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mental health mondays :: employee of the month

one of the things that makes mental health difficult to manage is that it can be difficult to tell which are the symptoms and which are the root causes of a disorder. another is that sometimes the symptoms can disguise themselves as things we normally value. both of those things collided for me reading this piece in the atlantic, which deals with the possibility that work addiction may be a coping mechanism employed by people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

the idea isn't particularly farfetched; after all, 52% of men and 28% of women with ptsd will at some time in their lives meet the clinical criteria for addiction. and ptsd is often first identified through habits linked to displaced anxiety. and what gets linked to anxiety more than a demanding job? but drawing the line between the two isn't quite as easy as it looks.

work addiction isn't accepted as an addiction disorder in the way that alcoholism and drug addiction are. that makes it a little difficult to talk about overwork as a serious mental problem at all, although it's not like we haven't been bouncing the term workaholic around for decades. [and yes, that article questioning whether or not work addiction even exists is from the same publication that more recently wrote about it being related to ptsd.] getting psychiatric experts to agree on whether or not something constitutes a disorder is not an easy process, because in order to be accepted, it should conform to a pattern established by other disorders. questions of whether withdrawal from work meets the same criteria of addiction as opiates do is complex. unfortunately, the complexities don't filter through to the broader public, so when something isn't accepted as an official disorder, the impression is that it's not that serious. [to be clear, i'm not saying that every condition posited as a disorder automatically is one, just that the lack of official sanction isn't in itself a wholesale dismissal.]

further complicating things is the moral premium many cultures place on work. there are lots of articles on the toll of overwork, the decline of satisfaction at work, and the seeming inability of businesses to address the problem, even when they want to. japan, of course, is held up as the ultimate example of a culture with an unhealthy work obsession: as unbelievable as it sounds, there is really a word for "death by overwork" [karoshi]. but while japan may be the leaders, it's not like things are that much worse than in north america: more than 20% of japanese workers put in more than 80 hours of overtime a month, but 16.4% of americans do as well. that emphasis on the "goodness" of work means that people who are harming themselves through overwork often look like the sort of people we should all be emulating.

for people with ptsd, then, compulsive overwork can be a very successful way of hiding in plain sight. ptsd sufferers seek ways to cope with pain by medicating; only rather than using an actual medication, they use work. after all, even if you discount the money you can earn, work can be rewarding because it garners you admiration and praise, something that childhood abuse victims, for instance, crave. it can also generate sympathy. many of us have worked in places where a clear workaholic has been referred to as being incredibly dedicated, self-sacrificing and strong. those are things that trauma victims desperately need to know.

but medicating through overwork is also different than drug addictions, because it gives the sufferer something they can control. in that way, it might actually be similar to anorexia and other body dysmorphic disorders, which are linked to fears and memories of helplessness and powerlessness. being able to assert control keeps the trauma at bay, but keeping that "high" becomes more and more difficult, until...

treating ptsd is incredibly difficult, as is treating addiction. [and some promising potential cures are more controversial than the diseases.] add to that the complication that this compulsion is still not a clinical problem and it's unlikely that a solution is coming any time soon. but that doesn't mean that  nothing can be done. for now, if someone seems like they're putting way more of themselves into their job than they should, consider that it's a warning sign. ask whatever questions you feel you can, of the person, of coworkers, of anyone who might be able to help. it may not be the most satisfying approach, but raising the subject at least means the subject is out there.


as long as you're here, why not read more?

filthy lucre

donald trump has shown utter indifference to the possible torture and killing of an american-based journalist jamal khashoggi by saudi arabian security forces acting on the direction of saudi crown prince mohammed bin salman but that's hardly a surprise. he said on the campaign trail that he loved the saudis because they gave him money. he refused to consider placing saudis on his infamous "muslim travel ban" list, despite the fact that saudi arabia is the one country that has been credibly linked to the september 11 terrorist attacks. or that the saudis' particular brand of fundamentalist islam has been described as the root of the extremism espoused by groups like al-qaeda and isis.

trump likes wealthy people and the saudi royals are the blueprint of the type of wealthy people he likes. they spend and live in lavish excess. family members are like catnip for the international celebrity press, even if the news media [like khashoggi] are perceived as enemies of the …

real americans

recently in my genealogical research, i encountered something that i never anticipated: americans.

i knew that some of my grandfather's family had emigrated to pennsylvania in the early part of the twentieth century and that my father has even in recent years gone to visit some cousins in the northeast [they were big bernie sanders supporters, apparently] but that was, as far as i knew, my only connection to our southern neighbour.

but it turns out, that's far from the case. one of my british relatives who abandoned the old country in favour of life in the colonies landed in the united states and shortly after was married to a woman with an obviously dutch name. i assumed that they had met on the boat on the way over because, as far as i knew, he moved up to canada right away. but she was actually american-born, the daughter of a dutchman from boston and an established english family. when i say "established", i don't mean that they were members of the genteel cl…

making faces :: written in the stars, in lipstick [part two]

it's the middle of september already? i'm not prepared for that? i mean, i am prepared for it because the heat this summer has been murder on me and i've been begging for a reprieve for months but i'm still bowled over by the speed at which time passes. this year, i've been measuring time through the launches of bite beauty's astrology collection, which arrives like the full moon once a month. [the full moon arrives every four weeks, which is less than any month except february -ed.] earlier this year, i took a look at the first four launches of the collection and already it's time to catch up with four more.

the most important thing for you to know is that after several months of problems, bite and sephora appear to have sorted out their inventory planning. for the last several releases, information has been clear and reliable as to when and where each lipstick will be available [pre-orders taken for a couple of days on bite's own website and a general…