The Novelty Had Worn Off

I guess we like to think that every baby born is welcomed with a great deal of happiness.  I admit that I have never had a baby myself, so could be accused of being out of my depth… except that I was a baby once.  I know it from that angle, even if I have never had my own child.

I’m pretty sure that my birth was not welcomed with happiness, let alone joy.  There is only one photo of me as a baby.  You see, the novelty had worn off.  I was number three child, and I certainly wasn’t planned.  I came just ten and a half months after my next brother, and my mother will openly admit that my presence was an embarrassment to her.  Two babies in the pram was more than she wanted.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and wondering just how happy I was as a young child.  My first diagnosis of a mental illness didn’t come until I was 28 years old, but at that time everyone was pretty amazed nothing had shown before then.  I’m inclined to think that maybe there were signs but no one looked, or knew what they were looking for.  When I think about some of the (slightly) unusual things I did as a child, and then as a teenager, I am amazed that no one said “Wait a minute.  What’s going on here?”

But then this is the 1960/70′s I’m talking about and who went looking for signs of mental illness in their kids?

Deborah Serani, psychologist has written a book last year entitled ‘Depression And Your Child‘.  I think I’d like to read it, although the focus of it being about the reader’s child is not what I’m after.  She wrote a blog post, What Adults Need to Know about Pediatric Depression and I found that interesting, although I admit it also made me sad.  She reported that

“In the United States alone, evidence suggests that up to 1% of babies, 4 percent of preschool-aged children, 5 percent of school-aged children, and 11 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression.”(1.)

Wow!  Even one in a hundred babies having major depression is huge, without stopping to think about the older age-groups.  She continues to list ten myths relating to childhood depression, which all parents should know.  It makes worthwhile reading, even for this non-parent here.

I don’t know whether I had depression as a baby or a child, but the odd things I started doing go back as far as I can remember, which suggests to me now that something was up at a young age.  I’m sorry but I’m not going to tell you what those odd things were.  Just know they were a little different from normal, and seem to me like a coping mechanism I used from a very young age.

I’m not saying this to in any way accuse my parents of anything, but I suspect there was something going on that they didn’t realise might give clues to my state of mind.  This is more about my own journey to work out what has made me who I am.  I’m not interested in blame, just in being able to understand myself.

Phew! It makes me sad for that little girl who was me.  There’s no denying that because if my theory is right, then it has had an enormous impact on my whole life.

I need music to finish.  As you will see the lyrics don’t go with the music.  Purposely.  I just had two tunes in my mind, for the child in me.

You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow

 - Cyndi Lauper, True Colors

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This Light Of Mine

Nobody ever told me what it meant.  It was simply a song with a catchy tune (to a ten year old) that we sat around the Girl Guides’ camp fire singing.  It was one of my favourites, but I never stopped to ask what it meant.  That was until I looked at a picture that a friend had posted yesterday of a flame burning (not this picture), and something switched on in my head.  I got it.  I finally got it.

Image credit: Jerry Jacobs/Wikipedia.com

I assumed that it must have something to do with Christianity because we sang it occasionally at Sunday School.  I still didn’t know what it meant but assumed it was something to do with the Christian idea of being a light in the world of darkness.

The song?

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

What it was meant to mean in Sunday School or at Girl Guides isn’t actually important to me now, because I have been gone astray with songs in such places before.  One would think that those places would check out what meaning is being transferred by singing as a child, but some of the biggest misconceptions I have had about myself came from Sunday School songs.

But back to this song.  When I saw the picture of a flame I finally occurred to me that I am the light.  The light is me.  This light of mine is me.

The light is all my thoughts and feelings.  My opinions.  My likes and dislikes.  The characteristics of me.  The light is what makes me unique.  The light is what makes me who I am…   and I should let it shine.  I should celebrate my light.

Nobody told me to let me shine.  Nobody told me to be proud of who I am.  Actually if anything, I was told the opposite.  Pride was a sin, I was told.  And “pride cometh before a fall“.  Again I knew the words but had little idea of the real meaning.

I was taught that being proud was a bad thing, so anything that celebrated who I was had to be bad too.  I went so many years believing that this was true.  And I extended it in my own head to mean that I was bad.  For a ten year old, or younger, it makes sense to follow that line of thought but it is can only end tragically.

Through so many years of pain and heartache, there was no clue in my head that I should let me shine.  Maybe I’m a little different from the rest, but I still celebrate who I am.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m different or the same.  I am me, and I should let me shine.

