Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some Things That Recently Clicked

I don't know that I have been any more contemplative this week than I normally am but for some reason I have experienced a few of those moments where I've heard something and have experienced an almost audible click, as my puny little brain shifted gears into an entirely new way of thinking:

1. I was listening to CBC's Tapestry and they had a Jewish philosopher on there discussing their belief in soul traits. In short, they attempt to retrain the soul so that whatever it's impulse is, let's say anger, is replaced by something more positive. The example they gave was a mother who would often yell at her daughter over the smallest of things. After retraining her soul, she learned a new way to cope with her feelings and when something bad happened she would visualize the two options (to yell, or to speak calmly and respectfully). Anyway, the guest was saying that when that mother chose to speak nicely to the daughter instead of berating her, she was not only giving a gift to her daughter but to her grandchildren. Her grandchildren would have a better mother because of her actions. This same sentiment can be extrapolated to many of the relationships in our lives - by being a good wife I will teach Paisley what a healthy marriage looks like. By being kind to her and treating her with respect, I will make her a stronger woman, a better mother and a happier person. This is not news to anyone but I had never really thought about it beyond Paisley. I had never considered the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who stand to benefit from my behaviour.

It also made me feel very lucky that I had the parents and family that I did. Now I recognize that I am not the only one to benefit from the things I learned growing up. Paisley will benefit from having a mother that was never treated unfairly, never berated or belittled and never disrespected. It makes every experience and opportunity all the more valuable.

2. Brian gets a daily atheist quote on his iGoogle and read one of them to me last week:
"...even believers are strong atheists – they deny the existence of hundreds of gods. Atheists like me merely deny one more god than everyone else already does – in fact, I deny the existence of the same god already denied by believers in other gods, so I am not doing anything that billions of people don’t do already." Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God

This one resonated more than the others had for some reason. Atheism is often so vilified that I can't help but internalize it just a little. This made so much sense to me - billions of people who believe in Allah do not believe in Vishnu. Billions of people who consider themselves Christians do not believe in Allah. Every religious person is more atheist than they are believer - there are hundreds, even thousands of Gods to choose from and religious people choose to not believe in any of them except one (or I suppose several if you are Hindu). As an atheist I believe in one measly god less than everyone else.

3. I knew that having a baby would change me. I knew it would make me more tired, maybe more emotional, more protective and less able to have an adult conversation. What I didn't count on was becoming fierce. I feel stronger, more confident, more capable, better equipped, less scared and more determined than I ever had. I don't really know why this would happen and to be honest it's a little counter-intuitive since I spend a lot more time at home, alone, sometimes in a bathrobe. Maybe it's nature giving me the qualities I need to protect my hut and the people in it or maybe it's the knowledge that I have a child to take care of. It's just as likely that after 9 months of pregnancy, 24 hours of labour, a 6 inch incision from which a a child emerged, and many sleepless nights I've turned into a raging bitch. :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Funny Things That Happened This Week

1. A few weeks ago I put the book When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris on hold at the Library. I was told that I was number 152 in line so I was very surprised when I got an email only a few days later telling me that my book was in. I picked it up and was surprised again by how thick it was. The book is a series of comedic essays and those types of books tend not to be tomes. I opened the front cover (apparently missing the "Disability Services" sticker on the jacket) to see this:

My friend Patsy was telling me a story. "So I'm at the movie theatre," she said, "and I've got my coat all neatly laid out against the back of my seat, when this guy comes along -" And here I stopped her, because I've always wondered about this coat business.

So, apparently I received the large print edition. Which not only means I can read it from across the room but that I've discovered a giant loophole in the library hold system.

2. On a gardening show on CBC radio, one of the hosts kept referring to "succulent orbs". She kept saying it over and over and it reminded me of the SNL Sweaty Balls skit. I chuckled all afternoon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shrink Wrapped

This NYT article on the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in children really got to me. The kids described in the piece seemed so tortured and lost. I felt for their parents who must be totally overwhelmed and of course for the kids themselves who are trapped inside their own minds. Bipolar disorder, and all kinds of other mental illness and psycho-social disorders, have always intrigued me. I studied them a lot in my Neuroscience degree and have known enough people suffering from depression, bipolar etc. to know what these diseases can do to people's lives. At the same time, I worry about how often they are misdiagnosed and the ease with which so many doctors prescribe an antidepressant and send on you your way. There is no blood test or swab that will detect borderline personality disorder - it involves taking a history(the patients and their family's), a lot of self-reporting and some guess work. Sometimes it works, and I have seen people get well and thrive. Sometimes it doesn't.

