Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MSNBC--Mackenzie Phillips--Mental Illness Stigma

Friday night MSNBC aired a new show: 85% lead-in teasers. It was mostly fake promises of "coming up next"...then postponed delivery of the gossip details. An assaulting battery of waves hit me in the form of gross propaganda.

Like B & W '60s clips turned HD television, "Love American Style" meets communist China style news. It appears as solely gossip content. In it lies a stigma slam, a stereotype of "mental illness". Is this stuff planned? In a bath of "M"s (Michael, Michelle, Madonna, Mackenzie), one might barely notice. Mamas & Papas singer Michelle Phillips on "Oprah" denies her daughter Mackenzie's claims of incest. Michelle tosses out this reason: Mackenzie has a history of mental illness. That's not all. Mackenzie counters the claim saying it was not mental illness, but rather her problem was drug addiction. Nothing discussed about what/ which mental illness would disqualify a person's memory or testimony. This is something our soldiers should be concerned about and we all need to look at.

What if she did have mental illness? Which diagnosis would disqualify this witness regarding events of 10 years duration? Ongoing ignorance in America regarding health, mental and physical, is catalyzed by media tactics. Whether programmers are aware or not, they propagate a lie: "Mental illness" means you're nuts for life. This has deep roots in U.S. history with special significance for all soldiers and veterans. In the Civil War men with worries or fears who became mentally disturbed were put out and shot in front of their comrades.

"Mental illness" is a catch-all term no more specific than "physical illness". Are we talking about a broken arm or heart disease? Are we talking about a phobia, a criminal sociopath, depression, an eating disorder? What? PTSD is not a disorder. PTSD is a human (an animal) response to trauma. But unlike other animals, humans lost the faculty to shake it off. Trauma can be reversed and heal. Animals do it in the wild and so can humans.

A person with a drug dependency problem usually has some form of co-occurring PTSD. In its many forms, PTSD is the greater burden of remembering too much, awakening to horrific realities, and being alone. Without loving understanding and healing support, the other choice is to numb out. This is the American way.

States of being mentally ill are misunderstood. The stigma is monumental. Military service members and veterans go far out on a limb for care and help. They navigate mazes to an ultimate trap of limited options. Will their medical records be kept private? What do you think? It's not only machismo. It's a matter of survival. Why would anyone disclose PTSD if they can help it? Might a judge consider you a less fit parent? Might an employer consider you a less fit candidate? I've seen employment applications with questions such as "Have you EVER had a mental illness?" Might a member of the family and community smirk when convenient? Someone should ask Michelle Phillips more about which mental illness she is referring to.

The myriad of lifestyle threats related to a diagnosis of PTSD are real. I meet young vets back from Iraq/ Afghanistan, even with head tics from "PTSD medication" making it so obvious, reluctant to share about what is really going on. To be identified in this society with any sort of stress-response issue is like coming out as a gay or transgender. This is illness not identity, yet the concerns are real. Some of these kids are in college, trying to get by on limited GI benefits, struggling moment by moment with enormous grief, anxiety, insomnia. Many don't know they can heal with better support, understanding, more tools. They need more privacy protection. Why not let our vets decide when they prefer an acupuncturist, the specialists for acupuncture?

PTSD is primal experience, an awakening of instincts past mental programming, and it is primarily a physiological response. The tiger awakes and the first path of a true warrior is solitary. There is no community that can hold this experience. It happens in a vacuum by design. We can only hope to guide the person back to the earth plane by reconnecting them to their body. We must guard them on their way. Psycho-therapy and or medications are not enough to beat PTSD and the remnants of debilitated body-mind. Tools are needed to reconnect the person to their body, get them back into their feelings. This is why I think the brand new army resilience training program is a loser. This approach addresses worries, fear and trauma by teaching cognitive reframing such as "OK, my wife might be at her mother's, never mind my FEAR she out with another guy." This is like dousing fires with gas soaked tissue. The person is in a pattern already of over-thinking, too heady. This remedy won't touch major issues related to combat and war. Painful realities are grave and deeply mesh into body memory.

Still, trauma can be reversed over time and healed holistically, especially when a danger is truly past.

Martha Densmore, RN, L.Ac.
Daughter of the American Revolution

Saturday, May 16, 2009

DAR and the Dali Lama

I went to a UCLA class on PTSD with a speaker: a lesbian war veteran. Her service timing was such she never saw combat. She shared about arriving at base and being immediately harassed by "25 men" banging on her door every day in the co-ed dorm: "Looks don't matter...married don't matter...race...nothing...we're all dressed the same. They don't care. It never stops... If you do give in you get labeled 'whore', 'easy'."

"The first thing you are told when you arrive at base is: 'You are now the property of the United States Military. Civilian law no longer applies to you or anything that happens here.' Man, you look around at everything. Every darn label in every piece of the clothing reminds you that you are 'property of the United States Military'. It's there, everywhere...The other thing is this: When you arrive they know who you are. They know everything about you।" On a break from duty she got married to a man hoping that might help her social safety. When back at base she put up the "I'm married" husband photos but nothing changed. Explain to your commander you were raped and, well...unless you have physical evidence to prove DAMAGE TO U.S. MILITARY PROPERTY, you hear: "Where is your military bearing?" They don't care anyway. The basic idea for military success is you need to be free of feelings. She emphasized, "It's all about Military Bearing." She admitted military bearing still comes in handy for things like car accidents and so forth. "Helps to automatically take a breath and stay calm and things like that."

Sunday the Dali Lama in a TV interview was asked if he would pick his successor. He got into a discussion of reincarnation. He said reincarnation happens so you can finish a task that was started in an earlier lifetime.
When I pulled into the college parking lot to start nursing school I remembered "The Dream". The Dream happened when I was age 3 or 4. I awoke from a vivid, very odd, experiencial dream. In it I was a: Grown woman, cloaked in black cape, white garmets underneath, carrying black doctors bag, walking very briskly as if driven by a mission, by light of oil lamps in mist, passing brick buidings and through wet cobblestone streets. I was hurrying past a tower clock that looked like Big Ben. Might have been the old Portland train station. I opened my child eyes to distant fog horn. We lived a couple blocks from the Atlantic and Fort Williams in Maine. Looking at my pink checkered wallpaper I was spun out. Wa waz that? I really pondered. I still rememeber it well. I was a nurse. I sure would like to know what happened to me.

Monday, the news reported 5 U.S. soliders killed in murder-suicide. Suicide is a listed side-effect of Prozac. Over 18% of our troops are medicated with psychiatric drugs on the front lines. This is not looking good on any account. It will be interesting to see how far the military goes in integrating Battlefield Acupuncture. The VA is still a no-go for acupuncture except for pain and except when performed by nurses (there is a massive nurse shortage as it is) and doctors. They say "We have doctors that do that." But what about all the PTSD cases? In California acupucturists are "front line" primary care providers. Veterans don't need an MD for acupuncture or to tell them to see us.

Martha D., RN, L.Ac., DAR