Tag Archives: health

mental health, cancer and art

this is my first peopleized interview. peopleized is a site where you can find people to interview, offer yourself for interviews, and post interviews, which are then available for anyone to use. neat concept. [update on september 2009: that site doesn’t seem to alive anymore]

it’s friday, so of course this is a frozen pea friday post – a post about cancer. got a few pennies to share? why don’t you donate them to the frozen pea fund, here, where you can also find out what the dickens frozen peas have to do with breast cancer.

today we have an interview with addy, who, he says, is a little crazy, a little kinky, and suffers from bipolar type 1, depression and self harm. “they are illnesses i suffer from and are not a reflection of my personality. i’m tired of the stigma surrounding mental health, it’s time we gave it a damn good spanking.”

moritherapy: addy, i just spent a little time on your blog and saw that we have a few interests in common: fighting mental illness stigma, making depression visible, art, talking about cancer, and generally being a bit, how should i say – eccentric. tell me, for you, are there any connections between these topics?

addy:: eccentric, wow! i don’t think anyone has ever called me eccentric before. i’ve been called pretty much everything under the sun, but eccentric. i feel quite honoured.

is there a connection? who knows, i’ve never actually thought about any connections between all the things which make me who i am. i do however think that there are a lot of connections between who we are and what we’ve been through.

i have seen some very dark places in my life, more darker than i would wish on anyone i care about, and i think it’s having the strength to fight through those dark caves and chasms which has made me into the person i am.

moritherapy: how did/do you deal with the impacts of cancer on your mental/emotional health?

addy:: with a huge amount of difficulty.

i had spent a lot of time and energy over the months leading up to this diagnosis in trying to control and overcome my mental health problems that i actually truly felt i had them beat. at the time i was also suffering from glandular fever so my physical energy, as well as mental and emotional state, was at an all time low.

then being dealt the blow that i had cancer absolutely 100% knocked me for six. my initial reaction was disbelief, denial, confusion, and that whole other gauntlet of emotions which comes from such a shock. i didn’t know what to do, who to tell, how to deal with it at all.

i made the decision to tell my then girlfriend who just wouldn’t listen, and as i’ve explained on the blog, being broken up with by her so soon after this shock – and whilst i was having various tests and biopsies performed – had a cataclysmic effect on my mental health.

(the breakdown i suffered i am still dealing with today.)

in terms of how i deal with the impact in an ongoing sense, i just don’t think about it. simple as that. i don’t even really talk about it to anyone; because of what happened when i discovered i had cancer i find myself unable to talk to or ask for help from anyone in regards to this, or any, part of my life.

i have tests, feel like shit, go in/out of doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, hide bits and pieces of information.

i know this will most likely kill me, but because i’ve been dealing with it – and everything – by myself for so long, the only way i’ve been able to cope with it is to go it alone.

i guess i’ve learned from my experiences in life that ultimately this is what we have to do.

moritherapy: … and conversely, how does/did your emotional and mental health state relate to having cancer?

addy:: pre-breakdown i actually felt i was dealing with the cancer pretty well, in fact i’d be willing to say few people suspected there was anything so serious wrong with me.

post-breakdown i just haven’t been coping. with everything that is happening i just haven’t been able to focus any strength or energy on this part of my life, which creates a myriad of problems in fighting and dealing with the physical ramifications of such an illness.

the emotional/mental state i have been in since the breakdown has made it hard for me to fight the physical aspects of my life, as i just can’t summon the energy. it’s just a huge drain on my energy both physically and mentally.

moritherapy: : what place do art and creativity have in your life? does this place have anything to do with cancer or mental health?

addy:: art and creativity have, since a young age, played a huge huge huge part in my life.

ever since i was a bouncing baby i remember drawing and craving new colourful pens and pencils.

i remember sitting in front of the tv writing stories, new indiana jones adventures and long rambling stories about all sorts of things.

this is what i love, this is what i’m most passionate about. my creativity, my ability to manufacture whole words, languages, people, cities with my writing. or my ability to capture still, peaceful resonant beauty with my photography.

this is all intricately linked to my mental and physical health problems. i struggle when i’m emotionally wrecked to write anything, a factor which ultimately led to the loss of my college course (as it came at a time when i was struggling with the huge emotional whack of cancer, loss of important relationship, glandular fever and mental health collapse).

depression stifles my creativity, and yet things like self-harm help bring it out. whereas if i’m manic or brimming with hypermanic energy i can’t stop writing, drawing, scribbling and creating.

i still haven’t quite figured it all out, but like i mentioned earlier, everything is connected. so there is definitely a link between my creativity and cancer/mental health problems.