Maybe for others, they got the meaning of this song as a child.  For me though it was just a nice song.  I couldn’t think that it might be about letting me shine, because I thought that was a bad thing to do.  It might have taken 40 something years, but now that I’m worked it out I’m going to celebrate me.

If I can do it, so can you.  Celebrate you!

“For once, you believed in yourself. you believed you were beautiful and so did the rest of the world.” 

― Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

Pure BPD

Who I am changes like the wind. Sometimes I’m nice, and sometimes I’m not. That must have started right from childhood because it seemed my mother’s favourite rhyme to quote to me, from a very young age was:

There was a little girl,

Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid.

'Good' and 'horrid'... all in one

‘Good’ and ‘horrid’… all in one

It seems that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had written it with me in mind, even though he wrote it a good 100 years before my parents even thought of me.  It was always made to seem like it was an appropriate rhyme for me because I had curly hair, but I knew better.  And so did my mother.  I knew my mother was saying that sometimes I could be nice, but other times I was horrid.  There, it’s said.

I knew I was marked for life, even at the age of around five.  Although it would be around another 40 years before anyone could give me an explanation of just why I was like that.  Why was it that I was at least two people?

I’m not suggesting I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  I don’t, although it was something psychiatrists wondered about it for a while (for reasons other than this, that I promise one day I will find the courage to talk about).

There have simply been several versions of me.  A nice Cate and a bitchy Cate.  If you don’t know me well, and I like what I see of you, you have probably only ever seen nice Cate…  because I know how to behave nicely when that is required.  That said, it’s not something that I consciously choose which I will be.  Sometimes I don’t know until I open by mouth… and see what comes out. Unfortunately that can sometimes be vicious, even though it is still coming from me.  Interestingly it is usually those I love (or hate) who bear the brunt of this.

I have written about this previously in (At Least) 67 Seasons In One Day, and is something that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) do often.  While sometimes I am embarrassed by my inability to stay ‘nice’, I also like being both people.

“I’m scared that the ‘bad bitch’ me is gonna stay permanently, she, is the only me that doesn’t give a fuck, and that’s wonderful.”

Actually, that’s me.  To be honest, those aren’t my words.  I borrowed them from another woman with BPD because they just fit so well.  There’s the dichotomy of feelings.  I am scared of being the bad one, but I also love it.  That is pure BPD.

I guess the issue is, what do I do about it?  Do I need to do anything about it?

My therapist reminds me that these are just different parts of me, and I shouldn’t try to squash either.  There is a place in this world for both apparently.  But then if that is truly so, why was I being labelled as horrid as a young child?

To borrow the words of a friend, this bitchy Cate is a “petulant child act”.  Sometimes I love her rebelliousness, but other times I am embarrassed by her attitudes and behaviour.  Can she be tamed perhaps?  I don’t know.  She hasn’t been yet.  She continues to be a good, little minister’s daughter who needs to stamp her foot occasionally.  And that’s all it is usually, it’s just sometimes I feel sorry for the people who strike her repeatedly.  Worse still the people who strike her regularly but see me being a totally different person to others at the same time.

Does that make sense?  I know that those who have BPD will understand this splitting that goes on.  I think we all do it in different ways, some more dramatic than others.  Perhaps that’s why some have unpleasantly labelled us as ‘drama queens’.  Perhaps also, is why the DSM-V will label us differently.  Instead of BPD we will have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD).  Maybe it’s accurate but I’m not impressed.

“Look at children.  Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do.  Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside?  Children don’t usually act in such a manner.  If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished.  They can still play with that person the following day.” 

―    Dalai Lama XIV

Violating Community Standards

I had firmly in my head, what I was going to write about today. But you know how things happen. We see things, we read things, and suddenly there is a whole new post bursting out of us? That’s me today.

English: Facebook Silhouette

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

Earlier this morning I came across a picture on a Facebook profile which I found offensive and disturbing (not the image above).  I know I’m prone to be disturbed by such images depicting violence, and so usually I have to take a step back and ask myself ‘would others be offended by this picture?’  I thought they would have, so reported the picture to Facebook, hoping that they would also find it offensive and remove it.

I’m not posting the picture here because of how much it disturbs me, and I don’t want others to be disturbed by content on my blog.  But it was an image of a woman holding a hand gun to a man’s head.

