The Missing Twin: Part One
The loss of life here in Jacmel is far less than in Port-au-Prince but the burden is still heavy. There are of course the ordinary deaths that come with age, and the losses of younger people cut down by accident, sudden illness, or murder. And in the background for everyone in this coastal city, and all the surrounding communities, as well as in Port-au-Prince, is the tide of losses that came with the January 2010 earthquake. The deaths of children seem the hardest to bear.
Toni, a clinical social worker from Baton Rouge, tells me about a woman in her group–a school teacher. Her six-year-old twin sons were buried under the rubble with their father. He struggled to carry both out, but one fell under a collapsing ceiling. The father suffered a serious head injury as he carried the first boy to safety. Still, he returned to dig frantically for the fallen twin, but to no avail. By the time he reached him, his second son was no longer moving or breathing. Two years later the family is still frozen in grief. The surviving twin is furious. “Why are you alive?” he shouts, when family tension rises, at his father. “And why is my brother not? He should be alive, and you dead.” Toni and I both suspect that the boy feels guilty that he could as easily be angry at himself.
After her son died, his mother “lost my smile. When I smile now,” she goes on, “it feels”–and here she grimaces, all teeth–“like this.”
James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.
Dear President Obama,
Before you even took office you asked us Americans to share our ideas about healthcare reform with your new Administration. Thousands of us, thrilled to be invited to participate, gathered in small groups and offered our vision to you. Now, tonight, as you address us, it’s time for you to give us back our vision, enhanced by your broader perspective, enriched by detail, unencumbered by fear.
I’m sure you and your advisors have seen the polls that have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of Americans (up to 85%) believe that our healthcare system needs to be “fundamentally changed and completely rebuilt,” and that almost equal numbers are concerned that “access to medical tests and treatment would be more limited” as a consequence of healthcare reform. The polls tell us that Americans know that our far more expensive healthcare system is significantly less effective and efficient than that of other developed countries, and that, in general, we like the doctors who care for us.
These apparent contradictions are best understood as Zen koans, paradoxes that work to boggle our minds prior to opening them to new ways of seeing and thinking. I hope tonight you will invite us to look at healthcare reform in such a new way; help us to find, beyond the fears that have been evoked, and the mind-numbing horse-trading and compromise of the legislative process, the vision that continues to animate your commitment to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.
The vast majority of Americans-not just “Democrats” or “progressives,” but all of us – are decent, compassionate people who really want all our fellow citizens to have the healthcare they need. We know that change is necessary, but we don’t know yet what’s actually being proposed, and we fear that the change that comes may take away the surety of care and the security of our relationship with our doctors.
Fear is an enormously powerful emotion-deeply embedded in our evolutionary heritage and in our central nervous system. It signals danger, mobilizes the fight or flight response and all the psychobiological mechanisms of survival. Fear, as this summer’s town halls illustrate, overwhelms our capacity for nuanced observation or even rational thought. The very thought of going to the doctor makes many people tremble. The possibility of failing health, or of a vulnerable old age, or a change in access to those who are supposed to care for us makes us deeply uneasy. When opponents of healthcare reform have used evocative and provocative words to summon up these specters, the fear factor has obviously jumped off the chart.
To our agitated minds, “rationing” means that we will likely lose the diagnostic tests which we hope will clear away threatening uncertainties, the treatments that may restore us to health, and the doctors whom we have literally trusted with our lives. “Death panels” signify that anonymous others will, in the name of some impersonal, financially motivated calculus, shorten our lives.
Outrage, reassurance, and careful reference to the actual texts of proposed legislation-the principal defensive strategies of healthcare reform proponents to date-only take the edge off our collective apprehension. Relaxed, even meditative, clear-eyed assessment of healthcare realities, active engagement of each person in responding to them, and a call to transcendent and common purpose are what will ultimately make it possible for us-individually and collectively- to move through and beyond the fears that have been dominating the discussion. We are an energetic, inventive people and once we know it is possible and even necessary, we will want to be actively, effectively engaged in our care, and in determining our destiny.
