Cracked

The Book of the Week is “Cracked” by Dr. Drew Pinsky with Todd Gold, published in 2004.

The author of this ebook, a doctor, recounts his experiences treating drug addicts in a rehabilitation facility. Many of his patients were subjected to various kinds of childhood abuse that “…caused them to feel helpless, powerless, and in grave danger.” They became distrustful, and had difficulty making social connections and processing emotions. Many had parents who were addicts.

Some people are genetically predisposed to becoming addicts. One fifth of people entering rehab are addicted to marijuana, and usually, alcoholism runs in their families. People may develop lesions on the brain after just a couple of exposures to the drug ecstasy. Many people turn to shoplifting as a substitute thrill to opiate abuse in trying to quit their addiction.

At the start of addiction, the nucleus accumbens in the brain changes so that the body thinks that controlled substances such as heroin, alcohol, cocaine, etc., are necessary for survival. Beating an addiction requires rewiring some of the noncognitive parts of the brain.

Sadly, American society pressures its citizens to derive emotional comfort from material possessions, an unhealthy practice. “We forget that people feel best when they’re interacting, talking, helping, and creating with other people… face to face, particularly in times of adversity or when they’re feeling threatened.”

Read the book to learn the stories of typical addicts, the detrimental behaviors of their loved ones, and of the author’s frustrations with his patients’ stingy insurance companies.

Bonus Post

Today is Thanksgiving Day for Americans, many of whom use the excuse of a celebration based on a traditional story of questionable veracity to:

take a break from work

overindulge in certain foods

watch aggressive men play a game called “football” (though the foot is seldom used) and

show fleeting gratitude for their material possessions.

This holiday is a sad commentary on the lack of happiness in the United States.

Along these lines, this blogger would like to list a few interesting, general factoids from the book, “Happiness From the Inside Out” by Robert Mack, published in 2009.

“The second reason people try to buy happiness with success is that they actually mistake success for happiness. They think success and happiness are the same thing, or least should be the same thing.  But happiness is more than success.”

A woman’s, but not a man’s happiness level rises with the birth of a child.

Both parents experience lower happiness levels with the birth of children after the first one.

Parents feel least happy through the kids’ teenage years, and their mood improves significantly only when the kids move out.

In a widely publicized, competitive environment like the Olympics, second-place finishers tend to be harder on themselves than third-place finishers. The silver medal winners compare themselves to the gold medal winners, so they feel more anguish at losing than the bronze medal winners, who compare themselves to all other competitors.

The third-tier athletes are happier– more grateful for what they have; they put things in perspective. Enough said.

A First-Rate Madness

The Book of the Week is “A First-Rate Madness, Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness” by Nassir Ghaemi, published in 2011. This book describes the leadership abilities of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, various Civil War generals, Adolf Hitler, George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Ted Turner, as determined by their mental health, or lack thereof.

The author argues that most people who have mental illness are not insane all the time; they merely have abnormal moods, such as depression or mania some of the time. He claims that mentally ill political and military leaders are heroic in times of crisis, and mediocre during peaceful, uneventful times; the opposite is true for mentally healthy leaders. This concept can be applied to the corporate world, too.

“In a strong economy, the ideal business leader is the corporate type… He may not be particularly creative… all is well only when all that matters is administration… When the economy is in crisis… the corporate executive takes a backseat to the entrepreneur…” It is rare to find someone who is an excellent leader under both extreme and normal conditions.

Ghaemi contends that “…depression led to more, not less realistic assessments of control over one’s environment, an effect that was only enhanced by a real-world emotional desire…” In other words, people prone to clinical depression have a more acute sense of reality than those who are not, a concept called “depressive realism.”

When the mentally healthy leader faces a crisis, he handles it poorly, because having suffered little in his youth, he “…hasn’t had a chance to develop resilience that might see him through later hardships” and has not developed the ability to empathize. George W. Bush was one such leader. To boot, he had “hubris syndrome.” Getting drunk on power, like many mentally healthy leaders, made him “…unwilling and even unable to accept criticism or correctly interpret events that diverge from their own beliefs. Hubris syndrome worsens with duration and absoluteness of one’s rule.”

Read the book to understand the psychology behind the successes and failures of the aforementioned leaders.

The Black Swan

The Book of the Week is “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, published in 2010. In this book, the author explains his theory about rare, unexpected events, “Black Swans”– unexpected by those affected, because human traits and uncertain situations cause people to draw the wrong conclusions, formulate the wrong predictions, and make the wrong decisions. “Black Swan events are largely caused by people using measures way over their heads, instilling false confidence based on bogus results.” The author applies his ideas mostly to “experts” who manipulate the financial markets.

While Taleb makes some good points, this blogger suspects that very few readers of this book will come away fully understanding what a Black Swan is. Taleb tries to provide several examples; his illustrations are unclear as to why one event is a Black Swan and why another is not.

