Friday, December 12, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

More Couples Find Marriage Leaves Them Alone Together

If you and your spouse seem to be speeding through life on parallel tracks that never meet, you're not alone. Couples seem to be doing almost everything apart these days -- from dining and hobbies to friendships and having fun.

The trend, first documented last year in a major long-term study of marriage, is drawing attention to the need to shore up emotional ties between spouses. "For marriage to work, we have to realize how important a secure attachment is," says Diane Sollee of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, sponsor of a conference of more than 2,000 marriage researchers and trainers this week in San Francisco. The growing separateness of couples' lives, and techniques to keep it from driving them apart, will be hot topics at the conference.In one of the most comprehensive studies of marriage, Penn State sociology professor Paul Amato and others compared two separate random samples of more than 2,000 married people each in 1980 and in 2000. They found that the likelihood of couples spending lots of time together visiting friends, pursuing recreational activities, dining or shopping together, or teaming up on projects around the house, fell 28%. Spouses also are less likely to get along well with their partners' friends. "People may be bowling alone these days," the study says, referring to a bestselling book about the breakdown of social ties, "but married couples are also eating alone."

The separateness has become so prevalent that researchers are altering the traditional structure of marriage-education programs. These seminars, which have gotten a boost in recent years from federal funding, teach couples communication and problem-solving skills and have always required both partners to be present. But the University of Denver's Scott Stanley and Howard Markman, founders of PREP, one of the biggest marriage-education programs, are testing a new seminar that allows spouses to attend solo; they'll release research at the San Francisco conference showing the new approach can be helpful. "Sometimes," Dr. Stanley says, because of conflicting work schedules and other factors, "you can only get one of the two people" to take part.For some couples, leading separate lives isn't a problem. Dave Hookham, a Houston engineer, says he and his wife, do fine vacationing separately sometimes and having different friends. For other couples, though, it's troubling. Advertising consultant Bryan Chaffe, Seattle, says he and his wife were content following separate paths when both were in graduate school and working full-time. But over 11 years of marriage, their habit of having separate lives and hobbies has caused strain, he says.One therapeutic remedy, "emotionally focused therapy," is gaining favor. The method rests on British psychiatrist John Bowlby's research on the emotional bonding, or attachment, that is essential to normal development in infants. The technique guides couples to recognize they're emotionally attached to their partners in much the same way a child is to a parent, and to learn to be more responsive, open and forgiving. For example, a couple fighting often over, say, one partner's long work hours, would be guided to look beneath the anger to what they may be feeling at a deeper level -- often a fear of losing each other or being cut off emotionally.

Psychologist Sue Johnson, a speaker at the conference, who developed the technique in the mid-1980s and has written several books about it, says more than 1,100 therapists have been trained in the method. Published studies show it can help couples resolve old hurts.

One couple I interviewed says emotionally focused therapy pulled them from the brink of divorce. By the time they entered therapy 2½ years ago, they'd led separate lives for more than 20 years, with the husband immersed in work, the wife in raising their five children. With separate hobbies and friendships, "we were like ships passing in the night," the husband says.

Even at their worst, though, both still sensed "a thread" of connection between them. In therapy, they gradually tore down barriers to openly talk about emotions and learned to express their need for each other in more intimate, loving ways. Although they still hit rough spots, the husband says, "we have the tools now to do whatever it takes" to stay together.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why Men Cheat: Is It Really All About Sex?

By Norman Fried
The recent attention and controversy surrounding same-sex marriages in California have caused many of us to focus on our own definition of ”family values” and have forced others to look more closely at the marital bond in particular. The question of fidelity in marriage has now become forefront in the minds and writings of many journalists, clergymen, and psychologists alike.

In his May 18 column (appearing in the May 26 issue of New York Magazine entitled “The Secret Lives Of Married Men”) Philip Weiss attempts an answer to the question of infidelity and the “affairs” of men, many of them in the public eye. Citing the “outings” of Eliot Spitzer, Governor David Paterson, and New York Congressman Vito Fosella (who recently admitted to having two families), and after collecting opinions from anonymous men that he questioned for his article, Weiss deduces that men’s hunger for sexual variety is a “basic and natural and more or less irresistible impulse.”

Weiss’ qualitative findings provide us with an interesting socio-biological, but limited, interpretation for the controversy of male infidelity, and they beg the question:

Is sexual impulse really the driving force behind men who have extramarital affairs?

Researchers in the fields of clinical psychology argue differently, as they assert that the wounding actions of an affair are often rooted in deeper, more unconscious origins. Marriage therapists suggest that people often choose a spouse based on their own (sometimes negative) parental role models; and they re-enact in the marriage the “dramas” which they experienced in their original families. The recapitulation of these earlier themes often renders each member of the couple vulnerable to ”acting out” behaviors; ultimately reaching their apogee in an extramarital affair.

When a marriage is predicated on the unconscious contract of rescuing a couple from an “unjust” history, and offers them each a second chance to “make it right,” married men may find themselves trapped in a web of fear and confusion that grows with time. The result is the gradual replacement of feelings of promise and positivity with despair and negativity.

