book reviews, mental health

Repost: A review of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story…

This is a repost of a book review I wrote for my original blog on May 13, 2014. It appears here as/is.

I honestly don’t remember why I downloaded Ned Vizzini’s book, It’s Kind of A Funny Story.  It was published in 2010 and has been turned into a movie, but I think it was intended for young adults.  No matter.  I found Vizzini’s book very engaging and entertaining, even though it’s basically about an adolescent male who struggles with depression and suicidal ideation and ends up in a mental ward.

Craig Gilner is fifteen years old and attending Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School.  He’s a high achieving kind with visions of success and prosperity in his very bright looking future.  Getting that success means getting into the right high school, the right college, the right grad school, and marrying the right person.  So Craig works to achieve those lofty goals and soon gets weighed down by depression.  Craig realizes that compared to his classmates, he’s not all that impressive.  He stops eating and sleeping and one night, decides he’s going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

So he calls a suicide hotline.  At first, he gets routed to a guy who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.  The operator on the hotline tries to get Craig to do some exercises intended to reduce anxiety, but they end up making him more anxious.  He hangs up and calls another suicide hotline and is advised to get to a hospital.  He goes to the emergency room at a hospital two blocks from where he lives.  He gets admitted to Six North, where he gets help.  There, he meets people with some real problems… and isolated from his high pressure school, Craig is able to isolate the source of his anxiety and depression and change his life.

Author Vizzini has himself spent time in a mental hospital, so he’s able to make his story ring true.  He injects a lot of humor into a story that could be bogged down with too much of a heavy subject.  The end result is a very readable book that many people will relate to easily.  I myself have dealt with depression and anxiety, but I haven’t yet spent time in a mental ward.  I hope I never will experience such a thing…  but I’m glad Vizzini was able to turn his personal experiences into a story that will help and entertain others.

Yes, this book is intended for teens from 9th grade up, but as a 41 year old adult, I also enjoyed it.  That’s really saying something, because nowadays, I’m really more into true stories than novels.  I would recommend It’s Kind of A Funny Story, particularly to young people who feel stressed about the future.  Of course, most people worry about what’s coming next… but this book especially speaks to precocious teens and zany middle-aged people like me.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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mental health, psychology

No one should ever die over spilt coffee!

The last couple of years have really been quite the mess, haven’t they? I wouldn’t be a young person in America again for anything, especially in this post pandemic hellscape. Young people are under so much pressure to make it. I remember what it was like to be young and unsure, filled with anxiety and depression, feeling like a failure, and when I was clinically depressed, actually thinking about suicide on a daily basis.

I thought I would be broke and unloved, or working in a job that I hated, desperately trying to earn enough to pay my own way. I went through this anguish for years, only to somehow find myself on a career path to a career I probably wouldn’t have loved that much. Then I met Bill, and was soon swept off that path, and into a new future that I had never, in a million years, envisioned for myself. Even after twenty years, I can’t believe this happened. I never would have thought that the answer for me was finding the right man. That’s not how I was raised AT ALL.

I’ll be honest. There are times when I still feel anxious. There are times when I am depressed. Sometimes I worry about what’s going to happen. Then I am awed by what I have… amazed, even. And I’m glad I didn’t give in to the urge to commit suicide when I was still in my 20s. Then I think to myself… if I had done that, I wouldn’t have been any the wiser about what was to come. My life would have been unfinished, like Neuschwanstein… or an incomplete novel with no ending.

You might already be wondering what’s brought on today’s musings, which some people might find a little disturbing. Well, I don’t assume anyone worries about my mental health, and there’s no reason to do that now. I’m not feeling particularly depressed today. It’s just that this morning, I read a story about yet another high achieving young woman who decided to kill herself over something that really should have been a blip on the proverbial radar.

The Washington Post ran a story today about Katie Meyer, a young woman who, by most accounts, should have been on top of the world. On February 28, 2022, 22 year old Meyer was just a few months from finishing her degree at Stanford University, where she was a soccer star and captain of the university’s soccer team. She had a 3.84 GPA, and in 2019, had helped lead the prestigious university to a national championship in soccer. She had plans to attend law school. She’d hoped to attend Stanford for law school, too.

On February 28, Katie Meyer had done seemingly normal things. She went to classes, soccer practice, and an event for the Mayfield Fellows Program, for which she had recently been selected. She had FaceTimed with her mom and sister about her spring break plans. She had emailed her mother about plane tickets she had booked. She’d never make the flight, though. February 28, 2022 was her last day of life. Katie Meyer committed suicide that day.

So what happened on February 28 that led to Katie Meyer’s untimely death? It started with spilled coffee in August 2021.

