Barfing on your relatives:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

How do you reverse an event that you had no control over but which had devastating consequences? Let me explain: the last time my family was invited to my in-law’s house was four years ago. It was a big deal- my grandfather-in-law’s eightieth birthday, as well as Thanksgiving. Their whole side of the family was there. They’d had a very expensive chocolate statue cake made for the occasion. At the moment of the toast, I suddenly gagged, spewing champagne all over the table, cake and party goers. I was mortified. They were disgusted… but they ate the cake!!! The family had gone to great expense and effort to get it. It was delicious despite the spew but I think their disgust was burned into their memory and “swallowed.” Their politeness sealed my fate and excommunication from all future events.

I do not know what to do. It wasn’t my fault. I did not do it on purpose.

Al Full

Dear Al,

Disgust can be visceral and you have been linked with this awful sensation. Intellectually everyone knows it wasn’t your fault and they probably forgive you; yet the sight of you probably turns their stomach and makes them want to vomit. This is a classic conditioning response.

In order to change this you have to use Pavlov conditioning to your advantage. You need to invite them to something simple and pleasurable and not sneeze, vomit or fart on them! After a few times the old conditioned response will be broken. If they refuse to go you will need to get creative. You may need to arrange something elaborate at your own expense. I wouldn’t bring up the disastrous event for many years. Some day in time it will be funny. Embarrassments work that way.

Good luck, maybe Granny has some ideas for you to try?

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: OMG. If it had been me at the table, I probably would feel the same way. For the first time in many years, Granny is almost at a loss for an answer, probably because she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and she knows how relentless bad memories can be. However, perhaps I can give some practical advice from this very perspective. My first thought is- don’t provide them with any triggers! This would be anything that was present at the time of the incident. If you ever get these people in the same house with you again, don’t have it be for Thanksgiving, don’t have any similar decorations, and make sure nothing you are serving smells like anything they might remember from the fateful Spew Day, because smells can trigger buried responses and PTSD more than anything else. Above all DO NOT SERVE CAKE. In fact, you might want to arrange a get together at a basketball game or the beach…some sort of atmosphere that is the bipolar opposite of a Thanksgiving Day celebration.

But if these people resist all of your efforts, don’t push it. You’ve survived the last four years without being invited to the in-law’s. You can survive many more.

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keyboard Elitists

keyboard Elitists

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Where am I?

Where am I?

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Why an antidepressant for anxiety?

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

My brother is like crazy anxious but when he went to see a shrink he put him on an antidepressant? I don’t get it? He is not depressed?

His Sister

Dear Sister,

The volume control of human emotion is a chemical in the brain called serotonin. When its low emotions are “O-My God,” loud. When serotonin is high emotions are quieted down. There really is no such thing as an antidepressant as the medications that affect serotonin are not specific for sadness but as they increase serotonin they turn down emotion, all emotion. That’s why when people are on to much of a serotonin medication they complain of feeling numb or having no emotion.

Your brother received a serotonin antidepressant for anxiety. The antidepressant thing is just marketing because ‘Numbing Agent’ doesn’t sound as pleasant.

Serotonin antidepressants can help anxiety in a few other ways as well. Many people are anxious because they have heightened empathy. If you feel the pain of others to much you get too invested in it and it can make you feel worse than the person you believe is suffering feels themselves. Serotonin antidepressants block empathy so they help you to not get enmeshed in other peoples stuff. They help you from living in other people’s heads.

Serotonin antidepressants decrease obsessive thoughts and perfectionism which is a huge cause of anxiety for people. Again giving one distance from emotions you get a tad Zen from the pill, “Whatever.”

In rare cases people can have the opposite reaction from antidepressants. If a person has bipolar genetics serotonin can be like rocket fuel agitating them. Serotonin antidepressants in rare cases can also be disinhibiting. Disinhibition plus agitation can fuel the increased risk of suicide that you read so much about these days from taking serotonin antidepressants. Again this is rare but it is possible.

Hope your brother is feeling better,

Dr. Brilliant Cliché.

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Math on the mind:

Math on the mind

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Magical thinking persistence into adulthood:

Magical thinking persistence into adulthood.

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There is a lack of joy in my life:

There is a lack of joy in my life

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A missed Good deed:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I was working with kids at a children’s hospital today. On the way out, I found myself standing next to a woman, waiting for an elevator in a deserted side hallway.
The elevator took forever to come and after a minute I noticed that the woman was silently crying. I felt so badly for her, but I didn’t want to intrude.
Crying is a very personal thing. So I remained silent.

On the way out to my car, I wondered, did I do the right thing? I really wanted to reach out to her in some way, even if to simply say
“I’m so sorry for your pain.” But I was a stranger. It might upset her just to have me comment. Yet I wished there was some way to let her know I cared.
Deep sorrow can be such a lonely thing. It felt cold to just walk away.

