This Halloween I Faced My Greatest Fear

933143294_6eae87a9a3 Yes, that’s Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Also my long time nemesis. I used to hate her. She took a perfectly good name and turned it into a joke. On her About Me page she says, “When you hear the name Elvira only one person comes to mind…”

Excuse me? What did that make me, and while we’re at it, at least a thousand other people? Chopped liver?

You might be thinking, “Gee, Elvira, why would it scare you to be associated, even loosely, with a slutty, Vampira wannabe in a cheap wig?

[Yes. Before Elvira there was Vampira, circa 1953, the first ever late night horror film hostess. She was featured in that wonderfully campy Tim Burton film 'Ed Wood', with Johnny Depp as the cross dressing Mr. Wood.]


I don’t really mind that much…anymore…but once upon a time I dreaded hearing my name mispronounced and dis-respected. It hurt to hear people call me things like Velveeta cheese. God! Couldn’t my name at least sound like a classy cheese, like, l don’t know… Brie?

It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out why I would get defensive, not to say persnickety, or snotty, about my name being misprounced or made fun of. Your name is your badge of honor, your coat of arms, your flag! I went through years and years, ever since I could talk, correcting people about how to say and spell my name. [Does Growing Up With a Difficult Name Build Character?] If you have a difficult name you know exactly what I’m talking about.


5 Emotional Vampires & How to Combat Them

This post by my friend Therese Borchard was published just in time for Halloween.
To visit her original post on Psych Central, click here. Here it is, reprinted in its entirety:

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought you’d all appreciate some vampire talk. In her new book, “Emotional Freedom,” UCLA psychiatrist Judith Orloff identifies five kinds of vampires that are lurking around and can zap our energy if we’re not careful. Here is an excerpt adapted from her book.

Emotional vampires are lurking everywhere and wear many different disguises–from needy relatives to workplace bullies. Whether they do so intentionally or not, these people can make us feel overwhelmed, depressed, defensive, angry, and wiped out.

Without the self-defense strategies to fend them off, victims of emotional vampires sometimes develop unhealthy behaviors and symptoms, such as overeating, isolating, mood swings, or feeling fatigued.

Here are five types of emotional vampires you’re likely to encounter, and some “silver bullet” tips for fending them off.

Vampire 1: The Narcissist. 

This vampire is grandiose, self-important, attention hogging, and hungry for admiration. She is often charming and intelligent–until her guru status is threatened.

Self-defense tips: Enjoy her good qualities, but keep your expectations realistic. Because her motto is “me-first,” getting angry or stating your needs won’t phase her. To get her cooperation, show how your request satisfies her self-interest.

Vampire 2: The Victim. 

This vampire thinks the world is against him, and demands that others rescue him.

Self-defense tips: Don’t be his therapist, and don’t tell him to buck up. Limit your interactions, and don’t get involved in his self-pity.

Vampire 3: The Controller. 

This vampire has an opinion about everything, thinks he knows what’s best for you, has a rigid sense of right and wrong, and needs to dominate.

Self-defense tips: Speak up and be confident. Don’t get caught up in bickering over the small stuff. Assert your needs, and then agree to disagree.

Vampire 4: The Criticizer. 

This vampire feels qualified to judge you, belittle you, and bolster her own ego by making you feel small and ashamed.

Self-defense tips: Don’t take what she says personally. Address a misplaced criticism directly. Don’t get defensive. Express appreciation for what’s useful. Bounce back with a massive dose of loving-kindness.

Vampire 5: The Splitter. 

This vampire may treat you like his BFF one day, and then mercilessly attack you the next day when he feels wronged. He is often a threatening rageaholic who revels in keeping others on an emotional rollercoaster.

Self-defense tips: Establish boundaries and be solution-oriented. Avoid skirmishes, refuse to take sides, and avoid eye contact when he’s raging at you. Visualize a protective shield around you when you’re being emotionally attacked.

Judith Orloff, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. Her new book, upon which these tips are based, is “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.”

Trick or Treat? Halloween Peer Pressure!

