Monday, October 17, 2011

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I'm not sure what "Awareness Months" actually accomplish, if anything. I don't think the better advertised, pinked-out "Awareness Month" that is currently going on is doing anything for cancer patients; I think it's just an excuse to grab at young men's attention by printing the word "breast" everywhere. But I will recommend that everyone read this reminder that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month:

It bothers me that one of the commenters, who's old enough to know better, wrote as if "we" could eliminate domestic violence "from society." Domestic violence is not generally something a society does. Ignoring an ongoing pattern of domestic violence may be something a society does, but at least the first few episodes are usually a surprise to all concerned.

There is, however, something "society" can do to reduce the risk of domestic violence...without violating what I understand to be the Metaprinciple of All Nonviolence: Any form of interference with anyone else's choices is disrespectful and is therefore likely to promote violence.

In other words, we can't just keep raising taxes and spending money to put a policeman in every family room. People who've felt bullied in one situation--and this can include feeling that they've been "bullied into speaking" to someone or "bullied into buying" some thing--are the ones who are carrying around the anger that may pop out as violence toward some weaker member of the family. Whatever we do needs to tend toward increasing, not reducing, the freedom of individuals.

But one thing we can do is develop a more mature, secure approach to emotions--our own, and those of others. We can start telling ourselves that it's okay to cry, it's okay to rant and rage, it's okay to laugh, it's okay to dither our way through a three-hour narration of a situation that arouses thirty-seven different shades of emotions. It's okay to watch or listen to someone else working through his or her emotions, and it's okay to have other things to do. It's okay to work through our own emotions when we're all alone.

What's not okay is to try to drown our emotions in alcohol, or "medicate" them with legal or illegal drugs. Those non-solutions can produce violent insanity; outside of emergencies that call for hospitalization, we need to admit that they're just not options.

What if someone really does have a mood disorder? It's theoretically possible, but it's never actually been demonstrated, that a mood disorder has developed all by itself, because someone's brain just naturally failed to process serotonin or some other substance normally. Mood disorders are usually associated with medical conditions that need more effective treatment than pills or alcohol.

Effective treatment is not available for every medical condition. There are people for whom the best treatment available may be to put them in a hospice and let them have all the painkillers, mood boosters, and/or sedatives they want during their few remaining days. These people know who they are. Most of them have conspicuous physical disabilities and already are or have been hospitalized.

For most people who have mood disorders, effective treatment may actually involve saving money. I always feel obligated to mention that depression can be an early symptom of cancer, because sometimes it is, but more often it's a symptom of something much easier to cure, such as sugar sensitivity. In Caucasian adults it's often an early symptom of lactose intolerance, which often develops only during or after middle age.

Irritability, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and other troublesome mood swings can also be caused by allergies, food sensitivities, and internal chemical reactions to various pollutants in the environment. "Anger addiction" is typically associated with hypertension and considered part of the cardiovascular disease pattern; in my husband's case, both the anger and the hypertension seem to have been symptoms of cancer of the bone marrow, but this deadly disease is very rare.

Of specific interest in the context of domestic violence is the association between emotional tension and reactions to pollutants such as mold and chemicals. It may sound like a "Twinkie defense," but eliminating a few key pollutants from your home may reduce the level of anger in the home. No, the formaldehyde in the new carpet, or even the black mold in the basement, don't "make" Daddy hit Mommy--or Junior hit Grandpa--but these biochemical reactions may turn a hostile mood into an uncontrolled outburst.

Do I need to add personal observations on the subject of black mold? There are two species of fungus that commonly grow in our homes, are black, and exude strong odors. The one that looks furry and smells sour is Aspergillus niger, generally considered so safe that it's used to make the citric acid found in most lemon- and tomato-flavored commercial foods, although some people are allergic to it too. The one that produces "toxic" reactions in a handful of people, and looks and smells more like soot from kerosene smoke than anything else, is Stachybotrys atra. Actually most of humankind have always found this slow-growing fungus easier to live with than the more conspicuous species, but reactions depend partly on exposure.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends that, instead of spending a lot of money to diagnose the exact proportions of different mold species in a house, homeowners just try to dry out the house and get rid of all of them. After all, people who have allergic reactions to one fungus usually have allergic reactions to others, and all mold causes buildings and the objects stored in them to deteriorate, so it makes sense to deal with the problem of mold and dampness as a whole. However, I notice that my mold allergies are pretty reliable indicators that certain species of fungus are present. Unexplained itching usually means green mold (Cladosporium), "hay fever" means blue mold (Aspergillus fumigatus), and tension, headaches, and mood swings mean I've been exposed to a lot of black mold.

Other people's reactions could be completely different from mine. These things seem to be determined partly by genetic traits, and partly by overall health. For several years I worked one or two days a week in a building that was badly infected with both blue and black mold. I could tell when the black mold was coming back (it was bleached into dormancy many times) when someone would walk into the building and immediately start working up to a panic attack. This meant it was time for another bleach treatment, after which the same person would probably talk rationally if the person could be enticed into the building again--although the person would not be inclined to stay in the building.

I've always had mold allergies, so how was it possible for me to be the person who watched others react and got out the bleach? I credit Bessie and Sarah Delany, who wrote their first book after being notified that they were America's oldest living pair of sisters. Among other things they survived a typhoid epidemic, possibly because one of their elders had advised them to eat a raw garlic clove every morning. I read this when strep throat was going around, and tried it. I had a very mild case of strep throat that year...but my allergy reactions were substantially reduced. I've eaten a raw garlic clove every morning since then. Readers are welcome to take this for what it's worth; a few bodies don't tolerate garlic, but this treatment might help people with mood disorders as well as people with headaches, skin rashes, or "hay fever."

No single one of the steps we can take toward improving our physical health will cure or relieve all mood disorders, but people whose mood disorders include tension, nervousness, panic, irritability, or intense depression can benefit by keeping a private record of everything that was going on each time their mood swung in any of these directions. Sometimes a pattern will pop out unmistakably. If you feel vile every time you ride the Metro in wet weather, you are probably sensitive to black mold. If you seldom use dairy products but treat yourself to a milkshake, ice cream, or pizza on special occasions, and you feel vile after each of those occasions, you are probably losing lactose tolerance.

And if you start "remembering" things that would make anyone feel vile while you are using antidepressants, you need to recognize a syndrome that's been nicknamed "Prozac Dementia," although any other serotonin booster may cause it too. While the serotonin boost may alter the way you feel emotionally, these drugs may be causing neuromuscular spasms and generating "pseudomemories" that match the pattern of pain you feel physically, often featuring rape and/or beating. Prozac Dementia is responsible for a great number of the "unexplained, unprovoked" murders committed by people who "just suddenly decided" to murder a few family members, co-workers, or classmates and, if not stopped in time, finish by committing suicide. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to talk to your doctor about easing off the pills now--preferably in a hospital environment. People with unmedicated depression are seldom violent...but people with Prozac Dementia are very dangerous to their whole neighborhood.