book reviews, celebrities, mental health, psychology

My review of River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, by Naomi Judd

It’s hard to believe that a month ago, country music legend Naomi Judd, the maternal half of country music mother-daughter act, The Judds, was still among the living. I was in Italy at the time, enjoying an eagerly anticipated vacation. I was shocked, like so many others were, when I heard of her sudden death on April 30, 2022. Although they weren’t saying it at the time, it was pretty clear that she took her own life. It came out that Naomi Judd had suffered for many years with terrible, untreatable depression and anxiety. And, although she and her daughter, Wynonna, were to be honored for their musical achievements the very next day, Naomi simply couldn’t face life anymore.

Megyn Kelly interviews Naomi Judd about her depression, and her book, River of Time.

I was not a huge fan of The Judds, during their heyday. I do enjoy their music very much now, and I have a few of their greatest hits compilations. I read Naomi’s first book, Love Can Build A Bridge, which was published in the 90s, when Naomi was forced to temporarily retire due to her diagnosis of Hepatitis C. I also saw the made for TV movie based on that book. I also once saw Wynonna perform at a U.S. Army Birthday Ball. But, I am not a super fan of The Judds’ music, and wasn’t following news about them when Naomi died. I didn’t know about Naomi’s struggles with mental illness, and until my friend and fellow blogger, Alex, mentioned it in a comment, I also didn’t know that in 2016, Naomi published a book about her experiences with severe depression and anxiety. Although Naomi’s story clearly turned out to be less victorious than the book’s title, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope suggests, I decided to delve into it.

I read Naomi Judd’s book for several reasons. First off, I too, have suffered from clinical depression and anxiety myself, and I understand why it seemed so hard to beat it, because I remember how it made me feel. I was fortunate, in that my depression was treatable with talk therapy and Wellbutrin SR. It does, on occasion, rear its head again, but for the most part, I am much better than I once was. Secondly, I am a musician. No, I am not a “star”, and at this point in my life, I will probably never be a star… and frankly, I probably would not WANT to be a star, anyway. But I do make music, and I admire Naomi’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Thirdly, I come from similar, salt-of-the-earth, family stock. I didn’t know it when I started reading River of Time, but I could really relate to a lot of Naomi Judd’s comments about her family, and how people in her family made her feel. I’ll get more into that as this review progresses.

River of Time reads as if it comes straight from Naomi, but in fact, it was ghost written by author, Marcia Wilkie. I appreciated that this book really seemed to come from Naomi Judd’s heart, and I never noticed an intrusion by a professional writer. Some people felt that the book “jumped around a lot” and was “repetitive”. Personally, I didn’t find that an issue, but again, it did seem to me that this was a book coming from Naomi, rather than Marcia Wilkie. I see that at this writing, the book is offered on Kindle for $1.99, probably because ultimately, Naomi succumbed to her depression and committed suicide. I still think it’s well worth reading, for MANY reasons. So here goes…

Naomi Judd’s early years never suggested the great heights she would eventually reach…

Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky on January 11, 1946. Naomi describes Ashland as a “grey”, ugly, industrial city. Her parents were poor, and not at all loving or demonstrative. Naomi made excellent grades in school and was a talented pianist, but her parents barely noticed. However, whenever she got any negative feedback from school officials, her father was quick to get out his belt and “whip” her. Naomi writes that she used to “borrow” her mother’s stiff rubber girdle when her father wanted to use the belt. She’d go to the bathroom, put on the girdle, and let him go to town, while she “hollered” like she was in pain. Apparently, he never caught on to Naomi’s ruse.

In this book, Naomi never refers to her original first name, or Wynonna’s. Wynonna was born Christina Claire Ciminella, although Naomi’s husband at the time of Wy’s birth was not her biological father. Wynonna was conceived when Naomi was seventeen years old, during Naomi’s very first sexual experience. She had a one night stand with a football player, she’d known in high school, a man named Charles Jordan. Naomi explains that she and Jordan got together for their tryst, because Naomi’s brother, Brian, was dying of leukemia. Naomi was very close to Brian, and she was feeling alone and vulnerable. As a lot of young girls do during their teen years, Naomi must have felt that connecting with a young man would make her feel loved and valued. Unfortunately, Charles Jordan abandoned Naomi, as soon as he found out about the pregnancy. Naomi quickly married Michael Ciminella, Ashley’s biological father, because Naomi’s mother, Polly, kicked her out of the family home.

Michael Ciminella’s family was sort of well off, and they lived a more comfortable lifestyle than Naomi’s family did. But Mrs. Ciminella was extremely obsessive about cleanliness and order. Naomi writes that when Wynonna was a baby, her mother-in-law had totally sanitized the whole house, and insisted that everyone wear masks and gloves before handling the baby. Even Naomi was expected to comply.

