Friday, 28 February 2014

My Mad Fat and Frankly Wonderful Diary

If you’re unfamiliar (I’m unsure of its availability in other countries, although apparently there’s a US version in the pipeline) My Mad Fat Diary is E4’s comic drama about the highs and lows of being a teenager in the height of the Cool Britannia of the mid-90’s, and the beginning of the second series has just aired in the UK.

Why am I telling you this? I picked up the first series all in one go during my period of temping interlaced with unemployment when I first moved to York. I expected it to be something which would pass an afternoon without expending too much brain power, be mildly entertaining in the process and leave it at that.

What I found in actual fact was a show with an almost revolutionary take on mental illness and overall health and appearance.

(Image from fanpop.com)

The main character Rae Earl is an overweight girl who in the first episode has just been discharged after a stay in a psychiatric ward to treat a variety of psychological conditions which have led her to self harming and binge eating. She also suffers from self image problems and a lack of confidence surrounding her weight.
Something else – Rae Earl is a real person. The show is based on My Mad Fat Teenage Diary – a book written by Earl using extracts from her teenage diary entries.

I had initially avoided the program when it first ran on television because Channel 4 and its group of channels aren’t exactly known for being sensitive in their handling of various topics like these. I will honestly hold my hand up and expected it to be a rather cruel car crash of a programme.

How wrong could I have been? Aside from Rae we also meet the other young people who live in the psychiatric ward, most notably Tix who suffers from an eating disorder, over exercising and an undisclosed problem which leads to her lashing out when touched by anyone or when she is feeling stressed.
At no point are any of these things trivialised, looked down upon or given to be anything less than the serious illnesses they are. On no occasion does My Mad Fat Diary make any distinction between physical and mental illnesses – the characters are ill, and no further categorisation is needed.

There’s something of the female equivalent of a mixture of Adrian Mole and The Inbetweeners about the show, and Sharon Rooney should win something for her performance in the lead role of Rae because she’s nothing short of fantastic.

(Probably the core message of the entire show. Also I should probably give you a language warning, because teenage girls are both rude and at times disgusting. I know, because I was one.)

Whilst the show does a brilliant job of exploring the consequences of mental ill health on young people (particularly anxiety and depression), I think one of its strengths is in its “everybody has problems” approach to the portrayal of adolescence. Within five minutes of meeting the character of Chloe I rolled my eyes and assumed instantly I was to be whacked over the head yet again with the hammer of “traditionally attractive people have horrible personalities and never have any problems whatsoever.” Oh how wrong I was.

The pretty and thin “popular” girls have their own insecurity problems too, and this is explored yet more in the opening of the second season. But lo! The male teenagers have issues too – the homosexual character of Archie’s desperate attempts to remain “under the radar” when the group progress from secondary school to college are disturbingly poignant in this respect.

There's no "You're a healthy weight, so you can't have an eating disorder", or "But you're attractive, you can't have insecurities."

My Mad Fat Diary deserves so much praise for both its effective handling of mental illness and the consequences they have on peoples lives and for its point blank refusal to play games of stereotype or comparison. It doesn’t treat the mentally ill characters as yet another statistic – they are all fully fleshed out and realised as human beings.  In short, it accepts that teenagedom was a scary place for us all.
I think there’s something to be learned from that.

I really recommend giving the show a try if you haven't seen it yet. I'm reliably informed that it is all available on Youtube!

Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Sunday, 23 February 2014

"The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills"

So said…. well pretty much everyone at some point in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, completed posthumously by Brandon Sanderson with 2013’s A Memory of Light. Bear with me, there is indeed a point to referencing what is held by many (if not myself) to be the greatest modern fantasy epic.

I had a complex love-hate relationship with the series over the ten years on-and-off of my reading it. I still maintain that the first four or five books are wonderful, and then there’s a sharp drop off in quality for me. I gave up (I thought for good) after the eleventh volume Knife of Dreams.

