My guest today is Miriam H. Harrison. Like many readers and writers of horror, it is not a genre that presents unrelenting terror, but is a place from which people can heal from the real-life horrors in their lives.
Horror and Healing
Growing up, horror wasn’t a genre or an escape, but a word too close to home. I didn’t need prescriptive plot arcs or three-act sequences. Life itself was a series of rising tensions, fleeting denouements, and inevitable crises. It wasn’t as tidy, though. Writing gives you a chance to clean up the edges, tie up loose ends, find closure. Life just makes a mess. But in life as in writing, there’s room for rewrites, edits. For a time living was horror, but later, horror was healing.
Horror intersects with all forms, all genres, so it’s little wonder I found myself stumbling into it. Anything you pull deep from your soul can draw breath in the dark and surreal—horror leaves so little out of bounds. It is a wide open space to roam, to explore dark corners and re-imagine the familiar.
For me, writing horror brings together surrender and control. Surrender is the art of facing the blank page. There’s a vulnerability to giving over to the words, to seeing what emerges from your shadows. The memories that live deep inside can be frightening, yet light has a way of shrinking shadows. Unchallenged, the shadows spread deep and wide, whispering from every side. Shrunk down in the light of day, those ghosts can be captured in vessels of words. In words, there is control.
Control comes in many forms, but I have come to value it most in a red pen. Ghosts exorcised into words can be given closure. In editing and rewriting, we get to shape what came before, give it new meaning, new purpose. Here we can find the context and resolutions that life so often denies us. We cannot edit what is not written, but we are not unwritten. We are messy, and editing loves a mess.
This month, I invite you to celebrate both horror and healing. We all have healing journeys to navigate. For anyone living with unresolved trauma, this is not a journey to face alone. Bringing someone else into your process is a different vulnerability, but better than facing that pain alone. Mine was a common story. During Women in Horror Month—and every month—countless women are living in fear. Many turn to shelters or friends for safety. This year those opportunities for escape are fewer, but the needs are still there. As you look to support women in horror, think also of the everyday horrors women face and what you can do to help make healing possible.
Miriam H. Harrison writes to keep her fingers warm in her Northern Ontario home. She studies full time, works on the side, writes when she should be doing other things, and trains the dust bunnies to fend for themselves. She is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association, and any updates about her published works can be found on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/miriam.h.harrison) or her website (https://miriamhharrison.wordpress.com/).
This was going to be another post about poems that I’ve sold and in a way it is. But it is more than that. Last year on March 20th my brother Dennis died unexpectedly, though he had been in ill health for a few years and we had been justifiably worried. Spring when everything is bloom is now inextricably linked with death for me.
Dennis was the eldest of four and he was burdened not so much by being the big brother but by the world. He always wanted to make the world a better place, and that probably started with being the support for his siblings, in believing in us and helping hold us together. We four were weighted by the way our narcissistic parents had used us, who had planted seeds of doubt, self-loathing, fear and sadness deep within us. We battled or succumbed in different ways. Our parents’ needs drew the four of us together. We certainly weren’t always united, and we could drive each other crazy but we have always remained close.
That mentally unhealthy upbringing affected everyone. Not only did Dennis feel he had to be there for us, he had to also be there for the world. If he wasn’t giving and contributing to the betterment of society and humankind, he didn’t feel his life was worth living. I worried at different times that he would kill himself if he couldn’t find this deep purpose. He never had a hobby. Perhaps if there was any hobby, it was Dennis’s love of animals, something we all shared. But he could never just let go and ease himself into something mindless, something to let his mind rest for a bit and regenerate.
It is what killed him. He literally could never sleep. His body forgot how to turn off, even with machines and medicines. He could never shut his brain down and stop thinking of ways to make the world better. Dennis never finished high school. In some ways he was too smart for it and I’m sure desperately unhappy, searching for a sense of place. I doubt any of us were happy in high school though I think if you look back there were probably more searching lost teenagers than there were contented ones.
In seeking approval in my mother’s eyes, Dennis strove to do more. He was successful in provincial politics. He became a Thai Consul, he worked on senate reform, and was Edmonton’s police commissioner. He worked in other parts of the world, trying to assist various cities and countries with government. And he worked at advocating for mental health, something that we had never really had in our family. He was given an honorary doctorate for his work. Dennis contributed a lot to mental health and created the Chimo Project, which brought pet assisted therapy to Alberta long before experts were recognizing the benefits of animal-human interactions and healing.