Naomi and Michael eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where Ashley was born in April 1968. But the marriage didn’t last, and Naomi was soon raising her young girls by herself, with almost no help from Ciminella. After the divorce, Naomi reclaimed her maiden name and took the opportunity to change her first name, too. She enrolled in nursing school and eventually became a registered nurse. Unfortunately, when she was 22, Naomi was stalked by a violent, ex-con heroin addict, who beat and raped her. Still, somehow Naomi persevered and managed to launch her career in nursing. Meanwhile, she and Wynonna developed their musical chops, and eventually moved to Nashville, where they finally got their big break. Wynonna was eighteen years old when The Judds were on their way, but she and Ashley had still experienced a hardscrabble childhood, as their mother did everything she could to ensure their survival.

Naomi’s life heads south…

The Judds were wildly successful in the 1980s. They had fifteen #1 hit songs, and won dozens of music industry awards. Things seemed poised to continue in that direction, when Naomi started feeling ill. She went to a doctor, who told her that she had contracted Hepatitis C. She was told that her liver was “almost cirrhotic”, and that she had about three years to live. Fortunately, the medical establishment was wrong about her prognosis, but the diagnosis did force Naomi to retire in 1991. The Judds did a huge pay per view concert, which was a very successful event. Naomi eventually remarried in 1989, this time to Larry Strickland, a member of the Palmetto State Quartet, and former backup singer for Elvis Presley.

Although Naomi Judd had achieved great success in music, and also found the love of her life, she experienced extreme episodes of depression that left her feeling suicidal. So she did what wise people do when they feel sick. She saw a Nashville area psychiatrist. The psychiatrist did what a lot of psychiatrists do, when it comes to treating depression. He put her on antidepressants. She went through a huge list of them, and at times, she was never properly tapered off before the next drug was tried. Her doctor also prescribed the anti-anxiety medication, Klonopin. I took Klonopin myself at one time. Fortunately, it did nothing for me, and I quit taking it with ease. A lot of people get addicted to Klonopin, and other benzodiazepines. Naomi did, as did Stevie Nicks. Both women said that the drug destroys creativity and ambition.

The psychiatric drugs, and their lack of efficacy, along with the lack of talk therapy, made Naomi’s situation worse. She eventually landed in a psychiatric hospital at Vanderbilt University to be weaned off of the psychiatric drugs using IV phenobarbital. That was the first of several stays at mental health facilities, to include the psych ward at UCLA, as well as some posh rehab centers. She describes these experiences as if they were all horrifying– even the really plush, luxurious psych hospital was oppressive and terrifying. Eventually, she was able to get treatment from Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, a renowned psychiatrist at Mass General, in Boston. However, it was in Boston that she had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which used shock waves to improve. A lasting side effect from that treatment was the destruction of her ability to enjoy the taste of food. While ruining her sense of taste helped her lose weight, it also made one of her passions, cooking, a lot less enjoyable. She couldn’t even eat the treats she would make for others, because it all tasted “putrid”.

Still, Naomi Judd did find help when she discovered dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is a technique discovered by psychologist, Marsha Linehan. Naomi explains how the technique helped to center her and improved her mental health. DBT is a technique that is often suggested for people who aren’t helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a well-known method for treating depression. As of 2016, Naomi did seem to be very edified by DBT. Unfortunately, we now know that the help she received from DBT was temporary. She never lost her urge to end her life.

Naomi also writes a lot about her family of origin. There was a lot of tragedy in her personal history, some of which came before she was even born. Some of her blood relatives were legitimately severely mentally ill, and more than a couple of folks were real criminals. Indeed, Naomi’s granddaughter, Grace Pauline Kelley, has done time in prison for drug offenses. As I read about Naomi’s grandmother, Edie Mae, who allegedly killed her husband, Howard (who had almost been killed by his own dad, when he was a child), I could definitely see a pattern.

Other people’s reactions to this book…

I took a look at the reviews on Amazon, to see what others thought of Naomi’s story about her mental illness. A lot of people wrote that they found River of Time “depressing”, and they described Naomi as engaging in a “pity party”. Some people wrote that they felt this book was a plea for attention.

Having now read River of Time, I guess I can understand why some people didn’t like the book. The truth is, Naomi’s life was depressing. She came from a family where there was a lot of mental illness and abuse. Naomi was sexually abused when she was very young, and she was not treated with love, consideration, or kindness when she was growing up. And so, it stands to reason that her true story is sad, and it should not be surprising to anyone that there are many depressing elements to Naomi’s life story. She had severe DEPRESSION, for God’s sake. What were people expecting? I do think that anyone who reads this book should NOT be expecting a chirpy book about how beautiful life is. That would be very disingenuous.

I mentioned earlier in this review that I can relate to Naomi’s story. My early years weren’t nearly as traumatic as hers were, by any stretch. But I grew up with an alcoholic father, as she did, and my father’s method of discipline was usually the corporal punishment kind. While I think my mom was more loving that Naomi’s was, she was somewhat cold and uninterested in me, especially when my dad was still alive. Mom is very different now, but when I was a kid, she was rather neglectful. And so, I could relate to Naomi’s yearning to have some acknowledgement from her parents, and other people in her family. I think that “pity party”, “whiny”, and “attention seeking” aspect of her writing that some people don’t like, was actually a facet of her illness. Her parents were, in part, responsible for the condition was was in… and make no mistake about it, it WAS a very real, physical, and mental illness that she couldn’t help. But at least she did TRY to get better, which is more than a lot of people can say. And she was fortunate enough to be able to consult some of the biggest and most successful people in the business. She was even friends with Maya Angelou.

