Joblessness and your health

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Illustration by Rick Holland
Illustration by Rick Holland

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For so many, losing a job can mean losing everything: family, finances, health, home and sanity.

According to Andrew O’Grady, executive director of Mental Health America of Dutchess County, there are, in the event of job loss, factors which predict worsening mental health and factors that predict the opposite.

“If someone defines their lives by their job, and then you lose that job, then you lose who are you when you lose that job and that’s a predictor of worsening mental health,” said O’Grady. “If family members criticize … for being jobless, or insinuate that your performance was an impacting reason for your unemployment, would also make it negative.”

O’Grady said that it’s common that when money gets tight, relationships begin to deteriorate and that causes more stress and depression. Therefore, the family structure, and how well supported the person is within it, is also an important predictor.

But, O’Grady said that not everyone who loses their job goes to Hades in a hand basket. He said it’s about what and how we spend our time, such as having routines and enjoyable activities to replace the job. O’Grady also pointed out that sometimes untreated mental health issues may have been an underlying cause for losing the job.

“There are physical symptoms for depression: headaches, back pain, difficulty sleeping, weight loss or gain, sleeping too much, physical pain,” said O’Grady. “That all happens.”

No money, fading health

For many, losing a job is a fast track to faltering health. Poughkeepsie-based oncology Nurse Practitioner Chris Egan said she notices that when someone loses their job a cancer diagnosis is quick to follow. Why? Egan’s personal opinion was that it’s about defenses; when a person takes a blow, such as sudden unemployment, their immune system begins to unravel with them.

William Bell of Middlehope has Crohn’s Disease, a chronic autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the digestive system creating painful bouts of stomach pains, exhaustion, malnutrition and bleeding. In early May, Bell was told his job would be terminated as part of a corporate reorganization. “Initially I was devastated, I loved the job and the people I worked with, but eventually I started to think perhaps a new job, higher salary, closer commute could be a good thing — I was wrong,” said Bell.

As the summer progressed, Bell’s headhunters and recruiters at all the major agencies were turning up nothing, some explaining the job market was on hold until after Labor Day, not to worry, it would pick up. “As I began to worry about money, my health started deteriorating … My symptoms worsened as I began to get depressed about the unfortunate turn of events in my life. The symptoms became regular, daily, and more severe.”

Putting the O in OMG

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Sex educator Sheri Winston.

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Sheri Winston of Kingston moans and groans all day at work. Not that she doesn’t love her job — quite the opposite — she is just putting her heart into her work. Winston is a sex educator. She emphasizes that she is neither a surrogate nor a sex therapist. Winston’s task is to shed light on the society’s seemingly concealed and well-guarded secrets of the female sexual anatomy in order to boost the sexual experience of women and couples.

Sex is a very sensitive subject, particularly in America. Some people are deeply offended by discussion of sex. If you feel uncomfortable reading an article about sex even though there is no prurient content whatsoever in it, perhaps you should stop reading this and go on to another article.

Wikipedia.org describes it like this: “Orgasm (from Greek οργασμός or orgasmos, from organ to mature, swell, also sexual climax) is, in biological terms, the sudden discharge of accumulated tension during the sexual response cycle, resulting in rhythmic muscular contractions in the pelvic region characterized by an intense sensation of pleasure. Experienced by males and females, orgasms are controlled by the involuntary or autonomic nervous system. They are often associated with other involuntary actions, including muscular spasms in multiple areas of the body, a general euphoric sensation and, frequently, body movements and vocalizations are expressed. The period after orgasm (known as a refractory period) is often a relaxing experience, attributed to the release of the neurohormones oxytocin and prolactin.”

In her book, Women’s Anatomy of Arousal; Secret Maps to Buried Pleasure, Winston helps readers navigate “the largely unknown network of structures responsible for arousal and orgasm that even most medical professionals don’t know about.” Winston insists that even health care providers don’t want to talk about what everyone already seems to intuit — orgasm has benefits which surpass its momentary neuro-chemical explosion into our body’s heavens.