This is what Facebook reported back to me:

Status

Photo not removed

Details

Thank you for your report. We carefully reviewed the photo you reported, but found it doesn’t violate our community standard on graphic violence so we didn’t remove it.

Someone has a gun pointed at another person’s head, and that’s doesn’t violate community standards?  Excuse me, but I find that refusal almost more disturbing than the image I objected to.

Interestingly when I followed their hyperlink to graphic violence, I found a lot of words but no specific definition of graphic violence.  What they did do was define violence and threats as:

“Safety is Facebook’s top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence. Organizations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity are not allowed to maintain a presence on our site. We also prohibit promoting, planning or celebrating any of your actions if they have, or could, result in financial harm to others, including theft and vandalism.”   (1.)

But that’s talking about what people say on Facebook, rather than what they depict in their images.  What happened to the phrase we all know ‘actions speak louder than words’?  The same ‘images speak louder than words’ could apply, but my guess is that because it wasn’t the owner of the Facebook profile portrayed holding a gun to someone else’s head then everything is fine.  That’s not fine too me at all.

I accept that the gun laws in my country are very different from in other parts of the world.  It is one thing that makes me glad to be a kiwi.  But look what the world was faced with just a few weeks ago when 28 adults and children were tragically killed by gunfire.  The idealist in me would like to think that social media would have reacted quickly and prohibited this type of violent image to be shown.

Personally I can cope with seeing the image, although I find it very disturbing and unnecessary.  I can manage my reactions so that I don’t think that the behaviour depicted in the image is acceptable behaviour.

But my 13-year-old nephew can see this image too, from his Facebook profile.  I think he is a pretty wise kid, but he is a kid and I don’t think it’s acceptable that he is confronted by this sort of stuff simply in keeping up with his friends.

I’m wondering what would make it unacceptable to Facebook?  All I can think of (and I apologise for the graphic impression) is that is the image included a bullet travelling into the victims head.

Facebook say above that “Safety is Facebook’s top priority“.  What a joke.  What safety do they actually care about, other than their own?  If impressionable minds see the type of image I reported today, they assume that such behaviour is normal and acceptable.

I will never accept that one person holding a gun to another’s head is either normal and acceptable.  And God help us if our society gets to the point where it is.

Right now there are people talking about wanting to keep guns away from people with mental illness, but it is not just those people who need to be kept away from guns.  It’s the people who think that the use of guns against others is okay.

And in that group, I’d be inclined to put Facebook. Shame on them, they have an opportunity to take a stand against gun violence yet they aren’t interested.

After-thought:  There were some other issues about this Facebook profile which should have been of concern to Facebook too.  Don’t get me started…

And apologies to any American’s personally offended by my use of this quote today.  I simply use it, not to offend, but to make a point:

“You can’t talk about fucking in America, people say you’re dirty. But if you talk about killing somebody, that’s cool.” 

―    Richard Pryor

Anyone Hungry?

Does that look like a good start for lunch?
Image courtesy of [healingdream] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re not,
there are plenty who are, 
including
many New Zealand children sadly.

Spending years with my head buried in requisite textbooks wasn’t that easy for me.  I’m not really an academic person, it was simply a means to an end.  I came out at the end with a degree in Sociology and Social Work, yet still I was frustrated by it all.  I wanted to know how all this academia applied to real people, in real society.  Over the years, before and after that time as a student, I worked in a number of jobs where I was continually confronted by the realities of poverty in New Zealand.

Yes, poverty is very real in New Zealand.  You won’t see it on the tourist brochures, and I suspect if you are so inclined, you could just ignore it and just blame the people who are stuck in that trap.  But it’s there, and we have a particularly big problem in the area of child poverty.  One of the issues that has been in the news lately has been the disturbingly high numbers of children at school with no lunch (in this country children bring their own lunch to school), and many have also had no breakfast.

I don’t have a lot to do with children at the moment, apart from my lovely nieces and nephews, but I know that children are our future.  What happens to children now, defines what happens to our world in the future.  It makes me realise it’s necessary to talk about it, and even more so, do my bit towards seeing that poverty end.

Last week, New Zealand participants took part in the Live Below The Line campaign, which has already been seen in other countries including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

The challenge put to participants was to spend 5 days feeding yourself with NZ$2.25 a day – the New Zealand equivalent of the extreme poverty line.  As a means of comparison, this compares with Aus$2.00 or US$1.25 per day.  That’s not much, is it?  The idea behind it is to get people thinking about how it is to live in the situation of extreme poverty, something faced by 1.4 billion people in our world today.