I think the negative comments she got in Amazon reviews came from people who, bless their hearts, just don’t have a clue! They have not experienced depression themselves, so they don’t understand why Naomi, with all she had going for her in life, simply couldn’t snap out of it and be happy. They see her as selfish and self-indulgent, and don’t understand that she experienced real torment. Obviously, that torment was what led her to kill herself at age 76, even as she and Wynonna were about to be honored again. And no, she wasn’t the better singer in The Judds, but she was clearly a big part of the duo’s success. Wynonna was probably destined to be a star, but there’s no denying that her mom helped her on her way. I can understand why Naomi felt that she was left behind, and why that would be one of the many causes of her depression. On the other hand, she also accomplished a lot on her own, and somehow, those accomplishments evidently didn’t raise her opinion of herself, or her life.

Overall…

I’m glad I read River of Time. It is a sad book, and it does have the capability of being depressing, but to me, Naomi’s story felt authentic. I could relate so much to a lot of what she wrote. My heart went out to her, on more than a couple of occasions, and I even felt a little verklempt at times when I read this. I really wish that she could have conquered her demons, and enjoyed her life until its natural end. As we all know, that wasn’t to be. Depression CAN be deadly, though, and her story is a stark reminder of that verifiable fact. It’s easy for people to look at someone else’s life and think they have no reason to be sad, or to complain about anything. I would urge people not to make those kinds of judgments. When it comes down to it, you never know what kind of hell someone might be experiencing privately. Life is tough for most people… even famous, beautiful, talented, and rich people, like Naomi Judd was. I hope wherever her soul is now, she’s finally at peace.

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book reviews, true crime

A review of Through the Glass, by Shannon Moroney… a woman’s life temporarily shattered by her ex husband’s violent crimes

When it comes to reading books, sometimes my eyes are bigger than my will to use them for reading. There was a time when I could read several books in a month. But now, as I get older, and my eyesight gets worse, it’s a struggle to finish a book in a matter of weeks. I keep trying, though, and I keep buying virtual books from Amazon, which may sit in my queue for years before I ever get around to reading them. Such is the case regarding Canadian author Shannon Moroney’s 2011 book, Through the Glass, which Amazon tells me I bought in 2018.

I don’t remember why I bought Through the Glass. It might have been a suggestive sell when I bought something else. I might have read a salacious Daily Mail article that prompted me to download it. Who knows, at this point? I’m actually glad I read it just recently, though, because I think this case out of Canada is timely, given that this week, convicted sex offender, Josh Duggar, will finally be sentenced to prison for his crimes against children.

Like many people, I look forward to seeing Duggar get his due. However, even though think his wife, Anna, was somewhat complicit in Josh Duggar’s crimes, I also have some empathy for her situation. She’s a woman in a fundamentalist Christian cult, raised to submit to her husband in all matters. With seven young children, and not much to fall back on, she seems pretty stuck. There’s also no doubt in my mind that Anna has been repeatedly victimized by Josh. As I read Shannon Moroney’s story, I couldn’t help but think of Anna, although Anna is undoubtedly in a worse situation than Shannon Moroney was. Shannon at least had a career to fall back on, and no children to support.

Who is Shannon Moroney, and why has she written a book?

In October 2005, 30 year old teacher and school guidance counselor, Shannon Moroney, married Jason Staples, the man she once thought was the love of her life. The two had met at a Kingston, Ontario soup kitchen three years earlier, where Shannon had brought some of her students to work. Jason was the head chef at the soup kitchen, and everybody loved him. He was always friendly and kind, and he had an amazing talent for art. Shannon was taken with him soon after meeting him; he seemed like the perfect guy. But there was just one thing that gave her pause. Jason Staples was a convicted murderer who was out on parole, having spent ten years in prison.

In 1988, just a few months after his 18th birthday, Jason Staples and his roommate, a 38 year old woman, had a brutal argument. The argument ended with the woman’s violent murder at Jason’s hands. Jason’s first victim was someone Jason’s very mentally ill mother and her abusive boyfriend had found, just before they moved away without him. The living situation obviously wasn’t good, though he tried to leave it before he finally snapped in what was originally deemed “adolescent rage”.

Jason later pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was given a sentence of Life-10. That meant he would spend ten years in prison, then be released on parole, which he would be on for the rest of his life, provided he did not reoffend. Jason had been a model prisoner, and the authorities believed his youth and good behavior made him a good risk for rehabilitation.

By the time Shannon met Jason, he’d already been out of prison for five years, and was doing well in the community. Jason had convinced many people that his dark impulses were in the past, and he was worthy of the second chance he was given. He even had plans to go back to school and earn a degree in art, hoping to make the most of the rest of his life. Shannon had checked out everything Jason told her about his past, and spoke to his parole officer and psychologist. She also examined his official records. Everything seemed to check out fine.

