagnoses, but they are in there as “Other Conditions that may be a focus of Clinical Attention” (otherwise known as V codes).

So how can you be sure you have the psychology right when you’re writing a story that touches on psychological phenomena (which many stories do)?

Well, you can ask a shrink, like me. But unfortunately, we all have our human foibles as well, so we can also be biased. 😀

And now you can see why I put off answering this question!

I’d love to hear your take on this. Why do you think people are so gullible? What have you believed on the Web only to find out later it was a hoax?

If you have an Ask A Shrink question for me, include it in the comments.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Slobs: Are They Born or Made? And Can They Change?

by Kassandra Lamb

For Christmas this year, my brother gave my husband a day’s worth of help organizing his study. Now you might think that a strange gift, but it was on the hubster’s wish list.

As I’ve mentioned before, hubs is a random thinker. While being a random has its strengths, step-by-step planning and organization are not among them. Whether one is a random or sequential thinker seems to be innate, although I don’t think any definitive research has been done on this yet. (For more on randoms vs. sequentials see my post on the subject.)

Since where we land on the random-sequential continuum seems to be inherited, that means we probably have one or more parents who are like us. In my husband’s case, both of his parents were fairly random, if the level of neatness, or lack thereof, in their homes is an indicator (which it usually is).

The first time I visited my mother-in-law’s home, I thought, “Okay, this explains a lot.” Her house was clean from a hygienic standpoint, but it was far from neat.

So in my husband’s case, he got a double whammy of nature and nurture. Kind of stacked the deck against him.

Tom's study before the big clean-up

Hubs’ study before the Big Clean-up

So then the question becomes: can one unlearn early lessons, especially if nature is also working against you?

I lean much more toward sequential, as did both my parents. But as kids we had bedrooms on the second floor, and my mother rarely climbed the stairs to inspect our rooms. So because I could get away with it, I tended to be a slob.

This carried over into young adulthood. I wasn’t a total slob, but I was hardly neat either. I had a chair in the bedroom on which I flung my clothes at night. Eventually most of the clothing I owned would be on that chair (or it would fall over from the weight 😛 ).

So then I would be forced to sort through the stuff to either hang up what was still wearable or put things in the hamper. This would take at least a half hour to forty-five minutes to do. Of course, I put it off for as long as possible, which meant the chore was even bigger by the time I did it.

One day, it dawned on me that life would be easier if each evening, I either hung up my clothes or put them in the hamper right then. So I started doing that. Eventually I became neater in general, because I saw the value in cleaning up at the time rather than having a bigger chore to do later.

It wasn’t all that hard to break the habit of being a slob, because I’m a sequential thinker.

For randoms, learning to be neat is very, very hard. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my husband has vowed to “clean up my room.” He’d start out with good intentions, but after several days of effort and quite a few bags of trash and recyclables being removed, his study would look pretty much the same. Because what was left was still randomly scattered all over the place, including on the floor.

Thus the request for help on his wish list. My brother not only helped him get everything off the floor and in boxes, stacked neatly on book shelves, but he gave him some advice on how to keep it that way. Now the study looks like this:

The AFTER shot

His study now!

He really likes having a neat and orderly place to work, and he has vowed to keep it that way. It’s been a little over a month since the big re-organization and so far, so good. But neither he nor I are taking it for granted that this will last.

Why are we so pessimistic? Because old, ingrained behaviors are hard to change and there’s that whole nature thing working against him.

So what can couples do if they find themselves on opposite ends of the neatness-messiness spectrum? The slobby person may or may not be able to change their behaviors, but there are some things that can help keep the relationship stable.

First, we need to learn to not take it personally. My husband doesn’t leave his shoes in the middle of the floor to defy me or because he expects me to pick up after him. Indeed, I’m not even in his thoughts when he takes those shoes off and leaves them there.

Indeed, the SHOES aren’t even in his thoughts once they’re off his feet. That’s the problem! When he’s done with an object, it lands wherever he last used it.

On his side of things, he doesn’t take it personally when I remind him to pick up stuff or clean up his bathroom. He admits that he’s a slob and knows it’s not the ideal way to be.

Years ago, we hit on a great solution. We established slob zones. In each room in the house, there is one section that is his to slob up to his heart’s content–one corner of the dining room, his dresser in the bedroom, beside his chair in the family room, etc.

He still forgets sometimes and leaves things elsewhere, but the deal is that I only have to pitch the object into the nearest slob zone. I don’t have to think about what it is or where it belongs, and I certainly don’t have to take it to where it belongs and put it away.

So he leaves his shoes in the middle of the family room floor; I toss them on top of the pile next to his chair. He leaves his mail on the kitchen counter; I toss it in the pile of papers on his end of the breakfast bar.

Once we established the slob zones, we didn’t argue all that much anymore about his slobby ways. And through the years, he’s gotten better at keeping the slobbiness contained to those zones.

How about you? Is your significant other neater or messier than you are? How do you deal with it?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )