Category Archives: addictions

overeating – a neglected eating disorder

unhealthy habits and demographic changes are combining to place an unprecedented burden on the health-care system that may not be manageable, the heart and stroke foundation said in its 2010 annual report on canadians’ health.

so says the CBC about an alarming increase in heart disease and the potential for heart disease, adding `most of this is preventable.” the solution is

encouraging canadians to be more physically active, eat a healthy diet and be aware of their risk factors for heart disease.

“we all eat from stress, or because we don’t have time to prepare things,” said cheryl shapiro, a heart patient in toronto who was diagnosed with high blood pressure eight years ago.

she encourages people to read labels. “we don’t realize what we’re putting in our bodies.”

it is difficult to fit in the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least three times a week, shapiro said, but she does walk her dog regularly.

part of the solution is to create infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk to the store rather than driving everywhere to avoid exercise, abramson said.

“it’s easy to take shortcuts,” abramson said. “but in the long run, those shortcuts will be disastrous for our health.

there was a bit more about this on the radio but the gist was the same. what i found interesting – always find interesting about such news stories – is that obesity and being overweight is almost exclusively seen as a lifestyle choice. the equation of overweight = fat = out of control, unattractive, lazy, weak-willed etc. is not made explicitly but it’s really just three letters away. indeed, when i looked at the first five or six pages of the comments, i saw the word “lazy” six times. neither in the story nor in the comment pages did i see the word “eating disorder” or “addiction”.

i often get the feeling that in the world of psychiatric diagnoses, anorexia is much more noble than overeating. the overly thin person who uses her will power to deny herself a piece of broccoli is so much more appealing in our culture than the slob who sits in front of his TV, gobbling ice cream. of course both are caricatures and tell only a very, very thin slice of reality (for example, you could have two very similar looking people side by side, one of them struggling with undereating, the other with overeating. it doesn’t always show in the body size.)

there is controversy in the psych community over whether overeating is an addiction. i must say that i find NEDIC‘s approach in can i be addicted to food? just as naive as the above article. it ends up saying “once we begin eating in a normal, healthy way again, we won’t have the same desire to eat as much high-calorie, high-carbohydrate food, or foods we think are “bad”.” that sounds really easy, doesn’t it?

now of course “addiction” is just a label, so let’s not split hairs here (although personally i am firmly on the side of gabor mate’s definition of addiction, which would agree with the use of the word in connection with overeating). rather, let’s be clear on this:

there are many people who eat much more than they want to and are unhappy about it. they try and try and try and nothing seems to work. they experience things like this: they cry during binges because they hate that they are eating non-stop. they go to bed night after night with terrible stomach pains because they have eaten too much. they eat out of garbage bins, eat frozen and spoiled food. they go to great pains to hide their eating from others, often ordering nothing but a little salad when they go out with others. they go from macdonald’s to burger king to wendy’s, pretending they are buying for a family. they spend thousands of dollars on diets that work for a while and then go back to bingeing. they commit suicide over the shame they feel over their out-of-control eating.

this is not a little lifestyle problem that will go away with a bit of education and an admonishment to use more willpower. many people who overeat know a lot about nutrition already and know they should exercise more, just like many people who smoke know what their lungs look like. they are deeply unhappy that willpower doesn’t seem to work. my best friend’s mother, an astonishingly intelligent woman, died of lung cancer, greedily sucking on a cigarette just before she went into her last coma. while not every person who is overweight suffers with such intensity, there are nevertheless similarities. overeating, for many, is a disfiguring, depressing, despairing dis-ease that is difficult to fight. i wish that this will be acknowledged more in the coming years. come to think of it, MentalHealthCamp, our second conference on the intersection between social media and mental health, will be a great way to address this.

