Diagnostic Manual of Annoying Child Behaviors

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Last week, I traveled to South Carolina to spend a few days at the beach with my parents, niece, and nephew. My brother and his family live in SC while I’m in Texas, so I only get to see them once or twice a year. Needless to say, I really look forward to these trips, and always have fun with my niece and nephew. They’re sweet, funny, and charming little children.

However, they’re also children. Meaning they do irritating things sometimes.

In a previous post, I’ve talked about the fact that I question whether or not I want to have kids of my own. Before you throw rocks and pitchforks at me, just know that I happen to love kids, and even work with them in my job. Willingly. But I haven’t yet decided whether I want to subject myself to the never-ending, 24/7 responsibility of raising kids of my own.

As much fun as  I truly had with my little look-alike minions, some events of our vacation last week further reminded me about my hesitance. From an academic (read: nerdy) viewpoint, I was sort of fascinated by some of their behaviors.

“Why are you doing that? It’s weird. Stop.” – Me, every few minutes.

Part of my role as a therapist is to make diagnoses, and I found myself wondering whether some of my niece’s and nephew’s “quirks” might fall under brand new disorders. Feeling intrigued by this idea, I decided to create some new disorders all on my own.

Again, before you throw rocks and pitchforks, this is all in good fun 😉

Selective Speed of Movement
This is similar to Selective Mutism, an actual diagnosis in which children are unable to speak in certain settings due to intense social anxiety. You may also have heard of “selective hearing,” a phrase typically assigned to middle-aged men who seem to hear only what they want to hear.

Selective Speed of Movement applies to children who (at times) can move very, very quickly, such as when you tell them, “Go change into your swimsuit so we can go to the pool.”

Other times, these same children appear to become like sloths in a vat of maple syrup: Every. Tiny. Movement. Seems. To. Take. A. Great. Deal. Of. Effort. This hasn’t yet been studied in a lab, so it’s possible that syrup-covered sloths are actually quicker than the children.

This phenomenon is most likely to be triggered when you say something like, “Go brush your teeth.”

Overwhelming Urge to Press Buttons
Children with this mental disorder have an extreme desire to press any kind of button – microwave, elevator, figurative, etc. If you come across a child with severe OUPD and happen to push a button before they got the chance, prepare for their wrath. There will be whining, there will be angry faces. There may even be dramatic proclamations that you’ve ruined their day.

Misunderstanding of What Constitutes Fun for Adults
Symptoms include:

  • Asking you to watch them play their video game
  • Wanting to poke you in the face with various objects
  • Farting on you
  • Using your body as their personal diving board in the swimming pool
  • Expressing disappointment when you turn down any of the above activities

 

Inappropriate Internal Clock
This is a seasonal disorder that applies to children who wake up on summer days at 6:32 a.m. for no reason.

Pointless Competitiveness
Sometimes it’s good to have a little competition – it fosters hard work and determination, and there are lessons to be learned about both winning and losing.

 

But Pointless Competitiveness applies to scenarios where it makes no sense to compete, and there’s no clear winner. Children exhibiting PC might do any of the following:

  • Ruthlessly fight their way to be out the door first, despite arriving to the destination no quicker than anyone else
  • Passionately argue about who is the better “shuffler” (of cards)
  • Loudly declare that they have the smelliest feet

 

 

For those of you who have kids, know kids, or were once kids yourselves, what do you think of these (fake) disorders? Did any of them ring a bell for you? What would you add to this list?

 

Thoughts I Have When Texts Go Unanswered

You know when you text one of your friends or family, and they don’t respond for awhile, and you spend those minutes or hours agonizing about the reason for their silence?

No? Just me?

Okay, I’ll admit that occasionally, when my texts or phone calls go unreturned, my brain goes a tiny bit haywire. Unanswered texts feel a tiny bit like rejection, and like most homo sapiens, the emotion center of my brain doesn’t like this feeling.

So what does it do?

It employs a number of strategies to decrease this icky reaction. First, it tries to distract itself. Then, it attempts to figure out the reason for the lack of response (and this guessing game can go on for quite a while.) If those techniques don’t work, my brain will devise a list of bullshit reasons for why I should try to make contact again.