When I was in my mid-twenties I was having a hard time. I felt overwhelmed by my emotions and I would often feel like there was a train running through my skull. This "train" of thoughts was so fast that I couldn't grab onto anything or verbalize what I was thinking. It was confusing and frustrating. Sometimes I felt so sad I would just sit in the bath tub for hours, crying. I felt alone and misunderstood and scared. I would go through bouts of joy where I felt like I was the coolest girl around. Other nights I would feel like a fraud. A failure at life. I would write long, agonizing poems about death and the futility of it all. Eventually, after many, many months of this I sought help. I went to a shrink. She asked me all kinds of questions about my family and my own life. It felt good to talk and have someone really listen to me. She diagnosed me with depression and gave me a prescription for Prozac. I made an appointment for the following week. The next week I sat down in her office again and low and behold if she didn't start asking me exactly the same questions she had asked the week before. At first I thought that maybe she thought I was some kind of compulsive liar and was fact-checking but soon realized that no, she had merely forgotten that she ever met me. It was the weirdest feeling. I never went back to her but I did keep taking the Prozac. I figured even if she was crazy, she was probably right about the depression and they might work. In the meantime, my family doctor had prescribed me Zyban (which is also known as Wellbutrin) and although I mentioned the Prozac she didn't make note of it. The combination of those two drugs put me in hospital with some kind of seizure. I stopped both drugs but suffered from anxiety after that episode that would take years to go away.

About 6 months later, when the anxiety still hadn't lessened and I was still struggling I decided to seek help again. I went to the Alberta Mental Health Services and they made me an appointment with a psychiatrist. We sat down and talked for a long time. He was such a nice man. He asked me if I ever went shopping. I loved to shop but as a student didn't have a lot of money. I told him about how I would go and buy all kinds of nice things and then just return them the following week. He asked about my childhood, asked if I ever felt moody and I said yes. I remember drawing him a picture of how I felt - exaggerated ups and downs. He wrote a long letter (which I still have) diagnosing me with Bipolar Disorder. He wanted to try me on lithium. I never went back to see him either.

I do not have Bipolar Disorder and I doubt that I even had depression. Everyone was so quick to label me, to diagnose me, that they never asked enough questions. As soon as I came off birth control pills (which my doctor put me on to regulate my cycle - another approach I take real issue with now) my pendulum-like emotions evened out. I got out of a bad relationship and stopped partying. I went to bed at regular hours and started exercising. I ate better. All of a sudden, after years of feeling horrible, I felt in control again. I felt strong and capable and drug-free. I have always been incredibly sensitive to hormones and so I've stayed away from the birth control pill ever since then. I wish I could go back to that nice doctor. As a man I'm sure it never even occurred to him that hormones (that in effect were fighting against the rhythm of my own natural hormones) could simulate the same highs and lows as Bipolar. Or that most 21-year-old girls love to shop. Or that as a particularly sensitive person, I had always worried about things that were out of my control or felt overwhelmed by how big the world was. I didn't tell wild stories because I was in a manic phase, I did it because I was a wild story-teller since birth. I wish I could go back and tell him to think twice the next time he prescribes someone lithium after one meeting - I mean, really! What would have happened if I had filled that prescription too? I don't really even want to know.

This story illustrates one of the problems with diagnosing mental illness but I do not for one minute think it turns out this way for everyone. Some people really do have Bipolar, or Depression or Schizophrenia etc. (There are some disorders that I do take issue with, namely PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) since I witnessed its very creation shortly after the American Prozac patent expired and they needed to re-name it and re-brand it. Voila! A new drug for a new illness.) These people need kind, sensitive, professional care, not quick fixes. They need to be truly evaluated and any medications need to be part of an overall plan and should be monitored. It is alarming to think of what might have happened if I really did have depression or BPD and was left to monitor my own drugs, and just as alarming to consider what could have become of me had I stayed within the mental health system.

Just some of my own experiences and thoughts on what is always an emotional and complicated subject.

Friday, September 12, 2008


We went for a walk today.
Me, in the traditional sense, you sitting, propped in your stroller.
Rubber to the road.
The sun was shining hotter than most September days. It felt like summer.
You were dressed in a polka-dot shirt and pants.
Your pink, fat feet bathed in the sun as I pushed you down the path.

People smile at you. You smile back.
I can hear you singing and babbling.
Every few minutes I stop and pop my head around the stroller so that you see me.
You laugh. I feel better.
I give you a sip of water from my plastic bottle. You grab at it.
Cool liquid dribbles down your chin and onto your shirt.
You don’t even notice.