Thus, we ask: Were the actions that caused political figures such as Eliot Spitzer to exchange his public identity as governor with that of “Client #9″ the result of unresolved conflicts from his family of origin, or were they more about sexual impulse?

We on the outside will never know.

But it is prudent for us to consider that marital discord subsumes a complex network of emotional states, including the breakdown of communication, conflicting values, financial stressors, unreal expectations and projections from each spouse’s past. Considering these contributing factors places “irresistible impulses and the need for sexual variety” quite low on the proverbial list.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What the Dating Rules You Set For Your Kids Say About You

Researchers have known for a while that closeness to parents is linked to less risky sexual behavior by teenagers.

Now, they're turning their microscopes on the dating rules parents set, with some surprising results: The limits you place on your teenager's dating may say more about your own love life than your teen's needs. Also, parents' satisfaction with their own life roles shapes the kind of rules they set.
Parents who are involved in stable romantic relationships with spouses or partners tend more than other parents to set rules limiting teen dating behavior, such as curfews, minimum ages for dating, limits on places teens can go and explicit rules against sexual activity, says a new study of 169 parents and 102 teens by Stephanie Madsen, an associate professor of psychology at Maryland's McDaniel College. While the reason isn't clear, the author suggests these parents may hold more conservative beliefs in general; many of the rules involved sexuality.

Ironically, in what other researchers have called the "Romeo and Juliet" effect, such rules may tend to drive teenage lovers closer; teens of these parents reported closer, more positive relationships.

Parents who are unhappy, dissatisfied or insecure in love, however, go beyond limits and try to dictate or control how their teens treat their dates, the study found. These parents try to influence their kids to value certain things and act in specific ways. Parents would tell teens to open doors for dates, "act like a gentleman" (or a lady), or resist letting a date "walk all over" them. The goal may be to launch their teens on a romantic path happier than their own, Dr. Madsen says. But kids often regard this advice as intrusive, and again, it tended to have the opposite effect. The teens affected weren't particularly content with their dating relationships.

The research rings true to me. As a single working parent of two, my love life is near the bottom of my list of priorities. Like the parents in the study, I find myself prescribing behaviors to my teenage son, like "be a gentleman" -- advice he listens to respectfully. But, I suspect, he keeps his own counsel.

A better way for parents to expend their energy, Dr. Madsen says, is to emphasize constant, warm oversight over just setting rules. She calls this setting "supervisory" rules, or keeping up a free flow of communication without intruding too much. This means asking teens to disclose plans, check in by phone and inform parents when plans change. In such cases, the adults were focusing on their roles as parents rather than their own love lives. These parents also had the healthiest relationships with their children.

Debby Shulman and her husband, Allen, fall into this category. When their 16-year-old son dates, says the Northbrook, Ill., mother, "he can't leave one place without calling and letting me know where he's going." She knows his friends' parents and checks in with them now and then. "It's a great way to keep tabs on the kids without making them feel you're breathing down their necks." Dr. Madsen says supervisory parents also may arrange to meet their teen's dates and sometimes the date's parents.

Some 64% of parents in Dr. Madsen's study had dating rules for their 17-to-19-year-olds, the age of the teens in the study. The rest generally either had teens who weren't dating or gave their teens autonomy in dating. Marni Kan of the research group RTI International says many parents may be setting rules in response to research showing parental supervision and communication with teens protects against risky sexual behavior.

More recent studies have fine-tuned those findings by drawing a line between supervision and meddling: Parental oversight seems to have positive effects mainly when teens volunteer information about themselves -- suggesting a trusting, respectful relationship is the real foundation for the gains.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Targets of Spying Get Smart

Tiny electronic-surveillance gadgets that James Bond could only dream of are increasingly turning up in boardrooms, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Crooks are parking vans outside people's homes to steal bank-account passwords and credit-card numbers, using programs that tap into Wi-Fi connections. Paparazzi hide cameras and microphones in private jets, hoping to record embarrassing celebrity video. Corporate spies plant keystroke-recording software in executives' laptops and listen in on phone conversations as they travel.

Now, people are deploying counter-spy technology to fight back. Some celebrities and corporate executives get regular sweeps of their offices, limos and private jets in search of hidden devices. Others hire security experts to safeguard their phones and home computers. And corporate security experts are advising businesspeople on how to keep company secrets safe while traveling abroad.

Demand for counterspy services has been heightened by a series of recent snooping incidents. Last month, Hollywood sleuth Anthony Pellicano, 64 years old, was convicted in federal court in Los Angeles of multiple counts of racketeering and illegal wiretapping. He worked on behalf of celebrities and moguls who were involved in personal or business disputes, including Bertram Fields, one of Hollywood's top entertainment lawyers; Brad Grey, now head of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures movie studio; and talent agent Michael Ovitz, according to the indictment. The three have denied any wrongdoing and haven't been charged with any crimes.

Actors Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine were among those who were wiretapped. Mr. Pellicano paid off phone-company workers and used a computer-software program to intercept the actors' phone calls, according to his indictment.

In April, car maker Porsche AG disclosed it had found a baby-monitoring device concealed behind the hotel sofa of its president and chief executive, Wendelin Wiedeking, last fall during his trip to Wolfsburg, Germany, for meetings with executives at Volkswagen AG. An investigation is continuing, said a company spokesman.

