Archive for the 'Mental health' Category

msmeta’s metaphysical hangover

January 5, 2009

women101207_468x4591Thanks to Paper Cuts at the NYTimes, I now have a name for my post-holiday angst, what Kingsley Amis called a “metaphysical hangover”:

…that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future [says Amis]… You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a skunk you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.

That “fear for the future” has been compounded in recent weeks for all of us, and after the frivolity of the past two weeks (I admit to five parties in one six-day stretch around New Year’s Day), it is time for that confounded piper to be paid.

So the Christmas lights are all down and packed away, the cupboard has been cleared of all Christmas goodies and the pantry stocked with NutriSystem and SlimFast, the poinsettias have withered away — and I am back at my desk, glad to have a job, but wishing that the paper narcissus bulbs would bloom already and give me a little burst of spring.

Cheerier posts will resume shortly. Promise.


Boomer suicides

October 23, 2008

There’s a startling and rather depressing discussion going on at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast over the American Journal of Preventative Medicine’s newly released study on baby boomers and suicide:

[B]etween 1999 and 2005, the suicide rate lept by 3.9 percent among white women aged 40 to 64, and by 2.7 percent among white men in the same age group—increases of 35 and 33 percent, respectively. Suicide in other groups decreased or remained steady, prompting one of the study’s co-authors to label middle-aged whites “a new high-risk group.”

Why are Boomers taking their lives? The news reports cite several possibilities: deteriorating access to mental health care, higher rates of prescription drug use, and more reluctance among women to undergo hormone replacement therapy during menopause. But online, in feedback sections and message boards, many Boomers have their own theories: outsourced jobs, too much atheism, piling debt, and being forced to care for their elderly parents.

This information has been reported on several other news outlets I’ve run into, but The Daily Beast opened its site for discussion, and some of the reports were hard to read, like this one by Marcygirl:

Even though I worked since I was 14, it wasn’t at the same job and have no retirement, so I was forced to realize that I’d probably have to work until I die. And that was doable until I got caught in the economic crash and not only lost my home, but my job was in real estate and I lost my job. Then I hit a brick wall with medical issues and, now, at 58 years old I’m 3 weeks away from being evicted from my rental, with no place to go, a state, county, and federal system that has no suggestions for people like me and the only answers I receive are “I don’t know, we have senior housing, but there’s a 2 year waiting list”. I am now becoming one of the invisible people and know that 3 weeks from now I have to walk out this front door and just keep on walking.

And the comments to these stories! Yikes!

Seriously, you poor, sad baby boomers make me sick [wrote Aaronthethird]. You all feel like life is unfair and too hard and poor baby doesn’t have life handed to them on a golden platter. Its your pathetic selfishness that has lead this country down the path to ruin that it has found itself at the end of now. Seriously, shut up.

Do we deserve this kind of vitriol? Indeed, did we deserve to have our mortgages and retirement and savings eaten up by an economic downturn fueled by vanity and greed? Please. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Sure, I know people who have been consumed by conspicuous consumption. When my well-heeled brother divorced a few years ago, there were no assets to divide. None. He and his now ex-wife had spent everything he had ever made on their upscale life. (And was she pissed!)

But most of my friends and family have had more modest aims: a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood where they could kick back, raise their kids and pursue their lives. All of my friends and family have contributed to the comfort of elderly parents, and none of them plans to live with their kids. And most of them, men and women, have had two jobs at one time.

We aren’t lazy. We aren’t entitled. We planned for the future. The future just collapsed on us. I really believe most of us will dig ourselves out of the rubble, dust ourselves off and go on. But some of us — represented by those sad voices in The Daily Beast — are ill-equipped to move ahead.

If I do nothing else, I know I’m going to scan the horizon and look for those in my little patch of ground who might need some help and encouragement. But I fear they may be hard to recognize. Said one Daily Beast respondent, after cataloguing the debris of her life, “If I do commit suicide, it will be a great surprise to many, because I look pretty normal.”

Welcome to the new normal.

