Sunday, October 27, 2013

Who says you have to Fucking Happy?

Over the last few months, a number of my friends and family have had a rough time of it. Through situations in and out of their control, it is safe to say they are getting the very rough end of the “life” stick. In the end, they finally admit to themselves and others that they aren’t coping and they seek help.

Their admission that frankly they aren’t Superman or Wonder-woman and they just can’t cope with the crap life is dishing out, are usually said in hush tones of fear and shame. Their words carry an under-tone that they are failures and despite their best efforts, they are throwing in the mental towel.

But why does the fact that life is a bastard and they need little white pills of happiness, or a stranger to talk to, just to make it to the next bout, seen as a failure?

There are many out there who say, “well, when I was young, we didn’t have depression or medication. We had no 'Counsellors' either. Can’t see why you ‘young-un’s’ need to have it now”. A diatribe usually follows, on why the world was a much better place when Britain ruled the world and when we still had caning back in school. Frankly, this is bull-shit.

People were depressed ‘X-number’ of years ago. Heck, who wouldn’t be depressed whilst living in a hovel and throwing your night-soilings out of the bedroom window. Minimal wage for maximum work. Uncertainty about where the next meal was coming from. They didn’t call it, ‘The Black Death’ because people thought dying whilst coughing up your insides was a hoot. Let’s not even go into ‘The Dark Ages’, the Medieval (evil, get it?) and ‘The Depression’. If we are characterizing periods of time, these aren’t the most uplifting names to be using.

The fact was people were just as depressed then as they are now. There is no big shame in thinking you can’t cope, because essentially it makes you no different from ‘Herbet the hang-man’, two-hundred years ago. The only difference is that his depression probably ended with his pre-mature death at the age of thirty. These days, at the age of thirty, you have to console yourself with the fact that you probably have another fifty more years of this crap left. If you weren’t depressed before you were thirty, the thought you could live to eighty would probably do it.

So, in a show of openness let me admit this now. I have been on/off anti-depressants for the last eight years, or so. It all started when I suffered with Post-Natal Depression after having D. Why was I depressed? I nearly died giving birth, I was still physically unwell when I moved to a different country with a four-month old kid who even then was showing signs of Autism. I was stuck in a condo-apartment on my own in the middle of the wettest Vancouver winter on record with very few friends and no family. Yeah, I was dancing a flipping samba!

I was diagnosed with PND at about 10 months. It is usually picked up a lot earlier, but with the trans-Atlantic move, I had fallen down the mental health gap. The ‘blues’ I was feeling was put down to the fact I was about to move country, or, the fact I had just moved country. Give it a few weeks and I will be filling the tables of the comedy club in no time.

Throw in a family history and Seasonal Affective Disorder and I am the most up-beat depressive person I know.

I have been on my latest course of anti-depressants for the past eighteen months or so. D was having huge problems with school. I was having to battle the school board as well as well as organizing paper-work to fight our corner. Once that was settled, international move number four had come across us. I am just settling down after that move and then the British brick house we live in, broke me physically. With winter looming, I have no inclination to come off the medication just yet. Maybe once the Spring hits, I will think differently.

It is true, that you never know the depths someone feels during the low of  depression unless you have been there yourself. If you haven’t suffered from clinical depression, then saying, “I know how you feel” are as hollow as “I know it’s tough to have a special needs kid”. If you ain’t been there, you frankly have no clue. This is what makes the first time you suffer depression so hard to see – especially in yourself.

When you first suffer from depression, you just pass off every dark thought in a ‘I will feel better tomorrow’ series of events – to the point where sitting on the shower-room floor sobbing, seems normal.

When you are given those magic little pills, you finally realize how much you had changed and you flatly refuse to be like that again.  Hang the social stigma, I will pack myself off to the Doctor for those anti-depressants before the latest episode of Eastenders has finished.

This is the difference between now and a century ago.  We have the resources available so we don’t have to feel like this. One-hundred years ago, if you had depression, you had two choices; you sucked it up or you committed suicide. To me neither of those options instills warm fuzzy feelings.

There is no shame in feeling depressed; birds do it, bee’s do it and I am sure educated fleas do it. There is also no shame in putting up your hand and saying, “my life sucks, give me a hand here’.

