Judith A. Anderson
Carrie M. Barrenger
Frank M. Bley
Darlene A. Brown
Gary J. Hamre
La Vern Heine
Sandra Kay Hoverson
Marian E. Kuehne
Lois Joann Lee
Mary A. “Muzzy” McIntyre
Geraldine “Gerrie” Melchi
Beth Agnes Miller-Stoll
Virginia “Ginny” Mills
Marlen J. Moody
Ruth Ann Risseeuw
Maddie Jarzen thrives on school sports, plays flute in the school band and was energized earlier this month when she won a close election for student council president.
But only a few months ago, all the things 13-year-old Maddie loves so much about Milton Middle School seemed totally out of reach.
Maddie suffers from a condition that, when left untreated, causes extreme sadness. It’s called premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD.
The disorder caused her to feel so hopeless that she tried to take her life—twice.
Today, Maddie is resolute about telling her story.
She wants others to know about the disorder and the dangerous, dark place it can take a person.
She does not want young women to end their lives over something that will pass.
“Don’t let a mood ruin your entire life,” Maddie said.
Her transparency is especially timely when statistics show a sharp rise in suicide rates among all youth, with a notable jump among young females.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, released results of a study earlier this year showing that suicide rates for girls ages 10 to 14 increased almost 13% from 2007 to 2016.
The study did not determine what is driving the troubling trend.
Maddie has another reason for speaking out:
“I’m the first openly gay student council president at the middle school and the first female one in seven years,” she said. “I think about how, if I had ended my life in spring, I wouldn’t have gotten to make this happen. And I’m really proud of where I am now.”
Suicide statistics of sexual-minority youth are even more alarming than those of their heterosexual peers.
Sexual-minority youth are three times more likely than heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. Transgender youth six times more likely. Both statistics are from a 2018 article in JAMA Pediatrics about LGBT teens and suicide risk.
Maddie’s parents, Tracy Douglas and Robert Jarzen, are proud of their daughter’s desire to help others.
“No one is immune from mental-health challenges,” Douglas said. “The more we talk about them, the less they will be stigmatized.”
Maddie’s parents knew something was terribly wrong when their normally even-tempered child began isolating herself and having extreme mood swings.
“We saw her being very, very irritable, which was completely unlike Maddie,” Douglas said.
They tied the behavior to her monthly menstrual cycle but had no idea how profoundly she felt despair.
They offered many times to take Maddie to see a counselor, but she kept saying she was fine.
Maddie described her feelings at the time as being like “there was nothing at all that existed except a really deep sadness” with no way out of it.
At the hospital emergency room, a social worker put a name to Maddie’s despair after her second suicide attempt.
Maddie’s parents were relieved to have a diagnosis so they could figure out how to help their daughter.
Douglas, who is a mental health therapist, was unfamiliar with PMDD.
“I was honestly shocked as both a woman and a mental health therapist that I’d never heard of this before,” Douglas said. “And I wonder just how many women are struggling terribly without knowing that this is a real condition that responds very well to treatment.”
Typically with PMDD, symptoms appear the week before a woman’s period starts.
“Symptoms can be exactly like those we saw in Maddie and also can include low energy, trouble sleeping, feeling out of control, muscle pain, cramps, headaches and trouble thinking,” Douglas said.
Up to 8% of women have the disorder, and about 15% of them attempt suicide, according to information from Harvard Medical School.
Maddie takes medicine to ease the symptoms and is monitored by her primary care doctor. She is also acutely aware of her moods and knows when she needs to talk to her parents. Often she’ll turn to music or drawing to help her feel better.
Douglas and Jarzen urge parents to have frank conversations with their children about suicide.
“Robert and I have had talks all throughout our children’s lives about good mental health and about challenges that can arise with depression and anxiety,” Douglas said.
Their four children range in age from 12 to 16. Three, including Maddie, are adopted.
“We’ve understood how genetics can play a role in mental health, so we have been extra on top of educating our children about addiction, depression and suicidality,” Douglas said. “It’s a reality that suicide has touched so many of our lives, so I think by talking openly about it, we’re letting our kids know they can come to us about it.”
She said Maddie “absolutely saved her life by coming to us when she did…”
Douglas advised parents to “really trust your gut about when you feel something’s wrong with your child’s mental well-being.”
“Prioritize safety over feelings of uncertainty and get professional help,” she said, emphasizing the importance of early intervention.
Family members have educated themselves about PMDD and rely on each other to stay in touch with how Maddie is doing.
“Maddie’s brothers and sisters will come to me to let me know when they see behavior that is out of the ordinary or mood changes that happen suddenly,” Douglas said.
If Maddie is having a bad day, Douglas keeps her daughter close to home and sometimes literally close to her while they read or watch TV.
At school, Maddie said she goes out of her way to reach out to students who appear to spend a lot of time by themselves.
“I say hi to everyone,” Maddie said. “They usually look at me like, ‘Why are you saying hi to me?’” Eventually, we become friends. Then they become friends with my friends.”
The compassionate teen understands that middle school can be rough.
“I want to be inclusive,” Maddie said. “I don’t think people should be alone.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email email@example.com.
It could be said Janesville is still grieving the loss of an economic engine that sustained it for 85 years.
The thousands of people who turned out to get bricks salvaged from the vanished General Motors plant suggests strong emotional attachments to the structure that was wiped off the city’s face this year.
