Depression: It’s More than Feeling Sad

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in brain, Louise Behiel, mental health | 39 comments

If you’re reading this post and don’t know a person who has been depressed (including yourself) please leave a comment below. This malady is so widespread, it is almost commonplace. 1 in 10 of us will have depression in our lifetime and for 1 of 10 of those  it is a fatal illness, culminating in suicide.

That made me sit up and take notice. It’s a scary statistic for an illness that seems so common.

Technically, depression is a syndrome in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration cause problems in a person’s life for weeks or longer for which there is not an acceptable cause (like the death of a loved one). It is diagnosed (usually after a physical) by a conversation with a doctor, because there are no medical tests for diagnosis.

As with all the other illnesses included in this series, this is an illness that originates in the brain but whose symptoms are behavioral. From the outside, it looks like the person is wallowing in self-pity and giving in to their own demons. The favorite suggestion is to ‘get up and go for a walk. Do something, you’ll feel better’. Unfortunately, for someone with major depression that’s almost impossible.

What are the symptoms?

  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Insomnia or early morning awakening,
  • Or too much sleeping
  • Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
  • Fatigue and lack of energy; feeling slowed down
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once pleasurable (including sex)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Persistently sad, anxious, angry, irritable, or “empty” mood
  • Crying spells
  • Problems with memory and decision making
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as digestive disorders, headaches and/or chronic pain.

Causes of Depression

Nobody knows for sure what causes depression. There’s lots of research being done. Part of the problem with determining cause is that it can be different for each of us. Depression is a disorder that co-occurs with many other mental illnesses. It can be the result of alcohol or drug use. And it can start as grief but morph into chronic depression.

Perhaps the simplest description I have heard refers to the level of serotonin in the brain. Remember a couple of months ago, we talked about the structure of the brain, including the neurons and neurotransmitters. I’ve recopied the image for you.

The passage of an electrical charge from one cell to the next (across the synapse) is accomplished when that charge is encased in a drop of a neurotransmitter. But the receiving cell has its own neurotransmitter, so it strips it off when it absorbs the electrical charge. This would leave an extra amount of the chemical in the brain fluid. It isn’t much on an individual cell basis, but remember these exchanges happen two trillion times a second in the brain.  So it would make a difference to the chemical make-up of the brain fluid.

Our brain cells, in their amazing wisdom take this into account. The dispatching cell ‘sucks up’ the chemical it released with the charge. Think of this as a vacuum cleaning up the unwanted material.

By now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with depression. Well it’s actually relevant and pretty simple. If the vacuum on the releasing cell runs too long, it will remove some of the serotonin from the brain fluid. (Think of this as getting too close to the shear drapes with your vacuum.)

If you have low levels of serotonin in your brain, you have depression.

There is some thought that there is a genetic link, especially with the depression of Bipolar Affective Disorder

So how is it treated?

Usually a doctor will prescribe a low dosage of an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). These are commonly known as Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa and Prozac.

The purpose of this family of drugs is to shut off the vacuum (the reuptake mechanism) sooner, by only by a nano-second, since everything must be in balance. The doctor will tell you to come back in a month. And if you haven’t had a relief of your symptoms, he will likely prescribe a higher dosage of the same drug. Ditto for month three. If the drug isn’t working then, you’ll probably have a different drug prescribed. By this time most people feel that medicine doesn’t know much and can’t help. But perseverance counts. Each drug impacts our system a little different and we have to find the right one, to shut down the re-uptake mechanism at just the right time to create chemical balance in the brain.

It is mostly medicine by trial and error. But it is the only option available to medicine at this time.

A second category of medicine is relatively new. Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), do much of the same thing for Norepinephrine. You’ve heard of one of these drugs on television, for it includes Cymbalta.

Therapy is also recommended as part of the treatment.

If the depression is severe and unresponsive to these treatments, people may be given electroconvulsive therapy, but that’s a post for another day.

I know from personal experience that lots of sunshine is important in recovery as is exercise. Walking is good medicine, once you’re well enough to consider it as a treatment option.


What about you? Have you had depression? Know someone who does or did? What was your reaction to the illness?


Credit for fact verification to:


Image of sad woman from:





Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. What Did You Do?

Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 29 comments


from Microsoft Images

Canadians celebrate thanksgiving  on the second Monday of October. We get together with our families and friends, eat too much, drink too much and enjoy.Unlike our American neighbors, our holiday is not about the Pilgrims landing in the new world. Rather, it is a celebration of the fall harvest. It is a statuatory holiday for most companies and in most provinces, except for the Maritimes.

The actual date has moved around a lot, but for the last 50+ years the date has been settled.

 Canadians seem to have moved the actual celebration to any of the days that suits them. In my extended family, we used to plan our celebration to allow for most of us to get together, given the plans of the many in-laws. But in the last few years, we haven’t even done this – we all have busy lives and busy families, so we spend the time with them.

 It’s been a busy weekend at my house. The weather in Calgary has been extraordinarily warm (for October). We had a light skiff of snow this week but it melted as soon as it landed. This is a miracle for my part of the globe and I am truly grateful.

 I also have some vacay days left, so I took a few extra days around this long weekend, planning to write and work on my book and do other boring stuff.  Imagine my delight when my daughterin-law called to say they’d love to come for the long weekend. I was thrilled, to say the least. So it’s been a busy few days. My daughter and her family live only a few minutes away, so they’ve also spent most of the weekend here. It’s been like old times, with a horde (or is it herd) of people, children and pooches around.

We went swimming today at the Westside Recreational Center. It’s an awesome rec center and I thoroughly enjoyed the wave pool, the hot tub, the steam room and the ‘river’. I did not go on the water slide.  Ahem.  No way. Not me. Although I have to admit I was a little embarrassed when my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter went down by herself. Sighhh

Tonight, we’ve had a lovely dinner of barbecued chicken and now we’re all sitting around, kids on tablets, i-pods, or watching a move, the two guys playing battle pirates on their laptops, my daughter is studying on hers and I’m writing a blog post. My how things have changed.

Yesterday we went to the zoo. Calgary’s zoo is incredible. It is large and focused on conservation. And it has a huge dinosaur park.

I decided to follow in the example of so many and post some of the pictures of the animals we saw. I’m not a photographer but the kids loved these animals in particular, so I’m posting for them.

We chose not to wait in line for an hour to see the full penguin display since these little guys were outside enjoying the weather. My youngest granddaughter loves the penguins (and the movie “Happy Feet”) and she’d gladly stay there all day.


After seeing the new hippo and new giraffe we went outside and saw the zebras.


All three of the girls loved the flamingoes, although my grandson preferred the monkeys and gorillas.


They had lots of questions about this camel.


We were there when they fed the Condor a rabbit for lunch (can you say yuck?).


And although this is not a good picture, there are three tiger cubs tangled together in this pile of fur. They were sound asleep the whole time we watched.


I almost walked by the snow leopards – they blended with their environment so well, they were hard to see.


 All in all, it was a lovely day, although after six hours of walking around the zoo, I was ready to come home. And everyone slept well last night.

These pics were taken on my Samsung Galaxy IIs phone and it’s my first time taking pictures on it. It took a fair bit of time to learn how to get them to my ‘puter from my phone and then it was a challenge uploading them here, but … what to heck. Practice makes perfect.

To all my Canadian friends, I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with love and good cheer. To my American friends, feel free to join your neighbors to the north and remember what you’re grateful for this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving 



Happy Birthday To Us, Happy Birthday to Us

Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 42 comments


In September of 2011, I was looking for a class to learn how to use about using social media effectively and I came across a course by Kristen Lamb, called We Are Not Alone.  I signed up for the October class but I have to say a couple of lectures in, I was pretty confused and wondering what  I had gotten myself into. You see, it became very clear, very quickly that she expected us to blog. Yes blog. Regularly and consistently.

Oh my.

But a month into the class, I got to thinking about blogging and I realized that I didn’t have to know how to do it, I just had to start. Eventually the fog would lift and I’d have some sense of what I was doing.

Who knew it was that simple?

More importantly than my journey into blogdom (blog world?) I took the course with about 100 other people who were in the same boat as I. We were all neophytes in the blogosphere, looking to find our way.

I stumbled into a community of like-minded people who were willing to support, share, inform and love each other as we found our way.

Can’t participate for awhile? That’s okay. Come back when you can.

Need to know something about Facebook or WordPress or a website? Somebody in our group will help.