(this is another post for national eating disorders week)

8 reasons why i give money to panhandlers

“don’t give a panhandler money! he’ll only buy drugs!” we’ve all heard this.

today i gave a hefty amount of money to the guy who always sits in front of my neighbourhood supermarket. the parking sign pole against which he was leaning was shaking because he was shivering so hard. i made him promise to leave for the night and watched him go.

while i completely believe that it’s everyone’s decision whether and what they give, i thought i’d tell you the reasons why i give money:

  1. it’s respectful. they don’t sit there to ask for food, they ask for money. most panhandlers are savvy; they know where the food banks and soup kitchens are. for one reason or another, they don’t want to go there. there’s something rude about someone asking for one thing and then giving her or him something else. when i ask to borrow your pen, you don’t give me a lighter either, do you?
  2. i don’t know whether the person is using it for drugs. having working with very poor people for a number of years, i’ve met numerous panhandlers who didn’t use it for drugs.
  3. even if they’re using it for drugs, they’re not going to stop using if i don’t give them money. even if nobody gave them money, they’d still not stop using. it’s like hoping that removing wine glasses will stop someone from being an alcoholic.
  4. even if they use it for alcohol or drugs – guess what, i (and you) support a lot of peoples’ bad habits. of the bankers, politicians and multinationals that make money from me, how many do you think spend money on cocaine? gas-guzzling SUVs? booze?
  5. panhandlers are micro entrepreneurs. i like the spirit of independence.
  6. panhandling is hard work. if you don’t think so, try it yourself. i respect hard work.
  7. there’s something honest about panhandling. the panhandler who just sits there quietly or asks politely for change doesn’t try to sell me a dream of a slimmer body, a happier child or better sex. it’s a straightforward kind of business. (btw, i can’t stand those frauds who try get money by telling me that they just arrived from calgary and all they need is a few bucks to call their ailing mother – i never give a cent to those scammers, only a growl)
  8. above all, agreeing to the exchange as it is proposed – the panhandler asks for money, i give it – gives the person and me a chance to interact as humans. the panhandler asks, i give, we both smile and exchange a few words.  we connect, and we feel good.

what do you do?

arrest them! no, not the drunk guys

i’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year, this time determined to do all i can to make it to the 50,000 word count. so my blog posts may be sporadic, or short and sweet, or both. like this one. only it’s not sweet.

at a walmart in lethbridge, told by a friend:

a drunk native fellow ahead of me was buying 10 bottles of alcohol-containing hair treatment. i asked for the manager and asked him whether he was going to let that sale go through. he said there was nothing they could do. i checked the shelves and saw that this product was vastly overstocked compared to the non-ethanol products. i called the cops. they just took my name and address.

the week before a bunch of guys had been sitting on the bench in front of walmart drinking hair product. walmart restocks the shelves according to the rate of product sales.

they should be arrested.

not the native guys.

invisible

invisible illnesses are, by definition, not seen. there are two parts to this: the (un)seen, and the (non)seer. i’m not sure that invisible illnesses are in fact invisible.

the man with chronic pain sits on his bed at 3:00 am, a gun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger. he makes sure his wife doesn’t see it. but it is a reality that can be seen; in some/many/most cases a reality that exists because insufficient effort has been made by the medical profession to see his pain and suffering. ask anyone working in palliative care or a hospice (and, surprisingly enough, sometimes also in sports medicine): in many cases, if you experiment long enough, a combination of drug cocktails, complimentary approaches and human(e) caring out can be found that will bring adequate relief of the horrible experience of excruciating pain.

the woman who keeps going back to the casino covers her tracks; she doesn’t want her co-workers to know how deeply she is in debt, and she is horrified at her mother finding out what she’s done with the money that aunt judy left her. but there she is, look: at the table, throwing in one chip after the other. yesterday she won $6,000! she just knows it will happen again, maybe tonight, for sure tonight! at a deeper level, she feels she is doomed, is always a few minutes away from enrolling in the voluntary exclusion program but somehow is afraid to do it. and we, we know she, or someone like her, is there, right now, this minute. she, too, is at a high risk for suicide. we know it, and therefore we can see it. even if we suspect it – maybe we are one of her coworkers – we can see it, just a bit. we don’t always need a 100-watt light bulb to tell a horse from a dragon.