Just one month after their wedding, Shannon was writing thank you notes for wedding gifts and wondering if she was pregnant. She was staying in a Toronto area hotel for a work related trip. There was a knock at the door. When she opened it, her life changed forever. She had expected the knock to be from a colleague wanting to have breakfast. But it was a police officer, who handed her his card and said:

“I’m here about your husband,” the officer said. “Are you Jason Staples’s wife?”

Shannon nodded affirmatively, that she was Jason’s wife… of just one month. The officer told Shannon that Jason was arrested the night before, charged with sexual assault. The cop did not know many of the details of the crime, since he was a Toronto based officer, and Jason and Shannon lived in Peterborough, which was also where Jason committed his crimes. But the officer did know that Jason had called 911 himself, turned himself in, and gave a full confession to raping two women and confining them in the home he shared with Shannon. She was in total shock as she gathered her things and left the hotel room to go home, where she would face the horrifying truth. The beautiful life she had planned, to include having children, advancing in her career, and loving a man who had seemed to overcome his horrific past, had all evaporated.

Jason had kidnapped and raped two women who had come into the health food store where he worked part time. The first victim, a 46 year old woman, came into the store and Jason suddenly accosted her, held her at knife point, and sexually assaulted her. He confined her in the store’s basement. Then, a few minutes later, the second victim, who was much younger, entered the store. Jason held her at knife point, but she fought back, Jason then choked her into unconsciousness, and took her to the basement, where he sexually assaulted her. He bound both women with duct tape, then rented a van, and brought the two women to the home he shared with Shannon.

The two women bravely tried to rehumanize Jason, attempting to talk him down from his terrifying rage. Jason would switch back and forth, from monster to human. By 9:00 that evening, Jason had decided to kill himself. He procured some rope and a ladder. The women continued talking to him, trying to bring him back to his senses. Finally, at about 10:00, Jason spoke to Shannon on the phone. She was unaware that there were two bound women in her home, both of whom had been brutally raped by her husband. After the phone call, Jason went to a pay phone and called 911. He told the police who he was and what he’d done, then asked them to go to his house and help the women. Then he continued trying to formulate a suicide plan as he waited for the police to arrive. After 25 minutes, the police still hadn’t come; apparently, they thought his first call was a prank! So Jason called again. After the second call, the cops finally came. Jason ended his confession at the jailhouse, begging “Just put me away.”

As the investigation continued, Shannon learned that not only had Jason kidnapped and raped two women, but he had also installed cameras in their home, and recorded Shannon during private moments in the bathroom. So, Shannon was also one of Jason’s victims. However, because Shannon was Jason’s wife, many people assumed she was somehow complicit in his crimes. When Shannon asked if there was anything she could do to help the women who were raped, she was told that they “didn’t need to hear from Jason’s arena.” Shannon was left to pick up the pieces after Jason’s crimes, and she quickly found out that there was no support for people in her position.

Soon, it became clear to Shannon Moroney that even though she’d had nothing to do with Jason’s criminal behavior, and was in fact a victim herself, many people were going to judge her. She would not be entitled to any assistance from victim’s advocacy groups. Though she didn’t outright lose her job at her school, she was told that she would be transferred to a different school. Her principal went as far as to ban her from even setting foot in the school, claiming that her presence there would traumatize other people.

Jason was held in protective custody, for his own safety. He had lawyers to protect his rights. No one seemed to understand that Shannon needed help and protection, too. Everyone seemed to expect her to quickly divorce Jason and move on, even though Shannon still saw the human part of him and loved him. She suffered on all levels, from professionally to medically, and few people seemed to have any empathy for her situation. She was caught in the crossfire, being associated with someone who had committed horrific crimes. And very few people seemed to understand that she was as much of a victim as the two women who were sexually assaulted by her husband. Jason never gave any indication that he needed help. She’d thought he was okay, as had everyone involved with granting him parole.

As she spoke to Jason, through the glass partition at the jail, she learned about the tragedies in his life that had led him to where he was. Jason was adopted at three months old, and raised by a woman who sexually abused him. His adoptive father died when he was very young, and his mother took up with a man who abused her, and Jason. On the night of his crimes, Jason had also overdosed on some over-the-counter substances– caffeine pills and ephedra.

Shannon Moroney is interviewed about Jason’s crimes. She appears in many YouTube videos.

Picking up the pieces…

Slowly, Shannon Moroney put her life back together. She didn’t immediately divorce Jason, although many people seemed to think she should just quickly dump him and disassociate from him. She visited him in jail, and later, prison. At the same time, she tried to figure out how to move on from the legal fiasco that enveloped her. The process of rebuilding led her to change careers, and she earned a master’s degree at East Anglia University, in Norwich, England. Jason’s crimes and the aftermath of them made her want to do victim’s advocacy, and she eventually left teaching and counseling, and became an author and public speaker. After divorcing Jason, Shannon found love again and remarried. She now appears to be thriving, but as this book illustrates, it was a tough road to get where she is today.

