Tag Archives: depression

Thoughts on 9/11 Ten Years After

I am probably one of very few people in North America who has never seen a picture of the Twin Towers falling. Ever. In ten years. There are several reasons for this. I didn’t and don’t have a TV because I feel very bludgeoned emotionally by the trauma and tragedy of the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care very much. Too much. So I have never wanted to see the people falling, the towers crumbling.

Even ten years later, when CBC’s The Current talks to a girl who was 12 at the time in a school near by, I find myself welling up with tears and emotion. It affected me enough that I don’t think I could handle the images. And I know what a terrible thing it was.

I was geographically far removed from the event, living in Vancouver, BC. And when a friend posted online in the morning before I went to work that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center I thought it was an unfortunate accident. As I drove to work I soon realized the severity of what was going on. I was glued to the radio all day, alternating between tears and panic.

I felt a fear that day that I had never known before and it makes me very sad to realize that many people have gone through this or live in a constant state of fear in countries and regimes fueled by violence and tyrannies. My world, my comfy world of little mundane issues was turned upside down. Like many, I didn’t know if we were under attack and war had reached our shores. I only know that my security was undermined and I was not prepared. Ten years later, were we to be attacked full on, I find I’m still unprepared. How do you prepare for such a thing. I’d like to think I’d survive, that I’m tough, that I’d adapt, but I don’t really know, and I hope I never have to find out.

The falling of the towers was also the final clincher in my mental health. I didn’t know I was going into clinical depression. I was already suffering from despair and sadness and not being able to cope with the little things. I was knocked completely for a loop after that. It was a long, painful year of recovery after that.

My story “Horizons” for the Mammoth Book of On the Road was for a collection of road trip stories. It was written during this time and about a woman who is late for work and therefore doesn’t die when 9/11 happens. She deals with guilt about being tardy while others were good and showed up on time. She also chooses to disappear, drive into the wilderness and camp for who will know that she didn’t die in the collapse of the towers? Interestingly, this story (which is not SF) got very little attention or reviews and even I forget about its existence. I might post it on this blog in the next few days.

What 9/11 did was put the Taliban on the map for many of us. It also gave George Bush his misguided holy crusade. Perhaps the good things were that emergency response measures and security were looked at closely but we also received an overlarge dose of paranoia. To this day it’s easier to fly from Canada to Europe than it is to the US because of ludicrous standards. And line ups and waits at airports seem to increase every year with another over-the-top precaution. Not all of them are but there are significantly stupid ones.

Many of us perhaps grew more fearful. Overall I haven’t, though it’s such reminders as this and close friends dying that tell me to enjoy every day and make it worthwhile. I still love and fear but I don’t let some threat keep me from doing the things I want, ever. And I will never understand nor condone that innocent lives should ever be taken just so some nutjob who wants to push his/her views on someone else can get attention. Here’s to world peace, letting us live and love and working at not hurting each other.

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Crazy or Batsh*t Crazy

There has been a fair amount of media attention about the mentally ill of late. CBC’s Current (in Canada) was actually highlighting depression two week’s ago with Steven Page hosting, formerly of Barenaked Ladies. And then the guy in Arizona shot and killed people and when arrested it’s reported that he’d been suffering from mental health problems.

Canada and the US are both suffering from the same disease and that is cutbacks in the field of health. What happens then is that the mentally ill are released from hospitals or other health institutions and end up living on the streets or in jail, becoming drug addicts, injuring themselves or injuring others. It’s important to stress that the number of mentally ill people who injure others is a very small number indeed. And mentally ill does not include personality types like sociopaths. By saving money in the health field governments actually put up costs of such things as administering the fight against crime, prisons becoming overfull, latent mental health costs, other crimes and injuries that fill up the system. I’m sure a cost analysis would show that this is not an economical way to deal with the severely mentally ill.

But in that gray area of gray matter, there are those who are not the dangerous. They can fit into society and are not devoid of regular sociability or being able to function in the day-to-day. These people fall into the other categories of the depressed and the phobic. Severe phobias limit people’s ability to do different things, and severe depression can lead to a decrease in being social, integrating with others, working as well as leading to death.

It’s a sad state and many people do not understand even the basics of depression. Steven Page talked about his own battle with it and it affects many many people. There is still that social stigma that should you mention you’ve been depressed or heaven forbid have a permanent condition schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. that you’re then branded as crazy. We’ve all used the term to describe people who might be clinically crazy or just too weird for normal society. We sometimes shy from them, are afraid of them and rarely do we understand.

I speak from experience, and will speak again and again about this because the only way to make this understandable is to talk about it and educate people. Depression often runs in families, some weird genetic fault. I don’t know the mechanism but I know it runs in my family. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been clinically depressed, the second being when you meet most of the markers by which they judge such things. There are different depths of depression and it affects people different ways. I have found that I have even been affected differently each time depression has hit me.

