A Helping Hand: When thoughts turn dark

Dear C and Dr. B;

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been having a hard time keeping it together. Knowing that nearly everyone is suffering hardships makes it easier to get through. But as the situation wears on, my sense of connection to the world feels like it’s slipping. With no idea what the future is going to bring, there’s no context or meaning to anything. Last week, I found myself wondering why I even should go on … for an entire dark day, I struggled with thoughts of pills, or just jumping off the damn roof. But the thought of how it would affect my family stopped me. I called a friend and told her how I felt, and she understood so well, I felt a sense of connection return.

It made me wonder about the people who don’t have anyone to call. And the people who just can’t call, because there’s no one they trust. If life felt so hopeless to me that I was considering an out, there must be people who have been so beaten down by this pandemic, and who have nothing and no one to turn to, that they HAVE ended it all. I know that talking with a friend made a difference to me, what can we all do to help each other through this?

Cal

Dr. B says: Excellent question – today, teen suicide is through the roof. Social media is like a drug that heightens one’s emotional state. In many people, especially adolescent females, this was a trend that existed prior to COVID, with the suicide rate rising due to negative self image and social comparisons, but COVID has markedly increased it.

Alcoholism and drug use is way up, also drunk driving and car accidents due to substance abuse. This isn’t unusual during any widespread catastrophe – the sensitive among us are very vulnerable when things aren’t going well. Their characteristic “black or white” thinking paints the world as all good or all bad. There’s not much good right now.

What can be done about it? If we as a culture are really serious about changing this trend we need to understand how internet and social media, like drugs, can exacerbate emotional problems. Suicide and substance abuse education is necessary – we need campaigns that emphasize that what you read and hear isn’t necessarily true. People need to learn how to question and research information and we need to provide professional support groups. The people you hang with affect the quality of your life, so weeding out negative people, and sites, is important. People are attracted to negatives, and as a culture we are not skilled at discerning truth from lies. We need to make choices that feed a more positive intent. It is great you reached out and connected, but to help systemically is difficult; I think it’s a cultural policy issue. 

C says: What I find most sad are the teens who were never taught life skills at home for coping, and haven’t had time to acquire common sense through experience. They give up, feeling worthless, helpless, with no sense of a future. We can all have moments of weakness, but the not-yet-developed adolescence brain lacks the ability to fully understand consequence. If teens live, they generally learn, but some will never have the chance to do that. We need to pay careful attention and look out for those around us. This website details the warning signs we should be aware of: https://texassuicideprevention.org/how-you-can-help/how-to-help-know-the-signs/ 

Unfortunately, some people give no warning. Two years ago, a friend’s husband committed suicide after starting an antidepressant that can cause suicidal thoughts. He’d had NO previous history of such impulses; his death was an utter shock to his family. If you, or someone you know, has been prescribed an antidepressant and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, report it RIGHT AWAY, and seek professional help getting off the drug. Doctors say that research shows antidepressants prevent suicides, but if suicidal thoughts are such a common side effect that there are warnings on the prescription labels, I would not take those warnings lightly.

If you hear ANYONE express thoughts of ending their life, please take it to heart – do whatever you can to get them help. An ER is best for serious emergencies, but you can call The National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255, 24 hrs a day. The RI website for state assistance numbers and other resources is sprc.org/states/rhode-island. If you suspect there is a problem, contact someone NOW. Tomorrow is too late.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Medicate to the Fast Track?: A reader wonders if that high-powered job is right for her

Dear C and Dr. B;

I used to work in a corporate position that involved managing many people. The job left me stressed out and I had a hard time keeping up. I got depressed, anxious and sought professional help on the urging of my parents and family. I was placed on Adderall and everything changed. I aced the job and my family was overjoyed – they thought I was a new, better person and were proud because they are all high profile professionals. 

My husband, on the other hand, said I wasn’t the same person he married. He claimed I’d become irritable and hyper-focused, I’d lost my spontaneity and was no longer fun. So I stopped taking the medication, quit that job and now work a small, low paid front desk job, greeting people and processing their information. I love it! I talk to people all day long and meet new people every day. 

