October 31, 2009

Speaking Her Voice: Perri Shaw Borish

Perri Shaw Borish MSS, LCSW is a clinical social worker in private practice in Philadelphia, PA.  She specializes in working with postpartum depression and anxiety disorders.  For more information about Perri's work and to contact her, please visit her website at http://www.perrishawborish.com/.   

“The only thing that seems eternal and natural in motherhood is ambivalence.” – Jane Lazarre, novelist.

There is a tremendous amount of societal pressure placed on mothers to see the period after the birth of their child as a time of bliss, but for many mothers this is not the case. On the contrary, it is often a time of ambivalence, irritability, anxiety and hopelessness.

“I just want to sleep. I feel terrible and I’m afraid I’m going to drop my baby. Sometimes I imagine my arms may just give out and the baby will fall to the floor. I can’t speak to anyone about this so I pretend that everything is fine but sometimes I wonder if everyone would just be better off if I weren’t here.”

This frame of mind is typical among new mothers I have treated who do not realize that they are suffering from a common and treatable condition. Postpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first -- but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to function.

Postpartum Depression, which affects 15-20% of new mothers, ranges in severity from mild anxiety to major depression. There is a wide range of conditions that are considered postpartum depression but here we will focus on the most common form, that of major depression.

Because patients and caregivers often overlook the symptoms of postpartum depression, it is important that we recognize them. Like other types of non-psychotic major depression, postpartum depression is characterized by: depressed mood, irritability, anxiety and loss of interest in general. Also, women who suffer from postpartum depression often express ambivalence toward their newborn child and commonly have doubts about their ability to care for their child.

How should women suffering from Postpartum Depression be cared for?

Ideally, treatment should begin even before the child is born if a woman is at risk for postpartum depression. She should meet with a therapist to create a wellness plan so that she is prepared once her child arrives.

If a new mother shows symptoms that are associated with postpartum depression, a thorough analysis of her medical history and a physical examination should be undertaken so that medical causes of mood disturbance such as thyroid dysfunction or anemia can be ruled out. Treatment should be based on the severity of the symptoms shown as well as the degree of functional impairment experienced by the new mother.

For cases of mild to moderate depression, non-pharmacologic options such as psychotherapy can be helpful. A good diet and plenty of sleep are essential. Friends and family can lend a hand by offering much-needed emotional support and encouragement and by providing hands-on help in taking care of the baby. It’s important to encourage a new mother to eat a balanced diet and to get sufficient rest which play an important role in her well-being. The human brain needs continuous sleep to recharge.

At night, a loved one can help by bottle-feeding the newborn periodically to enable a new mother to sleep. During the day, a loved one or close friend can take the baby for a walk or hold the baby in order to give the new mother much needed time for herself.

Believing the myth that “new mothers love each and every moment with their babies” can push some mothers to ignore their own needs. When we are depressed it can feel as though the walls are closing in around us. A few minutes of exercise, a short walk outside and a breath of fresh air can go a long way in the recovery process.

When a new mom shows signs of more severe postpartum depression or does not respond to non-psychotropic treatments, antidepressant medications taken along with psychotherapy have been proven to be effective. For nursing mothers, antidepressant medications must be chosen with the safety of the baby in mind - first and foremost. When a mother presents with severe postpartum depression, particularly for patients who are at risk for suicide, inpatient hospitalization may be required.

Recognize the Symptoms and Know What to Do

New mothers and those who surround them should be made aware not only of the symptoms of postpartum depression but also that it is a common and highly treatable condition.

There is no reason for a new mother to suffer in silence and shame. It is imperative that those with symptoms of postpartum depression seek the help of a trained professional in order to develop a game-plan that limits depression and anxiety in favor of the enjoyable aspects of becoming a mother.

I have found that the simple act of talking about feelings often helps to alleviate symptoms in my patients. As a therapist often the most important thing I can do for my patients is to listen to them, encourage them and normalize what a difficult and challenging time this is for new parents. With proper treatment and care, the process of becoming a mother can truly be an exciting time, full of new adventures, growth and a tremendous amount of love.

