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I have belonged to seven different gyms in my life, and either society is changing or I'm choosing bad gyms, because the last two seem to be selling eating disorders.

I left the last one because a personal trainer repeatedly advocated vomiting as an appropriate way to "get thin" and look "sexy." And to hear him tell it, all women should be doing their darndest to look sexy for him. (He was so not hot, just in case you're wondering.)

I complained to management and got a blank look. I explained some more. I got this uncomfortable look that suggested the fellow was a little embarrassed for me and my complaint. So I told the guy that I was a psychologist and that it was not ok with me to belong to a gym that was advocating eating disorders, especially so blatantly. That got a reaction, but only because suddenly I wasn't just some poor dumb little girl with a silly complaint, I was a doctor and all that might entail.

I ended up talking with several other people in charge, but I never felt like anybody really cared that there was a trainer running around telling young women to throw up. The folks in charge just wanted to placate the Doctor and get her to hush up. The trainer in question was not only not let go, he made my visits to the gym uncomfortable, and I overheard him continuing the same old schtick to his trainees.

So I quit the gym.

They occasionally call me or send me mail asking me to come back. I don't think I could go back and maintain my self-respect. They refuse to hear that.

So I joined a new gym. They built a Gold's gym on the corner near my house, and I thought -- excellent, convenient and not a fitness "club" like the last one. Maybe there will be less emphasis on personal training and unhealthy behaviors.

Man, did I have that wrong.

This gym (which is now Urban Active, still owned by the same company) shows videos on huge flat screens all over the place -- there's even a massive screen over the front desk that can be seen by people driving by. There are a few smaller screens scattered around the gym that show a constant series of advertisements.

But the videos.

All of the videos seem to feature mostly-naked women writhing around on chairs, the floor, each other, the walls, and especially on men. Enough that I start wondering if some of them might not benefit from anti-seizure medications.

I realize that people have been complaining about music videos since MTV first played Video Killed the Radio Star, but there is a distinctly different flavor to the videos they play at this gym than anywhere else I've ever worked out. Most of the music is (fully-clothed) male artists with the obligatory writhing scenery. Once in a while you see Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, or (shudder) The Pussycat Dolls, but again, they've chosen the slinkiest, sexiest videos they can find.

For all the teaching I do on eating disorders, I still find myself filled with self-loathing as I try in vain to escape from all those video screens during my workout. I know that only 5% of women have that naturally thin physique and only 8% have an hourglass figure. I know that many, many of the models, actresses, and singers (and increasingly, the men, as well) in Hollywood are anorexic, bulimic, compulsive overexercisers, and otherwise engaging in ridiculously unhealthy measures. I know that they are often weak and exhausted from not eating properly and trying to maintain unrealistic weights. And I know that the death rate for eating disorders is one of the highest for any psychological disorder, and that half of those deaths are from suicide. So thin definitely doesn't equal happy.

But those videos are still trying to convince me that the only things that might make me a worthwhile person are being thin and pornographically sexy.

I was raised by someone who told me she jogged because it made her feel strong and competent, so to me that's what exercise should do -- make you feel good about yourself. As a psychologist, I know that helping women experience embodiment -- feeling attached to your body as a strong, effective machine -- is key to helping them live happier, healthier lives.

I just wish my gym knew that. And cared enough to do something about it.

How to Choose the Best Agent For You

New Article: How to Choose the Best Agent For You - by Sophfronia Scott, "The Book Sistah"
Summary: Recently I've had a few writers seek me out for consultation because they were dealing with the fortunate mishap of having more than one agent interested in their work. That may sound fantastic if you haven't been able to get anything other than single sheet rejections in your mailbox, but these writers found themselves feeling like the dog chasing cars who finally caught one! What to do now?

Dealing with the Doubt Demon

New Article: Dealing with the Doubt Demon by Dara Girard
Summary: The doubt demon loves artists. This sensitive bunch of individuals falls prey to it so easily, from cartoonist Charles Schulz to writer Virginia Woolf. Many writers ask themselves: Am I good enough? Am I wasting my time? If I was really talented I would be (published, successful, rich) by now. The doubt demon can only be conquered by a concerted effort to give it as little attention as possible. Not just by you, but by the people around you.

Yes, I think this officially constitutes a series at this point. I've also ranted about

I found a book while I was browsing at a discount store yesterday: Cocktail Therapy: The Perfect Prescription for Life's Many Crises. The back said, I kid you not:

Forget crying into your beer. When calamity strikes there's a perfect cocktail to ease your woes. During their bartending years, Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey were often witness to all kinds of personal crises. And while others may take refuge with their therapist or on the racquetball court, Leanne and Tracey concluded that the quickest way to beat the blues is with a delicious drink (or two). That hot guy from last week still hasn't called? Try a Pomegranate Martini -- bold, tasty, but not so lethal that you'll be tempted to drunk dial him. Gain a few pounds? Indulge in a (nearly) guiltless Sugar-Free Mojito. Credit card bill contains a few nasty surprises? A decadent Bourbon Bee Sting will leave you feeling like a million dollars. As dependable as a good friend and guaranteed not to utter a single "I told you so," Cocktail Therapy proves that when life hands you lemons, the best thing to do is make a rum-soaked Tropical Lemonade.

