Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Women I am honored to know...

Unsung Heroines      Examples of courageous deeds reflect humanity at its best. Too often such incidents are unseen or untold, thus unshared. What follows are stories about three brave women whose actions deserve notice, although they, the heroines, will remain unidentified. Forgive me for that, for not making them known for the stars I see them as being.

Mrs. A. has a way of mixing discipline and love that has caused me to marvel at her children and grandchildren. Quiet and humble, she would never stand out in a crowd, would never want to. Still, I sense there is a glow that surrounds her; her embrace is like a shield against all that may be harmful.

Recently, she related one of her most difficult decisions. Although she had recounted the experience in writing, I imagined the lines in her face, the expression in her eyes as I read her message. “Even my husband accuses me...” she states.

Her crime? Responding to a niece’s call for help when the niece’s father sexually molested her. That father, if he deserves that important title, is now in prison, in large part due to Mrs. A. She writes that despite feeling emotionally scarred by the incident, “I still think I did the right thing. And I’d do it again.”

Mrs. B. had her two little children with her on a beach, one of many times she had done that. But this time she noticed something that startled her, something she, as a caring parent, couldn’t watch without responding. She noticed another woman with two young children (she guessed their ages were two and five) on a beach blanket about twenty feet from hers.

The younger child, a little girl, had been so fussy that the woman spanked her. Mrs. B described it this way: “She started yanking the young girl, twisting her wrist, pulling her helpless body along the blanket, as the child cried in pain. I was shocked.” Watching this, Mrs. B. reported, the five year old boy seemed to become “quiet and numb” as if he’d suffered similar treatment.

Mrs. B. responded. “I was furious. I couldn’t sit still any longer. I ran to their blanket and told that mother that she should not yank her child that way, that if she was stressed, she needed to find a better way to deal with her daughter’s fussiness.”

Hearing that, the five year old declared, "That's not my mother, that's my babysitter!"  Mrs. B. wrote, “I was heartbroken. “

She asked the woman for her name. In an accented voice, the caretaker told Mrs. B. to “mind her own business” because “she did not hurt the girl, did nothing wrong.” That didn’t sit well with Mrs. B. She asked the five year old for the name of his parents.

 He told her despite the sitter’s instruction that he keep quiet. Then the sitter took them away. Mrs. B. followed, copied the license of the car, then went to the police. After two days, Mrs.B. found that the police had been able to contact the parents because the mother of the children called Mrs. B.

“She was unbelievably grateful on the phone, thanking me over and over for making the effort to do more than just watch.  She told me when she heard what I had told the police, she cried. She had sensed something was awry.  She also said she felt guilty and angry that [due to working full time] she couldn’t always be there to protect her children...”

According to Mrs. B., the appreciative mother immediately fired the nanny.

Ms. C. seems a natural leader, even tempered, yet possessed of an emotional clarity that empowers those who seek her help.

One such person admitted being a cutter, a condition Ms. C., guided only by a desire to help, knew little about. The following article from Psychology Today exlains the cutting disorder:

A Cry for Help
Incidents of self-harm continue to grow among young women. Though not necessarily a prelude to suicide, it is indicative of depression or anxiety.
By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 01, 2004 - last reviewed on February 16, 2011

Sudden epidemic or gradual increase over the years? Either way, self-mutilation is a huge and growing problem that "has now reached critical mass and grabs our attention," says Russ Federman, Ph.D., director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Virginia.

Nearly 70 percent of counseling center directors report increases in cases of self-injury such as deliberate cutting or cigarette burning of body tissue. "It's now on all our radar screens," Federman notes. "It gets talked about with deans."

Self-harm is not a diagnostic category, so its exact incidence is unknown. But women are twice as likely to do it as men. And it typically accompanies a range of conditions—borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. It most commonly occurs, however, in antisocial personality disorder, accounting for a high rate of self-harm in prisons.
It's highly disturbing for a student to walk into her dorm and find her roommate cutting her thighs or arms with shards of glass. Further, self-injury always mobilizes a crisis response; suicidal intent must be ruled out.

Self-harm is a serious symptom, says Federman. "But it isn't about taking one's life. It freaks others out. But rarely does cutting constitute imminent danger to the self. There's not usually suicidal ideation."
Self-mutilation is "the opposite of suicide," insists Armando Favazza, M.D., professor and vice chairman of psychiatry at the University of Missouri, author of Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation in Psychiatry and Culture and a leading authority on the subject. "Those who do it want to live. They do it to feel better. It's an impulsive act done to regulate mood."

It is an extremely effective treatment for anxiety, he points out. People who do it report it's "like popping a balloon." There's an immediate release of tension.

It serves "an important defense—distraction," adds Federman. "In the midst of emotional turmoil, physical pain helps people disconnect from intense emotional turmoil." But the effect lasts only hours.

Further, "it is the only action that can effectively stop dissociative episodes," says Favazza. "That makes it especially common among girls who were sexually abused."

Too, self-mutilation has to do with self-punishment. Not to be overlooked is the sense of power it confers. "It allows students to take control of painful processes they feel are out of control, especially chaotic relationships," says Federman.

Sometimes it's a cry for help. Cutting is usually a private process and the scars are hidden. But some people will cut an arm and don a short-sleeve shirt.

Although most cutting is a private act, Favazza reports that he knows of cutting parties—groups of girls who get together to cut in each other's presence. And some students like to hang out with the cutters. That has given rise to "pseudo-cutters," those who cut not to gain release but to belong to a social group.

It's imperative to stop self-mutilation as soon as it's discovered, as cutting can take on a life of its own with addiction-like qualities. Treatment usually involves psychotherapy plus SSRI antidepressants, which decrease the impulsivity behind most acts of self-harm.

After befriending the cutter for more than a year, Ms. C. confided that she, Ms. C., had learned a great deal, that she had helped that person reclaim their life. Indeed, the cutter no longer did that.

It is no surprise that no one knows about this, only Ms. C. and the person she helped. Although I agree that it must be that way, I think it is important to know that such good work goes on in very quiet ways and in ways that are seldom noticed by anyone other than those involved.

Nonetheless, just knowing that such unsung heroes exist allows all of us to know that their examples are good ones for the rest of us to emulate. I send my heartfelt thanks and admiration to them all.

         B.Koplen  3/16/12

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