Think of the “terminally ill” mother, who “somehow” lives to see her daughter’s wedding, the firefighter who enters a burning building to save an endangered child, the soldiers who brave bullets to protect one another. Think too, of people with life-threatening or life burdening illnesses (coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer, clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder), who, in the therapeutic programs many of us have created around the country, are healing themselves: sharing their fears and developing strategies for dealing with the threats to their lives; regarding illness more as a challenge than a disaster; eating and exercising in more healthy ways; learning from and supporting one another. William James coined the phrase, “The moral equivalent of war.” Caring for ourselves individually and collectively is such an equivalent.
I’m asking you, really, all of us are asking you, to mobilize and inspire us to participate actively in our own healthcare; to insist that those professionals who are supposed to help us treat us respectfully, even lovingly, as active partners, not passive patients.
We don’t, for the most part, need more drugs or procedures, but rather doctors and other healthcare professionals who will spend adequate time with each of us, listening and creating partnerships, as well as writing orders and prescriptions. The powerful therapeutic effects – and cost effectiveness – of such instruction in self-care, of what some are calling “lifestyle medicine,” on outcomes of chronic illness have been repeatedly documented.
If every older person were guaranteed a physician with time to talk about life and ways to live it more fully, as well as to discuss the best ways to deal with the inevitability of death, debates about “death panels” would wither from lack of fearful fuel. If doctors spent more time looking at the excess of often clashing and contraindicated medications that older people take, much of the unnecessary suffering and fear that accompanies care in old age would disappear. As we actually learn what combinations of self-care and physician-administered therapies are most effective, for which condition, most concerns about rationing-raised now almost entirely by drug companies, which fear that their products’ flaws will be revealed- will dissolve. We need to hear clearly from you that all those individuals and institutions that profit from our pain – hospitals, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and those of us who are doctors too – can be justified and supported only as long as they serve all of us.
Finally, you must assure all of us, left, right and center, that you and your Administration will continue to give us and our health care the careful consideration we deserve, that this present effort is only the first stage of healthcare reform; the beginning of a process of national education; and a framework for the more profound and pervasive changes that we want but are not yet sure how to achieve. Tonight, we need you again to inspire us, to give us a vision not only of how we can all be safely and effectively treated, but how we can thoughtfully, lovingly, energetically, even joyously, learn to better care for ourselves and one another.
David Leonhardt’s “prostate cancer test” (The New York Times, July 8, 2009) is a good but incomplete one for healthcare reform.
In addition to removing financial incentives for high tech intervention, we need to educate clinicians in the impartial, critical analysis of all therapeutic options, and in supporting their patients as they act on the choices they make. For 10 years, The Center for Mind-Body Medicine has trained health professionals and patient advocates to do precisely this, as “CancerGuides®.”
We need as well to realize that expensive, Draconian treatment and “watchful waiting” are not our only choices. There is, as Dean Ornish is showing with peer-reviewed studies on prostate cancer - and a number of us are doing with heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, depression and post traumatic stress disorder – a far more promising third way. It is grounded in techniques of self-care – dietary modification, physical exercise, and mind-body approaches like meditation and yoga – and in group education and support.
This approach holds great promise for treating and preventing chronic illness of all kinds and for saving large sums of money. It should be central to healthcare reform.
A shortened version of this was published in the New York Times online Letters section on July 21, 2009.
I said that I would write more about our work in Israel and Gaza, but the work-and trying to find funding so that we can continue it-is taking up so much time (joyous, exciting time, to be sure) that I haven’t been able to write.
Still, I thought I would send along this very brief summary that I forwarded to our US Mind-Body Medicine faculty.
Just a couple of words from Gaza City: overwhelming, amazing, touching. That’s three words.
We (Jim, Amy, Afrim, Yusuf, Dan and Lee-Ann) had a great visit with our Israeli faculty. They are doing many interesting and exciting projects including groups that combine mind-body skills and Jewish spirituality, joint Israeli Jewish and Arab groups, and many groups for traumatized children and adults in Sderot. In fact, we made a visit to Sderot and had a chance to talk with teachers who are using mind-body skills in wonderfully creative ways with children in the SCIENCE AND RELIGION SCHOOL. The kids have experienced shelling on and off for eight years and are having all kinds of problems with concentration, bed-wetting and anger.
Naftali who heads up our Israeli program, is on the track of a major initiative in the South which will build on the work that he and his team have already done. We are working together on developing cooperative relationships and future funding.
