Tag Archives: mental-health

Thoughts on Physician Assisted Suicide


They were twins. Both deaf, both cobblers. They never married, were very close to their families, and they spent their days together. They suffered from other medical conditions such as spinal issues, but the full roster of their illnesses is unknown to me. On December 14th 2012 they chose to use the right of Belgian citizens to voluntarily euthanize themselves. They did this because they were going blind as a result of glaucoma, and they could not bear the idea of being unable to see one another, or the idea of being institutionalized.

I am a supporter of right to dignity in death measures in the law; I believe that when people are suffering, when they are in pain, that they should be able to die rather than to suffer if they will not get better. To spare their families the pain of having to witness their death.

But I can’t get past the uncomfortable feeling that these men were choosing death over life. A life that might not be entirely unlike mine. Certainly the idea of being blind and deaf terrifies most people – but I am both. Neither are complete conditions for me, but I can’t shake the the fact that I am reading about someone deciding to kill themselves because they are like me. The story challenges my ability to be fully on the side of allowing people to use the medical establishment to help people die.

In Belgium the law reads as follows:

To make a legitimate euthanasia request, the patient must be an adult, must be conscious and legally competent at the moment of making the request, and must be in a condition of constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident, for which medical treatment is futile and there is no possibility of improvement.

The physician decides whether the disorder is incurable based on the actual state of medicine, and the patient alone determines whether suffering is constant and unbearable. The physician must have several conversations with the patient in which he ascertains whether the patient experiences his/her suffering as constant and unbearable.

The physician must inform the patient about their medical condition, prospects, and possible alternative treatments, including palliative care. He must consult another independent physician about the serious and incurable character of the condition. This physician does not need to be a palliative care specialist.

Taking voluntary euthanasia seems to me a little premature in this situation. Certainly it is tragic to not be able to see ones brother – the twins had lived together their whole lives, never having married. Not knowing the twins personally, I cannot speak to their quality of life, but for some reason I can’t help but feel that their life experiences may have contributed to their inability to conceive of a world where they could not see, and where they could not live without some help.  I feel like the more people with disabilities are encouraged to experience the world,  the world seems less bleak. I know that traveling has made me more confident about my ability to engage with the world, not less.

The first doctor who was approached to euthanize the twins refused them, stating: “There is a law but that is clearly open to various interpretations. If any blind or deaf {people} are allowed to euthanize, we are far from home. I do not think this was what the legislation meant by ‘unbearable suffering’.

It seems that the twins had more medical issues than simply the glaucoma, but I can’t deny that the idea of helping people commit suicide just because they are going blind or deaf is discouraging. There are so many people who tell me that they would just die if they couldn’t see – like I can’t. So many people who have said that they would rather kill themselves than not be able to hear.

We live in a world of possibilities, one where adaptive devices, medical changes, and opportunities to live normal lives are cropping up every day. The surgery I had at 6 months old  to give me the sight in one eye has improved vastly. I’ve met people who have had cataract surgery in the last year who see better than they did before the surgery. We can’t simply give up because we’re scared.

Since I was not in the situation myself, I can’t say if this was right or wrong, but I can say that it shook me very deeply, and made me question a lot of things about the way I live. 
I can’t help but be uncomfortable with this choice, but I can educate myself about the choice they made. There’s no changing their decision, but hopefully we all can strive toward making the options for people facing deafness and blindness less bleak, and more hopeful. I hope that if I do go completely blind, or completely deaf, or both that there will be options which do not include suicide. Because I don’t want to give up.

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The DSM is a Medical Text, Not a Plot Generator

I am tired of feeling like every time I see a mental illness article, I need to shield myself from the comments.

I am sick with fear every time I hear “mental health registry”.

I am undone by the lies media tells in their plotlines, using PTSD, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and therapy as plot points, punch lines and things people get over.

