Stigma Winter 2015

Page 1

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A Voice For The Voiceless.

tigma

DRAWING ON HEALING:

ART THERAPY FOR WOMEN

CLARA HUGHES

WALKING THROUGH THE FIRE I KNEW MY DAUGHTER SMOKED POT... STIGMA MAGAZINE | i


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tigma

winter 2016 Stigma Magazine is one of Canada’s premier magazines addressing the needs of the 1 in 5 people who experience a mental illness or substance use problem in their lifetime. Stigma presents informative, and inspiring articles that show readers not just how to deal with their mental health and addiction, but how to enjoy a healthy life style.

Publisher: Luke de Leseleuc Creative Director: Julia Breese Contact: info@stigmamagazine.com www.stigmamagazine.com 250.508.8562

Published by:

CONTENTS

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3 From the Publisher ...........................................5 Art Therapy for Women ...................................9 Post-Partum Depression ................................11 New Year, New You .......................................14 Healing Layer by Layer .................................17 Mental Wellness When You’re Pregnant ....... 21 Clara Hughes; Walking Through the Fire ......25 I Knew My Daughter Smoked Pot ................29 What’s in a Name? Language & Stigma .......33 Midlife Eating Disorders ..............................35 From the Editor ................................................

.

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 1


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FROM THE

EDITOR E

DITING THE STORIES FOR THE WOMEN’S issue of Stigma Magazine was a bit of a surreal experience for me; as my partner and I prepare to bring our first

child into the world in 2016, I have found myself dwelling on the unique stigmas and pressures women face in relation to motherhood. While I have a loving, supportive network of family and friends, I still find my thoughts filling with insecurities. Will I get a sideways look if I order an espresso drink at a coffee shop? Receive an unwelcome comment if I breastfeed my baby in public? What about if I give my newborn a bottle? Whether these judgements are real or perceived, they can still weigh heavily on my mind. I can’t even begin to imagine the added pressure these thoughts would add to a mom struggling with substance use, or experiencing a mental illness. That’s not to say this issue is “for” mothers—in fact, it’s not even exclusively for women. From Olympian Clara Hughes sharing her story of dealing with mental illness to how a parent’s honest approach about drugs may have saved her child’s life, these articles have the potential to inspire (and hopefully help) anyone. Plus, we like to think they make for good reading—so sit back and enjoy the second issue of Stigma Magazine, and welcome to 2016.

Amanda Farrell-Low STIGMA MAGAZINE | 3


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You can increase their chances with help from Fresh Start* Affordable with Exemplary Service .

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4 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


FROM THE

PUBLISHER W

ITH A NEW YEAR COMES THE hope of a fresh

hadn’t sold an ad and I told Matt that I was tired of hearing

start, a clean slate and new opportunities. But for

everyone saying how a great idea it was, but not coming on

some people, a new year means a continuation

board to support the magazine. Matt looked at me and said,

of the struggles and the challenges associated with addiction

“Give me a second. Let me call my friend Stacey at Fresh Start

and mental health. For some people it’s the end of the road.

Recovery in Calgary.” After he had a chat with Stacy, Matt told

In the last week of December eight people overdosed in

me, “They’re in. Fresh Start is going to take an ad.” He gave me

Victoria; five men and three women. They will never see the

Stacey’s number and they ended up taking out a half page ad

New Year. Their hopes and dreams vanished with them when

and did an article in our first issue.

they took that last hit of whatever their drug of choice was.

If Matt wouldn’t have been there that day, you wouldn’t be

Drug dealers and producers continue to add fentanyl to her-

reading Stigma Magazine right now. That’s the kind of guy

oin for their love of money. They don’t care what happens to

that he was. He was always ready to help people anyway he

their clients; they only care about how much they can sell and

could. Matt had a big heart, filled with kindness and a will to

how quickly they can get rid of their product.

help out — things the rest of the world will never have an op-

This past week, I lost a friend who lost his battle with addic-

portunity to experience.

tion. Matt was a bright, smart and good looking young man

Matt is the biggest reason why Stigma Magazine exists to-

who had a future full of potential ahead of him. This Sunday

day. Every morning in my own little way I thank Matt for help-

I will be the MC for his celebration of life, a life that was cut

ing Stigma Magazine. I will honour Matt by doing my best to

short. Matt was one of the biggest supporters of Stigma Mag-

keep this magazine going and to continue being a voice for

azine. There were many times when I felt like throwing in the

the voiceless.

towel because I wasn’t having any success selling the advertis-

Thank you, my friend. Thank you for being a part of my life.

ing that is needed to print the magazine. But he would always

Thank you for helping Stigma Magazine. You will be missed

encourage me to keep making those calls.

by so many.

Then, one day I made up my mind and told Matt that I was done with the magazine. After about my 300th call, I still

Luke de Leseleuc STIGMA MAGAZINE | 5


INSPIRING HOPE AND HEALTH.

BE A HERO

TAKE THE BE YOU PROMISE.

6 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


BE SMART. BE YOU.

THE BE YOU PROMISE IS A VOW TO YOURSELF THAT YOU WILL BE THE BEST YOU POSSIBLE. The goal of the Be You Promise is to educate and generate awareness among Canadians through inspiring hope and health, to live a successful, fulďŹ lled and fun life without abusing drugs or alcohol. By taking the Be You Promise, I am making the choice to lead a healthy life and set the example for my family and friends.

TAKE THE BE YOU PROMISE FOR YOURSELF, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS AND FOR YOUR COMMUNITY. I promise to be the best me possible by not using illict drugs and by practicing moderation or abstinence in the use of alcohol. Name

Email

Signature

Date

Comments

Share my promise on the CTF website

Suite 703 -1803 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC, V8T 5C3 E info@beyoupromise.org. | P 778.746.7799 | TF 866.238.3077

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 7


Aside from treating individuals with depression, art therapy has been shown to benefit people suffering from everything from domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries to cancer, PTSD, mental-health problems and more.