I could go on about my deep-thinking brother, who was perhaps only second to my mother in stubbornness about their own health. He didn’t believe he could be helped, he was leery of psychologists/counsellors/psychiatrists and thought they would bleed his secrets to the world. He resisted seeking treatment. Dennis always tried to see from another person’s point of view, and it was as his body was deteriorating that I saw a darker side come out. I had rarely seen him angry until those later years, where that dark mood and glumness was troublesome and he became more fatalistic. He seemed to believe less in democracy as all the ills of the world ate at him.
This bee, here.
Yet, he still cared about us and we, about him. Last March 20th was the first day of spring. I found a bee on the steps staggering about, having awakened too early to a chilly day. I rescued it and brought it sugar water at about the same time as my brother was dying in another province. I like to think that as the weight of the world and his burdened brain wore down, that his spirit lifted free and ended up in that bee, small and seeking nectar and the warmth of a new day. I like to think that he was finally able to fly away from worry and sadness.
It does not feel like a year. I still cry every week, missing him. And this is about poetry. In trying to move through my grief, to not cry constantly, I immersed myself in poetry. I couldn’t write longer works because of my sorrow, so poetry it was. I started exploring different forms, where structure and length occupied my mind with these word puzzles. In a way, I became obsessed and have written more poems in a year than probably many years combined.
That obsession hasn’t stopped. I’m still exploring forms and writing poems. But my many many poems that have sat for years have had a scrubbing. I’ve not only written new works and explored different themes but I’ve truly looked deeply at my old poems, asking myself, what does that mean? Some of these haven’t sold in over 20 years. In some cases, I set them aside, feeling something wasn’t right—the proof was in no sales. With other poems, I would send them out, not always every year.
Now, with this deep cleansing I have rewritten quite a few poems and have submitted them resurrected and they’re selling. In this way, every time a poem is sold, it reminds me of how my brother believed in me and how, even though he is no longer physically here, he continues to inspire me. I know that if he were to read this, he would kind go “Huhmp!” raise his eyebrows and give me a look.
I think of my brother every time I sell a poem. The ones sold in the past month (the ones with links are already published) and with different release dates are:
“Monster” in Breath and Shadow
“Telltale Moon” in Dreams and Nightmares
“masquerade” in OnSpec
An untitled hay(na)ku “luring” and my first haibun “Sacrifice” in Scifaikuest
You will notice a theme with many writers on the therapeutic nature of writing. Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert is my guest today and she talks about the healing nature and the joy of writing.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
I have been writing poetry since I was quite young. I used to submit to and win poetry contests in my local newspaper. Poetry has always been therapeutic for me, even before I knew what “therapeutic” meant. I’ve always had this need to transform my thoughts and feelings into words.
My earliest influences were probably Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I don’t recall reading a lot of poetry at school, which is a shame. By junior high I’d discovered The Raven by Poe, which remains my favorite horror poem. Later, I discovered William Blake and liked his work, but wanting to read from women poets, I found Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood. Much of their poetry has speculative elements, which dovetailed nicely with my lifelong love of scifi, fantasy, and horror.
Why do you write poetry?
I have said that poetry saved my life, and that sounds melodramatic even though it’s true. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, and sometimes it felt as though putting my thoughts to paper was the only way to ease the darkness.
Aside from that, I love the way poetry can conjure images and descriptions in a way that other fictions cannot.
The Waiting Room in Purgatory
Chair pads of crushed red velvet,
stained by unknown liquids
Ornate, carved wood backs darkened
age, gleaming from layers
gouged by nails and claws
The air is thick
with fetid breath,
For eons, my tired eyes
traced, ev’ry thread; ev’ry
stain on the moth-eaten
tapestry that reads:
Neither here nor there.
## (Yet again, the wierdness of WordPress has allowed formatting for the second poem and not this one. The lines beginning with “over,” “of wax” and “hole” should be indented.)
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
One of the more difficult aspects of writing poetry for me are when you have an idea—or a sense or mood you want to convey—and want to describe it poetically. You start writing, and you find that the words coming out are not doing justice to what is in your head. Sometimes that can be overcome. Sometimes it just spills out the way you intended. More often than not, for me, I save what I have and try to go back to it later to “get it right.” But usually I fail. The times I succeed feel amazing!