The problem? My family thinks I am nuts working this low paying job. They see no value in it. They say I am wasting my life and could be doing so much better. They want me to go back on my medications and if my husband doesn’t like me that way, it’s his problem not mine! Are they right? I like my life now, but am I just giving into pressure from my husband? LayLo

Dr. B says: Just because you can function on medication in the corporate job doesn’t mean you should. That role wasn’t suited to you and being a square peg in a round hole really sucks, even with a pharmacological lube job.  

What I’ve seen over time is that when a person gets trapped in an ill-suited role, they might succeed at it, but it can always feel fake – like it’s an act being played for others. That can be stressful and depressing. When the  medication loses its effect due to building tolerance, more and more is necessary, which causes more side effects. With stimulants you can expect irritability, anxiety, insomnia, short temper and headaches. It’s similar to caffeine withdrawal but much worse; it’s a scenario that I do not recommend.  

A Harvard study showed that there are 11 different types of learning styles. Our schools and culture gear toward only two of them. Everyone else is seen as a misfit and is not valued; I see this as a mistake. I am very happy you found a niche that suits you, and that you have a husband who appreciates you for who you are.  If you were to leave him, marry a “successful” partner, and rise up the cooperate ladder on medication that increases your efficiency but diminishes your other qualities, I fear that one day we would read about you in the paper: “She had everything, why did she commit suicide?” 

Be happy.

C says: I couldn’t agree more. We need to better understand the difference between mental illness and “different” personalities.

The DSM5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines mental illness as “A behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual which reflects an underlying psychobiological dysfunction, the consequences of which are clinically significant distress (eg, a painful symptom) or disability (ie, impairment in one or more important areas of functioning). Translation: If your “symptoms” are interfering with your life in a negative way, then you may be suffering from a mental illness. I’d say, additionally, that if you are pleased with your behavior, but it’s destructive and dangerous to those around you, you are also very likely afflicted with a mental illness. The flip side of that coin is this – if you CAN live with your symptoms, and they don’t interfere with your life, or with those of innocent bystanders, you may not be mentally ill at all, just different from the national standard. 

What isn’t suitable for one person can be just the thing for another. A perfect example of this is a Rescue & Search Dog. These heroic animals are most often first discovered at the local pound, where they were abandoned by their owners. Why? Because the very behavior and personality that makes for an ideal Search Dog makes for the Family Pet From Hell. Same animal, wrong job.

Are you happy? Good for you. It would be nice if your family was happy for you too. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Antidepressant Anxiety: One reader wonders if medications are prescribed properly

Dear C and Dr. B,

Twenty-five years ago my marriage crashed and burned, leaving me in a deep state of depression. A therapist put me in contact with a psychiatrist who, after trying a few medications and tweaking dosages, prescribed 50mg a day of Zoloft. My PCP (primary care doctor) continued to prescribe Zoloft over the next two decades with very little inquiry into how effective it was or how it was affecting my general health.

The anti-depressant did help to lessen depressive moods and decrease anxiety during emotional or health crises. But during day-to-day living, it left me emotionally flat, with both less gloom and less joy. Because of this, I’d tried on several occasions to stop taking Zoloft. The advice given by my PCP was little more than “don’t stop abruptly, go slow.” I tried many withdrawal strategies – all were unsuccessful. It was only after reading about the technique of micro-dosing that I almost got myself off Zoloft. But months of COVID isolation left me with extreme anxiety – so, back to the magic blue pills. 

After all this, I believe that 1) doctors are overeager to prescribe anti-depressants rather than suggesting alternative therapies, 2) patients receive little, if any, instruction on their physiological function, dosage and side effects, and 3) there is a lack of useful followup with patients who have been taking these medications for extended periods of time. PCPs are not equipped to offer information, and often the information gleaned online is pure quackery. Thoughts?              

Randall

Dr. B says: If you go by the DSM5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), then most people who would meet the criteria for major depression in fact never get diagnosed or treated for Major Depression. Current scientific studies actually show vast under diagnosis and under treatment for depression in the USA.