Some of my markers are sleeping too long, aching joints, boredom, flatlining on emotions, becoming overemotional, alienation, not eating, eating too much. Sometimes it’s depended on deeply I was sinking. I’ll overeat but in the darkest depths I’ll stop eating. It could be different for other people and of course suicidal thoughts and attempts are a big part of full-blown depression. Luckily, that’s one aspect I don’t really get though I came close a few years back and was probably scared out of it by the fact that someone I’d known for twenty years hung himself through a combo of a head injury, depression and the inability to pay for his meds. Anti-depressants are expensive and a depressed person finds every stress to be a very large stress.

The biggest part of depression that people don’t understand is that the illness isolates in many ways. Coping becomes difficult so that even answering the phone is too hard. Making informed and balanced decisions goes out the window. Hiding becomes the way to exist and a depressed person feels alone and unloved, isolated by their brain and the world around them.

It’s hard for us to know what to do if a person is depressed. After all, who wants to be around a sad sack who brings them down. Our society frowns upon weakness so even asking for help is hard to do. A coupe of times I would say to friends, “I’ve been depressed.” This was a close as I got to admitting or asking for help. What I was really saying was, “I”m depressed. I need you to do things with me. I need you to care. I need you to call me or pull me out of myself.” But how can anyone else know this? The language of the depressed person is circumvented by the illness itself. They may act like they don’t want/can’t handle company but they need to stop dwelling constantly on the whirlwind of darkness. This I do know but it is hard. It’s not just a case of “suck it up, buttercup,” it’s a matter of altered brain chemistry. This is why severe depression requires  (though sometimes there is an overmedication of people just feeling sad). They aren’t just feel good, happy pills. They have to fix the chemicals churning in the brain. Eating properly and exercising are also a big part of keep that brain floating on the pond instead of sinking.

Being depressed isn’t so much looking through a glass darkly as it is being in the bottom of a steep dark glass. The depressed person cannot see her/his way out and needs help and support. If you know someone like this, try to get your friends and family to help reach out, to show you care and perhaps you can just throw a lifeline to someone who will be able to climb out into the light.

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Mental Health and a Helping Hand

This will be one of those unpopular posts that probably no one will read but I feel it’s important enough to write about. Having experienced mild to severe clinical depression in the past I have learned several things. Depression isn’t always the same every time, nor the feelings that accompany it. And people don’t truly understand it, nor how to help a person going through it.

For those who have never suffered from a severe depression there can be a lack of sympathy. The person looks healthy but sure he/she is just moping, or grumpy or wallowing in self-pity. This can in fact be true for a few people or those who are emotionally crippled in some way and use it as a crutch. However, even that situation indicates the person is not emotionally healthy or psychologically whole. Depression can hit all types of people in all walks of life, whether rich or poor, unemployed or working, male or female.

The condition has different degrees of severity. In the past, I have had to fill out questionnaires for my doctor that ask a range of questions and how you feel about them (on a scale), from feeling unloved or unwanted to feeling unmotivated or suicidal. Yes, a person can lie on these but it doesn’t serve a purpose to get drugs if you’re mentally healthy, or to let yourself sink into a black mire if you’re not.

A lower level of depression could be a general malaise and lack of energy. Symptoms can range and can include oversleeping, not being able to sleep, lack of appetite, overeating, anxiety, fear, sadness, boredom, lack of sexual interest, and various body pains. One way that my doctor discovered that I was clinically depressed was that I went to her about an elbow pain that wouldn’t go away and no amount of physiotherapy was helping it. It turned  out that it was caused specifically through my depression and with anti-depressants the physical pain went away too.

Sometimes I just start to feel bored or like I don’t really care much about things that other people are getting fired up over. It can be a sign of the first stages of depression. It can, also, just be a sign of boredom, but it’s a trigger I have to watch for. Sometimes it’s a lack of energy and motivation. This can look like many other illnesses such as thyroid disease, anemia, stress, so it’s important that a doctor diagnoses it and does so correctly. And sometimes depression comes out in the inability to cope. That can be in something as simple as answering the phone, making an appointment, dealing with a last-minute change, not able to make a decision, etc.

It varies in intensity and ability. When I was clinically depressed I managed to go to work every day, barely. I’m quite a good chameleon so I could hide what I was going through, but it built up by the end of the day and I was dragging myself home and crawling into bed. I couldn’t answer the phone, I barely ate, making myself have a bowl of soup a day, and that was it. I didn’t go out and I didn’t cry because I was beyond most emotion except a bottomless pit of loneliness and despair. It was not fun, and I was resistant at first to anti-depressants, thinking they wouldn’t help. I was wrong. I did not enjoy feeling like the world was overwhelming me.