Here’s an idea of what this internal dialogue looks like:

  1. They must be busy. No big!
  1. I HAVE been texting them a lot lately. Maybe I’m being too needy
  1. Nah, they’re probably just busy. Cooking dinner, maybe. They’ll text when they can.
  1. Unless they’re mad at me. Didn’t I say something weird to them four days ago? I probably upset them with my strangeness.
  1. Did they have some sort of big event or task to do tonight? I feel like a better friend would remember these things.
  1. Perhaps this is their gentle way of letting me know I text them too much. I’ll try to stop.
  1. Unless maybe I should text them again and ASK if I’m being too clingy? No, don’t do that.
  1. Just going to casually check to make sure my phone isn’t on silent. We’re good.
  1. OH MY GOD WHAT IF THEY’RE IN A DITCH SOMEWHERE?!
  1. They’re probably not in a ditch. There aren’t a lot of ditches around here, anyway. It’s mostly just hills and cliffs.
  1. Seriously, what if they’re mad at me? I shouldn’t have said that vaguely teasing thing a couple of weeks ago.
  1. Okay ya little narcissist – not everything is about you. There could be about 100 different reasons why they haven’t responded, and most of them don’t involve you.
  1. You know what, maybe they were in the bathroom when I texted and they just didn’t hear the phone go off! Maybe they desperately want someone to reach out to them tonight, and have no idea that I tried. I’ll just send another text…
  1. Wait, what if they’re with another group of friends, and they’re all sitting around laughing about me, and placing bets to see how many times I text them? Well, I won’t give in to that game!
  1. Dude, get a hold of yourself. They’re probably busy, or maybe they just don’t feel like talking right now. You understand that.
  1. Think of something else. Think of something else. Think of something else.
  1. Crocheting is FUN! I’m totally focused on learning this new stitch. In fact, I feel so fulfilled by this activity, I’ve completely forgotten that my loved one is ignoring me!
  1. You know what, I can’t blame them. This is what I get for being such a clingy weirdo. A clingster. A cling-meister.
  1. What if this is a test of my friendship? What if they’re feeling really sad, and the lack of response is a challenge to see how hard I’ll try to help them? A really good friend would keep texting until they got an answer, right? Or would they call? Maybe go over to the house?
  1. That’s it. I need new hobbies. I’m going to make myself SO busy that I don’t even have time to send text messages in the first place.
  1. Just going to casually check my phone to see if I missed a response. Totally don’t care if there’s not one.

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Anyone else occasionally feel this way when a loved one doesn’t answer your phone call or text? (Please tell me I’m not the only one!) What sorts of thoughts do you have when this happens? What do you say to yourself to gain control?

Therapy is a Mental Work Out

In my yoga class the other night, I had an epiphany. Yoga-induced epiphanies are probably pretty common, but I’m going to guess that most of them revolve around how to achieve inner peace within our chaotic world.

Mine wasn’t.

Let’s back up. I attend a yoga class on Tuesday evenings after work, and over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few more yoga-doers than usual. Considering we’re still early into 2016, I’m guessing my suddenly-busier class is the direct result of New Year’s resolutions.

Although I don’t usually make a resolution myself, I genuinely admire those who do. Resolution-makers want to live healthier, happier, more-enriched lives, and are (hopefully) taking the steps needed to make that happen.

These courageous souls are attempting to cut back on wine or delicious fattening foods.

They’re joining gyms.

They’re…gulp…exercising.

I’m especially in awe of the people who just jump right in and go from Couch Potato-ing to Insane Psycho Spin Class-ing overnight. That shit’s admirable. The closest I get to taking a spin class is attending a yoga class that happens to be held in a spin studio.

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Even if the new routine doesn’t last as long as they’d hoped, at least the resolution-makers are giving it a shot. Meanwhile, I’ll growl and punch you in the face if you try to take my chocolate away.

Getting a gym membership isn’t the only way that I’ve seen people attempting to help themselves or others – as a children’s counselor, I’m seeing more kids in therapy now than I was last month. Granted, this is probably more of a Susie-needs-help-but-let’s-get-through-the-holidays-first phenomenon more than an actual “resolution,” but the idea of making positive changes and starting over fresh in the new year is still much the same.