Resources if you are struggling with Postpartum Depression:

American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/

Postpartum Support International http://www.postpartum.net/

Center for Postpartum Health http://www.postpartumhealth.com/

Article reprinted with permission by Perri Shaw Borish.  All rights reserved. 

October 25, 2009

Speaking Their Voices: The American People

On October 22, 2009, the Senate passed legislation that would federally prosecute for hate crimes based on an individual's gender or sexual identity.  The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by a 68-29 vote.

According the the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website, the hate crimes initiative was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Defense Authorization Report passed previously by the House of Representatives. The historic enactment of hate crimes legislation represents a vital victory for social justice advocates and all Americans who affirm that inequality and intolerance corrupt Democratic principles and ideals.

Consistently, many Americans are victims of violent crimes due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will realign significant federal resources to aide local law enforcement efforts in the fight against hate crimes, racism and intolerance against those who exercise their right to alternative lifestyles. Further, the bill acknowledges that gender identity must be protected under federal law. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is our nation's sincerest attempt statutorily at protecting the civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

In addition, CNN online article Hate Crimes Bill Goes to Obama for Signature reports that former President Bush vetoed such legislation during his presidency, but President Obama has pledged to sign this bill into law.  Attorney General Eric Holder told CNN that "Thursday's 68-29 Senate vote to approve the defense spending bill that included the hate crimes measure... a milestone in helping protect Americans from the most heinous bias-motivated violence.  The passage of this legislation will give the Justice Department and our state and local law enforcement partners the tools we need to deter and prosecute these acts of violence."
In addition, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, reported to CNN that this is "our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people... Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence, [w]e now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country."

What change do you want to make?
How do you envision a hate-free future?
What are your next steps?
How will you use your voice?

Adopt a Clitoris - Awaken Your Pleasure and Hers

CLITORAID is a powerful and eclectic organization whose mission is to help as many female genital mutilation (FGM) victims as possible regain their dignity and their sense of pleasure, and in the process, help eliminate FGM once and for all worldwide.  CLITORAID’S public education program informs mutilated women and their communities of the possibility of having the new restorative surgery free of charge, its worldwide fundraising campaign pays for such operations and for establishing conveniently located facilities where the procedure can be preformed.

The organization was founded in May 2004 by Rael and his Raelian followers (yes, the man and the movement associated with scientology, UFOs, and such) and with the generous participation of famous French urologist Dr. Pierre Foldes, who developed a technique to help victims of FGM regain their clitoral sensation.

According to a barbaric tradition that persists even today on an alarming scale, female children in many parts of the world are forced to undergo an excruciatingly painful procedure through which their clitoris is removed. This brutal and senseless act, known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is typically carried out without anesthesia. It is usually performed by female relatives, themselves earlier victims of the practice.

About 7,000 girls worldwide are subjected to this horrific violation daily. That adds up to over two and
a half million FGM victims per year, with approximately 150 million women living today without their
genitalia intact.

Until now, with the damage done, little could be done to help them achieve the sexual pleasure known to the rest of humanity.

CLITORAID's team includes pioneer FGM reconstructive surgeon Dr. Pierre Foldes and world renowned gender reassignment surgeon Dr. Marci Bowers.  Dr. Larry Asley, sexual trauma therapist, joined the team to address the numerous psycho-sexual injuries that occur as a result of FGM, as well as Betty Dodson, Ph.D., famous sexologist, artist, and author whose most notable work is Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving

The following is specific information about FGM as reported by CLITORAID:

FGM is a practice that removes part or all of the external female
genitalia. How much is removed and the method used varies
widely, depending on the region and cultural affiliations.
There are different types of FGM, from the least invasive, a cut in the
clitoral hood, to the most damaging, wherein the clitoris, labia minora,
and flesh of the labia majora are entirely cut out, and the remaining skin
of the labia majora is sewn together. This leaves a small hole (perhaps an
inch long), for the expulsion of urine and menses. This form of FGM, called
infibulation, occurs more commonly throughout the Horn of Africa where
health infrastructure and access to information are largely non-existent.
Excision takes place in some 28 countries in Africa, Asia, and parts of the
Middle East. Women with FGM are increasingly found in Europe, Australia,
New Zealand, Canada and the USA, largely as a result of migration. There
are an estimated 150 million mutilated women and an estimated 2-3
million girls are subjected to the practice each year - 7,000 girls per day.