And it was. I was broke, even partially unemployed. A relationship had ended, and I was having health issues partly caused by the depression. I couldn’t find anyone to date and 9/11 happened putting the final nail in that coffin. When I said to my doctor that I had reasons to be depressed she agreed, but said it wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen but how we cope with them. It’s a good gauge to use, seeing if I can’t cope with everyday things that I could handle at other times.

But…depression hasn’t always been this bad, nor has it felt the same. Other times I’ve overeaten. I’ve felt lonely. Or I was lethargic. There are many things that can make a difference in depression, including environment, life situations and healthy lifestyle. Irregular sleep habits and lack of physical activity can exacerbate the condition of depression. Diet plays an extremely important role and a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in vegetables is bound to toss many people towards big highs and big lows, leading to unstable emotional conditions. And of course drugs and alcohol (a depressant) play a big factor; drinking while on anti-depressants can lessen their efficacy.

The other part of depression is that those around you are likely not to understand or comprehend the severity. People look at someone who is sad, depressed, grieving, morose, etc. and think, why don’t they just suck it up and get over it? Getting over depression is sometimes the same as getting over cancer or a broken leg. It takes time. It takes medical care and it takes the support of one’s community.

Mental illnesses tend to fool us. We think if a person looks whole, they are whole. And if there is something wrong with their mind, then they’re crazy and they get stigmatized. I have known people who killed themselves because of their depression. I have had friends tell me that I’ve been through this before and dismiss me, even when I was trying to communicate my feelings.

If a depressed person manages to communicate to anyone what they’re feeling (and remember, in our society we are afraid to ask for help or look frail and weak) it might be no more than saying, “I’ve been depressed,” or “I’m on anti-depressants.” If someone you know says that to you, it means they are reaching out to you and want your help. They might be afraid to say more unless you open up to them. If you don’t know how, ask them how you can support them. They may very well say, “I don’t know,” because the depressed mind cannot always see solutions. It’s like being at the bottom of a giant glass tube with no way to get out. Seeking information, or talking to your own health practitioner will help you support friends or family. One of the best things to do is to just call the person or talk with them and ask them how they’re doing. Get them to go for a walk, some way of using their bodies, which will help regulate the mind. Depression often has a component of feeling isolated, unwanted and unloved. Loneliness can be debilitating and deadly.

I found it incredibly sad and tragic that the one person I knew thought his only recourse was to kill himself. He probably saw it as the best solution for everyone he knew. No one should have to choose that. I could write more and probably will at some point but we all need to be better educated about depression: what it means if we have it, how to prevent it and how to help those we know who are going through it. It is definitely not as easy as just “sucking it up.”

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Weathering Vancouver

What I often hear when friends think of coming to Vancouver for a visit, or for why they could never live here is “the rain.” And yes, we do get rain. After all Vancouver is in a pacific rainforest, though the forest has receded to this hills and mountains in places. Still we’re a pretty green place and that’s evident when flying over the land.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved because I hated the cold and I hated winter. The only snow I liked was the very first snowfall, when it was dry and fluffy and sparkled like diamonds in the lamplight. Walking back from my friend’s in the evening, my footsteps would be the first to make an impression on that scintillating carpet and everything was muffled and magical, with only the sound of a car or a dog in the distance. Then day would dawn and it would just be cold and cumbersome.

I was always cold, sometimes to the point that it felt like my marrow was freezing in my bones, a numbness that would only go away with a hot bath. So, winter especially was not my favorite month. I visited Vancouver three times in one year and all of that was in summer. Vancouver is very lovely in the summer and has the mountains and the ocean so close to the city. I fell in love.

I moved in June and spent the summer getting to know the city and getting a job. But fall and winter came and my shoes were growing mold in them. I always felt like I was crawling into damp sheets and it felt clammy to me. Compared to Calgary’s very dry climate, Vancouver was moist and humid (I hadn’t yet experienced Toronto or Singapore where that’s real humidity). My face broke out in little bumps, not pimples nor really a rash. After seeing a dermatologist it was determined that I was using too much lotion; for Calgary it had been the right amount.

Eventually I acclimatized to the weather. Vancouver does not get blazingly hot in the summer. It’s a rare day that it hits near 30, and because of the ocean and the mountains nearby it will cool down faster in the evenings. While we don’t get as hot as other cities in the summer, we also don’t get the freezing temperatures in the winter. In fact, most pipes for the older houses especially are not far below ground. That and the high water table (we are by the ocean) means that if it does freeze, the pipes are in jeopardy of freezing as well.

Last winter was a brutal exception to Vancouver’s winters. Whereas normally we can expect rain and may be a bit of snow that will melt in a day, we had huge dumps of snow (over 18 inches at one point when I measured) that lasted for weeks. There was so much snow that at first it was that dry snow that other places get, the type that is good for snowballs and building snowmen. But then as temperatures rose, we had the slushy, slippery stuff where everything gets soaked instantly and getting grip, whether by boots or tires, is nearly impossible. My landlord shovelled out more than 13 people in a week, me included.