On that fateful day in August 2021, Katie Meyer was riding her bike when she somehow spilled coffee on a football player who was accused of sexually assaulting (kissing without permission) one of Katie’s teammates, who was 17 years old. Katie maintained that the coffee spilling incident was an accident. The football player, who was not identified and never faced any disciplinary charges, didn’t even complain about the spilled coffee. However, the incident was reported to Stanford’s Office of Community Standards by the dean of residential education. An investigation ensued, and apparently, for the first time in her life, Katie Meyer was in some trouble.

The complaint against Meyer indicated that spilling the coffee on the football player had caused physical injury. It was the university’s standard practice to review the incident and determine whether or not Katie should be disciplined. Meanwhile, the incident regarding the football player’s uninvited kiss of the soccer player was also reported to the Title IX office. However, that office determined that the criteria for investigating the kissing incident were not met.

In September, Meyer spoke with a university administrator about the coffee incident. She expressed how distressed she was by the investigation. Two months after that meeting, Meyer provided a formal statement about the incident, again explaining that the disciplinary process had caused her great worry and stress. She feared the incident would derail her career plans and ultimately even ruin her life. According to the Washington Post:

“My whole life I’ve been terrified to make any mistakes,” she wrote. “No alcohol, no speeding tickets, no A- marks on my report cards. Everything had to be perfect to get in and stay at Stanford. I suffer from anxiety and perfectionism, as so many female athletes do. We know all too well that in professional settings women have everything to lose and have to work twice as hard to prove that they are qualified and professional, and any mistake is magnified, any attitude of assertiveness is demonized.”

Man… I can remember feeling like that, too. And I am definitely NOT Stanford material. So often we think of high achievers like Katie Meyer– young, beautiful, brilliant, athletic– richly gifted in almost every way. We think of how lucky they are. We never stop to think about the incredible pressure they’re under and how much pressure they put on themselves. It’s easy for me, at age 50, to sit here and think this is ridiculous that a young woman like Katie Meyer– who seemingly had EVERYTHING going for her– would kill herself over spilled coffee.

I empathize with Katie. I remember very well being young and scared, and feeling like I needed to excel. I also felt like I needed to excel when I was very young. I felt like it was expected of me, not just from my parents and other elders in my life, but also and especially from myself. Unlike Katie, I didn’t excel at that much. But, like her, I felt like I really needed to achieve, and if I didn’t, my life would not be worth living.

I remember working as a temp in the admissions office at the College of William & Mary, where extremely talented, bright, high achieving young people attended school. I read their essays, letters of recommendation, and report cards, and filed them away, along with lots of other items they sent in to convince the admissions committee that they were worthy to matriculate at William & Mary in the fall of 1998. So many of them seemed desperate to achieve… and unaware that there are so many ways to succeed at life. In 1998, I was 26 years old, a graduate of a less prestigious college, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I felt like a loser, even though I had already done a lot. Depression and anxiety will do that to a person, especially when they’re young.

I was fortunate, though, because I found a really kind and understanding therapist who helped me. I took medication that helped even out my thinking. I took voice lessons, which were relaxing and therapeutic for me… a form of expression that was easy for me and brought positive regard. Gradually, I started to see other pathways out of that hell. It took some time, but I finally moved past that dreaded anxiety ridden state of youth that makes young, ambitious, talented people to consider suicide.

In Katie’s situation, several months passed, and Katie apparently figured the trouble had blown over. She started to relax and look forward to her bright future. But then she got that email at about 7:00 pm on February 28th. She was alone, and panicked. Hours later, she was found unresponsive in her dorm room. The email from the Office of Community Standards informing her that there was a hold on her degree and she could be removed from the university due to the spilled coffee incident was still open on her computer. Apparently, Katie had not responded to a February 25th email indicating that more information had been added to her file regarding the spilled coffee incident. The Office of Community Standards had requested more exonerating evidence from Katie by February 28th. She was a very busy student, though, and had evidently missed the email. Since the supporting evidence had never arrived, the university sent the after hours email that left Meyer so distraught that she took that last devastating action.

Katie Meyer’s parents are now suing Stanford University for wrongful death. They maintain that the university had acted negligently and recklessly in the way they handled her disciplinary case. According to the Washington Post:

“Stanford’s after-hours disciplinary charge, and the reckless nature and manner of submission to Katie, caused Katie to suffer an acute stress reaction that impulsively led to her suicide,” said the complaint, filed last week in Santa Clara County Superior Court. “Katie’s suicide was completed without planning and solely in response to the shocking and deeply distressing information she received from Stanford while alone in her room without any support or resources.”

For its part, Stanford University is vehemently denying responsibility for Katie Meyer’s death. In an official statement to the Stanford community, university officials wrote:

The Stanford community continues to grieve Katie’s tragic death and we sympathize with her family for the unimaginable pain that Katie’s passing has caused them. However, we strongly disagree with any assertion that the university is responsible for her death. The complaint brought by the Meyer family unfortunately contains allegations that are false and misleading.

