Dec 29, 2010

This is ADHD?!

A woman in an article on describes her 5 year old as violent and aggressive.  He bites, throws things, chokes her, and he does this with a smile or a kiss.  Not surprisingly in today's world of psychiatry, the child is medicated for ADHD.  Mind you, these are NOT symptoms of ADHD but who cares? If you can control him with mind-altering drugs, why not? After all, the alternative would be to actually see what on earth is motivating a 5 year old to act like a vilde chaya.  Was he abandoned in childcare since babyhood? Is there no discipline at home? There is not a single mention of how the parents respond to his terrible behavior! Only how she tried dietary methods and then moved on to drugs.  She says she is waiting for him "to grow up, and to grow into an understanding of greater self-regulation." Heaven help us ...

Dr. John Rosemond the parenting expert would laugh at her description and her medical solution.  He would say make a list of the objectionable behaviors: throwing things, biting, deliberately breaking anything, hurting anyone, and tell her son that the doctor said that this behavior indicates he is not getting enough sleep and that he should be put to bed right after supper, but no later than 6:30 p.m., until these behaviors cease completely for three weeks. If, during the three weeks, the child did a single one of these behaviors, the three weeks have to start over the next day.  In one case, said Rosemond, it took six weeks, during which time the three-week cure started over seven times, mostly in weeks one and two.  Rosemond is a no-nonsense kind of guy, as you can see. He believes in setting down the rules and enforcing them like parents used to do once upon a time.

I would add to Rosemond's "prescription" because his approach only addresses the behaviors with the goal of eliminating them. I would recommend that the parents figure out (perhaps with the help of an outsider) why their child is acting in this way. What message is he trying to convey? How can his needs be satisfied without his having to resort to ugly behavior?

But medicating him? Seems reprehensible to me.

Dec 27, 2010

The Hospital Under the Bridge Syndrome

In a recent issue of Mishpacha magazine there was an Amitz story called "Advance Notice" which irked me because the message was the wrong message.  In short, a woman is left to handle 5 children under the age of six, the youngest of whom is a newborn.  She had no help whatsoever and had to care for the children (including the toddler who became ill), do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and all shopping herself.  Then, rather than reading that she finally got the help she needed, we read that she got a medical diagnosis instead and the subsequent treatment. 

This is reminiscent of the Chelm story in which the wise people of the town build a hospital under the bridge because of the many accidents that take place there rather than fixing the bridge.  This woman did not need a doctor, a diagnosis, or treatment.  She needed help in the house! We are fed article after article to convince us that PPD is nothing to be embarrassed about and urging people to be aware of the symptoms and to seek help.  Are we in Chelm?! It is obvious that if a woman has to deal with everything this woman had to deal with, that she is more likely than not to break! Rather than work on teaching us to "recognize the signs" and convincing us to get medical help, how about urging women to get the physical household help they need! If a woman is having her fifth child under age six, she and her husband must be urged to get household help.  The articles should be directed at women to insist they not be martyrs and at men to insist that they do not allow their wives to be martyrs.  No more hospitals under the bridge!

a related post:

Dec 26, 2010


Back in April I wrote about healing in connection with Rachel Naomi Remen's book "Kitchen Table Wisdom" which I was rereading at the time.

Well, now I'm rereading her other book, "My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging" which is as beautiful as her previous book.  Ms. Remen had a frum grandfather who had no frum children but he was there to teach the author until he died when she was seven years old.  He lovingly called her Neshuma-le and her encounters with him and his teachings are so poignant.  She grows up to lovingly transmit the kindness and compassion and wisdom she received, to others.  The theme is - recognizing the blessings in your life.  Sometimes we are blessed and don't know it.  It's something like being given a check and not cashing it.  It's about opening our eyes, seeing what really matters, what is true.

caveat: not every selection is 100% kosher

Dec 14, 2010

In Control Or Not?

Here is a line from an article that I read:

"We live in a society of personal control and achievement.  We are led to believe that if we flex our muscles hard enough and are diligent and persevering enough, we can control the outcome of our lives and those of our children."

Are we living in a society in which we are led to believe we are in control? I think we get mixed messages.

