Reviewsday – Grief

Reviewsday doesn’t quite work on a Wednesday. Revednesday. Nope. That Bank Holiday’s made a right mess of things!

Anyway, we have a bit of a dark Reviewsday this week… I’ve decided to review Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief. Most of you will have experienced grief at some point in your life; the loss of a friend or a family member, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship. Many things create in us a state of grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross put forth the theory that the brain goes through a series of stages when coping with grief. Her initial thoughts were that these stages were passed through by a person suffering with a terminal illness, but the theory has since been expanded to cover any form of grief.

The stages can be remembered by the acronym DABDA; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Different people will pass through the stages at different rates. Some people may skip stages; this is just a rough guideline. Grief is on my mind quite a bit at the moment. In real life I’ve got a very poorly Nanna, and a very poorly dog. Both mean a heck of a lot to me, and the prospect of losing either one is ridiculously upsetting. Slightly more trivial; a couple of the short stories I’m currently writing involve emotional devastation; through death or through the learning of terrible truths. So I’m very aware of grief right now, and the most pragmatic part of my brain wants to deconstruct the stages to be better prepared.

Denial
Somewhat toddler-like, we start out with the sheer refusal to believe that the impending doom is going to happen. This is the desperate attempts to believe that it’s all going to be alright. Maybe you misheard the news, maybe the test results got mixed up and it’s really happening to someone else. Maybe there was some sort of mistake. Maybe this is all some terrible dream and in the morning you’ll wake up and it’ll be ok.

Anger
So you wake up and it’s not ok. And the next morning you wake up and it’s still not ok. And eventually it sinks in that this terrible thing is happening whether you like it or not. You really don’t like it, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening and the powerlessness drives you absolutely crazy. The more you can’t do anything, the more angry you get that it’s happening. It’s not fair, you’re better than this horrid thing. You’ve worked so hard to do the right things, why should this happen to you?

Bargaining
The anger breaks on the hundredth utterance of ‘It’s not fair’ and a last ditch of desperation appears. You find yourself willing to do anything to escape your fate. You walk the safest paths and avoid anything even remotely risky, you swear by whatever deity you believe in that you will be the best person you can be if only they give you another chance. I would call this step ‘Desperation’ except that would ruin the acronym; no one wants to associate ‘DADDA’ with grief.

Depression
Your bargains receive no answer, the impending awfulness is still impending and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So you give up. You shut out well-wishers and you wallow in futile sadness that it’s all so very out of your control. Now the tears shed are not the tears of shock, but the tears of how bloody rotten everything is, and how this shouldn’t be happening, and how distraught you are now you know what you’re distraught about.

Acceptance
Then something clicks in your understanding. It’s not necessarily the serenity of being granted the knowledge to see what you can’t change, or however that goes, but rather the point when you realise that there’s nothing you can do about the fact that there’s nothing you can do. You’re no less sad than you were, no less angry at the way things are, but you’re probably a bit less stressed and able to deal with the things you need to deal with.

And that’s that. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

Now, to make up for the really sad subject, here’s a couple of adorable things.
really cute puppies grief
adorable baby kitten

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Let’s hear it for the Vernal Equinox!

This article was going to be about the Budget. But I really didn’t feel like rehashing the figures every other British blogger with a slight political bent would be delving into. It affects us all, beer’s gonna be cheaper and petrol’s not rising. There – that’s my coverage. Instead I want to talk to you a bit about spring and about beliefs and about why I like spring the best out of all the seasons. I’ll give you a clue; it contains my birthday!
I’ve never really understood why people make New Year’s Resolutions. I personally have very little time for New Year – it’s just a night which becomes a day. Ok so it’s a new calendar year… So what? I like numbers, I like patterns, I like it when the digital clock says 12:34 as much as the next person (please say that’s not just me being weird!) but I’m just not fussed about New Years…
The Vernal Equinox, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. This time of year totally deserves a celebration!
Never in my life have I ever really been religious. My parents aren’t religious, so I was raised in the way of the non-believers. I went to a Christian Infant School and a Primary School because they were in the village I grew up in; and so I was educated in the way of the Lord’s Prayer, and we sang hymns in assembly, but none of it really permeated my belief system. Later in my teens I dabbled in witchcraft. There’s not much else I can call it, regardless of how ridiculous that sounds. It wasn’t really witchcraft; I bought some spell books, collected gemstones and different-coloured candles and incense and attempted to believe that I could change things using willpower, pretty ribbons and the position of the moon. I grew out of this phase fairly quickly, but I’ve always harboured a scholarly interest in the real religion behind the witchcraft I was ‘practising’.