8 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


DRAWING ON HEALING:

Art Therapy for Women By Cassie Hooker

AT ITS CORE, ART THERAPY IS A FORM of psycho-

employed in the process. Not only that, but it can be

therapy that employs the creative arts as a means

administered anywhere; art therapy doesn’t typically

of communication. A relatively new discipline, it has

require a specific location, although many therapists do

its roots in the use of art as part of the treatment of

prefer to pick one place and time and stick to it.

psychiatric patients in the 18th century. It began to be accepted as an actual therapeutic discipline shortly after World War II, when art was used to help veterans deal with their post-traumatic stress disorder. The basic idea behind art therapy is that the creation of art helps people reconcile their emotional conflicts, promotes personal growth and encourages self-awareness through the act of creating when paired up with counseling and psychotherapy. The reason it’s an effective treatment method for people dealing with illness, trauma, disability or stress is that it does not rely on the use of words or conscious choices; thus, it is a valuable outlet for suppressed thoughts and feelings that might not be communicated easily otherwise. The great thing about the application of art therapy is that literally any kind of visual art medium can be

How it works The therapists will usually choose art materials and styles of intervention that are relevant to their client’s needs, purposely designing their sessions to achieve certain goals. Using the creative process, they help their clients to gain insight into their problems, cope with stress, improve their interpersonal interactions, and work their way through traumatic experiences. Art therapy can be conducted on a one-to-one basis or group setting, and there are usually two directions it can take: it can focus on the creative process of making the art, or it can focus on an analysis gained by the interaction between the patient and the therapist. In the latter case, the therapist would interpret the symbolism in the artwork produced by the patient, and

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 9


also ask the patient for their own interpretation.

giving them something to focus on outside of their trau-

By making a detailed analysis of the symbols and

ma. Taking part in a creative activity can be an extremely

images in the art, the therapists can identify what the

powerful experience, because it lends an element of con-

patient is trying to communicate; they can then pursue

trol to these women; through art therapy, they can gain

these messages in a way that feels safe and comfortable.

mastery over their emotions. Women who have experienced violence, as well as any-

As part of a complete treatment program, art therapy can

one in need, can benefit from art therapy whether or not

produce substantial long-term benefits, such as:

there is a therapist present. It can also be conducted on

Providing an effective way to control one’s personal issues

An increased integration between thinking and feeling

Provides a means of assessing therapeutic progress

Improved ability to self-soothe

Aids in both containing and distancing overwhelming trauma or stress

Reduced frequency/severity of nightmares

Increased self-esteem

Reduced symptom severity

Improved interpersonal interactions

Part of the appeal of art therapy is that it not only allows the patient a more comfortable way of expressing their innermost thoughts and feelings, but it also provides them with a means of temporarily escaping their illness. Since the distraction from sadness is widely thought to be better for the patient than simply allowing them to vent it, art therapy could benefit people suffering from depression by temporarily distracting them from it. Aside from treating individuals with depression, art therapy has been shown to benefit people suffering from everything from domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries to cancer, PTSD, mental-health problems and more.

Benefiting women everywhere

one’s own, allowing a time and space for self-discovery, personal empowerment, and personal expression, since personal trauma and emotions can sometimes be difficult to communicate, even in the form of creating art, in the presence of another person. Since art is both visual and sensory, art therapy can enable the artist to bring out traumas that are stored in their implicit memory (a body-based type of memory different from conscious memory). Like many people suffering from trauma, women who have experienced abuse are often unable to express their feelings verbally, especially when the memory is still fresh; art therapy creates a sort of transitional space for them that allows them to more easily communicate their traumatic memories, giving them a starting point for healing. In addition to helping the patient/artist to pull out their hurtful memories and communicate the devastating effect their trauma had on them, art therapy also has an effect on the artwork’s audience. The produced art can bring about feelings of empathy in the viewer, whereas simple verbal communication has a tendency to hide as much as it discloses; much of the horror the victim endured at the hands of her abuser is beyond mere words. Ultimately, by making use of art therapy, these women come away with two things: the ability to safely express emotions and memories that escape words, and a new passion for an outlet that enables her to build and maintain her mental well-being throughout her life.

Art therapy is now being accepted all over the country as a popular technique for enabling women who have expe-

For more information on art therapy and its applica-

rienced domestic violence to cope with their traumatic

tions,

experiences, by allowing them a safe means of expressing

programs-and-services/sexual-assault-domestic-vio-

the feelings and thoughts that are difficult to say and by

lence-care-centre/art-therapy

10 | STIGMA MAGAZINE

visit:

http://www.womenscollegehospital.ca/


POST-PARTUM

DEPRESSION By Cassie Hooker

T

HE WEEKS AFTER GIVING BIRTH CAN

be a difficult time for new moms. For all that they do to ready them-

selves mentally, physically and financially for the incredible change their lives are about to undergo, there really isn’t anything that can genuinely put them in a state of total preparedness. Nature has a way of throwing curveballs. The presence of a new (and completely helpless) family member means a huge adjustment to the entire household’s daily schedule, sleep patterns and finances. Having a new baby can also wreak havoc on Mom’s emotional and psychological well-being and, by extension, that of her other family members. Often misrepresented as simply “baby blues,” post-partum depression (or PPD) is a psychological condition that affects as many as 1 in 4 new moms. There are two types of PPD: early onset (those socalled baby blues), and late onset. Early onset PPD encompasses the natural emotional highs and lows that can occur directly after birth, as a result of the hormonal and physical changes taking place in the new mom’s body. The symptoms of early onset PPD can include sadness, tearfulness, trouble sleeping and low self-worth. This type of PPD is mild, but can affect up to 80% of new moms and will usually

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 11


resolve itself within a week or two. The treatment for early

anger/rage

onset is simple; things like reassurance from one’s support

loss of interest in activities

network and help with household and baby chores should aid

difficult sleep patterns/fatigue or exhaustion

in clearing it up. Approximately 20% of new moms, however,

trouble with memory or making decisions

will develop a longer-lasting depression, also known as late

withdrawing from family/friends

onset PPD.

trouble bonding with baby

Late onset commonly occurs anywhere from a week to a

decreased sex drive

month after delivery. It is far more intense than early onset,

doubt about your ability as a mother

affecting 10-16% of new moms and occurring over a much

worry about causing harm to oneself or one’s baby; and

longer period of time. Unfortunately, late onset PPD can of-

in extreme cases, the desire to cause harm to oneself or

ten be severe enough to interfere with a woman’s ability to

one’s baby.

look after herself and her baby. In these cases, it is impor-

Even though PPD is a fairly common occurrence, it can only

tant for Mom to remember that having late onset PPD isn’t a

be properly diagnosed and treated by a qualified medical

sign of weakness; it is a complication of birth that can having

professional. Some women have a pre-disposition toward late

far-reaching effects, but can be managed with proper diag-

onset PPD, including those with:

nosis and intervention. PPD doesn’t come about as a result of

depression during/after a previous pregnancy;

anything the mother did or did not do, and it has nothing to

previous depression or bi-polar disorder;

do with socioeconomic or other factors.

family members with mental illness;

The list of symptoms of late-onset PPD are lengthy and var-

stressful life events during/after pregnancy (job loss,

ied, and can include:

death, abuse, personal illness, etc.);

depression

medical complications during delivery;

irritability

mixed feelings about the pregnancy;

misery

lack of solid support network; or

feelings of hopelessness

addiction.