then of course there is the obvious “escape hatch” theory; when dealing with so much don’t we all just want to run away into a fantasy world where everything is perfect?

moritherapy: do you find people with cancer are generally seen or treated differently than people who are dealing with mental health issues? if so, how?

addy:: see, now having both, this is interesting because i’ve experienced both the obvious differences and obvious similarities with how people treat me.

the obvious similarity is that regarding both health issues few people ever – and i mean ever – ask any questions about them. they know of them, but i’m very rarely asked any direct questions about either the cancer or mental health issues. they just hang in the air never being raised or discussed. as if people are scared of them.

the difference comes with the reaction. when people find out you have cancer it’s all sympathay and words of support and ‘is there anything we can do to help?’…but with mental health issues, with the depression, self harm, bipolar and suicidal issues it’s all ‘your own fault’ or ‘you’re just weak’ or ‘sorry, can’t have anything to do with you because those illnesses are contagious’ and you never see or her from those people again.

it’s funny, the stigmas surrounding cancer and all those myths from the 70s and 80s are now surrounding mental health issues. just cause i suffer from depression, self harm, bipolar etc doesn’t mean you’re going to get them – they’re not contagious – and it’s this stigma which annoys the hell out of me.

there’s a lot wrong with me both physically and mentally; and that’s all people see. they see the depression or the bipolar or the cancer. they never see me for who i am, and i like to think i’m more than that.

moritherapy: would you like to add anything?

addy:: i think i’ve rambled a bit too much, don’t you. then again there’s so much that should be spoken about more openly both with cancer and mental health issues that i urge people to think more about their health; both physically and mentally. think about their friends and family. think what you can do to help. although i say i go it alone i wouldn’t reccommend this to anyone else because loneliness is a huge strain. find help, find support, find love and care. this is a hugely undervalued form of medication…and hey, feel free to drop by the blog to get to know me – the me beyond the mental and physical illnesses. this is the best therapy of all, because we are all, above whatever we go through, people with thoughts, feelings and emotions.

frozen pea friday post: health and poverty

moneyin last week’s frozen pea friday post – the weekly post about people dealing with cancer, inspired by susan reynolds and my friends who are dealing with cancer – we alluded to the difficulty of paying for the necessary care needed for people living with cancer. this immediately led me to thinking about the connection between health and socio-economic status (SES), or income level. having spent the majority of my career as a counsellor with people living in poverty, particularly people in vancouver’s downtown eastside, canada’s poorest urban area, i am very familiar with the connection between health and income.

says one canadian government web site:

only 47% of canadians in the lowest income level rate their health as excellent or very good, compared to 73% of canadians in the highest income group.

canadians who live in the poorest neighbourhoods are more likely than residents of the richest neighbourhoods to die at an early age.

at each rung up the income ladder, canadians have less sickness, longer life expectancies and improved health.

in the UK, “life expectancy in the wealthiest areas is ten years longer than the poorest areas. the gap appears to be increasing as life expectancy for the prosperous continues to increase while in more deprived communities there is little increase.”

the impact of poverty on health by shelley phipps for the canadian population health initiative and the canadian institute for health information gives further information:

research has found a very robust relationship between an adult individual’s income and that individual’s health. regardless of how health and socio-economic status (ses) are measured and how these measures are combined, there is little doubt that poverty leads to ill health.

  • the relationship between individual income and health is non-linear (i.e. low-income individuals suffer larger negative health consequences than high-income individuals reap health benefits, though high-income individuals do reap benefits).
  • long-duration poverty has larger (negative) health consequences than occasional episodes of poverty.
  • both income level and income changes are significant predictors of health status, but income level is the more important of the two.

further along in the study, there is mention that chronic diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, heart problems, cancer, and hypertension are much more common–often twice as common–for aboriginal persons, who also have generally much lower SES than non-aboriginals.theories on how SES and health are connected include these:

absolute income hypothesis
this hypothesis suggests that health status improves with the level of personal income, but at a decreasing rate. one implication is that:”…if income is redistributed from the rich, whose health is not much affected, to the poor, whose health is more responsive to income, average health will improve. other things being equal, including average income, nations (or other groups) with a more equal distribution of income will have better average group health.”

absolute deprivation hypothesis
this can be regarded as an extreme version of the absolute income hypothesis. it suggests that very low standards of living are bad for health, but that once past some deprivation threshold, additional income is not particularly important for health. the emphasis here is that individuals living with very low incomes will encounter physical conditions that may undermine their health, such as poor nutrition, more limited access to health care, hazards from poor environmental quality, health-limiting behaviours such as smoking and sedentary habits and stress resulting from coping with very low income.