Tim Cullen, the former state senator who worked on the state task force that tried to save the plant, suggests that grieving process might be near its final stage: acceptance.
Cullen has written a book about the plant, tited “Disassembled,” that delves into why GM pulled out.
He also examines the plant’s central role in raising generations of workers into the middle class. Along the way, he takes a look at two GM workers, the late Doris Thom and John Scott Jr.
Many will recognize Thom as the woman who kicked her way through the plant’s glass ceiling and Scott as the third black man hired to work there. Cullen tells how both endured their fellow Janesvillians’ ignorance-based attitudes and acts. He sees them as symbols and heroes of changes in the city and American society over the past six decades.
Cullen is in a good position to speak on those topics.
His grandfather and father worked at the plant, and he paid for college by working there several summers. He has been on the inside of Janesville’s circles of power and an avid fan of his hometown for much of his life. He wrote the bill that paid for the $7 million Avalon Road interchange on Interstate 90 when GM made it clear in the 1980s that it wanted better access to the plant.
“This was a typical example of the power relationship between GM and Janesville, its elected officials and Wisconsin state government. GM held the power, and we always tried to meet their needs,” Cullen writes.
GM management never forged close ties to Janesville, Cullen says. A good example: GM officials were told not to attend the 2004 ribbon-cutting for the Reuther Way GM access road, another multimillion-dollar gift from state taxpayers.
“They did not want to answer the question about whether this new road would lead to some new signal about GM’s future in Janesville,” Cullen writes.
As Cullen puts it, “GM dated Janesville for a long time but never married.”
The bad news came in June 2008: GM planned to close the plant by 2010. Months later, workers were told their last day would be that December.
Gov. Jim Doyle appointed Cullen in 2008 to co-chair a task force to save the plant. It didn’t go well. State and local governments and businesses came up with a $200 million incentive package as they tried to get GM to consider making its new product, the Chevrolet Spark, in Janesville.
Janesville was competing with a Michigan town for the same prize. The Wisconsin group met with GM officials in Detroit, who told them they would have a chance to counter the Michigan offer, but GM never called back, Cullen writes.
“We were not supposed to win,” Cullen believes.
Cullen said in hindsight, Janesville didn’t have a chance. Gas prices rose, leading to sinking sales of the Janesville-made Suburbans and other large SUVs. GM was over capacity and needed to consolidate. Although GM officials said Janesville was a more efficient plant, Arlington, Texas was attractive for many reasons, including Texas’ greater political clout, which included the fact that George W. Bush was still president at the end of 2008, and he was going to retire in his home state, Cullen writes.
And GM had bigger problems. The week company officials met with the Janesville delegation in September 2008, the GM CEO was in Washington, D.C., to beg for a massive bailout, Cullen writes.
GM had long failed to take steps to reduce its bloated administrative structure, Cullen says. GM declared bankruptcy and got a bailout under the next president, Barack Obama.
Cullen refers to candidate Obama’s speech at the Janesville plant earlier in 2008, when he didn’t promise to save the plant. Cullen includes the full text of Obama’s speech in the book’s appendix, a great reference for those who want to argue this point.
Political power was key for the Janesville GM plant in the 1980s, when the 1st Congressional District’s representative was Les Aspin, who as chairman of the Armed Services Committee had power over GM’s defense contracts, Cullen says.
Whenever he met with GM officials in Washington, Aspin asked how the Janesville plant was doing, says Cullen, who was Aspin’s district ombudsman early in his career.
Aspin’s power likely combined with key moves by the United Auto Workers Local 95 and got GM to move the medium-duty truck line to Janesville in 1989 and the SUV line in 1991, Cullen says.
Local 95 Shop Committee Chairman Jim Lee is a hero in the book. He led the membership to accept work-rule changes unique in the corporation that resulted in “huge” savings for GM, Cullen writes.
And Lee did this knowing it probably would lead to him losing his leadership post, which he did, Cullen said.
In 2008, Rep. Paul Ryan was the local congressman and a member of the save-the-plant task force who spoke to GM officials in Detroit, Cullen says.
But Ryan at that point had not ascended to a leadership role in the House. He didn’t have the clout of Michigan’s Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving House member in history, Cullen points out.
The stories of Thom and Scott give Cullen a chance to criticize his hometown for its backward attitudes in decades past. Cullen says Janesville has come a long way, but it has more to do when it comes to the rights of women and people of color.
Cullen has lessons for his hometown and recommendations for any city that pins its hopes on one company whose headquarters is out of state. He chastises his fellow Janesvillians, including the unnamed prominent citizen who expressed his thoughts about black people to City Manager Phil Deaton in the 1970s: “We don’t want them here!”
Describing the variety of local efforts to make Janesville a better place, Cullen concludes something that was said often in the 1990s and early 2000s: “Today, Janesville is a wonderful place to live and raise a family.”
But he notes that the wages today are not in the same league as those of GM workers in decades past, and he worries about growing poverty.
Cullen might have another book in him, but this one often reads like a man bequeathing his final thoughts to the city he has loved for so long.
Note: Cullen will donate profits from the book to the Janesville Multicultural Teachers Opportunity Fund, which he started in 2008 to grant scholarships to Janesville graduates of color who agree to get a teaching degree and apply for jobs with the Janesville School District. The author of this article is married to Edna Feldman-Schultz, a retired teacher who serves on the fund’s board.