Adventures at Midlife: The decline into dementia

September 4, 2008

I don’t have a lot of fears about aging. Oh, sure, I’m considering getting rid of my magnifying mirror in the bathroom because it does such a good job — make that a GREAT job — of reminding me of the March of Time across my sagging face. I’ve resigned myself to several more years in my colorist’s chair to hide all the gray that started innocently at my temples and is marching relentlessly toward the nape of my neck. I toy with the idea of going to the local vein clinic to chase away all the spiders residing on my legs and ankles. (And at the though of spending at least $200 a session, believe me, I’m still toying.)

My idea of a good time now is a nap, and my morning laps around the local track are getting noticeably longer. I can’t find anything at Old Navy or The Gap that wouldn’t make me look ridiculous. (Sigh…) The Offspring think I’m hilariously outdated, although The Spouse still thinks I’m cute. But he’s seriously overdue for getting his glasses upgraded, so maybe he’s not a good judge. And he has his own issues with aging. I asked him recently if I could borrow his hairspray and he laughed hysterically. (I guess you need HAIR to need SPRAY.) I really hadn’t noticed.

I can handle it, I tell myself, humming “The Circle of Life” in my head. It happens to everyone, doesn’t it?

But I do admit to One Great Fear.

I have an old acquaintance, not really a friend, but someone I worked with occasionally years ago, a very bright, articulate and driven woman who retired a few years back and who I haven’t heard from or about for a long time. Yesterday a mutual friend alerted me that my old coworker has recently become obsessed over some religious tangent and has alienated herself from most of her friends and family. I went online and found a sort of manifesto she had written and saw in it not the clear arguments of the well-educated and well-read woman I remember but the ravings of someone who I believe is in the early stages of dementia.

I was horrified. In her online treatise, she is so reasoned and persuasive and at the same time so utterly mad. I was reminded of John Bayley’s poignant description of his wife Iris Murdoch’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease in Elegy for Iris. One of the great literary minds of 20th century Great Britain, Murdoch remained blissfully unaware of her gradual collapse into chaos, leaving friends and family to pick up after her. (Judi Dench played her so tenderly in the movie, and made me cry.)

Bayley has been criticized for his unflinching portrayal of that decline, as has Margaret Thatcher’s daughter for chronicling her mother’s illness. (The NYTimes article has an ironic picture of Thatcher with President Reagan, whose mental deterioration reportedly began during his last days in the White House and was covered up by his staff.) It isn’t pretty to look at.

The specter of this terrifies me. Losing your mind and your memory would be such a blow, but to not realize that it’s happening would be something straight out of Kafka. I sometimes have nightmares where I’m trying to get home but the landscape and the people around me keep morphing and changing so much that I can’t find my way. That must be what it’s like, I think.

So I obsessively read all the articles and blogs on how to avoid Alzheimer’s and do my crosswords and anagrams and Sudoku puzzles daily to keep my mind active. I even heeded some of the more curious recommendations, avoiding spray antiperspirants and taking ginseng for years before both were disproven as factors in controlling dementia.

But none of this is any guarantee that, when it’s time, the biological switch won’t get pushed. And so many of us will have to depend on the kindness of family and friends — and in some cases, even strangers — to guide us through those last confused years.

Sorry to be so grim, but I spent a lot of last night thinking about my old acquaintance, who is probably baffled over everyone else’s inability to see what she thinks she sees so clearly. She’s looking into a funhouse mirror, with its waves and distortions, and doesn’t even know it.

Blogging: It does a body good

June 1, 2008

Some genius has come up with a novel thesis: blogging may make you feel better. No kidding. According to Jessica Wapner, writing in Scientific American Online:

Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery.

I haven’t had any surgery lately, but I do know I like putting my thoughts down on paper. I had a shrink once who called it “yellow pad therapy” in honor of the legal pads her patients used to try to pull their lives and thoughts together. I filled up a few yellow pads myself.* Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures at Midlife: Alternative medicine

April 24, 2008

An article in Arts and Letters Daily, one of my favorite sites, inferred that middle-aged, middle-class women are the biggest consumers of alternative medicine, from homeopathy to massage to aromatherapy to vitamin therapy. Says Rose Shapiro in Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools Of Us All, such women are “educated enough to know what they’re paying for and if they prefer to spend money on an aromatherapist than a stiff gin, it’s hard to cry too many tears for them.”

