Thursday, 22 March 2012

Things you Shouldn't Say to Depressed People

As many of you know, I am battling depression.  During the A-Z Challenge, my submission for D will be Depression, so I won't go into in detail now except to say that life can be tremendously difficult.  A little less than a third of people who suffer from serious depression are treatment resistant - meaning that drug therapies just don't seem to work.  Lucky me, I'm among that third.

In my experience, most people are sympathetic, but unless you've experienced depression first hand, you can never really understand how hard it is.  This lack of true understanding can lead people to say some interesting things, which though often well intentioned, really aren't very helpful.  For someone more sensitive to me, they may even be hurtful.  So, here are some things you probably shouldn't say to a seriously, clinically depressed person:

Snap out of it:  Geez.  I wish I had known that I could just flip a switch and snap out of it before I spent tens of thousands of dollars on psychiatric drugs and therapy.

What have you got to be depressed about?:  One of the key features of depression is that it really screws up your thinking and can turn daisies into piles of dung.  Sometimes, frustratingly, I feel profoundly depressed without being able to identify specific patterns of thought that make me feel  that way.

Buck up:  I don't know what this even means, but it is not helpful.

You're just lazy:  Depression is an energy sucker.  Getting motivated to get out of bed, brush your teeth, bathe get dressed seem like Herculean tasks.   Some days, getting anything else done is simply impossible.  Only a real wanker would say this to someone who is depressed.

You're faking it:  Nope.  Sorry.  Up yours.

You seem okay to me:  One of the great tragedies of depression is that many who suffer are really good at hiding it and so don't get the support or help they need.  This past summer, two professional hockey players, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak were thought to have committed suicide.  According to media reports, the warning signs, in retrospect, seemed to be there for Rypien, but Belak's death was a complete surprise to many - he seemed a happy, go-lucky guy who loved his kids, though I would suspect that those closest to him knew something was wrong, if not so horribly wrong that he would take that ultimate step.

Depression is an awful soul-crushing affliction and its sufferers need support and some semblance of understanding.  Many people would be amazed at just how debilitating the disease can be.  So, please, try not to be flip with people who are going through this and avoid saying things that don't help or that minimize what they are going through.  Indeed, try to make sure they get the professional help they need.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Project 52: Week of March 12

Another slowish week, though with a couple of interesting (in my mind, at least) twists.  The Bean and I continue with our guitar lessons.  We've reached a point, though, where Lena is just picking up on things much quicker than I am.  I end up sitting in the studio holding my guitar while she and the instructor accelerate past me.  I think we're quickly coming to a point where maybe it's not worth me being there.  So, I think I'll let the Bean continue with private lessons and maybe I'll do some practicing on my own and maybe revisit lessons a little later on.

I have also started reading a new book that I picked up by Nobel laureate (economics) Daniel Kahneman entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow.  An intriguing read.  Kahneman weaves a fascinating story about how we think, dividing our thinking processes into two inter-related systems - one that is automatic and routine (having a normal chat with a friend or navigating a car on an empty road), and one that requires closer attention and greater effort (multiplying two two digit numbers in your head).  I've only read two chapters, but already I am enthralled.  I'll keep you posted as I move along.

That's about it for this week.  The weather here in Canada's capital city has been summer-like and will continue to be throughout the coming week, so I'm hoping I'll be able to tackle a bit more.  All the best.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Project 52: Week of March 5

I very nearly had nothing to update on, save for our ongoing guitar lessons, which are getting increasingly difficult, by the way, until my good friend The Doberman came for a visit yesterday.  His wasn't just an ordinary visit, though.  He came bearing gifts.

The Doberman is a kindred spirit who, like me, has eclectic interests and big dreams.  We both live in Ottawa, Ontario - a city of about a million people.  Once we were at a hockey game and I was mentioning to him a cool book I got out of the library (somewhat ominously entitled Backyard Ballistics).  Turns out, he had the book out and had to return it because I had requested it.  We are in synch on a lot of things.

Not surprisingly, he likes my Project 52 list and being a world-class good guy has offered his assistance, which brings me to his gift-bearing visit.  He brought over some of his lovely wife's luscious baked goods (for which we can't thank her enough) and a book of 101 things to build on a weekend.  But these have nothing to do with my list.  Where he helped me out was item 18 - shoot a rocket.  He brought over two rocket kits!  He has some of his own and all the other necessary paraphernalia needed to launch.  So guess what we're going to do sometime this spring?  I'm almost giddy with excitement. Stay tuned for the launch.

Thanks again, Doberman, for your generosity.  I've said it before and will say it again, you're a mensch!

Thursday, 8 March 2012


I respect authority when it is exercised with discretion and accountability, but I really dislike the irresponsible, arbitrary and unaccountable exercise of authority.  Examples abound, but I have two little anecdotes that I'd like to share.

The first is something that happened to me a few years ago.  I was driving a road here in Ottawa where two lanes merge into one.  I was driving in the right lane and a young, ahem, lady was driving in the left and varying her speed, so I sped up and merged ahead of her.  Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw her giving me the finger.  I was a little upset, but more curious about why she was so irritated with me, so I pulled onto the shoulder, let her pass and began following her so I could have a calm discussion with her about her ire and to suggest more appropriate uses for her digits.  Really, mutual self-improvement was my goal.

Long story short, she called the police who pulled us both over.  I apologized to all involved, admitting that while I wanted both me and the young lady to grow from the experience, following her was probably not the smartest thing I had ever done, especially as I had my then 4 year-old daughter in the car with me.  Not good enough for mister police officer.  He took the opportunity to lecture me, which was fine, I was guilty of poor judgement and deserved some form of reprimand - though having it done by some twenty year-old with a badge, gun and HUGE ego did grate a little.  But then, in front of my impressionable daughter, he starts talking about how he could arrest me.