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Keeping all of this in mind, I was in the middle of downward-dogging in my class when this epiphany hit:

Attending therapy is a lot like working out at a gym.

The more I thought about it, the more similarities I came up with. After all, both (may) involve:

  • Acknowledging that there’s some sort of challenge or problem
  • Seeking out a means to working on that problem
  • Talking with a professional to get support and/or guidance
  • Being honest about uncomfortable and vulnerable things
  • Giving up flawed coping mechanisms in favor of healthier ones
  • Doing a lot of “heavy lifting” (whether mentally or physically)

Call me biased, but I do think the mental work involved in therapy is a bit more intense than the physical work of being at the gym. At the gym, you might do several different exercises in one trip – maybe you warm up on the elliptical, move to free weights, and then cool down with stretches on a mat.

But being in therapy means doing a lot of exercises at the exact same time. Imagine your hippocampus jogging on a treadmill, while your Broca’s area does bench presses and your prefrontal cortex swims some laps.
Nevertheless, both activities can be really scary, especially in the beginning. Both might be accompanied by a loss of hope and motivation when there are setbacks. Both might make you feel worse before you get better.

And both take a lot of courage.

Zero Shades of Gray

So many issues in life are not simply black and white.

 

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Our society is incredibly and beautifully complex, and it’s not always possible, or even preferable, to divide things into two clean columns. Whether you’re deciding on the moral decency of the death penalty, debating nature vs. nurture, or ranking the deliciousness level of a queso, the truth is almost always broader, richer, and “grayer” than we give it credit for.

On the other hand, a lot of things in life really are dichotomous.

Call me divisive, but I do think that some issues can be split into black/white, either/or categories, and there’s simply no room for “happy mediums” or shades of gray.

Things such as:

• The Friendliness of Squirrels  
All squirrels are either lovely woodland creatures straight from Snow White who come up to you with their tiny little squirrel faces, and are so cute that you just want to put a couple of them in the pocket of your sweatshirt and take them home and make them your babies and live happily ever after, and they’re totally worth writing a rambling run-on sentence for because they’re just THAT adorable,

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The squirrels at the Austin state capitol are especially charming.

 or they’re mutant beasts who block your path and glare at you with murder in their eyes. There is no in-between.

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• My Manners at Walmart
I dread ALL trips to the grocery store, but my ability to conceal this feeling varies from trip to trip. Sometimes, I am the epitome of grocery store etiquette: I smile at everyone, I offer to reach things that the height-challenged folks can’t get to, and I graciously allow others to go by when it’s really my right of way.

If I’m feeling jazzy, I’ll even throw in an “after you, fine sir!” for good measure.

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Other times, my grocery cart becomes a weapon that I use during a fit of road rage. I dash down the aisles like a madwoman, and obnoxiously careen around people who dare get in front of me on my way to the lunchmeat. If I come close to genuinely running someone over, I shoot them semi-apologetic eyes. But I don’t slow down.

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• People’s Opinions about Cilantro  
No other herb is as polarizing as cilantro. Hell, possibly no other thing on Earth is as polarizing. I’m in the camp of people who love it and gleefully add it to tacos and other dishes, but lots and lots of people seem to really, really HATE it. They loathe the stuff with a passion that is almost admirable.

No one, no one, feels just “meh” about cilantro.

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• People’s Opinions about Texas
There are some strong feelings out there about the good ol’ Lone Star State. Find any Internet article about anything happening in Texas, and scroll down to the comments section to feast your eyes on the contrasting opinions. People either express great fondness and pride for the food, friendliness, and fun…

 

 

…or they absolutely detest what they perceive as a lack of education and open-mindedness. And/or they hate the gun culture. And the unpredictable weather. And the fact that other people love it so much.

People in this group are basically crossing their fingers that the entire state will just fall into the Gulf.

• All Things Australian
One thing I’ve learned through reading countless Reddit discussions and Buzzfeed articles is that the world really doesn’t like the Kardashians. But on a more relevant note, I’ve also learned that that every single thing in Australia is either amazingly wondrous…

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… or it wants to kill you in a slow, torturous, painful way. There is no gray area in that place.

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And the last true black and white issue:

• The Accuracy of Those “Psychological Facts” that Circulate the Internet
We’ve all seen them. Those colorful squares that display sweet and interesting statements about the human brain, feelings, and relationships. Their messages vary, but they almost always include the words “science” or “psychologists” or “fact,” as though that automatically validates their accuracy.