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
I can’t say my poetry has any particular themes. My work does tend to be speculative and dark. And I’d say that a lot of it reflects a woman’s experience, but certainly not all of it. My one published poetry collection, Interview with the Faerie (Part One) and Other Poems of Darkness and Light is divided into three sections. The first, “darkness,” has “dark” poetry, including a short poem written from the perspective of a man who is physically abusive to his partner. The middle section, “shades of grey,” has one poem that is not dark or “light,” although it has an ominous tone. The last section, “into the light,” contains a poem about a goblin on his first day of school. It’s one of the few things I’ve written that is suitable for children.
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
I believe that horror-themed fiction is attractive to people generally. Horror-themed movies and books are certainly undergoing a resurgence right now.
Dark speculative poetry is appealing because it can describe the unfathomable, the unthinkable, the grotesque, in beautiful and stunning ways. It makes the true horrors of our world digestible. It’s easier for many to read a horror poem than spend ten-plus hours digesting a horror novel. And to others, seeing horror play out on a screen is too visceral.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I’m actively working on two projects: I’m finishing up a horror short story for an anthology call, and I’m in the beginning stages of pulling together a new collection of short stories and poetry. Some of the material will be reprint, but much of it is new. I’ll be looking for a publisher once I have it together.
I also discovered painting last year during a mental health break I took from writing. I’m hoping to explore some darker themes in my painting this year.
That Witch We Dread
A witch, sometimes,
should be dark. Should wear
a crooked nose,
a frock black like ink;
murky and stale
as the corner of a root cellar floor.
Some witches exist,
to haunt your thoughts. Dive
gleefully into your mind,
pulling up shadows
that were well-hidden, placed with reason.
This witch is not
Wiccan, not Goddess.
She is horrible.
The pit in your belly,
the earth falling away,
the dread that lives tightly coiled,
dormant; awaiting its moment with
Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?
I’ll say a word about women and traditionally underrepresented voices in horror. The horror that women often write reflects our lived experiences, and too many of us experience horrific things regularly. Women’s voices in the speculative genres are crucial. I feel that often it’s the underrepresented voices that make you really experience the “otherness” that drives so much of speculative fiction. To provide a concrete example, the experiences of Octavia Butler as a poor woman of color allowed her to write about human-ness, other-ness, and gender and sexuality in a way I don’t think a
Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert writes short fiction and poetry in the science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy genres. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies The Final Summons, Killing It Softly (Vol.1), and The Deep Dark Woods. Read her poetry in the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. VI, the anthologies Beneath Strange Stars and Wicked Witches, the websites Tales of the Zombie War, Eternal Haunted Summer, and Strong Verse; and in The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature. She published a short collection of poetry, Interview with the Faerie (Part One) and Other Poems of Darkness and Light in 2013.
Suzanne is a freelance content creation expert, editor, and works as a technical services librarian. She writes in between driving her daughter around and meeting the incessant demands of her feline overlords. https://suzannereynoldsalpert.com/
Today’s guest poet for Women in Horror Month is Trisha Wooldridge who has had fiction in the EPIC award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, and Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory. She also won the Eye on Life prize for her poem “To Me, You Are Holy,” in 2011.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
I discovered poetry in my childhood through nursery rhymes and nursery rhyme collections, many of which have surprisingly disturbing poems! I was probably only about six or seven when I read Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and I was physically ill from the thought of eating that school of baby oysters. On the other hand, I couldn’t stop rereading it because I sensed that there was a Deep Truth to the nonsense: you couldn’t trust people; not everyone has your best interests in mind; people will hurt you to their benefit. In fact, if you look at a lot of children’s nursery rhymes, they talk about horrible and true things. London Bridge falling down, the plague, children getting hurt, being unable to heal from injuries… And then in grade school, we had Shel Silverstein, who also dealt with complicated and sometimes dark issues with nonsensical verse: being lazy, being bullied, things going wrong for no reason, dealing with the fair and unfair consequences to actions… So, from a young age, poetry was where I found a place to explore complicated and scary emotions.
Why do you write poetry?
I write poetry to process my most complicated and difficult emotions. While I love prose, poetry works on more levels than linear storytelling. With poetry, the white space, line breaks, punctuation are as much the message as the words—and word choice and word order carry more meaning than in a prose construction. So often emotions or situations—dealing with death, betrayal, self-analysis, pain, truest love—don’t fit into just words or just sentences. They need more—more dimensions, more meanings, more places to fit meanings. Poetry is a gift and tool for such feelings and experiences.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
Honestly, everything! If I’m writing a poem, it’s because I already have a complex, possibly painful or achingly beautiful—relationship with a topic. But the construction of a poem is also a challenge. Some poems are meant to be shorter free verse, others are 5,000-word rhymed and metered monstrosities! Some poems need a haiku, so you’re limited with an exceptionally short and rigid form. So, writing a poem is not only doing a deep-dive into emotions, it’s painstakingly finding the right form and then working it into that form. And then making sure it might hopefully make sense to someone else.