A few years later however I was drawn back in by picking up The Gathering Storm in a three for two offer as it was the least worst option for the free book. I can’t quite say why, but Sanderson’s own foreword and the words from the publisher Orbit re-kindled my interest. For whatever reason, I couldn’t quite turn away in the face of such overwhelming love and respect for the work and the author. I felt I owed it an attempt at least. I flew through it and the next volume Towers of Midnight. Troubled though the relationship may have been, I once again felt it needed the closure of the final book.

(There might have been a *squee* the first time I saw this. Image from Orbitbooks.net)

I read A Memory of Light in two days flat. Was it perfect? No, but then nothing is and Sanderson had a mountain of expectation to contend with. Was it the closure I wanted? Absolutely. I had uttered several times the fact that if the series didn’t end with a version of the iconic paragraph with which every volume began then I would count it a crime. I needn’t have worried, because Sanderson and Jordan before him were never going to be foolish enough to not do so. As was written, “There are no endings to the Wheel of Time.”

Time is something I’ve been thinking about, because I'm pretty poor at maintaining a calm relationship with it. Despite knowing the limitations of my body and its perpetually low spoon count, I still have an expectation to be able to accomplish everything in the initial (often unreasonable) time frame I give myself.

I’ve posted about the exercise routine I’ve taken up before, and I try to do that three to four times a week. Usually this works out reasonably well, but there are days when I'm so tired that it would be foolish to attempt it because the only likely result would be an injury and/or a flare up. However, when this happens I can’t help but feel I'm a day behind in terms of fitting enough sessions in. In essence, I feel that I'm constantly running out of time. Then of course there’s the wrong time of the month when the whole idea goes pear-shaped for the week.
This feeling carries through to simpler things too. I’ve always been someone who was up with the lark (half past 8 was a cracking lie in, in my book) but more often than not I sleep in much longer at weekends now unless I set an alarm. I can’t quite escape the feeling I’ve wasted half the day, even if I do feel better for the extra sleep which I obviously needed.

I think, in essence, I just don’t do very well with being tired.

The way I’ve tried to combat this is by a given point in a day (particularly a work day) I can just about tell how tired I'm going to be come the evening. Rather than getting to the evening and then being annoyed at my failure to manage to do what I wanted to get done, be it exercise, house work or whatever else, I hit this given point in the day and I mentally decide to give myself the evening off. It sounds too simple, but I can guarantee it works. You haven’t therefore failed to do anything, because the time off has been given like a gift. You’re not spending the evening on the sofa because you’re being lazy; you’re doing so because you have that gifted evening off.

(An evening off: gift wrap optional. Image from esse.com)

This proceeds into how much of something I'm able to do. A little of a task completed still makes me feel better than not doing anything at all, so I do sneak the odd bit into my “evenings off” just for the sake of my own sanity. I still can’t sit and look at a pile of ironing without going slightly barking in my need to get it finished. I'm learning, albeit very slowly.

At the end of the day though, what’s the worst that could happen? If I have a night off from exercise then I just need to accept that the aching may be worse the following day, and I’ll tackle it when I feel able. If the ironing doesn’t get completely finished, does anyone die? Do world-ending paradoxes begin to spring up?

What actually happens is that the cat ends up sleeping on it, which is irritating but not quite so disastrous. I did have some small modicum of revenge last weekend though as she was packed off to the vet to get her claws trimmed…. That’ll learn you, moggy.

I’m house proud and I like a house to be clean but I can either berate myself silly for my lack of spoons, thus leading to probably more fatigue and negative feeling, or I can just accept that we live with a very fluffy cat so a certain amount of cat hair is unavoidable. Even when I’ve just cleaned, she rolls all over before you can say “Stop it, I’ve just vacced that carpet!” Which she resolutely ignores.

So, if the wheel (or Wheel, depending on how you like to think) keeps turning regardless of how engaged you are with it, why not step off every so often? A little “me” time and relaxation certainly never made anything worse.

To fellow Wheel of Time readers, I will add just one more thing. Dovie'andi se tovya sagain.*


Do you find it difficult to take evenings/days off? How do you approach it?

