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What Makes You Mad?

Posted by Joanne Martin
Joanne Martin
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on Wednesday, 22 August 2012
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What Makes You Mad

All it took for me today was a headline in the morning newspaper. It read, “Low-income mothers prone to anxiety”. “Anxiety”. That is what they call it today. What I’m talking about is that dis-ease that women get when they are simply overwhelmed.   In Freud’s day it was called “hysteria”. When I was still a child, my mother had a bad case of it. They called hers “a nervous breakdown”. She had several, in fact. They treated her with shock treatment. Not surprisingly, it didn’t help. Because it didn’t address the cause! The woman had eight children for heaven’s sake, one every two years. (She literally had them “for heaven’s sake” since she had tried the then new “birth control pill” but flushed it down the toilet because she was Roman Catholic, and the Pope had called it sinful.) Meanwhile, she had no family support. She was isolated, frustrated, exhausted, and broke!   “Breakdown”? Well, duh!

Psychology was a young science back then - in the 50s - and it still is! Shock treatments are much less common now though. And there are many more women in medicine now. But the majority of doctors are still diagnosing this dis-ease that women suffer as though it were a mental illness, or a psychological disorder. And, for the most part, they are treating it with pharmaceuticals. But medication is never enough. And it certainly does not address the cause. Which is? In my opinion, and it is one shared by others, the problem is that for many women, her roles tend to subsume her very self. In those feminine roles she loses the opportunity to express herself and, with the exception of childbirth, to be creative. She becomes like a “caged bird”.

A woman’s psychological development requires integration of many facets of herself in order for her to become a whole and healthy human being. When a woman is limited to only one or two roles, she can feel or act mad because the unactualized parts of herself are struggling to express themselves. If she is not aware of her frustration, her anger at her unlived life is likely to be directed unconsciously at her children, her husband, her parents, her friends, or even herself. This accounts for the inexplicable moodiness of many mothers who seem “mad” to their children.

                                                   ~ Linda Schierse Leonard, Meeting the Madwoman

Doctors don’t have time to address this need; and pharmaceuticals certainly won’t do it. “Talk” therapy is expensive, and beyond the reach of most women. What is the answer? Other women! You need to know that while you might be angry, you are not “mad”, not if “mad” means crazy.   You are not crazy; and you are not alone. Talk with your “sisters”.   Join a book club. Or join a writing group! Go where your voice will be heard. Express yourself!

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The Wrong Ones Are Writing!

Posted by Joanne Martin
Joanne Martin
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on Tuesday, 22 May 2012
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May is Mental Health Month. Did you know that more than 2.5 million Ontarians live with a mental illness and/or addiction? [1] Millions more – family members, friends and co-workers – are also affected by the devastation, which often results in job loss, financial losses, domestic violence and child abuse, birth defects, brain damage, family breakdown, crime, homelessness, concurrent health problems, road and industrial accidents, and suicide.

Still many sufferers go undiagnosed. Some suffer silently; others self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. They overwhelm family doctors or jam emergency wards which, of course, are ill-suited to their needs. And, even where counselling is available, clients face long waits for it, and it’s too time-limited to be useful. Most psychological care is paid privately, putting it well beyond the financial reach of many.

What can be done about it? Well, the drug companies believe the answer is in the scrawled handwriting of a doctor’s on a prescription pad. And, let’s face it, with the state of health care in Ontario, doctors often have neither the time nor the resources to offer their patients anything else but a prescription! And so they keep writing!

In March 2011, IMS Brogan[2], a company that tracks such things, reported that in 2010 the sales of pharmaceutical drugs in Canada totalled $22.4 billion. The number of retail prescriptions filled by Canadians (including new and refills) totalled 505 million.

And, by the way, the Canadian population in 2010 was 34 million. So that’s about 15 prescriptions per person, including about 8 million who were under the age of 20.

I don’t know about you, but I found those numbers alarmingly high; and I wondered: What were these prescriptions for?

Again, I cite IMS Brogan, who reported that the top three therapeutic classes of drugs being used by Canadians are as follows:

Most Widely Dispensed Retail Prescription Medications in 2010



Therapeutic Class




Dollar value of



Cardiovasculars: (heart)
medications for the treatment and prevention of heart disease and stroke (does not include lipid-lowering agents or diuretics)

77.1 million

$3.1 billion


Psychotherapeutics: (head)

drugs that are prescribed for their effects in relieving symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders

64.9 million

$2.5 billion






Gastrointestinal/Genito-urinary: (stomach)

medications used for problems with stomach, intestines, kidney, bladder etc.

36.3 million

$1.9 billion

Heart. Head. Stomach. Knowing what I know about the body-mind connection, it occurred to me that there is a good way to reduce these numbers significantly. The problem is that it’s not the doctor, but it’s the patient who should be doing the writing - expressive writing!

Expressive writing is personal writing. It expresses and explores the personal feelings of the writer. It may attempt to answer a question, state an opinion or recount the writer's personal experiences. Often, it does all of that. Expressive writing isn't focused on proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s not about the product of the writing. It’s certainly not about producing a best-seller. Rather, it’s about the process of writing, and the impact of that process on the writer. According to the research, it has a very positive impact!

Expressive writing sets off a cascade of positive effects, not the least of which is an improvement in physical health. Perhaps best of all, considering the rise in health care costs, writing reduces the number of visits to the doctor (Pennebaker and Susman 1988)!

