Saturday, 21 May 2011

African American Book Review: Sylvia Harris' Autobiography of Bipolar Disorser and Salvation Through Love of Horse Racing

The new book, "Long Shot: My Bipolar Life and the Horses Who Saved Me," is a must-read for those African Americans like me who struggle with bipolar illness, as well as for professionals caregivers and family members who want to understand Bipolar patients and have a sincere desire to help. As someone who has seen this process from the inside, I can and do vouch for the anguish it causes in the patient, family and career.

The author, Sylvia Harris, describes exactly what it was like to be somewhat manic, floridly manic, psychotically manic and depressed. She recalls a time when she cycled through these stages with no idea of what has happening to her, clueless as to the exit from the perpetual emotional roller coaster.

Through her painfully honest autobiography, she gives readers an inside view of her manic-depressive problem and how she overcame its worst aspects by striving for meaning and healthy excitement. Desiring to become a horse trainer and eventually a jockey, she demonstrates that we need not achieve all that we want in order to benefit from the pursuit of our dreams.

Without specifically saying so, she demonstrates the similarities between Bipolar illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, in which many sufferers, their families, circle of friends and employers must often acknowledge the illness and their personal powerlessness over it, before they can find relief and redemption.

Harris courageously describes learning to realize when an attack of mania was beginning and what--for her--triggered those attacks.

Not all readers (including myself) will identify with Harris' love for horses and the essential role they came to have in Harris' rehabilitation. But, everyone perceives that having a personally meaningful goal toward which we strive helps us to find meaning in life when our lives would otherwise seem to us to be meaningless.

Essentially, Bipolars often have a necessity for a goal and aspiration larger than life, lest we be overcome by depression and the conviction that our lives are meaningless.

As in any worthwhile autobiography, Sylvia Harris brings the reader along on the trail to overcoming the worst her difficulties, while acknowledging that some "wreckage of the past" is inevitable but not utterly insoluble.

I personally do not read prefaces or introductions to autobiographies, because of their tendency to remove the mystery and discovery process from the narrative itself. Sylvia Harris's "Long Shot: My Bipolar Life and the Horses Who Saved Me" ends realistically, in a manner with which we may all be able to identify.

If you enjoy the thrill of discovering what happens at the end of Sylvia Harris' autobiography, then don't read the introduction and preface at the beginning.

Read the whole autobiography and learn what happens just as Sylvia Harris did: one day and one experience at a time.

You can't be of help to a Bipolar person or patient unless you understand their world from their perspective, as well as from your own (probably) vastly different perspective on the patient and the illness. This is maddeningly frustrating, but true nonetheless.

This book provides a heartfelt, and searingly honest account of life for those like me who struggle with bipolar illness, as well as for professionals, caregivers and family members who want to understand
Bipolar patients and who have a sincere desire to help.

Monday, 16 May 2011

"Race" and Blood Types, Superstition and Science

Would you rather have a blood transfusion from someone who shares your skin color or from someone who shares your blood type?  It is my belief that transfusing blood from one person to another based on skin color would be an extraordinarily dangerous practice.  The American Red Cross, which maintains blood banks, says:

Although all blood is made of the same basic elements, not all blood is alike. In fact, there are eight different common blood types, which are determined by the presence or absence of certain antigens – substances that can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body. Since some antigens can trigger a patient's immune system to attack the transfused blood, safe blood transfusions depend on careful blood typing and cross-matching.

The blood table below, broken out by "race," shows that blood types do not obey superstitious sociological and cultural notions of "race".  The following chart from the American Red Cross shows that if all Caucasians received O+ blood transfusions on the logic that O+ is most common among Caucasians, then sixty-three percent of white people would receive the WRONG blood type during transfusions.

Most white people would have a higher chance of receiving the proper blood type from an Hispanic person (53%O+) than they would from another white person, since the most common blood type among whites is (O+ 37%) and is also most common among Hispanics (O+53%) of Hispanics have that blood type. 

If a white person with type O+ blood needs a battle-field transfusion and medics don't know the blood types of another white person available and an Hispanic person available, the best bet (53% O+) would be to give the white person a transfusion from a Hispanic person--NOT another white person.

All white people have a lesser chance of having O+ blood than do Hispanics (O+53).

African American
O +
O -
A +
A -
B +
B -
AB +
AB -

Dr. Dennis O'Neil Behavioral Sciences Department, Palomar College, San Marcos, California writes:

. . . patterns of ABO, Rh, and Diego blood type distributions are not similar to those for skin color or other so-called "racial" traits.  The implication is that the specific causes responsible for the distribution of human blood types have been different than those for other traits that have been commonly employed to categorize people into "races."  Since it would be possible to divide up humanity into radically different groupings using blood typing instead of other genetically inherited traits such as skin color, we have more conclusive evidence that the commonly used typological model for understanding human variation is scientifically unsound.

As a matter of science, Dr. Dennis O'Neil concludes that the belief in "race" has less basis in science than other more medically useful groupings.  He concludes that:

The more we study the precise details of human variation, the more we understand how complex are the patterns.  They cannot be easily summarized or understood.  Yet, this hard-earned scientific knowledge is generally ignored in most countries because of more demanding social and political concerns.  As a result, discrimination based on presumed "racial" groups still continues.  It is important to keep in mind that this "racial" classification often has more to do with cultural and historical distinctions than it does with biology.  In a very real sense, "race" is a distinction that is created by culture not biology.