If I can share a bit of a story behind this one? It’s currently unpublished. I wrote it as a challenge to myself when I was diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago: I would to record the first month of taking Adderall by writing a poem about mental health every day. It was my most productive and poetic month; I’ve actually found myself able to write more poems overall since the diagnosis. At some point, once I edit them all, I plan on collecting all 30 poems and some other ADHD related ones into a chap book.
Poetic Coping Strategies – An Adderall Poem
I’m reading three
books of poetry—
one whimsical songs of birds, death, and dinosaurs;
one exploding, burning galaxy that equally loves and tears asunder;
one a musical road trip of drugs, sex, murder, and suicide—
not always in that order.
They are different sized books
with different textured covers,
and I read from each in parts
and in succession,
and together they make sense
in the coils and tangles
wiring my brain.
I’ve written more poems
than there are days
in these past months.
Last time I hyperfocused
Death was on the lines—
past and future.
That then-present medicated haze
left me leaving
metered and rhymed
It rewired my brain—
not that it was
factory setting normal
in the first place.
But that was then—
an emotional fractal
honed by a deadline I didn’t
want to miss—
And this is now—
a mental fractal
enhanced by the
a force of nature.More me,
being the me
I want to be.
## Due to WordPress issues and to preserve the formatting–which is not spaced as Trisha wanted it–I could not get this to show in the same font.
If I can share a bit of a story behind this one? It’s currently unpublished. I wrote it as a challenge to myself when I was diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago: I would to record the first month of taking Adderall by writing a poem about mental health every day. It was my most productive and poetic month; I’ve actually found myself able to write more poems overall since the diagnosis. At some point, once I edit them all, I plan on collecting all 30 poems and some other ADHD related ones into a chapbook.
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
I do tend to write in themes. A lot of my poetry explores mortality and the relationships people have with death and mortality through faith, spirituality, and religion—and how faith, spirituality, and religion can be positive or toxic to one’s life before they die. I’ve also recently been having quite the unwelcome roller-coaster of emotion in relation to health, mental health, the American medical culture, and the social culture around women’s health and overall mental health, so I’ve written a LOT of poems on that recently. I also love writing about the weirdly or eerily or creepily beautiful things in nature. And I have always been drawn to speculative topics—to magic, to monsters, to mythology, to the fae. So, while I do have some poems that are specifically fantastical or speculative, a lot of speculative elements work their way into my poems. As far as I’m concerned, magic is real and all around us, so most anything can and should acknowledge that.
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
Everybody has things they are afraid of; speculative anything creates metaphors, thought experiments, that let people explore their fears from a safer distance than actually experiencing those fears; and poetry pushes the brain to think and comprehend the message in a different way than prose. Dark speculative poetry gives people a means to explore their fears, and thus give them some measure of power to handle those fears, through the use of metaphor and thought experiment in a form that both creates distance from the fear but also forces them to think about the fear in a different way. And in thinking about the fear differently and from a distance, a person can further empower themselves and perhaps see new ways to deal with that fear.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I’m really bad at putting together poetry publications. Usually I submit single poems to particular markets, and I currently haven’t got any poems I know are coming out soon. However, I am editing the next New England Horror Writers anthology, Wicked Women, and we are open to poems. It’s open to women who are current members of NEHW with a deadline of February 29. So, if you’ve got women readers in New England, they should check out the NEHW organization, join if so moved (it’s free!)… and send me some work! That should be out this October. Also, my contribution to New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, also coming out this October, is poetic prose. As for what I’m working on, poetry-wise, I have a collection of Ekphrastic cards (poems paired with photos) that I’ve been bringing to events; I’m very proud of those. And I’m currently going through a set of poems I wrote when I was diagnosed with ADHD that deal with mental health and putting that together in likely a chapbook collection.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about horror or poetry?
