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On (Why I’ve Gone Off) Technology

I can’t remember if we say this in America; but in Britain, to “go off” something means to become disenamoured, to feel less enthusiastic about, to be less eager to experience, something. As a self-admitted techno-phobe, I didn’t think it was possible for me to be any more “off” technology… but I was wrong.

Last week (maybe a week and a half, now?) I bought a new computer. Like I say, I’m not keen on technology generally (one day Skynet is going to kill us all!!!) but even I could see the aesthetic appeal of the machine. It was (abnormally?) big and clean-looking, and it whirred like a tiny automobile. It came in a huge white case with 4 built-in fans, out of which shone a shiny light in the most electric shade of blue I have ever seen. It made ALL THE THINGS move more swiftly, from checking my email, to playing Facebook games, to ordering take-out online. Most importantly, it ran the MMORPG that I wanted to play, which my old pc was not powerful enough to manage (Guild Wars 2).

Finally, Panda Mc Chai, ranger extraordinaire(ish) could be reborn, in a newer, glossier, more complicated, high-tech, fluidly interactive world, the likes of which I had never seen. I spent an obscene amount of money on a graphics card, spent a ridiculous amount of time downloading files, and then filled all 5 of my character slots with glorious, colourful, amusingly named creations; I became everything from a human, to a Charr (were-beast, minus the were), to a Sylvari (an elf, basically) to a Norn (giant Viking) to an Asuran (tiny Yoda-lookalike).

And then I played. Oh, I played. I levelled up faster than… well… my fella, for instance, who had to go to work, that week. I ignored… well… not my kids (much) but all of the lovely folks who have made me feel so accepted, as part of the blogging community. I stayed up… well… more than one night, all night, and then slept the following day. It was glorious. And I still made time to play the original Guild Wars–I have a necromancer who wants nothing more than to max out her Kurzick faction points (may the great houses of the Echovald stand forever).

If none of that makes any sense to you, don’t worry about it. I’m a massive nerd/loser/pick the term of your choice, and I LOVE being one. You don’t have to understand; just know that sometimes, when living on Earth is too much, I go to Tyria. And since I spent my teenage years reading unofficial Star Trek books and daydreaming about moving to the planet Vulcan, I am well and truly used to being mocked. I really, genuinely don’t care. I have been a nerd so long, I OWN that, now. I pwn it, even. Amanda = nerd.

What I am not, however, is a geek.

A true geek, you see, is the most useful of all the loser-tastic subsets. A geek, in its purest form, can almost certainly do some level of computer programming, or speak several languages, or get an advanced degree in mathematics/physics/chemistry; it can certainly do *something* that’s of actual, legitimate, intelligence-necessitating use.

A geek, for example, will almost certainly know how to fix its computer, should the worst happen. A geek will not, for example, be left writing blog entries on their OLD pc, while they wait for real geeks to get back to them with a solution re: why their shiny, brand-new, prohibitively expensive computer refuses to load its operating system.

A real geek, God bless his good-natured heart, IS fixing my pc… but until then, Panda Mc Chai 2.0, et al., are all grounded… and I’m reduced to staring at my now-too-big monitor, which is displaying so few pixels (courtesy of my old pc) stretched so far that I can almost count them. For, oh, the hundredth time or so, I’ve had a machine conk out, placing fun and work alike in distant, unreachable places, which I have to entreat other people to obtain for me. To add insult to injury, THIS time, it’s been done by a brand-new machine, for which I paid (have I mentioned?) rather a large sum of money, and which I was assured was an above-average specimen, certain to fufill all my gaming, word processing, and studying needs for several years… 5 days before it died on me.

And THIS is why I hate technology… because it hated me FIRST.

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On… Sabbatical?

I’m not, of course. This isn’t, like, a job, or better yet, a career, in which I hold some sort of tenured position. I don’t get to take a break, and come back to find anything waiting for me.

But you get the idea. I’ve taken a few days, and I may take a couple more. Just a few days, to get a grip on myself, as it were…

I’m off to take my fucking meds, now.

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On, “The Merchant of Venice”

I’ve been nominated for an award (woo! yay! nerves! what do I do now!) and I’m working on my response (including nominating other bloggers–SO NERVOUS). While I’m working on that, I figured I should post something, so I’ve finished another entry I was working on. I promised you rants, and here’s the first… uhhh… enjoy?