It all boils down to one general thing; I can’t get behind the idea of a deity, multiple deities or some ethereal presence. It just doesn’t work with my particular set of beliefs. I believe in what I see, in what has been proven by science, or what the evidence strongly points towards. This does not include gods, ghosts or the afterlife. So yeah; I’m a bit of a sceptic. But I’m also a strong believer in right and wrong, in avoiding causing hurt or damage to other people, and in treating others as they ought to be treated. These last two especially are very much a staple teaching in Christianity (do unto others as you would have them do to you) and Wicca (an ye harm none, do what ye will). This shouldn’t really be a surprise, the culture I’ve grown up in is steeped in influence by both religions, and I was brought up to be a conscientious young lady, sharing and caring and doing the right thing.

Where does this all lead back to the Vernal Equinox? Well it’s sort of to do with the Wiccan thing, I guess. Even after deciding I sat firmly in the atheist camp I’ve had this interest in the Wiccan beliefs. I’m a fantasy author and I like to write about worlds where hedgewitches are commonplace, and are basically practising Wiccans with a healthy dose of artistic license. In doing my research for this I have come across the Wiccan calendar and have become more aware of the solstices, equinoxes and other festivals. For those not in the know; there are two solstice; the summer solstice in June to mar the longest day, and the winter solstice in December to mark the longest night. The equinoxes are when dawn and dusk are 12 hours apart; making the day and night of equal length. In between these four festivals are another four festivals. They give structure to the year, whilst also bearing religious meaning. I like them because they just make sense to me. Setting time by the rising and setting of the sun is more scientific to me than marking the passage of the year by historical events of significance. Thinking about these alternative holidays has made me question the holidays I currently celebrate, and the approach of Easter has brought this to the forefront of my thoughts.

The thing is, I live in a Christian country. Heck, we even have our own brand of Christianity in the form of the Church of England. Because of this, our national holidays fit in with the Christian calendar. We have Christmas off, we have time off for Easter, whenever that occurs. There are a few days off thrown into May and August as well, but the big deals are Easter and Christmas. This has always seemed a little odd to me, but then I’ve never complained – I got presents at Christmas and chocolate eggs at Easter, and complaining would have taken those away! But now, as an adult, it all seems rather hypocritical; to celebrate the birth and the death of a man who became the centre of this entire religion when I don’t really think he was anything more than just a man, if he even existed.

Don’t get me wrong; I still want my Christmas presents and I still want my Easter eggs, I just want to look at the festivities in a different way. Take Christmas, for example – let’s call it Yule. Let all of us non-Christians stop participating in someone else’s belief system. The Winter Solstice is the 21st December; the night is the longest; why not celebrate that with gifts and food and the gathering of family. The deep midwinter needs celebrating in order to take our minds off how very cold and dark it is outside. Isn’t that something a little more genuine to celebrate than the birth of the son of a god we don’t believe in? Come December I want to see Yule cards rather than Christmas cards. Christ has no place in my faithless world!

As for Easter, well my proposal is barely any different to what we already have. I put forward the notion of celebrating the Vernal Equinox (which was technically yesterday, so I’m a tiny bit off, timing-wise) for really, what’s not to celebrate? Ostara, as the Pagans call it, comes at a time of burgeoning life. The grey and brown misery of the winter months has started to lose its battle against the onslaught of green, yellow, pink and white. Daffodills have taken over from the snowdrops, blossom has started covering the trees. Life has returned to the world, and it’s such a beautiful thing. There are lambs in the fields, the bunnies have started coming out of their warrens, and the world seems a better place. I would therefore suggest that we do away with New Years Resolutions – who wants to be dieting or exercising or stopping bad habits in January? January is a time when we need all those comforts! In my world, the right time for spring cleaning your life is spring, whether it’s a clear out in the house, or an addressing of your weight or just a vow to read more. With the world around you blossoming and blooming you’ll get that extra boost of motivation and the task just might be made a bit easier.