Wishing you all many spoons. xxx
  


*Even a love-hate relationship won’t stop me remembering trivia from anything I read…

Sunday, 16 February 2014

"Another mug of mead 'til you fall down!"

... I stopped drinking quite some time ago and yet that's a fairly good analogy for what I've been feeling like recently. 

As you can see it's a quote, and it comes from Miracle of Sound's Skyrim-inspired "Nord Mead", which is below if you want to watch it (the answer is yes, you do). 

(Not that I've ever needed alcohol to "drink and sing and shout".... Miracle of Sound on Youtube)

Why you ask? I've had a medication dosage change. 

Nothing major in itself I suppose, just reducing the daily amitriptyline from 25mg to 10mg and there are a list of fairly sensible reasons for doing so, which this doctor was good enough to actually let me discuss and debate with him. He couldn't have been more different from the previous incarnation who only just stopped short of blaming the outbreak of any future world wars on the very existence of said medication. 

Essentially, at 24 I can understand the GP not wanting me to stay on it forever if they can possibly help it. The downside of playing about with it even slightly is that it's altering the one thing that allowed me a full night's sleep after six months of such a luxury being non-existent. So, something of an impasse. 

What we eventually agreed was the small reduction, with the long term plan of getting me on to the 10mg dose every other night instead of every night. We did discuss the possibility of feeling a little rough for a week or so while my body adjusts. 

Well, thought I, "a little rough" can't be all that bad can it? 

Silly girl. Thinking that was rather like inviting a game of "Spot the Stiff" just with happily less finality for all involved.

(British comedians Punt and Dennis - the explanation of "Spot the Stiff" begins at 0:56.)

Fast forward my first 48 hours and "a little rough" transpires to be the sort of exhaustion that renders me little short of murderous. Having an old friend as a guest meant I swallowed the symptoms a bit and went out, only to be greeted with a baby on the next table (probably teething, the poor thing) screaming. Now, I'm a bit sound sensitive at the best of times anyway, and shrill, high pitched sounds are always the worst. That's the first bout of shaking I've ever had in response to a noise though.

However, I resigned to spend most of the rest of the day curled up under a blanket with Jack Vance's The Complete Lyonesse and alternating said very charming fantasy with cat-napping, resulting in the likelihood of me going out axe-murdering reducing dramatically. Sigh of relief all round!

An interesting discovery was the misunderstanding assumption (by both doctor and myself) that the amitriptyline was only solving the sleep issue and not really directly treating the Interstitial Cystitis root cause. 

Wrong. A general increase in otherwise inexplicable pelvic pain and frequency of dashing pell-mell to the bathroom would suggest otherwise. Had I the opportunity this would not be quite the way I would choose to find this out!

The blog is a year old today... and this lack of sleep has left me feeling much like I'm back at the start of my journey again. Hopefully it will be transient and over swiftly, and I'd very much like to be able to update you all in a couple of weeks time saying that the worst is over.

Until then, thank you very much to everyone who has stuck around to read it and for all your tremendous feedback, and I hope to be able to keep you entertained and maybe offer the odd bit of information too. If anyone said they read this blog for the informative content and not for all the silly geeky references then frankly I wouldn't believe them anyway. 

I've had a very warm welcome into the chronic illness world both through the blog and through Chronic Illness Cat, so thank you to all who have made this a happy twelve months. 


Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Are you a woman or a blacksmith?

It's Valentines Day. Here at TRB I'm not a big follower of the celebration except as an excuse to buy a silly card and go out for a nice meal (which is something we do regularly as a couple anyway). So, for those who don't care for the day here's an amusing guide on how to spend this twenty four hours with some help from the annals of Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein.