First of all, let me say, this isn’t so much a post about “TMoV” as an exhortation to NEVER READ IT.

Seriously. Never read it.

“The Merchant of Venice,” while famous for its use of a strong female character several hundred years before that became the norm–if it’s even the norm nowadays–is also essentially a book about why it’s okay to hate Jewish folks. I kid you not, the moral of the story is basically how it’s cool to cheat/deceive/defraud/loathe Jews, because, well, scheming Christ-killer Jew-babies. The awesome twist near the end of the play is where the main character–a Jewish dude, Shylock (the root of the term “sheister” or “sheisty”? a variation on those terms?)–gets tricked by his daughter, et al., and he apparently totally deserves it because a) he’s rich (and everyone knows, Jews only make money because they’re so willing to cheat everyone else) and b) he wants to uphold his (dirty, nasty, baby-eating, Jewish) traditions.

Shylock’s a turd, no question, and he deserves some come-uppance, whether he’s Jewish or a Gentile; but the problem is, the entire play is a long list of examples showing how he’s an awful guy *because* he’s Jewish. Or, you know, a “misbeliever, cut-throat dog”, in the play’s vernacular.

Alternate titles for “The Merchant of Venice” could be: “TMoV: Why Hating Jews is Good!” or “TMoV: 101 Insults for the Jews in Your Life” or “TMoV: How One Old Jewish Dude Totally Got What He Deserved, When His Daughter Ran Off with Some Guy She’d Known for Like a Day, and a Terrible Play Was Written Celebrating How She Escaped Her Father’s Jewishness and (thanks be to Christ) Married a Gentile”.

WTF????

My reaction feels all the worse, because typically, I love Shakespeare. I prefer his sonnets to his plays, a lot of the time, and my favourite Shakespearian play (thus far–I’ve not read that many) is “Julius Caesar”, which may be an odd choice, but… TMoV just left me cold.

Or, you know. Incandescent with rage.

Worst. Comedy. Ever.

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On Anti-Depressants–Part 2

Anyways, so, me and quite a few of my folks. Our brains don’t deal with Serotonin properly, and so, we use a class of drugs known as SSRIs. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors… just what it sounds like, in other words. It inhibits our dodgy neurons from reuptaking all the Serotonin they make, so some can actually get to the next neuron, and we can actually *use* Serotonin inside our brains.

Serotonin’s an important one; it’s involved in mood, appetite, gauging social situations, sleep, and loads of other things that matter less, to me. For me, it’s good to finally understand why, even as a child, I often got 5 hours of sleep per night, or less. It’s nice to understand why, when everything is right in my world, I sometimes feel no pleasure or joy at all; just emptiness. It’s nice to know that my obsessive thoughts and depressing, terrifying fixations were the product of a chemical imbalance, and not just me, not trying hard enough to think positive thoughts.

It’s even nicer to take the damn pills, and get some sleep once in a while (at night, and everything!) and to not have dozens of full-blown panic attacks in the same day. (I counted once–30 is more than 2 dozen, ergo, “dozens”, although I grant you that’s getting by on a technicality… I was sleeping 3 hours a night, then, and having terrible nightmares, and waking up every hour within those hours… where were you then, Serotonin???)

Anything’s better than that. Death would have been better than that. I was planning death, actually; but since I was half out of my mind, convinced I would go to a fiery Hell and burn for eternity, AND my kids, growing up without me (their dad doesn’t believe in anything) well they’d be doomed to the same fate… in the end, my boyfriend took me to the doctor, and they put me on meds, and within 2 weeks, I was happy again. I thought maybe I was a little TOO happy, after a lifetime of watching my dad (he’s bipolar)… but the headshrinker said not. So, here I am. On my meds, and grateful every day of my life that I didn’t do something unforgivable, when I was going batshit crazy.

