How I survived (and at times thrived) during a decade of suffering from PMS
By Dr. Glen Barry
It has been just over a year since I was successfully treated for a parathyroid 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 – which results in dangerous calcium deposits which wreak havoc upon your body and mind. This is not to suggest this is the experience of every woman, but I do have a new found appreciation for their special challenges.
Some family and friends had been communicating to me for several years that they thought my behavior to be more than a bit off. But I was too proud to listen. 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, goal orientated, and lived 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 human 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 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. Instead many of my loved ones and long-time support network ostracized me and called me crazy, not deeming me worthy of taking the time to avoid estrangement. That hurt when I was sick, and still does now.
Ultimately, however, it is my fault, as 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 is the best thing that ever happened to me, and may have saved my life. Entering the resulting prescribed counseling a couple years back, I was finally able to get help for the sexual abuse I suffered as a child, and my hyperparathyroidism was diagnosed.
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 made my joint pains ease, I could concentrate better, the constant obsessing upon what others thought of me subsided, a sense of calm and well-being returned, and simply I was back to being myself. And however imperfect I may remain, I have been able to work on personal growth and trying to heal the harm my denial and hubris of failing to get medical treatment caused.
Immediately I sought to right two wrongs for which my conscience would never forgive myself if I didn’t try. Firstly, 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 of sexual misconduct - had been identified in counseling as key to getting my life back. I reported repeated threats against me by my brother-in-law Michael Chamberlain to the police, that I not speak of my family history or else, and revealed his sexual misconduct that broke up the family to his adult children.
Without any expectation of a positive outcome, and at risk to my reputation, I came forward to reveal my Congressman Mark Pocan's disclosure of raping children to others and myself. Given my childhood friend Andy Janssen's boasting of taking sex tourism trips with the to-be-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, Madison DA and police, and FBI. Now healed, the fact that the Madison police 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 as sexual predators rarely stop – or anyone of the dozens of others that know come forth, 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 an around the world trip 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 and other ecological victories. I bravely confronted those greenwashing old-growth forest logging, and 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 first-hand. 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 of our societal headlong rush into global ecocide – is acknowledging you have a problem, and getting the help you need. Brutal personal and societal honesty is the only path to long-term sustainability. As is weathering the hyperbole filled and nonsensical character assassination attempts that result when 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 OK 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, forgive those who abandoned rather than supported me (though I would appreciate apologies and you reaching out), and 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 and looking forward to the next chapter of my life after having successfully weathered this tragic illness.