Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Archive for the ‘Psychology & Mental health’ Category

NEDA: Eating Disorder Lit, Lifetime Movies, the DSM-V, ‘Holy Anorexia’ and Tumblr v. Pro-Ana Blogs (@ Blisstree)

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I didn’t know what image to use for this post, so here is a picture of me and an old friend not having eating disorders, eating free ice cream from Friendly’s on a summer day.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at ‘the Beheld’ wrote some very nice things about our National Eating Disorder Awareness week coverage at Blisstree, the women’s health & wellness site where I write.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown examines the real fallout from eating disorder literature. I’m thrilled to see someone taking a sharp view on this—my own experience with ED lit mirrors Elizabeth’s, varying between using such books as dirty little guides to tips and tricks, and using them as actual support. In fact, I once pitched a piece about this to a teen mag and it was flatly shot down with, “There is no way in hell we can run a piece like that.” But Blisstree can! Yay Internet! (Actually, Blisstree overall seems to be offering smart content for NEDA week, sharing the real story behind sensationalist recovery tales and featuring an interview with Carrie Arnold, one of the best ED writers around.)

Yay Internet!, indeed. I’ve actually been very happy this week with the way we’ve been covering eating disorders. ED stories so often fall into sensationalism, melodrama or triteness. And I think we’ve done pretty well at avoiding that. In addition to the stories Autumn mentioned, we’ve posted:

• A non-sensationalist defense of pro-ana communities.

• A gallery of the best/most absurd Lifetime movies about eating disorders.

• A guide to proposed eating disorder changes in the DSM-V.

• A history of eating disorders, including “holy anorexia, fasting girls (like Mollie Fancher, the ‘Brooklyn Enigma’) and wasting diseases blamed on wandering uteruses.”

• A long, lovely and honest Q&A with Angela Liddon, of Oh She Glows.

• And a piece about how Tumblr plans to start restricting pro-ana and other ‘self harm’ blogs.


Written by Elizabeth

March 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Catalogued: Delivered from Distraction

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A quote plucked from my current reading material.

Valley Courier Office, Reading, Ohio

I have been drawn to literary people my entire life. My heroes during my adolescence were Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. I was an English major in college. I have always liked to write, and many of my closest friends are writers, editors, publishers, agents, columnists, or other kinds of workers in the word business. I have always been intrigued by a commonality I have noted in literary people. They tend to be highly creative, witty, ironic, a tad cynical, and a tad depressed. They tend to drink a lot of alcohol, or be in recovery from having done so. They tend to harbor great dreams, but over the years lose faith in their ability to fulfill those dreams. And yet they also tend to be tenacious, working hard even as they lose hope that their work will pay off.

[…] As a psychiatrist, I have come to think of the literary type in genetic terms. I believe they inherit the genes that predispose toward [reward deficiency syndrome], as well as the genes that predispose toward verbal dexterity, keen powers of observation, a highly developed sense of irony, and a touch of depression. Due to the RDS, they can’t find sufficient pleasure in ordinary life. So they resort to extraordinary means. For example, they write. They submit to that unforgiving discipline to try to improve upon life by creating order, even beauty, out of chaos. That is an extraordinary effort to find ordinary pleasure.

Edward M. Hallowell, Delivered from Distraction


Yes, I’m taking this idea directly from Conor F., because I like it so much. I never get around to “reviewing” books as a whole on here, though I always mean to. But I can handle posting quotes … We will go with “in my backpack,” rather than “on my bookshelf,” however, as a) I don’t have a bookshelf right now, and b) while Conor’s are quotes “plucked from [his] accumulated tomes,” the quotes I post will be from whatever book or magazine I am reading at the moment. And, yes, I carry a backpack with me to and from the office. Screw grown-up bags.

Adderall Nation

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The symptoms of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder seem to describe half the people in New York City: restlessness, impatience, impulsivity, procrastination, chronic lateness, and difficulty getting organized, focusing and finishing tasks.

A significant proportion of youngish people I know (in many cities)  have either been diagnosed/treated for ADHD, or suspect they should/could be.

Tyler Cowen points out that this WSJ article, “ADHD: Why More Adults Are Being Diagnosed,” is one of few that suggests that “some adults with ADHD are highly intelligent, energetic, charismatic and creative, and are able to focus intently on a narrow range of topics that interest them.” It’s also one of few I’ve ever seen that suggests a lot more adults could have ADHD and benefit from treatment:

About 4.4% of U.S. adults—some 10 million people—also have ADHD and less than one-quarter of them are aware of it.

That’s because while ADHD always starts in childhood, according to official diagnostic criteria, many adults with the disorder went unnoticed when they were young. And it’s only been since the 1980s that therapists even recognized the disorder could persist in adults.

Even now, getting an accurate diagnosis is tricky. Some experts think that too many adults—and children—are being put on medications for ADHD, often by doctors with little experience with the disorder. Others think that many more people could benefit from ADHD drugs and behavioral therapy.

I can’t decide if I’d like to see more or less of my friends running around popping adderall, which is the very-scientific method I’ve devised for solving this debate …

Written by Elizabeth

April 6, 2010 at 10:55 am

Little Helpers 2.0

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Seriously, who is handing out all this Adderall and Provigil? Every few months it seems some publication or other is running an in-depth expose on the “new” recreational/professional use of prescription “smart drugs.” Our intrepid reporters gloss over how exactly they or their subjects get a hold of these drugs: Black market? Laissez-faire doctors? Mail order from Mexico? These are the things inquiring minds want to know!

The latest, “Can a Pill Make You Smarter?,” is from December’s Marie Claire.