Just because your life is particularly crap at the moment doesn’t mean you are a failure. It is down to the fact we are all asking way too much of our lives and ourselves. According to the miasma of media out there, you are a failure if you aren’t a full-time parent, working seventy-hours a week at a multi-national investment firm, all the time ensuring your family eat home-made, organically produced, four-course meals, three times a day. At the same time, your kids need to gain straight A’s, have twenty-hours of extra-curricular activities a week and need to grin like a lunatic every time you see them. This is all without a Nanny, house-keeper or childminder. Seriously, just typing that, made me want to repeatedly hit my forehead on the keyboard.

I hate the fact that as a society we still see the issue of mental health as something we need to apologise for. That admitting you need chemical substances to help you through the day, or a regular meeting with someone who understands depression, is on the same demonic level as admitting you secretly ship weapons to anti-democratic states. How is standing up and saying, “Just at this moment, my life is crap and I would like another one please?” something to be ashamed of? Surely, having the balls to turn to your family and friends and saying you are having a tough time and need help, is something to be proud of: You have a problem and you are standing and facing it. You aren’t burying it under the carpet with the cookie crumbs.

So, let’s stop this shit. Who says you have to be fucking happy? And if you aren’t then, who says you have to stay bloody miserable?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bitter-sweet Maple memories

It's  hard to think as I look about the coffee-shop and the cold, wet rain hitting the sidewalk that it's been a year since I left Canada. In some ways it feels like a million years ago, other times it feels like yesterday.

This week as the Indian summer sun that made us forget we were in October, gave way to the blustery damp, the weather seems to have been a reminder of the ups and downs that life throws us.

Sub-consciously, the events of the past year must have been playing its own subtle games. It's not as if I have had yearnings about returning to Vancouver, but more that life has thrown little messages telling me not to forget. A mood -a feel- of being in Vancouver; random thoughts that make me stop and remind myself where I am.

It has been little things; strange things. The colour of the light as the grey rain-clouds mask the sun. The huge, cold raindrops that aren't sure whether they want to fall, as they make you guess whether to take your jacket. A song that comes on the car radio that makes me remember journeys on highway one. A car that reminds me of the one my friend used to drive. Even the smell of pumpkin spice latte's -which made me shudder in Canada- make me pinch myself. It's like I am being covered by an old blanket, that when I close my eye's, makes me feel like I am in Canada. A blanket that is always with me, and when I move sends little wafts of maple memories.

Even this weekend, for some reason, it felt important to create a Thanksgiving dinner. Strange as in Canada it seemed like an alien holiday -- one that had no meaning to me. We were always invited to friends for Thanksgiving, as the thought of cooking a turkey dinner in October seemed nonsensical. However, as I scoured the shelves for a turkey -what is wrong with the British? Don't they realise that people celebrate thanksgiving?- and cranberries, it felt essential that I make my first Thanksgiving dinner. Like there was a need to cling onto memories before they evaporate.

These memories should be painful -like a gash on the leg that smarts every time you walk- but instead, I am coveting the ache. Every time my mind wanders and I feel I am back in Canada, the sudden smack of remembrance mellows to a small smile. My mind doesn't want to forget and so I am enjoying these painful reminders as I am shown that the line between pleasure and pain is a very blurred and a fine one to walk.

In a sudden fit of enthusiasm --albeit slightly alcohol fuelled-- I began placing paint colours randomly on the wall. We have been in out house about ten months and for some reason the ache of Canada manifested itself into a need for change. Why? I am not sure and that is leading into questions I am asking myself.

For the last decade I have travelled through the world, only pausing briefly to lay my head before I head off again. This decade has been full of change; personally as well as geographically. I have definitely lived these last ten years to the full. Changing my role in life from partner to mother. Combined with the four international moves and the numerous local moves within that, I have never managed longer than a couple of years in one spot. It seems as if I have lurched between one life change and another. Now, that we seem fixed, I can't help but feel the urge for change again.