I spot a set of swings across the field and veer off the path.
We have no where to be but here. No reason to stay on course.
No course at all really.
I park the stroller under a tree and pull you out. You squint in the sun.
I plop you into the rubber swing and you know immediately what is about to happen.
You’ve done this once before.

I push you. At first, small pushes. You are only small.
When I see your face light up and hear you squeal, I push harder.
Big pushes. You are unstoppable. A force.
The breeze is cool and the sun is at my back.
I am young, you are much younger. I am so happy I feel dizzy.

We keep walking. I see a bench poised perfectly on the edge of a ravine.
Looking out over water.
You sit in my lap. I tell you about the trees and why they are turning yellow.
We see a caterpillar with spikes on its back. I have never seen one of those before,
I make a mental note to look it up in case, one day, we see another one.
I want to give you the right answer.

People run by.
We can hear the whistle of bicycle tires on the road before we see the cyclists.
You look up every time. A blur and then they are gone.
I am here to explain what that sound was. Where those people went.
There are grasshoppers. You watch them. Then you watch the sky. The grass. My face. My mouth.
Everything is so new.
For us.

Monday, September 01, 2008

To Paisley: Seven Months Old

The first few months of your life were fairly limited in scope. You went where we took you, ate when we fed you and went to sleep wherever, and whenever we put you down. Lately, you have become an active part of the world around you and are interacting with people and things much more. You tell us when you're tired, you want things and will reach for them if they are far away. For some reason you really like beer bottles. I blame your Dad. You drool without shame. You are trying to move and just this last week have started doing what your Dad and I refer to as "the worm". You can imagine what it looks like.

The world of food was opened up for you this month and so far, you've loved every bite. Okay, so there haven't been any bites per se but you have loved every food you've slurped on. The first few times we tried feeding you it mostly ended up on your face, in your ears and on your shirt. I was worried you didn't like it and would end up being that kid running home at recess for a quick snack on the boob. Once you got the hang of it though you went gangbusters. Sweet potatoes, green beans, peas (obviously somethings aren't genetic), carrots, peaches, mangoes, bananas, strawberries, prunes (obviously some things are genetic) and of course, cereal. You love it all. As soon as you see your sippy cup, which now signifies meal time, you start to grunt and shake. You vibrate and stare at me, mouth hanging open, until a spoon appears somewhere near the vicinity of this open mouth and you start to take wild mouthfuls of air until you hit spoon. Then you squeal, swallow and repeat. Later, in a gustatory salute, you barf.

I am enjoying being home with you so much that sometimes it surprises me. I had heard horror stories about the stress that having a baby can put on a marriage and how hard it can be to adjust. Maybe we're just lucky but things are better for me than I can ever remember. I am happier and more relaxed than I've ever been and things with your Dad and me are fantastic. Having you has cemented a good relationship into a great one and I don't really even know why. I have to admit that part of it is probably due to the fact that all the hours I used to spend thinking about the state of our marriage are now spent gazing at you. Your Dad has to talk about things (horrible his feelings) a lot less and that's probably healthier. It's easier to feel like we are on the same team now since the evidence is always right there in front of us. Drooling.

You went on your first hike this month. You slept for most of the way down but you seemed to enjoy it. You also went to your first baseball game and watched the Okotoks Dawgs defeat the Swift Current Indians in the final game of the play offs. At one point during the game your Grandma spotted a friend of hers across the stadium and so she grabbed you and hoisted you above her head, beaming like she had just won the playoffs. I guess as far as Grandma's are concerned, she has won the playoffs. You went to Waterton and had a picnic with your Grandma and Grandpa Pierson. Usually when we go to Waterton we camp, but this time, mostly because I had visions of you being ejected from the tent every time your Dad or I rolled over, we stayed at a B&B. I made a little bed up for you on the floor and you slept like a log. We could hear the waterfall from our window and the evening was cool. I loved waking up that morning to see you lying there, smiling at me, and knowing that this was one of many adventures and trips that await our little family.

Still no teeth. But lots of drool...did I mention that yet? You are moving around in your crib a lot and twice now your Dad and I have found you wrestling the GIANT elephant that my Dad bought you. We have since moved it from the corner above your crib. You twist yourself in the blankets, kick things around and basically turn somersaults until one of us comes to get you. You are always happy and smiling and laughing. Oh that laughing - it gets me every time. My Mom always jokes that you are too good and that I don't deserve you. I know that isn't true, because, kiddo? We were made for each other.