Guest Post: Jake Kerr on Optimism

Jake Kerr stands out in my memory as the guy who makes weird faces when you point a camera at him. It gets worse after – wait – under the laws of Viable Paradise, that is all I can tell you. Anyway, as someone who felt a bit shy and quite weird about her place in a group of phenomenal writers, I can tell you that Jake is a good guy to have around. He’s also a hell of a writer – His story, ‘The Old Equations,’ has been nominated for Sturgeon and Nebula awards. You can read it here, and you should – not only because it’s a great story, but because it’s the only fiction where anyone ever used my name for a pregnant character, something I think he giggled over in the wee hours of the night.

More recently published is his ‘Requiem in the Key of Prose”, which you can read on Lightspeed Magazine’s website here. You can also follow him on Twitter, here. You can see a photo of his face right on this very page.

Right, that’s enough from me. Here’s the man himself:

________________________________________________________________

In 2001 I was making $135,000 a year writing weekly columns for a music industry publication. I owned two cars, a house worth nearly a half million dollars, and my kids were going to private school.

In December of that year I was laid off as the music industry started to collapse. In 2002, I made $18,000.

I sold my house at a big loss. I sold my Range Rover. I moved into an apartment with my wife and two kids. I cancelled my cell phones. I cancelled cable TV. I pulled my kids out of private school. I declared bankruptcy and stood in line as I applied for food stamps. Christmas wasn’t very fun. I didn’t get another job for 18 months.

I was a little stressed, a little overwhelmed, but I was always happy.

And this is one of the unfair things about life. I know that my ability to face challenges with a perpetually smiling face has little to do with my upbringing, my education, my knowledge, and my family support system. It is, to a very large degree, just the way I AM.

There are a couple ways to react to being happy, and I think several of them can be ugly. You can take pride in it, and see those who are unhappy as simply not trying as hard to be happy as you have, whatever that means. You can be happy and yet still be nervous or scared. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. So some happy people blame those who are unhappy on their own shortcomings, because it is too frightening to think that your own happiness is not entirely due to yourself.

I do my best to approach my happiness with a great deal of humility. I was given a gift–one of those easy difficult settings of life that author John Scalzi has written about so eloquently. Life is easier for me. Things that bother others, things that cripple others, have entirely no impact on me. As a result, I feel a responsibility for this gift I was given. I know that I cannot chemically make people feel better, but I can make their interactions with me, however deep or fleeting they are, as positive as they can be.

It saddens me to see people depressed, not feeling comfortable with life, or even just feeling blue. So I try to the best of my ability to be a bright spot. Whenever I can I offer positive comments, support, or a kind word I do. Whenever someone feels like life is just too overwhelming or all his or her choices will lead to failure, I try to be the voice of optimism. I don’t know if this actually does anything, to be honest, but I make the effort anyway.

I am also aware that I am not always helping. I can be overbearing. I sometimes try too hard to make a laugh, which falls flat. And, perhaps most painfully, I make things worse by thinking some positive words would help when all the person really needs to be is alone.

There is also the perception of arrogance unrelated to the pride I mentioned earlier. When one is happy, one tends to think of positive outcomes. When one is working on something–whether it is art, a work project, or something athletic–a happy person will naturally think that they will do well. This can come across as arrogance.

“Jake honestly thinks that he’ll sell every story he writes to a professional market? What a cocky asshole.” Well, I do feel that way, but it’s because I’m hopelessly optimistic and positive, although I have no objective viewpoint about that. Maybe I AM arrogant and cocky, and, see? That’s how a happy person thinks. When given two choices, optimistic and positive or arrogant and cocky, you tend to gravitate to the more positive of the two.

This obviously happens with failure, as well. A setback is just that–a setback. It isn’t a full stop or a final end–“Hey, this kind of sucks, but this was just not the right opportunity, the right time, or the right situation.” This is inevitably followed by “Hey, the next one will succeed.” Failure is never really that bad because life is full of so many options and opportunity that a failure is just a minor thing.

Of course, oppressive and persistent failure can have an impact. Happy people are not immune to the psychological concept of learned helplessness, but they are highly resistant to it. If a person suffering from depression gives up after one or two failures, a happy person may keep plugging away for quite some time and many failures.