We can medicate, we can use therapists and we can find pieces of truth which comfort us in the darkness of our own existences – but this is something we all live with. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a repetitive joke, it is not the thing which makes a private detective funny. PTSD is not the thing which makes Charlotte King angry and mean, anxiety is not merely fixed with a pill, and therapy should not be the joke of a 30 minute sitcom.

When do we stop using mental illness as a punching bag and start considering ways to help people who live with it?

It seems as though those with mental illnesses are cast into four categories in media: Out of Their Heads Crazy Violent, Nonsensical Crazy,  Functional But Silly Crazy, and Angry Crazy. These all have varying levels. For example, a savant might be in either the functional or in the nonsensical category, whereas often people with PTSD are only cast as angry crazy. schizophrenics are cast as out of their heads and violent. Always, or at least that’s how it feels.

These depictions are wrong.

Mental illnesses are diagnostic tools. They are not all the same.

My experience with PTSD is very different from someone elses’ and my triggers will be different. The way that I express my feelings about the diagnosis which I hold – very different from someone else.

The solutions are different too. For someone who is violent, perhaps medication and time in a hospital setting may help. For that matter, people who have mental health issues which impact their whole lives may need to be hospitalized just so they can get a grip on their own lives – hospitals are not places for just the violent. They are places where people can learn skills they need out in a world which is often harsh on those whose realities are different from the general populations. For someone with PTSD it may be a place to regain control of an episode, and to remember where they are in time.

We don’t need television shows to continue getting it wrong, to keep telling the stories of the mentally ill for us – and telling them badly. We don’t need to have the general public hear stories time after time that PTSD only affects people in the military. We don’t need to have the myths of OCD as funny fill the gaps in where knowledge should be. We should be learning about one another by asking questions, by listening, and by thinking harder than the TV set will encourage us to.

The fact is, mental illness isn’t just about being quirky or different. It is what makes us people. For some of those people, it makes them artists. It makes them see the world in different ways.

I have an ability to understand sorrow, and past pain in a way that some don’t. I have friends whose schizophrenia makes them better writers. Photographers whose stories tell tales of depression – and we wouldn’t know what that looked like were it not for them. Beethoven would not have been the artist he was without his madness and his deafness. Emily Dickinson would not have been the poet we love were it not for her profound agoraphobia. Sometimes these differences are what make us beautiful, and we can’t forget that even though we fear each other.

Perspective is everything – and we cannot forget the beauty inherent in a world of difference.

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How We Learn Not to Stand Up

I remember the first time that an adult made excuses for someone being mean to me. I remember when my training began to not know when to say no to people, or to not stick up for myself

I was seven.

I was being teased by a boy at school, and I was told “It’s ok. He’s doing it because he likes you.” I would be told variations on this theme until i was in high school. He likes you, it’s why he tries to following around at school. He likes you, it’s why he wrote an essay comparing you to Helen Keller. He likes you. It’s why he tripped you down the stairs. It’s why he stole your lunch. It’s why he tied your shoes together. It’s why he put plastic snakes in your backpack.

As an adult, if someone were to trip you down the stairs we would call it abuse. If someone follows you around, and refuses to leave you alone even when you ask nicely – that’s considered stalking. If someone puts plastic snakes in your backpack (even though you’re afraid of them) you’d call it  mean.

The notion of being liked because he’s teasing you wasn’t just told to me by family (in fact, I can only remember one adult in my family doing so) but I can recall instances where teachers told this to us. We were fed this line to create playground unity.

Other women I’ve spoken to in my age group have said the same. We have all been told that it is acceptable for people to tease us and make us feel sad, or hurt, or frightened – in name of being “liked”. I asked one of my friends if she had been taught this, and she said that it had taken so much work to stop making excuses when her feelings are completely rational and reasonable. We as women are taught to make apologies in our heads. We are taught to make excuses for those individuals who harm us.

We shouldn’t.

This idea that being liked is attached to teasing and meanness opens us up to abuse. Mostly, it opens us up to emotional abuse, because it feels the same as some of the teasing which we have experienced, and if in our hearts we are trained to brush it off, to think of it as cute, to make excuses for others… we don’t know how to say no when it is the most important thing we can say. Yes, it also opens us up to physical abuse, but in this case I think the more pernicious side effect is that of not knowing whether it’s emotional abuse – or teasing.