But the white stuff is rare, and truly hideous when it happens in a city ill-equipped for it. The city is getting more equipment as global warming brings more upheavals in the climate. However, that ubiquitous rain that we always have. Well, yes, there have been a few truly icky and gray summers. But usually they’re quite nice. Winter and fall can vary. The past few years have had winters that weren’t that bad. A bit of rain but periods of sun. Of course the snow last year, negated the rain.

This year almost seems like the old winters here. I heard yesterday that we’ve had 23 days of rain. That doesn’t mean that it rains 24-hours a day but that it is raining every day. Today, it’s actually partially sunny but scheduled to rain some more. When the sky is deep gray all week long and the rain is dripping off of everything, and the grass, if you step on it, slides off the mud below it, then yes, it’s gruesome and depressing. I spent most of the day in bed last weekend because it was so miserable and I felt down.

The Olympics come in February and it looks like they’ll have enough snow for the events. Even in Whistler there are years where it can be a problem. But it could also be raining a lot in February, one of the notorious months for bad weather. But even in winter, usually, it’s not every day of rain. Being someone who has suffered from depression, I can understand the reluctance to live in a place depressed by rain. But then it’s a matter of spending time with friends and in bright light, even if it is artificial. I would still rather take the rain over snow and slogging through the cold every day.

 

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You Are to Blame For All That Befalls You

There has been a sentiment of late, that I’ve heard from people who would consider themselves nonreligious and not really spiritual. It is that all the things that happen to you in life you draw to yourself. For some reason, deep in your psyche, whether you are sabotaging yourself or doubting yourself or hating yourself, these feelings bring about the bad things that happen to you. If you’re sick, it’s because the negative thoughts within you bring out the poisons. If your house falls into a crater after an earthquake, it’s because there is something in your karma that drew this to you.

I recall nearly getting in a fight with a friend over this. Instead we veered away and never talked about it again. If you can’t get a job, it’s not because you don’t have the training or the economy sucks, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough or you’re harboring some inner fear.

The positive side of this is that people take responsibility for their lives and actions. If something isn’t going right, examine yourself and your motives. I know people who believe the worst will happen to them and it does. It is as if they are a giant negativity magnet and they draw the worst people and the worst situations. So yes, like can attract like. Some of it is attitude and outlook. If you think that everyone is out to undermine you, then that’s what you’ll see. For some people, it’s a lifelong perspective. For others, it’s a trap that they fall into once in a while.

It’s the same idea that happens with many coincidences. When I had a red Honda Civic it seemed as if the road was festooned with red Honda Civics. We become sensitized to a certain view or aspect and then we will see it everywhere. If we think people are ignoring us and turning away, we won’t notice those who turn to us but only those who ignore us. It’s part of the problem with depression. As a person grows more depressed, his/heremotions flatten and things look dire, they can’t see the sun or the good things anymore–only the bad, the hopeless, the desperate.

So yes, mindset can change a lot about a person’s life and can affect physical health. But I doubt any one of us is powerful enough to either draw an earthquake or avert it, to stop lightning, to avoid an act of nature, to predict the path of a random murderer. We can be diligent and alert and cautious but we can’t protect against anything. And sometimes genetics dictate that a person will get a disease, no matter how healthy or happy they live. Of course, a healthier lifestyle might lessen the chances of the disease but it depends on the disease.

The near fight with my friend began with this sentiment that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. And I said, I cannot see how a little child of two who is raped and murdered could possibly bring that on themselves. Or a whole nation that his destroyed by a tsumnami…was that a mass bad attitude? No. If that were the case, we’d see a lot of nations wiped out because of what their governments do.

The negative side of the each of us being responsible for all that befalls us is that no one else has to take responsibility. Oh you were beaten. Well you probably brought it on yourself. You lost your job? Well it’s for a reason. It will make you grow. Worse than platitudes is this negation of caring. Every person doesn’t have to feel guilt or compassion because, well, it’s in your karma. You brought it all on yourself.

I’ve commented before on how I’m very saddened by the me-me-me culture of North America where the only thing that matters is self (or in some cases family) but that there is little consideration for one’s fellow human beings, nor is there much compassion. And that’s what this attitude does, it encourages a social cold shoulder to tragedy. I think there is a middle ground, a way to temper this.

Be responsible for your thoughts and deeds and if things aren’t going well, look at how you think and act. Look at what you might be able to change. But also, be reasonable. If someone’s relative is killed by a car, or their house catches fire, or a children is beaten, don’t turn away and say, “Well you will grow from this. There must have been something that made you attract this. There is something in you causing this.” If only we were so powerful, we could move mountains. But we are human and acts of nature and unnatural acts of human violence happen to people with no rhyme or reason.

