Saturday, 20 November 2010

Friends and Perfect Strangers

I never thought I’d end up ever feeling like a character played by Michael Gambon, but sometimes life surprises us.

The character in question was from the Steven Poliakoff drama Perfect Strangers; Raymond Symon, a grumpy and eccentric old git, dragged along (against his inclination) to a family reunion, where the family in question has not seen him for quite some time. Not, in fact, since before his company went bust and he suffered a nervous breakdown. It’s a fascinating piece – much more interesting than I make it sound – and well worth a look in its own right. But for some reason, this weekend I have felt a strange affinity with this one particular character, and this one plot thread in an exquisitely woven tapestry.

Last weekend, I had a depressive episode. The first one in quite a while, and it rather knocked me for six. But worse than that, it happened when I was visiting friends in Oxford; friends who, until then, had never actually seen the worst excesses (or indeed any excesses) of my depression. There may even have been one or two there who didn’t actually know I suffer from it. And I had rather intended to keep it that way.

Because there’s still a stigma attached to mental health problems. And while I’m happy to try and break that stigma and the surrounding taboos by talking about it, both here and in person, I’m still too English to want people to see me at my worst. It makes me feel like a burden to have to ask people to cope with me. It feels like a failing to admit that I need help, or let people see me cry. (And yes, I know it’s messed up that I, or anyone else already suffering, has to feel guilty and weak because of, and in addition to that suffering. That’s depression. It’s a bitch. And it’s one of the reasons a lot of people don’t seek help as often as they should. And I know all that. Doesn’t make me feel any different.)

This weekend, I went out again – this time to a friend’s birthday party. And the thing is... I think I noticed a difference in the way I was treated by the people who were in Oxford the previous weekend, and those who weren’t. One guy in particular, who, he confessed to me, I had rather worried at the time. There was a concern in his voice that wasn’t there before, and I felt like I was being handled delicately; like glass or porcelain.

I don’t want to single this guy out so much though, because it’s not an uncommon reaction when people learn I have depression. Heck, I’ve had it from my own family. That sense of them not knowing what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to treat me now. Like I’ve suddenly grown an extra head, and they don’t want to appear rude by staring. It’s like in Perfect Strangers; everyone so delicately asking Raymond if he’s alright, but not wanting to mention the gory details of exactly what happened. So concerned, but so English about it.

It’s not so bad when you can talk to people about it, or when they only know about the depression in an abstract sense, and I’m still normal old me around them. They don’t have to adjust, and it becomes something like a hip replacement: something to be asked after, sympathised with, but not something that impacts them at all, that they have to do anything about. But sometimes something unavoidable happens, and I can’t keep my friends and the illness separated any more. Normal old me suddenly becomes miserable, crying, walking-out-into-traffic me, and yeah, I can see how that’s scary, no matter if you know me a lot, or only a little. If they’ve never seen that from me before, I’m not surprised people react like they do.

But I wish they didn’t.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Fetch me my Stamp of Satire!

Seriously, people in this world are becoming so moronic that I honestly wonder if some people of our parent's generation started mating with vegetables as part of the 70's Free Love movement...

Either that or the internet really does give stupid people a licence to air their misfortune to a wider audience.

Earlier in the year I expressed my annoyance at Depression Facebook Statuses that did nothing, and were fucking disengenuous to boot.

Then later I got pointed in the direction of this article, by a friend of mine, and recognised the similairites. Full disclosure here - I particpated in the handbag one; mostly because I can't resist a good double entendre, and though I'd like to pretend to be the epitome of what it means to be a feminist in this day and age, even I mess it up on occasion and engage keyboard before brain. *headdesk* mea culpa.

Then, we get onto Movember. And actually... well, this one seems quite well thought out. The concept of Sponsorship has reared it's head, and the idea of actually doing something fun that also benefits others.

And then finally we get this.
Dear sweet Jesus... please tell me this is Satire. Please tell me that this is the same vein as the F-word article... please tell me that this is taking the piss out of the notion that the only valid contribution women can make to charity is via their breasts or vaginas, and not espousing that notion in the first place...

I mean, obviously it is satire. Obviously. But I still want to get a big rubber stamp out and slam it down over the video just so there's no doubt whatsoever. Because the world is full of morons, and people like me who occasionally engage keyboard before brain, and Dear God do I *not* want people to take this seriously...

Oh, and those ones about people being eaten by dragons, or killed on the Death Star? Funny the first time dudes. Getting very old now.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Of Poppies

Today is Remembrance Day.

I have qualms with calling it “Poppy Day” or even sometimes “Armistice Day”, because I’ve always felt that was missing the point.

This is the day we Remember, and as fewer and fewer of us are left who actually do remember from personal experience, it is becoming more and more important that the torch is passed on to those generations born after 1945.

