Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guest Interview--Writer Julie Holland, Weekends at Bellevue, Part 2

photo: Cover of Weekends at Bellevue, from the previous interview post (see below)

As the title suggests, this is Part Two of my interview with writer, and Dr., Julie Holland.  She is the author of Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych. ER.  This was a very easy and quick read, interesting and entertaining.  Part One of the interview is here.  Thanks to all who commented and emailed about it.  If you're interested in the book, or in Dr. Holland's other writings, go to her website here.
4.  One of the running themes of your book is the courage to accept change.  Change was one of the hardest things for your patients to deal with, and your narrator also struggled with this, especially after the death of your friend, and after you felt yourself burning out at Bellevue.  Can you speak more of this now, and maybe about how some are better able to deal with change, while others perpetually struggle?
I think resilience is crucial to survival. Adapt or your species will die out. But many people are rigid, and get thrown off easily. They need to know what’s going to happen and how to prepare, but in life there’s really only so much you can predict. I honestly think that some of my experiences with psychedelics helped me to be flexible about my surroundings, to look at things from different perspectives, outside the box, as it were. The things that help me deal with change now are primarily a buddhist philosophy, and naturally not caring about much anyway. The older I get, the more nonplussed, but Buddhism teaches you to have an open hand, not grasping, not clinging. It comes, it goes. That is the basis for life. Nothing stays. At Bellevue the big drag for me wasn’t the unexpected. That was the fun part. It was the people coming in repeatedly, the ones who were “stuck.” Hitting spiritual brick walls, in the guise of addiction or other self-sabotage. Obviously in this case, change is needed. Insanity really is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.

5.   Could you boil your thoughts down to a few paragraphs each about the benefits of MDMA and Cannabis?
MDMA and Cannabis are both Schedule I drugs. This means our government deems them to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. They both have lower levels of addictive potential than cigarettes and alcohol, and they both have broad indications for therapeutic use, so they are inappropriately scheduled. MDMA assisted psychotherapy has been shown to be safe and effective in treating post traumatic stress disorder in various patient populations. I’m the medical monitor of two clinical research trial now enrolling veterans with PTSD from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One is using MDMA assisted psychotherapy, and the other is using various strains of cannabis to diminish their symptoms. MDMA is a catalyst that allows psychotherapy to go deeper, more quickly. I think of it almost like anesthesia for surgery, except you’re awake, aware, fully present, with enhance memory not only for the traumas, but for the session. Cannabis is an ancient medicinal plant that was in the pharmacopeia until the 1941. It was made illegal soon after alcohol became legal, and the AMA resisted the move then.  Recently, the American Medical Association came out supporting investigation and clinical research of cannabis for medicinal use. And The American College of Physicians recently expressed similar support. They have called on our government to move cannabis out of Schedule I. There is impressive medical evidence mounting that cannabis can treat a wide array of symptoms, from lack of hunger to muscle spasms, autoimmune diseases, migraines, seizures, pain, nausea, and the most surprising to me, cancer.

6.  Did you know when you were younger that you wanted to be--or that you would be--a professional in the medical field, and a published author?

I went to public school in a town outside of Boston. My mom was a science teacher, and paid attention to who my teachers were and how I was doing. I was in the advanced tracks, took AP classes, etc. I was a good student and got good grades, but I had plenty else going on in my life growing up. I had great friends in high school, and played in a band, so the big choice in my life was always between medicine and music. Not between medicine and writing. I was very interested in drugs and the brain and went to Penn because they had a major that combined neurology, behavior, and psychopharmacology. I was premed but threw away my application to med school once I found a band I thought could really “make it.” I ended up staying with that band until my 3rd year of med school, when I really couldn’t straddle both options anymore. The writing really came later for me.

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