I don’t pretend to know what actually happened in this situation. The description of the coffee spilling incident is not very well explained in the article. Did she go up and hurl a cup of hot coffee at the football player while he was kissing Katie’s teammate? Or was she carrying a Starbucks while riding a bike and hit a bump in the road, causing it to fly from her hands? I can’t tell from the description in the newspaper article. However, whatever actually occurred with the football player, I do know that it should not have led a 22 year old woman with a very bright future to kill herself. I am so sorry for Katie’s parents and other friends and loved ones. But I’m not sure that the university is necessarily at fault, either. I would imagine that most people would not have reacted in such an extreme way to that email.

Extremely competitive universities like Stanford University do attract the best and brightest, and a lot of those students are extreme perfectionists, perhaps even to a pathological level. Maybe at a school like Stanford, it makes sense to be very careful about delivering that kind of bad news– the kind that might threaten a highly achieving young person’s future. However, Katie was 22 years old, which made her a grown woman. She was about to embark on a career in law. I would imagine that she would face some pretty threatening and stressful challenges in that arena, too. It sounds to me like Katie really needed mental health treatment. Perhaps the bigger question is, does Stanford University support and encourage students to seek out mental health services when they need them? Do they try not to penalize students for seeking help when they need it?

This is a topic near and dear to me, because my husband has spent most of his adult life in the military, in which a lot of lip service is paid about people seeking mental healthcare when they need it. However, those who do go to therapy and take medication often wind up being penalized when they lose security clearances or get reassigned to jobs that mess up their career aspirations. A lot of tragedies have occurred because of this policy, that punishes people for seeking help. Hell, in the military, a servicemember can wind up being “punished” even if a family member needs special services for their mental health or educational needs. See my rant about EFMP for more on that.

More recently, I read a Washington Post article about students at Yale University who were kicked out of school for having mental health issues. One student, Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, had a very hard time dealing with attending Yale during the pandemic. She needed help, but instead was driven to suicide. The article highlighted other stories of high achieving students being forced to withdraw from Yale after they needed psychiatric care. Some of those students did go on to kill themselves, because they felt like they’d failed and Yale simply wanted to “get rid of them”. Yale University also famously falsely accused a young woman of having an eating disorder and threatened to kick her out of school because she couldn’t gain two pounds. I wrote about Frances Chan, the “fake” anorexic, in my old blog, and since her story is relevant to this post, I will repost my 2014 article about her case today.

Anyway… I think it’s very sad that there’s a population of very bright, promising, young people who feel so overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed that they can no longer bear to go on. I thought it was hard enough in the 90s, when I was staring down the rest of my life, wondering what was going to become of me. At 22, I should have been on the brink of the best time in my life. But instead, I was scared, anxious, depressed, and occasionally suicidal. I feel fortunate that I managed to get through that time. I realize that not everyone can do what I managed to do. They lack the time, the money, the will, or they simply feel like they aren’t deserving. Some of them feel like they should be able to get over mental health issues by themselves. They’ve been taught that they have to be superhuman. But no one is superhuman.

It’s time that Americans stopped stigmatizing people who have mental health issues, especially when they are among the best and brightest. It’s time treatment for mental healthcare was prioritized, and made easy to afford and access. It’s time we stopped ruining people’s lives– or making them think their lives are ruined– simply because they made a mistake or got in some trouble or experience a temporary lapse in mental health due to stress, physical illness, or some other minor setback.

Life shouldn’t be so serious… or so hard, especially for young men and women on the brink of adulthood. No one should ever die over spilt coffee.

My condolences to Katie Meyer’s friends and family members. She sounds like she was an extraordinary person.

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blog news, book reviews, celebrities, LDS, mental health

Then again, maybe I won’t… at least not today.

At the end of yesterday’s post, I shared two videos by Mr. Atheist. On those videos, Jimmy Snow, aka Mr. Atheist, reacted to videos put out by anti-abortion activist, Kristan Hawkins. I watched the videos and cringed pretty hard. I thought maybe I would offer my own thoughts on them today, but I think that maybe I’ll postpone that plan. I had written I would comment on them if people were interested. It seems that no one was… or, at least no one is at this point in time. And frankly, I just don’t feel like writing about Kristan Hawkins today. I don’t think I can stomach listening to her talk about why abortions should be outlawed in all cases. Besides, Jimmy already does a pretty good job of explaining why Kristan’s opinions are wrong.

Nope. Today, I think I’d rather write about the book I’m reading right now. I’m finding it much more compelling than I did my previous book, The Case for Heaven, which really didn’t interest me much at all. I was glad to finish Lee Strobel’s book about what comes after death. I moved on to my favorite type of book– a celebrity memoir. I’m currently reading Jennette McCurdy’s new book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. The title alone is very compelling, isn’t it? You just KNOW there’s gonna be a trainwreck.