the old man whose wife died a few months ago is sitting in front of the TV. his children are busy somewhere at the other side of the country, and the dog passed away a year ago. he stares at the moving images in front of him but doesn’t see them. he knows there’s a world out there but he perceives no place for him there anymore. no-one needs him. he sees no more point in talking, cooking, or brushing his teeth. his curtains are drawn; no-one can look in; depression is about to take him over completely. but there are still stories inside of him, experiences, wisdom. they can be seen by those who take the trouble to listen to him to hear him.

in invisible illness, there are things that are hard to see; it’s not easy to directly point at experiences like pain, addiction or depression. but there are also things that are hidden by the person with the illness because of shame, hopelessness, or because of the many times an attempt was made to show what’s going on but no-one seemed to care. and there are things that are not seen not because they absolutely cannot be perceived but because we don’t look and don’t listen.

that can be changed.

(this post was written in honour of invisible illness awareness week, september 14 to 20, 2009)

bye bye B-line

a tugboat on the fraser river in richmond

a tugboat on the fraser river in richmond

for a while now, i have been working part-time for the mennonite central committee in richmond. i’d get on the 49 bus to granville street, and then take the 98 B-line down granville. granville is one of the older streets of vancouver, and that stretch down to the fraser river is lined by old trees, venerable mansions hidden somewhere between tall hedges, and further down, there’s a friendly little shopping neighbourhood. i’d always try to get a seat on the bus that faced west so that, when we had reached the end of granville and crossed the fraser river, i’d see the wide waters flowing along under the bridge, perhaps with a tug boat schlepping a load of logs; the expanse of the fields leading up to the airport; and the north shore mountains we were drawing away from as we headed closer and closer to the US border, just 30 km further south. then a loop to skirt one of the airport hotels and up over another, smaller bridge crossing another arm of the fraser river, dotted by boats of all stripes, and flowing pastorally off into the distance. two minutes later, the bus would plonk me down right by my place of work.

that bus ride was one of the many perks of working at MCC.

“was.”

by september 7, i will be forced to trade beauty for efficiency.

the olympics are upon us. in february, we’ll be hosting the winter olympics and in preparation for that, we finally have canada line, a rapid transit system going to the airport. it takes you along cambie street, parallel to the 98 B-line, and so the B-line will be scrapped.

yes, taking the canada line will shorten my commute by about 10 minutes each way. in exchange, i will have to endure 10 minutes of ugliness. the train stations look like they’ve been built by architects who normally design prisons, the trains – admittedly very roomy – have the charm of 99-cent tuna cans, and when they finally exit the tunnel, they emerge into a drab, industrial tangle of concrete, rails and unidentifiable stuff-that’s-lying-about. (a far cry from the nostalgic, semi-abandoned, wild urban nature that used to surround the rickety old rapid train system in east berlin in the 60s, 70s and 80s that inspired one of my first short stories).

oh, and to top it all off, the first stop in richmond conveniently has an exit that goes right into a casino. i’m really, really not a prude when it comes to gambling but, people, IMHO, there’s something incredibly cheap and wrong about a public transit system feeding right into a place where people lose their homes and marriages on a regular basis. (people addicted to gambling, btw, supposedly commit more suicides than people with any other addiction).

sigh.

i guess i’m what new yorker writer adam gopnik calls a “frivolous aesthete”. my life is going well, i am not pressed for tiny bits of time or money, so i can afford to value beauty more than 10 minutes here and there. it is in an environment of abundance like this, hypothesizes gopnik, that novelty and creativity thrive, contrary to the saying that necessity is the mother of invention.

how many poets have been inspired by a friendly journey along the old maple trees on granville street?

how many will write odes to the cambie street station?

image by stephen rees

mothers day blessings

woman drinking ginblessed is the mother who gave up her daughter for adoption.

blessed is the mother who chooses daily between cocaine and breastfeeding.

blessed is the mother who drags herself to an abortion clinic.

blessed is the mother who is mortified with guilt over having beaten her sons.

blessed is the mother who can’t give up smoking.

blessed is the mother who makes more kraft dinner than broccoli.

blessed is the mother who works two jobs.