I went for some years just writing fiction and non-fiction, focusing on those for publication, and then I happened to hear Linda Addison read at a SF/F convention in Long Island…and I like to say she broke my brain in the best possible way. I bought one of everything she had that day and consumed it all. Since then, I’ve actually had the honor and pleasure of getting to know her through the horror community, so I can’t recommend her enough. But once Linda set me right and back into poetry, life was altogether better. Besides Linda, I love the poetry by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, whose poetry may or may not get employed by Unseelie courts to entrap humans. Stephanie Wytovich’s poems cast amazing and beautifully profane spells that shatter reality into lacy spiderwebs. Donna Lynch (who I first discovered through the band Ego Likeness, which everyone should also check out!) will eat you alive, heart or liver first, with the jagged teeth of her poems, while you sing along. Um…many more. But those three happen to actually be in my line of sight while I type this. Check out the HWA Poetry Showcase collections!
Trisha J. Wooldridge (or child-friendly T.J. Wooldridge) writes novels, short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about bad-ass faeries, carnivorous horses, social justice witches, vengeful spirits—and mundane stuff like food, hay-eating horses, social justice debates, writer advice, and alcoholic spirits. Her publications include stories and poems in all of the New England Horror Writer anthologies, The HWA Poetry Showcase Volume 5 and Volume 6, the Pseudopod podcast, and The Book of Twisted Shadows, The Jimmy Fund charity anthology Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, as well as three spooky kids’ novels. Her poetry and art have been featured in the Blackstone Valley Artist Association Art-Poetry shows of 2017, 2018, and 2019. She is also editing the 2020 New England Horror Writers anthology, Wicked Women, open to all NEHW members who identify as women. Rare moments of mystical “free time” are spent with a very patient Husband-of-Awesome, a calico horse, and a bratty tabby cat. Join her adventures at www.anovelfriend.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Isabella Caro was a fashion model who died from anorexia at 28. Before she died she posed for a campaign on anorexia awareness.
The other day I ended up on some anorexic’s blog. I was researching a story about zombie fungus and then wanted another name for fuzz, which lead to lanugo (the light fur babies are born with and that anorexics get because there isn’t enough fat in their bodies to keep them warm). I was derailed from my story research for three hours as I surfed through blogs on anorexia. I became more disturbed as I learned a whole host of new terms. There is a whole lingo that I didn’t even know about. It includes ana, mia. pro-ana and thinspo. What is this? It’s a short form for anorexia, bulimia and those that support these eating disorders. Thinspo is pictures of scrawny and skeletal people from celebrities to everyday people as a form of inspiration to keep going with the “diet.”
I knew of eating disorders and grew up with my own. I know of people struggling and fighting to be healthy before they kill themselves with starvation, or become grotesquely obese. I know it’s tough and many women die. Others have their health affected for the rest of their lives. I know that the movie and fashion industry, as well as even professional gymnastics are partially to blame for perpetuating an unhealthy ideal, which is unattractive and deadly. I know all this.
What I didn’t know was that there was a sub-culture of people who are supporting each other in their choices to starve themselves into skeletons and prepare for an early grave. From the blogs I surfed, these seem to be people mostly in their teens, and mostly women. They’re not just on a quest to lose weight and be a healthy weight. They want to achieve a BMI of less than 17.5 and weigh 100 lbs no matter their height or build. A BMI under 18.5 for most people is considered underweight.
Eating disorders can cause a host of health problems and conditions. They include but aren’t limited to: lanugo, stress fractures, osteoporosis, dehydration, kidney failure, hair loss, dry skin, gastric rupture, erratic heartbeat, peptic ulcer, pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, cholesterol issues, impaired organ function, impaired mental capabilities, high or low blood pressure, reproductive problems, blood sugar issues, diabetes, death. If one does recover, some of these symptoms never go away.
As I read the blog I thought it was a joke at first, and that the few comments of “congratulations,you’re getting thinner” and “don’t give up hope; you’ll get there.” were tongue in cheek. But as I went from one person’s blog to another’s, with pictures of skeleton legs, I grew alarmed. A girl with legs so boney there is no shape was trying to diminish her calf muscle. Another or the same was happy when there was a gap between her legs at the very top of the pelvic girdle. Another wants to know how you keep your boobs when you’re starving yourself. Another comments that she’s pissed off her blood sugar is high when she’s eating between 700-1000 calories a day.