Our current psychopharmacologic model of treatment for mental illness doesn’t differentiate between a nurse practitioner, PCP or psychiatrist. All are licensed to diagnose and treat depression. As for medical follow-up and education, providers should be giving out this information if they are prescribing medications. I see this as a failure of your specific treatment providers, not the system in general. The current recommendation is that if you have had more than three episodes of major depression then you should stay on the medication that helped you forever, at the dose that keeps you at baseline functioning. This is because if you have had three previous episodes, there is a 90% chance of another. Medical depression “Major Depression” isn’t just sadness; it’s a severe decrease in functionality along with a list of other “symptoms”  that makes the threshold for “the disease,” according to the DSM5. 

Antidepressants decrease emotional stimuli, and they increase your brain’s ability to be flexible. They also seem to decrease toxic empathy, which is related to depression. Medications do not reformat your brain. The moment you stop them, in about 2 weeks your brain will function exactly the same as before – thus often symptoms return as you yourself experienced. It is the current recommendation that counseling should accompany psychiatric medications. Feeling better and being better are not the same thing; medications do not create skills. If skills are not acquired, any feeling better you might have achieved from medication will be temporary. Studies show that if you just take medications alone and acquire no skills to address your life’s issues, then in 10 years your life quality will be worse than before you ever took the medications in the first place. 

C says: Doctors love to trot out these ideal scenarios whereas the prescribed course of medicine is faithfully followed and additional therapy is maintained over time. What they seem to ignore is that this rarely happens with psychiatric meds. Americans tend to use their own judgement when it comes to mood altering drugs, which antidepressants most definitely are. They want the quick fix – if a pill makes people feel better, most of them see no need to work any further at it. We all just want to get back to whatever we were doing before. 

The fact is that more than 50% of antidepressants are prescribed by doctors who aren’t trained in psychiatric medicine and who will NOT follow up. This is most definitely a flaw in the system, because the system allows non-specialized doctors to dispense psychiatric medications. Those studies Dr. B mentioned, which show that taking medications alone will result in a life quality that is worse than before, are the ones that portray the reality of antidepressant use in America today. 

Life IS pretty depressing right now, what with the constant political and racial conflict, economic stress and COVID out of control. What people really need is to learn better coping skills and develop stronger community ties to help deal with life’s problems – but there’s a fortune to be made off of those magic pills that send people immediately back to work to keep earning and consuming. Until the profits drop off, I doubt if any doctor who wants to keep their job will dare point out the unpleasant truth.

To hear Dr. B’s second perspective on this issue, visit drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Conspiracy Curt: One writer’s husband is following QAnon — what should she do?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I am becoming concerned. My husband, who is an otherwise sane man, is beginning to follow QAnon and spend a lot of time on the internet following their posts on social media. How does an internet-driven conspiracy theory like that get attention and followers? It is seriously crazy stuff. For instance, they claim there is a coming conflagration between President Trump and “a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophile Democrats who seek to dominate America and the world.” I can’t believe my husband is buying into this! But he is out of work and fearful about the future –  the sitting POTUS is re-tweeting some of their stuff, so he won’t believe that the FBI has listed this group as domestic terrorists! Quite honestly, I think he’s gone over the edge. Is there anything I can do to get him to snap out of it? This is NOT the man I married.

Dr. B says: We are at a very crazy time in the course of America. The pandemic is creating fear and confusion at the same time as economic uncertainty and hardship. Media misinformation and political agendas are fanning the fear and anxiety. Discord that has been brewing for a long time is coming to fruition. 

Here’s how I see it: In America, religion and politics strongly influence each other, and factions are taking sides as they would with sports teams. For many Americans, there is simply the view that God is the Good Team and The Bad Team must be the Devil. So, let’s say I am a person who believes I am on the Good Team. The quandary here is If I am on the Good Team, why does my life contain so much hardship, illness and fear? The confusion over this quandary is easily cleared with the thought: It must be the fault of the Devil’s Bad Team. This is the basis for much of QAnon’s conspiracy theories.