Want to have a party to celebrate your release, birthday or child’s birth? We’re all ready to stand up to the bar for virtual margaritas.

Need support, a helping hand or a joke? Yep, you’ll find those here too.

The course was valuable and full of information. But for me, the people who participated in the course are extraordinary. they’ve enriched my life. Made me laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time). They’ve informed and educated me. They’ve supported and encouraged and held my hand when I needed it the most. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful.



From the course, Kristen has gone on to create a WANA community and a Wana common on Flickr. Those are valuable additions for my work and fun. But the best gift ever is the wonderful people who came into my life one year ago this month. To each and every one of you, I raise my glass in a toast:

Image from Wikipedia Commons, courtesy of
Quinn Dombrowski


“To the best of humankind. Anywhere. Anytime. Thanks for sharing the journey.”








Up and Down. Up and Down. Do You Have Bipolar Disorder?

Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 29 comments

Bipolar Affective Disorder used to be called Manic Depression. It affects from 1 – 2% of the population and affects men and women equally. Average age of onset is 15 – 25 years. It is difficult to diagnose, often co-occurs with a broad assortment of physical ailments and causes great distress for sufferers and their families.

People are often confused by this illness but it’s not too difficult to understand.

How many times have you woke up in a great mood. Your feet touch the floor and you know it’s going to be an amazing day. The traffic lights change as you approach and the lettuce you buy is always sweet.

Conversely, we have all had those days…you know you’ve had them, where you wake knowing it’s a miserable day. You’re grumpy and out of sorts and hate everything. Nothing goes your way, and everything irritates you.

Bipolar affective disorder looks like this:

For the sake of a simple discussion, let’s assume that the normal range of emotion occurs between 2 and 4 on the scale above. Those great days are 4 on the scale. But those other days are on 2. Most of us fluctuate between 2.5 and 3.5. (Remember I’m using a graph to demonstrate this disorder, NOT to suggest numerical ranges for our feelings.) When people have manic episodes, their highs go above the best that we feel. On the graph, these are the points 5 and 6. When people have depression, their moods drop below those bad days into another realm.

These cycles are beyond the control of the individual going through them. Talking, directives and therapy are not solutions for this disorder. It requires medication and extreme attentiveness to the person’s health and well being. But sometimes neither of these work and the individual goes through a repeated cycle of hospitalization and release.

The length of a cycle is measured from one peak or valley, to the next Rarely a person will cycle only once in a lifetime but more likely cycle several times per year.

By the way, the graph represents balanced cycles of the illness, but some people remain manic for much longer than they are in depression or vice versa.

Bipolar affective disorder is extremely hard to diagnose. It never goes away. (At best, medication is used to control the symptoms.)

If you look at the line above, you will notice that on the way from mania (a peak) an individual’s mood or affect will settle and move through normal into depression. Ditto on the way back up. People with this disorder show long periods of time when their behavior appears normal. And is. But these times are misleading, because they are simply part of the process of the disease. Up and down, alwaus passing through normal in each cycle. But of course the time spent within that normal range is determined by the length of each cycle.

At the extreme, Mania is the cycle of the illness that usually gets the most attention. In this phase, behavior is often publicly disordered. Symptoms include extremely high energy (feeling high), little if any sleep, rapid firing speech, increased sexual drive, increased recklessness without regard for the consequences, grandiosity and major thought disturbances. It is in this stage that people may read a book faster than they can turn the pages, or take off their clothes and dance down Main Street in the middle of rush hour. This is the time they ‘realize’ that the local pawn shop is mistakenly selling real diamonds for next to nothing and they will beg, borrow or steal money to buy all of them in every pawn shop in town. They may start binge drinking, drugging and eating. Or sleeping with anyone available. They may talk extremely fast and becoming extremely cunning and sly. Extreme drinking and drug use may also happen in a manic stage. Periods of extreme creativity are also common – paintings, books and musical scores often come from these periods, although their quality can be questionable. Ironically it is this ‘high’ that patients hate to give up. They feel accomplished, productive and super-capable in the manic stage.

When the body and brain are exhausted, the individual’s mood starts to slide down into normal. Often at this time, remorse, embarrassment and humiliation are common and sometimes overwhelming. Inevitibly depression takes over and the individual is full of self loathing and hopelessness. Suicide ideation or attempts happen at the bottom of the depressive stage, which mimics depression that is more common in society.

