Saturday, January 26, 2008

PSYCH 101: Dysthymic Disorder

I don't like labeling people. My preference is for using labels, or diagnoses (that I'll be discussing in Psych 101), to describe collections of behaviors and/or thinking (and feeling) patterns, and/or ways of relating to people, that interfere with ones pursuit of a happy life. My way of thinking about this helps guide my Cognitive-Behavioral treatment approach. In Psych 101 I won't focus so much on the origins of the bad habits/patterns, though I am very familiar with them. My focus will be explaining the diagnosis, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR), and offer some suggestions about treatment, the way I would do it.

"Dysthymic Disorder [is described as] a chronically depressed mood that occurs for most of the day more days than not for at least two years. In children the mood may be irritable, instead of depressed" for at least a year. I describe it as a mild depression (as opposed to a major depression), and it can influence sleep, appetite, energy level, self-esteem, cause poor concentration, difficulty making decisions, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, negativity, pessimism, and self-isolation. Sounds pretty bad. It feels bad too.

Treatment can be successful without the use of medication, though I often suggest the use of St. John's Wort (a tea/herb) along with counseling. Recovery from Dysthymic Disorder can be difficult because it requires changing certain thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns at a time that the person is feeling low energy and motivation, feelings of helplessness and pessimism. And, as you know, habits are hard to break. You have to push yourself. Take a small step to start, and be persistent. It helps to have a support system, even though you don't want to be around people. Socialize, exercise, find other activities that distract you from the depressed thoughts and feelings. Learn to balance the negative thinking with positive thoughts and optimism. Often the feelings are triggered by unresolved grief. Explore that possibility, and commit to resolving those feelings of loss (and associated anger, guilt, and sadness) by talking and/or writing about them. The biggest culprit, I think, of triggering the depression is an overload of stress. Examine the sources of stress in your life, and control it better. You know my feeling about this. If happiness is not a part of your life you have got to fix that. If you suffer from Dysthymic Disorder, try some of the things I suggest here (also see my MENTAL NOTES blog of March 4, 2007, "Curing Depression...").

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fix Your Self-Esteem

Self-esteem, simply put, is how you feel about yourself. It is a general sense of who you are as a person, though often people base that "general sense" of themselves on a specific aspect of who they are. For example, self-esteem may be based on who they are as a mate, a parent, a worker, or an athlete. So for them, being good or bad at one of these roles, dictates a high or low self-esteem. In reality though, it goes deeper than that. The self-esteem we've developed growing up, influences how we perceive our effectiveness in the roles that we choose. A good example is how some of our successful entertainers, who seem bent on self-destruction, pretty obviously don't love themselves in spite of their talents. Apparently, they have low self-esteem. Aside from those extreme examples, I think most of us have self-esteem issues in certain aspects of our lives. The problem is allowing that to negatively influence our view of ourselves. I mean, if we don't feel good about who we are we tend to perform less effectively. We may also tend to accept unacceptable treatment in relationships (for example, from our partner, boss, coworkers, or even our children). The biggest influence on the self-esteem that we develop occurs in childhood, in our families, in our relationships with our parents and other important people in our lives.

So, how do you fix it without going back in time? And how do we make sure our kids learn to feel good about themselves, and develop high self-esteem?

1. Identify and acknowledge the things that you do well. Focus more on your strengths than your limitations.

2. Develop specific skills that you can feel confident and good about. In a recent article in Oprah's Magazine (January, 2008; we have a copy in the office if you want to come in to read it), they call it "self-mastery." I agree with their suggestion that increasing your level of self-mastery should be the goal, and is the answer to improving how you feel about yourself, raising your self-esteem.

3. Don't let one thing define you. And we often choose the one thing we may have difficulty with, and give it a lot more emotional attention than it deserves. For example, a man who is an incredible employee, husband, carpenter, son, brother and friend (to name a few), makes a parenting mistake and that reinforces any and all of the negative images the guy has of himself. Maybe because he didn't have a father, and always wanted to be the perfect parent when he grew up. Well now that you're grown you can give up that childhood fantasy, and settle for just being a good father (or husband, manager, etc.).

These recommendations work for your kids too. Don't give them empty praise, suggesting that they're good at everything. Give them realistic praise and encouragement for things that they do well. Also, you can help them find things that they can learn to do well. And work hard at finding good things about your child to praise them for. Now, if you can't find at least a few good things about yourself or your child, come in for a session.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Easier - Than - It - Looks Recipe: Tilapia Parmesan

My wife and I enjoy cooking. So we thought that we would share some of our favorite recipes, as well as ask you to share some of your favorites. If they pass the taste test, and the EASINESS test, I would be more than happy to print it so that our other bloggers can enjoy them. The only thing is that we don't eat meat (yes, that does include chicken and turkey. We always get asked that). We do eat a lot of fish, and soy products. And generally prefer low fat, low carb and whole grains, trying to watch those pounds and inches (I've lost 25 lbs. in the past 2 years). Though we definitely enjoy the occasional dessert (especially the high fat, high carb ones). And one of us REALLY enjoys chocolate, but I promised I wouldn't mention her name. So do send us your favorite recipes to my e-mail address, . Also maybe a little story about where you got it ("little" story).

Now this one we got while visiting my parents last summer in South Jersey when my Dad got sick. He's much better now. We met my daughters there, and went for dinner after visiting him and my Mom. I ordered the Flounder Parmesan at this Italian restaurant/Pizza shop. Dee-lish-us! I've never written a recipe before, but the Mrs. encouraged me to try. It came out OK. See what you think.

Tilapia Parmesan


1. 1 lb. of tilapia (serves 2) - other fish fillet can be substituted

2. 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese (more or less to taste)

3. 2 cups of marinara sauce

4. olive oil, or other cooking oil

5. bread crumbs
6. 1 egg

7. marinate (optional): Use your favorite spices to marinade if you choose to. For this dish I use worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, oregano, garlic


Put the cooking oil in a frying pan (a few teaspoonfuls of oil should be sufficient, though you may add more while it cooks if needed) using moderate heat. Stir an egg in a bowl. Dip the fish in the egg mix, which also helps the breading stick to the fish. Coat the fish with the bread crumbs. Cook the fish in the frying pan for 10 to 15 minutes on each side, until the fish is cooked completely (it should be white inside). Reduce the heat. While in the frying pan, coat the fish with the marinara sauce. Cover it with the shredded cheese. Cover the pan for a few minutes allowing the dish to simmer until the cheese melts. Voila!! You can add more sauce and/or cheese to the completed dish, depending on your taste.
Try it and let us now what you think. Also send me one of your favorites (to my e-mail address). Remember to aim for easier-than-it-looks, meatless (though we sometimes just substitute fish, or soy for the meat in a recipe), and healthy (e.g. we substitute brown rice for white, whole wheat breads and pastas, etc.). But of course, you can go nuts with the desserts.