A recent NPR special discussed how even the evangelical preachers are having a hard time dissuading their flock from jumping onto the QAnon wagon. Conspiracy theorists believe that anyone who doesn’t agree with them must have been corrupted by the Bad Team on mainstream media. Unfortunately, these evangelical preachers used the Bible to amass their flocks the same way QAnon does, selecting biblical passages to prove their points. People tend to not defer to objective truth, but rather to what they already believe to be true, and they will believe any crazy lie if they hear the Good Team say it. So, for supporters who see Trump as the Good Team, if he re-tweets and follows QAnon, then these crazy extremists must be right.   

If your husband is a religious man, QAnon’s theories explain why, after following his Good Team beliefs, he isn’t reaping the rewards. Of course “it’s their fault!” This is one way people are recruited to terrorist extremist organizations – blame and scapegoating can work like a drug and can be just as addictive. The ideas can spread from person to person like a virus in a pandemic, and it’s hard to reverse belief once it is obtained. It probably takes the same reprogramming as does being un-brainwashed by a cult. Too much of our media caters to emotions more than facts. You may need to resort to an intervention from professionals.

C says: I see QAnon as being the current opiate of the masses, and here’s the thing about opiates – the people who are most susceptible to addiction are those who already have addictive tendencies. However, there is another factor at play here – the reason that opiates became such a problem in the US is NOT because addicts sought them out, but because they were pushed on patients in a very misleading way – opiates were prescribed as a harmless solution to pain by trusted doctors, and this was a huge factor in luring people to try them who otherwise would have just taken aspirin. Of course, the “harmless” part was a big lie, perpetrated by pharmaceutical companies whose goal was big profits. I think that QAnon is being pushed the same way, and for the same reason – there are huge profits to be had in terms of re-election for the POTUS if people actually swallow those crazy pills. 

The current conflict and disparity in our country has not created monsters as much as it has fanned the flames of problems that have been there all along. This current craze of your husband’s may just be a symptom of the times, or a deeper problem may have been triggered that won’t go away. I’d wait until after the election, but if he doesn’t let go of the conspiracy theories, you may want to reconsider your choice of partners. You can’t change anyone’s core beliefs by calling in professional intervention, any more than you could if they were gay. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Homegrown Art: Creativity abounds in this gallery and nursery mash-up

Mural by Mary (Murph) Lindberg

Homegrown is an unexpected oasis on Providence’s East Side. Inside this unassuming building on Gano Street you’ll find airy, white-walled rooms, fragrant with greenery. An elegantly limned hummingbird and vine mural by artist Mary Linberg hovers on the wall above a display table lined with exotic plants and bonzai pots created by artist Paul Olson. The Homegrown Gallery itself is located on the second floor, but the art here is not limited to the gallery walls. The downstairs retail space is a showcase for the creative life in Providence, from the beautifully designed pottery and planters to the hand-crafted counters and display shelves.

I spoke with Russell Stafford, owner of Homegrown, and Hannah Purcell, who curates the Homegrown Gallery and manages the indoor retail shop. The day we arrived, Stafford was elbow deep in boxes of newly arrived succulents, obviously in his element. “Russell is a plant genius,“ Purcell said, and she was not exaggerating. Stafford’s knowledge about plants was initially self taught, but after he got a master’s in English literature at Andrews University, he went on to study biology and botany at Harvard, earning his second master’s degree in forest science. Homegrown is not a shop that re-sells plants raised en masse by wholesalers. Along with indigenous Rhode Island plants, Stafford cultivates rare varieties you are unlikely to find anywhere else. They are all raised organically, either in Stafford’s nursery out back, or at Revive the Roots in Smithfield.   

Rarities about at Revive the Roots

Stafford and Purcell met through their involvement with Revive the Roots, a non-profit with the mission “to create ecologically regenerative and dynamic social spaces through the education and practice of permaculture.” Stafford is the master horticulturist for this Smithfield-based organization. Purcell’s own background is in art – she has a BFA in print making from the University of Buffalo; fortunately, she also has a very good grasp of retail. Stafford and Purcell’s combined talents, along with their shared interest in sustainability, have created a great synergy that is apparent throughout the shop and gardens. Stafford said, “I knew what I wanted for the design, but Hannah would listen to my ideas, and then take them to a whole other level.” 