The instincts which are trained out of us aren’t just the ones that say “get out, get out, you’re being abused!”  They are the same instincts that teach us how to tell our partners we’re uncomfortable. I still get all nervous and uncomfortable telling my husband when he does something I don’t like. My voice gets all soft and quiet and I shift from foot to foot. I don’t actually need to be afraid, because we’re adults and we’ve made a commitment to be together – and yet I still get nervous that if I tell him I didn’t like the way he handled something on my behalf, I’m afraid he’ll divorce me. You see, these interactions don’t just hurt women – they hurt men too. From not knowing what’s an appropriate way to express affection, to having partners who don’t know how to express their feelings without fear – men are also those who deal with the consequences of being told “It’s just because he likes you”.

I’m not the only woman to feel this way. Asserting dominion over our emotions and our physical beings in relationships where we’re consensual participants still feels difficult, and I firmly believe that the root cause of this is how we’re taught to handle teasing and bullying as children. Without the tools to tell people “no” as children, we’re not able to do it as adults – and it’s harder to recognize the hurtful things from the harmless things when we never learned how to do that in the first place.

N.B.: Yes, teasing can be a way of being affectionate, and in many relationships it works. The difficulty of course is knowing how to use it and when, so that the laughter isn’t masking pain.

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Medicating Tantrums

One of my biggest concerns looking forward for this country has to do with the way that we handle children. It isn’t just that parents have become more protective, or that the world has suddenly become more dangerous. What worries me is the trend towards having a diagnosis for everything.

So when I saw the following news item on BoingBoing on Friday I was particularly concerned: Temper Tantrum in the DSM

DMDD [disruptive mood disregulation disorder] seems to be nothing to do with mood, but instead covers a pattern of misbehavior which is already covered by not one but two labels already. Why add a misleadingly-named third?

Well, the back-story is that in the past ten years, many American kids and even toddlers have got diagnosed with ‘child bipolar disorder‘ – a disease considered extremely rare everywhere else. To stop this, the DSM-5 committee want to introduce DMDD as a replacement. This is the officially stated reason for introducing it. On the evidence of this paper and others it wouldn’t even achieve this dubious goal.

The possibility of just going to back to the days when psychiatrists didn’t diagnose prepubescent children with bipolar (except in very rare cases) seems to not be on the table.

One of the commentors on the post made a point that I had already started to form in my mind as I read this little news snippet: If there’s a diagnosis in the DSM, then they can medicate it.

Tantrums, from my limited experience have a lot to do with children not being able to express their emotions, so instead of expressing their feelings in an appropriate way, they scream. A lot. I’m not a parent, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with children under the age of 10, and all the tantrums I have witnessed (with a few minor exceptions) came from a place of frustration.

Which makes me wonder – have people lost their ability to understand that children are children? Have we as a society made the choice to medicate rather than teach?  One of the reasons that I choose to not take anxiety medication is that I firmly believe it is something I can master without medication. Do I falter sometimes? Certainly, like many others do.  But if we medicate children instead of teaching them how to sort through and communicate about their frustrations or their feelings, when they become adults they will not be able to have the kind of dialogue needed for marriage, or having a boyfriend, or even in a job. By medicating, we’re taking away a learning experience – a valuable one which could affect the way that children interact with society in the future, not just in the right now.

There certainly are some children who need medical assistance, but after 2 years working with special needs youth, I can say from observing that any temper tantrum which comes from a place of psychological duress has a lot of other symptoms going hand in hand – and the job of parents, psychologists and teachers is to notice those differences – not to give labels that don’t allow for growth.

Furthermore, what kind of medication would be given in these instances? Tranquilizers? Mood stabilizers? How would those kinds of medications impact a growing child and their mind? Medications do have side effects, and who knows what the results would be from such interventions?

