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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Overcoming an Agitated Depression

There are few more painful experiences than an agitated depression: the combination of pervading anxiety and deep depression. Which can result following such common trauma as divorce or unemployment. Or even apparently nothing since, as I never tire of saying, the unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.


Because feelings reflect both mind and body, they cannot be separated. Thus does remaining in bed make depression worse and incoherent flight increase panic. So when altering the body through constructive activity, as by involving oneself in a work or household chore, the agitated depression lifts and, sometime later, its unconscious cause (if one exists) may surface.

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On Modern Discourtesy

Some months ago, I met an interesting man on an Acela train. The former soldier of an allied nation and early volunteer in the Afghanistan war, he had joined his nation's military at sixteen, later earning a science doctorate and currently traveling to Washington for conferences. While keyboarding, I accidentally bumped his arm and he quickly said, "Excuse me." I said, "Boy, you're really polite," and he responded, "Yes, my wife trained me."

 

Whether his gentility reflected the influence of his wife or his background I couldn't say but it began my thinking about courtesy. Yesterday, while in a drive-in banking line, I waited for minutes while the driver in front of me, whose business had apparently been completed, remained unmoving, doing whatever. Finally giving up, I drove around him and walked into the bank with my deposit and complaint, asking why the teller couldn't suggest that tardy customers move on. "We can't do that," came her reply. I suggested that a warning beep sound after one minute of the completion of business, which will never happen.

 

Another pervasive discourtesy is the seat-reclining problem on trains and planes. Which I never do, just as I'm careful about driving courteously (avoiding other cars is safest too). But many people aren't, arousing the crazed rage of people who feel "disrespected," an increasingly used adjective which will hopefully soon disappear.

 

Some of this behavior may be cultural. Americans, as opposed to Europeans, are more sensitive to what they consider their "personal space." Thus on a three-seater train row in Europe, the newcomer will sit beside the seated passenger, leaving the outside seat free for another passenger, while in America the new passenger will leave the middle seat empty to preserve their "space."

 

One wonders about the early life parenting of those engaging in unneeded social battles or perhaps it is simply what a teenager recently told me, "Some people got their head up their ass."

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The Anxiety of Physical Illness

Physical illness involves feeling different, disconnected from the usual experience of possessing control over oneself, having the ability to reason, and considering oneself omnipotent in the world. While unrealistic, feeling all-powerful is needed for it enables one to function in the world, to engage in needed routines without anxiety. Yet this critical sense can be disrupted by physical change, even one so insignificant as suffering a conventional cold or stomach upset for these deny the person the feeling of intactness and affect reasoning.

 

Suffering a severe illness can be far worse as thinking processes change and helplessness ensue, the latter being the scariest of all feelings: when the ill person becomes passive, and his body no longer respects his commands.

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The Normal Psychological Pain of Serious Illness

A TV celebrity recently spoke of the anxiety and depression he felt upon learning his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. These normally occur when serious illness threatens. And also, for that matter, following a cognitive or physical disability for either can reduce a person's normal functioning ability.

The diagnosis of cancer may well have a unique anxiety-bearing capacity for it possesses similarities to those of the unconscious mind, which are widely feared: its occurrence is unexpected and arising from nowhere; seemingly irrational; and experienced as all-powerful. But this is false since every unconsciously-derived act has a valid reason, even those which appear senseless. In one published case a surgeon felt compelled to repeatedly, publicly expose himself despite the legal and reputation risk until psychotherapy revealed that, by doing so, he was boasting to his mother how powerful he was, as he had wished to do when a toddler.

One member of the clergy, a three-time survivor of cancer, advised the following: that, when afflicted by serious illness, pray, but also get the best medical advice possible.

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Is Barnard College Responsible For Their Student's Murder?

The recent murder of eighteen-year-old Barnard College student, Tessa Majors, during an armed robbery in a nearby park at nightfall was shocking but unsurprising. Common sense is that one should not walk alone (or even with someone) at that time in that place. My statement is not meant to place blame on the unfortunate victim but rather to assert that Barnard should have educated its students, many of whom are new to New York City, about City ways. Or, in other words, given them "street smarts." Would doing this have saved Tessa's life? Perhaps not since teenagers can be impulsive. But, having done so, Barnard's administrators might now sleep more easily.