Medical Facts about FGM:

Immediately following the procedure, which is most commonly done on girls between 4 and 12 years of age, complications include:

• Hemorrhage
• Shock
• Severe pain
• Possible death

Long-term medical consequences can also include:

• Sterility
• Sexual dysfunction and pain
• Anemia
• Complications in childbirth and infant death
• Cysts and abscesses
• Incontinence and/or difficulty in urinating
• Menstrual disorders
• Recurring bladder and urinary tract infections
• Fistulae
• Psychological disorders

In the weeks after the procedure further complications can include:

• Injury to adjacent area
• Wound infection
• Urinary infection
• Shock
• Hemorrhage
• Septicemia
• Ulceration of the genital region

By educating ourselves and others we can work to stop one of the most heinous human rights violations.  FGM affects not only the women who are the direct reciepients of the crime, but you and me as well.  When one woman or a collective of women are violated biologically, psychologically, sexually, and socially, we all are.  Given our gender alone, we as women are vulnerable and susceptible to such violent crimes.  Our work now is in the discovery of our own right to pleasure and freedom and to empower women and girls worldwide to restore theirs.

To learn more about FGM or how to be invloved in activism against these atrocious human rights violations, please visit: http://www.clitoraid.org/, http://www.unicef.org/, http://www.lightfoot-klein.com/ and http://www.crip.org/ for a list of resources including academic articles such as this one, Female Circumcision Comes to America by Linda Burstyn for the Atlantic Monthly, 1996.  For information regarding documentaries please visit the FGC Education and Networking Project, as well as other resources.

If you are intersted in becoming involved or starting a group to address FGM, contact us!

October 23, 2009

Congratulations to Our Poet-in-Residence, Alana Joblin Ain!

The WCC congratulates Alana on the publication of her article Flunking Out at the Food Co-Op in today's New York Times.  Click here to read the article.

Alana Joblin Ain grew up in Philadelphia. Prior to making New York City her home eight years ago, she earned her B.A. at Oberlin College, studying English and Religion, followed by seven months of writing poems in Israel's desert, as part of the Arad Arts Project. Alana earned her MFA in poetry at Hunter College, where she also teaches undergraduate creative writing. Her work has appeared in Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, and RealPoetik. She and her husband, Rabbi Daniel Ain, live in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Check out Alana's new blog at http://www.alanajoblinain.wordpress.com/

October 09, 2009

Speaking Their Voices: Where the Water Meets the Sky

From Where the Water Meets the Sky website this documentary "is the inspiring story of a group of women in rural Zambia who learn how to make a film as a way to speak out about their lives. Produced in partnership with Camfed, all funds raised through the film will support Camfed’s work to educate girls and invest in economic and leadership opportunities for young women in Africa."

Visit www.watermeetsthesky.com and www.us.camfed.org for more information. Check back for more details as the WCC works on hosting a viewing of Where the Water Meets the Sky.

Girl Power Take III

Inspired by Pulitzer Prize authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's new book, Half the Sky: Turning Opression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the media has recently been covering more stories related to the world-wide oppression of women and girls. One undeniable fact echoed throughout the stories is that if you educate a girl, you make the whole world a better and safer place. This lesson applies not just to far off regions of the world but in our own backyard as well, and women just like you and me can take action right here in our own homes.

Kristof and WuDunn argue in their Oprah.com article that "the key to economic progress in the world lies in unleashing women's potential."

Here are 3 quick tips for how you can help:

Make girls smarter. Many pregnant women living in poverty don't get enough iodine, so their fetuses' brains do not develop properly. Their children routinely lose ten to 15 IQ points—particularly the girls, for reasons not fully understood. The solution: Iodize salt, at the cost of a couple of pennies per person per year. To contribute, go to Helen Keller International (HKI.org).

Support a woman's business. With a microloan of $50, a woman can start a business, producing income she can use to feed her children and send them to school. To make a loan, go to Mercy Corps (MercyCorps.org) or BRAC (BRACUSA.org), two groups helping women around the world.