difficulty concentrating Treatment options As with many medical conditions, the prompt diagnosis and treatment of PPD can help new mothers manage their symptoms, allowing them to enjoy parenthood and bond with their baby more successfully. Along with the more typical pharmaceutical approach, psycho-social and psychiatric approaches have also been shown to be effective in treating it. Of these, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy show the most promise. Pharmaceutical intervention One of the more common methods of counter-acting the effects of PPD is the use of pharmaceuticals. Anti-depressants, which interact with the brain’s chemistry to control moods, are the go-to method of treatment. Although many of these are considered to be safe for use while breastfeeding, women who are considering using

12 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


anti-depressants should have a serious conversation with their doctor about the possible risks and benefits of using the medication. As with many regular medications, antidepressants can take a week or two to reach full effectiveness, and their effects may vary between individuals. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Get answers to your questions no questions asked…

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a structured form of talk-therapy, which (with the help of a mental health therapist) enables the individual to recognize their negative thought patterns. This allows them to learn to combat stressful situations, and correct them in a constructive way. Interpersonal Therapy

Free • confidential

1-800-665-2437

Interpersonal Therapy is a short-term structured approach to mental wellness that focuses on the patient’s past and present social and interpersonal interactions, often choosing one or two problem areas in their current life to work on. Some examples are disputes with friends and family, grief or loss, and role transition (such as with motherhood). These therapy types can be used individually, or together for greater effectiveness. Being informed of the risks associated not only with the PPD, but also with the treatment options available, can have a positive effect on the outcome; so, too, can maintaining a proper diet and exercise regimen. If left untreated, PPD can worsen and continue for years after the birth of the child. It can not only interfere with the mother’s ability to form an emotional bond with her child, but can also cause the child to develop long-term problems related to sleeping, eating and behaviour.

If you are experiencing depression that lasts longer than two weeks, let your doctor know of your concerns. If your depression has gotten to the point where you are thinking about harming yourself or your baby, please: •

Call your doctor

Call 911, or go to your nearest emergency ward

Call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention, at: 1-800-273-8255 (TTY: 1-800-799-4889)

hep c • aids • hiv • prevention • testing • treatment

Find information on different Canadian resources at: www.suicide.org

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 13


NEW YEAR, NEW YOU: THINK GOAL SETTING, NOT RESOLUTIONS

F

or many of us, the holidays bring up a swell of emo-

there was always an excuse to tie one on.

tions. The media portrays the season as one full of

But for many of us in recovery, particularly newcomers,

happiness, family time, shiny gifts, hot chocolate,

this is the year that will define the rest of our lives. It’s

chestnuts roasting on an open fire — the list goes on. But let’s face it: for most of us, when we were using, the holiday season was an excuse to use more; it was full of parties and cheer. I loved this time of year because every-

one seemed to want to join in the festivities with me and

14 | STIGMA MAGAZINE

time to stop the insane roller coaster ride that we’ve been on. It’s time to set goals, not resolutions! Let’s do ourselves a big favor this year and make only one resolution: to not make a resolution. Personally, ambiguous resolutions have never worked for me. So this year I am setting specific goals. Realistic, attainable goals.


The number one and most important thing I will continue doing is… Keep going to meetings and/or maintain your sober connections. If your recovery involves meetings, attending them regularly is a great way to meet and interact with others who share your problem and speak your language. Many recovering addicts attend meetings daily. After all, they engaged in their addictive behaviors daily, didn’t they? Typically, people in recovery find that having sober friends to hang out with is a key element of maintaining sobriety over the long haul. Change your routine. Active addicts often have a routine or pattern that eventually leads to using. Take a look at your regular day, and figure out where the path veers off toward addiction. At that point, you must do something different. Instead of driving home down the street with all the bars, take a different route. Instead of turning on the TV and eventually smoking pot, go for a walk in a nearby park. It doesn’t really matter what you do that’s different, as long as it breaks the pattern that leads to using. Improve your physical health. Getting sober is not just about stopping with the drinking, using, or other compulsive behaviours; it’s a complete lifestyle change. Healthy eating and regular exercise help you in numerous respects. Most obviously, you feel better, which makes it easier to not self-medicate.

So now that 2016 is upon us, what is next?

Try new things. Taking a cooking class (maybe as part

Nothing is more indicative of a fresh start than a new

of eating healthier meals), starting a new hobby or re-

year. So for people in recovery, setting the goal to quit

suming an old one, joining a social club, or just about any

drinking, using drugs, and/or engaging in addictive be-

other new activity will put you in contact with lots of new

haviors (gambling, sex, eating, video gaming, shop-

people, some of whom may become friends. These activ-

ping, etc.) make perfect sense. Usually though, setting

ities also can invigorate an otherwise stalled life.

goals is not enough. This is true even with non-addicts;

There are many other things that you can do to help you

many set a goal to drop 20 pounds every year, but nev-

achieve your goal of staying sober this year, but these are

er quite manage to meet their mark. Of course, a bit of

the ones that I personally am focusing on right now.

extra belly fat is not usually as life threatening as a full-

So remember, life happens. There’s not much any one of

blown addiction. The good news is that if you’ve set a

us can do about that. That said, life in sobriety is always

goal to stay sober in the New Year, there are a few sup-

better than life in active addiction. Sure, getting sober

plemental goals you can make to help you to achieve

and staying sober takes a lot of hard work and effort, but

(or maintain) that big one. Here are the ones on my list.

it’s worth it. So dump the resolutions—and happy goal setting. —Luke de Leseleuc

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 15


“Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life” —Parker J. Palmer

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HEALING LAYER BY LAYER By Julia Breese

One of the modern theories of addiction is that its roots

The five koshas are:

are not physical or chemical addiction, but rather deep

Annamaya kosha (Physical)

trauma (past or present) and/or a lack of community sup-

The annamaya kosha relates to our physical body. The

port — things which cause feelings of disconnection and

word anna literally translates to “food;” maya means

a sense of being “incomplete.”

