Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts

12 May 2019

Epigenetics and Elephants

by Mary Fernando

Most of the time I interview people and allow the things they ponder to guide my writing.  This is not that article. This is about my late night pondering. Excuse the indulgence, but it’s been a a tough year and I’m prone to sleepless nights and thoughts.

Unable to sleep, I was ruminating on epigenetics and elephants. They may seem odd things to stay up at night about, but these are seriously important.


What epigenetics does is shake things up. DNA decides who we are but life turns our genes on and off - impacting everything from the architecture of our brain to the diseases we have. 

If you want to keep up at night too, just read about how this happens and how we can reverse the DNA changes that happened to your grandmother.

What actually jolted me out of a slide into a lovely slumber was a child. In a shopping cart. 

I was young - probably around 8 - and shopping with my mother. A child less than 2 in a cart passed by and she was sobbing. Her mother, her face clenched in that angry way that makes people truly ugly, slapped the child and said, “Cry again and I’ll give you something to cry about.’ As if that poor child didn’t have enough to cry about. I said to my mother, “Do something!” She said, “Shh.” Afterwards, my strong, well-educated mother told me that much as she would like to, it’s impossible to change how people parent.

There are many things that make us decide on our profession and making medicine my choice was about a series of decisions. All of them started at that moment. I was going to get an education that could help that child.


Choosing medicine would never have been something I did if I didn’t see a road to working with the damaged, the broken and, as I eventually did, stop the breaking and beating. I only went into medicine to work in mental illness.  

Let me tell you about mental illness and medicine and the place it has.  Many wonder why anyone would chose it. I have literally had people ask why I gave up medicine and chose to work with mental illness. Let me get this perfectly clear, I am a doctor who works with the mentally ill. As a doctor, I bring skills to the table because no brain tumour masquerading as depression gets past me. So, I am a doctor. Who works in one of the most important fields of medicine: with the mentally ill. I didn’t fall into it. I marched toward it, and went through medical training and 8 years of specialty training to have the privilege of working with patients that I wanted desperately to work for.

And that’s where epigenetic comes back in. Changing someone’s mental illness changes their genes. Leaving it does too. Those illnesses that all doctors battle, well I battle them too. In a different way, on a different battlefield, but it’s all medicine.

This all made me think of Dr. Fraser Mustard, who I had the honour of meeting numerous times. The last time I saw him was in his lovely home in Toronto, where his children lived in the apartment above him. After an illustrious career in medicine he had ended up pondering epigenetics and childhood trauma. He wrote about it brilliantly. He advocated for children. He was very old when i met him but this belief in helping children made him seem ageless. Children do that to you. In his apartment, so full of interesting things, was where I first thought of how he must stayed up at night worrying about children and that made it his life’s work at the end.



Sometimes, at the end of a career, you ponder the beginning. The thing that started it all. The work you have done and the value of it all.

Now I’m writing another book. It isn’t a departure from any of my other work. It is about the lost, the damaged and the suffering. I can’t change course because I simply don’t want to. It is what we see, truly see, that decides our course in life.

There is an African Zulu greeting: “I see you.” It is a haunting saying. When I was young, I visited many zoos around the world because my biologist father would meet other biologists and talk about the conservation efforts they were making at their zoos. I understand the conservation part. I do. But I really didn’t give a damn then, or even now. I hated zoos. Seeing the animals, really seeing them, in cages that were far too small or chained up - because that was the way zoos were then - I could see that the cages and chains around the elephant legs were truly like beatings. They diminished these animals, and their suffering was evident to anyone who bothered to look. In East Africa, where we spent many months on various trips, I saw wild animals on the plains. My first sight of elephants, not in chains but walking and taking such tender care of each other, made me fall in love. For the wildness of them. For the beauty of them. For the tenderness. I saw them.

Medicine or writing or elephants - it is all about seeing. All of it will keep you up at night if you let it. And these days I do.

And that child, being beaten in a shopping cart for all the world to see but not intervene. That too. That always. It shaped my life. I wish I could have told that tiny darling that. 