blessed is the mother who works in the sex trade.

blessed is the mother who can’t pay the rent.

blessed is the mother who died while driving drunk.

blessed is the mother who is afraid to leave her abusive husband.

blessed is the mother who has disowned her parents.

blessed is the mother who soothes her pain with valium.

blessed is the mother whose only babysitter is the TV.

blessed is the mother who hears voices.

blessed is the mother who is fighting anorexia.

blessed is the mother who is afraid she’ll abuse her daughters the way she was abused.

blessed is the mother who yells too much.

blessed is the imperfect, suffering, bewildered, overwhelmed, underpaid, lonely mother.

may she be happy, may she be peaceful, may she be healthy, may she be free.

 

image by zoe

blogging yourself home

laptop at homehere is part 1 of my presentation at MentalHealthCamp on the topic “blogging yourself home – writing, blogging and creativity.”

i’ll present it as if i was talking at the presentation and treat you, dear readers, as if you were participants in the workshop.

here we go …

when i was a little girl, there were these tiny glass bottles that fascinated me, and i loved playing with them. and not only were there bottles, but there were also tiny saws with which to open them. i could never figure out why they didn’t just have caps but anyway, i thought they were great little things to play with. especially since my mother really didn’t want me to.

turns out they were my father’s morphine vials.

after a few years, he exchanged the tiny little morphine bottles for bigger ones. from the little 2-ounce ones to mickies to 2-litre bottles of cheap red plonk. they were everywhere. i dind’t really think they were that cute anymore.

my father had the typical addictive personality. he managed to overcome the booze, too, but he had first bladder then pancreatic cancer, and there’s a high correlation between that and smoking, which he did with a passion.

he was also a great artist, a wonderful person in many ways, he introduced me to buddhism which many of you know is very important to me – but he had major difficulties.

the funny thing is that his addictions were difficult but for me as a child they were more a nuisance than anything else.

he also had bipolar disorder, and what did get to me were those long periods of depression where he basically wouldn’t leave his bed for months in a row.

it was that and a mother who tried to cope with this and my sister who has a disability by being a rageaholic and giving me the role of being the “responsible one”

so that’s the home that i grew up in.

why would i want to blog myself home then, why would i suggest to you to blog yourself home? because let’s face it, many of us grew up in homes we don’t particularly want to go back to.

here’s what i propose.

most of us are bloggers here, which means we’re writers.

and that means that we use our creativity, we use our imagination.

the neat thing is, not only is our writing a piece of the imagination; in many ways, the whole blogosphere is a piece of the imagination.

i’d like to ask you, then, what do you imagine your ideal home to be – what are the good words that come up for you as you think of the word “home” – in general, and then also specifically, your virtual home?

why don’t you reflect on this question and comment below? next blog post, i’ll continue the presentation.

image by nuanc

the archetypes: addict, magical child, hedonist

a magical child from brazilthe following is an excerpt from carolyn myss’ fascinating “gallery of archetypes”. most of us can recognize ourselves in one or more of these archetypes, or typical ways of being in the world. in her descriptions, carolyn myss tells us about the positive as well as the shadow (some would call them negative) aspects of these archetypes. what i really like about this gallery is that she also mentions movies, books, and other places where we might find these archetypes, for example the archetype of the “magical child” in alice in wonderland, or the archetype of the “hedonist” in babette’s feast.

below are a few of these archetypes as carolyn myss relates them – the addict who gains strength from breaking self destructive patterns; the magical child who can see beauty in all things; even in the face of horror and depression; and the hedonist, who celebrates sacred ecstasy.

the addict
every one of us is touched by the addict archetype. besides the usual suspects–drugs, alcohol, food, and sex–one can be addicted to work, sports, television, exercise, computer games, spiritual practice, negative attitudes, and the kinds of thrills that bring on adrenaline rushes. in its positive aspect, this archetype helps you recognize when an outside substance, habit, relationship, or any expression of life has more authority over your will power than does your inner spirit. confronting addiction and breaking the hold that a pattern or substance has on you can impart great strength to your psyche. discovering the empowerment that comes with perseverance has a life-long impact.