Purcell has also taken the concept of nature-themed artwork to another level in the Homegrown Gallery upstairs. For those expecting botanical drawings, the wall-sized paintings by artist Sun Quest, splashed with deep, vivid colors and abstract forms, are a surprise. Purcell explains: “The concept for the gallery is about exploring all of what nature-themed artwork can be – from those that are very specifically based on nature, to those that are inspired by nature … we are looking for diversity.”

Homegrown Gallery featuring the work of Robin Halpren-Ruder, Sun Quest and Pablo Youngs

The current show displays just that – artist Pablo Youngs uses spray paint and stencils to create dense patterns and geometric designs with a distinctive Mexican flare; Sun Quest layers pictorial ideas and paint in order to generate sensations and feelings of organic phenomena; and Robin Halpren-Rude’s paintings are an expression of pure happiness, their flowers belying a life defined by a struggle with medical issues. This is not your usual floral show.

Work by Sun Quest

Moving from the upstairs gallery to the floor below, the aesthetic carries through. Stafford said, “We want to celebrate Providence and the people here who are doing so many amazing things with arts and crafts.” There is a nod to students and apartment dwellers with the tiny air plants in their animal shaped leather vases, made by Betsey Williamson. “They symbolize how the outside and the inside are tied together,” said Stafford. Every element in the shop has been thoughtfully considered. The hand-crafted counters are made from re-purposed materials – leftover tiles, cinder blocks and wood – yet the overall ambience is clean and modern, with simple lines and artful spatial design.

Purcell tells us that the response from local artists has been very positive. “We’re already working on another show for late September. A lot of artists are really excited to see a new gallery starting up.” The Homegrown retail shop welcomes garden accessory ideas and creations from Providence artisans as well. If you love plants, art and Providence, Homegrown is a must-see. 

Homegrown is open Tuesday through Sunday at 135 Gano St, PVD. Visit their website at homegrownpvd.com for hours, directions, and a truly unique online shopping experience. You can also follow Homegrown at facebook.com/homegrownpvd and on Instagram @HomegrownPVD




Feeling Guilty: She had a bad relationship with her mom; how should she move on?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I lost my mom as a teen and it’s still bothering me. But it’s not because I miss her so much, or because we had such a good relationship – it’s more because we didn’t. I was really awful when I was a teenager and I feel really crappy about that. Maybe things would have gotten better when I wised up, but I was only 17 when she died. I was even badly behaved at her funeral.

All I can feel when I think of my mom is guilt and remorse. It feels like some kind of shroud I can’t shake off. I’m pretty sure it ruined my last relationship, because I just don’t feel lovable. I feel like I’m a terrible person. I don’t want some doctor to give me pills. Any other suggestions?

Sadie

Dr. B says: You never got to have an adult-to-adult relationship with your mom. It’s okay to mourn the loss, but you shouldn’t feel guilt for being human. Life is unfair – when parents are the most available and have the most energy, resources and time for their teenaged children, the kids want nothing to do with them. Teens are wired to want only their peers at that stage. Your mom may have been exasperated – all parents are with their teens. But she still loved you and probably understood you were a normal adolescent. I suspect she was the same way with her parents as a teen.  

In the movie The Devil’s Arithmetic, an apathetic teenaged girl gets to switch places in time with her grandmother as a teen – in a concentration camp. The experience gives her deep perspective and teaches her to appreciate the life she has … but this is movie fantasy. In real life, we seldom gain perspective until we have our own kids. It’s time for you to put your relationship with your mom into an adult perspective, wherein you can share your life and successes with her as an equal. Otherwise you are maintaining the same child-to-adult relationship you had with her as a teen. Acting out guilt and self loathing as you are now is really no different than acting out through anger and self righteousness.  

C says: I really understand how you feel, Sadie – our last experiences with people seem to become etched indelibly in our brains. But I don’t think your problem has to do with guilt or remorse over your teen behavior anymore … I think you feel unlovable because you are acting out in a very self-centered and unlovable manner in your current life. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are blaming it on the past. but you are looking in the wrong direction.