Barbara Ehrenreich was interviewed on CBC about her book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America and she makes some good points about positive thinking and how it can be negative. It covers some of what I’ve been talking about. http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2009/200910/20091015.html

All I know is that I hope to keep compassion in myself, not turn a blind eye, and help when I can with someone’s tragedy, and to not tell my friends to smile through it all when something devastating happens to them. And if I can’t do anything, I can be compassionate and lend a shoulder of support.

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Writing: Taking it Personally

This could just be called Writing and Ego for any time a writer submits a piece of work to an editor, ego does get involved. We write because of ego, because we think we have something to say, because we think we’re good enough, because we want to be rich or famous. But to write means also to be able to disengage the ego some.

The other night I was talking with someone who has a friend trying to be a writer. Great. Everyone should try to pursue their dreams. But writing, for 99% of us, takes work. A lot of work. It takes honing your craft. It takes knowledge. It takes a certain skill and perception that is ephemeral, that could be called ideas but is also your unique way of stringing them together. It takes perseverance. And yes, it takes luck.

The first part, learning your craft, is where everyone must start and stay to a degree. It is always a judgment call as to when you think your piece is ready. Once it’s been written, reworked, critiqued, rewritten and edited, it is then ready to send out, maybe. But sometimes you must take a leap of faith and submit the story or poem. Every writer can benefit from workshops, classes and writers’ groups. If I could afford to do it more, I’d take more workshops. Until I’m selling my pieces 100% of the time I still have something I can learn. To think otherwise would again be ego. A workshop might just be a new way to work or come up with ideas or just the camaraderie of other writers, because, as any writer knows, writing is a fairly solitary process.

Selling your writing takes the knowledge not just of how to write, but of the submission process. Sometimes people have an idea, their cherished baby, and they write it and then send it out. If you haven’t learned much about writing or even had your story read by knowledgeable people (editors, not friends unless those friends are writers/editors) then you jeopardize your chances at publication. Such basics as grammar can stop an editor from reading an otherwise great story. Editors read so much every day that they have no patience for people who cannot follow basic grammar, spelling and guidelines.

No one can teach a person ideas, but there are workshops that look at how to take those rough ideas and chisel them into the best and most clear idea, compelling, interesting and filled with tension. But the beginning idea must be interesting in and of itself and unique, not done before. There are many stories, even within a genre, that follow certain motifs. Each one that is published must present something new.

Next, and how we get back to the person trying to be a writer, is perseverance. He had sent his work out to a publisher or two and when it was rejected, he took it personally. They (those faceless editors) hate him. Really, the editor or publisher doesn’t know most beginning writers from Adam. The writers too, are faceless. There is rarely anything personal unless you take to insulting the editor in your cover letters.

It may not even be that your story sucks. Here are just a few reasons that an editor/publisher may not have accepted your story/novel, which has nothing particular to do with your work:

  • doesn’t fit their theme
  • they’ve just spent two years publishing books on this topic and the market is glutted
  • budget cuts
  • there are limited slots and even some of the good stories must go
  • you wrote on a topic that the editor personally hates
  • the slushpile has grown so big that there is some wholesale rejecting to get them caught up (not as frequent but it can happen)
  • they’re changing their focus
  • they’re folding (I’ve sold too many pieces to magazines/anthologies, which were then never published because they closed down–I call it the kiss of death)
  • the structure of the magazine/anthology has changed (I sold one story to an anthology which then went to a different publisher and then was halved–although I received a kill-fee the story was never published.)
  • the editor has changed

Those are a few reasons that has nothing whatsoever to do with the writer. Grammar, typos, conflict, tension, characterization, plot, theme, structure and flow have to do with the written piece. Editors also reject on those reasons, if the other reasons haven’t come into play first. Again, this is rarely personal. They don’t know you. They base their thoughts on the manuscript before them.

This is why perseverance is the mainstay for most writers. It is a very tiny percentage of us who can send out our work and sell it on the first go. My ego had to accept that I wasn’t the greatest writer since sliced bread. Otherwise I would sell everything or mostly everything. I’m still a small pea in a big pod. Even the best writers, the award winners, don’t sell some pieces. You and me and most other writers have to keep writing and submitting. If I’d quit after my first year, I would have only sold a couple of poems. I keep going, getting better the more I write (and read), the more workshops I take, the more I discuss my ongoing projects before submitting.

If you want to be a writer, you’ll need to disengage your ego enough to get through the rejections. At one time I could paper my bathroom in acceptances and my house in rejections. Now I might be able to paper a house in acceptances…and several houses in rejections. So it goes. If you take it personally, if you want to be an overnight sensation, if you get overly depressed or angry at a rejection, then you better not be a writer.

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Perspectives on the World

The world is an amazing complex sphere. None of us can truly understand the scope of all that it encompasses nor be knowledgeable in all ares. We can fathom some of it but are our views accurate?

