Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Women and Insanity, Part Two

Since it’s so close to Halloween, I thought I’d continue my thoughts on Women and Insanity. Over the weekend, I watched the movie, The Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie. I didn’t know what it was about, just that it was Angelina Jolie and she had a missing child. What I discovered was this was a true story, a story about the disappearance of Walter Collins in 1928.

Now, women in 1928 had precious little rights, and especially single mothers like Mrs. Collins, who supported herself and her son by working at the telephone company. Until her son disappeared, she was a quiet, unassuming, hard-working single mom who adored her son and was just trying to make a good life and home for them to the best of her ability in the times she lived in. She got called in to work on a Saturday when she had planned to take her son to the movies, and (although this wasn’t made clear in the movie) instead sent him to the movies alone. He never returned.

Mrs. Collins spent five frantic months looking for her son, and the Los Angeles police department, who a the time was already under fire, was looking even worse. So they concocted this scheme where another young boy would pretend to be her son, and they could announce that the case was closed.

The only problem was that Mrs. Collins knew immediately that the boy was not her son, and protested. Because by closing the case, that meant the police would stop looking for her real son. So she became a mother on a mission, desperate to find her child.

Meanwhile, the police tried to tell her she didn’t know her own son, and why couldn’t she be happy with the one she had. They tried to make her out as a loose woman, having had five months to party and live it up while he was gone, and now that he was back, she wanted to deny her son and shirk her responsibilities toward him. She finally became so outspoken that the chief of police had her committed to an insane asylum until she signed a paper that said the boy was her son and she had been mistaken. She refused.

Call me naïve, but I was shocked that this could happen less than 100 years ago. I mean, my initial post about women and insanity had to do with pioneer women in the 1800s. You’d think things would have improved in a century or so. But apparently not. Over the weekend, I found this, from a college paper on women and mental illness.

It states: "Mental illness during the Victorian era revolved around the empowerment of men. Hysteria fuelled from a fear of intellectual women. Women were denied tasks such as reading or social interaction due to a fear of becoming a hysteric. Women were further forced into the stereotypical passive housewife role. Anorexia was an attempt to fit the male standard of beauty. These women refused food in order to appear "feminine" and become a frail ornament for their husbands to show off. They also furthered the idea of the passive housewife, lacking personality or emotion. Those who took a stand for their beliefs or exercised a sexual emotion were deemed insane as they rejected the feminine ideal. Such women were forced into asylums to keep others in line; they were sacrificed to show that those who spoke up would be punished. Thus, the rest of the women remained silent. And finally, spinsters and lesbians were a major threat to male domination. These women preferred life without sexual interaction with men. They rejected the social norms of woman as passive, emotionless accessories and instead embraced personal choice. They too were deemed insane and subject to male-induced public criticism to try and reform them as well as fuel the idea that this sort of behavior was not acceptable. "

So poor Mrs. Collins never had a chance. Fortunately, however, there were enough people in the community who would stand up for her, and went looking for her (as she was whisked out the back door of the police station and off to the mental institution in the dead of night) and found her and got her released. She then was able to get released all the women in the institution classified as Code 12, which turned out to be a euphemism for someone the police wanted to get rid of.

A book on the subject I would recommend is Women of the Asylum: Voices from Behind the Walls, 1840-1945 (Paperback)

Here’s a snippet of what one reviewer had to say about it:

"This book is an interesting compilation of personal accounts of women who were imprisoned in asylums for various reasons, usually at the request of a relative. It seems throughout most of this time period, all it took to get a person imprisoned in an asylum was a statement from the doctor that the person was insane. Consequently, if a woman angered a man in her family, he could have her imprisoned by pointing out that she was not performing her duties as a woman around the house and for the community, such as at church…often, individual thinking landed a woman in the insane asylum. One of the women questioned the doctrine of her church; thus, was imprisoned for religious problems. This same woman wrote a very articulate account of her treatment and the treatment of other women in the hospital, which made me wonder exactly what it was that they saw wrong with her views on the church. The only conclusion I could draw was that it had to be her individuality that brought her into the asylum.