“made of.” Our body survives by taking in food and other

This sense of disconnect can manifest into many unhealthy

nutrients from the physical world. When people come to

physical, mental and emotional patterns, including prob-

yoga, they are often solely concerned with the physical

lematic substance use. The philosophy and practical tools

practice as it relates to the body. Although yoga address-

that yoga emphasizes help release our negative patterns

es body as part of the process of self-learning and inner

(samskaras) — or, more accurately, “misunderstandings”

exploration, it is important to note that yoga is not only a

— so that we can approach our lives with ease, bravery

physical practice.

and integrity. A rounded yoga practice can help cultivate a sense of wholeness in one’s life, reducing reactivity

Pranamaya kosha (Energy)

and compulsions. After all, the word “yoga” translates to

Prana loosely translates to life force or energy and this

“yoke” or “to connect.”

kosha represents our subtle body. In essence, prana is the

One framework that yoga utilizes as a tool for healing

animating force in everything that has movement and vi-

is the kosha system. The koshas can be seen as a guide

bration. Although prana shows up in our bodies in several

or map to the layers that make up each of us. They can

different ways, the most accessible way we can work with

be utilized to explore our inner landscape and learn more

prana is through awareness of our breath. Our breath is

about our conditionings, habits and patterns. In the kosha

an immediate pointer to how we are doing. By altering

system, all layers, or “sheaths,” have value, with each one

our breath, we have the incredible ability to change how

having an important place in the expression of ourselves. In essence, practicing with an awareness of the koshas and contemplating them shows us that we are already whole and complete. This concept is an important and integral part of yogic theory and philosophy.

we feel both physically and emotionally. Our breath also tells us if we are working in a safe realm or pushing ourselves too hard. Breath awareness can be a powerful ally if we are returning to physical practices after being limited by pain or trauma.

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Manomaya kosha (Mental)

moments that touch us deeply although on occasion we

Mana means mind; although we often think of “mind” as

can slip into an experience of this kosha for longer pe-

where intellect resides and thoughts are processed, the

riods. It exists out of time and space and can arise into

yogic concept of “mind” also corresponds to our emo-

awareness when we are so immersed in something that

tions and nervous system. The practice of yoga encour-

we completely lose sense of our self. In this kosha there is

ages us to become calmer, which nourishes our nervous

no right or wrong, just pure awareness and perfect peace.

system. Once we are calm, we can take the time to look

This kosha is sometimes described as a reflection of at-

at our patterns and emotions without attaching too much

man, our divine self and the eternal truth. Anadamaya is

importance to what we see. By reducing our reactivity,

coming home, knowing we are complete and perfect just

we create an environment in which we can be more open

as we are.

and honest with ourselves. We make space in our lives for a place in which true healing can occur.

Pulling it all together Engaging in practices that support these five aspects of

Vijnanamaya kosha (Mental)

ourselves can be a powerful healing tool for anyone deal-

Vijnana means “knowing” and this kosha refers to a

ing with mental health issues, addiction or compulsive

“deeper knowing” that is beyond the realm of thinking,

behaviours. Below are just a few examples of things we

memories and emotions. Vijnanamaya is our own innate

can do in our lives to increase our sense of wellbeing.

wisdom that is present when we remove the clutter of

Guided relaxation (free ones are abundant online).

our conditionings. This kosha allows us to step back from

Bringing intuition into physical activities; listening to

our situation and see things with more clarity. Vijnana-

what the body needs deeply, rather than training or

maya can provide us with welcome insights into our own

commanding the body.

habits and patterns if we take the time to listen this inner

that it is our companion on this life journey and it

wisdom. It invites us to release the habit of always “do-

deserves to be cared for.

ing” and explore the qualities of “being.” If we allow ourselves some time to be in the present moment, without

Anandamaya kosha (Bliss) Anandamaya kosha literally means the “bliss sheath;” when we speak of bliss in this kosha, we aren’t referring to feelings of bliss but rather a complete experience of being

Becoming aware of our natural energy cycles; making time for rest a priority in our lives. Avoiding screen

needing to change anything, we give ourselves the space for a fresh perspective on life.

Expressing gratitude towards the body. Realizing

time at least an hour before bedtime. •

Slowing the breath down by gently increasing the length of the exhale.

Laughing or sighing (both release tension).

Meditation (both guided and unguided).

Creative endeavours such as playing music, dancing, writing or art. We can benefit from engaging in both

bliss. The experience of anadamaya is not something that

in solo and group oriented creative pursuits.

can be found or sought out; it is always present but of-

Prayer or intention setting.

ten unnoticed. Anandamaya is often experienced in fleet-

Mindfulness (present moment awareness)

ing

• Being in nature.

and

unexpected

Julia Breese is a Yoga Therapist living in the Greater Victoria area. She specializes in teaching yoga to those recovering from trauma, mental health issues and addiction. Learn more at www.garudayoga.ca

18 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE WITH YOGA We offer private therapeutic yoga sessions to soothe your nervous system, reduce cravings and bring a greater sense of ease and comfort into your life.

Call 778-265-3916 for more information

G A RUDA

YOG A www.garudayoga.ca • 778.265.3916 • julia@garudayoga.ca

Sooke Therapeutic

Yoga Society Sooke Therapeutic Yoga Society offers free Health & Wellness programs to assist those dealing with cancer, trauma issues, addictions, etc., as well as offering yoga for kids and teens. The Society also offers prenatal yoga and noon-time yoga by donation. To attend these sessions or learn more please call 250.642.9642

250.642.9642 www.sookeyoga.com

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 19


20 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


MAINTAINING MENTAL WELLNESS WHEN YOU’RE

PREGNANT By Cassie Hooker

P

REGNANCY IS A WONDERFUL THING. IT means you’ve

cumstances, with the exception of some that focus en-

created a life, and that’s a pretty extraordinary

tirely on the pregnancy. Some examples of this include

gift. At the end of roughly 9 months, you’ll have

any anxiety you are harbouring about having a child or

a tiny human who will love you unconditionally. That

the changes in your physical appearance; some people

in itself can make physical and emotional discomfort

simply find it harder to deal with these changes and

worthwhile.

uncertainties than others do. It’s natural to worry about

In a perfect world, a pregnant woman would only have

how you’ll cope with the new baby, whether it’s your

to contend with the physical side of the pregnancy;

first pregnancy or your fourth.

there would be no emotional or psychological side,

Broken sleep and lack of energy aside, sometimes this

apart from bonding with your soon-to-be baby. Alas, it

hormone and stress-related depression can be heavier

isn’t a perfect world, and pregnancy can have a wick-

than even the most seasoned mom can handle. Even

ed way of creating problems where there weren’t any,

if you don’t have a specific mental illness, if you are

or exacerbating pre-existing problems. This is where

feeling depressed and it’s affecting your daily life, get

looking after your wellbeing is most crucial.

support. This can come in the form of your network of family and friends, your doctor, midwife, or other

Going into it healthy Even though pregnancy is thought to be a time of emotional wellbeing, all those nifty pregnancy hormones can bring on anxiety, depression, or mood disorders.

health professionals. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, you might be offered psychological treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or psychotherapy. If your problem is more severe, your doctor will likely refer you to a perinatal mental health specialist.