While I’m at it, in my ideal world we’d probably celebrate the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox as well. Everyone loves the summer time; it’s warm (in theory) and we can use our gardens, we have more sunlight hours than we know what to do with, and as for the autumn, well we may not be quite as reliant on the harvest as we used to be, but that’s a failing of our modern age, in my mind. I would have us, as a country, become a little more self sufficient, and then we’d have cause to celebrate a good harvest and to have a good ol’ knees up at the end of the summer.

Apologies if this has been a bit of a hippy, waffling post, bashing organised religion and just generally without direction. I don’t really have a Gavel statement, though I’ll cobble something together, because that’s how we do things! I don’t think my ideas would ever become a new national holiday scheme, and as they’re sort of based on an existing religion, but without the religious aspects, I can’t see Joe Public taking them up of their own volition, so for now it might just be me, celebrating a little out of sync with the people around me.

I’m not even asking you to join me in my new quarterly celebrations. To be honest I’ll be impressed if I remember, come the summer solstice, that I was going to make a big deal of it! But what I am asking you to do is to think outside of the box. Easter is a societal norm, but it’s not really right for everyone.

We are our own people. We are not what our country dictates us to be.

But spring is the most awesome season. Gavel!

Discuss…

Little Victories

Twice today I have sat at my desk, in an office with seven others in it, and I have done the tiniest of fist pumps. Imagine, if you will, clenching your fist and moving it just a fraction of a centimetre, whilst thinking to yourself ‘Yes!!’ in a subtle act of celebration. Tiny little victory celebrations for tiny little successes. Moments in which I feel like I actually have some control over things.

I won’t bore you with the details, but for any of you techies out there; 6 months ago I knew nothing of C# and programming in ASP.net, and had never worked in IT, and today I am drawing close to delivering my first fairly large project. I’m feeling rather proud of myself. That feeling of pride didn’t even falter when I remembered I have to put this new bit of functionality through peer review, IT-level testing and then User Acceptance Testing, along with a massive lump of paperwork for the Change Control. Actual completion is a long way off, but in this moment I’m not thinking about that. In this moment I am celebrating that I have mastered output variables!

My life isn’t always celebration. Whose is? I have some really hard days, when I just feel emotionally exhausted by every little hardship. There are days when I just can’t get my mind in gear, and there are days when my sheer bloodimindedness makes every conversation an argument. Some days I just wish I could start an argument because then my anger would feel somewhat justified. Others I wake up in the morning and lie in bed and all I want to do is hide away forever beneath the safety of my duvet. But eventually the thought of feeding the dog and going to work force me out of bed and out of the house; forcing myself to act like a normal human being. Sure everybody has off days, but I have off weeks, off months, 2005 was pretty much entirely an off year.

It’s silly. I’m perfectly happy to complain to friends and family if I have the flu, or if my hayfever’s playing up. It’s just an acceptable fact – people get ill, or have recurring conditions which flare when the nasty trees decide that, as it’s March they ought to shower the world in their sneeze-inducing pollen. Thanks a bunch, trees! It’s not, however, socially acceptable to sit down at the dinner table, visiting good chums, and come out with ‘hey, guys, my depressions really playing havoc with my moods at the moment, so sorry if I’m acting like a total bitch, or going a bit awol, or just generally a grump-bag, I just need to sort out my headspace.’

Jennifer Lawrence put it perfectly after the Oscars, when she was talking about the film she won her Oscar for; Silver Linings Playbook. (I haven’t seen it. I wish I had, but I’ll be getting it on dvd for sure). But yeah, she said the following;

“I think that there’s such a huge stigma over it [mental illness], that I hope we can get rid of, or help… I mean, people have diabetes or asthma and they have to take medication for it. But as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there’s this instant stigma. Hopefully we’ve given those people hope, and made people realize that it’s not–”

I’ve never really been an advocate for mental illness. To be honest, I’ve never really wanted to admit that I could possibly have some form of an illness. Because that’s what it is; it’s a real-to-goodness illness, and it’s not really something I know enough about. I don’t even know for sure that I’ve got it, and it sounds ridiculously hyperchondriac, to me, to sit down and say ‘there’s something wrong with me’. But that’s coming from a gal who sees illness as a sign of weakness, despite knowing it not to be the case.