I was fascinated to read an account of one woman’s experience of being on the Challenge:

“By day two, my coordination was down, I lunged onto someone in a group fitness class, and I only managed half of my usual Wednesday workout before declaring myself too tired! On average I needed an extra two hours sleep a night throughout the challenge, my energy levels were so zapped, and I lost 2kg in 5 days, which didn’t strike me as the healthiest of crash diets. Its (sic) clear that to live like this everyday would be detrimental to your health.

But I think what got me the most during the challenge, was the effect that being hungry has on your brain. I found myself making basic errors, simple spelling mistakes and needing people to repeat themselves on the phone – my concentration was shot to pieces, and one day I wore a top inside out for an  hour before I noticed…

For me it adds huge weight to the current debate about food in schools, having witnessed first hand how useless I was when my brain hadn’t been fed, I can’t see how a hungry child is supposed to learn or retain information at school, and that’s looking at life in a modern, developed country – let alone in countries where people are trying to survive on under $2.25 a day.”  (1.)

This comment really hit home hard to me for a reason, that actually I wasn’t expecting.  I’ve never had to live in extreme poverty thankfully, although my parents were far from wealthy when I was growing up.   I have gone hungry though, although for me it was entirely self-inflicted, via the illness Anorexia Nervosa, which I struggled with for many years.  What hit me is how familiar all this is, although I totally accept that mine was borne out of mental illness and not an issue of a shortage of money and access to services.

Interestingly, after years of starving myself, I learnt not to feel hunger and even though I am recovered today, I still find that I don’t feel hungry, even though I may need nutrition.  For those on the 5 day Challenge though, I’m sure they all felt hunger.

I’m wondering whether my training my body out of feeling hungry is the same for the children who do not have access to regular meals?  Do they somehow learn to not feel the hunger pains?  I suspect they probably do, but actually that is far from good.  We need to have accurate messages from our bodies in order to be able to meet the needs our bodies have.  But when you’re in extreme poverty, you can’t meet those needs.

I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on nutrition, or on the effects of malnutrition, but this quote below, describes very clearly the effects to the author of malnutrition caused by Anorexia, very similar to my own experience:

“Physically, things were less than princess-like.  For a start, my hair was falling out.  My teeth were turning yellow and felt loose, like my gums had shrunk.  My pulse was slow. I was hypoglycemic.  I hadn’t had a period in four months.  I was dehydrated.  Constipated.  I was suffering from severe malnutrition and freezing all the time.  My hands, lips and feet were blue.  My eyes were dead.  My body chemistry was all over the place.” (2.)

Not for one moment am I suggesting that eating disorders have some connection to malnutrition caused by extreme poverty.  But it’s clear that malnutrition, of any cause, has a major impact on the body and it’s ability to function adequately.  As well as the matters highlighted above, my body has taken a lasting hit in terms of loss of bone density, reproductive ability and no doubt other matters of which I have yet to learn.  

I was an adult when I inflicted this on my body and mind, but imagine what the malnutrition (regardless of the cause) must do to a child and their ability to function.  I found it extremely difficult to concentrate and focus on standard every day activities.  Simply my brain wasn’t working adequately to cope.  How then, can a child learn and grow when they are constantly under-nourished?

One more thing to consider.  We know that childhood experience has a huge impact on mental health in future years.  My own mental illnesses were in some ways (but not all) a result of things that happened in my childhood.  What concerns me is that if a child is unable to function and grow, what is that doing to their mental health?  Both now and for the future.  I believe that the hunger faced by children in New Zealand, and many other developed countries, is going to have a detrimental impact on the health (including mental health) of our populations of the future.

New Zealand doesn’t look like a country that would have a child hunger problem.  It’s always been said that it is a great place to raise children, and in that respect I know I had a good childhood.  But you don’t have to scratch the surface very deep, to see that children (and adults)are regularly going without food, and that there is a constant battle for some people of whether to pay the rent or buy food for their families.  There’s simply not enough to cover both.  What that tells me,  is that those people need practical help now and if they don’t get it, from you and me, the future for us all doesn’t look good.

.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” 

―    Franklin D. Roosevelt

Notes

2.  Robinson, Sancia (1996). Mary Jane – Living through anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Sydney: Random House, Australia.