This isn’t a day of tribute. We, in this country, do owe a debt of gratitude to those soldiers who fought and died to keep us British and free of foreign rule, but we also owe the same debt to almost everyone of that generation. The contribution of non-combatants; those ambulance drivers, medics, code-breakers, munitions factory workers, Land Girls, and everyone who kept the country running while the soldiers were away; cannot be discounted. Yet we have a day to remember those who died... and a lot of people have forgotten why we do that. Not because they deserve more thanks than those who survived, but because it is important to remember the toll that warfare takes. It is important to remember how high is the price that can be valued in human lives.

The best way we can pay tribute to those men and women who have lost their lives to conflict is to make sure that no-one ever has to pay that price again. And for us to be able to do that, we need to remember the horror, not the glory of warfare. Because it’s all too easy to see the ritual, and the Last Post in the same light as all the other ceremonies and rituals we have in this country – something in the nature of a school assembly that must be endured before we get a half-day holiday.

This year, back in September, I went to Europe, and while I was in Poland, I spent a day at Osweรงim – the little town that we know by its German name: Auschwitz. The experience was a harrowing one, but one I am glad that I had. You hear about it in history lessons, but hearing about it, and actually seeing the gas-chambers, the rows upon rows of huts and places where huts once were at Birkenhau, the tiny cramped cells in the prison block where people were made to stand five at a time without light and barely any air, the scaffold and the firing wall, the piles of personal effects still kept in the museum, the piles of clothing and human hair, it is a very different experience. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like before liberation, and even attempting is painful.

Poland is a beautiful place. The countryside in September is almost like Britain. You can walk around the little gravel streets between the red-brick huts, down the rows of trees and grass, and for a moment think that this is just another Autumn day. And then you remember. You are standing in the place where, literally, millions of people were murdered. Not one by one, but en mass. This was a cold, clinical, destruction line; a factory for death. It is chilling to think that such atrocities happened in a place that so looks like my home country. The thought that struck me most was; if it could happen here, it could happen anywhere. And that is why we cannot become complacent. We cannot think that it can’t happen, wouldn’t happen here, not here, because it did. It happened in a place just like home – which was home to some – and we cannot forget that, or else it will happen again.

I have heard that the experience of seeing the battlefields in Belgium is a similar experience, and I hope one day to see those as well. Because it is important that we understand, and more importantly, that we Remember.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Quick Fix

Ok, so I've just been reading This little article about relative harms of drugs, legal and illegal.

A few points to think about:

1. Because Alcohol is much more "harmful" than other drugs, does this mean that we should tighten up control over alcohol, or relax restrictions on other drugs?

2. Is the amount of harm caused by alcohol partly to be explained because it's more available than other drugs?

3. Could the amount of harm caused by "soft" drugs be reduced even further were they subject to the same amount of control and licensing as alcohol and tobacco are now?

Answers on a post card please...

Not Dead Yet

Ok, so it's been a while... and sadly, I don't think this post is going to signal a return to regular updates either, though there's a few bits and pieces that might be turning up here soon.

In my time-off, I've been to Europe, which was fantastic, finally got some counselling, which has also helped things, made more friends, been more busy, and generally got one of these Life things that people have been going on about.

I've started doing a bit of writing for an online magazine called Sabotage, which is well worth a read, though I've only got one article up there so far. If I can get myself together, there will be more.

In terms of shouty feminism - I'm trying to lay off; pick my battles, and not get too involved in stuff I can't change right now, or I will bash my brains out on that brick wall. My opinions haven't changed, but I'm trying not to court opportunities for me to express them quite so much.

Though, having said that... There was this article in the Guardian...

I don't think I even need to explain why that is so badly wrong, and utterly, utterly counterproductive to any idea of increasing the rate and accuracy of rape convictions.

In terms of shouty politics... well, let's just say that the Con-Dem Nation has been giving me plenty to go on. Not least this latest suggestion that the long-term jobless should be forced into "work" (at what works out as less than minimum wage) or see their benefits cut.
You see, that could have been a great idea - give the unemployed a chance to boost their CV with some voluntary work, whilst still on JSA* so they can support themselves whilst still working towards their career.
But no. This is the usual Tory bullshit which assumes that all people on welfare are scroungers and Chavs, and we shouldn't have to pay for them to be layabouts, so we'll make them pick up litter until they get a proper job.
Oddly enough, even the people on the BBC's Have Your Say section (not usually noted for being a bastion of common sense) have actually some sensible things to say about what a pathetic idea this is. And when even they're starting to sound more sensible than a government proposal, you know something's wrong somewhere...
Even the Archbishop of Cantebury's chipping in on this one (though the link isn't working for me to link to), and as usual is being eminently sensible.

I think there's plenty of comment out there without my needing to chip in my $0.02, so I'll leave it for now. Suffice to say that when asked to list my 4 biggest Turn-Offs in a man, one of the first things I thought of was "Tory".

Anyway, life goes on, tum te tum...

*I keep thinking of this as Justice Society of America, and getting visions of Clark Kent in the dole queue... You can tell I spent too long working on a PhD in Comics...