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Nothing says “fact” like an error in grammar!

Even people who are usually skilled at thinking and discerning get sucked into the heart-tugging statements, because they so badly want them to be true.

To be fair, some of those “facts” really are accurate, as they come from ACTUAL research studies that have been replicated a zillion times.

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I’m a little bugged by the use of “happy chemicals” in this one, but at least the idea behind it is true. Source

Unfortunately, most of the statements are wildly and bewilderingly false.

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You know facts are true when they’re spelled with a Z.
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Seriously, how did someone get the idea that human dreams are all interconnected somehow?
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You just can’t make this crap up. Oh wait – apparently, you can.
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This one MUST be true, because it’s written in such a serious-looking font. But seriously – how did this one even come to be? Maybe my eye is tearing up because I have something in it. You don’t know my life!

I may have gotten a bit carried away with the  examples, but that’s okay, because it’s a scientific fact that getting carried away on projects is a sign of genius-level intelligence. See what I did there?

Anyway, where do YOU stand on these controversial issues? Have you actually come across a squirrel that was neither friendly nor terrifying? Or perhaps you don’t have strong feelings (good or bad) about cilantro?

What issues are black and white for you?

 

I Amygdala You

I’ve found a great way to aggravate people.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go around irritating others. I’m usually not the kind of person who enjoys doing things like that, though I know those people exist – usually in the form of older brothers. But if you ever find yourself needing some sort of revenge against someone (and slashing their tires seems a bit harsh), this idea would probably be effective.

Here’s what you do:

  • Step 1: Earn someone’s trust and friendship. This may take awhile, depending on the quality of your social skills.

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  • Step 2: Once you’ve earned this person’s trust, prepare yourself to become a sounding board for his or her feelings. This is an unpleasant but necessary part of friendship.

 

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  • Step 2a: When the person finally starts talking about feelings, relationships, or other sentimental crap  things, he or she will likely say something along the lines of, “It’s like my heart is saying one thing, and my brain is saying another.”
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This is where you attack.

  • Step 3: Grin maniacally and pipe up with, “Actually, the heart is an organ that pumps blood throughout the body! It has no thoughts or feelings!”
    • Bonus points if you appear overly excited when explaining this to them.

The person will very quickly get annoyed, because they were trying to have a heartfelt conversation, and you clearly ruined that. They may even try to argue by saying, “Yeah, I know that the heart technically doesn’t have thoughts. I just meant that I’m thinking with my emotions.”

…Which, of course, you can energetically respond with, “The emotions don’t come from the heart, silly! They come from a little structure in the brain called the amygdala!” (Show them this diagram, if necessary.)

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Your friend will be super grateful for the anatomy lesson, and not at all peeved that you were an insensitive jerk. Or, they’ll hate you, and you’ll have gotten revenge for whatever minor crime they committed against you. Either way, it’s useful.

This technique works in other kinds of situations as well:

  • The next time your partner looks at you fondly and proclaims that they “heart you,” smile back and sweetly say, “And I amygdala you too, muffin.” SO romantic.
  • If you’re at a funeral or some other solemn event, and the person in charge invites people from the audience to come to the front and “speak from the heart,” stand up and loudly declare, “My heart does NOT speak! But I’ll talk from the emotion center of my brain – it has lots to say!”
  • When singing along to any song that includes the word “heart,” replace that word with “amygdala.” The number of syllables won’t match up, and the rhyming will be ruined, but damn it – you’ll be anatomically accurate! And that’s worth … I don’t know, something.
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Believe it or not, there are also situations where this technique may actually backfire. Weird, I know.

  • If a person is clutching her chest and saying she’s having a heart attack, it’s unlikely that her amygdala is acting up. (Not impossible, but unlikely.)
  • On the other hand, if someone simply complains about a “hurting heart,” they could technically be referring to either their chest heart or their brain heart. In order to clear up any confusion, if you ever see someone making this complaint, it’d be best to lunge at them and scream, “What do you mean?!? Is it your LITERAL heart or your FIGURATIVE heart?? What is the geographical location of your pain?! Help me to help you!!!”