Anyway – why am I saying all this? I think it’s because I recently became aware of the Time To Change organisation. You might have seen their adverts on telly. Basically what they’re trying to do is to get people talking about mental health. A few stats from their site are as follows;

  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any one year.
  • 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems will experience stigma and discrimination.
  • At the time of writing, 34,893 people and organisations have added their name to their pledge wall.

So if it’s that widely spread, why aren’t we talking about it? Because somehow mental health issues have always been some sort of taboo. It’s the fear of the unknown – when someone breaks an arm you can see what’s wrong with them, but with mental illness it’s hidden inside the brain, and so people never knew how to deal with it – hence talk of wandering wombs and the catch-all solution of lunatic asylums. The world has changed, there are treatments available; both medical and psychological, and yet still there is silence.

I wrote on the Time To Change pledge wall that I would play my part in breaking the taboo. I will speak out about mental health.

There’s no big dark secret in my past. No horrid thing which happened to me which made me the way I am. I’ve not been abused or neglected. I was a happy, sorta outgoing teenager. Ok, I had a massive obsession with Lord of the Rings, and I didn’t have the most social of social lives because I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere, so I couldn’t really go out partying all night with my chums. But it was all good really. Looking back, I was never really great with people – by the time I’d left sixth form and was heading to uni I’d had two boyfriends, both of which were the most innocent of affairs. I’d had friends throughout school, but they seemed to disappear as soon as we’d split up for our various further educations/careers. Alone (almost), and in a far away town I was suddenly faced with my own self, and I wasn’t really all that enamoured by what I saw. I picked the wrong subjects, that much is easy to see now, but I never realised it at the time. But basically I wasn’t happy with myself, I wasn’t happy with my course, and I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do about it. I stopped going to uni – no one noticed if I was there or not, so it was quite easy to do (I kept going to work at the shop I’d got a job at – I put on the normal-person act fairly well, I think) and I wished each day that I had the strength to admit something was wrong, and to give it all up. I didn’t give up, but I managed to screw up my education, getting out of those three years with a measly ordinary degree to my name – no hons, and no chance of using it in real life. I left uni, cut myself off from the really supportive friends I made, and tried to make myself go on pretending to be normal. But I didn’t feel normal inside. I was lost and scared and angry, and I had no idea how to talk about it. So I didn’t. Instead I started self-harming. Little things at first; just scoring my skin with a pair of scissors. This escalated, and even to this day, 4 or 5 years after having stopped, I still have a lovely patchwork of raised scars where I would cut my arm. I look at them, when I’m feeling really low, and I think about how easy it would be to do it again, but I stop. Not because I’m better, but because it’s hard to put on the normal act when you’ve got fresh scabs to keep covered. Instead of self-harm, I have other coping mechanisms; avoidance (hiding from the world; spending weekends almost solidly in bed), denial (pretending as hard as possible that nothing is wrong, even when I feel like falling apart completely) and confrontation (I love a good debate, but when I’m feeling low I can get really aggressive; picking fights with my nearest and dearest over nothing at all).

I find this world difficult to cope with at times. I feel awkward and angry and afraid, and I don’t trust many people with that information. Or at least I haven’t until now. Hello internet… not quite the secret confidante you appear to be… But I’m not always miserable or self-destructive. Some days things go right. Some days I feel happy about the world. Some days I recognise the little victories which make life worthwhile.

Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health. It’s time to change. It’s time to be rid of the fear, the stigma and the discrimination. Gavel!