Psychosis, hallucinations and delusions may occur at either end of the spectrum.

Also, remember I’m talking generalities and clear, delineated stages, which isn’t how it happens. But I think it helps for understanding.

Treatment includes a regimen of psychotropic medication (drugs for the brain) and stress management. A friend of mine has this illness. As long as he is absolutely rigid about his sleep, exercise, nutrition and creative practices, he can live a productive and happy life. He has three teenaged children and is actively involved in their lives. He’s happily married too. But he is very clear, his mental health comes first. But remember, we don’t know where his illness lies on the continuum of mental health and illness. And his rigidity may not help the next person with BAD.

As always, people with this illness have a chemical imbalance in their brains that drives them to behave in ways that cause them and their loved ones embarrassment, shame and loss. But the next time you see someone behaving like this, say a prayer and send kind thoughts. If they could behave differently, they would.

There is some thought that this illness can show up in children as young as six. But in this situation, the cycles are usually hourly and the mania is expressed as rage. The problem is that none of the meds used to treat adults have been approved for children.

Another friend has a little girl who put her fists through walls at seven. She had been expelled from school because when she cycled, they couldn’t protect her or the other students.

Diagnosis took a long time (in part because of the illness and in part because psyciatrists are often loath to ‘label’ someone so young). But eventually they found the right meds and she settled down, becoming a normal, sensitive, happy little girl. She was a different child. Truly an amazing turn-around.

After eighteen months, the physical side effects of the medication were more serious than the illness so she was taken off them. Within weeks she was behaving in the same old ways with one exception: this time she knew how different her behavior was and why the other kids called her crazy. And then, this gorgeous little girl actively tried to take her life not once but twice.

She is twelve now and going through adolesence while dealing with the disease which is subdued by meds but not controlled. Their home is difficult, at best. A prayer for them would be appreciated.

Credit for fact verification and additional information is available at:

Do you know anyone with this illness? Have you seen this behavior?


7 Ways to Manage Your Life and Reduce Stress

Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 35 comments

I have had an amazing response to my posts about burnout. Turns out that I’m part of a big group of people who are caught in the same chains. There is so much that needs to be done and so little time to get it all done. To make matters worse, Christmas is around the corner and we all know what that means. (By the way, I have 3 gifts hiding upstairs. YAY!)

I did some research and came up with a list of things to help me manage my life if I start feeling overwhelmed. some of them are fairly easy, but others…not so much. And yes, you have my permission to remind me of this post if it seems like I’m failing in the application of these simple steps.

1. Make a list of all the things you have to do.

I have discovered Evernote and I LOVE it. It’s on my phone and both home and work computers. It is searchable by tags, so I make the list of things I need to do and tag it with the current date, to do list and overwhelm. Best of all, I can put a little box beside each item and then I can tick that item off when it’s completed.

For some reason, I have more success creating this list when I’m at work. I will take a break and sit down in front of my work PC and start to come up with the items that need doing. Because I’m not at home (where these items need to be done) they come more easily to me. And because the list is everywhere, I can add to it whenever I want.

2. Sort and Prioritize the list.

I sort the list by areas. Mine usually include household items (fix the toilet or change lightbulbs), writing items (pages, edit a book as a beta reader, write a blog etc.), errands (buy a cartridge for my printer or lightbulbs) and things for my therapy practice (look up something, renew my membership in one of my professional associations) etc. I put those into a priority list. So if I’m getting company, the household tasks might take priority, but a deadline might mean i have to put writing first. And then, within the topics, I prioritize my lists. Yes, I have to write pages, but if I’m feeling behind on my beta reading, it nags on me and confounds my new writing. So I may decide to finish the beta read in a massive dose and get it off my plate.
3. Most of this type of lists talks about the importance of stopping activities that don’t move you forward and saying ‘no’ to future requests. That is often much easier said than done for most of us. But I have learned that if I dread going to a meeting and am relieved when it’s over and am delighted to leave, even though I like everyone there, it’s time for me to resign. This kind of activity sucks the life and energy out of me and drains every bit of creativity I’ve got. So it’s importnat to stop when isn’t feeding my soul and use that time for me.