Keep a girl in school. A girl who gets an education will have fewer children, earn more money, and be able to help her younger siblings. One excellent support program operates in Cambodia, where uneducated girls are at great risk of being trafficked into brothels. For $10 a month, you can keep a girl in school through American Assistance for Cambodia (CambodiaSchools.com), or for $13,000, you can build an entire school that will revolutionize life in a village forever.

For more information, please visit the link on Oprah.com here for the All Women Registry. Also visit the Half the Sky Movement "Get Involved" link here. Contact us with any questions, thoughts, or to share your voice on related topics! We would love to feature what action you have taken!

Succulent Wild Women Unite

We are ALL succulent wild women. We may not know it yet, or always feel it, but we are. Sometimes it takes a creative spirit or two and an open mind to launch ourselves into unknown territory and really get to know our wonderful succulent selves.
SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) is the best-selling author and artist of 14 books, and creator of hundreds of products. She is the founder of Planet SARK, her company that creates products and services to inspire people to think and live more creatively. She is an acclaimed speaker and teacher, and is featured in the PBS series, "Women of Wisdom and Power." Visit SARK at www.planetsark.com or call her "Inspiration Phone Line" at 415-546-3742.
Please check out her "Meet Sark" video here to learn more about SARK.
SARK recently gave an interview about her work for the Crazy Sexy Life community. Click here for this inspiring interview.

October 08, 2009

Speaking Her Voice: Stefanie Bryn Sacks

Stefanie Bryn Sacks, M.S., a Culinary Nutritionist, works hands-on with individuals and groups in transition to a healthier way of eating as a food counselor, nutrition educator and chef instructor. She has been studying food and healing for twenty-five years, has her Masters of Science in nutrition from Columbia University and is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. In 1999, she created Nutricook®, a program to help prevent illness and restore health through personalized nutrition therapy and culinary guidance.

In addition to her private practice, Stefanie conducts workshops for adults and children at community centers, schools and universities, corporations, medical organizations and health and wellness expos. She also works with many organizations on food and nutrition related projects. Currently, she is collaborating with Field to Plate, a company dedicated to creating and delivering innovative food education for health professionals and consumers; and Urban Zen, Donna Karan’s foundation devoted to patient advocacy and well-being. She also she speaks at nutrition focused health and wellness events; and is developing a food and nutrition related television show.

Stefanie contributed a 21-day meal plan and 70 recipes to The Source, Unleash your Natural Energy, Power Up your Health and Feel 10 Years Younger by Dr. Woodson Merrell and Kathy Merrell. She also offered her culinary nutrition expertise to Discovery Health’s National Body Challenge, ABC Eyewitness News—Seven On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg, ABC News, the TV Food Network and WOR-710’s nationally syndicated radio program Health Talk with Dr. Ronald Hoffman. In addition, she has contributed to Fitness, O Magazine, Body and Soul, Teen Vogue, Oxygen, Self and Red.

Stefanie lives on the east end of Long Island with her husband and two young sons. She practices throughout the Hamptons, New York City and vicinity. She travels throughout the country teaching and speaking.

Finding the Right Nutritionsit for You

I am now the proud mother of two young boys. Jack is almost four years old and Hunter is 9 months. After Jack was born I went through a major adjustment period, as do all new moms. However, after Hunter’s birth (that being NOW), I am finding this need to redefine myself both personally and professionally.

Many many years ago (like 25), I wondered why the doctors I visited (all too frequently) for my asthma and allergies never questioned if my food intake was affecting my health. Around that same time I started cooking in a local health food joint and happened upon a book, Food and Healing by Annemarie Colbin, PhD. I must say my world was rocked. I became convinced that what I ate had EVERYTHING to do with my health (Duh!). Thus, I said no more to these doctors and sought out someone who could not only medicate me if needed, but also look at my diet and other lifestyle factors to determine what was really making me sick.