Thanks to Danny Grossman, a friend to whom Aaron and Debbie Kaplan introduced us some years ago, (with able assists from Naftali and Smadar who handle the administrative work in Israel), we were all able to get into Gaza. It took a couple of extra days for Afrim and Yusuf, but Naftali and Tami and Ayelet from our Israeli faculty kept their spirits high while they waited. Once in Gaza, we began with visits with grieving families. There are whole sections of Gaza that have been completely destroyed and many thousands of people who are without homes. “I am very small,” one ten year old girl told us, “but the tent the 20 of us are staying in is even smaller.”
We went on for a day of meetings with our Gaza faculty. The next day, we had more site visits including one to Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose three daughters were killed. He’s an amazing man, an OBGYN who works in Israel as well as Gaza and through some miracle of wisdom and compassion, has managed to transform his suffering into a visionary project for the education of girls in Gaza-“not just so they will think, but so they will think freely”-and a mission to promote greater Israeli-Palestinian understanding.
We’re now about to start the 4th day of our PTP. Our Gaza faculty, which Jamil heads up, is doing virtually all the lectures and leading all the groups and our international team is consulting/supervising. The Gaza group is doing an absolutely wonderful job. They are so open-hearted and skillful-I’d say over the last 18 months, they’ve each lead anywhere between 6 and 20 groups and it shows.
Participants (there are over 140 of them) are speaking of issues that they have never before discussed and beginning to solve problems that have troubled them for years-not to mention finding practical ways to ease their high levels of anxiety and deal with nightmares, flashbacks, etc. All of them-faculty and participants-are so eager to learn and to share what they are learning. They are an inspiration to all of us.
There is much more to tell and I will when I have more time. For now, I send all of you my love as well as my gratitude for being with us on this and many other adventures.
I’m getting ready to get on the plane for Tel Aviv, and begin this round of work in Israel and Gaza. (Read about our current work in the middle east here.) You can get more info on the work we’ve done in psychological trauma relief in Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, and in the US here.
We plan to spend a few days working in Israel with our team of CMBM-trained professionals there, then (hopefully) make our way into Gaza to train 150 more professionals (on top of the 90 already trained) in mind-body skills that will help them to help heal the widespread terrible anxiety, anger, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and grief resulting from the latest conflict. We believe this work will eventually reach hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza, not to mention Israel–we believe we’re the only program working in both Israel and Gaza.
Right now, we’re just hoping to get in and start making a difference to the people who have suffered so much from this conflict. This work is so difficult, and so necessary. We hope you’ll hold the safety of our team and the success of our mission in your minds and hearts—
Sending all my best,
I spent Monday afternoon, February 23, 2009, testifying on the strengths of integrative healthcare and our hope for healthcare reform at the hearing, “Principles of Integrative Health: A Path to Health Care Reform” by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). The video is comprehensive—click to read shorter coverage in the Huffington Post.
My colleagues (including Wayne Jonas, M.D. of the Samueli Institute, Robert Duggan, M.A., M.Ac. (UK), Dipl.Ac. (NCCA), of Tai Sophia, and others from institutions and the private sector) and I sincerely hope the time has come to change from a “disease-care” system to one truly centered on the patient and our wellness as a nation. Our current system is expensive, and ineffective at keeping us healthy. Turning to costly drugs ridden with side effects before trying natural approaches and wellness techniques is bankrupting our treasury and our health as a nation.
More to come—check out the video, and check back here for updates. It’s a very busy time for us here at the Center!
Despite a hectic schedule this January, I’m hoping to keep my blog up-to-date with the exciting events in my practice and at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM).
A quick look at my schedule/to-do list:
I’ve just finished leading (along with Kathie Swift, MS, RD, LDN, my co-director) The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s professional training program in nutrition, Food as Medicine, in San Francisco.
We’re also moving forward with our exciting work with the US Military training health and mental health professionals who are working with active-duty military as well as in the Veterans Administration to use mind-body techniques with vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury. Over 100 of these professionals came to the first phase of our professional training program in mind-body medicine in Minnesota in October 2008. Here’s some data on the difference our training made to them. Most of them are returning for our advanced training–where we teach them how to lead the same kind of mind-body skills groups in which they participated in the first training—this weekend, from January 31-February 4th, once again in Minneapolis.
We’re also moving ahead with a research study funded by the Department of Defense on the use of our model with traumatized veterans and their families.