1. Establish some basic details about the object of your affections before you promise anything...



2. Choose words with care.




3. If words fail, there's always body language.



4. Remember all is fair in love and war...



5. A little modesty goes a long way.



6. Never underestimate the merits of subtlety.



7. If you have someone to spend time with on Valentine's Day, don't brag. Nobody appreciates it.



8. If you haven't, moaning on at those who have about how stupid the whole thing is is almost as annoying.



9. The advice of friends might not always be what you want to hear....



10. Find a good soundtrack, preferably as inappropriate as possible for maximum irritation.

(Queen's We Will Rock You, a little-known medieval hit, and I will engage in fisticuffs with anyone who so much as whispers the word "anachronistic".)

11. If all else fails, just have fun!




Whether you celebrate Valentines Day or not, I wish you lots of fun and many spoons! xxx

*Credit for all images goes to those folks of excellent taste in the Tumblr "a knights tale" tag!


 

Monday, 10 February 2014

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good

In furthering my having spoken about retreating into books, I thought it was about time I covered this. The thing is despite however much I love certain series above others, they’re not always what I automatically go to. Recently, having burned myself out with too much heavy going Malazan in the shape of Ian C. Esslemont’s Novels of the Malazan Empire series (I’ve got Blood and Bone to read when I feel up to it again), I went back to my safety net of “switch brain off and enjoy” books, the most notable of which being J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which I re-read in the space of a week.

(Image from absolutevanilla.blogspot.com)

The fact is as much as I’d like to say that a good old reliable doorstop of a tome is the way to go, it isn’t always. Sometimes thinking about concentrating on a book that lengthy (and particularly if it’s a heavy going one such as the fantasy I usually read) is tiring in itself, let alone attempting to actually pick it up and read it. However, if I have absolutely nothing to read then I go ever so slightly stir-fry crazy so I have a few series and individual books that I first read when much younger that I return to at times like this. Typically they are the sort that sit awkwardly in the not-quite-mature-adult-but-not-really-for-young-teenagers-either area, and they serve as easy time-passing when I’m not up to anything more demanding.

Some other examples include Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider Trilogy, and Peter S Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

One of the joys of that list and the Harry Potter books themselves is that given the number of times I read them through my teenage years, they’re even readable on days when my short term memory isn’t playing ball, because I probably know most of them word for word by now.
 
I thought they deserved a post of their own, mostly because they are a subject I am just a little bit touchy about. I’m not your stereotypical rabid fanatic who can’t handle any criticism of the books – there are plenty of valid ones and I’ve offered some myself in the past. You’ll never hear me stand up and say Rowling’s stories are the best thing ever contributed to literature because I don’t believe that to be true.
 
I’m also well aware that the series by its very nature is not going to be plenty of peoples cup of tea, and that’s completely fine too. It would be boring were we all alike. Personally I have a lot more time for the criticism of people who’ve actually attempted to read the books than I do those who just sneer for the sake of it, but I never claimed I was perfect.
 
(Did I say I wasn't a rabid fan? Whoops. This Marauder's Map dress is the lovely handiwork of BabeBoutique's Ebay shop!)
 
However, I get sick of feeling that I have to re-argue my status as a highly intelligent human being because I like the Harry Potter books. Thoroughly sick and tired of the look on people’s faces which clearly bespeaks “You like something this childish, clearly you have the intellectual capacity of a child. Pity, I thought you were smart.”
 
And there was me thinking that personal taste was about just that – personal taste – and not an immediate marker of intelligence or worth. Silly me.
 
So, here’s my case for why I like the series. I don’t expect to change the opinion of anyone who doesn’t, and more to the point I don’t actually want to. However, you should never cast aspersions unless you’re prepared to hear their rebuttal.
 
The first thing to bear in mind is that when I initially read the series I was a part of the original target audience. When the last book was released I was 17 coming up 18, much the same as the core characters. Whilst acknowledging all the other brilliant books I was reading throughout my adolescence, it wouldn’t be untrue to say I essentially grew up with the series. For me, part of its appeal is that it’s a very true coming-of-age – the settings and the scenarios may be entirely fantastical but the human elements are very true to life. The themes are criticised for their simplicity, but regardless they are themes I responded to and continue to respond to as an adult. Despite plenty who’ve expressed the opinion, it doesn’t actually make me a na├»ve person – it’s just an expression of the things I hold to be important.
 