Kevin D. Murray, an Oldwick, N.J., counter-surveillance expert, said he received several calls from worried executives asking for sweeps of their offices and homes as soon as the Porsche incident surfaced. Mr. Murray said he handles 130 snooping investigations per year, generally charging between $4,600 and $24,000, depending on the scope of the case. His five-person operation finds devices in about 10% of the cases, a similar percentage to other firms.

Available, Affordable

The growing availability and affordability of digital surveillance equipment -- even primitive stuff such as baby monitors -- has caused mounting worries about spying, Mr. Murray says. Devices "that used to be super-duper a few years ago are ordinary now," he says. "There was a time when you had to know somebody or pay a lot of money to get the equipment. Now you can get a wireless camera for under $100 -- tiny ones, too."

Indeed, for less than $350 at spy shops and over the Internet, snoops can purchase a GPS-tracking device that is smaller than a pack of matches and includes a microphone. But because many telephones and computers are tied into network servers these days, some of the greatest threats come from malicious software and hacker attacks that reroute phone calls and steal computer passwords. Snoops install the software by sending messages with spyware attachments. Or they may steal sensitive data using programs or hardware to copy keystrokes entered onto a keyboard.

While there's anecdotal evidence that casual and malicious snooping is becoming more widespread, solid statistics are hard to come by. Many high-net-worth individuals and publicly traded companies try to keep incidents under wraps and don't report them to authorities, security experts say. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes only a handful of illegal-wiretapping cases annually.

Still, private-security companies say business is growing. Risk Control Strategies Inc., based in New York City, says sweeps have increased 25% in each of the past two years. It attributes the growth to a recent wave of mergers and plant closings that sometimes prompt attempts at insider trading and spying by anxious employees.

Companies also are increasingly worried about economic and industrial espionage by foreign governments and companies. Kroll Inc., a risk-control consulting company that is a unit of insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., says inquiries in Japan have doubled in the past year. Associate Managing Director David Nagata, who is based in Tokyo, counsels visitors to have their hotel rooms swept for listening devices prior to check-in and make sure they're secured from unauthorized entry. For super-secret matters, he suggests closed-circuit cameras to monitor hallway traffic and an alarm that beeps when someone approaches the room.

Recorder in the Closet

Clyde Widrig, senior managing director for technical surveillance counter-measures at Risk Control Strategies, says his firm was hired recently by a Southern California law firm to sweep for stealth recording devices. In this case, an attorney had modified a conference-call telephone in the boardroom to pick up conversations and transmit them to a tape recorder hidden in a utility closet. Mr. Widrig, a former Los Angeles police detective, says the attorney was trying to discredit a rival in competition to become partner. Instead, the firm fired him after the recording device was discovered.

Security experts say there are some simple precautions that can be taken to prevent snooping. The easiest, of course, is to look for hidden cameras, which may be disguised as ordinary objects, such as fire sprinklers or smoke detectors. Also, don't leave cell phones and laptops where someone can take them to avoid tampering. Avoid using hotel telephones and wireless computer connections for sensitive communications. Finally, use the proper network firewalls and upgrade computers with the latest encryption and security software.

High-profile executives and celebrities may opt for counter-surveillance sweeps, but the service isn't cheap. Prices begin at about $3,000 to $5,000 for a private residence or small business, based on the complexity of the job.

During the sweeps, technicians inspect areas using thermal imaging cameras to search for hot spots that indicate concealed electronic circuits, such as transmitters hidden inside walls. They use spectrum analyzers to pick up video, voice and data transmissions. And they find eavesdropping equipment by using devices that flood an area with a high-frequency radio signal and listen for reflected signals from electronic components within the intercept device.

But sometimes, these elaborate measures are undone by executives chatting on unsecured cellphones with Bluetooth headsets and tapping on unencrypted laptops. Fred Burton, a counter-espionage expert at Stratfor Inc., suggests that companies tell executives, "You have to quit yakking on the cellphone because we're able to pick up what you're saying."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Everyone knows Howard Hughes was obsessive-compulsive (among other things) and I bet lots of us who grew up on Double Dare shudder to think of the OCD Marc Summers dealing with all of the goo and muck as the host of the messy game show.

Although these celebrities have shared their battles rather publicly, there are a few out there who suffer from OCD quietly. Like who? Read on to find out…
Cameron Diaz

Despite her memorable “hair gel” scene in There’s Something About Mary, Cameron Diaz can’t stand germs and other people’s “fluids”, as she puts it. She says she rubs doorknobs so hard to get them clean before opening them that the paint wears off. She washes her hands and floors “many times” every day and uses her elbows to open doors so she won’t get germs on her hands.
Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton became good friends with neighbor Warren Zevon when Warren saw Billy Bob return to the mailbox three times in the span of a couple of minutes. Warren identified Billy Bob as a fellow obsessive-compulsive and the two of them bonded over their phobias. Among Billy Bob’s is a phobia of antique furniture, which he wrote into a character in Sling Blade. He also fears some kinds of silverware, which shows up in his Monster’s Ball character.
David Beckham