I think, as a society we need to take a good hard look at what is helpful and what is harmful when it comes to the damage we do to children when it comes to psychological care.

 

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Why Teens Shouldn’t Read Twilight

Why Young Women Shouldn’t Read Twilight.

In order to verify this I went to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website and took a look at these fifteen criteria. Now you go read them.

In order to go further, I have to admit that I have read the Twilight series. I did it for my 7th graders. In undergrad I was an education major, and since all of my 7th graders were buzzing about Twilight, I wanted to understand what on earth they were going on about. I finished the series, because my friend’s daughter was super excited about the books. I felt I could give her better books to read if I understood the appeal.

Here’s the thing – the books aren’t just terrible, but they’re the kind of easy read that sticks in your brain. They’re candy. But from this piece of information I have to conclude that they aren’t just candy – but incredibly dangerous candy. Because the checklist checks out. It’s true. On all sides. 

The books young women read have to stop setting the example that being abused by men is OK. Authors need to set out to not treat their characters this way, with particular regard to YA fiction. We are already raised in a society where it is hard to learn how to have a backbone. We already live in a society where saying “no” is not okay. We live in a society where the scene in which Jacob kisses Bella against her will gets her father to give him a high five. (and is meant to be funny).

Consent, care, and personal autonomy are all missing for women in this series. Yet it is always the woman’s fault. Every time I hear a young woman say that she wants to be like Bella Swann, or that she wants to have an Edward, I cringe. Because I would hope that they want a relationship free of harm.

It should not be considered “romantic that a man you barely know watches you sleep. It should not be considered “heartwarming” that in order to get her man back, Bella has to risk her life.

These are not the role models we need. We need women who stick up for themselves, women who find good partners, whether they be men or women. We certainly don’t need all fifteen criteria popping up in young adult fiction. Not in a world where domestic violence survivors are asked why they didn’t just run, or how they could “let” it happen to them.

Abuse is never romantic. Don’t let it seem that way. Give the young women in your lives books they can look up to, and books they can live by. Books that will teach them how to love, not how to submit.

Do you have a favorite positive role model for young women? Please share in the comments!

 

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To Assume the Worst

I don’t have children. Maybe I will someday. Or maybe I won’t. That’s not the point of this article.

Have you ever been in a class discussion about motherhood, and suddenly a classmate directly questions not only your capability to be a parent, but the physiological possibility of bearing a child? I have.

Has your ability to be a parent ever been questioned merely because you can’t see out of one eye, or because you use a chair, or because you live life with an illness, either mental or physical? I know many.

I think every woman experiences opinions with regard to both their capability as a mother, but also their practice in bearing their child. Judgements over breastfeeding, diet, choice of gender normativity, any of the above are commented on by relatives and strangers alike. But the process of judgement when one is disabled seems insidious and hurtful in another way.

It’s not just that people ask “do you think that’s wise?” when someone says they want to bear a child. It isn’t the perception that yuo’re incapable that hurts. It’s the notion that no matter where your disability lies – in my case, in my eyeballs- that your uterus is affected.

Our society is built on assumptions. The assumption that it’s okay to ask a disabled person if they can have sex. The assumption that we NEED to be told “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have a baby….” These assumptions are hardly acceptable.

The assumption that a disabled woman can’t have children is just as hurtful as the assumption that a woman who looks perfectly healthy can. Fertility shouldn’t be up for discussion. Neither should parenthood.

In my classroom, it was suggested that I couldn’t have a baby. In my classroom it was suggested that I wouldn’t be a good mother. The question was asked, and the entire classroom went silent, as though nobody could quite believe that the question had been asked, but at the same time, many people thought the exact same thing. The reality is, I’ve worked with children before. I have spent time and energy teaching autistic children not to eat rocks, I have spent time helping children learn how to play tag nicely. I am good with children.

But every time I say that I can babysit, or that I can nanny, or that I’d like to apply to run an afterschool program for kids, the look comes into the able bodied persons eyes, and you can hear the skepticism of “can you?

 

 

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