- We are told time and again that eating properly (the right amounts, nutritious food) and exercising are up to us and we are enjoined to take care of our health. 

the message is, we are responsible for our health and it's up to us to maintain it, in other words - it is within our control (despite the fact that we all know that illness strikes seemingly at random and kills children and young people)

- Many support the idea of bachurim having a plan for the future that includes what they will do to support a family.

the message is, we can plan for our financial future and carry out that plan (despite the fact that we know that some businesses surprisingly take off and do well while many fail and that many people who prepared for a particular career are doing something else either willingly or because they cannot find work in their fields)

- When it comes to our behavior and moods, it's our genes, it's our "chemical make-up," it's our upbringing, that make us the way we are.

the message is, we are victims
it's not our fault that we fly off the handle, that we can't sit quietly and pay attention, that we feel sad; it's a disorder, a condition, something that doctors diagnose
this is a phenomenon that has been observed in articles and entire books are devoted to our victimhood (some promoting it while others repudiate it).

So which is it - overall, do we feel in control or not?

Dec 11, 2010

What Is a School's Function?

I read a "letter to the editor" which says:

"While it is true that they [our  yeshiva system] do focus on middos, there is still too much emphasis on grades and intellectual aptitude.  There is a lot of pressure put on the children (especially adolescents) to score hundreds.  I am hoping  ... that our beloved yeshiva system can be improved."

I find this view peculiar.  Isn't school a place that you go to, primarily, to learn information and skills? How to read, how to write, to cover material, to understand it, to be able to answer questions, do reports? Even if we are only talking about the Jewish studies, isn't the material the focus of the curriculum and through the curriculum you also learn hashkafa, middos and love for mitzvos and Torah?

Would we all be better off if the day was spent on story telling and craft projects, plays and sing-alongs?

Looking back at the history of the cheder and yeshiva, and later girls' schools - what did the students do in school? They learned! They were tested! They were expected to know! And good teachers conveyed Torah values along with the material.  But our schools were never about "feel good" Judaism only.

Dec 10, 2010

You Are My Life

I listened to a powerful Chanuka shiur given by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger (Cong. Aish Kodesh of Woodmere) in which he focused on the Greeks' aim to "make them forget Your Torah." He said we don't forget that which is nogei'a (pertain, affects) our essence.

The Torah says, and it's one of the Six Remembrances, “shmor nefshecha me'od” (guard your soul very much) lest you forget the Torah - if Torah would be your soul, you wouldn't forget it.

How is it possible for there to be learned people who, when they go out to do business, steal? Don't they know the laws of stealing, gezel akum? The answer he gave is, it is because the learning is forgotten, i.e. it's not relevant to them, Torah is a subject, not lessons for life.

He told the story of a yeshiva bachur who borrowed a tape recorder and then broke it. The owner of the tape recorder wanted to be reimbursed but he said it was an accident and so he didn't have to pay. They asked their rebbi who brought them to the rosh yeshiva, R' Reuven Feinstein, who was appalled because they had been learning this topic in Gemara all zeman that if someone lends you something you are obligated to pay if something accidentally happens to it! He went to R' Moshe his father who said, you have to realize it has no relevance to them.

In our generation, he said, there is more learning than ever before and yet there is so little connection to what is learned. That's what Yavan is about, disconnecting us from the G-dly aspect of Torah and mitzvos.

The most touching part of his talk was when he gave an example of those things which affect your essence which you don't forget and he said that he and his sister felt every minute that they were the essence of their parents' lives, they weren't a “sideshow,” something that gets in the way of their parents' activities. His father said he could call any time, and one time he called because he was upset about something that happened at school. Unbeknownst to him at the time of his call, his father sent the customers out of the store and locked the store in the middle of the day and spoke to him for over an hour. His mother later said, couldn't you wait until 6:00? He apologized and his father said - What are you talking about (i.e. no apology is necessary)? Customers? Business? My leben is you.

Dec 9, 2010

"Just Say Yes" part 2

One year ago, I put up a post called "Just Say Yes" :

to which this is a follow-up.  The prevalent view is that if we keep on giving we will become depleted, even burned out.  That seems like common wisdom indeed.  But is it true?