4. Determine how to attack your list. Some of us need to get the ugliest jobs off our list first. Others need to create a success experience, so do the easier or more pleasant things first. In truth, it doesn’t matter. Simply approach it in the way that works for you. Not sure? Then try one way and make notes aobut your reaction. If you’re doing the ugly things and still upset and aggravated, then best you do the easie, more pleasant items first.

5.If you are wedded to your planner, put these items in your planner with start and duration times. If you’re not, then the list works great.

6. Determine what will give you the most reward and biggest bang for your efforts. Are you a race through and get it done kind of person or are you more likely to finish the list if you take regular breaks. You get to figure this out and then work in that way. There’s no right way and you may find success using alternate methods at different times.
7. Are you the type of person who needs to pray about the list? Meditate? Journal? Great. Go for it. But if you’re not, that’s okay too. The goal is simply to get through your list so you can reduce your stress and maintain some peace of mind.


Schizophrenia – Maligned and Misunderstood

Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 31 comments

How many times have you watched television and the villain has schizophrenia? Or worse (cue drum roll here) he has paranoid schizophrenia.

Sheesh, get a grip and find an illness that is somewhat probable. Schizophrenia occurs in less than 1% of the population worldwide. I’m not saying that people with this illness don’t get violent. Some do, the same as pastors, ministers, doctors and shrinks. But it’s not nearly as common as writers would have us believe.

The illness usually begins in the teens or early adulthood, although a later onset is not impossible. (My girlfriend’s daughter, a professional woman, was diagnosed in her 40’s.

I think because this illness is so grossly misunderstood, it is frightening. Hopefully I can shed a little light on the disease and its symptoms.

First of all, Schizophrenia does NOT mean split personality. There’s another illness to account for multiple personalities residing in the same body. Schizophrenia is a chronic illness that will affect an individual’s functioning in many areas of life. I say likely because this disease, like any other, occurs on a continuum from very mild to very serious. The severity of the illness is a major factor in determining if or what medications are given and what support is required.

Schizophrenia is characterized by serious disruption in thinking and feeling, affecting the basic elements of human experience: language, thought, perception, affect (expression of emotion), and our sense of self.

Diagnosing this illness requires a look at the symptoms it adds (for example hallucinations) and the symptoms that remove a slice of ‘normal’ behavior (this could be the facial and physical expression of emotion). In shrink language, these are called positive and negative symptoms.

Scizophrenia requires a multi-level diagnosis, but to ensure I don’t write a book, I’m going to talk about the first level today. Diagnosis requires that two or more of the following must be present for a significant part of a month. Additionally, at least one of the first three must be included.

What are the symptoms of this illness? Just reading them sounds scary, so bear with me:

  1.  Delusions

Delusions are, quite simply, false beliefs, or beliefs that appear false to the majority of the culture. This is where many people indulge in discussions of what is normal. Perhaps the person is ‘seeing’ the truth and the rest of us can’t see that because a part of our brain isn’t evolved enough or we’re not spiritual enough or whatever…take your pick of reasons. Those possibilities are true. But since many people share similar delusions this doesn’t seem likely. Although, I have to admit the delusion that the government is watching me and tracking my movements may have some validity in this post 9/11 world.

Are these spiritual experiences?  Could be but remember the diagnosis of Schizophrenia is multi-tiered and must be accompanied by more than the presence of delusions.

2.  Hallucinations

Hallucinations can occur for many reasons other than Schizophrenia. For example, fevers, stress, and medications can all contribute to them. What are they? They are the presence of visions, voices or sounds, touch, smells or tastes that are not present to anyone else. Did you notice the five senses? Give yourself a gold star. Hallucinations can occur as any or all of the senses.

I used to wonder why a person having an auditory  hallucination wouldn’t simply look around. I mean if you’re hearing voices and no one is there, isn’t that a clue that this is a mind problem? A client once explained it to me this way: hallucinations are processed through the same physiological mechanism that the real thing is processed through. So for someone having an incident, he ‘hears’ voices through his auditory nerves, and ‘sees’ angels through the optic nerve. He can’t tell the difference. Imagine a life where you really didn’t know if anything was real?  Absolutely terrifying, in my opinion.

3.  Disorganized Speech

Disorganized speech is often considered to be a reflection of the thoughts of the individual. It includes speech that is garbled, erratic jumping from topic to topic and using made up words. These make the individual hard to understand.