On the one hand this is good–a happy person is almost guaranteed more success than a person suffering from depression, simply through innocent and even naïve persistence. Again, this is one of those unfair things that saddens me and makes me well aware that I’m living life on its lowest difficulty setting. But there is an insidious part of it–sometimes a happy person will waste large chunk of his or her life on a fruitless pursuit. They will decide to become an artist, and after a truly stunning number of failures will keep going, even though it is clear to any objective observer that the pursuit is fruitless.

So happy people are sometimes guilty of wasting their life following unachievable dreams. And make no mistake about it–this can have devastating consequences on their family and loved ones.

I’ll give you one example: When I lost my job in 2001, I was thoroughly confident that I could re-launch the publication I had successfully run in the mid-nineties. Despite setback after setback, I continued to plunge ahead. I neglected to take very important safety measures–sell my house early, sell the car, circle the wagons. The kinds of emergency measures you need to take when you lose a job I just ignored. Why? Because I knew that everything would work out.

Things didn’t work out.

As a result, I put my wife and my children through much greater stress and heartache than they needed to. My optimism caused a huge number of major financial issues in my life. In the end we made it through, but my innate happy take on life pretty much caused pain to many others.

So part of the bad side of being happy all the time is that you are sometimes irrationally happy. It is good to sometimes be sad, to think pessimistically and plan accordingly. In short, it is probably better to be a realist than happy or depressed, if not for yourself than for your friends and family. The stresses that roll off of a happy person can have serious negative effects on others. That’s bad.

In the end, even this entry is an exercise in happy optimism. I’m writing it from the optimistic assumption that other happy people are just like me, so that this would be of value to describing to others how happy people think. But what if they’re not? What if I’m some kind of odd exception, and that happy people are really just annoying assholes? What if I’m an annoying asshole? What if happy people are cool and I’m just deluded?

Nah, I’m sure that’s not the case. I’m now sending this entry off to Gwen.

And I’m happy about it.

________________________________________________________________
Advertisements

Guest Post Fridays

In 2010 I was lucky enough to attend Viable Paradise and be part of the VPXIV class. Every friday for as long as I can drag people into it, I’m going to ask my former classmates (and random other folks – reply to this post if you’re interested!) to write a post – on their own experience with depression or whatever life has thrown at them. At some point, someone will probably just put up a bunch of pictures of a cat, since this is the internet.

They’re all fantastic writers, so I’m looking forward to reading and sharing these posts with you. Stay tuned – first one’s up this afternoon. Now I’m off to finish a story, as instructed.

Bed Wars

Because I have to do some non-blog-writing, I give you The Bed Saga:

Me: Hey, Cat. I bought that for Dog. Come here, Dog, and reclaim your rightful place in this home.Image

Cat: I WILL END YOU.

Image

There’s nothing worse than a cat-punch to the face. The dog is hiding her shame at having been beaten by an eight-pound kitten by sleeping on . . . my bed.

It’s going to be a good night.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Before Cipralex and therapy and blah, blah, blah, I would pull regular all-nighters. What would happen was that I would get very very tired, and go to bed, and then just as I was about to fall asleep – WHAM! (Obligatory George Michael Joke Here) I’d be wide awake, running through all the things I had to do, should have done, failed at, etc. Very annoying. So I’d get up, make tea or whatever, and read downstairs or write or take the dog for a midnight stroll.

Actually, the hours between midnight and about four a.m. are pretty magical. It’s a lot like being the only person in the world – a little eerie, a little bit fun. Sort of like a Steven King novel, without the evil fog.

Of course by the third or fourth night in a row, I’d start to get a little bawling-while-pulling-out-hair tired, but that’s neither here nor there.

It hasn’t happened more than twice since Cipralex was introduced to my brain, shook hands and went to work, but it happened last night. I went to bed (having already fallen asleep on the couch after work – it has NOT been a good sleep week) and just as I was falling asleep, I suddenly thought:

Dammit, I didn’t do those audio transcriptions.

Transcriptions which, my sane-brain argued, didn’t need to be done. But still. I didn’t do them.

That’s when you know. That’s the kicker. That’s anxiety rearing its bloody ugly head. Wake up! You have failed at things and we must THINK ABOUT THEM ALL!

Oh, sigh.

I laid in bed and tried what my therapist calls the ‘Kind, limit-setting parent’ technique. This is where I say things like, “Well, you could have done this or that differently, that’s true. Still, you can try again tomorrow.” Frankly, my anxiety can steamroller right over her.

