Sunday, January 4, 2015

Magical thinking in otherwise rational people

Above is some color in an otherwise drab day. My niece recently was in Panama and has quite the eye for color. If I were to take a photo outside my window today, it would be white and gray. But I was able to run in the slush which made me feel so much better and I made a lot of progress decluttering so yay for me.

I recently asked Naomi if Maya had had any accidents. Not for months she said. But the next time I saw her, she said that all of a sudden Maya did and it was all my fault as I had jinxed her by asking.

When I was recounting my year, I had wanted to say how for the first time in many years, no personal tragedy affected my immediate family last year (though I witnessed sad things outside of my family). I  was afraid to say it until after the year was over because a part of me thought, as soon as  I said it, someone would get into a horrific traffic accident. Yes I realize the foolishness of that.

Does whether you watch a game influence the outcome? Some people feel that. Some people they have to wear special clothes for their team to win. Yeah deep down, they know that is silly but then there is that voice....

Could our thoughts influence our health? Many say yes. So prostate cancer is more common in bald men than men with a full head of head. Makes sense to me as testosterone is a growth factor for prostate cancer and is associated with baldness . But presumably it can't be all explained by testosterone. One woman's thoughts (Ellen Langer of Harvard): Baldness is a sign of growing old. If you perceive that you are growing old, you can expect bad things to happen influencing your health in many negative ways eventually leading to prostate cancer. She has devoted her life's research showing how changing an individual's perception can change health. Her next big study: Take a group of stable Stage 4 breast cancer patients to a tropical resort and divide into 2 groups. Both groups would have a good time but one group would be bombarded with positive messages and treated as if nothing was wrong with their body. One problem: informed consent would have to say that there may be no benefit. But if you say there is no benefit, you may get a 'nocebo' effect, the opposite of a placebo effect. If you are told that good things will happen, they will happen even with a placebo. The converse is true. I am not sure how long this study will be but at some point, various markers of the disease will be measured. She is thinking that the positive imagery group will fare better.

To me, this comes dangerously close to blaming the patient for their disease.

If only you had a better attitude.

No one ever told me that (and lived) but I did hear a variation often: You will beat this because you have such a good attitude!!!!

Of course they meant well but it does put a burden on the patient to always be sunny lest they be accused of 'bad attitude'.

No one appeared to have a better attitude than my friend Hope and now she is dead. Of course maybe she was in deep despair but hid it real well; she hid it from all her family and husband. I think she only looked forward.

My neighbor is dying. He's been in palliative care for two months and was not expected to see the New Year. The mets are in his brain and liver along with the bones that they've been in for the past 6 years. His wife can't leave him for a second as he is confused, gets up and falls. What can I do? I offer to run errands. Last year, I tried to keep her walk snow free (another opportunity for that tomorrow) but I feel helpless. And while she watches her husband (my age) slowly die, her sump pump fails during that massive rain we had last week leading to 4 inches of water in her basement. Yep she needed that.

One aspect of the placebo affect has always puzzled me: the large placebo effect in antidepressants. It is very hard to suss out a 'real' antidepressant effect due to it. But I would think that the feeling of despair that depressed people have would make them resistant to it (It is hopeless; nothing can help). A psychiatrist friend told me that even depressed people have hope and thus there is a sizeable placebo effect. They want it to work so much that it does.

I do need to make some changes in my behavior. So far, I haven't had alcohol this year (though I had about a month's supply on New Year's Eve).  I find myself waiting for 5'oclock too eagerly (wine o'clock). Perhaps it is influencing my bad sleep patterns but the main thing is that wine is chock full of calories. This is the first step in reclaiming my body buried under so much fat.

1 comment:

Elephant's Child said...

I am guilty of a bit of magical thinking myself. Despite rather a lot of efforts to stop.
I agree with you wholeheartedly about the blame the victim which seems to go hand in hand with the positive thinking gurus.
Yesterday I saw an article which said that some of the cancer statistics at least come down to a question of 'luck'. Two individuals both with the same exposure to triggers. One will get it, the other won't.
Perhaps it is because we don't know enough, and perhaps it is totally random.
Sorry for the blog post in comment form.


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