Archive for the ‘mental health’ Category

Drug of choice

Posted: December 14, 2012 in beauty, health, mental health, women
Tags: ,


Caitlin Moran, author of “How to Be a Woman,” had a terrific article in the WSJ this year about food addiction, which is apparently the vilest, most despised of addictive disorders when ranked by addicts themselves (and the general public, for that matter…)

…I’m talking about those for whom the whole idea of food isn’t one of pleasure, but one of compulsion. For whom thoughts of food, and the effects of food, are the constant, dreary background static to normal thought. Those who walk into the kitchen in a state bordering on panic and breathlessly eat slice after slice of bread and butter—not even tasting it—until the panic can be drowned in an almost meditative routine of chewing and swallowing, spooning and swallowing.

In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations—physical discomfort and immense regret—make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whiskey or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration.

Yet, paradoxically, unlike other addictions, it allows its victims to be surprisingly functional:

In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of “carers,” and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.

And unless the public and the media quit despising fat people, in particular fat women, this isn’t likely to change.

(Hat tip to Hufflington Post’s Best Articles of 2012.)


My good friend Sue Bergin — writer, hospice chaplin, collage artist, musician and all-around deep thinker — has a new book out, Am I a Saint Yet: Healing the Pain of Perfectionism (available here).  I’ll be attending her book launch Saturday, and I’ll review it here when I finally have a copy.


As soon as the Christmas noise is over, we’ll likely be inundated by the media with recommendations for New Year’s resolutions. That’s all well and good (I mean, who couldn’t stand to lose five pounds?) but I think we should temper our expectations. I say, if the resolution is the result of your comparing yourself negatively with others, rethink it.  Or, better yet, drop it.

My resolutions will likely run along the lines of slowing-down-to-smell-the-roses kind of stuff.

How about you?


“I like to do nothing, to escape from purpose: to brood, to think back and forth; to sit by a fire in Winter, or in a garden in Summer; to loaf on a sea-beach with the sun on me; to hang over the wall of a pier-head watching the waves in their green and white tantrums; to sit in a brasserie on a Parisian boulevard with a common bock, and the people moving to and fro; to idle in parks or public squares, or in the quadrangles and closes of colleges, or the Inns of Court, or the great cathedrals; to forget haste and effort in old empty churches, or drowsy taverns; to rest by a road-side hedge, or in a churchyard where sheep browse; to lie in a punt in the green shade of the willows; to sit on a fence–these things please me well.”

Holbrook Jackson, The Anatomy of Bibliomania (via the fabulous Terry Teachout)

I’m spending a few days in the mountains with the Spouse, a case of Diet Coke, and a stack of books. Back soon. Thanks. (Oh, sure! Like my thighs look that good!)

We tried out a new mattress last night, a ten inch-thick memory foam that came in an impossibly small box but that filled the king-size bedstead quite nicely. The Spouse loves his memory foam pillows, but I always found them creepy, sort of human flesh-textured. (Ewww.) Fortunately the new mattress has a quilted cotton cover and a mattress pad, so it just seems soft. It sits a couple of inches lower than our traditional mattress, which had a pillow top on both sides.

The verdict? It was a little warm at times (one of the major complaints with memory foam) but I slept, sort of. We’ll likely keep the mattress, but it won’t solve my problem: For the past several years, I find that I’m just sort of sleeping, about five or so hours a night. It isn’t enough.

During the last few years before his death, my father couldn’t sleep. He’d either listen to all-night AM talk radio in the spare bedroom, all by himself, or lie there and ruminate over the mistakes and disappointments of his life. I was in the next room, and I would hear him muttering to himself, tapping his knuckles on the wall for emphasis. I don’t think it helped his deteriorating heart, and I worry about becoming like him.

I figured my snoozelessness was just another bonus that comes with aging, but according to the NYTimes, it ain’t necessarily so:

[F]or years, sleep scientists thought they knew what was going on: sleep starts to deteriorate in late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. It seemed so obvious that few thought to question the prevailing wisdom.

Now, though, new research is leading many to change their minds. To researchers’ great surprise, it turns out that sleep does not change much from age 60 on. And poor sleep, it turns out, is not because of aging itself, but mostly because of illnesses or the medications used to treat them.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Hmmmm. I have friends and family who have their sleep interrupted by things like restless legs, sleep apnea, and overactive bladders. I know from personal experience that chronic pain can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Mother, who was as healthy as a horse until her 90s and kept to a pretty predictably schedule in most aspects of her life, slept soundly.

So now what? Sleeping pills? I think not. I don’t want to become dependent on anything, and I take enough pills already. I’m inventorying my meds to see if they are contributing to the problem, and I’m working on some suggestions that my counselor at our employee wellness program gave me:

1. Get the television set out of the bedroom. (We already did that during our recent move.) Your bed needs to be reserved for sleeping, otherwise your body seems to think it’s just another piece of furniture and your mind just goes on merrily grinding away.