The most striking thing about this book is to look now onto what these women went through, and consider these were absolutely normal occurrences at the time…While these stories explain the reasons women landed in the asylums, they also told of the treatment of them and the other inmates. These stories are clear, but the authors/editors also explain what types of treatments were used at different times and how these all tied in with how the patients actually responded. While you can see their legal rights starting to improve towards the end of the time studied here, there is a definite slip in the treatment and attitude towards the inmates as these hospitals grew in size…"

The bottom line, I think, is that the times dictate what is crazy and what isn’t, and I have to wonder why it is that no matter where you look, even today, women seem to fall on the wrong side of crazy every time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Saliva Hormone Testing, Pro or Con?

I had my appointment with the so-called hormonal specialist in town this week. The one I have been waiting for, for months. I went to see her in August, with disappointing results, because it was clear the true focus of her practice was elsewhere (as in botox injections and chemical peels, both of which are truly hazardous to your hormones), and I apparently know more about the subject of hormonal imbalances than she does.

But after calling all around town, it was clear that only she and one other doctor were the only ones in town doing this type of hormonal testing at present, and if I wanted to get it done…

Well, I knew it was a mistake the minute I dropped the samples off at the UPS shipping post. The instructions had been so specific about keeping the saliva samples in the freezer and mailing them off THE NEXT MORNING. You could go with UPS or the postal service, but I knew the US mail didn’t go out before three around here anyway, so I opted for UPS. I walk in with my little test kit, and the woman says, “Fine, just leave it on the counter.”

“When do they pick up?” I ask. “Oh, sometime this afternoon.” In the meanwhile, my little kit sits out in the open on the counter of a store that has its front doors wide open to the fall sunshine. How could the samples not be corrupted?

I ask this of the doctor when I see her, and she looks at me like I’ve grown two heads. “I don’t know,” she says. “It’s not a problem.”

Well, I see it as a problem, because my test results turned out to be totally unexpected and off the charts in some areas, and she can’t explain why. She just kept looking at the results, and circling them, and saying nothing more than, “Well, that’s what it is. As you can see, its…high.” She drew in some upward arrows for effect.

It turns out, that according to the test results, instead of a deficiency in my hormones, I have an excess in some areas. This causes a problem for the doctor, because apparently the procedure is, she tells me I am low in this, this, and that, and then tells me I am in luck, as she has just the supplements I need on hand.

Be very wary of any kind of testing that comes complete with (their own) name brand products as the solution to your problems.

Fortunately, however, she was out of the one thing I was deficient in, Vitamin D. I told her that was okay, I’d manage to get some on my own (from a company I know and trust).

In the meantime, I ask the doctor, “How do you get rid of excess hormones?” She looks at me. “I don’t know.”

Well, I know, because I read it somewhere, but I don’t remember where, because it was just something I read and had no idea I’d be needing.

“I’ll call the lab and see what’s going on with these results,” she says. “Why don’t you make an appointment for next week to come back and find out what they said?”

This time I looked at her. “Why don’t you just call me and tell me what they said?”

Meanwhile, I ask her what could possibly cause my hormone levels to be so high. I know the answer. I want to see if she does. After all, I’m the one paying her to tell me what the problem is. She fumbles badly until I give her a clue, then she takes off with it, all the while, asking, “You know what I mean?”

Yes, Doctor. I know what you mean. I also know that you’re winging it here and it shows.

In the end, she decides I need more testing, and bounds out of the room to figure out what test I need. No way am I doing this saliva test thing again, which several doctors in my research books have found to be unreliable. They recommend blood serum tests instead.

I ask her if there aren’t any blood serum tests I can take to get a better picture of what’s going on. “Why?” she asks. “It won’t do any good.”