I long ago stopped watching TV or even reading newspapers. To this day I have never seen a picture of the twin towers falling. I didn’t need to. The horror was all too real without that. And that is just one reason why I don’t watch TV–the horror of it is too much. These days we have 24-7 news and programming and multiple channels. You can catch the news on a particular subject at any time and if it’s something big, like Michael Jackson’s death, the predators start circling immediately with “in-depth” commentary on his life, his fashion, his eccentricities, his doctors, his drugs, his family, his kids, his debts, his fortune, etc. On and on, with huge drama in every commentator’s voice; melodrama one could say. (I did catch a little bit while at my neighbor’s)

That’s one example but news is never (or rarely) about the good stuff. The adage goes, No news is good news, and that can mean that if you don’t hear anything that’s good news and of course, what sells papers or draws audience viewing is the bad news. The disasters, the accidents, the murders and rapes, the lost children, the poverty, the wars, the despotic regimes, etc.

And what does this do? It weighs us down with darkness and despair, with loss of faith in humankind, with  fatalism. When I watched this stuff, the news, the same plane disaster would be played out several times a day with graphic depictions of the accident. I wept and felt terrible, and grew depressed, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have compassion for anyone hit with hard circumstances. We should, but we can also be bludgeon into insensitivity with a constant overload of the bad and the tragic.

My outlook would start to cloud and I thought as the world on an downward spiral into eternal darkness. We didn’t need religious myths, we had our hell now. But then I stopped and thought. Were my coworkers, my friends, my family despots, murderers, rapists? Were they evil and uncaring? No. Were they uncaring? No.

And that was just the people I know. On the macrocosm of the world and world events, there are horrors beyond belief. On the microcosm are individual organisms, you and me. Each person can be good or bad but the majority are caring people, who follow the law, who try to help out, who want to believe in the goodness of their fellow human. I try to remember this when I look at the likes of Mugabe, Ayatollah Khomeini, Idi Amin, Osama bin Laden, Willie Picton, Paul Bernardo, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. that they are the small percentage, the very few.

Their crimes are so vile that they make the headlines. Your friend that picks you up when your car breaks down on the highway, the father who comforts his child, the person who donates to organizations where money will help the underprivileged, we don’t hear about those people, except once in a while. Only if it’s a celebrity do we hear of charitable acts.

And so we get a skewed outlook of our world. Yes, one war can wipe out thousands or millions and is terrible and on the macrocosmic scale still speaks of a problem for human kind in general. As a whole homo sapiens need to strive harder to be better. Yet we must remember the good that people do for it is these small acts that give us hope and faith.

Even with only getting my news through radio (I do stay informed) it is still skewed towards the tragic. But I try very hard to remember the good and that I would have been in more dire straights were it not for the support of friends and family and yes, at times strangers. Give a little and you can receive a lot.

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You’re So Vain

Vanity. It’s usually said in disparaging ways, that a vain person is a bad thing. And is it? The dictionary says it is conceit, or having an excessively high regard for one’s self, looks, possessions or ability. Arrogance is related with its overbearing pride or self-importance.

The worst case of vanity and arrogance I ever saw was a boyfriend who believed that every time a woman talked to him, even if she was asking him the time, was because she wanted him. He believed everyone loved him and that he knew things no one else knew, had experienced events that no one else had ever experienced. But he was more arrogant than vain though it’s a slim line between the two.

A person who is extremely vain is often a narcissist, stuck in self-love and importance, appearance or abilities. They’re more concerned with how they look and what they do, than the world, people or events around them. They’re given to talking about themselves a lot. Like the joke goes, “Enough about me. What do you think about me?” And Carly Simon’s  song (You’re so Vain) of course frames it well, “You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself go by…”

I once dated a narcissist. Later, “as friends” we got together for coffee. Jon talked about his job, his family, his dog. He paused and there was silence since I had decided to let him be the first to ask how I was. I’d asked him about himself, his job, etc. but never once did he actually ask me anything about what I was doing, not even “how are you?”. After the pause, he talked about his love life, his place, himself. When we left, Jon had not asked me a thing. I could have had kittens and he wouldn’t have known. Not a great person to date.

Narcissists may go farther with their self-importance and date people who look like them. I remember a girl in school who once said, “I only read books where the character has the name Laura.” Guess what her name was? These are the worst aspects of vanity, self-involvement, where perspective centers only on self, believing one is always the best and that no one can compare.

But not all vanity is bad. The opposite end is humility, yet false humility is another form of vanity, where you extol the virtues of being humble in a way that makes you look better than anyone else for sacrificing so much.

Taking care of your appearance beyond simple grooming is caring about how you look and is a vanity. Does a hairstyle or particular color look better on you? Do you wear wrinkled clothes or items in a dirty or slovenly manner? Do you take pride in your appearance? Do you try to stay in shape, not just to feel better, but to look better?