Nicole Richie, normal and anorexic. The picture on the right would be considered Thinspo. Creative Commons: tollieschmidt, flickr
I won’t list most of these blogsites because I think these people need serious help before they die over an obsession. There is something seriously wrong with a culture that perpetuates the existence of such a debilitating and often deadly condition. Several of the blogsites mentioned Ana Boot Camp or the ABC diet. They also talked about wearing a red bracelet. So I went to the site. It seems the red bracelet is supposed to show support for someone dealing with a disorder, let them know they’re not alone. All right, that’s fairly noble. Don’t make these people feel worse when they’re so mentally unhealthy. But the more insidious aspect of this is that it’s not for supporting a person as they go through therapy to gain back a healthy way of eating. The undercurrent is that these young women can share and encourage each other to keep dieting and losing weight to point of death.
The Ana website sounds good at first when you read part of the disclaimer that says: This website is for support for those with an eating disorder who feel alone and by themself with this issue. I support the recovery of the indivdual when they are ready and will never support those who ‘want an eating disorder’. (sic) When you read farther down you get this: As well, if you are looking to get anorexia / bulimia by being here then please leave now. You will not find information contained within this web site, forum, or any site linked to / from this website on how to become anorexic or bulimic. Well that’s good, right? Don’t help people further their eating disorders. Support them in getting over it.
Unfortunately it’s not true as the Ana commandments are listed:
1. If you aren’t thin you aren’t attractive. 2. Being thin is more important than being healthy. 3. You must buy clothes, style your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner. 4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty. 5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards. 6. Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly. 7. What the scale says is the most important thing. 8. Losing weight is good/gaining weight is bad. 9. You can never be too thin. 10. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.
It would be better to say, here is what many anorexics believe but you should not follow these. The site also goes on to give recipes and ways to feel full without eating, and a diet regime (Ana ) where you never eat more than 500 calories and as low as 50 calories (or fasting) per day. There are Auschwitz victims who ate more than that, and they still starved. So the claims that the site does not encourage bulimia or anorexia are false. But then it’s being maintained by a 17-year-old anorexic in England, whose mental faculties could very well be impaired by her disorder. I’ve talked about the mental impairment that happens with depression, and the feeling of isolation and shame that comes with an eating disorder. I would however, never support continuing with a disorder, or encouraging people to lose more weight than is healthy, and what these young women think is ideal will affect them for the rest of their lives. I would encourage getting help, refusing to look at pictures of anorexic celebrities, and finding someone to talk with about the problem.
In fact, if I had a child, with the way today’s culture seems to favor the ultra thin, I would watch her (or him) closely to make sure they were eating properly. And I still say that I’d rather be overweight than underweight. At least with a few extra pounds your body has more resources for recovery. I feel shocked and sad that there is such a culture out there where skeleton women encourage each other to look more like death, not even warmed over.
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.”
“Going postal” became part of our culture’s vernacular after several instances of US postal workers killing coworkers in fits of rage. From Wikipedia we have:
It derives from a series of incidents from 1983 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public. Between 1986 and 1997, more than 40 people were killed in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage. The phrase has been applied to murders committed by employees in acts of workplace rage, irrespective of the employer. It’s generally used to describe fits of rage, though not necessarily at the level of murder, in or outside the workplace.
So when a workers compensation claimant took people hostage this week at the local Workers Compensation Board in Edmonton it was a bit like going postal, although he wasn’t an employee. There is mixed information on Patrick Clayton’s background and it seems he was using drugs on top of it all, but we don’t know if he ended up doing drugs because of how Workers Comp treated him or if he had a pre-existing drug problem before his injury.
Clayton might not be the best example of the frustration people feel at workers compensations boards across the country, but he is in the spotlight because of it regardless. It’s interesting that Alberta’s premier’s first concern was looking at security in government buildings and not looking at what in WCB’s policiies drives people to such desperation.
I’ve outlined my own earlier interaction with WCB in another post. But let’s say there are many many people who have felt frustration, fear and hopelessness as they have been denied their claims or cut off prematurely. I wonder what the statistics are of people who have killed themselves over claim denials or people who continue their lives in pain because of such limitations through WCB.
Some people will claim that for every one legitimate claimant there are ten faked claims (some of the many many comments on CBC’s news article listed below), when it is more like the other way around. I’ve had a nephew whose truck was hit by a train when the truck stalled on the tracks. The truck’s maintenance was the responsibility of the company my nephew worked for and they had ignored the problem. However WCB cut my nephew off after a month or so, even though his shoulder was still screwed up.