This is the exact quote I have read over and over again in my books about women seeking help for hormonal issues, being shut down by their doctors who either have been trained to say or truly believe blood hormone tests aren’t reliable.

But how can the home-collected saliva tests be? It’s impossible. At least when you have samples taken at a lab, be they blood, urine, or saliva, they keep them refrigerated, and transport them in refrigerated containers. God only knows where my samples sat during the five days it took to get to the lab. I sent my samples off the 25th. They weren’t tested until the 29th.

A few weeks ago, I went to what was billed as a seminar on saliva hormone testing, being sponsored by a local pharmacy. A compounding pharmacy, one that can create individual prescriptions for women with hormonal imbalances, once the testing kits show where they are deficient. The room was filled with about forty women, all middle-aged. The presentation was completely on target and informative. The information was correct.

But it was a marketing presentation all the same. Go to your doctor, ask for these kits, get your hormones tested, then come back to us for a consult and we will mix up the perfect prescription for you.

Sounds like a dream come true to women who can’t sleep, can’t lose weight, are either bitchy or want to cry all the time or both at the same time, have hot flashes, headaches, backaches, swelling, cramping, bloating, joint pain and are either losing their hair or growing a moustache, just to name a few symptoms. And don’t forget, we’re all exhausted, and not interested in sex.

But they warn you the testing is imperfect, and it may take a few tests to get your prescription right, and you will need to be tested every three months thereafter to make sure the hormones they are giving you are the right ones for you.

They do not mention the cost, nor that it is not covered by insurance, nor that there are only two doctors in town who subscribe to this method of testing, and one of them is a woman who doesn’t know the first thing about interpreting the results. All she knows is how to hand you a kit and say, “Call me for an appointment to get the results.”

This is the same woman who 7 weeks ago, upon speaking with me for 15 minutes, strongly suggested I go on anti-depressants as the solution to my hormonal problems, which I refused, because countless case studies show that doing so only makes the symptoms worse. Hormonal imbalances are so individual, because each woman’s physical make up and life stressors are so different, that prescribing one pill to take care of them is like asking every woman to wear a one-size-fits-all-tent dress.

This time, after seeing the high levels of my hormones, in particular my serotonin level, which is what the SSRI anti-depressant would supposedly boost, she did a complete 180. As I was leaving, I asked her, just to make sure, “Now, you don’t recommend the anti-depressants any more, correct?” And she looked at me. “Well, you’re the one who said you wanted to go natural, right? You can’t do that if you’re on anti-depressants.”

Professionalism at its finest.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Power of Prayer

More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. ~Alfred, Lord Tennyson

God's 26 Guards

This is part of an email I received and am passing on to you. I’ve edited it because that’s my nature--I can’t seem to leave any document that crosses my desk alone--but the core message remains true. Lately, I’ve been asked to pray for more sick children than ever before. And each time I did, I’ve secretly wondered if it really does do any good. I think this message answers my question.
Have you ever felt the urge to pray for someone, but put it aside, thinking, 'I'll pray for them later'? Or has anyone ever called you and said, 'I need you to pray for me?' The following story may change the way you think about prayer, and also the way you pray.

A missionary on furlough told this story while visiting his home church in Michigan. 'While serving at a small field hospital in Africa, every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point. On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from a bank, purchase medicine, and supplies, and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital.
‘Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident....‘Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, 'Some friends and I followed you in to the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards.’
‘At this, I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said, 'No, sir, I was not the only person to see the guards, my friends also saw them, and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.'
At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the congregation interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date, and the man who interrupted told him this story:
'On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong, I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would those men who met with me on that day stand up?'

The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary counted them carefully. There were 26.
This story is an incredible example of how the Spirit of the Lord moves on behalf of those who love Him. If you ever feel such prodding to pray, go along with it. You don't know what it can mean to that person.
God hears and answers the prayers of the faithful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Women and Insanity

For the past six months, I've been doing research for a book on women's health, in particular PMDD, or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a biological/physiological condition that occurs in concert with a woman's menstrual cycle, and has, amid much controversy, been categorized in the DSM-IV as a mental disorder. I'm going to start sharing my findings here on Wellness Wednesdays, in the hopes of helping women who suffer from not only PMDD, but a host of other hormone-related issues (such as thyroid, menopause, PMS, post-partum depression, and countless others) realize that these issues are indeed biological in origin and not mental.

