Grits shouldn’t have sugar in them

Nor should cornbread. And not everything needs cheese. Examples of two things that do not need cheese: cornbread and grits. Cornbread and grits do not need sugar and/or cheese. Blasphemy.

Food is tied in with identity, as is the case of my insistence that grits and cornbread needn’t have sugar in them. My husband begs to differ on the grits and made me try grits with sugar in them the other day. He made the argument that was how it was done when he was stationed in Georgia many years ago, which was to counter the argument that I spent my summers with family in Tennessee when I was growing up and was not taught to add sugar to grits. We have had this disagreement for several years. I finally agreed to try them. They tasted like a five year old crushed up stale kettle corn in a bowl of water and squished it all together with tiny fingers. To each their own, I guess.

A lot of rules about food come from broader culture, faith traditions, and family norms. Food keeps us alive, food keeps us connected. Food is ritualistic and communal – wedding cakes, barbecues, Thanksgiving dinners, and potlucks. Rules for a particular food can vary by region, like sugar and grits (Which admittedly is no less Southern as grits without sugar, it just happens to be gross). Food has a funny way of bringing people together.

Except people who more or less don’t feel togetherness don’t often bond over food. Food-prominent events are at best awkward and at worst prompting events for self-destructive behavior. There is no quick advice for these people that hasn’t already been heard a million times over. Cope ahead, positive/rational self-talk, just eat anyway and don’t hate yourself for it, stay in the moment, etc. etc. Not bad advice, just won’t fix anything in the long-term.

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The Day After Christmas and This Book I’m Reading

The cover of the book I’m reading has a picture of someone cutting grass with a pair of scissors. It’s called Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism, and it has the most amusing cover of any  clinical book I’ve read to date. The content is not particularly humorous, but it’s interesting.

Reading the section on the causes of perfectionism prompted my mind to go back to Monday, when I was having talking to my dad about cloned lifeforms, identity, family skeletons that paraded out of that closet years ago, and personality traits. And a slew of other things, but the personality discussion sticks out. My dad and I tend to be competitive and tend to make it a point to focus energy on things in which we are skilled at. We differ in that my dad used to be impulsive – things change with age – and I am not.

At all.

Avoiding risk isn’t entirely an anxiety thing with me – it’s lack of interest. I just don’t find impulsive behavior appealing. I can put off enjoyable things for extended periods of time. My idea of a good time after work is looking at pictures of cats on the Internet. I’m not sure if I can explain it any better than just saying meh.

Nature and nurture is a funny thing.

Autism, Empathy, and Something About Accountants

I finally watched The Accountant. To summarize, it’s a thriller movie with a bunch of the usual thriller tropes, except the anti-hero is an attempt at portraying diversity but instead ends up an amalgamation of clichés about people on the spectrum. Pro Tip: If you’re making a film with an autistic character, consider spending more time consulting with autistic people than time with neurotypical people.

Anyway, the film got me thinking about empathy. Especially the way in which people who do not appear to have much empathy are filed in with abusive spouses, serial killers, and those who maim kittens. While abusive spouses, serial killers, and those who maim kittens are often low on empathy, it does not mean that all who are low on empathy are any of those things nor does it mean that abusing, killing, and maiming requires low empathy. Empathy is not the same thing as compassion or sympathy or pity or loving-kindness or being moral or whatever other nice-sounding quality you think is associated with empathy.

Empathy is, per Merriam-Webster, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this”

Empathy can be broken down into cognitive (being able to take the perspective of real and fictional people), affective (being able to respond to someone else’s emotional state), and somatic (having a physical reaction). Deficits in these types of empathy are found in yes, autism, as well as anorexia, all personality disorders, psychotic disorders, OCD and a few of the related disorders – a significant number of people, the majority caring and welcome in society.

Deficits in empathy makes violence and cruelty easier, no doubt. What often happens, though, is that people with a lower ability to be empathic feel disconnected from others, lonely, and depressed. It is harder to communicate effectively with empathy is lower. People are punished for being being different, and those punished withdraw from others.

 

 

Minocycline for OCD

If you have ever had bad acne, MRSA, and/or gonorrhea, you may be familiar with minocycline. Minocycline is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that kills all sorts of nasty pathogens. It also affects glutamate, the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain which serves multiple functions. Glutamate is the current target for innovation in psychiatric medication, because the whole dopamine and serotonin business hasn’t panned out as well as the mental health community would like. Minocycline is a convenient drug to study given that it has been in use for a long time and is relatively safe to use in both adults and children.

Apparently, it helps some people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) be less obsessive and compulsive. A Google search will produce multiple articles on the topic. For something that isn’t super jargony, check out the third article in the series titled Brain Hacking in the Washington Post.

People with OCD are stereotyped as orderly, perfectionist, and rigid. The OCD stereotype is inaccurate. The disorder is not characterized by personality traits, though people with OCD can struggle with them (perfectionism particularly). When I read about a medication for Leprosy that also treats OCD, I do wonder if the personalities of these folks changes somewhat – to what extent does personality reinforce OCD behaviors, and vice versa.

Frankly, I hope researchers find a magic pill for some of these things. As much as I love my job, I’d probably be content as a librarian or something. In the meantime…