This is a common statement for people with claims. If they are not outright denied, their claims are often cut very short. WCB seems to think that all people should heal at the same rate. Every knee injury or back injury is exactly the same as the one before and therefore a person should be back to work in X weeks. When that person responds slower than this ideal list, WCB says goodbye. They pretty much make claimants feel ike cheaters, liars and fakers, and it’s guilty until proven innocent.
As I mentioned previously WCB in BC is called WorkSafe BC and I can’t help but believe the name change is partly because they realized they weren’t compensating workers. Sure there are some claimants who try to get a free ride, and sure there are claimants whose compensation is approved. The first time I had to claim was for a repetitive stress injury to my hands. WCB paid for the physio but again when I wasn’t better within the allotted time it was sorry, no more help. I had to work around the injury and lost a job opportunity because of it.
Any doctor worth their salt could tell you that physiology from one person to the next may be similar but there are numerous factor that can contribute to rehabilitation and healing and much of it not in the patient’s control. There are genetic predispositions, underlying conditions and the vast mystery of how the body works. People don’t respond the same or at the same rate. Would that we could, then it would be cut and dried in fixing people. Everyone into physio and out healed and whole in six weeks.
People lose their livelihoods, their way of life and their physical and mental health when cut off by WCB. They’re often not given anyway to adapt, no explanation other than you should be better and the attitude, whether meant that way or not, comes across as cold and uncaring. My own case had someone taking notes for the vacation case worker talk to me but the actual case worker never actually every talked to me, and just sent a letter of denial. How can a person feel other than ignored and dismissed summarily.
Taking innocent people hostage was not right at all, and could have easily been me or friends or family. But if nothing else, maybe this will bring light to the fact that WCB practices are not seen as fair or just from many people. WorkSafe BC probably did the right thing in changing their name and I think that WCBs across the country should evaluate their mandate. If they’re not their to help the worker then they need to let people know that and change the name.
I’ve talked before about the eating disorder I grew up with. It was always accompanied with self-loathing and vows to never binge again. Those vows were always broken. I felt I couldn’t remove myself completely from eating because we obviously need food to live. It wasn’t like alcoholism, I told myself, because you can remove yourself completely from alcohol. In many ways it was just like alcoholism.
One reason to eat all of something was instant gratification. The more my life sucked the more I could find instant pleasure in eating. I could not get enough of the taste. But then of course it was the catch-22 of hating myself for eating so much, feeling fat, sometimes gaining weight (though not always because I’d cut out most other foods), being hungry, eating sugars. Around and around and around.
When I finally sought help, I couldn’t go for counselling because it’s not covered by the health care system. But psychiatry is. Psychiatrists sort of counsel but they love to give out medications. I mentioned in my other post about the Prozac and then the Fenfluramine. Every week when I went in to see the psychiatrist he’d ask me how many times I had vomited. I would say, “Remember I’m the bulimic that doesn’t puke?” It didn’t give me much faith that he couldn’t note this in my chart or get it right.
We never talked about how I felt, why I couldn’t control my eating or why I had a bad body image. We talked about my writing, in the least likely way to relate to eating disorders. He told me, oh you’ll lose weight on these drugs. This psychiatrist specialized in eating disorders and had evening sessions at his home for people to talk about their experiences. I’d go and there would be a bunch of skeletal models and me, the bulimic, the fat one. It didn’t inspire me to feel like I wasn’t the only one with my problem. Instead I felt like the only weirdo amongst the weirdos. But still, all of those models knew at least one person who had died from anorexia. I didn’t. I think I only attended one of these meetings.
It’s said that people’s serotonin levels balance how much they eat. Too much and they eat little. To little and they eat a lot. I don’t believe my serotonin levels were out of whack to begin with but with the years of the disorder I do believe that they became unbalanced and that’s why I never felt full. I don’t know if this is accurate but it did seem to change. After about a year of taking the drugs and not losing a pound, of fruitless “counselling” and seeming to go nowhere, I quit the drugs and I quit the psychiatrist.
I did realize then that in fact my eating behavior had changed. I felt full when I ate. I could now have some chocolate in the house, or ice cream and not eat it all in one sitting. I still rarely keep these things in my place for fear of triggering the disorder but I can have them in small quantities now. When I’m depressed or unhappy there is still the urge to gorge but it’s more controllable. I feel less out of control and I can rule the food as opposed to it ruling me.