Meet Jennette McCurdy… she is fascinating.

I’m not quite ready to review this book yet, as I’m only about halfway through it. What I will say for now is that Jennette McCurdy’s story reminds me a little of Melissa Francis’s book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir. Melissa Francis is, of course, much older than Jennette McCurdy is, but the two have a lot in common. They both suffered stage mothers from hell. Both were actresses, not necessarily because they wanted to be, but because their mothers wanted them to be. Both suffered extreme abuse on all levels. I think Melissa’s mom was more sadistic, while Jennette’s mom was more manipulative and emotionally abusive. Also, to my knowledge, Melissa’s mom is still living, while Jennette’s mom succumbed to breast cancer in 2013.

Before I bought her book, I didn’t even know who Jennette McCurdy is. I’m well beyond the years of watching new Nickelodeon shows– not that the show she was famous for is all that new anymore. Jennette was on iCarly, but she also did guest roles on other shows, commercials, and other stuff. McCurdy’s story is also interesting to me because, besides being raised LDS, she also had problems with eating disorders (which her mother enthusiastically encouraged), anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. The chapters are very short, so even though I’m only halfway through the book, I’ve already gotten to chapter 44 or so. And each chapter is more shocking than the last, as McCurdy shares the sheer nuttiness of her mother, the craziness of being a child actress, her mental health issues, and the religion aspect that complicates everything. The crazy thing is, she NEVER even wanted to be an actress. She just happens to have a talent for acting, and her narcissistic mother exploited it to the hilt.

I have never been LDS myself, but Bill was LDS for awhile. His daughter is still a very active church member, and the LDS church– which was Ex’s idea– has had an impact on my life. I know a lot about the church, its practices, and what its members believe. However, I have never been a member, nor would I ever be one. McCurdy seems to have gotten a lot of comfort from church when she was growing up. I relate to that, because I know Bill’s daughter has also gotten comfort from the church when things were especially crazy as she was growing up. In some ways, I also see a lot of similarities between the way Ex behaves, and the way Jennette’s mother did. She is extremely manipulative, possessive, controlling, and just plain weird. But I’ll get more into that when I review the book, which at the rate I’m going, should be within the next few days. I’m finding the book a real page turner, but in kind of a trainwreck sort of way. I’m simultaneously fascinated by the story and horrified by what this poor young woman had to cope with when she was a child.

I know some people will take issue with the title… It sounds horrible. However, I can totally understand why she used that title. Her mother sounds like she was true nightmare to have to deal with. For just an example– imagine your mother sending you dozens of emails, text messages, and voice messages after she’s seen pictures of you on TMZ, taken by a paparazzo. You are an adult, in Hawaii with your boyfriend, but you feel you have to lie to your mother about where you are. You come up with a ruse to trick her, only to have it foiled by a photographer, hungry for a sale. Your mom sends you all manner of abuse, accusing you of giving her cancer, bringing her shame, and calling you things like “filthy whore” and “all used up”. Then, as she signs off with “love”, she adds a P.S.– “Please send money for a fridge. Ours broke, and the yogurt is going sour.”

Imagine your mother explaining how to engage in eating disordered behaviors when you’re still a child, in the midst of becoming a woman. Imagine being fourteen years old and still sitting in a booster seat in the car. Imagine your mother insisting on showering you when you’re sixteen, sometimes also with your brother; her excuse is that she’s a former beautician and wants to make sure you wash your hair “correctly”, so it will impress a casting director. Imagine your mom using your money to pay the mortgage, and being forced to sleep on a mat in the dining room, because the bed you purchased for yourself is covered in your mother’s miscellaneous crap.

I know that Melissa Francis and Jennette McCurdy aren’t the only ones with stage mothers from hell. Wil Wheaton has also spoken openly about his own abusive, money hungry, fame whoring parents, who forced him to act when he didn’t want to do it. I’ll probably read his book next, since it’s been in the queue for awhile, and it will probably dovetail nicely with I’m Glad My Mom Died. I love a good tell all memoir, especially when it involves questionable parenting. Shirley MacLaine’s daughter, Sachi Parker, wrote a pretty good one some years ago. It seems the kids who grew up in show business had it the worst, especially in the days before child welfare advocacy was less of a thing than it is today. If a parent was also a celebrity, then the chances for massive dysfunction go up exponentially. Christina Crawford started it when she wrote Mommie Dearest, but there have been some real whoppers since her book was published in 1978. Gary Crosby wrote a pretty shocking book, too.

Anyway… I am looking forward to finishing the book and writing a review of it. I think it will be interesting on many levels to several of my regular readers, as well as new ones who haven’t found my blog yet. So stay tuned. I’ll sign off now and get back to reading.

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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, 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.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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