22 June 2017

Bullying 101

by Eve Fisher

DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

09 May 2013

Why Didn't They Just Leave?

by Eve Fisher

I had a nice little blog post all set up and ready to go for today, but you're going to get it next week because I am pissed off and need to get this off my chest:

Some days you get up, watch the news, and just get pissed.  I did after hearing about the 3 women, held captive for 10 years in Cleveland, who were finally set free, thanks to one of them screaming loudly and a neighbor who (God bless him and keep him) came to her rescue.  That was wonderful.  What wasn't, what pissed me off so badly I am on a rant, was all the pundits, raising as always the ugly, stupid, evil question of why didn't they escape before?  Why didn't they run?  Why didn't they disarm their captors?  Why didn't they -

And which point, gentle readers, I went into a profanity enhanced symphony in F Major, screaming at the TV set, and at everyone who has ever thought, "Why didn't they get out sooner?"

Disclaimer:  I have never been kidnapped and held captive against my will.  But I did grow up in your classic alcoholic prison home, the kind full of secrets and violence, where no one from outside was allowed in (they might find out!) and no one was allowed out without specific permission and very specific threats if any mention was made of the crap that was going on.  As a child, I wasn't allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, from band to sports - I wasn't to be trusted.  At the time, I thought it was that they didn't trust what I would do, that they thought I was going to go hog-wild with sex, drugs and rock and roll (which I did, later, after I left, and had a hell of a time, which I rarely regret).  Now I know it was that they didn't trust what I would say.  No one could know what was going on in our three bedroom ranch with the nice lawn and the two car garage...   And it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other situations in our lovely little suburb, like the family across the street, where the father raped his three daughters regularly. 

Second disclaimer - this was the late 50's, early 60's, where everyone knew that things like rape and incest didn't happen, any woman or child who showed up in public with a black eye or other obvious bruises deserved it, and any child who reported such behavior was obviously a pervert themselves.  The result was that all of us kids knew what was going on in that house - but we never dared tell anyone.  Whenever someone talks about the good old days, I bring up the house across the street, and how no one did - or seemingly could do - a damn thing about it.  At least now you can call Social Services.

Why don't people leave horrible situations?  Because.  It is frighteningly easy to convince almost anyone that they are worthless, that they deserve what they are getting, how they are being treated, abused, beaten, etc., that no one cares about them, that no one will ever care about them, that they have no future, no hope, no nothing outside of the current situation, the current power-holder.  It is frighteningly easy to isolate someone from everyone else on the planet - and that's in "normal" relationships, without locks and handcuffs and cells in the backyard or basement.  It is frighteningly easy to threaten someone not with death - death would be easy to face - but with the forever of it, with it always, always, always getting worse.  And worse can be, and usually is, manufactured at any time. 

And that's with adults who chose each other.

Now, think about kidnap victims, who are usually kept tied up, imprisoned (closets, basements, etc.), threatened, beaten, raped, drugged...  When exactly are they supposed to get free?  How?  And when the kidnap victim is a child...

Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old; Elizabeth Smart was fourteen; Steven Gregory Stayner was seven; these three women were teenagers.  What were they supposed to do?  Act like Rambo?  How?  Steven Stayner actually did escape, but that was after his captor, 8 years later, had kidnapped a five year old (!) and young Stayner was so upset by the poor boy's distress that, while their captor was at work, Stayner took the five year old and went into town (I'm sure he was scared out of his wits the whole time), where they were found by the cops.

It's amazing that any of these eight came out alive.  Ever.  What's frightening, what is unbearable to think about, is to think of the ones who don't.  Right now there are people who are being held in someone's basement, back yard, closet, house.  Who have been held for days, weeks, months, years.  Who will never be found, never come out, never be set free, unless someone spots something wrong. 

So, let's all agree that the next time someone says "Why didn't they get out sooner?" we will bust their chops.  And pray for everyone held captive.  And if you know of someone who's doing terrible things - in the house across the way perhaps - what the hell.  Call the cops.  Call Social Services.  Make someone listen.  Maybe someone else will finally be released.

End of rant.