What is the best thing to do in such circumstances?

Emme Pathy

Dear Emme,

Your instincts were good. “I’m so sorry for your pain,” would have been nice. But if you had offered this compassion you would also have had to be willing to listen if she needed to pour her heart out to you. If you aren’t going to be there for that it is best you don’t offer in the first place. I wouldn’t obsess over the missed opportunity. She probably didn’t notice you at all.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: people have very different ways of reacting to and dealing with emotional pain. Some individuals actually get angry if their feelings are commented upon and resent any intrusion. Many people absolutely hate to cry in public and would be acutely embarrassed if you made any remarks about their tears. Others sorely need to be comforted. When the person involved is a total stranger I would go by the cues that they are giving out. An adult who turns away and is trying to hide their tears wants to be left alone. But if that same adult looks at you, and especially if they make deliberate eye contact, they need your help and if you want the job, it is yours. In the case of an accident or disaster scene, all bets are off. If you see someone sobbing, go to them immediately, if you can, and make certain they aren’t hurt. Give them any comfort you can and get them to safety if it is in your power. Obviously if there is a possibility of contagions, you would think twice before going near a person in distress. You have to use common sense. If a small child is alone and crying, no matter what the situation, you must go to them and determine if there is a problem.

Some people were abused as children and become terrified if anyone tries to physically comfort them. It is an unfortunate pattern of most abusers to follow their inflictions of pain with exaggerated remorse.

If one of your friends is crying, you will know what to do far better than if they were a stranger. Many of the people we are close to will simply not allow us to see them cry if they don’t need comfort. If they are in visible distress, whether they are turned away or not, they probably need you, even if they can’t admit it.

There is no general rule of thumb regarding sadness and comfort, but one thing is certain- it is important to be sensitive to the situation and to think before you blurt something out. Sometimes, the kindest thing is just leave a person be, to grieve in their own way.

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A million other you’s :

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I’m struggling to achieve a tenured position in a very difficult field- classical music. I have been working as a freelancer for many years, but most of the time, I had to work a technical job in order to pay the bills and have any type of security. Last year, I left the job and instead of trying to find another one, I decided to give the tenure one last shot. I know that this is my last chance; I’m in my mid-forties.

The biggest problem I have is emotional- I try not to get bitter when other musicians who don’t have nearly the experience I do, defeat me in final auditions.
I will deliver what I know is a technically perfect performance, yet I am ignored by the people who are in the position to hire. Many of the musicians who have secured full time permanent jobs with benefits are older than I am, so it can’t just be age.

I live alone and I get zero support from my parents, and I think this is part of the missing piece. I believe in myself, but it is all a struggle. The musicians I see in the symphonies have a natural self-confidence, and that I feel missing. I believe in myself but I wish someone else would too.

I need to get some joy into my playing but I am drowning in bitterness. I feel that I’m never going to succeed if I can’t get over this problem.
Any suggestions that don’t involve years of therapy? I don’t have the funds or the time for it.

Stan Musical

Dear Stan,

I know a number of musicians who are in the same situation that you are. Many of them have given up music completely for other fields that have better prospects. You might be the most gregarious man alive and it might not make a lick of difference when it comes to obtaining your goal. Unfortunately there are hundreds of people applying for very few positions. It is the same for tenured positions in every field. Taking it personally will only get you a trip to the hospital with heart failure or a stroke.

Sure, it is always a good idea to be personable but the world doesn’t necessarily reward hard work and steady effort as we all were told. There are a million other musicians who want the same thing and put forth the same or more effort. The world rewards creativity and flash. If you do something entirely different, such as develop a U-tube video that’s catchy and cool and goes viral, you might get your position. You would be known and being known matters. It doesn’t hurt to take “this last stab” but if it doesn’t pan out don’t take it personally and make music your love and hobby and get a steady paying job in some other area of music or something else.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: there’ve been a lot of assumptions made here, and a great deal of misunderstanding. First, let me clear this up: Youtube is not going to help Stan. Viral, catchy and cool is great if you have an idiosyncratic musical style and want a cult following. It won’t help you land a permanent job in a classical orchestra. Those are elite positions that are grounded in artistry and an incredible number of hours of playing. Classical music is never an overnight sensation. There can be as many politics involved as with a campaign for the presidency.