How your pregnancy affects your mental state can depend on a few things, such as stressful events that may

er it was planned, negative childhood memories). The

Previous mental health problems

symptoms of mental illness during pregnancy are ba-

Some women are more vulnerable than others to the

sically the same as those you might have in other cir-

stresses brought on by pregnancy. Those who have

be going on around you (job loss, a death in the family, etc.) and how you feel about being pregnant (wheth-

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 21


22 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


previously suffered from serious mental illnesses like

previously on medication, and decide to stop using

schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disor-

it, it’s best not to stop suddenly unless your doctor

der and severe depression or anxiety, for example, will

tells you to; with some medications, people who stop

likely be referred to a mental health service for fur-

suddenly relapse faster.

ther care, as they are at risk of becoming ill again after childbirth.

If it seems like using medication is the best route, your doctor will be able to help you by arming you with in-

A recent study conducted by the MGH Center for Wom-

formation. However, there are several personal things

en’s Mental Health followed a group of 147 women,

you will need to consider when choosing the right

who had suffered previously from major depression,

treatment:

for the length of their pregnancy. Eighty two of these

How unwell were you before the medication?

women continued using antidepressants throughout

How fast did you become unwell when you stopped it?

their pregnancy; of these, 21 women experienced a

Which medications have you used before, and which worked best?

relapse. A total of 65 chose to stop using antidepressants; of these women, 44 experienced a relapse. The

overall findings of this study suggested that women who discontinued their medication were fives times as

What is the most up to date safety information about the medication in question?

likely to suffer a relapse as those who kept using their

What might happen if you become unwell during pregnancy?

medication.

If you have had a severe mental illness in the past, it

Psychiatric illness while pregnant is a tricky thing, since

may be a good idea to arrange a meeting with your

it may cause significant problems for the mother and

network of supports, so that you may determine a plan

the child. As such, taking one’s regular medication out

for your mental health care during pregnancy. In addi-

of the picture may not always be the safest option. If

tion to all of the health professionals associated with

you are on medication foxr a previously existing mental

your pregnancy, you can also choose to include your

illness, you will have to contend with something that

significant other and close family and friends; it is a

other expecting moms may not: whether the medica-

good idea if the people closest to you know about your

tion you are on is safe for your baby.

mental health problems so that they can know what

Any decision regarding starting or maintaining a phar-

symptoms to look for.

maceutical course of treatment while pregnant should

In a general sense, your network of family and friends

be done with full knowledge and understanding of the

can also help take the stress off your shoulders a bit

possible risks and benefits associated with the medi-

by helping with the housework, or cooking some meals

cation in question. You will have to weigh the risks of

for you. There are also some things you can do to help

using medication against the risks of not using medi-

ensure your mental wellbeing while you are pregnant:

cation. In effect, it may become a matter of choosing

Eat a balanced diet

the lesser evil.

It’s safest to stop consuming alcohol, tobacco and other drugs while pregnant. If you choose not to abstain, find ways to cut back

Have a plan Whether you were healthy going into the pregnancy, or have had a previous mental illness, it pays to have a plan. A good place to start is to talk your doctor. Often, they will be able to give you tips on managing your illness, or a treatment plan, depending on its severity; they will let you know the associated risks and benefits behind the different kinds of treatment, allowing you to make an informed choice. If you were

Find some time each week to do something you enjoy

Exercise

Communicate openly with your family and support network

Get regular sleep

No matter what coping method you choose, the important things to remember are to do your best to look after yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. STIGMA MAGAZINE | 23


24 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


CLARA HUGHES WALKING THROUGH THE FIRE By Luke de Leseleuc

T

HIS PAST SEPTEMBER LUKE DE LESELEUC of Stig-

also your journey of healing. What can you share about that

ma Magazine had the privilege of meeting Olym-

moment and how it has changed you?

pic athlete Clara Hughes to discus here book Open

Heart Open Mind, and talked to her about her past struggles with depression and the stigma associated with mental illness. LDL: So how did the book release go?

CH: That’s a traditional ceremony from the indigenous people that they’ve used for so long and it was gifted to me. I think healing comes in all ways, shapes and forms. For me it’s come from clinical therapy, as well as from these experiences; it also comes from being outside and from

CH: It went really well. It’s very emotional when it’s the

movement. But it’s so different for every one of us.

story of your life and the people in your life that you are

I was under a lot of stress at the time. I was here back in

presenting. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know it’s not

Vancouver, days before the home Olympics, and I’ve just

presented in the most positive light for myself and other

done a press conference being named the Flag Bearer, but

people, but it’s the reality I’ve lived. I had a huge meltdown

all I’m thinking about is performing. It’s about having an ex-

on the Tuesday of the release of the book. I had to can-

perience, but as an athlete you train so much, and I am not

cel a few interviews, but you do the best you can. To have

going to let anything stand in the way of my performance

[sports broadcaster] Michael Landsberg there with me for

and all of a sudden there’s this huge stress. So a friend saw

the first book event was awesome! He did an interview

me stressed out and invited me to this ceremony. Because

with me on stage for about a half hour. There were

I was open and curious and kind of desperate, I said, “Yeah

maybe 250 people and many of them stayed be-

thanks. I would like that. I would like to accept that.” So

hind after, and it was everyone; the business

when I went, I had no idea what I was stepping into.

person, to the homeless person, to the person

It profoundly affected me at the time. That ceremony

I could see did everything they could to get

opened me up, and it gave me a life lesson that sometimes

out the door that day to come and be a part

you just have to accept help.

of something. This happens to be a book release that happens to be my story, but this is SO much more. It was really cool! LDL: The brushing off ceremony just before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver had a major influence not only on this book, but

LDL: Like a fork in the road? CH: Exactly! But it’s also realizing that you can’t do it alone. I knew that I had to step out on the ice alone. When I’m racing, I’m alone, but I am also fed by so many other things. It’s like some days, I can’t get outside, but I know that if I do, and even if I just walk up around the block, it’s not

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 25


going to remove the darkness that I’m feeling, but I know

ed was for my dad to say, “I love you.” I never got that from

that it’s going to give something positive within that strug-

him. He never admitted, and we could never confront him

gle. It’s realizing that your actions matter so much and that

on, his drinking. I was never even able to stand up against

sometimes it’s just the smallest actions of acceptance and

my dad for berating my mother. I just stopped creating sit-

of accepting the help and accepting the experience or op-

uations so that he couldn’t do that.

portunity that can lead you to a pretty amazing place.