in evaluating your connection to the addict, review how many of your life’s challenges concern an external substance or a consistent, domineering pattern of trying to maintain order in your life.

films: jack lemmon and lee remick in days of wine and roses (alcohol); ben stiller in permanent midnight (heroin); dom de luise in fatso (food); claire bloom in the chapman report (sex);

drama: a long day’s journey into night (morphine) by eugene o’neill

fiction: basketball diaries (heroin) by jim carroll; under the volcano (mescal) by malcolm lowry.

religion/myth: soma (vedic god of intoxication, as well as the intoxicating drink itself and the plant from which it is made); tantalus (a son of zeus and king of sipylos in greece, he was invited to share the food of the gods but abused the honor and was punished by being “tantalized” for all eternity by food and drink he could not reach).

the magical/innocent child
the magical child represents the part of us that is both enchanted and enchanting to others. it sees the potential for sacred beauty in all things, exemplified by tiny tim in dickens’s a christmas carol, and by anne frank, who wrote in her diary that in spite of all the horror surrounding her, she still believed that humanity was basically good. her insights continue to inspire people to seek out the wondrous side of life, even in a crisis.

one might assume from the name that this archetype refers to only the delightful qualities of children, but as demonstrated by anne frank and tiny tim, it also embodies qualities of wisdom and courage in the face of difficult circumstances.

baudelaire wrote that “genius is childhood recaptured,” and in that sense the magical child is something of a genius too. the magical child is gifted with the power of imagination and the belief that everything is possible. the shadow energy of the magical child manifests, among others, as pessimism and depression,. they often emerge from an injured magical child whose dreams were “once upon a time” thought foolish by cynical adults. the shadow may also manifest as a belief that energy and action are not required, allowing one to retreat into fantasy.

films: drew barrymore in e.t.; margaret o’brien in meet me in st. louis; george du fresne in ma vie en rose; shirley temple in good ship lollipop.

fiction: the little prince by antoine de saint-exupéry; pippi longstocking by astrid lindgren; alice’s adventures in wonderland and through the looking-glass and what alice found there by lewis carroll.

religion/myth: merlin (in arthurian legend, the “child without a father” who was about to be sacrificed when he saved himself by displaying magic greater than the king’s sorcerers).

the hedonist
this archetype has an “appetite” for the pleasurable aspects of life, from good food and wine to sexuality and sensuality. as scientific research has shown, pleasure can improve our health and extend our lives and needs to be part of a balanced life. indulging the self is central to the psyche of this archetype, whether treating oneself to a health spa or learning the nuances of lovemaking. that the hedonist is generally thought of as someone who pursues extremes of self-indulgence is more a reflection of our puritan heritage than of the archetype itself. in positive terms, it inspires creative energy in the psyche to embrace the “good” things in life. it also challenges in a positive way the collective archetypal fear of being seduced and losing control in the physical world. the shadow hedonist may manifest as pursuing pleasure without regard for other people or one’s own good health.

the search for physical ecstasy parallels the search for spiritual transformation, a truth that is apparent in the dual identity of the famous greek icon of pleasure-seeking, dionysus (roman: bacchus). besides being a god of wine and fertility, dionysus also represents the goal of mystery religions, like those practiced at eleusis: ecstatic delivery from the mundane world through the physical or spiritual intoxication induced by secret rites. (see mystic.) the sacrament of soma (also a god of the vedic pantheon) played a similar role in ancient indian spirituality.

films: babbette’s feast; like water for chocolate; big night.

fiction: tom jones by henry fielding; the unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera; les liaisons dangereuses by p. choderlos delaclos.

religion/myth: oshun (yoruba goddess of love and pleasure who is generous and benign); bebhionn (irish patron goddess of pleasure); qadesh (western semitic fertility goddess and epitome of female sexuality and eroticism); bes (egyptian dwarf god originally associated with royalty and childbirth who became popular among the masses as a god of human pleasures of mirth, music, and dance).

for the full gallery, go here.

image by carf