Discuss…

Normal: Thoughts on Maths and Life

“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.”
― Charlotte Brontë

I’m a bit of a nerd. Ok, often I’m quite a lot of a nerd. This is a sort of disclaimer for what is about to follow…

A confession: I’m rather fond of the normal distribution. It’s simple, beautiful and just makes so much sense to me, especially when talking about large populations, such as the human race. Take, for example, intelligence. The IQ test has been designed to identify a person’s ‘Intelligence Quotient’ which is basically a comparible level of intelligence for your age group. The average IQ is 100. That’s how the test is designed. The majority of people will have an IQ between 85 and 115, whilst you’ll find a small number of people below 70 or above 130, and a very tiny number below 55 or above 145.

IQ Bell Curve

So many other attributes can be plotted as a normal distribution; height, weight, any of your vital statistics, shoe size. It basically tells you what is normal for the population, and what is less common.

Which brings me on to today’s topic. ‘Normal’. (Yep, the more I type it, the less it seems like a real word… Is there a name for that?) Google’s definition of normal is as follows;

nor·mal
/ˈnôrməl/
Adjective
Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
Noun
The usual, average, or typical state or condition.
Synonyms
adjective. regular – standard – ordinary – common – usual
noun. normality – normalcy – perpendicular

I originally wanted to write today’s blog about the definition of the word ‘family’; about the typical nuclear family of mummy, daddy, brother and sister, and then about how that’s not the only option. But then I took a bit of a step back. I am lucky enough to live in a country where, although that family construction is ‘normal’, it’s not the only option. Homosexual couples can adopt children and soon should be able to marry, rather than enter into civil partnerships. Couples have the power to choose how many children they want, if any, and they have a number of options available to them to enable that to happen. The rant I was forming quickly fell to pieces as I realised that, although there is still plenty more to be done to ensure every person has the ability to have the family they want, we’re heading in the right direction.

What I am most curious about, as a single woman with more desire to have a child than to secure a husband, is how the other singletons do it. There are all too many cases of women becoming single mothers due to circumstance – relationships ending for various reasons, or never starting, but you rarely hear of the mother who chose to ‘go it alone’ from the beginning. More than that, you never hear of a man voluntarily becoming a single father; not through winning custody, nor through losing the mother, but through chosing as a single man to adopt a child, or to enlist the services of a surrogate mother.

So I did some googling… It turns out the rising levels of divorce/separation are actually making it easier for single people to adopt. It’s becoming less abnormal for individuals to raise children without being part of a functioning two-person unit. An article I found on parents.com (an American site, so the legal stuff is different, but the article is interesting. Link – http://www.parents.com/parenting/adoption/facts/can-a-single-person-adopt/ ) states that ‘Mental health experts say that the “ideal” is to place a child in a two-parent home with a mother and father who are compatible and loving.’ I can’t argue against the theory behind the statement, but I could argue that ‘compatible’ and ‘loving’ are highly subjective terms, and far from measurable, not to mention how it’s impossible to predict at the point of adoption what the next five or ten years will bring. It’s quite clear to me that a good number of two-parent homes fall short of the compatible and loving requirements, without churning out a hoard of emotionally damaged children. Likewise, a good deal of separated parents, and single-parent households manage to raise healthy children.

When my mother was my age; 2 months from her 28th birthday, she had been married for eight years, and was five months pregnant with me, her first child. In comparison, I am resoundingly unmarried and the closest thing I have to offspring is my oft-crotchety eleven year old labrador cross. I desperately want to have a child in the next five years, but I have no such drive to find a partner of either gender, let alone to rush into a marriage just to fulfil that need to become a mother. And so I find myself on the outskirts of the bell curve; ‘normal’ is the heterosexual two parent family, and here on the outside, but gradually increasing in number are the adopters, the fosterers, and the single parents. I have so many options; I could apply to adopt a child in need of a home and a parent, I could book an appointment with the local neighbourhood sperm bank and have a romantic evening with a turkey baster, or I could bump into my one true love on my journey home from work this evening and gradually slide on into the normal zone. The fact that I have these options is amazing, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been born in a country where I don’t have to be someone I’m not; where it’s no longer a toss up between being a wife or a spinster.

So you may hear us ranting a whole lot about the government, or the world as a whole. We can see a lot of things in need of fixing. But here and now I declare Britain to be ‘not all bad’. Gavel!

Discuss…

P.S : In my research into single fathers I came across the following blog and thought it looked rather interesting;
http://goodmenproject.com/