I tried ‘Treat yourself as you would a friend.’ This is where – well, duh. So I said things like, “Look at all the great things you HAVE accomplished!” To which anxiety sneered and said, “Do you even KNOW what some people are capable of accomplishing in a day, because they’re NOT lazy?”

So I got up. I did some yoga, I drank some tea. I wrote a bit. And I went back to bed. At this point, I had reached about 2a.m., and was starting to have that oh-so-useful litany of ‘You’re going to be so tired at work! And THEN imagine how useless you’ll be!”

The lovely thing is, due to the hours of therapy, I can look at that little voice and smile kindly and say, “It’s okay, little voice. I know you’re just insecure and scared that I’ll waste my life. I give you comfort and a safe space in which to vent your feelings.”

But due to it being TWO IN THE MORNING, my response was shifting more towards the “And how the fuck do you think this is helpful?!” variety.

At this point I kind of gave up and thought, “Okay. All-nighter. Done it before,” and settled in to read my book. Actually, to re-read ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora‘, because it drags me completely into the story and leaves no room for little voice to blither away about, presumably, the fact that I haven’t washed my shoelaces.

(I’m still mad at you, little voice.)

The dog jumped into bed with me – she doesn’t like it when I’m awake past eleven – and promptly fell asleep, to my disgust. Clearly she achieved all of her goals for the day. (Sleep. Eat. Shit. Chase ball. Pee on things that other dogs have peed on. Repeat.)

I was right at one of the most enthralling parts of ‘Lies’ when a coyote howled. Full on baying at the moon howl, and suddenly my dog has gone from seventy pounds of comatose, snoring, kicking animal to seventy pounds of wide awake what-the-fuck-was-that-I’ll-kill-it! snarling animal.

And she fell off the bed, kicking and flailing and still trying to kill whatever animal was in the room, except the only other thing in the room was my cat, who decided to attach herself to my skull in terror, at which point I began flailing and shouting and laughing and trying to close the damn window so that the dog can’t hear the stupid coyote, who is still howling, and in the midst of all of it I’m vaguely aware that the joint sounds of a dog in kill-mode and a coyote howling at the moon are very, very creepy when it’s – what? –

Four thirty in the morning.

So I got up, and made coffee. The hell with it. I’ll try again tonight.

This is not her kill face.

The Finishing: A Writing Challenge

 

Once upon a time, I wrote regularly. Lately – getting used to DayJob, I think – it seems I can either write in this blog or write fiction, not both. But, see, I know that’s not true. I know I’m awake for sixteen hours a day. If I spend ten of those working (accounting for travel time), two of them either eating or preparing meals, and one of them walking the dog, I should still have three hours left. Let’s say I need to spend two of those three doing blah stuff, even (like laundry, or playing board games with my manfriend) I should still have an hour a day to write.

And that’s just wildly unrealistic, because life doesn’t work like that. I need to block out time for writing the way I block it out for work, or . . . um . . . board games.

Enter Sylvia, a friend of mine and fellow pilot who wrote the hilarious Fear of Landing: You Fly Like a Woman (and is working on a sequel). She blogs at http://fearoflanding.com/http://www.intrigue.co.uk/ and maintains a Twitter photo blog at http://twitter.blog.me.uk/. She’s good people. We were discussing our mutual need for a kick in the ass as far as writing goes – I just need to write more, period, including on this blog, and Sylvia needs to finish what she starts.

So: You may have noticed the little word-counter widget on the right hand side of this page? Each day, we’re each committing to write a minimum of 500 words. Each week, we will finish one story – that is to say, done, edited, ready for submission. (Um. Anyone want to beta read?) The word counter widget will track words written, and at the end of each week we’ll post an update/wrap up of the week.

You can watch us bitch and moan, I expect, on Twitter if you look for the hashtag: #thefinishing.

This should go on for ten weeks, at which point we should each have a minimum of ten stories ready to sub, and a minimum of 35,000 words written. This is completely open to anyone, so if you want to join us, send me a note and let me know!

 

p.s. – I’ve been messing around with the theme of this blog, trying to find something that’s clean and simple and doesn’t have stupid, pre-set font (like the teeny tiny italics I had up for a brief moment yesterday.) Suggestions are welcome.

 

 

 

 

PMS+Cipralex=Weirdness

Dear people who are still – still! – uncomfortable with periods, I’m about to talk about them.  A LOT. So bugger off, or grow up. 