My thoughts

Through the Glass is a fascinating book on many levels. As an American living in Germany, I’m always interested in seeing how other countries operate. Canada has a very different legal and penal system than the United States does, so that aspect of the story alone, was fascinating for me. Canada also has a very different healthcare system than the United States does. Shannon seemed to have a lot of support from her family doctor, a woman called Sue, who would actually come to Shannon’s home to see her and went to the jail to see Jason. I can’t imagine something like that happening in the United States.

The Canadian system seems a lot more humane than the US system does, although there were plenty of inhumane aspects of Shannon’s story. While she describes a lot of insensitivity toward her situation from friends and colleagues, overall, I think the Canadian people were more understanding toward her than Americans would be. It seems to me that Americans are very quick to judge, and judge harshly, and declare people guilty by association. By Shannon’s descriptions, at least her countrymen tried to understand her ordeal on some level. They would try to put on a pretense of kindness, even if they weren’t very helpful to her, as she navigated the horrific mess left to her in the wake of Jason’s crimes.

At one point, while he was being assessed, Jason was sent to a psychiatric facility, and Shannon describes visiting him there. It was a lot more welcoming than the prison was, and Jason was treated as a patient, rather than an inmate. I found myself agreeing with Shannon’s comments about how warehousing people in prisons isn’t very helpful to society, even though Jason obviously is a danger to others and probably should be kept away from society. Still, she seems to believe that prisoners should be treated with humanity. On that point, I totally agree with her, especially since most incarcerated people will eventually get out of prison. It serves society to see to it that they have the best chance at success when they are released.

On the other hand, I’m sure I’m among a lot of readers who have trouble reconciling how long she stayed married to Jason, especially when it was clear that he would not be leaving prison for a very long time, if ever. I can understand having basic empathy for other human beings, but Jason’s crimes were truly horrific and disgusting. One woman died, and two others were left with terrible memories of being brutalized by a madman. Sometimes, Shannon seemed overly empathic toward Jason, trying to paint him as a really good man who was just misunderstood. I was glad to read when she finally divorced him, even though he has some redeeming qualities. When it comes down to it, though, Jason can’t be rehabilitated enough to be in public again.

It occurs to me that Shannon Moroney has something in common with Elizabeth Smart, in that she’s turned a horrific tragedy in her life into a way to help others. That’s admirable.

Overall

I think most people would find Shannon Moroney’s story interesting. However, some readers might be disgusted by what seems like a lack of empathy for the victims, since she does show empathy for Jason. Personally, I believe Shannon when she claims that she does have empathy for Jason’s victims. I also appreciated that she was honest about her conflicted feelings for her ex husband, Jason Staples. I think it was good that she stated her true feelings, rather than just expressing what people wanted to hear from her. But, knowing what I know about the public at large, and the black and white thinking that a lot of people have, I know some readers won’t see it the way I do. We often expect people to feel the way we think they should feel, when life isn’t always that simple.

Anyway, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book, that has been waiting for be read for years. As we await Josh Duggar’s upcoming prison sentence, I will try to have some empathy for his wife, Anna, and the mess she’s in right now. It’s easy for us to see that Anna should leave Josh, but we don’t see life from her perspective. It’s not always so simple. Shannon Moroney’s story really drives home that truism, at least for me.

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book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Jessica Bradshaw’s You’re Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons…

Here’s a reposted book review from my original blog. It was written in June 2017, and appears here as/is. Some things have changed since I wrote this. Bill’s younger daughter came around, and now talks to him.

As many regular blog readers know, I frequently hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, although I have never myself been a Mormon.  I started hanging out on that site because my husband, Bill, used to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He and his ex wife were converts at the end of their disastrous marriage. 

Bill was once a fairly enthusiastic Mormon; when I met him, he still claimed to believe.  I think he had high hopes that the church would help him save his first marriage.  But over time, it became clear that the church would not save his family and, in fact, made his situation much worse than it might have been.  Unfortunately, Bill’s two daughters became devout members of the LDS church and he pretty much lost them when he divorced their mother and later decided to resign from the church. 

It is certainly no secret that I despise my husband’s ex wife for many reasons– many of which have nothing to do with the LDS church. The truth is, what happened to Bill would have happened whether or not they had been Mormon converts. My husband’s ex wife delivered the same despicable treatment to her first ex husband. She effectively influenced her eldest son to reject his father. She did the same to Bill’s daughters. She will likely engage the same method if and when she leaves her third husband, with whom she has another son and daughter. That is simply what she does because she’s an abusive person, who thinks her children are extensions of herself, and uses them as weapons.

However, although I don’t believe the church was the main cause of my husband’s split from his now adult daughters, it’s been my observation that the LDS church is an excellent parental alienation tool. The importance of the church and its ridiculous lifestyle tenets– its insistence on being privy to the most private aspects of a person’s life and focus on perfect families– made it much easier for my husband’s young, impressionable daughters to reject their perfectly good dad as “unsuitable” and “undeserving” of them. To be honest, I agree that Bill doesn’t deserve his daughters. In my opinion, they aren’t good enough for HIM. Fortunately for them, Bill is a lot more forgiving about his daughters’ decision to reject him than I am. He once had a very close relationship with them. He is their father, and will always love them, while I have only met them in person once. I have no connection to them, and I think their behavior is unreasonable and just plain stupid.

