The Attitude-Language Connection

I’ve been working for a long time on treating myself at least as well as I treat others. Think I’m about 80% there now. (sigh)

A couple of weeks ago I noticed how I describe the way I walk. I have arthritis in one knee, my spine, and my hips and so my gait changes with the changes in my joints. Right now I sway from side to side much more than I did before.

I found I called it “waddling.” That doesn’t sound very nice. The least I could do is say I walk with a limp. It’s just as accurate but, at least to my ears, it doesn’t sound deprecating. I wouldn’t say anybody else waddled, so why should I describe myself that way?

Dictionaries often give us a new look at familiar words. Didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about waddling. So I looked up lazy, because that’s how I think of myself these days. Lazy, to me, denotes somebody who doesn’t want to do things, who lounges around all day-dreaming and resists lifting a finger if it can be avoided.  But whoa, is that really me?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lazy as “1. disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous; 2.  moving slowly.” Does this describe me? Well, yes, all but the disinclined bit. I move slowly and don’t do a lot because I have a disability and moving hurts. I also think we all slow down with age. But “disinclined?” No way! I  constantly wish I could do more and I push myself hard.

I need an adjective that says in one word, “I can’t do what I used to, and it really bothers me.” Aging comes closest, but then I think of a 75-year-old man I know who still skis and shovels snow. He complains about politics, not his body. For now, I’ll have to live without that word and just try and carry the attitude around in my head as an antidote to “lazy.”

You see, our language is formed by our attitudes and if we change one, we can change the other. It’s like that mind-body connection — attitude-language connection. If I think of myself as beautiful, I will take the time to comb my hair, stand up straighter,  and make sure my clothes look good together. The net result is, even if I can’t make myself really beautiful, I’ll look a lot better! And if I fuss lovingly over my appearance, I will start to think of myself as pretty.

One caveat: this doesn’t work if you are trying to deny reality. Most of us probably tried to act as if we had a normal childhood, and we didn’t get very far. Smiling to hide depression doesn’t work, either – it just makes it worse. And acting as if you don’t have an addiction, when you do, is a guaranteed disaster.

What I am talking about is those areas that are not black and white. I’m not going to be transformed or destroyed if I consider myself old instead of lazy or pretty instead of ugly. I’m just going to be a smidgen happier. And isn’t that worth it?

Counter-Dependency

That’s me! I never think to ask for help until after a crisis is over. Then I tell people what happened and they get mad at me for not letting them know at the time. They are frightened (what if something bad happened and they had no idea what was going on?) and rejected and feel I don’t trust them. It’s natural to feel those things. Only then does it dawn on me that I should have at least let them know I had a problem and give them the opportunity to help me.

This goes for big things. Once my doctor put me on a new heart medication that dropped my blood pressure and slowed my pulse. I called for an appointment and got one the same day. Since I didn’t feel faint, I got in my car and drove the few blocks. I forget what my blood pressure was, but both systolic and diastolic were in the double digits. My pulse was 28. So I was kept for observation for a few hours and amused myself reading lot of junky magazines. When he checked me at the end of the day, he asked me how I got to the office and was appalled to hear I had driven myself. It had never even occurred to me to call a taxi, let alone tell somebody in my family or circle of friends. Oh, and I only thought of calling 911 as I wrote this!

It goes for little things, too. I no longer use step ladders so I no longer change light bulbs. Instead of asking my best friend, who would gladly do it, I automatically adjust to less light. Bulbs only get replaced when he notices that they are out. Which reminds me, there are at least four that are burned out right now.

This has been a habit of mine since childhood. The adults in my life could not be counted on to be helpful; when I asked for help in every-day life they usually blamed me and scolded me. I learned at an early age to keep my problems to myself and take care of them as best I could. That was an eminently sensible decision, because I was the most reliable person I knew. By the time I was an adult, being independent was deeply ingrained in me.

Psychology books see excessive independence in a slightly different light. They conceptualize counter-dependency as leaning over backwards to avoid dependency. It masks a deep yearning to be taken care of, to be held and cuddled and fed when hungry and cooed at. Later in life to be tucked into bed and read to and praised and fed healthy meals and given bandaids for scraped knees and smiled at for no reason at all. I would have liked very much to have had all those things, but, for the most part, I had to live without them. Both my description and the books’ description of counter-dependency are true — they go hand-in-hand.

As I age, the situation is changing. There are fewer things I can do for myself, no matter how much I want to, and so my choice is to ask somebody or do without. Naturally, there is a lot I do without these days, and consequently my life has shrunk considerably. Being barely able to walk means that if I go someplace I have to be sure there is parking real close by. I can’t use public transportation because the stops are too far away. I no longer drive at night and that means no concerts or plays. It’s sad.

There is an upside to this, though. I think of asking for help more often and I feel I am growing in this regard. I have been given the opportunity to see people in a different light, as helpful and non-shaming. I am slowly breaking the rigid role my parents cast for me. I try and see my loss of independence in a positive light — an opportunity to go and learn something new rather than as a loss of one thing after another. Some days that’s a comforting and uplifting attitude, other days it seems awfully goody-two-shoes.

PTSD and Dementia

When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to become twenty-one.  I knew that, at that age, I could legally drink, drive at night, vote, and make my own decisions, whether my parents approved or not.  I planned to leave home, live according to my own values, and build a happy, productive life. My troubles would be over!

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. If you get a bad start in life (and I think we can all agree that being born into a cult is a bad way to start), the effects are life-long. You can learn to manage these after-effects so they don’t ruin your whole life but they will not go away, no matter how hard you work to counteract them. That’s the hand you were dealt and you are stuck with it: you can play your cards skillfully or poorly, but there’s no getting new cards.

And when I say life-long, I mean life-long. It seems that PTSD almost doubles the risk of getting dementia in later years.  And how many cult kids grow up without PTSD? Not a whole lot. I’m glad I didn’t know this when I was twenty-one!

I learned this happy news from an article by Kristine Yaffe et al. titled “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Risk of Dementia Among US Veterans” published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, 2010; 67 (6): 608-613. It says that 181,093 veterans 55 and older were followed for seven years.  53,155 had PTSD and 127,938 did not. Those with PTSD had a 10.6% risk of developing dementia while those without PTSD had a 6.6% risk. That’s a big difference.

Nobody is likely to recruit 181,093 RA survivors and replicate the study, but common sense says that if PTSD is correlated with dementia in one group, it probably will be in another group. Why should we be any different?

Correlation, of course, does not automatically mean causation. Let’s say that high levels of the blood factor X causes both PTSD and dementia. If you have a lot of factor X you react to a horrible, life-threatening event by developing PTSD.  And, later in life, factor X causes dementia. This study, therefore, is only suggestive and calls for more research.

The authors explain: “There are several reasons why patients with PTSD may have an increased risk of developing dementia. PTSD may contribute to the cause of dementia, or chronic stress may link the two conditions. Stress may damage the hippocampus, a brain area critical for memory and learning, or cause alterations in neurotransmitter and hormone levels that could precipitate dementia.”

In any event, here is another long-term effect of extreme chronic stress in childhood. After struggling with difficulty with trust and forming relationships, with low self-confidence, with amnesia and dissociation, with addictions, with higher risk of autoimmune disease, etc. etc., we are rewarded in our golden years with an increased risk of dementia. Lovely.