There’s another matter I must address. Here’s something that non-artists just don’t understand- there is a HUGE difference between someone who “enjoys” playing music or creating art, and a true, driven artist. It’s like the difference between an occasional babysitter who likes playing with kids, and a full time mom. Telling a true artist to put their drive aside for practical reasons is pointless. You would be better off spending your time trying to convince a gay guy that he should marry a woman and forget about men because his life will be easier. Don’t waste your breath! We each are what we are, and different things matter to each of us. Yes, someone who is a hobbyist or play-for-fun musician can let it go, get the job, and dabble in their spare time. But a true artist, someone who has that strong relentless drive, would rather die. The so-called practical “security” which Dr. B describes would be like a coffin to them. It has no value or meaning. I can’t think of a more sure fire road to alcoholism, addiction and depression. In my book, a guy who is in his mid-forties and single has already come to understand that safe and normal is not his goal. There is a voice in your head that will not be quieted. You know who you are. Go down fighting.

But I think I understand what your problem is, and what is holding you back, Stan. You are thinking that the natural self-confidence you observe in the stars of your profession is an aspect of personality. It is not. Pay attention. It’s not simply that they play well…it’s that their art has become such a part of them, they forget they are even playing. There is nothing but the music, and they are carried by it. They are not self-confident; they have passed beyond their mere selves. This is the place that you have to get to if you want to be at the top of the classic field and land a coveted spot in an elite orchestra. You have to be so good that you forget yourself. Right now, that’s all you can think of- your limitations, the guys who beat you, and the handicaps that are holding you back. Forget that crap. Just get to be that good.

If you try and fail, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you you’re good enough to have had steady freelance work, you are already better than most people would even dream of being. There are smaller ponds where you can be the big fish. If you try for the top and fail, you are still so much further along because of that effort. And if what you really love is to play, trust me…people will always recognize your quality.

You have my blessing to go charge at those windmills.

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Baby you were born to run:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I feel angry just about all the time. I’m seventeen and my parents keep treating me like I’m a kid and acting like they are the authority on everything just because they are older. In the meantime, they act like idiots- secretive habits, lying, and bad decisions right and left. But they get to tell me what to do because legally I’m not an adult yet.

OK, so all of that makes me angry and then my parents accuse me of being sullen and withdrawn and now they want to force me to go to therapy. I don’t need therapy. My friend Jim went to therapy and they insisted on putting him on antidepressants and now he’s like a zombie. I just need to get out of this house so that I don’t have to deal with their hypocrisy. My mom drinks and I’m pretty sure my dad is fooling around because he never comes home.

I applied to four colleges and didn’t get accepted at three, now I have my fingers crossed waiting for the last reply. I’ll get a job and figure it all out later if I have to. How do I get out of here without getting my brain screwed with even more? I have nine full months before I reach eighteen.

Uneven Steven

Dear Steven,

It is not just the cards we’re dealt but how we play the game that matters. Sometime we get crappy cards. That is nothing we can do anything about. But that handicap can also be used as motivation to learn how not to make the same mistakes. Many teens look at their parent’s lives and say, “holly crap!” But your parents were probably thinking that about their own parents when they were your age. Unless you learn new skills, change your assumptions and let go of the anger, you could end up like they did, with your kids saying the same things about you. The only way to make life better is to live a better life.

Psychiatry today says that addiction and other psychological disorders are all genetics and you’re shit out of luck. I think that’s B.S. Humans learn through role modeling so the skills you currently have will steer you towards your parents’ life. That isn’t genetic, and there are no medications that will fix that. If you want something better, find role models who got it right. Counseling might help if you learn to ask good questions. If you really can’t get beyond your feelings, medication can help you tone them down. Yes, go to college and live there! But don’t drink, drug, or smoke pot as the deck is already stacked against you. According to AA, people, places and things matter. Find people and activities that challenge your mind set, not feed into it. It is not easy to change the script you were born into. It takes courage, humility, integrity, persistence and patience. Good luck. Many fail, but if you keep asking good questions you have a fighting chance. I suggest that you read: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. It sums this all up well.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: My sister is always angry. I realize it’s because she has emotional disorders, but at the same time, I don’t like being in the same room with her. I can’t talk with her easily, laugh or make jokers. She jumps on innocent remarks I make and decides I am making jabs at her when in fact I meant nothing of the kind.

The problem with being angry all the time is that it alters the emotional charge in everyone around you. Whether you have a legitimate reason or not, anger is a very destructive emotion to those who carry it. Anger draws other anger, for anger always both invites and seeks a target. The best reason to get your anger under control is because it is going to screw up your life if you don’t and it is going to repel good energy from ever reaching you.

Your parents may be idiots, but Dr. Brilliant is right. They probably started out thinking their own parents were idiots too. Most teenagers do. None of this is significant in the long run. What is important is how you live your own life.

My grandson gets angry and bounces off the walls if he doesn’t go to martial arts classes and play sports. It’s because he is full of energy looking for a good use. I suggest you find a constructive outlet for your energy and leave your parents to ruin their own lives.

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