The Dark Clouds – A rather random and hurried description of depression.

I don’t tend to read people’s blogs about depression because they are often, quite frankly, depressing.

I’m not writing this in the hope that others will gain great insight.  I’m writing it just on the off chance that someone who wasn’t going to reach out will now do so.  It’s unlikely, I know.

I remember very little about the first time I asked for help.  Asking for help is not easy for me, in any situation, be it physically, financially, or emotionally.  On this occasion, however, I knew it was necessary.

My youngest daughter was upset, and all I remember thinking was, “I’m going to hurt her.”  It’s not uncommon, I know.  My mum often reminds me of the times that she went next door for a cigarette to prevent herself from hurting me.  But something felt very wrong.  I was scared.  I sat down and cried.

I remembered a number I’d seen on a leaflet, and decided to give it a call.

“Hello.  I don’t know if you can help me.  I don’t know if I’ve called the right number.  I think I need to talk to someone.”

Beyond that, I remember very little.  I hadn’t called the right number, but they were able to help me anyway.  It was a women’s helpline, and it felt as though, almost immediately, I was in an office waiting to talk to someone.

The next step is also a blur.  There were referrals, and a diagnosis of chronic depression.  I wasn’t happy with the diagnosis, so I asked for a second opinion.  Again, I was told I had chronic depression, and I would be put on medication for the rest of my life.

I know I’d had a kind of help prior to this.  When pregnant with my son about 4 years beforehand, I’d flagged up as a possible risk for post-natal depression.  I’d owned up to having very dark thoughts when my eldest daughter was a baby, and was subsequently informed that I’d possibly had post natal depression which had been undiagnosed, so they monitored me.  I was sent for free massages as a possible preventive measure.  I’m not sure how much it helped, but I did have a brief episode of what may have been post partum psychosis shortly after my son was born.

I don’t recall much about the episode, apart from the terror I felt.  My son must have been a few weeks old.  My husband had been sleeping in the basement as he thought the baby and I would sleep better on our own.  I was lying on the bed one morning next to my son, and I had a sudden, intense fear.  I’ve no idea what about, but there was an enormous panic inside me and I needed to get to my husband.  It almost felt as though something were chasing me, and I needed to get to my husband as soon as possible.  I grabbed my son and ran to the top of the wooden stairs.  I remember standing there, pausing, and thinking, “This will take too long.  I haven’t got time to walk down these.  I have to get there sooner.”  At that moment, I thought it would be far quicker to jump and fly down the stairs.  I was a split second away from launching myself off the landing when I noticed my son in my arms.  My thought process went something along the lines of, “He can’t fly.  I can, but he can’t” and I rushed back to the bedroom to place him on my bed.  By the time I returned to the landing it had thankfully occurred to me that I couldn’t fly either, but I ran down the stairs in a crazed panic, screaming for my husband.  When I reached him I was a mess.  I don’t remember how long it took me to calm down.  I don’t remember much else at all, other than discussing it with my midwife during her visit the next day.  She explained the seriousness of what had happened, and made us promise to get to the hospital up the road if it ever happened again.

You see, it’s all coming back to me now in a very disjointed fashion.  But that’s how my brain works when I’m feeling like this.  It’s like my head is a maze of corridors, but not empty corridors.  They are full, like the corridors of a hoarder.  It’s muffled, and only occasionally does a door open, revealing information.  I don’t know where the corridors lead, or what’s behind the doors until I explore.  It’s confusing.  Sometimes it feels like a mad panic.  Sometimes I just want to sit among the mess.

So, I was put on medication, and assigned a psychiatrist.  I was given a questionnaire to fill in which she would use to decide whether or not I had bipolar disorder.  A friend of mine had been through hell after a diagnosis, so whether or not I had it, I wasn’t about to be labelled.  I researched the disorder and filled out the questionnaire to ensure that I wasn’t flagged up.  I’m certain I don’t have it anyway.

The psychiatrist didn’t last long as she had issues herself, and ran off one night, never to return.  It was then left to my doctor to continue my prescriptions, and one day he decided to try changing one of my pills to a different release rate.

I’m not sure if it was at that point when things changed, or whether I just perceive it that way, but I stopped functioning.  I hid all day.  My anxiety seemed to worsen.  I was a terrible mother, not reading, not playing, just surviving.  Of course there were good days when we would go to the park, but they would leave me exhausted, and begging my daughter to go to sleep with me.  I’d get up in time to tidy before collecting my other children from school, and make it look like I’d been busy before my husband got home.  Then I’d head out to work for the evening.