So, at the ripe age of 17 I had my first appointment with Dr. Sherry Rogers, a pioneer in environmental medicine (what we now call integrative medicine). To make a long story short, she put me on a special diet (to address my asthma and allergies), gave me vitamin and mineral supplements (after checking for deficiencies), allergy shots (after testing for allergies) and one or two medications (rather than the 5 I was on).

Let’s talk about the diet. Thank goodness I worked at a health food store, was passionate about food and food products and loved to cook. Compliance was easy. And what was a necessity (food lifestyle change to support my health) soon became a bleeding passion (bordering on obsession at times) and the center stone of my personal journey.

But, what if I didn’t have that knowledge and interest? How could I have changed the course of my health? This question sat with me for many years. Fast forward to 1997 when I entered culinary school. Soon after I graduated a dear friend’s father became ill with lung cancer and asked me to cook for him. This led to others. But because I wasn’t a huge fan of private cooking (too isolating for me), I figured that there had to be another way to help those in need of food lifestyle change.

New business idea! Bridge the gap between a practitioners’ dietary recommendations and what the client can and will do to implement the suggested changes—bring the nutrition prescription to the living kitchen. I traveledv this road personally, so why not turn it into my profession? By 2003 I felt comfortable calling myself a culinary nutritionist. I was a professionally trained chef and had a Masters degree from Columbia University. So, this brings me to my question: What is a nutritionist and who is qualified to call themselves this?

In the process of redefining myself professionally, I have been asking myself this question daily. I am a chef with a Masters in nutrition. Does that qualify me? Would I have been qualified if I did a 6-month program in NYC? As far as many registered dietitians (those who study nutrition—Bachelors, Masters or both—then go through an internship with clinical, food service and community rotations) are concerned, neither is enough to wear the “nutritionist badge”. I beg to differ. I believe the answer truly lies with the consumer (yes, that is YOU!). But, you must be an educated consumer!!!

I always like to use this example: When buying a car, a person takes the time to research the make, model, take it for a test drive, look into financing options, etc. So, why don’t we take the same measures when seeking a nutritionist (or other healthcare provider for that matter)? Research a potential healthcare provider as you would a car. They work for you thus it is your job to seek out your best match and “hire” them to support you in the best way possible.
As a patient, I always follow these guidelines:

-Identify my healthcare need.

-Go to the people I know and trust (especially my current healthcare posse) and ask for suggestions.

-Research suggested provider on web (formal education—and you need to decide what is formal enough for you to make him/her credible; philosophy; scope of services).

-Make sure that the provider is doing what he/she is qualified to do (I once worked with a woman with cancer whose yoga instructor prescribed herbs for her that were contraindicated to the medication she was on for cancer—bad news!!!). You can find this out by speaking to potential provider, other patients on the web (if he/she has a website).
-Make sure provider is not claiming to be everything under the sun (which can be the case and is just not possible). Again, you can find this out by speaking to potential provider, other patients on the web (if he/she has a website).

-If possible, speak directly to provider prior to arranging appointment
In the end, it is up to you to decide whom you want to partner with on your road to wellness. An educated consumer is the best consumer. And, asking the right questions will ensure that you are working with the right person for you.

As for me, although I am always and will always be redefining myself both personally and professionally, I am comfortable calling myself a culinary nutritionist given my formal training. In the end, I know what I know and I know what I don’t know! (And when I don’t know, I refer out to tried and true colleagues).

(Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved).

For more information about Stefanie, her work and her amazing resources, please visit her website http://www.stefaniesacks.com/.

October 05, 2009

Speaking Her Voice: The Sassy Gourmet

Julia Gartland is a self described 20-something vegan obsessed with all things green and gluten-free. She is the creator of Sassy Kitchen, a blog and website sharing with her readers good food, good talk and as she likes to say "a bit of sass."

Julia is a gluten-intolerant vegan with a passion for health, cooking and baking. She started Sassy Gourmet Bakery as a response to the lack of gluten-free tasty baked goods out on the market. "I don't just want a cracker I can eat, I want a GREAT cracker...with some sass. So, with this dilemma, I realized I would have to make it myself."

On her journey through food intolerances, and chronic stomach pain, she's developed an intense passion for holistic health and gluten-free baking. Her blog, Sassy Kitchen, also features cooking recipes, vegan product reviews and personal accounts.