Shapiro is, as the title of the book indicates, a scoffer.

Did you know [says reviewer Natalie Haynes] that traditional Chinese medicine, described so often as dating back thousands of years, was actually a rag-bag of ideas put together under Chairman Mao to try to fill in the gaps left by a shortage of “the superior new medicine”? Me neither.

Shapiro reserves her real fury for the snake-oil merchants who knowingly prey on the weak: terminal cancer is a favourite. After all, the dying will often believe anything. She reveals case after case where someone has been talked out of chemotherapy or palliative care by a quack with a big bank balance.

I’m a pharmacist’s kid, so I grew up on pills. Pills, in our house, are good, but I also have friends and relatives who pride themselves on taking no medication of any kind, which I find a bit extreme. Most of my friends who have turned to alternative medicine have done so because they weren’t getting the results they wanted from traditional medicine or because they wanted to explores more “natural” rather than chemical ways to health.

I became a convert to vitamins when I read an article about a group of geriatric specialists who couldn’t agree about much of anything when it came to theories about and causes of aging — but who all took multivitamins religiously. A chiropractor has helped me overcome some serious sciatic pain. I’ve also found that, for me, massage and light exercise are among the best treatments for chronic pain, stress and fatigue. But I haven’t ventured into alternative medicine much further than that.

With costs for pharmaceuticals increasing and most insurance co-pays shrinking, I suspect we may look for more low-cost, low-impact and local ways to maintain our physical quality of life. But how do we separate the effective and sensible treatments from the snake oil?

More than a midlife crisis

February 25, 2008

images-21.jpegA troubling story from a recent NYTimes: “A new five-year analysis of the nation’s death rates recently released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group…For women 45 to 54, the rate leapt 31 percent.” Research apparently indicates that “the prime suspect is the skyrocketing use — and abuse — of prescription drugs,” according to the Times story.

As interesting as the story itself was, with some really poignant stories, the readers’ responses were, well, amazing. Their top culprits? The economy, George Bush, Iraq, ageism, lookism, 9/11, a general loss of hope.

Deep in the dark recesses of my heart, I have my own theory: Read the rest of this entry »

Dispatches from the Department of Depression

February 4, 2008

images.jpegMeghan Daum is tired of hearing from the Department of Depression.

Working with data from 2 million people in 80 countries, American and British researchers found that feelings of psychological well-being follow a U-shaped pattern, meaning that most people feel happy when they’re young and get progressively less so as they head into their fifth decade. The average age for hitting bottom emotionally was 44, with women reaching their low point around 40 and men around 50. Interestingly, the researchers found, those who remain healthy after 70 are likely to see their happiness levels return to the levels of most 20-year-olds…

Am I crazy (or, more likely, experiencing the edges of middle-age grouchiness) or is this sciencey-speak for what we can figure out on our own? Doesn’t [it] mean that part of getting older is recognizing that you’re never going to be a rock star/compete in the Olympics/marry a supermodel, and that this knowledge becomes less of a bummer as the years go by and you’re just glad not to be dead?

…[W]hat if we were to enter a therapist’s office and be told that feeling depressed is just a natural part of the aging process, the psychological equivalent of extra waistline fat or arthritic knees? Moreover, what if your typical 44-year-old American was told that his depression, while probably not wholly unrelated to some trauma dating back to toddlerhood, is ultimately not all that different from that of 44-year-olds in most of the world?

I have a series of overwrought journals from my twenties, and I think if I scanned them (which I don’t, for fear of catastrophic, terminal embarrassment), I would find that I’ve actually achieved a lot of the wishes I had back then. Was it Samuel Johnson who said that there is “nothing more useless than a middle-aged woman?” That sounds like a 17th-century sensibility, but the thought of it dogs me sometimes. As the clock ticks merrily away, I think what I want most is to feel like I’m not irrelevant.