Anything important that happened during that time is a blur.  If my husband tries to relive any memories which I don’t have, he says, “Oh yes.  You won’t remember.  Those were your sleeping years.”

One day I developed a sore throat, which prevented me from eating.  I felt so ill that I was in bed, and after about three days I started to hallucinate.  I don’t remember what the hallucinations were, but I remember that they accompanied a certainty that I was going to die.  This was it.  It was over.  I asked my husband to bring my children to me.  I wanted to touch their faces.  The fear of dying wasn’t as bad as I’d previously imagined.  My only fear was for them.

My husband was obviously convinced that I wasn’t going to die, and started to look up my symptoms on the internet.  He soon realised that I was suffering from withdrawal.  I’d had such a sore throat that it hadn’t occurred to me to take my medication for several days.

For me, this was a wakeup call, telling me that my entire personality was being controlled by a drug.  I didn’t like the lack of control, and decided that I should wean myself off my drugs to see if I was better now without them.

It was a long, slow, process, entirely discouraged by the new psychiatrist that I’d just been referred to.  She gave me horror stories of people doing crazy things, like turning up outside Canadian Tire at 4am, demanding to be let in to buy home renovation supplies and plants.  I figured I could handle it.  I didn’t go back to her.

Instead, I told my closest friends, and asked them to look out for me.  They were all kind, and caring, letting me know they were there for me, no matter how crazy I got.

I’ve been off the medication for years now.  I’m not saying it was a smart move.  Some people will consider it irresponsible.  But I’d rather live with the demons that I create, and learn to control them, than have the drugs numb me.  I’ve been told by numerous doctors that I should be on back on the drugs.  They’ve offered milder ones as a compromise, but I’ve still refused.

Recently the demons seem to have bred.  I’ve been sinking deeper into my emotional duvet, not wanting to come out.  When the dark clouds start to roll in, there is little warning.  The odd rumble of thunder can mean nothing, and there will be blue skies again.  But when clouds descend it reminds me of the ‘Big storm’ we had in Peterborough, Ontario back in July 2004.  It was a day or so before my youngest daughter was born, and the storm circled the city all night, not being able to shift away, going round and round, bombarding us with bolts of lightning, and drenching us in torrential rain.  Every time we thought it was over, it came around again, until it felt as though it would never go, and the end of the world was upon us.

My dark days are similar.  They aren’t always just days, but sometimes weeks.  I see a glimmer of light, but it’s extinguished, and I plummet into darkness again.

For me, the depression usually manifests itself as a fear.  A fear of losing people, that they will dislike me, a fear that I’m a dreadful mother, or that I just fail in general.  I struggle to communicate properly with those who I think I’ve disappointed, or those who might dessert me.  While all the fears run through my head, I’m asking, “Where can I hide?”.  “Where can I go where no one can find me?”  I usually just get as far as a deep sleep, shutting down, blanking everything out, hoping it will all be gone when I wake.

On reflection, it seems like a test, a purging, or debridement.  I need to ensure that the people around me are going to support me.  It’s a horrible thing to do.  I know, because others have done it to me.  I’ve learnt to spot it, and not give up on those people.  I cry from the pain they inflict, and then I forgive them, as I hope others will do for me.  I don’t really want people gone – I want them to hug me.

I fully appreciate how hard it is for outsiders to understand.  I have a hard time describing it, and I feel as though I’ve only just touched the surface.  Nothing I can put in words can fully convey the emotions, and sometimes, lack of them.

In the absence of medication, I have sought help from a local Wellbeing clinic.  I’m not expecting answers.  I’m only hoping that, by talking to someone, it will release the pressure valve a little.  There are times when it all comes to a head and I’m lying alone at night with no-one to talk to.  Those are the nights which seem endless, as though the dawn will never come.  I’m hoping to learn a coping mechanism for that, so that I can at least not frighten people off with what must appear to be madness.

In the meantime there is wine, and there is running.  One is easy, the other takes a little more willpower!

I feel guilty when I admit that I have depression, as I’m aware that others have it so much harder than me, and I’m sure they have far greater cause to write about it than I do.  But I hope that maybe a better understanding will lead us all to having more blue skies than grey.  We are not easy to live with when the dark clouds surround us, but if you can stick with us during those times, we can look forward to the blue skies together.

My Boy

Picture 035

My little boy becomes a teenager today.

He called me from school this week to say he’d forgotten his lunch money.  I cycled the 3km to his school to deliver it to him on my rickety old bike, and waited patiently by the gate.