It is not wrong to feel pride or feel good about how you look. In fact, someone who doesn’t care at all may have other emotional problems like low self-esteem or depression. It’s the absence of balance that is always the problem. Talk about how you look but then notice how the other person looks. Talk about what you’ve been doing but give a person fair share in time and show interest. There are people who can’t start conversations because they don’t know how to ask a question about someone else. They expect everyone to ask about them and they can go on.

Sometimes it isn’t so much vanity as the person may lack some social aspects, learning only to talk about what they know, sometimes incessantly. Chatterboxes can put you to sleep because they don’t allow anyone to get an word in or interact. They may be narcissist or vain or just inept on the nuances of conversation.

We all have moments when we want the attention on us. It’s human nature to want to feel special, to shine at some aspect of our lives. But we have to share the limelight. It’s all right to be selfish sometimes and say me first, or it’s about me. I’ve been accused of making things all about me when I tried to stop a friend from physically fighting with another friend who had just slept with someone not his wife. That man accused me of making it all about me when somehow I was trying to help him save his marriage. I said, when we talked afterward, that yes, it was about me in that I was selfish and liked my friends and didn’t want to see them broken up and that I wanted them happy. That’s my selfishness. I have found sometimes that people will accuse someone of vanity at the weirdest times for completely unrelated things. I’m beginning to realize that this can be a misfired plea for some attention.

So if you say, “Wow, look at this poster.” And your friend says, “Oh everything always has to be about you,” then maybe what they’re saying is, “Me, me, look at me.” You may have to say, “What do you think about this poster?” People are weird and vanity tempered with humility is probably the best way to go.

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Writing: Demise & Panic

In the writing world, whether mainstream or speculative writing, survival depends on sales. For some literary magazines put out through universities, grants and other funding are often delegated to be able to pay the writers. But still a magazine of any style hopes to have a high viewer rate and sell subscriptions, guaranteed revenue for the future. In the case of a university funded magazine, the funding might be cut if the subscription numbers go down.

With individual or private magazines, they are sometimes owned by companies or individuals. In all cases they need to make money to survive unless a rich person is altruistically funnelling money into a labor of love and though they hope to sell out, don’t have to, to keep going.

With the recent panic in the economic rivers, we see various businesses tossing themselves on the banks, gasping for survival, their eyes goggling about and seeing little. In some cases the rivers are still flowing but a ripple has moved through, frightening everyone to make for land before the drought hits. Hmm, it makes me wonder. Is there a need to hunker down, to cut staff, to close offices or is it all anticipation of the worst, and that anticipation is what brings about the apocalypse?

Well, whatever the case, it’s hitting the speculative writing world as well. Realms of Fantasy has just announced that their April 2009 issue will be the last. http://sfscope.com/2009/01/realms-of-fantasy-closing.html I’ve always wondered how all the little paper magazines survived, and have suspected (but have no basis in fact) that sales were never great. The era of the great pulp magazine is truly gone, those sales were dependent on a relatively untried format and genre, the mass marketing of such and more successful when TV was infantile and the internet not even a spark in Daddy Gates’ eye.

Of course, if you’re running a magazine in the US and you sell to 10% of the people, that’s still a respectable number, compared to 10% of Canada’s population (one reason why a writer always wants to sell in the US first). So in some ways the speculative/SF/fantasy markets are hurting as well. Fantasy and Science Fiction has also announced that they’re going quarterly from monthly.

For us little writers it does mean that pickings will be slimmer, especially for the still generic brand writer. Alas. What to do? Well, as I have seen over the years, magazines come and go, publishers consolidate, shrink and grow. Everything is in a constant flux and publishing is an incestuous business with houses often changing hands, being swapped for a better fit. So it goes. I’ll just continue to write and submit.

I’ve also finally fired myself up and started writing on my novel again. Not hugely productive but productive nonetheless. The only way I can keep myself from being distracted is going off to cafes and restaurants and spending some money to sit there and write on my laptop. Luckily I work well with ambient noise. If I’m at home I fritter away the time on all sorts of things, never quite getting to that novel.

I started again two weeks ago and have about 8,000 words. To make it feel like I’m actually accomplishing something I’m writing through one viewpoint character’s chapters  before going back to do the other two. It means I’ll have to smooth over the chapter transitions but then this is first draft. I’m not worrying too much about perfection at this point, but just writing and getting the story down. It feels good to be moving ahead. I’m into the second chapter of one of my antagonists.

By the time I finish the book and am looking at marketing it to publishers, maybe things will be more stable. Maybe they’ll want a book that takes place on another planet that deals with economic, political and religious downfall. It might echo this world, but if it does, it’s not intentional. In the meantime I will watch the markets and continue to submit. Really, every few years there is a culling and if one can just find another stream, we’ll survive (So I used all sorts of metaphors here. What the heck, I’m not being paid for this.)