4.  Grossly abnormal psychomotor behavior, including catatonia

Abnormal psychomotor behavior manifests in a number of ways. For example, it might show up as inactivity as a result of being in a stupor. Or as mania. Or it might show in the body as extreme flexibility or rigidity of the limbs.

5.   Negative symptoms

Negative symptoms include a wide array of behaviors that psychiatrists look for to diagnose Schizophrenia.

These might include any of the following:

  •  lack of emotion – the inability to enjoy regular activities (visiting with friends, etc.) as much as before
  • Low energy – the person tends to sit around and sleep much more than normal
  • lack of interest in life, low motivation
  • Affective flattening – a blank, blunted facial expression or less lively facial movements, flat voice (lack of normal intonations and variance) or physical movements.
  • difficulty or inability to speak
  • Inappropriate social skills or lack of interest or ability to socialize with other people
  • Inability to make friends or keep friends, or not caring to have friends
  • Social isolation – person spends most of the day alone or only with close family

This is a complicated illness. Diagnosis is complicated (more on this in a subsequent post) and getting the right medication in the right dosage can be a nightmare. Additionally, people with Schizophrenia are highly vulnerable to stress, which can make a managed illness unmanageable, seemingly overnight.

Imagine this: you’ve been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and you’re coping. Your meds are working and all is well. But then something happens: a parent gets sick, you get evicted from your apartment, someone starts to bully you. That additional stress is enough to push hormones and chemicals into the brain at an astounding rate. When that happens, usually the medications stop being effective and you are back to square one, often hospitalized for treatment of an illness you no longer know you have.

This is an insidious disease. My friend’s daughter, who was diagnosed in her 40’s is very astute. And she has coped with Schizo-affective disorder (schizophrenia and bi-polar affective disorder together) extraordinarily well.  But she told me a story that happened to her late one night that I’d like to share:

She was sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee and talking with her boyfriend. They put the cigarette butts in a ‘can’ and put water in it, to ensure there was no risk of fire. Then they dumped the can in the toilet and flushed it. Tidied u the kitchen and he went on his way.

An hour later, she was sound asleep when she dreamed she smelled smoke. She jumped out of bed and went running to the kitchen, the only room she smokes in. Searching frantically, she didn’t see a cigarette burning anywhere. The ‘smoke can’ was under the sink, empty and washed out as it should be and their coffee cups had been washed and put away. But the voices took over and told her that a butt was burning in her apartment and if she didn’t find it, the entire ten storey apartment building would burn down and everyone would die.

So she tore her apartment apart. Finally five hours later, with every drawer emptied, the frig and stove pulled out, she accepted that this was a hallucination and called 911. Clearly, for no reason she’s been able to discern, the illness had taken a turn and she needed her meds adjusted.

So let’s stop making people with Schizophrenia the likely suspect for everything imaginable. Violent tendencies in this group are no higher than in the rest of the population. I think they’ve been maligned enough.

For more information, please visit: which also provided the list of negative symptoms.

Do you know anyone with Schizophrenia? Have any experience with the illness?  What do you think?



What Will Tomorrow Bring? A Day With My Mother

Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Louise Behiel, mental health | 37 comments

Who knew what was coming?

I didn’t. I assumed that lots of the stuff my mother shared was simply because that’s how she was.  She didn’t ever talk about menopause so I assumed women of my family didn’t have any problem with the change of life. (Boy was I wrong.)

At some point, things changed a lot in my life. My eyesight started to decline. The convergence of a late in life separation, unemployment and buying a house overlaid with menopause sent my memory away – and I still haven’t found it all.

I’m learning coping strategies and alternate cues and yes I’m doing fine. And no one thinks I look my age, which is always a good thing.

My mother is eighty-two. She is two years post a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. She’s been on a number of medications and while each has helped her short term memory, their side effects have diminished her quality of life enough that we’ve taken her off them. It looks as if this last prescription might be the right one. She’s calmer and less prone to anxiety attacks. And she’s not nearly as confused as she was.