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Why Most Teachers Fail With Problematic Students

Teachers are generally clueless about teaching problematic students and for good reason: it's not their job! Most learning problems derive from inadequate early parenting which affects the development of those basic ego capacities which govern control of behavior, development of a sense of self, mood modulation, and others. Limitations in these are exacerbated by parents who didn't read to and then with their toddlers, who bossed them around rather than explaining "why" which depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking, and who didn't foster individual development and demand civil behavior. All else is window dressing, like the computer technology which is expected to alleviate these early life failings but can't. Thus do teachers take the rap for being unable to "re-parent," which is basically not their job and a vastly complicated business too.

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Suggested Doctoral Dissertation Topic: Why Do Some Good-Reader Children Hate To Read

I've long been puzzled why some children in therapy who have no problem reading won't spontaneously read or profess to dislike it. Having tentatively concluded that, since reading involves the active use of the self, this creates anxiety for these disturbed children and motivates this resistance. But I've also encountered seriously disturbed children who read many books a week.

 

Certainly, there may be other contributing factors besides psychopathology: whether early-life parent encouragement of reading existed; the child never having grasped the escapist, soothing possibilities of reading fiction; or their over-involvement in another activity such as video games whose obsessive-compulsive elements reduce anxiety and is one reason for their popularity.

 

In any case, this would seem a worthwhile topic for study. And now the idea is yours!

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On the Murderer's Public Depiction in Suicide/Homicide

The recent suicide of a Los Angeles County attorney, before which he murdered his wife and son and tried to kill his daughter, was shocking but not unusual for there have been several in my area. Thereafter, especially when the perpetrator is prominent, newspapers describe their earlier positive deeds with their depraved final act being downplayed though no distress could justify it.
It would be of benefit that a psychological autopsy of these events be conducted, to educate the public that powerful unconscious factors can cause horrors but also to condemn their immorality in the strongest terms. For while suicide is nearly always irrational, so is the murder of innocents and particularly of children, acts for which no amount of earlier generosity can atone. That the murderers were evil and vile should represent their legacy, not goodness.

 

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Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Create Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Many great books have never been created as an audio edition so what I've been playing with is listening to them using the TTS of Amazon and Google with an old Kindle E-book (version 2) and a modern Android (8.1) smartphone. The speech using this AI is obviously robotic and not terribly enjoyable but I've listened while doing chores. Human-read books are vastly better. Amazon has a Polly AI which is commercial and cheap and I listened to a sample. It is much improved over the others but still not perfect. There's a human emotion fluctuation after a comma and a period which it doesn't get quite right. I found this interesting and wondered if, sooner than later, AI produced audio books will put human readers out of business since it is so much cheaper. Or if it is already being used by publishers. There are already very human-like news readers in China with an increasing ability for news stories to be AI created. All-in-all, it's a fascinating development. But I don't believe that AI will ever push serious writers out of existence. For them and most people, creativity is what counts.

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Explaining Suicide

Suicide reflects the seriously inadequate development of those basic ego capacities governing a sturdy sense of self (sense of who one is), modulation of affect, and control over thinking and behavior. This causes profound feelings of worthlessness and, when exacerbated by an immediate stress, suicidal behavior may result.

 

Thus, a teenager doesn't suicide simply because they broke up with their boy/girl friend, and most recent soldiers who committed suicide never saw combat with many never even having left the USA.

 

Alcoholism and drug abuse reflect the attempted self-medication of emotional deficiencies. It's not easy to kill oneself, living being a biological imperative, unless one momentarily lacks self-control because of drugs or alcohol use. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, 3AM is the darkest time of the day. Nelson Algren attempted suicide after the failure of his first novel in 1935. Fourteen years later he won the National Book Award for The Man With the Golden Arm.

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