I have officially become a Julie Holland fangirl.

A few days ago I walked in the bookstore alone, with the pleasure of sinking into a hot bath. Dr. Holland’s book title jumped off the shelf. I flipped through its pages and I was won over by her intimate, down-to-earth writing style and wisdom, and of course the subject matter. But I had to know: what was Dr. Julie’s verdict on medication to treat mood disorders? Appropriate in the right circumstances or just another ‘cure’ worse than the disease?

She seemed very grounded in today’s reality for women. The book appeared well-researched, referencing studies that had been popular when they were first reported, and also ones I had not heard of. Her voice was compassionate; not at all patronising. Working in a psychiatric ER for 20 years, with a private practice thereafter, should give you some solid street cred. But I needed to find a passage first that proved what I hoped:

“I’m not suggesting that all use of psychiatric medicines is counterproductive. People who don’t really need these meds are taking them, while people who are genuinely psychiatrically ill remain undiagnosed[…]. Clearly there are times when we need to pull out the big guns.”

Perfect. So I bought the book. Not cheap either – $35 Can. for hardcover!

The look of this book might scare some people off, who have experienced the nightmare of a severe mood disorder – we don’t need any more guilt heaped on our full plate. But Dr. Julie makes her message clear – our proper treatment of mental illness is so important, but we cannot let that slip into a war on emotionality. Our moods in all their highs and lows should be honoured as a rich human experience and respected for their wisdom. Being a woman sometimes means being a tiger or a growly mama bear. As Dr. Julie put it best, “Being fixed and rigid does not lend itself to survival. In nature, you adapt or you die.” Sometimes that means showing your teeth and voicing unhappiness.

Recovering from a mood disorder means making peace with the trauma of having your mind betray you deeply. In recovery you are hypervigilant for the return of that black beast – when we are tearful or sad, obsessive or anxious – what is healthy and what is worrisome? This book is a good start for someone looking to repair that relationship with their emotions.

It is smart, feminist, and scary – like Girl Interrupted read  Lean In. It discusses the dangers of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies, and the advent in the ’90s of disorders that are not really disorders. Cosmetic psychopharmacology is another bull in the arena that women have to fight in the workplace. How do we stay authentic and taken seriously? Our expressed emotions are a call to action – spurring growth and change. How does our sadness and anger and anxiety remain dynamic, when everyone around us is taking Xanax and just floating by on the status quo? Our emotions are the root of our empathy, our ethics, our humanity.

Moody Bitches is practical, too. The appendix is great for anyone who feels they aren’t getting enough straight talk on medication options from their doctor. Cover to cover is packed full of information and helpful instruction for women with our unique biology in mind. It is a reliable resource that doesn’t just throw the experience of being female all in a messy pile and call it ‘raging hormones’. Dr. Julie tidies up, and makes our hormones and their role in our lives and bodies more clearly understood. Women who suffer from misunderstood conditions like Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or Postpartum Mood Disorder will feel refreshingly validated. Getting sunshine and exercise or not just presented as ‘complimentary’ but necessary for our bodies to feel well. And so importantly – she hits home that medications like seratonergic drugs and oral contraception can potentially knock your libido out – something doctors usually skirt around in their office.

I highly recommend this book to everyone – women and men, moody bitches and even stevens. It’s a resource for the average girl, and not just that, it’s a great reference for healthcare providers, too. It contributes to a tremendously relevant conversation that we should be having. One that I hope I am helping to bring more to the table, too.

 

 

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