In the Artscroll biography of Rabbi Pam he was asked how to avoid burnout in chinuch.  Rabbi Pam did not relate to the question.  He so enjoyed teaching and derived tremendous satisfaction from it.  He regarded each student as a treasure.  He taught for decades and said this was the most enjoyable time of his life.  With that attitude, how could he grow tired of it?

So too with chesed, said the person I quoted in that other post.  If you do it for the right reasons, you gain in strength and don't lose out.

Dec 8, 2010

cont. from previous post

The third section is about schizophrenia and why people diagnosed with this illness in developing nations (i.e. third world countries) have a better prognosis than those living in the most industrialized countries of the world.

What I found fascinating in this chapter is the following - it is believed by Westerners that if the people view mental illness like any other disease (and I've seen this line repeated time and again in frum articles and comments to articles) this will remove the stigma. After all, if mental illness is not the choice of the sufferer and does not come from supernatural forces, the sufferer is not to blame. It's simply a matter of faulty genes or some "imbalance" in the brain.

"Unfortunately, as mental health professionals and advocates for the mentally ill have been winning this rhetorical and conceptual battle, they've been simultaneously losing the war against stigma. Studies of attitudes in the US between the 1950's and 1996 have demonstrated that the perception of dangerousness surrounding the mentally ill has steadily increased over this time. It turns out that those who adopted the biomedical and genetic beliefs about mental illness were most often those who wanted less contact with the mentally ill or thought of them as dangerous and unpredictable."

Why is this so? "The problem, it appears, is that the biomedical or genetic narrative about an illness such as schizophrenia carries with it the subtle assumption that a brain made ill through biomedical or genetic abnormalities is more thoroughly broken and permanently abnormal compared to one made ill through life events."

The final section is called "The Mega-Marketing of Depression in Japan," which is about a huge drug company wanting to develop a new market for its products and how a marketing campaign was carefully planned and executed which introduced the Japanese to this illness and most importantly, to drugs to treat it.

It's pretty scary to read that this and other illnesses and the drugs to treat it are not coming from doctors without a monetary incentive but from a company whose only goal is to increase profits. The Ritalin producers are doing soooo very well, aren't they ... It's equally as scary to read how we are manipulated, and how our ideas about very important things are shaped by people hired to shape our ideas! And then we see these ideas regurgitated in our frum publications as though they are Torah Mi'Sinai ...

Crazy Like Us

I recently finished a very interesting book called "The Globalization of the American Psyche - Crazy Like Us" by Ethan Watters.  It tells how Americans have exported their understanding of mental illness and have imposed it on cultures with very different ways of relating to those illnesses.

The first section is about how anorexia was marketed in Hong Kong, yes, marketed.  To explain what this means - in late 1995, Princess Diana gave her famous interview confirming the rumors that she had suffered from bulimia for more than four years.  The newspapers covered this widely, of course, and bulimic behaviors spread like wildfire among adolescents.  Patients themselves often said that they tried vomiting etc. because they read or heard about it.  The chapter shows how similarly, anorexia barely existed and when it manifested, it was different than the American version, i.e. they weren't on a diet and were not interested in losing weight.

The problem is, the American DSM and Western medicine in general are highly respected in other parts of the world and so even when their patients do not fit American norms, they ignore that.

One of the important points that is made is that those who argue that increased incidence of a condition is due to its previously going unrecognized or underreported do not balance their assertion with the fact that when the media promotes a new disorder/condition/illness, people latch on to it and "discover" that they too are sick.  He has a fascinating part about the hysteria diagnosis in the late 19th century.  Do you know of anyone diagnosed with hysteria nowadays? No, because that condition with all its symptoms is no longer trendy.

The second section is about bringing PTSD to Sri Lanka after the tsunami.  Lots of well-meaning Westerners went there to help the natives avoid PTSD, completing ignoring the natives' culture and ways of dealing with traumatic events while foisting their mental illness ideas on them.  Amazingly, study after study published during the 1990's showed that early interventions were either ineffective or actually harmful!  "Early interventions sometimes appeared to be priming victims to experience certain symptoms."