In short, no, you're not going crazy. Your hormones are simply out of whack. Week after week, I'm going to explain the various reasons why you feel the way you do. Why you think you're losing your mind, and why you're not. Better yet, I'm going to tell you what you can do to bring your hormones, and your life, back into balance.

We are blessed in that--while mainstream medicine for the most part continues to dismiss, discount, and ignore women's hormonal health concerns--the good news is it's nowhere near as bad as it used to be, as will be outlined by my guest blogger today, fellow Wild Rose Press author Loretta Rogers.

So thank you, Loretta, for helping me to kick this new direction for my blog off with a historical perspective on what in most cases were no doubt simply hormonal issues, if any imbalance was present at all. As you will see, sometimes all a man needed to commit a woman to the insane asylum was a desire to do so.

Because divorce was a rarity during the pioneer/frontier days, men devised other ways to get rid of unwanted wives and children, and that was by declaring them insane and placing this unwanted loved one in an insane asylum. Actually these early asylums were in reality prisons and not medical centers. These institutions were filthy, dark places where people were treated more like animals than human beings. The asylums usually provided only the basic necessities of life. Food was poor, cleanliness was not stressed and the rooms were often very cold. Diseases were quick to spread throughout the asylum.

Some of the reasons women were institutionalized are unbelievable. In the early 1800’s wives and daughters were often committed for not being obedient enough to their husbands or fathers. You’ve heard the term, “children are to be seen and not heard.” This applied to wives as well. If a woman spoke out and went against the “norm” she could be committed.

With no birth control, it wasn’t unusual for a woman to give birth to another baby while still nursing her last child. And a brood of six to twelve children wasn’t unusual either. With her body no longer firm and supple, her energy level somewhere between zero and double zero, and with the daily routine of cooking, cleaning, plowing, and all the other demands, a woman was run ragged. It’s no wonder she grew old long before her time.

All the husband and/or father had to do was simply write the word “lunacy” on the admission form. Lunacy was an acceptable reason for divorce. The woman’s husband would declare her insane, put her in the asylum and then file for the divorce. A few months later, his marriage records to a younger bride usually showed up.

Other reasons to be “put away”, were depression, alcoholism, just being a little different from the norm, and even going through menopause. Doctors just didn’t know how to deal with mental issues and the result was to put their patients in the asylum. These women were locked up and forgotten by their loved ones. The fathers/husbands often forbid the family members to visit. It was as if the wife or daughter had simply died. Most of these women did stay at the insane asylum until their death.

If a father had no sons, but didn’t want his daughter to inherit his fortune or worldly goods, he could have her declared insane, institutionalized, and leave his money to a favorite nephew or his ranch to a ranch hand he considered as a son. If a man’s wife had died in child birth and he couldn’t find a woman to wed who was willing to become a stepmother to his large brood, or if he couldn’t marry off any of his eligible daughters, he simply declared them as lunatics and placed them in an asylum. Sometimes daughters were committed for unwanted pregnancies. Other children were committed for being disobedient or for illnesses such as Down’s Syndrome or Autism. Being born deaf or mute, retarded or physically disfigured was another reason a child might be committed.

Oftentimes, the husband might tell others that his wife or child had died. If a newspaper office was available, he might even have an obituary printed. Yet the person was very much alive at the asylum. While it was rare for a sane person to be released from an asylum, it did happen. Imagine what it was like for this woman. Having been declared dead, she had no identity.