2. Set a regular sleep pattern, i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same times. Since I’m still working fulltime, I keep to a fairly regular bedtime and wake up schedule, but I can see how it could go all to heck at retirement, sort of like being on vacation, where you’re up sometimes until the wee hours and then crawl out of bed at noon (like being a teenager again, only you now have to “wee” at 3 a.m. or so).

3. Try melatonin, a hormone that is part of the human sleep-wake cycle. This is new to me, but the Spouse has long used it to get over jetlag. He takes it at bedtime and then makes sure he gets some direct sunlight the next morning. It apparently helps reset your internal clock. The National Sleep Foundation and other sites have some good points on the benefits — and limitations — of melatonin.

4. “Practice good sleep hygiene,” said the counselor. Huh? Google to the rescue: The Daily Glow has a fine list, like avoiding caffeine and alcohol after six, creating bedtime rituals, exercising earlier in the day, limiting naps, etc. (Oh, but I do loves me a good nap…)

I’ve used melatonin the past several nights, and I’ve slept a bit better. (Might be just a placebo effect.) But I know it won’t work as a nighttime sleep aid, so I’ll go without it tonight.

Are you getting enough sleep? What works for you?

Last Leap

Posted: August 26, 2011 in aging, mental health

I had cheerier things I was going to blog about, but I’m haunted today by a story from the SF Bay Citizen via the NYTimes:

On Wednesday, May 25, at 8:05 p.m. Barbara Sue Beaver stood on the Golden Gate Bridge and used her cellphone to e-mail Denis Morella, her Oakland neighbor and best friend.

“Can you come and check on Jondi for me?” she wrote, referring to her affectionate pit bull.

Then, at 8:07 p.m., Ms. Beaver, 55, jumped off the bridge to her death.

“I’m just too lazy to navigate further,” said a letter found at her home, which had been left tidy and mostly emptied of belongings. Notes detailed how she had settled her affairs.

“She didn’t want her death to be a burden to anyone,” Mr. Morella said.

I nearly wept. Her picture showed an attractive, intelligent-looking woman.  Ms. Beaver, who worked in the book industry until it began collapsing, had been unemployed for two years and was without insurance. I seriously doubt she was “lazy.” While the article didn’t mention any family, it described a circle of affectionate friends whom she called her “dollbuckets.” She wasn’t a recluse. While clearly depressed, she doesn’t sound mentally ill. She had just somehow reached her limit, or thought she had.

She’s the case study in a story about growing numbers of suicides reported at the Bridge and on the CalTrain transit system, a trend some experts blame on the economy:

“We have noticed many more people mentioning the economy,” said Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit group that operates the city’s suicide hot line.

“We constantly hear, ‘I’m going to be homeless; I would rather be dead than be homeless,’ ” Ms. Meyer said.

Studies have shown that suicide rates tend to increase about 18 months after an economic decline. “Benefits run out and the crises begin to multiply,” she said.

Apparently there is a plan in motion to put a multimillion dollar safety net along the Bridge to catch the growing number of jumpers. But the article contained a stat that depressed me even further: “Suicide rates in the United States tend to be highest among people age 65 and older.” We’ve had a few murder-suicides locally in the last year, all with a heartbreaking familiarity: One elderly spouse desperately ill, the other at the end of his or her abilities to care for them.

I understand despair, those dark nights of the soul when pain and loneliness magnify mistakes and failures so that they blot out any successes. I’ve lived through depression and anxiety. I’ve worried about disability and dependence. But I cannot imagine, in the midst of that darkness, methodically organizing your life and navigating yourself to a site with the full intent of never returning. She cleaned her apartment, gave away most of her possessions, wrote and left letters of explanation, and exited her home. What did she wear? Was it something red, her favorite color? Did she put on makeup and do her hair before she left? Did she enjoy a final meal, a glass of wine? Did she drive there, passing familiar landmarks and places she’d loved and enjoyed? Or did she take public transportation, sitting elbow to elbow and maybe even exchanging polite but meaningless pleasantries with other passengers who would never know they were among her last human contacts? Was she conscious that she was doing all these thing for the last time?

I see her walking out onto the bridge, passing the usual tourists and joggers, maybe even a police patrolman. Did she make eye contact with any of them, exchange a hello? Where did she stop along that long, windy span? Did she look out at that magnificent vista, and at the cold, rough water so far below? At some point, she stopped and called a friend to make one final bequest, a kindness for her dog who was witness to her despair and to her careful preparations and who was likely still at the door, waiting for her to come back. Did she crawl over the rail and stand on the exterior railing before stepping off, or did she leap from the top of the rail? Did she hesitate, even for a moment? Did anyone try to stop her?

And — once she was airborne, was she sorry? I watched an equally disturbing documentary on the Golden Gate Bridge last year that included a tantalizing little fact: Of the handful of people who jumped from the Bridge and who survived, ALL of them said that, once they let go, they were immediately overcome with a sense that their lives weren’t really so bad and that they could still fix them if they had the chance. Was she one with them? And did anyone find her body, or did she disappear completely, as she wished?

I have no answers.

Go with God, Barbara Sue Beaver. I’m so terribly sorry that our society had no safety net to catch you. I hope you have found peace.