"Excuse me?  First, I did nothing for which you can arrest me.  Second, maybe we shouldn't conjure images of daddy being led away in handcuffs in my young impressionable daughter's head."  Please don't misunderstand me, I realize, and remain greatly ashamed, that I was the one who initially put my daughter in this position, but need we compound my error?

Yet, in his wisdom, he thought going on about my impending arrest was entirely appropriate ("Kids that age don't understand what's going on."  Hmmm.  His command of child cognitive development seems to be only slightly poorer than his command of the law he is supposed to uphold.

I again admitted my poor judgement, and he again talked about arresting me.  I again asked him to tell me on what charge he could conceivably arrest me, and I was becoming increasingly and visibly angry.  He didn't like the fact that I was challenging him, so he responded by ratcheting up his threats.  Finally, he said he could arrest me for "failure to yield."  I laughed at him and asked if we were done, collected my daughter and off we went.  Clearly the man thought because he had a gun and a badge and for that reason only, I should be compliant and cowering before his great authority.

In retrospect, getting so hot with a police officer, regardless of the weakness of his position, was probably another error in judgement.  I probably should have played the supplicant, but, again, I think this young man was grossly overstepping his authority and using it inappropriately.  I'm not saying challenging the cop played a role in the following anecdote (my wife is no shrinking violet herself and is probably even less tolerant than I am about people overstepping their bounds), but I am glad that the Bean seems to be following in her Mom's and Dad's footsteps at least a little.

Just a couple of days ago, my daughter was telling me that she couldn't sit with her friend on the bus because some grade fiver decided that he was responsible for seating the kids and did so arbitrarily.  I could tell this really rankled my daughter, so I asked her if anybody had challenged his self-assigned authority to do so.  She explained that nobody had because the kids were afraid of rocking the boat.  I left it at that, but yesterday she told me that when the boy in question started assigning seats again, the Bean told him that he was mistaken if he thought was the boss and felt he could direct kids as he had been doing for weeks.  Clearly, she touched a nerve, because before she knew what was happening the other kids on the bus were standing behind her in support.  I was one proud Poppa, let me tell you.  Now the kids can sit where they want and all because my little girl stood up to an older and bigger bully.

We've also told her that we have her back when questioning even bigger authorities like teachers and principals.  Having said that, we've also made clear that she better be pretty darn certain she's on the side of the angels when she does it.  I think being able to question authority is important, because authority without accountability can only lead to tyranny.  I hope the Bean comes to understand this.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Project 52: Week of February 27

Alas and alack, aside from plinking away on the guitar, I have nothing to report.  Not to say I haven't been relatively busy, I have been, just not much on my list.

This week is looking to be a bit busy, as well, so I'm not sure how much I'll get done.  Easter is coming up pretty soon, though, so I would like to get a start on the Ukrainian Easter eggs.  We'll see how it goes.

Later my friends.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Saluting Nurses

In re-reading my earlier posts about Kate's battle with cancer, I realized that doctors were getting all the glory.  Make no mistake, they deserve glory, just not all of it.  The nursing staff we have encountered have been unbelievable.  Nurses are really the front-line caregivers.  Doctors pop in and out here and there, but nurses are always johnny-on-the-spot tending to their patients' needs.  The provide the continuity of care.

The nurses that administer the chemo are unfailingly compassionate and up-beat.  Many that I have spoken to love their jobs, feeling as though they are actually helping people live better lives.  And they are.  They don't just switch IV bags one for another, they also ensure their patients are comfortable, provide advice on how to minimize the side-effects of chemo, offer suggestions and information on why a patient may be feeling a particular way and how they might overcome it.  They chase down doctors and other specialist medical staff when complications arise.  A nurse in radiation oncology told me that all the nurses that work in that section are there because they want to be, not because they have to be.  At the Ottawa Cancer Centre, they are, pardon the cliché, angels and nothing less.

Similarly, when Kate was admitted to the Oncology ward after having contracted an infection I couldn't believe the genuineness of the the staff.  Nursing on a ward comes with unsavoury tasks for the staff, but which are critical in maintaining patient dignity (think bodily fluids as one example), but they were done by nurses (and orderlies and porters) with good humour and genuine care.  They truly get that they are treating people, not disease.

Last, but certainly not least, are the highly specialized nurses.  The first we encountered on Kate's first chemo session.  Kate has veins that make getting an IV into her difficult.  So they called the nurse who heads a unit that installs porta-caths and PIC-lines (semi-permanent catheters mainlined into a major coronary artery), who was able to fit Kate into a pretty busy schedule so that she could receive her first chemo session.  This has made life a lot easier - for Kate and the chemo nurses.

Another specialist that, truth be told, deserves an entire blog unto herself, is Nurse J, whose bailiwick is controlling pain.  Because Kate's cancer had spread to her bones, weakening them significantly, she suffers from fractures all over her body, with resulting pain.  I have come to realize through Nurse J that pain control on the scale that many cancer patients have to deal with is as much art as it is science.  Pain control can come with tremendous benefits, obviously, but also with some cost.  In Kate's case the cost was drowsiness - she would sleep more hours than she was awake for.  Finding that balance that maximizes quality of life is where the art lies.  And Nurse J (whose reputation preceded her) has been relentless in achieving that balance.  Always available and always thinking and always on top of the case and always compassionate and always and always and always.  Another medical practitioner who gets that they are treating people first and that their patients aren't just scribbles on a chart, a list of complaints to be dealt with.

To all those nurses (and orderlies and porters who are other unsung heroes), we (and I think I speak for Kate) cannot put in words our gratitude.  Thanks to all who are helping us through this.