The above situations are the only times that this technique would be a bad idea. Otherwise, it’s perfect.

Totally Legitimate Scientific Theory

In college, I took a course in neuropsychology and loved learning about different parts of the brain and their various functions. I learned neat phrases like, “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex” and “anterior cingulate gyrus.” I have only a thin grasp of what either of those things mean, but my ability to insert them in conversation makes me really fun at parties.

One thing I learned is that our good friend The Frontal Lobe, which I like to call “Fro Lo” (okay, this is the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) is responsible for planning, decision-making, memory, and behavior.

Fro Lo helps you put together plans for a Saturday picnic, remember where your house is located, and inhibit your impulse to laugh during funerals. When your friend suggests getting drunk and dancing topless on the roof of your own house, if you respond with, “Nah that’s okay, I’ll just stay in and watch Netflix,” you can thank Fro Lo for doing its job.

Here is my crude interpretation of what the frontal lobe and his lobe-y friends are up to in the brain:

 

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Whenever I see diagrams of the brain, I can’t help but think that my brain seems to be divided up in a very different manner. For example, I like to think that I’m pretty well-behaved, and my mind never seems to stop thinking/obsessing, so it seems like my frontal lobe should be slightly larger than normal. To compensate for this change in size, my cerebellum is probably somewhat smaller; this theory checks out because I have little to no balance or coordination (and anyone who has seen me dance or  play sports would agree).

My brainstem is likely the correct size, though, because I feel about averagely talented at things like breathing and blinking.

This theory is totally scientific and completely accurate.

I think my brain would be more truthfully depicted in a pie chart. Let’s go back to my Fro Lo, for example. Ideally, it would contain a neat, organized arrangement of intelligent information, well-planned ideas, and pleasant memories.

Instead, my frontal lobe probably looks something like this:

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  •  Useless facts = Information that is in no way needed in my daily life, but once struck me as interesting, so it’s in my memory to stay – maybe forever. These facts might be useful for someone, but the point is, they serve no purpose in MY life. I can tell you that women blink more than men, that triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen, and that only 5% of babies are born on their actual due date. Want to know the clinical term for Mad Cow Disease? It’s Spongiform Encephalopathy.     These useless facts do come in handy during games like Trivial Pursuit, though. I’ve also used the facts as some sort of bartering mechanism; when people help me do menial tasks that I should be able to handle on my own, I like to “thank” them by informing them that the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo.
  • Song Lyrics = The words to any song that I’ve ever memorized in my entire life. This includes everything from classical music learned throughout seven years of choir to the most excellent of 90s songs (I’m looking at you, Backstreet Boys). If you’re ever in a situation where you urgently need to know the words to Destiny’s Child “Say My Name” or Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” I’m your girl.
  • Quotes from Friends = Let’s just say, I’m a big fan, and leave it at that. Just kidding, I have plenty more to say about it! I own all ten seasons on DVD, and have seen each episode more than I can count, and probably more than is healthy. No matter what topic is being discussed, I can find a relevant quote or plot to rattle off. Remember the “fun fact” about triskaidekaphobia? Straight from Friends. I have never failed a single internet quiz about the show, and I’m fairly certain that’s something to brag about. And if you complain about your overbearing mother, I might just say, “Hahaha, yeah that reminds me of a Friends episode where Monica’s mom is super condescending to her and it makes Monica insane.” (Side note: that’s a scenario that happens in multiple episodes.)
  • Information relevant to my career = This is where knowledge about life span development, dynamics of domestic violence, and mental health diagnoses all reside. You may have noticed that all of the unimportant facts, memorized songs, and sitcom quotes are taking up much more room in my brain than information that is actually helpful and necessary.
  •  Phone numbers to elementary school friends = This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Back in elementary, cell phones barely existed and certainly weren’t given to 10-year-olds, but actual real-life address books weren’t exactly cool either, so everyone just memorized their friends’ numbers. And apparently, my brain has decided that these numbers are more important than other things. Things like conjugating irregular Spanish verbs, or knowing how to do stuff on Excel.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’m the only one whose Fro Lo is arranged a bit differently…

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Now it’s time to ask yourself one of life’s great philosophical questions: what would a pie chart of your frontal lobe look like?