Sure, he’s good looking, talented, funny, has great hair and lots of money, but David Beckham has his struggles, too. He hates odd numbers and is obsessed with symmetry - if there’s three of something, he has to hide the third somewhere out of sight. If something’s slightly askew, he can’t rest until the row has been straightened. Before he can settle into a hotel room, he says he puts all of the books and pamphlets together in a drawer. You have to wonder, though, if his odd number phobia means he and Posh will be adding to their brood – currently three boys – soon.
Leonardo DiCaprio

You know the old saying, “Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back”? Leonardo DiCaprio used to take that little rhyme very seriously. As a kid, he could not step on cracks or other designated spots. He overcame this particular disorder until he played Howard Hughes in The Aviator. He revisited his old ways to try to get into Hughes’ famously phobic character and ended up falling back into the habit – he was frequently late for filming because he had a specific way he had to walk to get to the set and would have to retrace his steps if anything went awry.
Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin says he has developed quite the fixation on cleanliness over the years. He says he can come home and immediately tell if a book is out of place and insists on doing household chores before his housekeeper does, even to the point that he will miss a plane if it means getting his dishes done.
Jennifer Love Hewitt

I can relate to this one – Jennifer Love Hewitt says she can’t go to sleep if there are any doors open in the house – including cabinet doors and closet doors. She thinks she inherited her OCD from her mother, who counts steps. I do that, too.
Charles Darwin

It’s not just contemporary celebrities who suffer from OCD – evidence shows that Darwin may have suffered from OCD, among a laundry list of other possible disorders, including panic disorder, agoraphobia and hypochondria. This may be one of the causes of his detailed accounts of things – he even recorded how loud and strong the ringing in his ears was on a daily basis.
Nikola Tesla

No doubt Nikola Tesla was a genius – he was an inventor, physicist, mechanical and electrical engineer.
He was also an extreme germophobe – he hated hair unless it was his own and found jewelry disgusting. He did things in three or numbers divisible by three; he always used 18 napkins, estimated the mass of everything he was going to eat and would not eat with a woman if it was just the two of them.

Of course, this is by no means an inclusive list - in addition to the previously mentioned Howard Hughes and Marc Summers, there’s also Delta Burke, Zach Braff, Howie Mandel, David Sedaris, Joey Ramone and more.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Don't Find This Particularly Funny

The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 was an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness (MPI) in the vicinity of the village of Kashasha on the western coast of Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania near the border of Kenya. Due to its nature the incident has been confused with positive humorous or infectious laughter as seen in phenomena like the holy laughter movement. The nature of MPI, however, is quite dissimilar to these euphoric experiences.

Records of this occurrence, as so often with cases of MPI, are sparse, and have been embellished and misquoted. The epidemic seems to have started within a small group of students in a boarding school, possibly triggered by a joke. Laughter, as is commonly known, is in some sense contagious, and for whatever reason in this case the laughter perpetuated itself, far transcending its original cause. Since it is physiologically impossible to laugh for much more than a few minutes at a time, the laughter must have made itself known sporadically, though reportedly it was incapacitating when it struck. The school from which the epidemic sprang was shut down; the children and parents transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools, Kashasha itself, and another village, comprising thousands of people, were all affected to some degree. Six to eighteen months after it started, the phenomenon died off.

Though the epidemic may have started in humor, the oft-noted laughter became significant in an entirely different way. Other more worrisome symptoms were reported on a similarly massive scale; pain, fainting, respiratory problems, rashes, and attacks of crying all appeared to some extent. This laughter epidemic is often misunderstood as implying that thousands of people were continuously laughing for months. As noted above, this is impossible; the true nature of the epidemic was occasional attacks of laughter among groups of people, occurring throughout the noted region at irregular intervals.

No one knows what sparked this incident, but scientists can make reasonable guesses as to why mass hysteria may have affected this part of the world. Independence from Great Britain had been achieved recently, on December 9, 1961, and Kashasha was at the time part of the nation of Tanganyika (Tanganyika would merge with Zanzibar in 1964, creating the modern nation of Tanzania). Students felt that expectations from their teachers and parents had risen markedly, and said they felt stressed as a result. This could explain the epidemic's genesis in a boarding school; one cure for MPI is removing sufferers from their current surroundings, impossible without shutting the school down, something which the administrators were surely reluctant to do. The spread of the epidemic, laughter, crying, rashes, and all, among the adult population may signify widespread uncertainty about the future among Tanganyikans. Situated in the northwestern corner of Tanganyika, the region may have been too isolated and insular to allow for a change of location, which allowed the epidemic to spread and last for a great amount of time. The unique characteristics of the Kashasha area, namely its isolation, a significant population, stress among the entire population and especially the boarding school component, combined perhaps with pure chance, probably best explain why the epidemic occurred and how it lasted so long.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bizarre Mental Disorders

Phantom Limb Disorder

A person suffering from this disorder experiences the sensation that a missing limb (or even organ, such as the appendix) is still present on the body. 50 - 80% of people who have had an amputation experience this disorder. The sufferer will very often feel pain and discomfort in the phantom limb. Some sufferers can feel their phantom limbs gesticulating while they talk, and others believe that the limb is acting independently of their will. This disorder is often treated with Virtual Reality therapy (as pictured above).

Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Also known as Amputee Identity Disorder, this illness causes a person to wish to have a healthy part of their body amputated. In some cases, the sufferer has gone so far as to amputate their own limbs. Some sufferers also have sexual fetishes involving amputees. Some surgeons have actually amputated a limb for a person suffering this disorder, but it is a highly controversial move and most doctors use similar treatments to those used for phantom limb disorders.


Mythomania is a condition involving compulsive lying by a person with no obvious motivation. The affected person might believe their lies to be truth, and may have to create elaborate myths to reconcile them with other facts. A “pathological liar” is someone who often embellishes his or her stories in a way that he or she believes will impress people. It may be that a pathological liar is different from a normal liar in that a pathological liar believes the lie he or she is telling to be true at least in public and is “playing” the role.


Somatoparaphrenia is a type of monothematic delusion where one suddenly denies ownership of a limb or an entire side of ones body. For example, a patient might believe that his own arm would belong to the doctor, or that another patient left it behind. It can sometimes be treated by vestibular caloric stimulation (squirting warm water into the patient’s ear in a specific way), although most sufferers will not be aware of this and may request amputation, which is almost always denied as amputating a healthy limb would be a basic violation of the Hippocratic Oath. In the image above we see a series of drawings made by a sufferer of this disorder.

Munchausen Syndrome

Munchausen syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which those affected fake disease, illness, or psychological trauma in order to draw attention or sympathy to themselves. It is in a class of disorders known as factitious disorders which involve “illnesses” whose symptoms are either self-induced or falsified by the patient. It is also sometimes known as hospital addiction syndrome. A related illness is Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy in which the person feigns the illness in another person - usually going so far to cause them harm to perpetuate the myth in order to gain sympathy for themselves.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

This may sound familiar to drug users: AIWS or Micropsia is a condition in which a patient’s sense of time, space and body image are distorted. People may appear tiny or patients may feel that part of their body shape or size has been altered. A sufferer may perceive humans, parts of humans, animals, and inanimate objects as substantially smaller than in reality. Another name for the condition is Lilliput sight or Lilliputian hallucinations. The image above illustrates the illusion suffered by patients of this disorder.

Neglect Syndrome

In Neglect Syndrome, a person loses the ability to give equal attention to both sides of a space. For example, a patient in a rehabilitation hospital may wake up in the morning and proceeds to shave his face - only to be told later that he has only shaved half of his face. A person with this disorder, when drawing a person, will often leave off the arm and leg from one side, and when questioned, will state that it looks perfectly fine to them. When drawing a clock, the sufferer will often draw a circle and stuff all of the numbers in to one side (as in the image above). Neglect Syndrome is most often caused by damage to one hemisphere of the brain, as in the case of a stroke.


Kleptomania is the disease in which a person has great difficulty resisting the impulse to steal something. Despite this being a disorder, the US and UK courts do not consider it a defense against stealing. Kleptomania usually begins in puberty and continues until late adulthood. It is considered to be a part of the obsessive compulsive range of disorders. Kleptomaniacs usually steal items of little value, and some will tend to steal the same types of items repeatedly.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Foreign Accent Syndrome is a very rare disorder which usually occurs after some kind of brain injury (such as a stroke or head injury). When a person suffers from this syndrome they speak their native language with a foreign accent. There have been 50 recorded cases of this syndrome between 1941 and 2006. According to Wikipedia, a well-known case of foreign accent syndrome occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman, Astrid L., suffered a head injury from shrapnel during an air-raid. After apparently recovering from the injury she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was shunned by her fellow Norwegians. You can read about one case on the BBC.

Genital Retraction Syndrome

Genital Retraction Syndrome is a strange disorder in which the sufferer believes that his genitals (or breasts in the case of women sufferers) are shrinking, retracting in to the body, or may be removed entirely. Even more strangely, there have been cases of this occurring amongst many people at the same time; this is called penis panic. The phenomenon is often associated with occult beliefs or witchcraft. Outbreaks of penis panic occurred in China in 1948, 1955, 1966, 1974 and 1984/85. It is worth reading the Wikipedia article on this very bizarre syndrome.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paging Dr. Freud: 8 Unusual Mental Illnesses

There are only a certain number of ways to go crazy, and you can find most of them listed in the psychologist’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently in its fourth edition and commonly referred to as DSM-IV. But along with psych-ward greatest hits like schizophrenia and depression, the DSM lists some less-than-common conditions.
1. Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is a compulsion to pluck one’s hair and often starts around age 12. A triichotillomaniac in Michigan says that she first started plucking her eyelashes in first grade. By fifth grade she had started pulling hair in earnest. She still does it today, although she over the years she has learned to manage the illness. “I now am a sales manager managing ten account executives and 30 of the largest accounts in the state of Michigan,” she writes. “I have not made less then six figures since I was 24. Oh [yeah]. I also suffer from trich[otillomania] and have bald spots and no eyelashes!”

In rare cases, trichotillomaniacs accumulate hairballs in the intestinal tract by chewing and swallowing the hair they pluck. You can see an extreme example at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.—a huge hairball molded to the shape of a girl’s stomach. It took six years to form.