My daughter, a writer in her own right, told me about the surprising response she got from her friends when she decided not to go trick-or-treating. I asked her to write about it. Here are her thoughts:

Recently I reached a milestone in my life. I have finally transferred over from the horrid waiting room of middle school into the vast openness of high school. As we all know with milestones there are changes that have to be made and/or met. There’s the obvious stuff, like having to get up earlier then the sun and learn to navigate through a building with two-stories instead of one. Then there are other things, more personal things, that change as I come of age. For example, this is the time of year when little children dress up as ghosts, witches, and wizards and run up to houses and scream those three famous words:


Let’s be honest here for a second, when little kids run up to your door dressed up as pirates, cats, and anything else they can imagine, face paint smeared all over their faces and a small plastic Jack-o-Lantern in their hands, it’s pretty darn cute! So, obviously you can’t help but give them a handful of candy.

On the other hand, when a teenage boy of about sixteen years waltzes up to your door in some baggy jeans, a sweatshirt, face paint thrown on for good measure, with a pillowcase in his hands… it’s not so cute. In fact, it’s actually kind of creepy. Not to say that all teenagers just use Halloween as a ploy to get free stuff. There is just something wrong about a sixteen year old, and possibly older, showing up at your front door asking for candy.


The Challenge of Mental Health Care at Colleges


National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast two stories on what colleges and universities across the country are trying to do to take care of the mental health needs of their 

More young people who live with the challenges of mental illness attend college. Advances in treatment including medication management, make secondary education possible for many who couldn't have even considered it before.

Like most new trends there's the good news and the bad news. 

The good news: Worthy young adults get to experience the advantage, challenge and adventure of college life.

The bad news: Many colleges and universities are not well prepared for the increased numbers of kids who need behavioral health support or services while at college.

These two stories, linked below, especially the one aired today, report on what many forward thinking institutions are trying to do to address the bad news.

Once again, society shows signs of finally letting go of the notion that mental illness is something to shove under the rug, out of sight. The risk is too high, and too many of us are directly or indirectly effected by continued ignorance. Thanks to NPR for their excellent reporting.

Colleges See Rise In Mental Health Issues

A Push For Colleges to Prioritize Mental Health

Horse Guilt: A Lot Like Mommy Guilt

Horse Guilt is defined as the emotional discomfort felt by the horse owner who has not seen her horse in over two weeks. Horse Guilt, also known as Equine Malaise, most often afflicts women who are inundated with responsibilities and therefore suffer from multiple types of guilt…

Read the entire article at My Horse Is My Therapist

When Your Boss Isn’t Just Clueless, He’s Abusive


This blog is over two years old. I thought you'd enjoy some of the best articles from the archives in case you missed them the first time around. Here's one that I published on PsychCentral last year. It really hit a nerve! There are a lot of nasty bosses out there.

Seven Rules to Survive an Abusive Boss

Photo courtesy of Digital Papercut via Flickr

True Or False? 7 Myths About Depression


If depression doesn't effect you, chances are it effects or will effect someone you love. Preconceived notions of the nature of depression can make the depression worse. It isn't uncommon for people with depression to believe they should be able to snap out of it on their own. By the time they call me they feel like they've failed; not realizing that the depression literally has a mind of its own and seeking proper treatment sooner defeats it faster. Too often people believe that if only they were stronger they could get out of the pit on their own. Allowing such thoughts to go unchallenged is like allowing someone to kick you, hard, when you're already down.

This list of myths collected by John Grohol, PsychCentral founder and CEO, and his responses help to dispel some of these notions. He neatly explains why they are all false and what better, more sound thinking consists of:

1. Depression means I’m really “crazy” or just weak.

Depression can strike anyone, at any time —
whether you’re “weak” or strong, it knows no bounds. Some of the
strongest people I’ve met are people who’ve coped with depression in
their lives.

2. Depression is a medical disease, just like diabetes.

While it has neurobiological components, it is no more of a pure
medical disease than ADHD
or any other mental disorder. Treatment of depression that focuses
solely on its medical or physical components — e.g., through medications alone — often results in failure. Get to know the risk factors for depression.

3. Depression is just an extreme form of sadness or grief.

If [depression] were ordinary sadness or grief, most people would feel
better just over time. In depression, time alone doesn’t help, nor does
willpower (”Pull yourself up and stop feeling so sorry for yourself!”).
Depression is overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness, every
day, for no reason whatsoever.