There I was at my entrance interview with the new doc, feeling like a very desperate girl on a first date. Finding and keeping a doctor in this town? Bloody impossible. In fact, the only reason I found Doctor Awesome (now gone back to trauma care because presumably, I was boring her – but I’m not bitter -) was because I needed to be monitored on these antidepressants. So anyway. I literally blurted out to the new doctor, Blue Eyes (BE): “Hi. I’m on antidepressants and I want to come off them in the next six months and I think it’s stupid to do it alone and I lost my favourite doctor EVAH and will you PLEASE be my new doctor?”

Smoooooth.

Whatever. He kind of ignored all of that – presumably he sees blithering patients with some regularity – and talked to me about my reaction to Cipralex, my current feelings, my overall health. He took my blood pressure (110/70, reliable as ever), taught me how to do a breast exam (thanks, Manject) and, you know, shone lights in my ears and down my throat and proclaimed me healthy. Then he asked if I had any adverse reactions to Cipralex:

Me: Not really. Every now and then I get a ‘down’ day or two, but it always goes away.
BE: Does this coincide with anything? Missed pill, bad sleep?
Me: Nope, not that I can think of.
BE: Hmm, okay. writes things down.
Me: Oh wait, yeah. It’s around my period. I figure it’s just low energy from, um, low iron or something. (Note to readers: I do not understand my reproductive bits. I had mono when they taught sex ed, and I never learned, and frankly, peoples’ insides pretty much squick me out. I generally go with the Tom Robbins “Glowing Ball of Light-Powered-Humans” theory.)
Him: Stops writing. Right, that makes sense.

Here’s the explanation BE gave me. As women go through our cycles – Anyone else hate that word? Sounds so Red Tent. ‘My cycle’. Whatever. – we experience a steady decrease in oestrogen, followed by a rise in progesterone. http://hcp.obgyn.net says it looks like this:

If you want a proper definition of Estradiol, it’s here, but from what I understand it’s basically the Breeding Purposes Estrogen. Though it also does lots of other things, like help us grow bones. Cool.

(Sidebar: Anyone know what’s up with the spelling of Oestrogen/Estrogen?)

How does this link to depression?  “Estrogen appears to have a significant effect on serotonin levels. In the brains of those who are depressed, there is a lack of serotonin, which can occur due to reduced serotonin production and release, over-activity of receptors that remove serotonin, and/or over-activity of the chemicals that break serotonin down. Estrogen naturally affects each of these levels of serotonin functioning, which is why estrogen may serve as a natural anti-depressant.” From This Website, I pulled a much more succinct explanation than I could have written. That’s what BE told me. (The whole interview is interesting, if you have the time to read.

For the record, I’ve never been hit hard by PMS (or at all by PMDD, but I’ll get to that) before, so this is clearly a cipralex-related thing. And again, it’s not unmanageable, it just sucks for a couple of days, and I am reduced to my previous, untreated state.

The idea that there is a connection between estrogen and depression changes much of our thinking about PMS. Very few men, women, or clinicians doubt the reality of PMS, but there remains some belief that PMS is either a social construction or just a common phenomenon whose symptoms are over exaggerated to elicit sympathy or some other secondary gain. Consider how often we hear statements like, “It’s just her time of the month,” or “She’s probably just having PMS.” These statements show how desensitized and immune we have become to the pain and debilitation that can accompany PMS. Unknowingly, these statements minimize or trivialize the depressive symptoms of PMS, which leads to both an under pursuit of treatment and an under administration of effective treatments.” From the same site

The thing I learned there is that PMS isn’t something to which we should be desensitized, and in a similar vein, it’s not a term we should throw around. On that note, though, it’s also not one to be taken advantage of. PMDD, however – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – is a whole other thing. It’s characterized by basically wrecking your life for a week or so each month. (Why yes, I do have a website to suggest for that as well.) If you have PMDD, you have a real problem, and you should talk to someone about it. Mine’s not that bad – with said new job, I can still go to work. But that’s it for those two days.

Anyway, maybe not anymore. BE suggested that for those two days, I take an extra half-dose, just to see what happens. Should be a low enough dose that I won’t have the dreaded dry mouth, but enough to compensate. I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month.