But taking the meds has its challenges, too. I take something other than what they started me on, because on the first SSRI, I got to the point of sleeping 14 hours a day, and still being too tired to do anything. My sex drive (a rapacious, excitable, excessive drive, or so I’ve been told) utterly disappeared–it’s hard to have a sex drive, when you can barely feel your genitals, and having an orgasm has become an impossible goal. I was also getting fat (fatter, really); too much Serotonin makes you hungry, and I was eating for England and America combined. So I swapped my meds, and the one I’m on now gives me less of the same type of trouble; reduced sexual pleasure, as opposed to non-existant; sleeping patterns that are erratic, but I can live with them; days where I’m starving and days where I hardly eat at all, but it sort of balances out.

My current medication also occasionally puts me in a scarily high mood–if I were bipolar, for example, being on anti-depressants and regularly going 36 hours without sleep, and wanting to have sex a dozen times a day and switching between deliriously happy and angry enough to punch someone in the face might be considered signs of mania–but hey, they told me I’m just depressed, not bipolar, and who am I too argue?

And really, who AM I too argue? Just a whackado who almost killed herself–and was wondering whether or not she should take her kids with her, because why should they have to stay in a world that’s so horrible I can’t bear it?–and who, no matter what, is going to be on some kind of medication for the rest of her life. I’m a firm believer in modern medicine, and better living through pharmaceuticals, and I can live with the fact that the drugs probably do a surprisingly high amount of damage to my internal organs.

I’d rather die of liver failure when I’m 60, than of tying a rope around my neck when I’m 30.

So I take the meds (plural, because as well as my daily dose of happy pill, I have a tranquilizer for short-term use, if and when my anxiety gets out of control) and I deal with the side-effects. I took my pill before I started writing this, actually, and I can feel a hint of fuzziness around the edges of my mind–what WAS that final point, I wanted to make?–but it’s of no consequence.

The final point is that I’m on anti-depressants, and I always will be; and although it was the thing I feared most, when I was a teenager (after my dad got his diagnosis of bipolar) I have lived through something that was worse. To ensure that, if I ever have a repeat of that experience, I live through it again, I will stay on the meds… even at their sometimes astronomical cost.

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On Anti-Depressants–Part 1

I thought about calling this post “On Depression”; but then, how would I have the cute pun in the title?

I’ve been taking pills to even out my moods for about 3 years now. On my other blog, I tell a little tale of how that came to be–www.superdepressed.com–but the how doesn’t matter. The why, does.

It involves the brain, mostly, and the neurons within; and SO luckily for you, I’m doing a degree in psychology right now, so you get to read about what neurons actually are. In essence, they’re the cells that transmit information around your body. They work by, essentially, spraying chemicals across your synapses (the space between 2 neurons).

So the first neuron says to the second neuron, “Hey, how about some chemical goodness?” And if the second neuron responds, then it’s probably a non-damaged, functional neuron, of the same type as the previous neuron. Neurons work in a way that’s a bit like language; they only respond to certain chemicals, and if you spray them with a different one, they don’t respond at all, a bit like a Japanese tourist asking an English… no, scratch that, every Japanese tourist I ever met spoke at least 3 different languages. I’ll try again.

So, if the first neuron sprays the second neuron with a chemical it can’t accept, it’s like you walking up to Helen Keller and verbally asking her a question. It’s not that she’s ignoring you; she just can’t hear/see you, so, you know. How can she respond? That’s what generally happens, when a neuron gets hit by the wrong chemical–nothing.

If it’s the right chemical, though, it gets grabbed by the second neuron, which causes the neuron to get all excited (it’s called excitation, seriously, it is) and generate an electrical impulse. That electrical impulse moves down the neuron, all the way to the end, where it fires off a spray of, well, whatever chemical got it excited in the first place. This happens about eleventy-billion times a day, inside your body, and it’s how chemicals called neurotransmitters do a lot of things, a lot of which are related to mood. Dopamine, for example, is involved with pleasure; and if you snort cocaine, you’ll flood your synapses with dopamine, and for a while, they won’t reuptake the dopamine (remember that word, reuptake) and so the dopamine will just sit there, hanging around your synapses, exciting your pleasure neurons, and thereby exciting you.

It sounds like good fun, actually. The problem being, your neurons can’t *make* dopamine, etc, unless some of the chemical gets reuptaken (there’s that word again) so they can synthesize more. So eventually, you run out of ALL the dopamine, even the normal amounts, and then, instead of being high, you crash.