At the recommendation of her doctor, she signed a Personal Directive, which is legal speak for a legal document giving someone else the right to make her decisions, if that becomes medically necessary. So whenever she has a medical issue, she calls me, because I’m her agent. The irony of this is that she and I have never been particularly close. Yes, we’ve maintained a relationship but I have felt much closer to other women my mom’s age – women who are dynamic and active. But I am her agent and I am responsible.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I’m a hero, so this isn’t difficult – one of my traits is that I can be counted on to complete whatever needs to be done.

Mom called this morning before work to say she’d fallen. I immediately asked her some questions to determine how she was and to ensure she could follow the conversation, because she’s had two strokes. Small ones, but-. Rather than going to work, I drove to her house, about thirty minutes away. She was scared and crying but we got things organized. I left a note for homecare, got her to brush her hair and her teeth (and then put them in) and borrowed a wheelchair. We went to Urgent Care and checked in.

And waited.

And waited.

One hour.




They slipped an examination by a doctor in there and an x-ray. And we waited.

My mother alternately worried and waited. Anxiety clawed at her. At times she couldn’t remember more than her name and the pain in her foot. She got confused about which facility we were at. She always knew she was with me (losing recognition of her family is coming but it’s not here yet), but she couldn’t remember what had happened to her foot.

We’d forgotten about breakfast and it was well past lunch by the time we were finished.

But all is well. Probably a cracked bone in her foot. No cast. No pain meds. No follow up unless it gets really sore.

It was the longest time I’ve spent alone with Mom in a long time. I saw her frustration at not being able to remember. I saw her obliviousness to her memory status. I felt her panic – at times it was palpable. And I saw how far she’s gone down this path.

It’s not pretty. And it definitely takes a lot of courage to get up every day while the whole world knows you’re going to lose another fragment of your past. Today she knew me. But I’m not so sure about tomorrow. Or the day after.



My Latest Release, Family Lies is the Featured Book Today

Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 2 comments

My latest release is featured on Cathie Dunn’s site.  Hope you’ll take a look…



I’m Not Crazy! Are You Crazy?

Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Louise Behiel, mental health | 50 comments

Mental health is a tenuous thing. We all want it. And yet many of us struggle with it every day. Think of the people you know who suffer from anxiety or depression.  The numbers are staggering.  Officially one in five of us will experience a mental illness at some time in our lives. The other 4 of us will be impacted by someone who is mentally ill.

So what is it?  First of all, mental illness isn’t one thing. It’s a continuum of health. For mental health, it would look like this:


The presence of good mental health doesn’t preclude the presence of a mild mental illness.  That’s a spot on the conundrum that’s hard to get my head around, but I think of it this way: maybe I have an anxiety disorder  and maybe I’m on medication for that illness but I’m coping with it well.  That would suggest I have decent mental health (on the upright axis) along with the presence of a managed mental illness (the middle of the horizontal axis).

There’s been an interesting shift in medicine as researchers try to focus on promoting mental health, rather than treating mental illness.

We all think we know what mental illness is. (By the way, the new proposed name is mental disorder.) After all, we see it in people walking on the streets, dirty and unkempt and talking to themselves. But it’s much more than that.

Officially, mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning. and Health Canada, Report on Mental Illness, 2002.

DSM 5 defines it this way: A Mental Disorder is a health condition characterized by significant dysfunction in an individual’s cognitions, emotions, or behaviors that reflects a disturbance in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Some disorders may not be diagnosable until they have caused clinically significant distress or impairment of performance. 

What a lot of words. Here’s my simple definition: A Mental Illness or Disorder is a disruption of the chemistry or biology of the brain that shows up or manifests in behaviour. Simply put, because of a change in our brains, our behaviour changes and may no longer be acceptable to those around us.

Mental illness is a huge problem in our society. And it’s made worse by our fears and misunderstandings about these disorders. We have a tendency to blame the person for their behaviours. After all, we are responsible for what we do, right?

We think (or say) get over it. If you’re feeling bad, get out of bed and do something. Before you know it, you’ll be back to normal. But what if a slight change in the levels of the neurotransmitters in your brain made facing the day impossible? What if those same chemicals that make thinking and feeling possible didn’t work quite right and the result was paranoia (great fear) or anxiety (lesser but still big fear).

We wouldn’t dream of telling someone who just had radiation or chemotherapy to get up and walk it off – they’ll feel better sooner. And yet, this is often what happens to those with depression.