I hate to say it, but you need to get over yourself. We all act like idiots as teens. It has been proven through extensive research that the adolescent brain has not yet developed sufficiently to understand the impact of consequences. I confess that I myself, among other insane acts, ran away from home in the middle of winter when I was 16, with no thought in my head other than the adventure of it all. I’m surprised that my mother, who later succumbed to a heart attack at age 59, didn’t have a fatal episode right then.

You can’t change the past, but if your mom were alive now, and saw you being kind and understanding to the people in your life, and sharing love with family and friends, she would be happy. I believe that if you do those things, you will make peace with your mom. If you are walking around feeling guilty, having low self esteem and beating yourself up for being a jerk so long ago, your mom wouldn’t like it at all – so cut it out! Honor your mom and her memory by being the person you wished you’d been back then. You’ll both be happier.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




How to Make Real Change: Advice givers square off

Dear C and Dr. B;

I went to a therapist because I had longstanding problems in my marriage. My therapist and I could agree that there were conflicts that might never be resolved. My husband was emotionally abusive – he refused to come to therapy with me and would just get up and walk out when I tried to talk to him. The therapy convinced me that my husband eroded my self-confidence and the marriage was holding me back from a better life, so I decided to move ahead. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned. Now I am alone and broke and I have to work two jobs to make ends meet so I have no time to make new friends. I’m too tired to even think about a better life. My husband isn’t messing with me, but my life is NO better than before in any other way. I thought the “new” me would meet someone I could have a healthy relationship with, but I haven’t met that person in four years. Now I wish I’d stayed where I was, ignored my asshole husband, and just developed my own life and friends more outside the marriage. I joined a support group thinking it would help, but no one in it has a good relationship – they just bitch about how dysfunctional every potential partner turns out to be.

Does ANYONE actually get therapy, take the advice and find a better life? I have yet to meet a single person who has. A depressing number of them just wish they’d stayed where they are.

Constance

Dr. B says: Italo Calvino, a children’s author and philosopher, said that we are all born into a story but at some point you have to decide to accept that story or instead write your own. You don’t know “everyone.” It seems you know mostly people within the same culture you already were familiar with who have similar sets of skills and circumstances as your own. 

Just like a diet doesn’t work unless its a total life change and years of consistency are devoted to work these changes, life doesn’t change simply because you remove one asshole from your total story. You have to identify your goals and make friends with positive people who reflect the type of life you would want to have. You need to focus on the positive strengths that you would bring into a relationship and you need to have good boundaries, avoiding life-sucking and energy-sucking people. At the same time, you need to meet a lot of people. Relationships are just a statistics game. Everyone I grew up with met their partners on match.com or the newspaper, and none of these matches are divorced. So does ANYONE actually get therapy, take advice, and find a better life? Yes. If they actually internalize change and growth, develop relationship skills, have good boundaries, and live a total healthy package, ie, embrace a completely different culture than that which they knew – and write their own story.  

C says: I believe that Constance has a valid point. Yes, Dr. B, that was great advice, but what exactly is this woman supposed to do with it? She writes that she is working two jobs to make ends meet and is too exhausted to find new friends, yet you tell her to “meet lots of new people.” She is also given a list of tasks that must be keep up on a constant basis for years before she can expect changes – what is she supposed to do in the meantime? And by what means is Constance supposed to “embrace a completely different culture” than the one she knew? People who work two jobs spend most of their time with people at work, and I suspect she is stuck in minimum wage position — hardly a way to broaden her horizons. Establishing a new group of healthy friends in her few off hours is an optimistic, but unlikely, stretch.

Advice has to be doable in order to work. Dr B’s suggestion is like telling a diabetic who has been on a junk diet since birth that if she’d just change their entire lifestyle and keep it up for five years straight, she’d be much healthier. Duh! Who doesn’t know that? But knowing it and doing it are entirely different things. That’s probably why recovery rates are so low and psychiatric drug use is so high. Making changes in real life is easier said than done.

There’s a serious gap between the advice given here and the average person’s ability to follow it. Why? Consider this: The annual salary for a psychiatrist is about 100K to 200K. Even a lowly therapist makes about 60K a year. Their advice is tailored for their own socioeconomic group. Unfortunately, the people who face the greatest mental health challenges are those who live in poverty – and the reality is that those who seek psychiatric help at the poverty level seldom get real therapy at all. They get pills to keep them quiet and that’s about all. It’s the great divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots.