2. Othello Syndrome

Othello syndrome is also known as delusional or morbid jealousy—a conviction that your husband/wife/partner is cheating on you. It often leads sufferers to threaten to attack their spouses or to stalk the imagined lovers of their spouses. In one case, a woman accused her husband of fathering 10,000 children with a 70-year-old mistress.
3. Pyromania

Def Leppard’s breakthrough album is named after this rare fixation with fire. Pyromaniacs don’t set fires to destroy property, collect insurance, or draw attention; they are attracted to fire itself and may feel tense, aggressive, or piqued before lighting up. They may even hang out at fire departments or become firefighters so they can focus on fire all the time. Pyros tend to be men and tend to drink. Some experts argue that pyromania is a myth, a sexy label attached to mentally ill people who happen to set a fire. One infamous arsonist who had many characteristics of a pyromaniac was Paul Keller of Seattle, now serving a 99-year prison sentence. Keller started setting fires as a child and later tried join the fire department. An alcoholic, he set over 70 fires in his career, including one at a nursing home.
4. Folie a deux

Folie a deux is a delusion or psychosis shared by several people. One individual has a genuine mental illness, often schizophrenia, and their otherwise healthy friends or family members take on some of their neuroses. Psychologists have described families that believe they are infested with invisible parasites, includes Matrix-style robotic bugs. In one case, a French woman and her husband tried to kill her doctor, presumably for giving her the parasites. In a similar case, a woman began to see insects crawling her husband. Then the husband began to see them, too—but when doctors told the two to collect the bugs, they brought in a jar containing hair, thread, and bread crumbs. Once the husband was separated from his wife, he stopped seeing the bugs.
5. Caffeine Intoxication

The DSM contains a diagnosis for caffeine intoxication, which occurs when you ingest more than 250 milligrams of the stuff, about the amount in two cups of coffee. Not surprisingly, caffeine intoxication can contribute to panic and anxiety disorders.
6. Internet Addiction

Researchers in Israel have proposed a new diagnosis: internet addition. “The Internet provides inexpensive, interesting and comfortable recreation, but sometimes users get hooked. Thus, the computer-internet addiction concept has been proposed as an explanation for uncontrollable and damaging use.” Sound familiar?

The DSM also lists several mental syndromes unique to certain cultures and circumstances.
7. Brain fag

Brain fag is a common complaint among West African students. It’s sort of like “Teacher, my brain hurts,” accompanied by blurred vision and actual pain in the head or neck.
8. Koro

Koro, says the DSM, is a “sudden and intense anxiety that the penis (or, in females, the vulva and nipples) will recede into the body and possibly cause death.” Koro doesn’t just strike one unlucky person; it hits southeast Asia in waves of a mass hysteria in which everybody becomes terrified of death via genital retraction.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The House(s) That Spite Built

Human emotion is a crazy thing. It can lead people to do irrational, silly and even spiteful things. So spiteful, in fact, they would erect an entire house just to irritate someone.

A spite house is exactly what it sounds like – a building that was built or altered for the sole purpose of exacting revenge. A person would have to be pretty seriously spiteful to spend the time, effort and money to construct a whole building in the name of anger. Let’s look at a few edifices that were born out of those emotions.
The Hollensbury Spite House

I can imagine that in 1830, having horses constantly trod near your house would get pretty irritating. The noise, for one thing, but all of those road apples being dropped wouldn’t be too pleasant, either. And that’s exactly how John Hollensbury of Alexandria, Va., felt about the alley next to his house that constantly received horse and foot traffic. So, to prevent people from using the alley, he built a seven-foot wide, 25-foot deep, two-story house. He actually used one wall of the existing house to construct the new house, so as a result the living room of the Spite House has deep gouges in the brick wall from the wheels of carriages brushing up against it.
The Richardson Spite House

In Manhattan, at Lexington and 82nd, imagine a tiny apartment building created just to tick someone off. In 1882, two neighbors each owned a small plot of adjacent land. Each plot was only about 104 feet long and five feet wide. One of the men, Hyman Sarner, offered to purchase the land from his neighbor, Joseph Richardson, for $1,000. Richardson countered that the land was worth at least $5,000. When they failed to reach an agreement, Richardson built a rather impractical four-story apartment building on his tiny rectangle of land. It was demolished in 1915, unfortunately – I’d love to see that tiny little apartment building dwarfed by the huge buildings and museums near 82nd and Lex today. I bet the rent would be outrageous.
The Skinny House

The Skinny House in Boston is pretty well-known, at least in the area. The story goes that in 1874, a couple of brothers had a fight over the land they had jointly inherited from their father. Instead of properly settling the fight, one brother built a large home on the land while the other brother was away in the military. When the traveling brother returned home, he decided to spite his greedy brother and build a small house on what was left of the land they both owned, blocking his brother’s nice view.
It still stands today and is occupied. At its widest point, the Skinny House is just over 10 feet wide. The narrowest point in the house is only 6.2 feet wide.
The Edleston Spite House