Perhaps my brief rundown of my personal experiences with the church will offer some insight as to why I read so much about Mormonism– particularly about those who choose to abandon it.  Since I’ve been with Bill, I have come to know a number of impressive ex-Mormons.  It takes a lot of strength of character to go against the grain and reject one’s family religion, especially when it’s a very demanding belief system like Mormonism.  I have found that many ex-Mormons are very intelligent, sensitive, and open-minded.  I truly like them as a group of people.  For that, as well as for her decision to divorce Bill, I will always be grateful to Bill’s ex wife.  Her decision to go LDS and Bill’s decision to leave the church indirectly influenced my life in many positive ways.  Of course, had she not divorced Bill, I might not have gotten to be his wife.

It’s indirectly because of my husband’s ex wife that I “met” Jessica Bradshaw, who just published You’re Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons. I read her first book, I’m (No Longer) a Mormon: A Confessional, which she wrote under the pseudonym Regina Samuelson. I enjoyed the book and reviewed it, and Bradshaw and I became Facebook friends. I was delighted when Bradshaw announced her second book, which would be published under her real name. She also solicited stories from her ex-Mormon friends and acquaintances. I wanted to get Bill to submit his story, but he never got around to writing it.

Over the past almost fifteen years of marriage, I have seen firsthand what can happen when a person decides to leave a high commitment religion like Mormonism.  Some Mormon families truly believe in “free agency” and are okay with family members deciding for themselves what to believe.  There are many more families that can make leaving the church extremely difficult.  Some ex-Mormons wind up getting divorced, being shunned by family members and friends, and even losing their jobs or getting kicked out of college over deciding that Mormonism doesn’t work for them.  Deciding to leave Mormonism was a huge decision for many past members; it can be overwhelming and terrifying.  Many ex members feel that they are alone as they make this monumental decision for their own lives. 

Bradshaw’s latest book is a compilation of stories by former church members who left.  Each story is very well edited and offers valuable insight into what makes a person decide to leave Mormonism.  I was amazed as I read about how each person’s eyes were opened to the world beyond the church.  It was gratifying to read how many of these ex church members began to develop insight, empathy, and an expanded perspective of the world around them, even as many of them found themselves ostracized from their families and friends.

One contributor wrote about how, as a Mormon missionary in Japan, he experienced extreme cognitive dissonance.  He observed how happy, moral, and loyal the Japanese people were to their families and employers.  They were able to be this way even without the direction and interference of a church’s oppressive lifestyle restrictions or strict “moral” code.  As the years passed, the contributor experienced a series of life events that led him from being an “acting Bishop” of a huge ward in Salt Lake City to a convicted felon who temporarily lost his license to practice optometry.  This was a decent person– a good guy who was having a crisis of faith and could not talk to his wife, other family members, or friends about his feelings.  He started playing racquetball, took his new passion too far, eventually got seriously hurt, and was put on opium based painkillers.  He developed an addiction to the painkillers, started calling in his own prescriptions, and soon lost everything. 

Many church members would look at that story and determine that it was the man’s decision to abandon the church that led him to such disastrous consequences.  Indeed, when church members resign, a lot of active members think it’s because they want to sin, are too lazy or weak to live by the church’s rules, or were somehow offended.  Active members tend to avoid those with weak testimonies because they fear they will lose their own testimonies.  It occurs to me that active members who fear those who are losing their testimonies must also have weak testimonies, because if their testimonies were strong, someone else’s doubts would not be a threat. 

A person leaving the church often feels very much alone and may turn to habits that can turn out to be destructive.  In the case of the contributor I just wrote about, he turned to racquetball.  Racquetball is not a destructive habit in and of itself, but if one plays to the point of becoming seriously injured and needs pain pills, that can lead to a serious disruption of one’s life.  Perhaps if the man could have talked honestly to his wife or church leaders about his doubts, he might not have experienced such a calamity.  Maybe he would have eased up on the racquetball and not gotten seriously hurt.  Or maybe the positive feelings he got from the drugs would not have been as seductive, since he might have been able to get a sense of normalcy and calm without needing medication.

Unfortunately, for many people, the church does not lend itself to open discussion or honesty.  Married couples must cope with less intimacy because the church is a not so silent partner in their relationships.  Important decisions about things like religious beliefs are not left up to the married couple.  The church must be involved.  And the church’s involvement means there will be less privacy, pressure, and the potential for punishment and humiliation.  Many people who have doubts about the church don’t speak about them openly.  Instead, they simply fake it.  They lead lifestyles that are not authentic.  They miss out on a lot of wonderful life experiences and freedom due to fear of disaster and abandonment.  Being “fake” is also psychologically unhealthy and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.

I have only described one story in You’re Not Alone, but rest assured that the book is full of enlightenment about why people leave the LDS church and encouragement that there is life after Mormonism.  While the immediate consequences of leaving the church can be heartbreaking and devastating, most people are able to pick up the pieces and live better, more authentic lifestyles.  They make their own decisions and can accept their successes and failures as their own. 