When people look at an overweight person and arrogantly say, She/he should just lose some weight, they need to understand it’s not an easy thing. True, dieting in and of itself takes time and isn’t easy but there are many factors than someone judging by looks alone can’t know. There could be genetic factors such as thyroid issues, metabolic such as a sluggish one or high cortisol factors, emotional factors such as past abuses, psychological such as phobias and blocks, and other external factors. One can’t know unless they’re in those person’s shoes. And even the person dealing with eating disorders and weight issues may not know. I’m not a medical professional so I can’t name all of the aspects that could affect a person’s weight but to gain or lose weight is not always as easy as just willing it.
The brain is a powerful tool and it can kill us. People with eating disorders struggle enough within themselves. Not one, whether thin or fat, wants to be that way. They either see themselves as fat when they’re not, or possibly thin when they’re not. However, an overweight person or a skinny person does not automatically mean an eating disorder. As I said, there are other factors and some people are naturally not in what we conceive of as the norm for body size, and some are happy where they are. But one thing is for sure, the more ridicule the person with a disorder receives the harder it is for them to get to a state of mental health.
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
In the last decade there have been more books on depression and people talking openly. Although I think there can be a point of over-saturation, we’re not there yet and more dialogue on depression will people help recognize and understand it better. There are still too many people who live under the black cloud of despair or more tragically, kill themselves out of depression.
I speak not from an outsider’s point of view but from the intimate perspective of having suffered mild depression to full-blown clinical depression. The first time was probably in my twenties when my boyfriend of three years and I broke up. I moved to Vancouver and lived for another three years in a somewhat different personality. It was a bit kamikaze, reckless, unhappy and angry. I ended up going to my doctor who sent me to a psychiatrist. He determined that I was working my way out of the depression by that point and didn’t put me on meds. That’s pretty rare for psychiatrists who are married to the pharma industry. Psychologists aren’t covered in Canada’s medicare but psychiatrists are.
Perhaps I dipped into depression a few times after that but it was when I was dealing with my eating disorder that I was first put on anti-depressants. I can’t say they changed my mood or state of mind but eventually it seems my brain chemistry balanced out and I stopped the binging and quit the meds.
In 2001 I had gone through a few things and had a boyfriend, but I was pretty poor and nothing seemed to be going right for me, My health was deteriorating, partly caused by a repetitive stress injury in the movie industry and now I was poor. Everything built up. I was freelancing but not full time so I’d go and work, then come home and crawl into bed. I forced myself to eat a bowl of soup a day. I couldn’t deal with anything: answering the phone, changing a doctor’s appointment, coming up with answers to questions. I cocooned for months. And then September 11th happened and that added to the fear and gloom. My elbow was also hurting and no amount of physiotherapy was helping. After many sessions the physiotherapist said she couldn’t help anymore.
I went to my doctor with this symptom and she mentioned depression. I didn’t want to see a psychiatrist because I don’t think they do much (the last one when I had the eating disorder, didn’t) and I didn’t want to go on anti-depressants because they’re hard on teeth and can cause increased cavities (less salivation occurs and bacteria builds up). I also argued that I had reasons to be depressed and listed them. My doctor said, true you can be depressed and have good reasons but it’s not about the reasons but how you cope. In essence, I wasn’t coping very well at all.
My doctor gave me a questionnaire to fill out and bring back. Of all the questions the only one I didn’t have a dire answer to was the one about suicide. I’ve never been suicidal, not even when depressed. My doctor took one look at my answers and said, “You’re going on medication.” So I did and luckily she got me a compassionate prescription, which is free through the pharmaceutical companies because there was no way I could afford it and I would have stopped buying them, if I had to pay.
Since that time I try to gauge where I’m at, watch my moods and feelings. But depression is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always manifest the same way every time. Sometimes you can function but you can’t eat. Sometimes you’re just in physical pain that won’t go away. Sometimes you are fine during the day and plummet every evening. Sometimes you can’t eat, or you eat too much, can’t sleep or sleep too much. For me, it’s never been quite the same so it gets hard to know for sure.
I sometimes have to look back over a period of a year and see if I have shifted much. I try to catch it before it gets as bad as 2001. I don’t like being in that space and everything is far too dark. I tend not to read or watch the news because the concentration and the repetition of the bad and horrid gets to me. Even the radio can be too much but I do like to know what’s going on in the world.
Depression is not a physical ailment but it can become one. It can make people as sick as any disease and kill them. Understanding what a person may be going through will help people heal. Calling them crazy and whacked, which we all do, may describe their current state but it won’t help them get better. Depression is a disease with varying symptoms, and understanding will help those who have it and those who have to be around it.