Spiteful construction might seem like an American phenomenon, but it’s really not. England has seen its share of spite as well. In 1904, the Edleston family owned a plot of land next to the church yard of St. Mary’s in Gainford, England, where they attended church. When Joseph died, the family asked to build a monument in the churchyard in Joseph’s memory – he was a very active member of the church and had been for 41 years. The church said that the churchyard was already too full, but that the family could donate their land to the church and build something on that. Irked, the family built a house on the land next to the church, complete with a 40 foot column that pointed a V-sign (victory?) toward the church. The house is still there today, although I unfortunately couldn’t find any pictures of it.
The Tyler Spite House

You’ve been reading these and thinking “That’s great, but what I would really like to do is spend the night in a spite house,” haven’t you? Well, you’re in luck. The Tyler Spite House in Frederick, Md., is now a bed and breakfast. In 1814, Dr. John Tyler was the first American physician to perform a cataract operation. When the city made plans to extend a street directly through Tyler’s land, he did a little research and found that a local law prohibited building a road if work was under way on a “substantial” building in the path of the new road. He found this law just in time – he immediately had a building foundation poured on the small piece of his property that the new road would run through and effectively stopped the road from being built.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lee Evans: Suicide Song

Lee Evans encore performance which is based around the fact that he wants to kill himself but alwayts fails. RT 7:36 and NSFW (language).

Bulletproof "anti-terrorist" bed with air-supply, toilet

This appears not to be a joke: the Quantum Sleeper is a bed that hermetically seals itself as you sleep to protect you from "Bio-Chemical terrorist attack," "natural disaster," "kidnappers/stalkers" (only those who don't possess a forklift, surely) and affords "Bulletproof 'Saferoom' protection."

1.25" Polycarbonate Bulletproof Plating/Shielding
Bio-Chemical Filtered Ventilation
Control Panel Mode Selection (i.e., Basic System Ops., Intruder Setting, Energy Status, Lock Down, etc.)
Cover & Door Actuators w/ Emergency Release
One way see through head cover (reflective mirror on 2 sides and front)
Safety Features (Proximity Sensor, O2 Sensor, Smoke Det., Motion Det. Ect,)
Emergency Communication system (Cellular, Short-wave Radio, CB ect.)
Audio Amplifier (Amplify sound from out side unit)

Air/Water Tight Sealing
External Override Key Pad & Remote Control
Battery Backup Power
Toiletry system

Monday, March 24, 2008

Excessive emails and text are a mental illness

PEOPLE who send excessive texts and emails may have a mental illness, according to an article in a leading psychiatric journal.

As more people leave the office computer, only to log on as soon as they get home, the American Journal of Psychiatry has found addiction to text messaging and emailing could be another form of mental illness.

The article, by Dr Jerald Block, said there were four symptoms: suffering from feelings of withdrawal when a computer cannot be accessed; an increased need for better equipment; need for more time to use it; and experiencing the negative repercussions of their addiction.

Dr Block said that although text messaging was not directly linked to the Internet, it was a form of instant messaging and needed to be included among the criteria.

"The chief reasons I see to consider it are motor vehicle accidents that are caused by cell phone instant messaging, stalking and harassment via instant messaging, and instant messaging at social, educational, (and) work functions where it creates problems," he said.

"It should be a pervasive and problematic pattern, though, not isolated incidents."

Leanne Battaglia, 21, said she would not classify herself as being clinically addicted to online communication, but could see how quickly the problem could develop.

"It's become a way of life now, but I don't think it's at that stage yet," Ms Battaglia said.

Despite sitting at a computer all day, the sales consultant admits she will often log on again when she gets home.

"I use it almost every night and during the day. I'm pretty much always on Facebook, eBay, ninemsn and gossip sites."

Ms Battaglia also sends about 20 text messages a day.

"I swear by my mobile, it's like a security blanket. I just feel really bare without it," she said.

Dr Robert Kaplan, a forensic psychiatrist at the Graduate School of Medicine, University of Wollongong, said he first saw a case of internet addiction in 1998.

Since that time, he has noticed a steady increase in the disorder among Australians.

According to a report titled Media And Communications In Australian Families 2007, the average child spends about one hour and 17 minutes on the internet each day, with teenagers aged 15 to 17 spending an average of 30 minutes sending text messages and another 25 minutes playing online games.

"I think in general it's escalating," Dr Kaplan said. "We now all live in an internet world, and it brings with it a range of problems."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Writers Who Suffered From the Sylvia Plath Effect

Writers Who Suffered From the Sylvia Plath Effect

By StacyBee on writers

I’m in a book club (we’re looking for a quirky-yet-clever name for ourselves if anyone has any suggestions) and last week we discussed The Bell Jar. It’s one of those books we all felt we should have read at some point during our high school careers and never did, so it was long overdue. In my research about the similarities between the book’s main character and the book’s author I came across something called Sylvia Plath effect.

It’s a relatively new theory in the world of psychology – in 2001, James Kaufman conducted a study that showed creative writers, especially female poets, are more susceptible to mental illness than other types of professions.

Being a female writer (not a poet, though), I was understandably interested in this theory. There really is a disproportionate amount of writers who have committed suicide over the years, so to brighten your day I thought I’d look at a few of them here.

Sylvia Plath
photo from A.J. Marik via Find a Grave

It makes sense to start with the theory’s namesake, I think. For those of you who haven’t read The Bell Jar, it’s a thinly disguised autobiography about one girl’s spiral into depression including suicide attempts, hospital stays and shock treatment therapy.