4. Depression just affects old people, losers and women.

While … more women than men
are diagnosed with depression, men suffer for it all the more since
many people in society believe that men shouldn’t show signs of
weakness (even a man’s own upbringing may reinforce such messages).  …depression is not a normal
part of the aging process. In fact, teenagers and young adults grapple
with depression just as much as seniors do. …successful people have also had to deal with depression, people such as
Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Patton,
Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, J.P. Morgan and
Michelangelo. …being a loser is not a prerequisite to being depressed.

5. I’ll have to be on medications or in treatment for the rest of my life.

…most people who
have depression do not need to be on medications for the rest of their
lives (or be in treatment for the rest of their lives). In fact, a lot
of research suggests that most people can be treated for depression
successfully in as little as 24 weeks with a combination of psychotherapy, and if needed, medications.

6. All I need is an antidepressant to treat depression effectively.

Sorry, no, it’s not as easy as popping a pill. While certainly you
can have an antidepressant medication quickly prescribed to you by your
primary care physician, you’re unlikely to feel any beneficial effects
from that medication for 6 or more weeks in most cases. In two-thirds of patients, that first medication won’t even work! Combined psychotherapy treatment with medication is the recommended gold standard for the treatment of depression. Anything else is going to be significantly less effective, meaning most people will suffer with their depressive symptoms longer than they need to.

7. I’m doomed! My parents (or grandparents or great uncle) had depression, …isn’t it inherited?

While researchers continue to explore the neurobiology of
mental disorders like depression, having a relative with depression
only marginally increases your risk for getting depression (10 to 15%).

Read the entire article 7 Myths of Depression

Photo courtesy of Bern@t via Flickr

Mental Illness Stigma: A Toxic Hazard

The fear of being stigmatized at work, at school, within our own families, keeps so many from accepting the very help and treatment they need. Here's another video from Bring Change 2 Mind, on the real voices and faces of mental illness.

Stressed Over Your Clutter? Freecycle, Baby!

On a sunny fall day my family was out cleaning the garage. Once in a while we do this and are amazed at what we find. This time it was a lovely green plastic tractor-trailer, big enough for a five year but too small for my teenagers. We also had a few bicycles they'd outgrown, a street hockey net, you know, the usual stuff.

I called the mother of the only five year old I know close by, my friend Linda. Linda is the owner of Simply Back to Basics, a professional organizing business. Linda and her daughter came by to take a look at the tractor. While Megan test drove it, I complained that I had no idea what to do with the other items since Goodwill wouldn't take them.

"Freecycle!" Linda said. She wrote about this cool organization on her Simply Back to Basics blog …

Freecycle is a great way to de-clutter your home by giving your things a
new life in someone else's arms. Money cannot be exchanged in the
process of freecycling. The benefit is feeling good that you have
cleared your clutter without contributing to the landfill and that you
make someone else very happy. Plus, it's a lot of fun when you get cool
stuff for free. I have met many really neat, generous people in my
short two months of freecycling. I am amazed at what people are sharing
and it seems to be contagious!

Freecycle states: "Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community."

What a concept! Like eBay without Paypal. I can't wait to try it out.

A Case of Chronic Denial – via


…the [Center for Disease Control] orchestrated a jocular referendum by mail among a
handful of academics to come up with a name for it. The group settled
on “chronic fatigue syndrome” — the use of “syndrome” rather than
“disease” suggested a psychiatric rather than physical origin and would
thus discourage public panic and prevent insurers from having to make
“chronic disbursements,” as one of the academics joked.

11th-hour plea by a nascent patient organization to call the disease by
the scientific name used in Britain, myalgic encephalomyelitis, was
rejected by the C.D.C. as “overly complicated and too confusing for
many non-medical persons.”


Too many illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are thought by the general public, (and too many doctors, by the way) to be "all in your head." It's time to change that!

This article, first published on the op-ed page of the New York Times, explains in plain English how bias can influence how a medical illness is perceived and the way it holds back progress by limiting funding for research, and in acceptance by the medical community. Attitude toward a disease effects patients directly. Dealing with bias is like pouring salt into an already open wound. 

If you know someone with such an illness and you think you are hiding your belief that your friend or family member is "making it up", think again. We can tell. It would be better to be direct with them, then listen and be open to being educated.

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