Smart Drugs, or more precisely, cognitive enhancers, include a variety of controlled substances, available — if you insist on being legal about it — only by prescription. They include stimulants such as dextroamphetamine (sold as Dexedrine and Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By mimicking the brain neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, stimulants leave you utterly consumed with the task at hand until mission accomplished. Then you’re fired up to tackle something else, anything else, from organizing your sock drawer to grooming your cat. Smart Drugs also include a class known as eugeroics, meaning “good arousal” … The eugeroics modafinil and armodafinil (sold as Provigil and Nuvigil) treat narcolepsy and “excessive sleepiness” (ES) due to shift work and sleep apnea. But prescribed off-label, they’ve also been found effective for ES due to overbearing superiors, perfectionist tendencies, and not enough hours in the day.

After hearing from a lawyer who takes Focalin to manage 14- to 20-hour workdays, reporter Joanne Chen decides to try some “smart drugs” for herself. And guess what? She gets a lot of shit done!

Now in my younger years, I conducted—as Audrey Hepburn might say—“a comprehensive study of depravity,” which included no small amount of Adderall use. And I concur wholeheartedly with Chen’s description of the effects—it makes it easy to get done even the most mundane tasks, the ones you’ve been putting on your to-do list for weeks. What she doesn’t bring up is how much easier it also makes certain social situations. I can be quite shy (if you know me and think ha!, let’s just say I hide it well), and I’m absolutely horrid at the social nicety known as “small talk” (seriously, when I watch people do the small talk thing with ease I’m filled with confusion, jealousy and wonderment), but on Adderall, everything anyone says to you is fascinating!, and not only that, but you have the perfect reply, too. Office Christmas party? You’re a hit! Socializing with strangers? Done and done!

I know I’m beginning to sound like the alcoholics or potheads who insist they need a drink, or a joint, to take the edge off, but the beauty of cognitive enhancers is that it’s possible without any of the messy/embarrassing side effects—you remain lucid, coordinated, unchanged personality-wise, and sharp, and also devoid of the jitteriness or other weirdness that other stimulants (even caffeine) can bring. You are just … focused, be it on answering emails or writing a paper or cleaning your house or mingling at the office Christmas soiree.

Focused, and awake. It’s not as if you never need to sleep, you just need to sleep less. For those ‘there aren’t enough hours’ types, voila!

Of course, as a friend said the other day, “I really do need more hours in the day. Of course, what would I do with more hours? Probably just read more blogs.”

It’s funny, but, oh-so-sadly, also probably true. Keeping up with blog reading (and writing) is actually something that minorly stresses out me and a lot of people I know. That might sound silly at first blush, but it’s really just symptomatic of some of the many problems the Internet and self-publishing and the oft-maligned “24-hour-news-cycle” and all of that have created, isn’t it? There is so much that can be known, and there is no longer any excuse for not knowing it—it is all right there! There is so much to keep up with around the world, and there is no longer any excuse for not keeping up with it—it is all right there! There is so much to read, and you had better read it now, because by next week (or 3 hours from now) it will be passé. Even with music—earlier today, in saying that I was really enjoying Okkervil River’s album, “The Stand Ins,” I caught myself qualifying it with “I know I’m a big late to the game, but.” The album came out in September.

In Chen’s article—and every other I’ve read like it—the people using cognitive enhancement drugs aren’t doing it to tune in, turn on and drop out; they aren’t doing it to expand their consciousness, baby, or to escape, or even to have really awesome sex. They are doing it so they can get more done. Chen quotes a neurologist who asks, “Is this a dysfunctional way of living?”

Well, yes! Of course it is!

Now before you accuse me of having no historical perspective, I will state for the record that I realize people using productivity-enhancing drugs is not a new phenomenon. Benzedrine and mother’s little helpers and the cocaine 80s and all that. But I think there is something profoundly different about these cognitive enhancers, isn’t there? For one, they’re legal. And for another, they carry much less risk of addiction and side effects than their 1950s and 1960s counterparts. That’s not to say they’re harmless, but the risks are relatively minimal, and as Chen mentions in her article, a new class of cognitive enhancers already in the works contain even less downsides.

I’ve always been extremely ambivalent about the pathologizing and medicalizing of human nature. Phoebe sort of took up this question last week as it relates to Atzberger’s disease, and it was more or less a variation on the same discussion that has raged over ADD and depression for the past two decades or so, which is in itself just a variation on the age-old debate over how much variance we, as a society, allow in human behavior, temperament and relationships; how we decide on the outer-limits, beyond which it is not just unusual but unhealthy, sick, to be cured.

As it seems de rigueur to point out so as not to incur the wrath of those who take any discussion of the benefits of pharmaceutical cures as making light of this or that condition, I know there are many serious cases of serious conditions for which drugs are totally imperative, etc.

I also believe that in many, many cases the whole idea of medicating is silly; that it’s ill-advised that we’ve given up on human variance and ‘flaws’ so much. But if everyone else has given up on it, I don’t want to be left behind, the only poor sucker relying on my normal brain chemistry and energy levels and attention span.

So … I’d like to hear anyone’s thoughts on this. Do you think cognitive enhancing drugs will become more widely prescribed than they are now? Is there a not-too-distant future when we’re all going to be able to get this stuff as easily as aspirin? Or do you think there’s going to be a major governmental crackdown/backlash? Is more widespread use of these drugs something to be embraced, or feared? Are we getting too close to creating a weird society of super humans? And does anyone know a good doctor? 😉

Written by Elizabeth

November 23, 2008 at 9:54 pm