Please read below as Julia shares with the WCC community a bit of her sassy insight and delicious wisdom.

By Julia Gartland of Sassy Kitchen and Sassy Gourmet

I believe some people hold all their feelings in some part of their body, and for me, it's my gut. My "pain," we'll call it, started about 4 years ago and it's evolved about 100 times since then. I've seen about 8 different specialists in the meantime, none of whom could diagnose me with anything specific, which was always what I was afraid of.

For anyone with severe stomach pain, or any chronic illness, you know what kind of effect it has on your entire life. Getting up in the morning, being active, being busy, traveling, mood, etc etc etc. The ways it can hinder your life are often listless.

It's hard to even remember where and when it started because it has felt like a lifetime. It began randomly and stubbornly as my digestion is best known for its transformative nature. A chameleon, really. Sometimes it's horrible, sometimes it is OK, for months at a time. It makes diagnosis for a mystery illness very difficult. I've seen countless specialists and done every diet modification in existence. I've eaten all cooked, all raw, all green, all grain, no grain, no yeast, dairy, no dairy and the list continues. Over the course of these years, taking an unbelievable amount of herbs, probiotics and enzymes, only eating this before that, food combinations, taking 6 pills before eating anything, and NOTHING CHANGED. Not once were my symptoms relieved. It was almost comical the way my stomach was so abusive and yet completely unresponsive to everything. Some of you may understand when I say I resented my body, which is a horrible way to feel. I did everything I could for it, fed it all the right things, did yoga and every other exercise I could find, and it was still causing me pain.

Between the very beginning of this illness and now, I have little clarity on what the actual problem is. From what I can tell, I've had a heavy bacteria imbalance that is effecting my entire body, but most specifically, my intestines. I'm also hypoglycemic. I do little things everyday to help. but as exhausting and heart-breaking as this experience has been, most of it has been about LETTING GO. Stressing about the problem could have been causing the problem. I know now that the worry was hurting me and accepting it has done wonders. For me, it was about "releasing the demon" sort-of-speak, and letting go of the anger I had about the situation.

My life and priorities have completely changed. Through this process I became gluten-free and vegan. I learned about foods and nutrition that I never knew before through all the research. Most importantly, I've grown to understand my body. My body has become even more precious to me. Through food I have reached a clarity about health and what it means to me. It has been the worst and best experience and one that deserved it's very own post. I couldn't even fathom the way my stomach has changed my life, but I know without it, I wouldn't have learned all the things I now know. And that is my peace of mind. I now practice unconditional love towards my body, in all the ways I can. Some days are good, some days are bad, but either way I know I'll be OK.

Things I have learned:

aloe supplements are my savior
always drink your smoothie with a spoon, and chew
drinking during or after a meal does affect my digestion
ginger tea soothes me no matter what
raw onion or garlic are toxic to my body
yoga or physical exercise always help to keep my digestion moving
too many grains will give me "brick in the belly" syndrome
too much raw will also back me up
not enough water causes sluggish digestion and cramping
stressing about my digestion will make it worse, every time

(Reprinted by the author. All rights reserved).

For more information, recipes, words of wisdom or to purchase delicious treats from her bakery, please visit her blog Sassy Kitchen.

October 03, 2009

Speaking Her Voice: Alida Brill

Alida Brill is a an author, social critic and advocate for women and girls. Her work and expertise span diverse topics. She is a passionate advocate for a new and intergenerational 21st century feminist dialogue. She has written and spoken about the personal and public issues surrounding women and chronic illness, and questions of medical privacy. Her earlier work on the status of freedom, civil liberties and social justice has taken on new meaning in the era of fear in our post-9-11 world. Her latest book, Dancing at the River's Edge: A Patient and Her Doctor Negotiate a Life With Chronic Illness is a personal dual memoir, written in collaboration with her physician, Dr. Michael Lockshin.

Ms. Brill poignantly states in an interview for Dancing at the River's Edge that part of the impetus for writing the book was for the parents of girls and for young women themselves to awaken to the life that she lived...and know that they can live a life with a chronic illness, but not be solely defined by it. This sentiment is highlighted by a story she wrote and often mentions at speaking engagements called "A Crazy Girl."