The book actually suggests you forget healthy coping skills like talking to a therapist (or friend) or working out to deal with your stress. Nope, you should drink instead. And you should drink for every problem!

Drinking to deal with problems is what lands you in AA...if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, it lands you in the morgue because you drank and drove, or just because you pickled your internal organs. And alcoholism doesn't just affect you. It affects everyone around you, especially your family. And your kids.

The Question: What sort of mental problems would clones develop? Humans believe that clones are not human because they have no soul. Clones have the potential of gene mutation and therefore could be born monsters.

New Q&A: The Normal "Split" Personality

The Question: Can a person have two completely opposite sides to their personality and still perform adequately? I am discovering my protagonist has two sides to him; he is able to separate them until he has a break through, or a break down, and is able to 'join' the two personalities. Is this feasible?

Q: What would it take to set off a killing spree in 2 angry teenage misfits? Would the more people they kill the more they go insane? Would their fractured mental state and loose view on morals be obvious?

Some Very Bad Eggs Stigmatize Everyone

Another tragedy, another search for an explanation. And it always seems to start with "what flavor of crazy was he?

Maybe he was crazy, colloquially. I'll buy that. But just because someone does something we don't understand doesn't mean they're clinically diagnosable with a darn thing. Even when they do something as horrifying and bizarre as shoot innocent people. "Psychopathy and crime are not identical," writes Alv Dahl, although "a considerable proportion of [psychopaths], especially men, have committed crimes."

Sometimes it's a medical problem, like Charles Whitman, who killed 14 people and wounded 31 more at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. The autopsy he asked for in his suicide note revealed a cancerous brain tumor pressing against the amygdala -- a part of the brain that affects aggressive urges.

Here's what gets me, though. Even if the individual had mental health problems, why on earth would they want to seek treatment for them? Especially if they're bad -- someone might send them to the "nuthouse"!

Stick with me here for a minute. The media is incredibly stigmatizing in their description of people who have psychological disoders, and especially when they talk about psychiatric treatment wards. Britney was dragged off to the "looney bin," Uma's stalker "says no to the nuthouse." And even Northern Illinois University shooter Stephen Kazmierczak "stopped taking medication" before the shooting.

Not that anybody has deigned to tell us what that medication might be. I mean, was he taking antipsychotics or ibuprofen here? Regardless -- the implication is clear -- he must have been taking crazy people drugs.

Does that make you want to take those meds if your doctor suggests them? Of course not. You're not a crazy person

I was walking out of the local grocery store today when I saw a New York tabloid with a headline that screamed NUTS! And they weren't talking about cashews. No, it was a lurid story about how the "East Side Butcher...vicious[ly] hacke[ed] beloved psychologist" Kathryn Faughey to death. He was allegedly her patient, and she was a respected member of the American Psychological Association.

The subhead says "Crazy law bars cops from files on shrink's patients."

Ok, so one person flips out and all psychological files should be readily available to the police and, of course, the public? Only 20% of people seek care for psychological problems (and I'm talking about run-of-the mill depression and anxiety here [if you can ever call that kind of pain run-of-the-mill]) because they're terrified of the stigma.

Don't get me wrong. Those records need to be available to the police, and our ethics laws need some work. A similar murder in California went unsolved because the client records were sealed and kept out of the investigation. But the crazy headline bothers me.

So here's the real irony. This is important.

Most people who need psychiatric care don't get it because they're afraid of being stigmatized.

The news stories blaring about how crazy these people are are part of what's keeping the people who need it most from getting care.

The problem is not that there are these evil people skulking around in society under the mask of normalcy, plotting with cunning intelligence how to hurt others -- that's what psychologist and research Roy Baumeister calles "the myth of pure evil." No, people who have something wrong with them -- even something seriously wrong with them -- don't want to be treated badly anymore than you or I do. (There's a reason all these shooters kill themselves before they get caught.) So they don't seek help when they need it.

Well, most of them. Some do. But you know what? You need money to get decent mental health care, and usually you need a lot of it. Our social services in this country will run someone around in circles for months and even years before they can get the care they need. Getting medications people know they need (and even want) to take can be nearly impossible, between the red tape and the exorbitant cost of these medications. People get desperate. That by no means excuses their behavior, but it does put it in context.

Andrew Goldstein had schizophrenia and had repeatedly sought treatment from the social services available to him. He couldn't get the medication he needed, so when he pushed Kendra Webdale off a subway platform and into the path of an oncoming train, he wasn't taking any. When asked by a reporter why he did it, he said, "You think I can get some help now? Because every time I go they say nothing's wrong with me and they let me go."

But they don't tell you that part in most of the news articles.

It's easier to believe Goldstein was pure evil, skulking along pretending to be normal. It's reached the point that some people believe that's what "schizophrenia" is. (It's not, it's a biological disorder that causes the brain to function incorrectly, often leading to strange behavior and perceptual experiences, like hallucinations. Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous to other people.)

So what flavor of crazy was Stephen Kazmierczak? Only time will tell. But pay attention to the way the media writes about it and think for yourself -- how many people are going to decide to avoid treatment because they're afraid of being labeled crazy or sent to the nuthouse?

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