Last but not least, 30 of us–health professionals, policy makers, and just plain folks–gathered together in my home to develop a report to make recommendations for a National Health Plan to the Daschle/Obama Health and Human Services Administration. We’re continuing to explore ways for CMBM to be involved in creating a top-down support for truly universal and integrative health care for all Americans.
In other news, a recent op-ed of mine was published in the Clinical Psychiatry News, entitled “We Must Consider CAM for Depression.” You can read this succinct argument for wider use of integrative therapies, versus drug-centric treatment, here (you will have to create an account on this website to access it if you don’t already subscribe to CPN, though–sorry.) I was also published in the New York Times science section, writing about a friend and colleague of mine in Gaza going through the terrible bombings there. Read that one here.
Let me know your thoughts about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and how we’re bringing it out into the world! I’ll be in touch too.
The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First by Mark Hyman, MD Review by James S. Gordon, MD
The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First
by Mark Hyman, MD, Scribner’s: New York: 2009
Review by James S. Gordon, MD
I just finished The UltraMind Solution, a wonderful, ground breaking book that gives new and eminently practical insight into the causes and treatment of mood, behavior, and cognitive disorders. It’s a book I recommend to all of you without reservation.
The UltraMind Solution is by Mark Hyman, MD, a highly skilled, integrated Family physician who is a Center for Mind-Body Medicine Board Member, and a core faculty person in our Food As Medicine training. In The UltraMind Solution, Mark suggests that the most effective and, indeed, scientific way to address the epidemic of psychiatric disorders (affecting 1.1 billion people worldwide) is not with psychotropic drugs that treat postulated alterations in neurotransmitters, but with nutritional therapies that address the underlying biological imbalances that ultimately may disturb neurotransmitter functioning.
The UltraMind Solution is based on the principles of “functional medicine,” a systems approach to chronic disease and to the physical and emotional problems that beset our population. It is a road map for both patients and practitioners, a clear, thoughtful, guide to the ways the body can become imbalanced, and to the simple, natural methods-largely food and supplements-that can be used to restore the imbalances in the entire body, and most particularly, the brain. It’s a book that significantly deepened my own understanding of biological factors in depression. I believe, as well, it will enhance the information on biology that I present in my book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression.
In a series of clear, well documented chapters, Mark discusses the “7 keys” to his program, and the ways that readers can use them. These keys include optimal nutrition, hormone balancing, decreasing inflammation, improving digestion, enhancing detoxification, increasing energy metabolism, and calming the mind. In The UltraMind Solution, Mark includes more than 400 well-chosen scientific references and dozens of case studies, together with diagnostic questionnaires. He offers as well clear steps that readers can take to use this information to help and heal themselves. You can learn more about The UltraMind Solution by going to the following website: http://www.ultramindhealth.com/cmbm.
Mark is also presenting a six part webinar series for clinicians on applications of functional medicine to brain and mood disorders. In particular, he will discuss diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to ADD/ADHD, autism, dementia, and depression. Access to these webinars is complimentary for practitioners who obtain a copy of The UltraMind Solution by going to the website below.
“You don’t have to go to Gaza to treat posttraumatic stress disorder,” my friend said. “Just come to New York.”
It’s not that the mental and emotional state of the US population is indistinguishable from that of Gaza’s Palestinians — many of whom have lived with eight years of war and civil strife — thousands of lives lost and homes destroyed, and unemployment reaching 40-50 — some say 70-80– percent. Indeed, even those of us hit hardest three weeks into the worst of this unraveling financial crisis, are still technically experiencing only an “acute stress disorder.” But there are signs that each day, this growing financial crisis is traumatizing us more and more. Add to that our costly, life-claiming Middle East war, and we — like the Palenstinians in Gaza — may also be on our way to significant levels of population-wide traumatic stress.
Posttraumatic stress disorder, which by definition lasts longer than several weeks, is characterized by three sets of symptoms: “Hyperarousal,” an agitated state in which the heart may race, concentration and sleep are disturbed, startle responses are exaggerated and anger easily triggered; “Re-experiencing” the original trauma — in nightmares, intense and disturbing memories, and flashbacks; and “Avoidance” of trauma-related thoughts and feelings, coupled often with a sense of detachment and estrangement, emotional numbness and an apprehension about a bleak future.