A Crazy Girl - by Alida Brill
I was 12 or perhaps 13 the first time I heard a doctor suggest that perhaps there was something else wrong with me. — Something other than illness. — Maybe I was a Crazy Girl. It was said in different words but it was said in front of me. “You know it might all be in her head.” I was too bright not to know what this meant. My mother had old-world ways and with remedies in her repertoire, she melted paraffin and made wax gloves for me with the warm liquid, not too hot, but comforting. She had read somewhere that melted paraffin soothed arthritic hands and mine looked like claws. She also had observed me trying to get out of bed. Standing absolutely still for minutes I was unable to take a step because of intense shooting pains in my ankles and feet.
There was something wrong for sure. She would permit doctors to use the words “growing pains” as I was reaching a height beyond any family genetic code, except for my father’s mother. That was as relevant emotionally as factually. My grandmother and my mother hated each other. If something or someone could be blamed other than my mother’s claim it was her fault because of her advanced age at my birth — she happily would have passed guilt in the direction of my father’s mother. Neither woman was responsible. And, no, I wasn’t making it up —it wasn’t all in my head.
I remember my mother shrieking at a particularly opinionated doctor. “It’s in her bones, not her brain, you moron.” My mother had little difficulty being disagreeable, uncontrollably enraged, screaming, acting out in a variety of dramatic tirades. This was one of the few times I enjoyed a maternal outburst.

It wasn’t too long before we moved into a new realm of conversations with doctors who employed words that were harder for me to decipher. But only briefly did I remain unaware of their presumptions about me. Psychosomatic illnesses, and hormonal surges are phrases I recall. Whatever they said and however they uttered their hypotheses it all meant the same thing to me. I was a Crazy Girl. My entire life as a teenager was filtered through this prism. I thought, “They think I’m crazy and I’m not, but I know I will never convince them otherwise.” So, I chose to become mute much of the time during medical appointments. Intermittently, a strange blessed relief appeared mixed with horrific pain in the form of hugely visible flares. It was a relief because they didn’t think I was crazy. At last, I was of real interest to them. They took me seriously during these episodes. And a part of me hated them for that.

When did I become a feminist? Right then, as a child, long before the words feminism or feminist were well known to me. It was just about the time Betty Friedan first began to write and talk about a different kind of feminism. She emphasized that a woman needed an identity beyond wife and mother. But, I became a girl-feminist because I knew I wasn’t crazy and the doctors only believed me when they could see something. They did not believe me when I told them in my own words exactly what happened in carefully detailed language taken from my diary that I used to record my journey of illness.

I learned far too early that male doctors in those years needed to see something before they would take a girl at seriously, however smart she was. I didn’t dislike men or boys, but I did hate many of those doctors. Quacks covered my wrists and arms in copper bracelets. Some form of alternative faith healer made me drink a teaspoon of apple vinegar every hour. (I have maintained a lifelong aversion to anything that resembles vinegar.) A physical therapist of sorts bound my joints with ace bandages. And the real doctors with fancy medical school diplomas hanging on their walls filled me with gold shots, which was a fairly common practice.

A Crazy Girl filled with gold in a childhood that was anything but golden.

Those years still reside inside me and the scenes reverberate. I weep for that child. She is a part of me, but she is also far removed from me. Medical schools changed their approach to some extent but not fast enough to save my childhood or adolescence. As an adult woman I found a doctor who listened even when there wasn’t much to see. So, I must keep the girl I was at a safe distance in order to preserve my sense of compassion, especially in my memories of those doctors. I must keep on moving forward unhampered by bitterness. Yet, sometimes late at night, alone in crunching pain that little girl comes creeping back into my life, walks into my room and sits on my bed. She says, “It’s still real isn’t it? We were never crazy were we? We aren’t crazy now. And we still hurt, don’t we?”

YES! I tell her. WE hurt like hell.
Reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Fore more information about Alida Brill and her new book co-authored with Dr. Michael Lockshin, please visit her website, http://www.alidabrill.com/.