For a person who has always loved language, I appreciate the way this is used (sometimes not overtly) and the interweaving of Latin, Greek and French influences in the vocalisation of spells. There’s a lovely usage of Victorian flower language in the first book which without knowledge of the same passes easily as an unobtrusive piece of dialogue. It’s a tiny little glimpse of foreshadowing you are never intended to see until after the ending, and when you do it’s hard not to appreciate how clever it is. Things like this don’t make a book, but they’re something I really appreciate nonetheless and they make me smile when I see them.
 
One of the principle criticisms I hear of the books is their lack of intelligence, and that just tends to make me roll my eyes and decline to comment. On the face of it they’re a series of children’s fantasy books (and I expect that’s where this sort of comment comes from), but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface including some conscious mirroring across generations and the Macbeth-ian question of the effect of prophecy. There are nods littered all over to the likes of Chaucer and Aeschylus, to the folklore not only of Britain but of wider Europe and beyond. If you’re going to throw the question of lack of intelligence in a story for young people about, leave it where it belongs in the pages of The Twilight Saga.
 
The crucial nail on the head point for me was that while I was at secondary school, I was a prodigiously academic and bookish child who loved to learn and definitely had some slight “know-it-all” tendencies. I had an overbite which was later corrected by braces, and I had an even bigger and wilder mane of hair than I have today. Interestingly, some of that is how Rowling describes herself, admitting that the character of Hermione Granger is an exaggeration of herself as a school girl.
 
(Originally included in the two disc edition of Deathly Hallows Part 2 "The Women of Harry Potter" makes an interesting watch.)
 
I’m sure most people say this of themselves, but as a further point I was far from an attractive teenager. My other half says differently having seen an awful annual school photo my Dad still has at home, but then he’s biased and probably also aware that he’s too tall to sleep comfortably on our sofa.
 
With the popularity of the books and the release of the first film, suddenly there was a widely-known pop culture reference to a character that was just like me. Not only is Hermione bright and bookish and herself the owner of a wild mane of hair, but she gets to be a heroine without ever having to be raving beauty. A rare thing indeed.
 
The comparison grew more amusing with age, as a school friend later told my parents that by 14 I’d mastered a facial expression (often turned on both him and another friend) that was pretty much the silent equivalent of Emma Watson’s despairing question in the first film - “Honestly, don’t you two read?”
 
Did any of this make the five years of bullying any better? No. It never stopped a single unkind word, but it did make me feel a little bit better in myself. It was a small and constant encouragement that although I might have been weird in the context of my peers, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I didn’t understand it fully at the time, but looking back now the books freed me from the expectations of those around me in a lot of small ways which helped to define the person I became.
 
That’s why I’m a little defensive on the subject of the Harry Potter books. In questioning my intelligence as a fan of the books, you’re questioning something which had a very powerful and positive effect on me as an adolescent and in some ways questioning a part of who I am now. It might sound over the top, but then I’m not really given to feeling that passion and emotional connection with anything is something to be ashamed of.
 
When I watched the speeches at the premiere of the final Deathly Hallows film, I don't mind admitting there were some happy tears when J.K. Rowling closed her thoughts with "The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by the page of the big screen Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."
 
Ultimately I’m touchy because I have a lot to thank Rowling for.
 
Book by book she helped a little girl with a crippling lack of confidence find out that despite her bookish and intelligent nature, she had every bit a capacity for magic as anyone else.
 
Mischief managed.


Anybody else a fan of the Harry Potter books? Fan or not, I’m happy to hear opinions on this post, as well as to hear if anyone else has these sorts of “switch off” books or films that they keep returning to?

Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Icasaracht


“…To the frozen north these heroes would come, drawn into a twisted maze of shared destinies that would lead us all into the cold and terrible Heart of Winter.”