Eventually he came sauntering towards me, too cool to speed up for his poor old mum who’d been standing in the cold wind.  It was like a movie where the person coming towards you never gets closer, but finally he arrived.

I teased him that he should give me a hug, in front of the other school kids, for my 6km round trip, but all I got was a, “Um, no!  Thanks, Mum.”

I waved him goodbye and turned back to my bike, then heard a, “Hey, Mum” behind me.  My darling boy, who is now taller than me, wrapped his arms around me and gave me a hug.

I hope the world doesn’t change him when he sets out into it, rather that it’s young men and women like him who will change the world.

The Vegan ‘Agenda’

I’m a bit grumpy this morning.  I’m never very far from being Evil Edna in the mornings, but today I was in an especially bad mood.  This was unfortunate for the poor chap who sent me my first tweet of the day.  He’s someone who I like, and had posed me a genuine question.  It was a question similar to those I’ve been asked many times before, but today it bothered me more than usual.

The question was this:

@PurpleMouse Have you seen this before? Much truth/not? pic.twitter.com/mXdP4Zmg0h

— himoverthere (@PomAnon) January 13, 2015

Firstly, I’d like to clarify that I call myself a vegan because I don’t eat meat or dairy products.  For accuracy, I prefer to call myself ‘a vegetarian with vegan tendencies’.  In other words, I avoid eating, wearing, or using anything that comes from animals, but I’m very aware that this isn’t a perfect system.

Most of the items listed in the diagram have vegan alternatives available.  The image assumes a level of ignorance in vegans, suggesting that we’ve not done our research.

I have crossed out the products that I don’t ever buy, those I have no cause to buy, and those for which I always seek a vegan alternative.  The remainder are items which I have little or no control over and would buy a vegan alternative if able.  If an alternative wasn’t available, I would make the best informed choice possible.

cow

As you can see, there are many items which I don’t have much control over.  Being constantly asked to justify using plastic or glass etc., as it may have derived from animals or used animal derivatives in the processing, is rather tiresome.

I do my utmost to avoid animal products.  People criticising me for not being able to carry this out perfectly are missing the point.  I don’t seek to change the world.  I’m very aware of my failings.  But if I am able to leave this planet having caused as little harm as possible to my fellow Earth dwellers, I will leave feeling relatively content.  This is my only objective.

It’s unfair to point at vegans and accuse them of ‘not doing veganism properly’ because some animal products slip into our daily lives.  We are all guilty of harm in areas where we would rather our hands were clean.  It’s an unavoidable price to pay for living in a modern society, where we are unable to monitor every step of the consumer trail.  It’s an unreasonable expectation, but nevertheless, it is one we strive towards.  I think it unkind to take pleasure in the failings of those whose only goal is to limit the harm they cause to others.  What would people have us do?  Are we to say, “This map of a cow shows me that trying is a waste of time.  I can’t possibly meet all the standards that I would hope to live up to, so I will give up and not try at all”?  The image implies that unless we can achieve a perfect state of veganism, anything less than that is a waste of time and effort.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Any step towards a goal is a step worth taking.

If people seek to mock my choices, that is out of my hands.  Much of the criticism of vegans, as with criticism of most ideas, is due to a lack of understanding.  Yes, there are vegans out there who like to get on their high horse or adopt a moral high-ground, but the vegans I know are simply trying to live their lives as peacefully as possible.  It seems to me that people criticise because they need justify their own reasons for eating animals and their bi-products.  I don’t try to prevent anyone’s freedom, and if deep down they feel the need to justify their actions, I don’t feel that I, or any other vegan, should be held accountable for that.

When I became a vegetarian, at the age of 13, I didn’t have any goal other than to not have another animal for my dinner. It was the vein in the belly pork which finally sealed it for me.

It wasn’t a sudden change, but a gradual progression.  I wasn’t striving for perfection.  At the beginning it was just a lack of meat in my diet.  As time went on, my mum advised me of other foods which contained animals, and I would avoid them. First gravy, then my grandmother’s heavenly suet pudding, jelly sweets, and a large number of biscuits.

I only decided to eliminate dairy about 5 years ago.  I put it down to years of breastfeeding, and empathising with how a cow must feel, as well as coming to the realisation that I didn’t actually need it.  It was more suffering that I felt I was contributing to, and I didn’t feel comfortable with it.

I’d been raised eating mostly offal, and have probably had far worse things on my plate than many of my meat eating friends.  I had a fascination with the body parts that I was eating, and would ask questions at the butchers.  It never bothered me until I made the connection that these were not just body parts, but parts of a body which was alive and kicking not long before.  Whenever we had lamb hearts for dinner we had one each.  That’s 4 lambs.

