Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hyperparathyroidism: How I Survived a Decade of PMS

By Dr. Glen Barry

Dr. Glen Barry
It has been just over a year since I was successfully treated for a hormonal condition called hyperparathyroidism. The malfunctioning parathyroid resulted in a condition similar (yet even more intense) to the hormonal changes in women as they have their periods – making me irritable, argumentative, unable to concentrate, highly emotional, and suffering a host of aches and pains. I had a severe case of the disease – off the charts in terms of hormone levels – resulting in dangerous calcium deposits which wreak havoc upon the body and mind. This is not to suggest this is the experience of every woman, but I do have a newfound appreciation for their special challenges.

Some family and friends had been communicating to me for several years that they thought my behavior was more than a bit off. But I was too proud to listen, thinking wrongly I was too special to have to ask for help. Though I have long suffered relatively minor depression, and have been egotistical and full of hubris at times (largely because of lack of self-confidence), generally I have been stable and goal oriented, living a life committed to truth, community service, ideas bigger than myself, and global ecology.

The dreadful disease doesn’t so much change your cognition, attitudes or beliefs – rather it amplifies your emotions and changes your affective behavior. Thus my long-term distress over environmental destruction – which in my academic opinion portends ecosystem and social collapse – became even more intensified as I viscerally felt and obsessed upon humanity’s and ecology’s demise. I at times became too extreme – however well intentioned – in my prescriptions for how to avoid global ecological collapse. My efforts to recover from pervasive childhood sexual abuse suffered by myself, my siblings, and others in my family were dealt a blow, as I compulsively sought out answers to what had happened, when perhaps it was time to let things go.

What was perhaps the saddest element of the disease to me was that many of my family and personal relationships proved facile and shallow, as few took the time to patiently and lovingly discuss my changed behavior, perhaps encouraging me to seek medical attention. Instead many of my loved ones and longtime support network ostracized me and called me crazy, not deeming me worthy of the effort to avoid estrangement. That hurt when I was sick, and still does now.

Ultimately, however, it is my fault. I resisted seeing a doctor as my emotional health continued to deteriorate. In the last couple years of the untreated disease in particular, I sought to hide the pain through self-medication, leading to a drunk driving ticket – which may be the best thing that ever happened to me, possibly saving my life. Following prescribed counseling a couple years back; I finally found help for my childhood sexual abuse, and my hyperparathyroidism was diagnosed.

Early last July I had the malfunctioning parathyroid removed with surgery by the expert in the field at the Mayo clinic, and within hours a whole range of maladies began to subside. The drop in calcium immediately eased my joint pains, and I could concentrate better. The constant obsessing upon what others thought of me subsided, a sense of calm and well-being returned, I had more energy, and simply I was back to being myself. However imperfect I may remain, I have been able to work on personal growth and on amends and healing for the harm caused by my denial and hubris of failing to get medical treatment.

Immediately I sought to right two wrongs for which my conscience would never forgive myself if I didn’t try. First, I went public letting others know of my childhood sexual abuse. Speaking freely of my personal story – and refusing to protect with silence family secrets – had been identified in counseling as key to getting my life back. I reported to the police repeated threats against me by my brother-in-law, that I should not speak of my family history or else, and revealed to his adult children his sexual misconduct that broke up the family.

Without any expectation of a positive outcome, and at risk to my reputation, I came forward to reveal my Congressman’s disclosure to others and myself that he had raped children. Given my childhood friend’s boasting shortly after my surgery of taking sex tourism trips with the future Congressman for anonymous sex, I felt I had no choice but to do the right thing and reported the matter to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the Madison DA, and the police and FBI. Now that I am healed, the fact that the Madison authorities and community wrote it off is beyond the point; I did what was right. And when he is caught abusing again – as he will be; sexual predators rarely stop – or any one of the dozens of others who know come forward, Madison will no longer be represented in Congress by a pedophile.

To be fair, during this time there were many accomplishments based upon a life of education, deep thought, and hard work. I raised a talented and beautiful daughter through teenage angst to successful launch into college independence. We went on a trip around the world together and spent time living in her Papua New Guinean culture. My work as a political ecologist was independently hailed as visionary by others and resulted in massive rainforest protection and other ecological victories. I bravely confronted those who greenwash old-growth forest logging, and I continue to do so, despite again being called unstable for doing so. At some personal expense, I recounted the authoritarian, self-aggrandizing political behavior since youth of Wisconsin’s governor, which I witnessed and know firsthand. I remarried the love of my life, completed a PhD, and successfully started a new career in finance IT.

I concur with the observation that an unexamined life is not worth living. Key to turning around any malignancy – be it personal disease or our collective headlong rush into global ecocide – is acknowledging you have a problem and getting the help you need. Brutal personal and societal honesty is an essential step on the path to long-term sustainability. So is weathering the hyperbolical and nonsensical character assassination attempts that result from speaking truthfully on matters of importance.

I have come to realize it is not necessary to be perfect to contribute to my community, to love and be loved, and to live a good life. It’s okay to be vulnerable at times, if one is being honest and trying every day to be strong. For a lifetime of personal growth it is just required that you commit to the truth, learn from your mistakes and make amends, and constantly strive for self-improvement. And when you are feeling a bit off, see the doctor.

I apologize to those I hurt during this sickness, I forgive those who abandoned rather than supported me (though apologies and reaching out would be appreciated), and I rejoice at the miracle of healing. I hope that after a year of being healthy people will see the real me – a committed family man, ecologist, community servant, and free-thinking and thought-filled human being. I’m back after successfully weathering this tragic illness, and I look forward to the next chapter of my life.


More: A compendium of Dr. Glen Barry’s most recent writings – from science, to personal essays, to political ecology – can be found at:


  1. Thanks for sharing a small part of your life that affected your whole life. I am so glad that things are coming right in your life. There are too many fickle friends - I hope some of those read your story and apologise. Carry on doing your awesome work!

  2. Hi Glen, thanks for your almost frightening honesty and transparency.

    For so many advocates of social change,both analysts and activists, the terms of our treatment - as a human species - of our planetary home, is cause of profoundly deep trauma and anger.

    We struggle with both our own salience of mortality, as well as an abiding sense of tragedy as we contemplate what grossly deteriorated societies and environments we are leaving to our kids ...and they to their kids.

    In our own lives, much may not be working well, so as platforms for coherent actions and as social catalysts, we can be held back by family and health traumas that maybe hold us in their sway for years after the unpleasant events... eventuated as chronic conditions, evidenced by our physical or mental health performing poorly, maybe for extended periods.

    Your courage in facing towards all manner of illness is exemplary. Thanks for sharing your insights.