Ideally, keeping yourself on an even keel works best. No crazy highs, no bottomless lows, just normal variations within normal parameters.

But for some of us (me, my dad, one of my uncles, one of my cousins, one of my grandmothers, one of my brothers, etc) our brains don’t really work as they should. In our brains, when we make the chemical Serotonin, too much of it gets reuptaken (again, that word).

And the thing is, if a chemical gets reuptaken by the neuron that made it, nothing happens then, either. It’s like writing a letter and remembering you didn’t put a stamp on it, so you snatch it away from your neighbour who was gonna post it for you, you take it back home, and then leave it in a desk drawer (and then your best friend’s pissed off because you never sent her a birthday card, but that’s a story for another day).

The reuptake of chemicals is important; your neurons need to reuptake some of what they make, so they can make more; but if they reuptake too much… if you keep the cheque itself, as well as the stub, ain’t nobody’s water bill getting paid.

I think that’s enough analogies for today, and enough words in general. I’ll add more, hopefully tomorrow; but for now, I leave you with one of my favourite commercials ever. Behold: the Zoloft Egg. (Before things got so bad that I needed medication, I used to think of this little dude, and hope that, if worse came to worst, thoughts of him would make me feel better.)

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On Autism–Part 2

So, to recap, my children are unique and struggle uniquely, but they are wonderful, as well. Here are some of the reasons why:

Conversations with my son. Now, this is a child who never made the expected “babbling” sounds; all developmentally on-track babies make noises like “ma” and “da” and “ba” by the time they’re around 9 months old. (My daughter, who’s the “more” autistic of my kids, would actually pitch-match, at that age–I’d sing a note, she’d sing it back, we could do 3-4 notes in a row. Anyway, I digress.) My son was nearly 3 before we heard him do anything other than laugh or cry, and he started using words after his 3rd birthday (and at first, every word he knew was a number). Now, he’s nearly 6, and what a difference a couple of years makes. One of this week’s highlights:

Gabriel: “Oh! It’s a poopies. That’s okay. Ah! It’s stuck! Help!” this afternoon, after requesting his nappy (diaper).
Me: “Oh, is it an ouch? It will help if you drink more juice. Would you like some?”
Gabriel: “No, thank you.” (He’s a stickler for the niceties.)
Me: “Are you sure? Drinking the juice will make the poopies soft, so they won’t get stuck.”
Gabriel: “No. Finished.” As he sits down, evidently much more comfortable.

It’s in my best interests to just give him the nappy, to be fair–when I don’t, he shares his displeasure (and spurting wee-wees) with the world. When I do, I get conversations like the above.

Another wonderful thing about my kids is… uh, conversations with my daughter, actually. And just her sense of humour, really. Again, this is a child who had about 10 words and phrases when she was a year old, who lost them one by one (the worst 18 months or so of my life, probably) and then slowly gained them all back, and more. She’s less proficient with language than her little brother, but even so, she’s a lot of fun. An example from last night:

Naomi: “Naomi is a fish!”
Me: “Naomi is NOT a fish. Naomi is a girl.” And I make it into a little song, because Naomi loves music.
Naomi, laughing hysterically: “Naomi is fish fish fish fish!”
Me: “Naomi is not a fish, Naomi is not a fish, Naomi is a girl, Naomi is not a fish!” still singing.
Naomi, red in the face from laughing so much, changes tactics. Setting her hand on my knee, she goes: “This one’s Naomi and Gabriel’s leg!”
Me: “That is NOT Naomi and Gabriel’s leg–that’s my leg! Mommy’s leg!”
Naomi, pointing at herself, giggling like a fiend: “THIS one is Mommy.”

And the game continues. Just for the record, she’s also the sort of person who’ll move your belongings while you’re not looking, and watch you out of the corner of her eye, giggling maniacally, as you search for them.

Another thing I’ve noticed about my kids is the… longevity? continuity?… of their personalities. My daughter is not, and never has been, one to get hysterical over minor injuries. If she falls down (flat on her face, in a way to leave numerous dark bruises) she’ll go, “Oww!” in a sort of annoyed grunt, and then she gets up and goes back to whatever she was doing. She’s much the same over routine changes (somewhat surprisingly)–if we tell her we’re going somewhere, she just shrugs, grabs her boots, and heads to the front door. Stoic, that’s what Naomi is… but surprisingly tender-hearted, as well. Falling and smashing her nose open might not make her cry, but if I raise my voice at her, I’d better be prepared to put her on my lap and cuddle her until she stops weeping… which is actually rather nice.

