Monday, November 23, 2009

Cat Ownership Metaphor

Like emotions, when a cat’s needs aren’t being met, they will let you know. This desperate attempt at communicating may be quite unpleasant, as cats (emotions) have a limited capacity for communicating with their owners. You may be clawed at, jumped on, or left with copious amounts of bodily fluids on your living room floor.

The important thing to remember is that your cat is not doing these things simply to aggravate you. They are just trying to let you know something isn’t working for them. Also like emotions, cats can not be ignored (one person, literally, suggested the option of putting a cat down if they had become a nuisance, which I vehemently disagreed with, literally and metaphorically). You have to live with them.

You might be able to take a brief reprieve by putting the cat outside or in another room for awhile (this could refer to any distress tolerance techniques), but eventually they will scratch at the door demanding to be let back into your company.

On the positive side of this metaphor, cats can be very tender, loving, warm, and playful companions.

However, in order for felines to function in full capacity, one needs to figure out the specific favour being requested. In the literal sense, this might be accomplished through any type of therapy or personal introspection.

If the issue has been left for too long before being attended to, the work in remedying the situation (cleaning up the copious amounts of bodily fluids) can be unpleasant. And one can easily become disgruntled if after cleaning up a mess, the cat repeats the same unwanted behaviour (this might mean one has tried a particular coping strategy, and found it successful, only to have their original issue resurface). But all this means is that more work needs to be done in identifying the problem. It could also mean that the problem has been identified, but the remedy is a process rather than a one time fix (such as if the cat had a bladder infection and required medicine for a few weeks).

If ‘owned’ in a healthy manner, cats will function in a likewise manner. This is not to say they will always behave perfectly, as feline temperaments are subject to situational changes (literally this might be any non-constant stressor such as getting a flat tire during rush hour, etc.), but that they will behave appropriately in stressful situations (instead of urinating on your laundry, they may meow outside of their litter box to let you know it’s time to clean it. A person who has a flat tire may call BCAA instead of getting angry).

And sometimes a cat just needs to be, gently but sternly, taught what the rules are (setting boundaries on your emotions and behaviours).

All in all, when properly tended to, living with cats is an extremely enjoyable experience.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Vitamin Water Update

Original Post Here.

I have received quite a bit of varying information with these drinks. Of course, when dealing with percent daily values there is going to be some fluctuation in recorded measurements. There is also likely to be some variation between flavours.

For this chart, I have physically looked at the labels for Jones 24C, Aqaufina +, and Glaceau and calculated the percent values myself (Jones 24C is a new addition to the chart).

Life Water

Dasani Plus

Aquafina Alive

Aquafina +


Jones 24C






















Total Carbs

















Vitamin A



Vitamin C






Vitamin E







Vitamin B3







Vitamin B5




Vitamin B6







Vitamin B12






Personally, I think Jones has gone a bit overboard; there are risks to consuming too much Vitamin B. And I am quite certain I recorded those numbers correctly, but I feel that something must be off somewhere.

I maintain my previous belief that vitamins come best without sugar, are cheaper as supplements, and tastier as food.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sexy MRIs

Call me a physics geek, but when I learned I was going to be introduced to an MRI machine, I was already giddy. When I finally did meet the object of my amorous affection, it tried to undress me (big magnet plus metal clasps on bra and shirt equals considerable excitement). I thought my love for this massive magnetic force had been consummated the day I went inside of it (it even required me to remove my birth control), but it turns out there are people luckier than me out there.

A 1999 study done by a group of researchers in Holland (Pek van Andel won the Nobel Prize for this work), aimed to examine the anatomy of genitals during intercourse. The second objective, and the one most deserving of funding, was simple curiosity, “To find out whether taking images of the male and female genitals during coitus is feasible…”

The study design was quite interesting. There is an interesting figure in the paper – a sketch drawn by Leonardo da Vinci depicting the anatomy and coital details of intercourse. There are also of course, actual images obtained from the experiment.

There is also a video available.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays can be a particularly lonely time for people. Even for those who look forward to the holidays, they can still be overwhelming. The following is a list of some things that may be helpful.

* Create/buy an especially thoughtful gift for someone who has supported or helped you.

* Do the above for someone random- a person on the street, pick an address from the phone book, or a needy family.

* Donate to charity. Clean out your closet and give what you don’t need to a local shelter.

* Volunteer. Help out in soup kitchens or with the red cross. Spend time with the elderly who might not have family visiting.

* Breathe. Holidays are chaotic and you may be forced to spend time in the company of people you dislike. Take time for yourself. Leave the party to go for a quiet walk. Find an empty room where you can read a book for a while. Sit in your car and listen to music for a few minutes.

* Be nice to people you don’t like.

* Host a dinner for a few people you are close to. Cooking for other people can be very therapeutic (in my case, this oftentimes leads to food poisoning, but the activity of cooking and sharing is still a positive event).

* Take a trip. I don’t encourage people to avoid difficulties, but sometimes you need a break so why not take that trip to Paris during the holidays?