It was really hard to see him because he’s not here any-

LDL: I know that for many people, just sharing parts of your

more. As an adult I was never able to tell him, “This is how

story creates a sense of healing.

you hurt me, and I still love you, and you still have so much

CH: It’s been really interesting. I have some friends living in the Nunavut region in Northern Quebec. My friend, who is the principal there, said, “I saw the news thing on you.” He said, “ I just want to share something with you.” He said to me that they are doing a healing program in their com-

that you could be, but you did all of this and your actions has created all of this trauma for all of us.” How would he feel if he’s read this book, or seen this report? I just felt so terrified. But I had that message of, “You’re walking through the fire and we’re walking through it with you.”

munity. There’s a struggle with addiction and multi-gener-

LDL: It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for you

ational trauma with residential relocation and residential

sharing your life story.

school system. They have a healer from the Mohawk nation that’s come up to share with them the Healing Circle.

CH: It’s hard. There’s a lot of things in this book that I reveal with my struggles with eating disorders and all of that,

At first my friend said, “I don’t know about this.” But the

just the real self dialogue I’ve had over my life that I try to

premise is that you share your struggle. You share your

show in this book. It’s hard to admit those things as truth,

trauma with the circle, with everybody in it. By putting it

because I still want to be like - I’ve got my shit together

out there, as painful as it is, you are walking on fire. You

all the time, you know? It’s still a struggle to be okay with

have to walk on that fire to start the healing process. By

being human.

sharing it, you are not only starting the healing process for

It’s like I can create this image anytime, but what I try to

yourself, but it is also for everybody that listens; because

do with the book is to share the real things that go on and

they come out and maybe they get some courage or some

do go on in my mental process, but also the things that

understanding or feeling of not being alone in their strug-

have helped me, the things that I’ve connected to. I have

gle and they are able to share it.

so much respect and admiration and a deep value for what

He said, “Clara, you’re walking through the fire right now,

the aboriginal communities have to offer. Many of them are

but this is the start of healing for you and the more people

re-visiting that, from residential schools, from relocation,

that you can share it with, the greater the healing for all of

and they have somehow managed to carry on and move

us.” I thought that was really beautiful. It helped me just be

forward and re-teach.

more settled. It was just a very emotional time, and a lot

I have been privy to many pathways to healing, especially

of deep-rooted things that I saw on the news about this

the last five years with being involved with the effort that

book and the video of my dad at the Atlanta Olympics. I

so many of us are making to de-stigmatize what is called

was 23 years old at the time and I’d just won one of my first

mental illness or addiction; to bring the humanity to it. I’ve

Olympic medals, and my dad — who I love and worshiped,

been privy to so many stories, so much sharing and I learn

but who also was an alcoholic — was on the TV with my

so much from others. I think it’s an amazing sharing that

mom. I grew up in an environment of him verbally abusing

has happened within people and organizations and the ef-

my mother, and lived with and had internalized all these

fort to get the stories out. I hope this book stimulates more

feelings of inadequacy, guilt and failure, and I had to stop all

of that.

that. I just wanted my dad to be present; for me, all I want-

26 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


LDL: What message of hope can you give to the women out there who are struggling and are afraid to let anyone know about their struggles? CH: I think that you have to know that it starts with one person. Your healing circle can be two people. It is the beginning of the healing and you are not alone, because you are sharing it. Also, for women to realize that I have done this in a very public way, and it is something that I am going to honestly find out if I can handle. I don’t know if I can. What I’ve been able to do is to try to get people talking. It’s not me that should be doing this; it’s the person who has never been in the spotlight who has an incredible story to tell that we should be learning from. So what I want to say is whatever the healing process is for you, that is learning how to manage, live, and cope with the sickness you might have. Learning how to do that so you can function as a human being and realize that what you’re going through what you have gone through as difficult as it is, it is something that you can use to help another person, and it has value, it is unique to you. When I look back over all of those years, I wish I could have had the capacity to accept help earlier; we live in a world

that isn’t the athlete who succeeded?

where the help often just isn’t there. I was in a privileged

When you ask me about stigma, I just have to say that I’m

position of being an athlete and had the offering of help

not the voice for this; so many others should be the voice

but decided not to take it, decided to continue struggling.

for this, and that is slowly happening. But in some ways, I

I’m not saying that I had it any easier, but the reality is that I

think that what most people see that I do in this area is very

had the support. I think that as a society and a country that

superficial.

is so rich, we are so poor when it comes to access to re-

We’ve come a long way, but man, the reality is we have a

sources and care for people who are struggling with mental

long, long, long way to go.

health and addiction issues. We need to be so much better.

Enjoying your mental health means having a sense of well-

LDL: Let’s talk about stigma a little bit. What frustrates you

being, being able to function during everyday life and feel-

the most about the stigma that’s still out there?

ing confident to rise to a challenge. Sometimes you have to

CH: Well there’s been a change over the last five or six

take a leap of faith and share your story with someone you

years. I’ve been at the forefront of talking about it, opening

trust, someone who will be there for you when you have

up about it, [and people say], “Hey Clara, you’re great we

to walk through that fire. Remember you don’t have to do

still love you.” But I’m like…I’m not the reality of all this... I’m

this alone. Talk to someone and start your healing journey

getting this support and we’re talking about it, but how are

today.

we reacting as citizens, as human beings, to each other? To the person that you see on the street, to the person that

This interview has been edited and condensed. To learn

you see confused, to the person that you see distraught

more about Clara, visit clara-hughes.com

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 27


28 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


I knew my daughter

smoked pot By Sharlene Law

I KNEW MY DAUGHTER SMOKED POT. I knew this, and it didn’t bother me too much. I considered weed the least of many evils. I’m a professional in the addictions system, and I believed that alcohol was by far the bigger enemy. My daughter was 17, in Grade 12, worked part time, had a good group of friends and a pretty nice savings account. She was responsible, reliable, a natural leader. And she smoked pot. It was earlier this year, in May, when she first got sick. She missed over a week of school and work due to non-stop vomiting. We went to a walk-in clinic where we were told she had the flu. She found relief in warm baths and lots of sleep. Over eight days she lost six pounds but, finally, she was feeling better. Three weeks later the symptoms reappeared. We returned to the walk-in clinic, certain that something else must be going on. When the doctor learned that her high school graduation was fast approaching, he immediately thought that she must be reacting to the stress of this important event. We returned home, where the cycle continued; more warm baths, more fluids, more vomiting and more weight loss, a total of 13 pounds. By now, she had missed another 10 days of school, and people were starting to suggest that she might be anorexic. Out of desperation, we went to the hospital. She was given some saline by IV, along with a shot of Gravol to reduce nausea.