When someone has a heart problem, we don’t blame them. But when someone hears voices or puts tinfoil on their windows, we often do. Yet the cause of both is physical. And the latter one does not have blood tests or urinalysis to determine what it is

I don’t want you to think I’m giving a ‘bye’ for bad behaviour to everyone who claims a mental illness. I’m not. But please consider that mental illness can be caused by biology, genetics, family stress and environmental stress.  Specifically, medicine thinks that the causes of mental disorders include:

  • Genetics: Occurrence in a relative or family history
  • Certain serious infections
  • Brain injuries, including those occurring pre-natal
  • Substance abuse (both a disorder and a cause)
  • Environmental trauma
  • Psychological trauma
  • Age (almost half of all mental illnesses start by age 14)
  • Sex (each gender has particular susceptibilities),
  • substance abuse,
  • chronic diseases,
  • family, workplace, life event stresses

In a previous career, I was a therapist providing support to families with an adult with mental illness. They came to my group for knowledge, understanding and hope. I was able to provide lots of the first two and a reasonable dose of the third.

One of the most heart-warming stories that was shared with us was a woman who was a tenured university professor, as was her husband. Their oldest son was completing a Ph.D at Harvard and the youngest was a double major in Honors Math and Music in his third year of his Bachelor’s Degree. Altogether a very accomplished family.

She came to group because she was frustrated with the medical system. She felt they were encouraging her youngest son, who had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, to throw his life away. Give up school and chill out. She did NOT agree.

But after five weeks with us, fighting and resisting the implication of his diagnosis, she came to us in tears. She and her son had gone walking on the weekend. She commented that she was so glad the year was almost over (it was early December) since it had been the worst year of her life.

He totally disagreed saying it was the best year ever. When she questioned him about his sentiment, given that he’s spent four weeks in a psychiatric unit, he said this; “Mom, I’ve been hearing voices for at least eight years. I thought I was going crazy. Instead I’ve found out a have a disease – a terrible one, but just a disease. I can get treatment and medication and come much closer to living a normal life.

<deep breath here>

He understood. With treatment there’s hope. With stigma, there’s nothing but shame.

I don’t claim any particular expertise in Abnormal Psychology and I will do my best to keep it simple, but I hope you will join me as we explore the realms of the mind and how it affects our behavior.






In Memorium: September 11, 2001

Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Louise Behiel | 36 comments

This video captures my thoughts and feelings on that day.

Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

(in case there’s a problem this video is at

On my way to work, I heard on the radio that a plane had hit the tower. I  logged into CNN. I read the headline and then got booted out.

And I couldn’t get back in.  Not any news site. Not anywhere.

My boss came in about an hour later and gave me the latest news. She asked me to go buy a television so we could watch the news all day. And that’s what we did. We sat around a 15 inch television in the reception area and watched the news – on every channel, both Canadian and American.

In Calgary, some of us volunteered to put up American travellers stranded in Calgary. Some of us attended prayer vigils. Some of us prayed at home.

I was glued to the television. I watched all day and all evening. I even slept on the sofa bed in the living room so that I fell asleep with CNN and woke with it too.

I cried when the American Congress and Senate representatives stood on the Capital Hill stairs and sang.

I was shocked by some people’s behavior. And moved by others. And I cried.

In May of 2003 I went to New York. On the two-tiered bus tour, the guide told us that we were approaching a rescue operation and we were expected to be silent and remain in our seats. No pictures were to be taken.

We didn’t. But I cried

The next day, I went to the platform and looked at the site. I walked around the church next to the platformt. I cried at all the caps, badges, emblems and flags on the fence. I marvelled that the church hadn’t been damaged, given the desecration across the street. And I cried.

I looked at the flyers of missing people and shivered at the depth of the hole on Broadway. And I cried.

I haven’t been able to watch any of the movies and very few of the documentaries. It’s all just too painful. Occasionally I watch a bit of the memorial services, but not often. Because I cry.

Everytime I think of the survivors, families and friends; everytime I think of the horror…I cry.

This was an American tragedy. But it was a global loss. We hurt and we prayed and we cried.

A lot of years have passed, but it still hurts. I don’t talkvery much about my reaction and feelings during that time. How the pain still lingers. It is a tragic reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

And makes me wonder if we will ever learn.

God Bless, my American friends. Go in peace.