Well over 200 studies published in English language journals, over the past twenty years have demonstrated that expressive writing produces a number of very positive outcomes, including:

  • Better sleep, enhanced immune function, reduced alcohol consumption, smoking, etc.
  • General enhancement in immune function, including t-cell growth and antibody response (Lepore and Smyth, 2002; Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001; Sloan & Marx, 2004)
  • Better lung function among asthma patients (Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, et al., 1999)
  • Lower pain and disease severity among arthritis sufferers (Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, et al., 1999),
  • Higher white blood cell counts among AIDS patients (Petrie, Fontanilla, Thomas, et al. In press)
  • Less sleep disruption among patients with metastatic cancers (De Moor, Sterner, Hall, et al., 2002)
  • Reduction in blood pressure levels and heart rate (Crow 2000; mcguire, Greneberg, and Gevirtz, 2005; Pennebaker, Hughes, & O’Heeron, 1987), and
  • Improved liver enzyme levels often associated with excessive drinking (Francis and Pennebaker 1992).

Expressive writing is not only a powerful tool for healing; it changes people’s lives!  

Researchers have also found that, after people write about troubling events, they:

  • Spend less time ruminating on them, freeing up working memory (Klein and Boals 2001;
  • Become more socially comfortable, better listeners, better friends(Pennebaker and Graybeal 2001);
  • Feel happier, have fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety (Lepore 1997);
  • Earn higher grades (Cameron and Nicholls 1998 Lumley and Provenzano 2003; Pennebaker, Colder, and Sharp 1990); and
  • Achieve better employment results (Spera, Burhrfeind, and Pennebaker 1994).

Commenting on this research in the April 14, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Psychiatrist David Spiegel, MD, said:

“Were the authors to have provided similar outcome evidence about a new drug, it likely would be in widespread use within a short time…(T)he authors have provided evidence that medical treatment is more effective when standard pharmacological intervention is combined with the management of emotional distress.”

But expressive writing is not a new drug! Rather, it’s a highly effective, inexpensive, drug-free alternative!

Now I’m not saying that you should stop taking the medicine that has been prescribed for you. Certainly not!   Writing is not a panacea; and of course, you should continue to seek the medical care you need.  

But I do say that it’s not the doctors who should be doing the writing; it’s all of us. This is about prevention, and about healing the “dis-ease” before it gets to the critical stage.   And with a shortage of doctors, and the high price of therapy, what have you got to lose? Pick up a scribbler at the Dollar Store, and get writing!

And to the doctors I say, “Before you reach for that prescription pad, why not log on to my website, or reach for my card!   And give it to your patients!

[2]Madeline Gareau IMS Brogan, a Unit of IMS, March 29, 2011 Operating in more than 100 countries, IMS Health is the world’s leading provider of market intelligence to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

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December 21, 2012: What if….?

Posted by Joanne Martin
Joanne Martin
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on Tuesday, 01 May 2012
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Cosmic Event  300x200
Where will you be on December 21, 2012? How will you spend the day, and with whom? You might say: December 21st!? Why, who knows!? That’s a long way off. Why ask? What is the significance of that date?  

Well, it’s winter solstice, for one thing. But it is not your regular annual winter solstice. Scientists and modern computers have been able to confirm what Mayan, Hopi and Hindu elders had predicted, that on that on December 21, 2012, Earth and our entire solar system will move into an astronomical configuration so rare, that the last humans to experience such a phenomenon lived in the year 3114 B.C. That’s 1800 years before Moses!

What does it mean? Depending on whom you listen to, it will be either the end of the world, or the end of a World Age. Which do you think it is?

Personally, I don’t share the view that this is a “Doomsday” scenario.   I do see this event as the end of a cycle. There is evidence that our ancestors have endured four such cycles, possibly five, which have included changes in global magnetic fields and climate, diminished resources, and the rising sea levels that come with the end of time. Our ancestors lived to tell the story.   And that is what interests me. How will we tell the story of our time?

Just imagine. What would we know of the life of pioneers who settled this continent, if it were not for the journals they left behind? That was mere decades ago. How much more important is it, if we are truly approching the end of a world age, for us to tell our descendants about our time? What would you want them to know?

In her book Storycatcher, Christina Baldwin describes how, in October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, she feared it was the end of the world.   Even at age sixteen, she felt the link between story and history. Accordingly, she felt an urgent need at that time, to bury a time capsule, to tell future generations something about the time in which she had lived:

I had found this file box in our basement, full of my parents’ old tax records. Considering that death might come before taxes came again, I stashed their papers and replaced them with my own contents: a recent issue of Life magazine, photos of myself and my family, a map, a copy of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, my own diary, a small Bible, and a brief, dramatic note. “Dear future, if there is one, this is who I was before the Bomb. This is what life looked like. Here are the faces of those I loved. Here is the girl who inspired me to write. Here is the basis for a religion we did not follow. Remember me.

What book(s) and magazine(s) would you put in your time capsule? What photos? Who would you like the future to know was your source of inspiration? Why? What texts would you offer the future, as evidence of the beliefs and values of our time? What would you write in a letter to the future? December 21st will be here before we know it. Why not write that letter? And when you have written and reflected upon it, will it change the way you live today and over the next few months? I know that I feel much more aware!

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