I’ve seen firsthand how liberating leaving the LDS church can be as I’ve watched Bill.  When I met him, he was living on $600 a month and thought his life was ruined.  He thought God hated him.  What a blessing it’s been to have watched him blossom into a self-confident man who loves freely and enjoys his life.  He has plenty of money (not paying 10% gross to the church is a great thing), gets to travel, wears whatever underwear he prefers, and drinks whatever he pleases.  He is not afraid of being exposed to other people’s experiences and no longer has a testimony that must be protected at all costs.  And although he was abandoned by his daughters, Bill has found out that his life is still very much worth living and he is free to do it on his own terms.  I’m pretty sure that is what Jessica Bradshaw’s contributors have also discovered. 

Naturally, I recommend You’re Not Alone, especially to anyone who has been thinking about leaving the LDS church, but also to those who are in any belief system that has them in metaphorical chains.  I also think You’re Not Alone is a great read even if you aren’t LDS, although it probably does help to know something about the church before you read it.  I also recommend Jessica’s first book, I’m (No Longer) a Mormon.  Five stars from me.

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book reviews, celebrities, healthcare, mental health

Repost: My review of Brooke Shields’ Down Came the Rain…

One last repost before I hang up my blogging efforts for the day. This is a book review I wrote for Epinions.com in October 2006. I am posting it as/is.

Having come of age in the 1980s, I have always been very familiar with Brooke Shields’ work as an actress. Brooke Shields has always appeared to be a woman who has it all… looks, brains, money, a successful and apparently fulfilling career, and at last, just a few years ago, she seemed to have found love in her second husband, Chris Henchy. The one thing that was missing was a baby.

Shields was having trouble getting pregnant. She had once had cervical surgery to remove precancerous cells and the surgery had left her cervix shortened and scarred. As a result, in order to have a child of their own, Shields and her husband had to undergo in vitro fertilization. Shields got pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage that was so emotionally painful that she almost decided to give up on her dream of being a mother.

But Brooke Shields found that she couldn’t forget about having a baby. She underwent IVF again and got pregnant, and this time it stuck. Nine months later in May 2003, Brooke Shields and her husband, Chris Henchy, became the proud parents of Rowan Francis. And then, Brooke Shields found herself holding a ticket into the hell of postpartum depression. That hell is what prompted her to write her 2004 book, Down Came The Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.

I read this book partly because my husband, Bill, and I have been trying to have a baby. Like Brooke Shields and her husband, we have some issues that may prevent us from conceiving naturally. I also have a strong biological history of major depression, so I may be at risk of postpartum depression if I do have a baby. Also, I found this book used and dirt cheap at Fort Belvoir’s thrift shop. I doubt I would have thought to buy this book at its full price or even borrow it at a library, but I am glad I read it. It turns out Brooke Shields is a pretty good writer and her topic is both timely and relevant to a lot of new parents.

Down Came The Rain is not an autobiography of Brooke Shields’ life, although it does include some information about her family. The information is personal, but it also has something to do with Shields’ state of mind and stress level as she embarked on her quest to become a mother. First off, Shields and her first husband, Andre Agassi, were divorced after two years of marriage. Shields doesn’t write much about their time together, except to explain that they had both wanted children, but the opportunity had never presented itself. Not long after the split with Agassi, Shields met and subsequently married Chris Henchy. Then, Shields’ father became very ill with prostate cancer. He died just three weeks before Rowan Francis was born. All the while, Shields was also dealing with insecurity about her future in show business. She had taken time off for her pregnancy and Rowan’s birth.  

Divorce, remarriage, fertility issues, childbirth, career issues, and the loss of a parent are all extremely stressful events on their own. With all of those issues combined together, it must have been almost impossible for Brooke Shields to function. Shields also had serious medical trouble during the birth of her daughter. The child had to be delivered by Cesarean section; the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Shields’ uterus had herniated and she almost had to have a hysterectomy. Somehow, Shields and her baby survived the birthing process intact. Shields was left to recover from major surgery as she became acquainted with her baby daughter and the huge role of being a parent.

To be sure, I could empathize a bit with Brooke Shields. She’s a human being and certainly not immune to human problems like postpartum depression. Shields initially didn’t want to go on Paxil, the antidepressant that helped her get through her ordeal with postpartum depression. She didn’t like the connotations that she needed a drug to help her with her moods. I can identify with that sentiment. When I had depression, I didn’t want to take a drug to feel better, either. I liked to think I could will myself to feel normal. Once I found the right antidepressant, it became enormously clear to me that clinical depression is a very real biological problem that affects the whole body. Brooke Shields also came to that conclusion. She started to feel better and was able to function with the help of antidepressants. Like me, she became a believer in the drugs’ efficacy, despite her very famous public feud with Tom Cruise about their usefulness.  

I applaud Brooke Shields for writing this book about her very personal and painful experiences with the hell of depression and her success using antidepressants. I think it’s always helpful when people talk about personal experiences with mental illness because it helps reduce the lingering stigma. I also like the fact that Shields apparently no longer feels ashamed of her use of antidepressants. Too many people don’t seek medical help for depression because they fear becoming “hooked on happy pills”. As someone who has experienced depression and has taken antidepressants, I can affirm that the pills never made me feel “happy”. Indeed, they made me feel normal, which was a huge improvement over feeling hopeless and suicidal. 