Some of these asylums were built next to, or part of, the prison system. This was to help cut back costs of care, food and facilities. Rape was prevalent in asylums. Because women had been declared insane, it was deemed they had no powers of reasoning, no feelings or emotions. In other words, they were considered walking zombies. Because of this deranged thinking, (no pun intended) prisoners and even asylum employees used the women for their own pleasures.

If you are into genealogy and have run into a brick wall trying to locate a female relative, the US census has a place on some of their census, example 1850, that had a place to mark if deaf, dumb or insane. The probate section may carry Lunacy Record Books at the county courthouses. Some Wills will declare if someone is insane or having lunacy. If someone seems to have disappeared, they may have been “sent away.”

Therefore, when we refer to the ‘good old’ days, we might remember these women and their lives, and be thankful that they paved the way for us.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

Last weekend my faith sharing group went on retreat together. A woman only one of us knew generously offered her cottage in the country for the six of us to get away from the hustle and bustle of our lives for the weekend and spend some time with God. Cottage was an understatement. It turned out to be a lovely three bedroom house with three bathrooms--including a claw foot tub and accompanying bubble bath—a huge deck, bonfire pit, living room fireplace and hot tub.

You could call it camping with style. The six of us arrived on Friday evening loaded down with foodstuffs and linens and all things needed for a camping trip such as utensils and paper towels and garbage bags and cleaning products, unloaded and sorted ourselves into the three bedrooms, then cranked up the oldies and enjoyed a delicious, hearty meal of home made chili, salad and Italian bread on the deck overlooking a slow, lazy river.

We’d planned to sit around the bonfire afterward, but everyone was tired—hence the need for a retreat—and after some scripture reading and a ceremony where we placed our burdens in God’s hands, we trundled off to bed.

My roommate and I slept in the Princess Room, generally designated as the room for our unknown hostess’s granddaughters, complete with white bunk beds and accompanying Princess Accoutrements. I slept in the top bunk, and let me tell you, I was quickly reminded of the amount of upper body strength needed to haul a (much larger than the last time I did it) peri-menopausal woman’s bottom-heavy body up a ladder and into bed.

But manage it I did, along with a quiet prayer that I wouldn’t be needing to make my usual foray into the bathroom in the middle of the night, for fear that I’d fall right off the ladder.

God answered my prayers. I both slept through the night and slept burden free. Got the best night of sleep I’d had in a while and awoke in the morning to the smell of coffee and a delicious breakfast bake created by our organizer extraordinaire and chef in residence, who doesn’t get much time to cook, and was delighted to bless us with her culinary skills. A beautiful bowl of fresh fruit rounded out the menu.

Just before breakfast our facilitator arrived, a lovely Sister of St. Joseph and spiritual counselor who had insisted on arriving early to share breakfast with us on the deck and get to know us before the program began.

The program, which lasted from 10 to 5, included prayer, scripture readings, Christian music, periods of reflection and quiet conversation about how much God loves each and every one of us. We broke only for lunch, which was a veritable feast of salami, provolone, an array of breads and rolls, more fresh fruit and a veggie tray. Snacks and desserts, which each of us had brought individually as our contribution to the cooking, were available throughout the weekend. Oh, and yes, a bowl full of chocolate occupied center stage on the coffee table throughout :).

After the program portion of the retreat, held in warmth and cozy comfort as we settled into soft leather furniture in the gathering room while the rain poured outside and swelled the lazy river to fast-moving proportions, we concluded by breaking bread once again with a crock pot meal of pork roast, potatoes and carrots, leftover fresh veggies and our wide array of desserts. Sister left with hugs all around, and we sat up late into the night, enjoying our wine, more oldies and quiet conversation in between trips to the out door hot tub in the now misty rain.

Sunday morning we were all moving slow. We had planned to attend Mass together, but our cook/leader had arrived with a nasty cold/sinus infection she had come down with the day before, and we chose to let her sleep in and get the rest she needed. So breakfast was a lazy affair, with people helping themselves to leftovers as they got hungry, and others dipping back into the hot tub in the still misty rain. Some chose to take advantage of the claw foot tub.