Making long-term, consistent changes requires economic stability and sufficient leisure time for contemplation. If some patients had that, they wouldn’t need therapy to begin with. For many, better job training may be the most doable, and most important, first step toward being able to write their own story.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




Hooked on Hannah: She’s bad, but so good!

Dear C and Dr B; 

My girlfriend Hannah is smart and beautiful, but very distracting. She drinks a lot and probably smokes too much weed; she’s kind of crazy in a way. She has no interest in school. I realize she is not a good influence on me – I’m a top student, and my grades dropped last semester when we started dating. Everyone I know says I should break up with her. Here’s the problem: The sex is just too good. I’ve been with a few other women who were obviously more suited to me, both intellectually and interest wise, and the sex was okay with them, but with Maggie… WOW. She’s kind of kinky; with her, sex always feels sort of forbidden, like when I was first starting out. Compared to her, other women are just boring. I would try to stay interested, but honestly, they just didn’t do it for me. 

So, here’s my question. Why is it that those crazy people who aren’t good for us are so much hotter? They just seem to be so much more uninhibited and imaginative in bed. Just not sure about the future of the relationship.

Hooked on Hannah 

Dr. B says: I don’t see a future here, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy it for now, just use a condom. Everyone is good for something. A uninhibited person is fun but inconsistent, and that is no basis for a relationship. Beware: It can be addicting and all drugs are the same – great for a while, then not so. Life has to entirely revolve around the person or drug and there is no room for anyone else. You will get swallowed alive, and you as an individual will cease to exist. Your “boring other woman who you relate to” will require a give and take relationship. You won’t be able to entirely lose yourself in them, as you do with Hannah; that would just turn them off. A real relationship takes work. Drugs are just self indulgent fantasy. You need to develop the skills to be in a relationship. This is not likely to happen with your current girlfriend.  

C says: Your name says it all, Hooked. Hannah is your drug, and the effect that she has on your life will be remarkably similar. I’m guessing you’re still in the honeymoon phase of something that could get ugly. People like Hannah are not better at sex because they’re crazy. They’re better at sex because they put the same energy and concentration into it that you put into your education and career, probably because it’s the best they’ll ever have to offer. It’s their primary talent, their art if you will. They use it like rich people use money — to manipulate and get what they want. 

I used to be a self defense instructor who worked with battered women. Most of them came from relationships that featured a male partner who, like Hannah, was incredibly exciting in bed; they all said that no one had ever made them feel that way before. Alas, the same men were also controlling and would become abusive if their demands and needs weren’t met. The women all knew they should leave, but their partners were never just abusive … the men would follow the beatings with caresses and apologies and a bunch of “why did you make me hit you, you know I worship you,” crap. Then, of course, the sex would be better than ever. But here’s something you should NEVER forget – if someone can make you feel pleasure, that is a control that they have over you. In the hands of a loving partner, this pleasure can be part of your bond with each other. In the hands of a selfish abuser, it is has the potential to destroy your life. You will return to the pleasure over and over, no matter how much it hurts you in other ways. The fact that you are considering holding on to Hannah even as your grades, and your future, go downhill, shows that you are already addicted. And what is she offering in return? Just herself – a lush with no sense of responsibility who is going to need you to pay her bills while she parties.

Honestly? I’d dump her. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com




My Rhode Island: Photographer and physician Howard Schulman discusses his exhibit

We spoke with Howard Schulman, MD, whose photography show, My Rhode Island, is currently on exhibit at BankRI in downtown Providence through September.

Cathren Housley (Motif): Which came first, the photographer or the doctor?

Howard Schulman: As far as composing pictures and capturing things I’ve seen, that was definitely something that started after I became a physician. I started putting up photographs in my waiting room and got positive feedback from unassuming patients. I had my first show at AS220 in 1999. Since, I’ve done about four shows on my own, a couple other small group shows and about seven multi-artist shows. 

CH: What inspired you to begin taking pictures?