On the other hand, as I was reading Down Came The Rain, it was very clear to me that Brooke Shields has advantages that most women don’t have. For one thing, she hired a baby nurse to help her as she was getting over her postpartum depression. Although Shields makes it clear that the nurse was temporary and she had no intention of handing over the job of raising Rowan to hired help, most women don’t have the financial resources to hire baby nurses when they suffer from postpartum depression. In fact, far too many women can’t even afford to take the antidepressants that Shields took as she suffered with postpartum depression. And it also occurred to me that some who read this book may even feel somewhat bitter about the fact that Shields was able to afford several rounds of IVF, too. That’s a procedure that is well beyond the budgets of many Americans.  

Clearly, with her financial resources, Brooke Shields can afford solutions that are well above the grasp of many women. I don’t mean to imply that Brooke Shields wasn’t right to use whatever means necessary to get past her postpartum depression; I just think that some women might resent the fact that they don’t have access to the resources that Shields does. Shields explains what she did to get over the depression, but she doesn’t offer solutions for ordinary women who can’t afford to hire baby nurses or seek out sophisticated medical help.  

Also, it’s important to know that Down Came The Rain is not the story of Brooke Shields’ life. This is strictly an account of her experiences with postpartum depression. She explains what the depression felt like, how it affected the people around her, and what she did to get over it, but that’s about it. If you’re looking for a whole lot of insight about Brooke Shields’ life outside of her experiences with postpartum depression, you might be left disappointed. There is no photo section, although there is a small picture of Brooke Shields and Rowan on the inside of the book cover.  

All in all, I think Down Came The Rain is a good personal account of the phenomenon of postpartum depression. And if after reading this book you’re left wanting to learn more about postpartum depression, Shields includes a reading list and addresses to reputable Web sites that offer information about the disorder. I think Brooke Shields has written a valuable book that will help a lot of people who are caught in the throes of postpartum depression, whether they be new mothers or the people who love them. What’s more, Shields’ story ultimately has a happy ending, since she has gone on to become a mother again. On April 18, 2006, Shields and Henchy became parents again to daughter, Grier Hammond… ironically, on the very same day, and in the same hospital, where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had their baby girl, Suri.

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book reviews, travel

Repost: Concierge Confidential: The Gloves Come Off—and the Secrets Come Out! Tales from the Man Who Serves Millionaires, Moguls, and Madmen

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote for Epinions.com in 2011. I am reposting this review as/is.

As an average American of average means, I have never really considered how a hotel’s concierge services might benefit me.  The most I’ve ever asked of any hotel concierge is directions, or perhaps to order me a taxi.  But hotel concierges do a lot more than give directions or make reservations.  The best ones can pull off logistical feats that would dazzle the average person.  And if you’re in a place like New York City, a good concierge can mean the difference between eating in a hot restaurant at 8:00pm or eating at Sbarro’s.  I never considered any of these things until I read Concierge Confidential: The Gloves Come Off—and the Secrets Come Out! Tales from the Man Who Serves Millionaires, Moguls, and Madmen (2011), a book written by concierge extraordinaire Michael Fazio and co-author, Michael Malice.

The book’s premise

Michael Fazio is the co-founder of Abigail Michaels, Manhattan’s premiere concierge service.  But before he helped found Abigail Michaels, Fazio worked in Hollywood for famous actors and as a concierge at New York City’s InterContinental Hotel.  He admits to having the “service bug”, which I would think one would have to have in his job.  After all, he was routinely asked to do things like get tickets to sold out Broadway shows and score tables at hot restaurants for people who were “nobodies”. 

But aside from helping unknowns who were staying at the hotel, Fazio also had to arrange for some exotic requests from people with more money than they could possibly spend.  Fazio arranged for a bathtub full of chocolate for one client, who was hoping to impress a ladyfriend.  He arranged for a last minute helicopter ride to Atlantic City for a mysterious Russian with a suitcase full of cash.  And when the same people kept coming back to him for help, Fazio and his former co-worker, Abbie, started their own concierge business catering to the rich and famous.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed this book and probably would have gotten through it in a matter of hours had I not been trying to read it on a very small cruise ship.  I have a tendency to get motion sickness, so every time I tried to make progress in this book, I started to feel sick!  Once I was off the boat, I whizzed through it in record time.  I really enjoyed Fazio’s anecdotes and the enthusiastic tone of his writing.  I felt excited as I read about some of his more dramatic exploits in the concierge business.  Aside from telling stories, Fazio also includes some handy tips on how to get what you want from a concierge, book the best restaurants and hotels, and even how (and how much) to tip.

I definitely have a new perspective on the value of a good concierge.  Now that I’ve read Fazio’s book, I might even venture to the concierge desk during my next hotel stay!  Who knows?  I might end up with a completely different experience than I might have otherwise had!

Overall

If you’ve ever wondered what your concierge can do for you, you should definitely read Fazio’s book Concierge Confidential.

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