The Gloomfrost Seer – Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter

Now do come along, you can’t seriously be surprised at a D&D reference after all this time?

I’ll preface this with a bit of an odd statement: I love the idea of winter. For whatever reason I always have an attachment to books, films and games set in the stereotypical “frozen North”, there’s something about those settings is instantly captivating for me. This was a factor that led me to pick up Icewind Dale, my first Dungeons and Dragons game – and lo and behold I became the sort of person who can happily lose hours waving a big sword at a dragon until said beast is kind enough to fall over.

Maybe it was all those years of alpine skiing when I was younger. When Bilbo says in The Fellowship of the Ring “I want to see mountains again, mountains Gandalf!” I can empathise whole-heartedly. There’s still a pronounced tendency of mine to revert to being a giddy six year old when faced with snow, but then it’s quite a novelty to get a decent snowfall in the UK. The photo below was one I took about a mile from where I used to live in Sheffield during the last heavy snowfall.

(Taken back in my pre-Fibro days where I thought a four mile round walk in the snow for a cup of tea was a good idea.)

Since contracting Fibromyalgia my love for the reality doesn’t quite match that of the idea any more. The reality of winter in the UK is that it’s cold and wet, and wet is definitely the greater of those two evils for me. We had a long and relatively dry spring and summer last year and I think I may have gotten carried away with how much “better” I seemed to be throughout this pleasant weather. Autumn brought a return to the more severe aches and stiffness, and winter rolled in accompanied by soaring levels of fatigue. I could definitely be considered grumpy at this stage.

Winter also plays havoc with everything I would usually do to feel better, as it transpires. On days when I can work up the energy to attempt a dancing session, I’m finding I can’t do half as much as I’m usually able to. Irritatingly Petunia isn’t polite enough to inform me that exercising is a bad idea until it’s been firmly established for at least half an hour that I am indeed exercising – then she throws her toys out of the pram. This has led to a few less than pleasant evenings where I have got this wrong, but the reprieve it can offer on a good day is worth the risk. Also, I just feel better in and about myself when I can exercise.

I’ve been spending the last month or two perpetually unable to get warm whether at work or at home, despite multiple layers and in the case of work sitting virtually on top of a portable heater. If I had it any closer I would probably be set alight, but for all the difference I can feel it may as well not be there. This manifests into a reluctance to go out when I’m already cold inside, which in turn leads to the frustration of cabin fever which it never takes me very long to start feeling.

I very much look forward to it warming up. It would be nice not to walk from one end of the flat to the other and feel the need for a sit down, and to not feel faint after something as simple as peeling potatoes for dinner. I know it can’t be helped and I need to just accept that for this part of the year this is the way things will be, but I think having the reprieve through the summer and for there to be such a striking difference actually makes acceptance more difficult.

So, the title?

Well, here’s a spoiler warning. Hereon there will be spoilers of good, neutral and evil both of the lawful and chaotic variety. You’ve been warned.

(Icasaracht in-game not obliging to fall over. Image from forgottenrealms.wikia.com)

Icasaracht is the eponymous “Heart of Winter”. She’s the final boss of the expansion, and the reason for all the woe and horror brewing. Put simply she is a very bad tempered white dragon with mortality issues, and if you were paying attention in the original game you may also have twigged that she’s the dragon matriarch whose body lies on the bottom of Lac Dineshere near Easthaven. This is assuming you talked to Elisia the sea-elf – and you should.

So, as a representation of the “cold and terrible” winter, she works well as a somewhat whimsical metaphor for the object of my frustrations at the moment. That and when you finally meet her in-game she’s so irritating that you’re just itching to clonk her on the head with something heavy and be done with it.

Not that I’m one to hold a grudge, you understand…but I have another few months of inclement weather to make it through yet, and with my constant poor energy levels kicking Icasaracht up hill and down dale seems a rather fine way to pass the time.

To quote something a friend of mine often says….. If not back, avenge death.


Wondering how this mage malarkey works anyhow, and wishing you all many spoons xxx