She felt well enough to attend her graduation ceremony that evening. I was so proud as I watched her walk across the stage to receive her diploma. A few hours later, the vomiting started again. The next day was her formal dinner and dance, the biggest event of her young life. She got her hair and makeup done with a bucket in her lap. She vomited for hours; I didn’t think she would make it through the day. I drove her and her date to the hotel for the dinner and dance. She was just like Cinderella; dressed like a princess and running out of time. She continued to vomit at the hotel. She was admitted to hospital the next morning. They ran dozens of tests and found nothing wrong with her. At the end of day two in the hospital, the doctor asked: “Do you smoke pot?” She answered honestly and he said that there was a chance she could have Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, or CHS. The doctor explained the symptoms and they seemed to fit. My daughter agreed to go without smoking pot for 90 days to see if the vomiting would stop. It did. We’re so grateful. As a mother, I naturally hate pot for what it did to my child. But real medical benefits associated with marijuana are starting to emerge; it appears to help with some types of seizures, and may also relieve some symptoms of cancer, glaucoma and luSTIGMA MAGAZINE | 29


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30 | STIGMA MAGAZINE

pus. But, as my daughter and I found out, there are also some potential negatives, such as CHS, which is a new and little-understood syndrome triggered by chronic cannabis use. When people get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, they are given a list of possible side effects as well as very clear dosage instructions: how much, how many times per day, and for how long. When people buy pot from their dealer or with their medical card, they don’t get any of these. It is up to consumers to do their own research, to find their own trusted source of information, or to just figure it out by trial and error. Many teenagers are introduced to pot by their peers during high school. They are then left to decide what role it will play in their lives by themselves. Why can’t we get a more balanced message, about both the positive and negative effects of marijuana use into our schools and homes before they try it with friends? Kids will likely still try it, but they will be much more aware of all of the potential outcomes, good and bad. Western governments declared war against drugs many years ago. A war on drugs is a war on people who use drugs. It isn’t working, never has, and never will. We need to change our approach and have open, honest conversations, without fear mongering, in our homes, on our playgrounds and in schools. At the beginning of this article, I said I knew my daughter smoked pot. I knew this because she told me. We’ve always had amazing and frank discussions about marijuana, and have had many similar conversations about other difficult topics. When she was diagnosed with CHS, we worked on the solution together, and I supported her totally, even though I hadn’t always agreed with her decision to smoke pot. But, isn’t that what being a parent is all about? Sharlene Law is a Team Lead at the Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health. You can learn more at umbrellasociety.ca or foundationhouse.ca.


JENNIE’S

JOURNEY By Jennie H

I

HAVE BEEN ESCAPING FROM REALITY AND playing a

world, I took to the “courage juice” in July 2011. My ad-

victim for as long as I can remember. I was never com-

diction had found the perfect formula: a self-righteous

fortable in my own skin, rarely able to see my value or

entitlement to freedom from parenting, a considerably

my part in situations and always feeling like I didn’t fit in.

smaller frame and a remarkable tolerance for vodka. It

My addictive behaviour originates with food, which is what was accessible as a child. As my compulsive overeating increased both my weight and the barrier between myself and the world; it fed my belief that I did not fit in. Binge drinking, cigarette smoking and promiscuity started at 13 years old as a way to feel a part of something. I became a single mother of twins at age 22, convinced that the only way to cope with the hand I was dealt was to numb out. Occasional marijuana use quickly became daily, then hourly, used just to achieve what I defined to be sanity. At 37 years old, after years actively participating in my eating disorder, often concealed as “the munchies,” I had reached 370 pounds. In 2009, I did the only thing that made sense: I attacked the physical problem, had gastric bypass surgery and lost 210 pounds. It was the answer to all my problems — or so I thought. I had completely ignored the emotional and spiritual problem of addiction. Now with the metabolic change mixed with my continued poor sense of my value in the

started out as a weekend gig at clubs and then became a daily reprieve from reality — which really didn’t mix well with the marijuana, so I dropped the marijuana use and continued my love affair with alcohol. By May 2012, I was experiencing the morning shakes and did not understand that this was withdrawal, but found that more alcohol made it stop. By September 2013, I was admitting to my doctor that I had a problem but was still convinced I had the willpower to overcome it; I refused her recommendation to get some professional help and she reluctantly prescribed the valium I was going to need to ease the withdrawal symptoms and prevent a seizure. I tried to get sober several times between then and May 2014, when my doctor finally prescribed my attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous. She literally wrote a prescription for me to attend and told me she would call me in the morning to see how my first meeting went. I was suddenly accountable to someone, and she sent me to a group of more people I would come to be accounta-

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 31


ble to. In hindsight, it was really rather genius.

out what oneness is. There is not another human soul in

I was “fine� as a compulsive overeater; I was “fine� as a

existence that is better than another or more deserving of

pot head; barely drawing a sober breath for my entire

love. Working the 12 steps shows me that each of us can

adulthood and most certainly for the duration of my

be judgemental, fearful, self centered, careless and unlov-

twins’ childhood was “fine.� It took alcohol three years

ing to both self and others. I am no longer a victim of cir-

to demolish my belief that I was fine, and for that I am eternally grateful.

cumstance and I understand that each joy and heartache is intended to reveal a lesson or at the very least bring me in concert with my fellows. Our higher power, sponsors and fellowship is meant to

What I am learning about addiction disorder: •

I was born with it and am powerless against it.

•

I will never be cured of it and it will continue to

•

guide each journey into a greater understanding.

transfer until I adopt the tools to fight it every day.

What I am learning about recovery:

And I am not alone!

•

It is mine for the taking.

•

I will get out of it what I put in.

In recovery, my sense of self is evolving from a definite

•

And I never have to be alone again.

physical body to an infinite spirit. I am coming to under-

•

My journey has only just begun. I have the rest of my

stand that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Unobstructed by the haze of active addiction in combination with the tools of the program, I am finding

life to share my story; its trials, tribulations and victories.

See you in the rooms, my friends!

* + ,

& -.- - $ / 0 ' 1

! "# $ " % & % # $' 32 | STIGMA MAGAZINE


NAME? WHAT’S IN A

LANGUAGE & STIGMA

DRUNK. JUNKIE. CRAZY. THESE ARE WORDS LOADED WITH STIGMA. SO WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO USE THEM TO DESCRIBE PEOPLE IN OUR SOCIETY?