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Suicide and Depression

Someone I had known for a long time, but did not know well (we were acquaintances, sometimes a the same parties and events) killed himself a week ago. I was surprised as he just didn’t seem the type. Someone said, how selfish of him. Someone else said, that was the choice he made. I’ve written once already about my bouts with depression but this is more general, on how to recognize some factors.

Although he had been a man who could anger many people, who could be abrasive at times, I felt a bit bothered by these comments. Those who knew him better said he had tried to kill himself before but those had been more a cry for help. He had struggled for a long time. It seems he had been on meds but had gone off of them several months before because he couldn’t afford them. I’ve also recently heard he may have suffered a head injury. Probably all of these things contributed to his suicide.

Having suffered deep and enervating depression in the past, I found I have an added perspective; sadness, compassion and fear. I was sad that he felt so alone that he couldn’t ask for help. But this is the way we are in our society. We are expected to do our grieving at a funeral and then act normal from that point on. People don’t grieve in a single day; they grieve over a year or years. Likewise, we are expected, or feel it is expected of us, to not share our bad or sad or woeful emotions. People will say we’re wallowing, that we’re no fun to be around, that we’re self-centered. All of these things may be true but friendships should never be about only the bright sunshiny moments. If they are, they’re not true friendships. As I know from experience, if you try to talk to a person about your feelings, that you think they don’t care, that maybe there is something wrong with your personality, then you are as likely to be greeted in anger, or dismissed, or in silence or not talked to again. People will often invalidate the feelings of their friends without intending to. So a depressed person is not likely to ask for help because they don’t think they’ll get it or no one cares. It’s seen a weak, as needy, as less than what a person should be in this society.

I felt compassion because I have an idea of what this man went through. I felt for the pain he must have suffered. In my deepest darkest year of depression I suffered many things and not all were just thoughts. Depression can cause a person to lose their coping mechanisms. Answering the phone or a simple question can be too much, throwing one into a state of anxiety or anger because they can’t remember. Memory can be affected in different ways. Physical ailments can appear or persist mysteriously. My elbow began to hurt and no amount of physio was curing it. People can get bronchial colds that remain for weeks or months.

When a person is depressed the world becomes black. I have felt trapped, unable to see an end to the situation I was in. If there are stresses in a person’s life (and who doesnt’ have them) such as financial, career, family, love, health, etc. these can all be exacerbated. If something is not going well, it will seem there is no way out, no change in sight, no way to get help. It seems hopeless. Because, as I mentioned above, you’re afraid to ask for help or to lose what friends you have, you see your world as shrinking. There is less light, less joy, fewer friends, and then boredom, despair and futility set in.

People on the outside might just think a person is being difficult, or cranky, or wallowing, or self-pitying or elusive or snobbish. They dismiss or ignore and get angry. This is why I also felt fear, because I have been there and I know how isolated one can feel. We cannot always be vigilant of our friends and family but we can try to be more aware, to recognize the signs when they don’t. There are other signs and not all people exhibit all the same ones. But when one person said, this is the choice he made, remember it wasn’t a choice made with all the options. Depression hides many options and a choice made in such a state is one made when you’re not in your right mind. His selfish choice of suicide might have been seen as his only choice, that he would put his family through less pain if he was out of the picture. He was not seeing clearly.

Because the only thing I wasn’t when clinically depressed was suicidal, it bothered me when more recently I felt I was so lonely I should just die. That was a telltale sign, even to me. I write this to hopefully help others save their friends and family from a health problem that is still greatly misunderstood. Don’t be so quick to judge against a person’s behaviors but look to see if there is a pattern or persistence of such attitudes. Depressed people won’t always get help even if you suggest it. Sometimes it takes constant attention and if you haven’t heard from someone in a while, call them. Don’t wait. Some people are depressed for years but the black abyss of clinical depression is a dangerous place where fear and hopelessness rule.

And if a depressed person comes to you with their concerns, no matter how lopsided, with feelings that you ignored them or don’t care, don’t dismiss them. Don’t say, oh you’ve done this before and walk away. Sometimes the fears are valid and sometimes not. But if you dismiss a depressed person who is still trying to reach out and understand, then you validate their fears and lead them closer to the edge of no return.

Mental health disorders are hard for many people to grasp because the person doesn’t look physically ill in any way. We find it scary or hard to understand how something could change a person’s attitude or personality. But everything in the human body can be affected by an illness and depression is an insidious one. I wasn’t close enough to help this man and it could be that everyone was aware. A person serious about suicide is a lot harder to stop. But in many cases, getting a person to open up and talk about their feelings could be the first step of bringing light back to their lives.

Here is a list of some of the symptoms of depression:
* Persistently sad, anxious, angry, irritable, or “empty” mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
* Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
* Decreased appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and/or weight gain
* Fatigue, decreased energy, being “slowed down”
* Crying spells
* Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and/or chronic pain

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