As we moved across the world, I believed that I was reacting to what life was throwing my way. The visa decisions, financial considerations and the personal changes were thrust upon me and I was making the best of it. Now, as I feel the w√ľnder-lust manifesting in my gut again, I am wondering if its me creating the tumult instead of myself reacting to it. I am beginning to consider that inherently I am a person that craves dramatic change -- as if I need a huge impetus to produce my best work. I cannot content myself into staying in one place for long. I need new adventures, new friendships and new experiences to feel alive. Accepting this is one thing, but finding a way to channel my restless legs without up-heaving my family every couple of years is probably the biggest challenge yet. International moves are easy compared to the channeling of a wandering soul into a stationary body.

It has to be done of course. The constant travelling is financially and emotionally too hard for my family, and they are my world. They would be the only people I would gladly give up my need for constant adventure.

Perhaps, that's what these maple memories are. Not so much a painful reminder of the past, but my minds way of containing my wandering soul. Maybe the re-decorating, along with reminiscing about past adventures are my way of embracing change for what it is and gladly holding onto the constant and unmoving. I think it's about time to experience a new adventure --a dramatic break from the past-- and stand still for a while. Okay life. Lets do thjs. Paint-brushes at the ready.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jog like Jack

The damp zombie in the middle of my 'Running family';
Nikki and Cay.
Sometimes we all require external aids to happiness. For some it might be drink, drugs -or if you are more musically gifted than me- rock'n'roll. How about something more wholesome? Friends, family and one of the large number of deities and prophets out there. You could perhaps get your 'kick' out of moving that booty -- in whichever way you decide to do it. Make of that statement what you will.

For me today, my 'smiling' button, has well and firmly pushed by Jack.

Jack is maybe six or so, (I forgot to ask). And he is awesome. Okay, this post is starting to sound a little ... umm... dubious. This post is about running -- honest!

As I  have mentioned before, the beauty of the ParkRun 5K is that anyone and everyone can join in and many families run together. I wouldn't be surprised if I saw a octogenarian running with their great-great-grandson -- probably with another generation being pushed in a jogging stroller behind. ParkRun is just that sort of event. If political parties could hit the ParkRun demographic, they would never have to worry about losing an election for the next thirty years. So, seeing a six-year-old(ish) kid running 5K, although surprising is not unexpected.

It's not Jack running 3.1 miles that made me smile, but the way he did it. He enjoyed every-damp-mucky-yucky-minute of it.

The meteorologists would call this morning, 'autumnal' -- the rest of us would just say 'damp'. It was that light drizzle that doesn't warrant a rain jacket, but is insidious.  Everything is dripping and oozing water. In the case of the dirt track course, it was more of a case of oozing mud. It seemed appropriate I was wearing my new InkNBurn Zombie running kit.

I came across Jack and his sister, maybe at the one mile mark and I stayed behind them for the rest of the race. The main reason I had to run behind is because for a six-year-old he was bloody quick. It was all I could do to keep up. However, seeing him run was just pure joy. He was having fun and he clearly loved being at the race.

As all the adults haphazardly tried to jump over the lakes being created by our great British weather, he was running through them all. He was covered in mud and muck. He was wearing black running tights, but from the back he looked like an extra from a apocalypse movie. Every time I came close, he would speed up and make me run quicker. I would like to think he was playing a fun game, but I have just remembered I was dressed like a zombie - a zombie he didn't know. Thinking on, he was probably running from the crazy lady following him.

At every marshall he would wave and smile. Everyone else was panting and groaning. He was almost skipping along. He was just so darn happy.

Towards the end, he gave a burst of speed that not even the 'Super Fury Animals' track could spur me on to match. He went way, way ahead.

I managed to spot him a little while afterwards as he was waiting to be tag-scanned and I saw him with his family. They had all been out to run today. I asked his Mom, if he 'belonged' to her, and she beamed with pride when she announced that he had come in at 27.40. I told Jack that he was an awesome runner, that he had been my pacer and that he had made my day. The look of joy on his face that a stranger -albeit a freaky stranger dressed as a zombie- thought he was an awesome runner, just about made me grin like a mad-hatter.

Jack had been my external aid to happiness today. He had brightened up a very damp, dark run, that not even my bright running kit could lighten. He is now one of my running hero's. Jack is the reminder -not that I need it- to how we all should run.

We all need to run through the mud, jump in the puddles and run from the zombies. Running should make us and everyone around us smile like a cheshire cat. We all need to jog like Jack.