The bell jar is used as a metaphor for the feeling the main character has when she’s going through her depression – she feels like she’s trapped under a bell jar, stifled and numb. Sylvia predicted her own future when she wrote from the perspective of her protagonist – “How did I know that someday - at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere - the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

Despite marriage, children, a successful career as a poet and a promising one as a novelist, Sylvia’s own bell jar did descend again. On February 11, 1963, she killed herself by putting her head in the oven with the gas on.

Virginia Woolf

Poor Virginia Woolf seemed doomed from the start. She suffered a nervous breakdown when her mother died when Virginia was just 13. Her father died just nine years later, causing another breakdown which resulted in a brief period of institutionalization. She and her sister were subjected to sexual abuse by their half brothers, which certainly did not help her state of mind.

On March 28, 1941, Virginia decided she had had enough, loaded up her pockets with heavy rocks and walked into the River Ouse near her home. Judging by her symptoms and behavior, modern-day doctors think she probably suffered from bipolar disorder.

Sara Teasdale
photo from quebecoise via Find a Grave

Sara Teasdale was a talented poet, which, according to James Kaufman, put her at a serious disadvantage when it came to battling depression. In 1918, she won the Columbia University Poetry Society Prize, which was the precursor to the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Toward the end of the 1920s, though, things headed downhill for Sara. The Great Depression hit the same year she decided to divorce her husband.
Plagued by financial problems, her close friend and former suitor Vachel Lindsay killed himself by drinking Lysol in 1931. Vachel was a poet, so you could say his suicide contributes to Kaufman’s theory that creative writers are more susceptible to mental illness.
In 1933, Sara reunited with Vachel when she took an overdose of sleeping pills in her apartment in New York City, drew herself a warm bath and never got out of it.

Anne Sexton

Anne was never shy about admitting to her mental health problems and openly talked about her lifelong battle with bipolar disorder. She was somewhat of an instant success in her poetic career – after attending a workshop taught by poet John Holmes, she immediately had poems published in The New Yorker, Harper’s and the Saturday Review. By attending workshops and adopting a writing mentor, Anne became friends with poets such as Maxine Kumin, W.D. Snodgrass and none other than Sylvia Plath. She was such close friends with Sylvia, in fact, that she wrote a poem entitled Sylvia’s Death about, well, Sylvia’s death. She outlived Sylvia by 11 years, though – on October 4, 1974, Anne had lunch with Maxine, returned home and killed herself by sitting in her garage with the door down and the gas running.

Sarah Kane
Photo from

Kaufman’s theory holds up even with contemporary writers. Sarah Kane was a playwright and screenwriter who suffered from severe depression. She was voluntarily admitted twice to the Maudsley psychiatric hospital in London. She channeled her depression into plays which were performed by the Royal Court. Critics weren’t too impressed when the plays debuted which may have lead to her suicide in 1999. After an overdose of prescription medication landed her in King’s College Hospital but failed to kill her, she ended up hanging herself in a hospital bathroom.

So, that was morbid. But it does provide some supporting evidence for Kaufman’s Sylvia Plath effect. What do you think? Does the Sylvia Plath effect make sense? The other side of the coin is that there are a number of suicides with any occupation and these are just more public given the public nature of the work.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Moises Alou pees on his hands before games.

Moises Alou pees on his hands before games.

A short feature in this month's GQ (not available online) details unusual things pro athletes do to heal injuries. This is a scan of a photo-illustration for the article representing steaming pee on the hands of the San Francisco Giants outfielder. Along with New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posado, Alou swears by this, um, treatment to toughen his hands and prevent blisters. Said Posada, "You don't want to shake my hand during spring training."
Questions come to mind:
1. Do Alou/Posada wash their hands after peeing on them?
2. If a teammate is on a "hot streak", do the two stick their hands under the other player's pissing penis?
3. Has Alou ever asked pee-shy teammate Barry Bonds if he could have some of his #1?
4. We must think—what about the poor bat boys?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me!

Paint Your Wagon - Clint Eastwood - I Talk to the Trees

I'm really twisted!

Actress and singer Annie Ross set some hipster jive to a Wardell Grey sax solo and Twisted became a jazz classic. Along with fellow singers Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks (who sit this one out) the trio Lambert Hendricks and Ross recorded a number of hit albums in the early 60s and is generally regarded as the greatest Jazz vocal group of all time. (less)

I've been talking out of my head

From her new CD "Destination Moon" which is a tribute to Dinah Washington, Deborah performs a free set opening for Bruce Hornsby at City Hall Park on August 25th 2007. You can probably tell that it was the hottest day of the year

I've completely lost it! I think I'm Going Out of My Head

Little Antony-Going Out of My Head

I have spent many a moment in The Rubber Room

Porter Wagoner & Marty Stuart - The Rubber Room Live at Joe's Pub 4/07

I Hear Voices

I Hear Voices by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, on album Portrait of a Man and His Woman

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm afraid that they're coming to get me!

I have a thing for body parts

I see visions

Last night I saw upon the stair

A little man who wasn't there

He wasn't there again today

Gee I wish he'd go away!

Somebody's Watching Me