My son is phenomenally cheery, even when bad things happen. If he has to do something he doesn’t like, chances are, he makes it into a game and just starts laughing over it. Case in point, as I type this, Naomi’s taken a toy from him, and she’s holding it out of his reach. He’s annoyed, I can see it on his face, but he can’t help but laugh a little, as well. Getting up to retrieve his toy for him, I step on his foot and kinda kick the back of it, and I can tell it hurts him a little, and he just goes, “Oh, whoops!” and kinda grins at me, because he knows he’s right–I’m just clumsy. Sometimes when things like that happen, he tells me, “That’s okay, it was an accident!” and when I kiss him better, his response is usually, “Aww, thank
you, Mummy.”

I’m telling you, they are the best kids I’ve ever met; and if they’re a representative sample of autism, well, I vote for more autistic kids in the world 😉 I cannot think of 2 people I’d rather spend time with, than my little lovelies–and woe betide you, if you should say something about what a tragedy autism is, in front of me. Many an online commenter has had me rip them a new one over that, and rightly so–life is largely what you make of it, and when life gives you apples when it’s giving other people oranges, well damn. Just make a pie, instead of wishing you had orange juice.

The pie might take more work, but it’s just as nice as the orange juice, in the end.

And if that rather convoluted analogy didn’t make sense to you, just take this away with you–my kids are fruits. The sweetest fruits of my life so far.

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On Autism–Part 1

I’m going to call this entry that, but it’s not really about autism; I’m not a trained professional in that field, and it’s been a couple of years since I read anything written by a professional, on the subject. This entry is going to be about my 2 kids, who happen to be autistic, with just enough background information to give you an idea of their struggles as well as their triumphs. In the interests of brevity, I’m going to give you 2 examples of the areas in which they struggle most.

First of all, autism presents a… unique series of challenges, for my kids. Loud noises don’t startle them, so much as terrify them and temporarily obliterate their confidence. I spent 2 years carrying my boy everywhere outside, because the sound of a car (just driving, not turning on or back-firing or anything–it was just the sound of the motor) sent him to the ground, back against the nearest wall, hands clamped on ears, too scared even to cry. Even now, at nearly 8 and nearly 6, both of my kids stop cold and slam their hands over their ears, eyes darting feverishly, mouths slack with fear, if they hear an unexpected loud noise (especially in an unfamiliar place). I won’t lie; this can make things tricky on a good day, and downright dangerous, besides–they have been known to suddenly bolt across, for example, a parking lot, in front of the very real threat of moving cars, to escape the noise of something that is essentially harmless.

Secondly, pretty much every food known to man does, or has, made them physically sick. New (or old, but hated) tastes, textures, smells, even colours of food, can make them do anything from gag lightly to projectile vomit everywhere. They’re not faking it, they’re not trying to get out of eating their greens–my daughter spent 3 years throwing up whenever *I* ate something sloppy, like spaghetti bolognese, and my son most often gags when we try to give him sweets. (We’re odd, I suppose–I just want him to enjoy a chocolate, or a hard candy, or a gummy bear, or something.) This dislike of random textures extends to things like brushing their teeth… my son will just about let us brush him thoroughly (and he hasn’t had a cavity yet) but my daughter’s dental hygiene is very hit-and-miss, and she had several baby teeth pulled/capped/otherwise altered, to proactively protect her adult teeth. As to why we don’t just brush her teeth… have you ever tried to hold down a kicking and screaming 7-year-old, while holding her mouth open, while brushing her teeth, while pinning her hands, while stopping her from running away? There’s no gentle way to do it, and when she’s not cooperating, it’s a 2-person job. A heartless-seeming, brutal, soul-destroying 2-person job.

These, and many other challenges, can be disheartening, frustrating, terrifying, ridiculous, maddening, and occasionally, hilarious; but for all that, I have to say, I wouldn’t trade my babies for any other kids in the world.

(TBC)

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