Anatomy of a Brain, Reborn

Re-posting from December 2015, because it just keeps coming up….also, consider this a book review – one of the few books I got excited enough about to share.

I have a new obsession.  Thank you, Robert Whitaker, for making me paranoid and sending me back into a new depressive cycle.  Just kidding.  I thank you, for being confident and brave enough to go against an accepted society standard (notice I didn’t say “go against science”) and encourage people to reconsider our societal paradigm of mental health treatment.

For those who don’t know your book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, it chronicles the history of mental health treatment and outcomes in the United States for over 60 years.  The evidence presented demonstrates that the pharmaceutical revolution used for psychiatry since the 1950s has consistently contributed to poor outcomes, or, in extreme cases, complete disability for those suffering from bouts of mental disorders.

The research presented showcases more traditional treatments including group therapy and therapeutic homes that demonstrate that even those with serious mental breakdowns or schizophrenic episodes have recovered throughout history. The most damning link (and most reminiscent of Freakanomics) chronicles the re-birth of psychiatry using the medical model in the 1980s.  This period is highlighted by and permeated with the funding and partnership with pharmaceutical companies who seek to exploit consumerism in the treatment of mental health.

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for reminding me that capitalism and continuous growth are not healthy bedfellows for the human body or mind. Thank you for reminding me that someone else’s corruption should not end with my addiction and downward spiral.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but throughout the weeks I’ve read your book, I now wonder if the psychiatry profession and pharmaceutical companies aren’t in love with mass murder in this country.  In case you haven’t noticed, effects of these shootings include 1) criticizing the gun lobby like its the only agent with a stake in the game (although it certainly deserves it’s share of criticism) 2) hearing many well-intentioned people, including AP columnists, talk about the need to get people with mental health disorders “on medications.”  Somewhere in the mid-west, a chic hotel is booked full of pharma lobbyists drunkenly cackling with their sweet success.

Hell, even Paul Ryan, in response to the mass shootings in San Bernadino, has proposed legislation that would force compliance with medications and other physician-prescribed treatments.  Is he in bed with big pharma or just brainwashed like the rest of us?  The only thing that possibly terrifies me more than Drumpf handing out identification cards to Muslims is the thought that someone like – well, me – could be forced to comply with a regimen that has proven harmful to generations of people.

I’ve wondered plenty of times if I’m crazy, and have sought treatment in the past, but now I’m scared to do so again, for fear that I wouldn’t have any choice or right of refusal.  I’ve been prescribed drugs before for anxiety, but now that I’m starting to question this, I’m finding that I’m a bit of a maverick.  What might start as a desire to quell anxiety and self-actualize could end up with me drugged and a shrunken hollow shell of myself.  (Don’t blame me for the melodrama, it’s a sign – or is it a symptom? – of high anxiety.  And by the way, my questioning of my own use of pharmaceuticals should not be interpreted to mean that I judge anyone else for his or her decision with regard to the same.  But seriously, read the book first.)

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for reminding me that I have a choice.

Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for putting me and my most precious relationship back into the realm of “normal” and reminding me that I am / we are more than whatever DSM category the psychiatrists are inventing these days.

Since reading Anatomy of an Epidemic, my mantra has become, “Anxiety and depression are normal in human populations. I’ll exercise and eat right, and also place blame on the huge stressors in my life (spouse’s deployment). I will not beat myself up for feeling down.”  I put these phrases on repeat as I walk through my neighborhood.  I don’t dare tell anyone what I’m thinking. I’ve already heard three other ladies this week tell me they “take a little something” to help them, which is their prerogative, but doesn’t make me feel any better about my newfound decision to go against the grain.  As any personal with sad or anxious thoughts can tell you that it only makes matters worse to receive the paternalistic reaction that maybe you only think the way you do since your brain is a little off.

Thank you, Robert, for listening to me.  For believing me.

It’s About Time…

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a staunch advocate of reproductive rights. Yup, the kind that favor women’s choices, open access to such choices, and private conversations with medical professionals. I know that sometimes qualifies me as a revolutionary, but it makes great sense considering 1) I’m a woman and 2) I don’t like people telling me what to do (with my body, specifically, but in general is also true).

However, I’m quite used to a society that places women’s health, choices, and bodies at the bottom of the ladder. So it came as no surprise to see that Ohio just passed a “heartbeat bill”, which would make it illegal to get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Mind you, at six weeks of pregnancy, a women has actually only been pregnant about four weeks, since you count the first two weeks after her last period and before she ovulates and can conceive. That means a woman might only have a clue she’s been pregnant since week four (and that’s if the woman’s menstrual cycle is regular and predictable), leaving her all of two weeks to decide what her future life should look like.

I’ve heard all the arguments: women should abstain from sex. Women should use proper contraception. Women shouldn’t sleep around. Blah, blah, blah. And you know what my response is? So should men, but you don’t hear anyone telling them to get their sexual shit together. When it comes to sex, men, it seems, don’t factor into the baby-making equation at the political level. Riddle me that. Why don’t we require men who make babies to undergo a father readiness test? Or perhaps prove that he’s got dough before getting it on? In a “fair” world, all sorts of male reproductive possibilities would be scrutinized and judged.

Most women, including lots of married women, get pregnant unintentionally, and most go on to have the baby.

However, abortion isn’t about women who are awful people deciding to commit murder. It’s about choice. A woman’s choice must come before an embryo’s rights. I believe this for multiple reasons, not the least of which include that whenever political groups try to restrict this critical choice, women die. It’s happening now in Texas, where the closure of several abortion centers has led to a maternal mortality rate of 33/100,000 women – up from 18/100,000 just a few years ago and on par with several countries we like to think we don’t compare to, like Oman or Latvia (what?!). Our national average of 21 maternal deaths /100,000 women is on par with – wait for it – Iran! Yaya!!

And I’m really tired of the argument that abortion is about eugenics. I’m aware that its advocates had a messy start in this country, with history mired in the eugenics movement. But today, in real time, women of color are the ones disproportionately affected by maternal mortality and lack of access to reproductive services. This means that women of color die from lack of options – killing not just them but their future children, too. So don’t tell me that the pro-life movement is trying to protect women of color.

Don’t get me wrong – I love babies. I love to see healthy babies who are wanted, loved, and cared for. Babies are wonderful possibilities and once born, their right to life is important and valid. However, while part of the mother, the mother’s rights must supersede those of her embryo or fetus. If we don’t put her first, we put both mother and baby last – we put them last in line for health services, last in line for assistance, last in line for support. In fact, the only place a pregnant woman who seeks to terminate her pregnancy currently comes first is castigation.

Women must come first because precisely because they carry future generations. If women are not economically stable, healthy, supported, and in a good place to be mothers, how do we suppose their offspring will be? Pardon me if I believe that the miracle comes not from expecting women to magically raise perfect children, but rather in creating a society that allows women to live up to their potential.

So shame on you, Ohio. But other lawmakers are getting it right. Case in point, Mia McLeod of South Carolina has just introduced a bill which would require men who seek treatment for erectile dysfunction to wait 24 hours to fill the prescription, have a sworn statement from their partners of the problem, and undergo a psychological assessment.

Make no mistake, these bills don’t care about whether or not men use Viagra. What they absolutely aim to do is highlight the injustices aimed at women who seek abortions. It’s about time someone cared about women. It’s about damn time.

See story:

Maternal mortality numbers from the 2014 CIA factbook: