This One’s for Diana


Once upon a time I had an aide who told me that her parents got divorced when she was a very young child.  Thereafter, her life became one of chaos and stress because her mother was flat-out crazy.  The child never knew when her mother would shove her down the stairs, poor boiling water on her, or engage in some other unforeseen, unanticipated act of violence.  It was just the way she grew up.

When she was a young teenager, the girl was removed to her father’s house in New England, where she soon developed migraine headaches, allergies and PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). Her father, being sane and loving, took her to physicians who could find nothing wrong with her and so referred her to specialists, who also could not find the source of these ills, and referred her to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, which could find no reason for her sickness either.

The strange part of it was that every time she went to visit her mother, all migraines, allergies and PMS stopped.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is PNIE—psychoneuroimmuno-endocrinology.

This young woman had grown up—had had her being shaped—in what might be considered a terrifying hell of irrational violence.  Only problem was, the girl didn’t know it.  It was all she ever had known and she called it normal.  It only was after she was moved to her father’s house and lived in severely altered circumstances that she got sick, because now she was in an environment which everything in her body said was abnormal.

Her body had learned to live with bad craziness.  Without the craziness, her bodily systems were not getting the necessary signals to trigger what was, for her, healthy living.

I had a similar experience.  My parents didn’t like each other very much but they did like the gracious lifestyle so every night my parents, four siblings and I gathered for dinner.  The window draperies were floor length, the chandelier was centered over the dining table, the tablecloth and napkins were linen.  And the children were well-behaved.

Mother sat at one end of the table and Dad sat at the other end (it never was ascertained which was the head of the table and which was the foot) with the children in-between, and Mother and Dad fought.  They had too much class to get loud about it so it was all done with sniffs and snorts and sneers.  The tension was constant and palpable.

And I was not allowed to say a word.  I wanted to scream, “Stop it!  Don’t do that to each other!  You’re hurting me!  Stop it!”  But what I did say was, “Please pass the peas.”  Or corn.  Or biscuits.  Or “May I please have some more ham?”

Because what my mother said—frequently enough for me to have internalized the message—was “Don’t talk to me that way, young lady!”  “Do not use that tone of voice with me!”  “Wipe that look off your face!”

I was angry but I was not allowed to express my anger.  When you drive anger underground then you create depression.  And every night depression was created in me, and then fed.  My physiology—emotional, nervous system, hormonal and immune system—was configured for depression and, in that state, I ingested and digested my dinner.  I grew up being fed depression every night.

When I moved away from home, I discovered that I could not eat a normal-sized meal.  If I tried to then I would become anxious or tearful or angry.  For years I had to eat little bits every hour all day in order to get fed without triggering emotional upsets.

The strange part of it was that every time I went home for a visit, I could sit at table and eat a full meal without having an emotional upset.

Normal is simply defined as what you’re used to.  Abnormal is when they take that away from you.  A lot more physicians could do a lot more good if they just asked their patients, “What’s your normal?  What are you used to?  How were you raised in the first ten years of your life?”

You can grow and change.  Your body discards old cells and makes new ones that don’t remember the old normal.  They can develop a new normal approximately every seven years.  Get help.  Find a good psychologist who knows a thing or two about conditioning and develop a plan to uncondition yourself from the sick-normal in which you were raised.

Problem is, everybody thinks their normal was a universal normal.  Getting into somebody else’s home and head doesn’t come easily.  And sometimes what appears as sickness is actually the absence of sickness and how does a physician figure out that?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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One Response to This One’s for Diana

  1. Thanks for finally talking about >This One’s for Diana | Anne C Woodlen: Notes in Passing <Loved it!

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