I don’t feel bad for having eaten them, you may be surprised to learn.  My mum was doing the very best that she could to keep us healthy while not having much money to go around.

There is a huge difference to me in eating meat for survival, and eating meat for pleasure.

Leo Tolstoy is quoted as saying,

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.”

Again, it is entirely up to the individual, but to reiterate, I do object to people who eat meat for their appetite criticising me for using an animal product against my knowledge, and which I have little or no control over.

I don’t consider non-vegans to be immoral.  Of course I would prefer it if people ate less meat, or ideally, no meat at all. This always raises the question of, “If we all stopped eating meat, what would happen to all the animals?”  There’s a notion that there would be a mass, ongoing slaughter, which I can’t see happening.  As with any change in our culture, it would likely be very gradual, and fewer animals would be reared each year.  Producers would start to invest more in other farming, and the animals would be phased out.  Will we end up with extinct species?  Maybe.  But where is the pride in keeping a species in existence if it is only to contain it in unpleasant conditions, then have it slaughtered?

Now I await the comments about animal welfare inspectors, and how conditions aren’t all that bad.  The standards met are those of adequate living conditions.  Not good, or comfortable.  Just conditions which we deem acceptable for animals who are reared for our plates, and not ones which we would consider acceptable for our beloved pets.

Whether or not you wish to eat meat is up to the individual consumer, but I will not be made to feel as though I am in the wrong for deciding that it’s something I’d rather not partake in.

A good friend of mine questions me about my choices every now and then.  Having read the thread this morning, he asked, “Do you know how many head of cattle an average meat eater would eat in their life?”

I replied, “I imagine it’s not many if you were to combine all the meals into one.  But we don’t.  We kill one, eat a small part, kill another.  If you were to add up all the deaths which factored into your meals, it would be vastly higher than the number of whole cows eaten.  That’s why meat eaters and veggies can produce such different statistics.  It’s all propaganda, either way.”

I do believe this.  We tend to bend the figures to fit our agenda.  Usually the agenda is to convert, one way or another, but in my case my only ‘agenda’ is a personal one.

If my friend went veggie tomorrow, he is right that it would make very little impact.  You’d need a large number of people to go veggie at the same time to create an impact on the slaughter houses.  But I’m not personally creating that demand, and that’s what matters to me.

My friend then asked me, “Do you think humans are more important than animals?”

My response was, “I think it natural for us as a species to want to protect ourselves first.  That’s nature.  I would choose myself over an animal now because of my children.  If I were alone, I’d consider my life to be of no greater importance than an animal.  We are all simply trying to survive.  I don’t believe an animal should die for the sake of pleasuring my appetite, or for a handbag.  I find that crude.”

When in my twenties, I worked in a microbiology laboratory.  I went through litres of bulls’ blood every day, making up agar plates which would be used to culture and identify bacteria from patients’ swabs.  I’m very aware that, should I require a swab, chances are an animal product will be used in the testing process.  We will continue to use animal bi products as long as they are available.  If we all stopped eating meat, the bi products would be less readily available, and alternatives would be sought.  It’s not that vegans are continuing to create a demand, it’s that the animals are being eaten, so the cheap bi product is preferable to finding alternatives at the moment.

I know I am justifying my choices, even though I really don’t think I should need to.  I’m not insisting that others conform.  If I were insisting that everyone in my life were to be vegan, of course I should be called out to explain myself.  But it is a choice made by me, for myself only.

I hope the chap who sent me the picture has forgiven me for my snappiness this morning.

There are no absolutes in choices such as these.  I prefer not to buy goods from sweat shops, but in a non-perfect world this is not 100% achievable.  I prefer to buy Fair Trade foods where available, but is it always possible?  No.

None of us should be asked to justify the things we do in the hope of contributing to a better world.  I know I will leave big, muddy footprints on this planet when I leave, no matter what I do.  I can only choose to avoid the dirtiest puddles where possible.

The Dawkins Backlash

I don’t gush over Dawkins or Hitchens, but I don’t understand the backlash against them either.

Yes, we can think for ourselves, but for many of us, having our opinions validated by people who were able to put forward far better arguments in a more eloquent fashion helped us to feel brave enough to speak up ourselves.

Many of us had family or social pressures which prevented us from voicing our opinions initially.

It’s not that we can’t think for ourselves.  It’s that some of us aren’t as well practiced at putting forward those thoughts.

