Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Your Medical Questions Answered!
by Joseph B. Leibman, MD

Diplomate, Board Certification of Emergency Medicine

Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine Ma'ayenei Hayeshua Hospital

Emotional problems are a large part of medicine and we have dealt with some in the past in this forum. Today I would like to discuss denial.

When we were flying to the U.S.A. for my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, the plane had problems landing. Due to crosswinds and updrafts, the plane made a few attempts unsuccessfully to land with resultant stomach twirling maneuvers that had people white-knuckled and a few people vomiting. My reaction was that everything will be fine, these are trained professionals who know how to fly an airplane and so on. I was in denial -- while my wife did the proper thing: she began saying Tehillim.

Recently I watched my weight balloon because I was in denial. "I'm not that fat, I exercise daily, besides it is OK to binge every once in a while, all the experts say not to feel guilty, etc., etc." Denial. Finally I realized it and started a diet. I lost 30 pounds and feel great. (By the way, that was last March. We are still, thank G-d, holding).

Denial can be healthy and proper, especially a first reaction to bad news (such as a diagnosis of cancer lo oleinu) or to grief. But like sadness, it must have its limits or else it becomes pathological and can cause much damage. People in denial neglect to do the things that could really help them; and the longer they neglect medical problems, the worse they get.

If you are in denial, you are probably denying that you are in denial; so you'll have to depend on others to speak to you. Having a strong social structure and an open mind will go far in dealing with denial. Preventive measures include taking care of yourself, going to the doctor for yearly physicals, and mentally preparing yourself for all possible outcomes. Best of all be able to daven for yourself and for others who need help with this problem.

I should point out that depression is not denial. Depression can also be temporary and normal, it becomes pathological when it takes over lives by interfering with sleep, eating and function. In its extreme there are feelings of worthlessness of oneself and of one's life and this is the most common cause of people hurting themselves. These cases may need medications, with which people live normal lives.

While on this subject, I should mention manic depression, where there are mood swings that are extreme. The depressive phases alternate with manic phases, where the person may be giddy, spend lots of money and be very careless due to extreme "happiness." Again this can be controlled with medications.

Mild mood swings are normal and everyone has them -- just be careful when they take over one's life and functioning.

Denial is a gift, it can help soothe a painful event by making the acceptance smoother and more attenuated, but when used in excess it can be lethal. Write me in care of the Yated.

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