HS: I’m a curious person and do a lot of wandering around. When I came to Rhode Island, I thought the whole place was gorgeous. That’s what inspired me – and having a camera with me to record where I go and what I’m seeing is a natural fit for my lifestyle. If I do too much photography, it loses its fun, so it’s usually something that goes along with me when I am traveling or hiking or hanging out at a really cool place and exploring. 

CH: Did you have any formal education in photography? 

HS: After starting out, I did read or browse through a book or two and even tried a continuing education course at RISD, but I think my focus was mostly on trying to understand the mechanics – what the camera could do and how I could capture what I was seeing. The advice on photography I remember best was from Berge Zobian, owner of Gallery Z and a professional portrait photographer. He told me to aim down a little bit more and capture more foreground. It was always a fight, how much foreground to capture in landscape pictures, but Berge made me aware of it in a different way.

After I developed my own process and style I started looking at other photographers, known artists. I wanted to try and understand why people appreciated their work – why did viewers take a second look at a photograph after passing it; why did a person linger in front of a certain piece? To me, it’s always fun to spend time thinking about it. Clearly, some photographs work and others don’t – trying to capture whatever that is, is always a struggle.

CH: What other photographers do you like? 

HS: I own photographs by Herb Ritts and Josef Karsh; I also like Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon. I love looking at ancient photographs over 100 years old in museums, and I’m fascinated by photographs taken of people at the beginning of photograph, from 1840 through 1860. I’ve traveled all over the United States and the world for 25 years and always I’ve gone to the museums and outdoor art fairs wherever I went, so I’ve seen a lot. On Instagram, I like looking at other Rhode Island photographers. I appreciate other people’s black and white photographs, although for my photographs I strongly prefer color. I almost can’t imagine myself taking black & white photographs.

CH: What kind of equipment do you use?

HS: Up until a couple years ago when the digital cameras became good enough, I really loved my Pentax 67 camera, medium format. The negatives were five times the size of a regular 35mm camera and held detail in bigger enlargements. Now the digital cameras can handle that and there’s something new called RAW image format, which does a job in conjunction with the computer. With film, I had always had problems with content getting hidden by dark areas and washed out in others. With this technology, I’m able to capture what I’m looking at. 

CH: You had a show at BankRI with an opening planned for March 17 on Gallery Night. What happened?

HS: Before the reception, I had a strong hunch a lockdown was going to happen. It was just a question if my show would open before it did. I had already invited about everyone I knew, and Gallery Night had already arranged for a musician, food and publicity. But honestly, as a physician in the middle of the pandemic, there was so much else on my mind that the cancellation of a show that I had worked a year on and had waited over five years for, felt like a passing thought and not a major letdown. 

BankRI is currently open by appointment only; the show will remain until September. For a video walk through, visit https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BOVhNnl1AJE




Very Good Boys

It was a love of animals that inspired Susan Joseph to found the New England Humane Society in 2013. Since then, Joseph has gathered a group of dedicated workers who share her mission: to rescue animals from euthanasia at overcrowded facilities and to care for abandoned and homeless animals in need until they find their forever homes. The organization has already created a network of foster homes throughout Northern RI, and in September 2020, they will be opening their new shelter in Cumberland. Visitors who arrive here will feel instantly welcomed – Joseph has made certain of that with a large-scale mural that reflects the warmth and spirit of those who work here.

“I was looking for something to add to the facility that would make it our own … I also wanted something that would make people smile and just feel good. That is the theme for our new space,” said Joseph. She had seen The Avenue Concept’s works throughout Providence and loved what they did. When she reached out, her enthusiasm was catching: for their first mural project of the summer, The Avenue Concept asked artist Joanna Vespia to create a mural for the N.E. Humane Society shelter.

How did the COVID-19 restrictions affect operations for Joseph and her crew? “Throughout the pandemic, we have held very steady,” she said. The facility has made modifications to their pickup procedures as well as their meet and greet policies. Joseph was encouraged by the public’s response: “The pandemic has actually boosted the number of people wanting to adopt and foster. Many shelters throughout the country have been emptied for the first time in their history. It’s a silver lining in these otherwise unfortunate times.”

For updates and photos, visit facebook.com/NewEnglandHumaneSociety and their website at newenglandhumanesociety.com