Cipralex Progress Report: Now With Doctor Data

**Note: That’s data from my doctor, not Doctor Data. As cool as that would be.

In the world of Cipralex-related things, I have some info to share…

Progress. My doctor left for me a file that detailed my progress on the drug. She had been asking me little interview questions, the same ones every time, but I wasn’t expecting her to leave the information for me, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

Here’s what I’ve got. Each appointment I had – fairly frequent when I began taking the drug; once a month for two months, and every three months since then – she asked me ten questions. Each answer was to be rated out of ten – one being my personal worst, ten being my personal best. The exceptions to this:

1. Appetite: ‘1’ is never, ever hungry. ’10’ is seriously overeating. So in this one, a 5 is normal.
2. Anxiety and Irritability: ‘1’ is low, ’10’ is high, but in these cases, ‘1’ is what we’re aiming at.

I’ll give you the first three sets:

Oct. 11, 2011. Oct. 25, 2011 Dec. 21, 2011
Mood 4 Mood 8 Mood 10
Anxiety 8 Anxiety 1 Anxiety 1
Sleep 2 Sleep 6 Sleep 9
Concentration 4 Concentration 7 Concentration 9
Memory 2 Memory 8 Memory 10
Energy 4 Energy 7 Energy 10
Appetite 8 Appetite 6 Appetite 5
Hope 2 Hope 8 Hope 10
Interest 2 Interest 7 Interest 10
Irritability 3 Irritability 3 Irritability 0
Sociability 4 Sociability 7 Sociability 10

Her notes:

Gwen frequently goes between 3-7 days on less than 2 hrs sleep.
Gained 40lbs in the past three years
On 10mg for 3 weeks: no side effects except initial dry mouth

For the record, I’m still on 10mg per day (except! But wait, we’re coming to that.)

So, this is a pretty cool thing for me to have, and I thought it might be a cool thing to put out to the world wide web.

It’s worth noting that this is not an unexceptional response to Cipralex, from what I’ve heard (not reliable data, just stories ’round the web). It’s got good, low side effects – I mean, dry mouth? Seriously? When weighed against the crushing hopelessness, hell yes, I’ll take some dry mouth. (Actually, it sucked and I whined a lot. A LOT. And drank about twelve litres of water a day.) I’m still reserving final judgement for when I try to come off the thing. And speaking of that…

I’m getting close to that magical one-year mark. At that point, I’ll look at slowly coming off this stuff, probably over the course of three months. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, the whole idea of it, but definitely a part of the plan that I want to stick with.

In terms of my own accounting, when I started this I didn’t have or want a job (thank you, thank you, hours and hours and hours of overtime at previous job, for allowing me to save up enough money to lay on the couch for a year), I didn’t have any hobbies, I barely saw the friends I had and my relationship was tanking. I didn’t work out. I didn’t, really, do much of anything.

Now, I have a job (that I enjoy! What is that?), I’m back to yoga and the gym and walking the dog – and as a side effect, I’ve stopped gaining weight and may have actually lost some – I’ve reconnected with old friends, and even managed to meet two new people that I like. (This is, actually, a shocking thing. I don’t like a lot of people.) I’m volunteering on a few different committees, and they allow me to feel like I’m making a difference in my community. I think I’ve made some changes in my relationships with my family – that’s an ongoing process, as it turns out, because when you drop off the face of the planet for a year or so, you leave some hurt feelings in your wake.  My relationship is the best it’s ever been.

So, yup, I’m feeling like the poster child for this pill right now. If I can come off it and maintain my life and my happiness and most of all, my hope – I’ll frame one of these damn pills on my wall.

A last note: The magic pills are not actually magic, and don’t do a damn thing if you don’t do the work.
Coming up: I have news about PMS. It’s really interesting. Doctor Data says: Stick Around!

Iiiiit’s Testicular Exam Time!

Yup. Day 11: Give yourself a Testicular Exam. 

Instead, I’m going to meet my new doctor (my doctor of awesomeness left, and I will miss her, for she was rational and sane and all things unlikely in a doctor). Anyway, she referred me over to some other guy, so fingers crossed.

Instead of a testicular exam, I’m going to finally – at the age of 30 – learn how to do a breast exam. I know this isn’t quite equivalent, but I couldn’t figure out how to examine my ovaries. (All right. I didn’t try.)

If the new doc has my files – which he should – I might even have some exciting cipralex-ey related stuff to share at the end of the day.

Wish me luck!