I

N MY YEARS AS A JOURNALIST, I have learned that

lence and mental illness by not using terms like “psycho”

words are powerful. In my work at an addiction and

or “schizo” to describe violent or angry people or their

harm-reduction research centre, I have discovered

actions.

that this is doubly true. Not only do words like “addict”

It won’t be an easy transition; I still find myself using

or “alcoholic” carry many negative connotations, they

some of these terms in my daily conversations, but am

also reduce a person to their current issue or situation. When people face substance-use issues, they are not one dimensional; they are human beings who need our support and compassion. The same goes for labeling people with mental-health issues as “crazy.” Even terms such as “clean and sober” insinuate that people who are using substances are somehow dirty. These are blanket terms that separate “those people” from us, and are a way for us to distance ourselves. This is known as “othering.”

catching myself and others. It’s also a big challenge for us as journalists and writers; in a world where brevity is important and stories need to get shorter and shorter, it’s a lot easier to write a headline like “Addicts sleep in parks” than it is to find a less stigmatizing way to refer to what is likely a much more complicated situation than that. But if our mission as journalists is to relay information fairly and accurately, we need to do our part and stop reinforcing stereotypes and stigma with our words. Some people choose to self-identify as an alcoholic

How can we change? Well, we can start by putting peo-

or addict, but it’s precisely that: their own choice. They

ple first in our language. Instead of saying “the home-

are not assigned that label by a reporter, politician or

less,” say “people experiencing homelessness.” Swap out

a stranger walking by on the street. But I suspect (and

“addict,” “junkie,” or “alcoholic” for “person experiencing

hope) that the less we use these terms in our daily lives,

an alcohol/drug problem.” These terms also reinforce that

the less we will see people using them to describe them-

one’s housing situation or drug/alcohol use is not nec-

selves. So let’s help erase stigma, one word at a time.

essarily a permanent part of their identity. We can also

—Amanda Farrell-Low

work towards ending negative associations between vio-

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 33


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MIDLIFE EATING DISORDERS

By Cassie Hooker

O

VER THE LAST 10 YEARS, THE number of women

sult of it. The most prominent theory about the cause of

aged 30 and above who are starving them-

eating disorders is that it is pretty much the same as other

selves, exercising in dangerous amounts,

syndromes with no apparent cause: some people are born

abusing laxatives, and indulging in self-destructive

with certain genes that make them susceptible to environ-

activities typically associated with teenagers and

mental stimuli.

young adults has been increasing. This isn’t a symptom of a treatment failing; instead, it’s a sign that eating-related disorders can occur at any age. “I think the degree of despair we are seeing among adult women about their bodies is unrivaled,” says Margo Maine, co-author of The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect. “Eating disorders creep up during periods of developmental transitions, so the peak had been 13 to 15 and 17 to 19; moving into adolescence and moving into college. Now, we are seeing them again during or after pregnancy and as women hit other life phases, such as empty nesting.” No one really knows what triggers eating disorders, but emerging studies point to changing brain signals. However, it is difficult to determine whether this defective biochemistry is the root cause of the poor eating, or the re-

“‘Genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger,’ is what the experts always say at the eating disorder conferences,” says Caitlin Scafati, a recovered anorexic. The problem is, nobody has put their finger on which genes are to blame. That being said, it is unusual for a woman to develop an eating disorder for the first time after the age of 50. Most women who display the characteristics of an eating disorder past this age dealt with it when they were younger, too. In older women, the common symptoms of an eating disorder (such as loss of bone density and lack of menstruation) are harder to spot, since these mirror events that occur naturally in women as they age. Thus, middle aged women with eating disorders are often misdiagnosed.

Greater and greater emphasis is being placed on an ideal of beauty that includes being thin. As with teenagers

STIGMA MAGAZINE | 35


and young adults, older women today are under pressure

gastrointestinal systems, and teeth; irregular eating habits

to “age beautifully” which, to some, means being thin no

can also cause hormonal imbalances that can lead to os-

matter the cost. As such, they turn to extreme dieting fads,

teoporosis. These issues affect those of any age suffering

over-exercising, and starving themselves.

from eating disorders, but they hit older women harder

These are some of the signs of an eating disorder: •

Food is all you can think about

You think you are fat, when other people think you are

since their bodies are naturally less resilient. The path to healing

too thin

Maturity, along with a growing risk of eating disorders, also

You’ve lost more than 15 pounds in three months

brings with it a unique weapon to fight these disorders

You worry about losing control over how much you eat

with: life experiences and insights, not to mention older

You make yourself vomit because you feel uncomfort-

women tend to be more aware of the overall cost of main-

ably full

taining their unhealthy eating habits. Women who happen to have teenaged daughters have a sort of built-in motiva-

The physical effect

tor; the worry that their daughters might mimic their bad

Anorexia nervosa, often simply referred to as anorexia, is

behaviour can often be what drives them to seek help on

characterized by habitual dieting in order to lose weight.

their own terms.

Over time, this dieting comes to represent the person’s

Another driving force behind older women with eating

ability to control their weight and, thus, their life. Bulimia,

disorders seeking help is that, after years of suffering with

another common eating disorder, is characterized by the

them, they finally realise that the thing they thought would

act of eating (sometimes excessive amounts) and then

bring them happiness never actually did. Still, taking the

purging in some way. This purging can come in the form of

first step in admitting the problem does not make the pro-

exercising in extreme amounts, or causing oneself to vomit the food out. There is also binge eating disorder, which causes the sufferer to eating excessive amounts without purging, and other specified feeding and eating disorder, or OSFED (a sort of catch-all for those who have some symptoms of anorexia or bulimia, but not all of them).

cess of recuperation any easier. The healing process can be more difficult for older people than it is for teenagers. It involves unraveling years of ingrained habits, and throwing out an identity that has probably been intertwined with the eating disorder for decades. The first step in healing (eating healthy) is one that seems hard to come to terms with, especially when the

The bodily damage eating disorders can cause can be

sufferer may have an actual fear of food and the possibil-

severe, regardless of someone’s age. Though they are con-

ity of gaining weight. Since the path to healing is difficult,

sidered to be a psychological illness, the physical effects

women who are living with an eating disorder should seek

they leave behind are profound. Eating disorders like an-

help from their doctor, or a reputable program for eating

orexia and bulimia are dangerous psychological/physical

disorders. Exercise, in proper amounts, will also help with

conditions that drive the sufferer to extreme measures,

the healing process; since eating disorders are linked with

endangering their own life, for the sake of staying thin. An-

depression, and exercising releases endorphins (which

orexia nervosa is among the deadliest of all psychological

help improve mood), it can have a profound effect on

disorders; up to 20% of all chronic sufferers die from it.

womens’ mental and emotional well-being — making the

The bodily and psychological changes that happen once

next step that much easier to take.

a woman reaches middle age almost echo those that occur during puberty, putting women in this age group at high

To learn more about eating disorders, and their psycho-

risk for developing new eating disorders, or relapsing with

logical effect, visit: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/

old ones. The typical starvation and binging and purging

miic-mmac/chap_6-eng.php

that characterize eating disorders all damage the heart,

36 | STIGMA MAGAZINE



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