neo-materialist hypothesis
this hypothesis argues that high levels of income inequality are simply one manifestation of underlying historical, cultural, political and economic processes that simultaneously generate inequalities in social infrastructure (such as medical, transportation, educational, housing, parks and recreational systems). from this perspective, inequalities in health derive from inequalities in all of the above aspects of the material environment.

lynch and co-authors employ the metaphor of a long trip on an airplane to explain the difference in interpretation between the psycho-social and the neo-materialist interpretations. on a long trip on an airplane, passengers seated in first class are treated better: they have, for example, more room and receive better food. passengers travelling in economy class are cramped and, these days, receive little–if any–food! lynch et al argue that by the end of many hours of travel, the differences in physical conditions and treatment will reduce the well-being of the passengers in economy class (beyond feeling negative emotions because they know they are being unequally treated).

(image by old shoe woman)

men and obesity

finally, here is the long-promised post on the topic of men and obesity. the U.S. national eating disorders association mentions a number of behaviours, physical problems and emotions experienced by men with binge eating disorder. let’s look at a few of them.

behavioral characteristics:

  • hoarding food
  • hiding food and eating in secret; e.g., eating alone or in the car, hiding wrappers

emotional and mental characteristics:

  • feelings of disgust, guilt, or depression during and after overeating
  • binge eating often triggered by uncomfortable feelings such as anger, anxiety, or shame
  • binge eating used as a means of relieving tension, or to “numb” feelings
  • rigid, inflexible “all or nothing” thinking
  • strong need to be in control
  • works hard to please others
  • avoids conflict, tries to “keep the peace”
  • disgust about body size, often teased about their body while growing up
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • depression

physical characteristics:

  • heart and blood pressure problems
  • joint problems
  • abnormal blood-sugar levels
  • fatigue
  • difficulty walking or engaging in physical activities

now of course none of these only apply to men; they’re universal across many people who overeat.

however, how do some of them affect men in particular?

hiding food and eating in secret; e.g., eating alone or in the car, hiding wrappers
many men, regardless of whether they have challenges regarding food, are already less emotionally connected than women. engaging in these secret behaviours can bring this “community deficit” to a dangerous low, resulting in extreme feelings of isolation and loneliness.

disgust about body size, often teased about their body while growing up
men feel more self conscious about their bodies than most people think. this is aggravated by the fact that many men are not very much in touch with their bodies. the body can be a bewildering “machine” that does not look like all those hunks a man sees in the magazines. yes, men experience the same problem as women with comparing themselves with ridiculous ideals in the media. when the comparison falls short, disgust can follow very easily.

physical problems
it’s well-known that men’s life expectancy is shorter than women’s. one of the reasons for that is said to be their smaller emotional support system. so the social isolation that typically comes with binge eating can exacerbate problems. some of it is very straightforward: one problem with social isolation is a dislike for seeing doctors, a well-known problem among men.

now that i’ve named some of the problems – what are the solutions? i’ll write about that in the next few weeks. but in the meantime, if you’d like to have a man’s take on it, head on over to the weight loss dude, patrick curl and fat man unleashed, who are taking you along to his personal journey to health.

3 interactive health projects: weight loss, women’s health and body image

sunny image james jordan on flickrhey, friends … just a quick note today, to tell you about three interesting health interactive health projects here in the blogosphere (btw, that’s where blogospherians hang out, as anthony informed me the other day).

  1. the first one ends on february 4 so you better run. you could win a $50 gift certificate at target. all you have to do is leave a comment about 5 things you’d like to do this year for your physical or mental health. for women only, sorry!
  2. okay, now let’s move over to a guy. patrick weighs 500lb. he wants to lose a lot of this, partly because it might help him and his wife have a child that they desperately want. this is a project where you give something. how can we support patrick? blogging mogul john chow has decided to give him $1 per pound for the first 100 pounds he loses, and $2 per pound afterwards. john himself strikes quite a slim pose (how does he to that with all the hamburger eating???) but as we all know, his wallet is pretty fat. i can’t compete with that so i’ll have to think of how i’ll support patrick my own unique way.
  3. at breaking the mirror there is a contest about body image. what do you like about your body? definitely for both men and women. you have the chance to win a book.

that’s it for today. i’m off the computer in a minute. it’s nice and sunny outside, and my daughter, my grandson and i are going out for a walk. talk to you soon!

(this post was included in the dieting and health carnival at middle age shed)