* Exercise. This is something I always recommend, but the holidays can be especially lethargic times so it is important to maintain your exercise regime. Going for a run can also get you of a crowded, or empty, house.

* Make sure you have enough medication if your doctor will be taking time off.

* Remember, you don’t have to listen to Christmas music. At times this may be unavoidable, but in your home you can listen to whatever you like, even on Christmas morning. Some people may weary of the holiday music that is played in stores as early as November 1, so listen to your ipod while shopping.

* Do not feel obligated to anyone to do anything.

* Avoid alcohol.

* Eat nutritious foods as well as the delicious ones. And eat in moderation.

* If people start bickering, say something nice about them or someone they are talking about.

* Accept gifts graciously.

* Keep an emergency plan in place. Know where the hospital is if you’re out of town. Keep a list of friend’s numbers or call lines.

* Don’t abandon your regular activities. Keep doing all the things you normally do to stay healthy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Emotion Regulation Homework Sheet 1 : Observing and Describing Emotions - Revised

The revised worksheet can be downloaded here.

What follows is an adaptation of an exercise taken from the Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan. The skills in this book, as well as any other CBT or DBT book, are not limited to BPD nor are they limited to people suffering from any disorder, but are useful to all people.

My problem with most of this type of homework is that it tends to focus on negative emotions. It is of course important to understand these, but it as at least as important to recognise the positive ones. Even in a deep depression, there will be moments when things aren’t as bad, even if it only lasts a moment. But depression makes it difficult to remember these moments, which is why I think it is important to reinforce them by documenting them (just saying happy words can alleviate some symptoms, even if you don’t believe in them).

So I am beginning a series of revisions to common homework worksheets that encourage the recognition of positive emotions and events as well as challenging the negative ones. There is nothing really new in terms of techniques in these adaptations, but rather they incorporate different exercises into a more complete, and I think beneficial, exercise.

It is best to complete this form when the emotion was recent so that you can record in more detail.

Also, very importantly, for every negative emotion that you complete one of these sheets for, do at least one other for a positive emotion. This will not only reinforce healthy thinking, but will also help you when planning for future negative emotions (for example, you may fill out a sheet for feeling worthless and another day have an experience of feeling worthwhile. You can then use your physical, emotional, and behavioural reactions to the positive situation to revise how you might change these things when experience worthlessness again. E.g. when feeling worthless your shoulders were slumped, but when feeling worthwhile you were standing straight. You can then go back and make sure that changing your posture to sitting up when feeling worthless is on your list of physical changes to make).

Related to the above parenthesis, you may find these sheets useful for compiling a list of warning signs and coping strategies.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mindfulness in Elementary Schools

Not to be too cynical, but with all the programs that have been and are being cut, I sometimes wonder if there is any reason to send a child to school anymore.

But, on the bright side, people are beginning to understand that character development mostly happens during the developmental years and if we would like to prevent future mental illness, this is period of time to act.

Mindfulness isn’t prevalent in the school curriculum, but it is growing. This paper discusses the mindfulness program at a school in Los Angeles.

“There was less conflict on the playground, less test anxiety—just the way the kids walked into the classroom was different. Our state test scores also went up that year, which I’d like to attribute to my teaching but I think had more to do with the breathing
they did right before they took the test.”

“…many schools are adopting mindfulness trainings because the techniques are easy to learn and can help children become ‘more responsive and less reactive, more focused and less distracted, [and] more calm and less stressed.’ While mindfulness can produce internal benefits to kids, the Garrison report also found that it can create a more positive learning environment, where kids are primed to pay attention.”

Locally, psychologist Kimberly Schonert-Reichl recently finished a pilot project on
mindfulness in six Vancouver schools with positive results (which is also discussed in the same publication).

“…results also showed that these children were less aggressive, less oppositional toward teachers, and more attentive in class. Those who received the mindfulness training also reported feeling more positive emotion and optimism, and seemed more introspective than children who were on a waitlist for the training.”

The project site for this research can be found here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Musicophilia – A Review

No one can say that Oliver Sacks doesn’t have an extensive collection of strange stories. As interesting as these stories can be though, I find his narrative to be redundant. While the anecdotes may drone on, there is interesting information in his tangents and footnotes.

The book discusses the effects and involvement of music in many psychiatric and neurological cases. A chapter is devoted to music therapy for speech and movement, especially with autism, and the importance of a connection between the musical therapist and the patient.

Sacks at one point cites Nietzsche and his philosophy on physiological and psychological effects of music (other notable people discussed include Darwin and Freud).

There is mention of an interesting use of botulinum toxin in the treatment of musical dystonia, a condition which appears to affect a particular body part, most often the fingers, only when an instrument is being played. The effects of the treatment are limited though:

“Such injections-though not always effective-have enabled some musicians to resume playing their instruments, [but] it may be unwise…to attempt a return to performance.”

The book discusses both the loss of music, in either functionality or appreciation, and the gain of music, as in the composition of large works while dreaming.

Final Rating: A good afternoon book of which you don’t necessarily have to read every page and which is a good source for further research into the areas of music and neurology.