Once everyone was fed and bathed/showered, we began our craft project for the retreat, which I was in charge of, so you know what we did. Collages. For the next three hours, as red, orange and gold leaves continued to aimlessly drift into the river and onto the deck outside, we sat on the floor inside and listened to music and cut out pictures from magazines and created collages of items that spoke to us, laughing and sharing and sometimes passing pictures of interest to others back and forth. Afterward, we explained them to each other.

The original theme was items we wanted to bring into our lives, but everyone had a different take on it. Some started one side of the collage with negative images from the past, and moved to positive images for the future. Another focused only on her short term goals, what she wanted to bring into her life in the immediate future. Another used the collage to express the inner woman she was and intended to express more fully. Mine, as it turned out, was full of fall colors and bridges and roads, and trains and cars and references to journeys. Took me completely by surprise, it did. I’m still trying to figure out what it means :). But each of them was beautiful, and we were well pleased with our efforts and how quickly our individual themes emerged and meshed.

After the collages, we ate again, then went to work packing up and cleaning the house so that it sparkled and we left no sign that we had been there. A final round of hugs and we were off to return to our busy lives, renewed, refreshed and well fed, both physically and spiritually.

We’ve decided we want to do this again, and share our journeys along the way. But none of it would have been possible without the generosity of a woman we didn’t even know.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Two New Reviews for Ashton's Secret!!

This week I was blessed to receive two new reviews for Ashton's Secret, both on the same day. I couldn't be more pleased. I knew I was happy with the way it turned out, but the extra validation never hurts :) That makes 5 Smacks, 5 Books, and 5 Wings it's received so far :) Woo hoo!

Ashton’s Secret, Liana Laverentz, Romantic Suspense

Snippet: Ashton’s Secret’ blends romance and mystery with exceptional skill. Meghan, our leading lady, is intent uncovering the truth about her sister Heather’s death, years earlier. Her sister had been an apparent suicide, but when Meghan discovers an old letter, she begins to have doubts about the official findings.

Meghan travels to the little, one-stoplight town and close-knit community of Ashton, where no one wants to talk about her sister. The only person that will pay her any attention at all is none-other than Nick Hawkinson…black sheep of the town, and quite possibly a killer. Their first meeting is tense-–but a certain, subtle humor is apparent, as well. This occasional dash of humor lightens certain situations throughout, the way a brighter accent brings life to a painting. Nick is suspicious of Meghan, and she can hardly be blamed for doubts about him! These doubts are soon strengthened, as she learns some of the townies suspect him of Heather’s actual murder--if anyone wanted to admit it to be a murder, that is.

There is no accounting for the decisions of the heart though and, deadly or not, Meghan feels drawn to this possibly dangerous man. The strength of their feelings, from doubts to love, are easy to sympathize with and understand. Characters throughout this story are wonderful, deep and believable people.

Although Ashton’s Secret has all the earmarks of a typical mystery, the importance of the romance blending with some other, hard to define quality lend it a certain, heartfelt or perhaps heartwarming aura. We, as readers, have hopes and expectations. We feel Meghan’s frustration, and we wait for some resolution. We keep reading, looking for more than one resolution in fact, but throughout this novel are odd touches, where doubt changes to trust, or where fear is apparent even in a some well-meaning act. These give the story an evocative depth that is hard to define, but delightful to experience.I will look for Laverentz’ other books straightaway: this one has made me a fan. Reviewed by Snapdragon. Full review here:

Snippet: These two characters struck sparks from their first meeting. Both were trying to convince themselves that the secrets they were keeping were for the good of the investigation and for the other person…the slow opening of the hero and heroine to each other is delightful and captivating. Each conversation between them adds another layer to their personalities, making them real, living, breathing people with enough emotion to jump off the page at you…I couldn’t put down this story, lost sleep to finish it and I will be reading more of her. Reviewed by Melissa. Full review here.

Thank you, Snapdragon and Melissa!