I’m grateful to anyone who validated my initial misgivings about religion, and gave me the confidence to speak out.  They allowed me to not be afraid to challenge a system which I’d been raised to respect without question, and occasionally fear.

I thank the big names like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Gervais, but also tweeters like @MrOzAtheist who gave personal support to myself and others who were stumbling around looking for answers.

Friendship Pledge

I’ve had many friends over the years.  Some remain, and some are long gone.  I’ve learnt that no matter the reasons for parting company, you will still hold dear memories of those people.  When those memories are tarnished by a bitter parting, you sometimes long for the chance to apologise for the part you played.  This is why I have written this for my friends.

Friendship Pledge

I’m here to listen.  To support.  To laugh.  To enjoy life in good company.

I hope our friendship will last forever.

All I ask for in return is your loyalty, understanding, and love.

I will be here during the good days and the bad.  I will cry for your sorrow and rejoice when you are happy.

If we argue, I will do all I can to rectify any harm that I have caused.  I won’t rest until we have laughed together again.

If the damage is beyond repair, and nothing can be resolved, I will walk away, with a heavy heart.

Please know that no matter how we part ways, I will never make an effort to shame and hurt you.  I will try to remember the times we laughed and know that you are already hurting too.

If I am angry because of words that we exchanged or how you made me feel, I will talk to you directly.  I will say my piece, and hope that you will listen so that we can move on amiably.  I will not rally others to beat you down until you break.

If I cannot move on because I’m angry, I will talk to other friends who I trust, and who will help me to channel my anger.  Friends who will help me forget, not seek vengeance and elevate my hurt and anger.  I will cry, then try to move forward with dignity.

This is my promise to my friends.

The Atheist Tweeter

Are we done with atheist accounts on Twitter?

It seems that many of us have reached the point where we will happily scroll through atheist material on our timelines, skip the obvious and repetitive memes, and scoff at people declaring that God is a myth for the 500th time.

But we need to think back about two years when many of those people who now scoff were still finding their feet, feeding off each other for more thoughts on atheism, and hungry for theists to debate.

The majority of us are uncomfortable with mocking religious people, although most of us have done it at some point.  Not something to be proud of.  Many of us were once religious and find it hard to fathom how others can remain so.  But unless people use their religion to excuse poor behaviour, as a shield to hide behind when being a bigot, or to impose their personal hatred onto others, we should probably let them get on with it quietly.

When new atheist blogs are published, there are people who will say, “Yeah, yeah.  Heard it all before”, but that’s because they’ve been around atheism for a while.  They are firm in their non belief.  But theism, indoctrination, and abuse of religious power didn’t stop when those people became atheists.  There are still people in doubt who are questioning their beliefs and need that little ray of light to help them see things more clearly.

When I first fumbled around on Twitter two years ago, I was already an atheist but I wasn’t able to put my thoughts into a cohesive package to explain it to anyone who questioned me.  It was helpful to be able to discuss my thoughts with others, to firm up my arguments, and to learn how to approach the subject calmly and respectfully.

Atheism on Twitter was very different two years ago.  For many it bound them together, and there seemed to be several groups who bonded over this singular thing they had in common.

Obviously our beliefs, or lack of them, are just a small part of who we are.  Therefore forming friendships based on that alone is not going to create very strong ties.  Many have shaken off the notion of being associated with atheism, while some continue to embrace it.  Both are fine, but we shouldn’t dismiss those who still feel the need to be outspoken.

There are also people who feel alone in their community because they don’t believe.  There are some who are beginning to question what they’ve been told as fact, but don’t know who to ask.

For this reason I still support those who continue to be a voice for atheism.  If we don’t need it ourselves anymore, fine.  Just scroll, ignore the blogs and podcasts, or unfollow.  But we shouldn’t rubbish them or tell them it’s time to put away the soap box.  To some out there this is all fresh and new, and they are only just beginning to find their voice.  Let’s not deny them the support which was once so valuable to us.

The Roman Catholic Church – A force for good?

I’ve heard many arguments claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is a force for good.

Points in their favour are charity work, forgiveness, support, morals.

These are not exclusive traits to those of faith.

90% of my friends are atheists.

All of my friends are charitable, forgiving, supportive, and have excellent morals.

I’m happy for my religious friends to feel that they are guided by a god. I sincerely hope that without their god they would not become uncharitable, unforgiving, unsupportive, and immoral.

I am certain that they wouldn’t, because it’s clear to me that we do not need a god, or his spokespeople, to lead good lives.

The Catholic Church, or indeed any other religion, is not a force for good. It merely reinforces it in some, but they would probably reach those same humanistic conclusions without it.