All these are in abundant supply in those closest to the crisis — the ones who have lost jobs and pensions, older people who see their retirement savings melting away, and people of all ages who cannot keep up payment on their homes. Many who are, or were, working on Wall Street are sleeping fitfully, jiggling their knees uncontrollably in meetings, drinking and eating too much, losing their appetites, and popping antacids and tranquilizers. One broker friend is awake far into the night, worrying about her elderly clients’ inability to live on their diminished incomes and whether or not she will be able to pay her own child’s tuition. Others, like one 30-year Lehman Brothers veteran who is married to a colleague, have receded into states of frozen denial; acting as if somehow everything were still as it was. He dresses as meticulously as he always did and sits for hours at a computer which no longer registers his trades.
And the symptoms are also present with more or less intensity in many of the rest of us who feel the financial foundations crumbling under our feet. I have been hearing from retirees who are waking up in the middle of the night, panicked, to pore over diminished budgets, then fall asleep worrying that their fixed incomes will no longer permit them to live in the houses they saved a lifetime to buy. A colleague out West tells me her psychiatric inpatient service is overflowing with people whose loss of homes and jobs has undermined their precarious emotional, as well as economic, security. Meanwhile, anxious and depressed people, unable to afford gas for the long trip to the outpatient clinic, call in for more prescriptions for tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sleeping pills. And children may be just as deeply affected as their parents; according to The Washington Post, a recent national survey of 500 teenagers found that already, “70% fear ‘an immediate negative impact’ on the security of their families.”
Former senator Phil Gramm’s infamously dismissive comment declaring the US in the midst of a “mental recession” is likely to turn out to be true in a way he never intended. Financial irresponsibility and lack of oversight are indeed creating the conditions for “mental” disturbance. The associated loss of confidence and hope further threatens the trust upon which credit and the financial markets depend.
Even when trauma is reliably over, the feelings of being overwhelmed and stuck persist. Five years after the war in Kosovo, we found that 44% of all high school seniors in the Suhareka region still had symptoms of PTSD. And when stress is ongoing, its symptoms and the accompanying depression are continually reinforced. Some Americans will never recover financially or emotionally from the loss of jobs and homes and savings. Others will be long unemployed, and their misfortune and lack of income — and the emotional distress both bring — will affect businesses in their communities as well as in their own families and friends. Meanwhile, vast numbers, perhaps our entire population, will likely feel the uncertainty and vulnerability that the ongoing and deepening financial crisis is provoking — feelings that still bedevil so many who lived through the Great Depression. One recent landmark study on the influence of genetics and “life stress” showed that of all possible causes, financial setbacks were most likely to contribute to depression.
In Gaza and Israel — where the consequences and threats of terrorist bombings are ever-present — and in Kosovo and New Orleans, my colleagues and I have helped tens of thousands of fearful and vulnerable people in the midst of chaos. We teach them meditation, deep breathing and movement techniques, mental images, and exercise. Learning these techniques, they find places of calm and control within themselves, discover solutions to problems that had seemed unsolvable, and raise their depleted physical and emotional energy. Acting to help themselves, they find antidotes to the helplessness and hopelessness that are the hallmarks of depression and traumatic stress. Learning together they discover mutual support and a renewed sense of community.
In Gaza, in the most vulnerable parts of Israel, and in New Orleans, there is another factor that makes people’s stress and depression — and, yes, their anger as well — so much worse. This is the sense of being dismissed and neglected by the larger world on which they had once depended.
These feelings of neglect, deception, and disrespect are only increasing as the financial crisis deepens here and expands overseas. They must be addressed. The various bailouts are initial investments in confidence as well as credit, the first signs of a public assumption of responsibility. But they are only a down payment on the far more comprehensive measures that must follow, and should only be the first step in the government’s effort to regain the trust that is necessary to real recovery.
As a country, we must honestly admit to and address the causes of our crisis — greed, arrogance, and indifference. Then we must begin to pay honest, ongoing attention to the concerns of a population that feels betrayed, vulnerable, and abandoned. These steps will promote stress reduction as well as provide fiscal reassurance. Meanwhile, we have to learn, quite literally, to breathe deeply, to relax in the midst of fear and uncertainty, to trust that we, like the Israelis and Palestinians and New Orleanians, can grow and change through adversity. We cannot avoid the fear and the stress in the world in these troubled times. We can however, learn to live more peacefully with them.
Republished with permission from The Huffington Post
First published October 23, 2008, 10:52 AM EST at