One example consists of five trading managers at a European-owned financial institution who wrote a five-year plan. Having neglected to consider all possible adverse future events, they were done in by “the Black Swan of the Russian financial default of 1998 and the accompanying meltdown of the values of Latin American debt markets.” Yet, Taleb writes that the 2008 financial crisis was not a Black Swan. He says such a cluster screw-up will happen again. A Black Swan is a negative or more rarely, a positive occurrence that in general, has never happened before.

One human trait people have is that they are reluctant to attribute events to randomness. But Taleb thinks randomness plays a part in all sorts of events, including long winning streaks of investors. He even generated a computer simulation showing how it would be impossible not to have money managers who beat the market year after year– he says they did so simply by luck alone. Another reason these investors are overrated is that people hear more often about winners rather than losers.

Taleb writes, “We want to be told stories, and there is nothing wrong with that– except that we should check more thoroughly whether the story provides consequential distortions of reality… Just consider that the newspapers try to get impeccable facts, but weave them into a narrative in such a way as to convey the impression of causality (and knowledge).”

The Birthday Party

The Book of the Week is “The Birthday Party” by Stanley N. Alpert, published in 2008. This is the personal account of one man’s harrowing experience of being kidnapped off the streets of New York City by a group of dangerous criminals at their whim. On his birthday.

Alpert’s nerdy personality made him an easy target. Ironically, however, he had the street smarts that allowed him to maximize his chances of survival. Read the book to learn how this suspenseful, emotional cautionary tale played out.

Against Medical Advice

The Book of the Week is “Against Medical Advice” by James Patterson and Hal Friedman, published in 2008. This book discusses the struggle of a teenage boy (Friedman’s son) with various psychological disorders; obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome among them.

Cory tried to live a normal life, but by his teen years, he had fallen woefully behind socially and educationally. He had friends, but they were misfits like himself. At one point, he tried checking into an institution but found his life was not improving. However, the law required him to stay there a certain number of days, unless his parents signed a document stating he was refusing to accept the judgement of professionals about his treatment.

A last-ditch effort saw Cory enter an extremely radical program– a survival camp, of sorts– in which kids were forced to cooperate with each other in a harsh environment, or literally face death.

Read the book to learn how Cory fared.

Among the Thugs

The Book of the Week is “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford, published in 1992. The author describes how the herd mentality in humans can start a riot.

Buford provides the example of European football supporters (who would be called soccer fans in the United States). Most of them work at blue-collar jobs during the week, and on the weekend– attend a pro football game at the stadium. Prior to and during the game, they drink a vast quantity of alcohol. The situation often turns violent after the game. Most people do not conceive of themselves as susceptible to the herd mentality– it is those hot-tempered people who cause all the trouble.

Read the book to see how people who are usually rational can get emotionally pulled into exhibiting extreme behavior, becoming a danger to themselves and others.

Weekends At Bellvue

The Book of the Week is “Weekends at Bellvue” by Julie Holland, published in 2009. This is a personal account of a psychiatrist who, for nine years, managed weekend admissions to Bellvue, the New York City mental hospital.

Prior to Bellvue, Dr. Holland did her residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1992. On her first day, she was put in charge of a patient who believed he was God. Later, she joked to her mother, “…I am starting my medical career at the very top… I am God’s doctor!”

She describes the office politics at Bellvue, why she admitted or released all kinds of patients, including criminals, crime victims, the homeless, addicts, malingerers and people truly in need of help. Colorful vignettes are alternated with details of her personal life. She discusses the growth of her personal relationships– with a close colleague, and with her own psychiatrist, with her eventual life partner, and children. She also relates her fears of being the victim of retaliation by a former employee, and dangerous patients.

There were some extreme stories. At the occurrence of the World Trade Center disaster, a manic Iowa man rode a bus all the way to Ground Zero to help with the recovery effort. There, he was somehow able to get inside and operate a backhoe. He told Dr. Holland, “They need my help.”

Dr. Holland realized she was frustrated that she was able to help patients only temporarily. Bellvue is a revolving door of sorts. Some patients return again and again, because they lack a support system to lift them permanently out of their bad situations, such as addiction, homelessness, or their going off their medication. If Dr. Holland judged that their situations warranted admission to Bellvue, they might get detoxed or restarted on their medication, and/or a comfortable place to sleep in the short term, but once released, would return to the same situation again.

In the end, Dr. Holland left Bellvue because she felt she could be of more assistance to patients in private practice in that she could establish a one-on-one long-term treatment program with them.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The Book of the Week is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, published in 1990.  The author tells readers how to improve their social skills to achieve their goals. He illustrates his points with anecdotes on parenting in his own large family. One phrase in the book that stuck in this blogger’s mind is, “Use your resources and initiative.”