Winston’s impressive litany of capital letters following her name gives her serious cred on the topic. She is a former midwife, nurse practitioner, licensed massage therapist, childbirth educator and book author. She recently appeared on The Learning Channel’s self-explanatory “Strange Sex” show, and on CBS’s “The Doctors” talk show on medical and health-related topics to show the world how to go for the “Big O.” Winston tours the country giving “hands-off, clothes-on” sexual education classes, workshops and conferences for adult singles and couples. Her website’s video gallery and online classes feature topics including how to let go of sexual shame, G-spot wisdom, how to have a non-ejaculatory orgasm for men, female ejaculation, women’s anatomy of arousal, tantric lovemaking and more.

“It’s a brave thing for people to do.” said Winston of her students, who are typically seeking to expand their horizons. Winston refers to the current American climate as “a sex-negative culture,” and a male-centric one at that. “Owning a penis is pretty straightforward, and it’s easy to operate,” she said. She offers a full-day seminar on how to pleasure a woman. An immediate problem is that it takes about 45 minutes for a woman to get deeply, thoroughly and totally aroused, while the average time a couple spends en flagrante is a diminutive eight to 12 minutes. “You see why we have so many unsatisfied women?” she asks.

Think again

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Collage illustration by Will Dendis

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Suicide. The word is a complete sentence, a complete thought, a complete statement. I know from personal experience. When I was a child, I sometimes experienced intense impulses late at night or during stressful periods to run a knife deep into my arm from my fingertips up to my armpit. For me, the impulse was as powerful and real as yearning for an umbrella in the pouring rain.

What is that about?

My goddaughter suffered a similar impulse, and ultimately took her life in her early twenties by hanging herself with her dog’s leash a few nights before Halloween. Hers seemed a sudden, probably unpremeditated decision. Her body was found feet away from matching sets of Halloween costumes for her and her baby sister. Her mother blames a psychotropic medication used to treat anxiety that many attribute to exacerbating suicidal impulses.

When I was assigned this article, I put out a blast to my near 1000 social-networking “friends,” calling for their stories, assuring anonymity. More than ten responded with extremely moving stories, leaving me feellng honored, amazed, humbled and even slightly changed for having heard them. The telling of personal stories is inextricably complicit in healing. For me, my first-paragraph admission had been my small effort to illuminate the vast black cave through which so many have passed alone in the dark. Not everyone surfaces.

Suicide prevention counselors select their words carefully, especially with the media, even to the point of circulating information pamphlets on “Safe Reporting on Suicide”. They are willing to go deep, but not too deep, into the dark world of the phenomenon.

The replies I received included those from two deeply respected friends who had come forward almost immediately with stories from their backgrounds which I had known nothing about. Both Shelley and Anabelle (not their real names) expressed to me the hope that their “survival stories” might inspire others to survive their own ordeals.

My acquaintance Shelley is a mom of two who owns a thriving business. She said she found herself in the midst of a disintegrating marriage in the mid-1980s with a man who made her feel worthless. She became convinced that her kids would be better off without her. About to become homeless and jobless, in her mind she felt useless to society, convinced that she was unlovable and undesirable. At this very rock-bottom point of vulnerability, she was attacked and raped.

“Someone entered the apartment I had just moved into and brutally beat me,” she said. “The attack was compounded by the way I was treated by the police, all friends of my ex-husband, who was also a cop. I am a fairly practical person. Even in the plan to end my life I had planned everything so it would be the least inconvenience for those around me. It all made such perfect sense at the time.”

Shelley described herself as so emotionally overwrought that she went numb, apathetic. “I just didn’t care about anything because whatever I did was wrong, and obviously I was a bad person being punished on some cosmic level for being the type of person that I was,” she said.

Shelley, who was pregnant at the time, cooked up a suicide plan which she described as very sensible, even likening it to a grocery list. “It was with a great sense of clarity and resolve that I had decided that ending my life would be not simply the best solution,” she said, “but the only solution acceptable.”

Shelley managed to pull back from the brink of suicide. She met her now-husband while pregnant with that baby. He supported her completely, even accompanying her during the C-section she had 40 weeks after the attack.