Thursday, September 8, 2016

What a Depression Diagnosis Means When Your Doctor Is Terrible

A while back I took an extended break from grad school for medical reasons. Many, many medical reasons, but chief among them being that I was constantly in pain, and exhausted from being in pain, and generally miserable all the time. And being in pain, having difficulty being fully load-bearing on one's feet, having limited motion, etc. is a bit difficult to get around in a theatre program. In the words of one of my advisers, the group would only be as good as its weakest link.

So maybe that was a pretty shitty thing to say to me, but I pursued medical treatment expecting...well...better treatment. Medically. From a professional who would take me seriously instead of insinuating that I was making the whole thing up. 

Ha, ha. 

I went to the doctor, who sent me to physical therapy (again). However, she was more adamant that I go to psychotherapy. This was because when asked whether I felt "down" or "depressed," I made the mistake of answering honestly. 

Of course I felt down, I said. I was in pain. Sitting in this chair hurt, but not as much as I knew it would to get back up. I was in pain and it was keeping me from doing the things that I like to do. And that's depressing. Who wouldn't be depressed?

Apparently I must have been speaking backwards, because she told me that no, I was in pain because I was depressed. And did I have any trauma in my past that maybe I wasn't dealing with?

I did agree to try a prescription of anti-depressants and go to a psychotherapist. The pills, surprisingly, alleviated the insomnia, which was awesome. But at the dosage required to be effective, they made me really nauseous. I was constantly sick to my stomach and missing work because of it, so I stopped taking them. While they worked, the trade-off was too much at that time. 

Therapy was similarly unfit for my lifestyle. It was expensive and yielded poor results, if any. I tried a couple of people, but I think I may be one of those people for whom therapy doesn't work very well. I find it intrusive and offensive to sit there and take it while a total stranger describes everything wrong with me based on 30 minutes of my rambling. (Also I hate feelings.) 

I went through this rigmarole to satisfy my GP, who held other treatments and referrals -- like allergy testing, sleep studies, physical therapy, and more -- hostage on the condition that I forced myself to continue a treatment that was, if anything, making things worse. I tried to go around her to find a place that wouldn't require a referral to a specialist, but I live in a rural area dominated by one major health group. To see someone in that group, you need a referral from a doctor already in that group. 

Finally, I was able to get a referral to the physical therapy that I desperately needed by simply lying to my GP and telling her that yes, of course I was still seeing that psychotherapist and taking my antidepressants. 

And guess what? My PT person was nice and listened to me. Physical therapists are the nicest kind of doctor, at least in my experience. Probably because their job requires them to listen to their patients. And have the best "bedside" (poolside?) manner. I was scaled back from land therapy to pool therapy, made some improvement, and was given a regimen to complete on my own at home. 

And because of the improvements resulting from that treatment, I started to feel less in pain and less depressed overall, like I told my doctor I would in the first fucking place. 

She left the practice because her family moved. At first, I felt bad that I'd thought badly of her. We got off to a good start, but our relationship disintegrated over time. I wondered if I'd done something wrong, offended her somehow, and that was why she didn't take me seriously. I figured she was trying to do her best. She did help me with some things, after all. 

But you know what? No. She could have helped me. Instead of insisting that my pain was all in my head or perhaps due to something in my past, she could have wondered, hey, maybe it's being exacerbated by your job as a cashier where you stand for 8+ hours a day. She knew that. She could have done something, like written me a note that said I was allowed a chair at work. Or more frequent breaks. My physical therapist at the time urged me to quit that job. And sure enough, when I switched jobs, that had a huge positive impact on my health. 

She could have done something, instead of throwing up her hands and trying to fob me off to a psychiatrist. 

But, I don't think she ever really believed I was in real pain. Because surely, if she had, she would have done something about it besides ask if it was all in my head. 

I could go on about this doctor and all the things I didn't like about her. Instead I'll just keep doing my exercises.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

So Apparently Audible Warns You About "Diverse Content"

I signed up for my free month with Audible.com, Amazon's audiobook company. I like being able to listen to a book while driving or doing chores.

Plus, there's been a book on my TBR pile for a while: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot. I got it and finished listening. I'll review it here in a bit, but for now I'll say it was one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to.

The thing that annoyed me was that once I got to the download screen, I noticed that contained under the book information was a little warning box. A warning about "diverse content."

Eh?

A Wish After Midnight is the story of an African American girl from Brooklyn. One night, she makes a wish at a fountain and finds herself transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn. There, she has to survive and get back to her own time.

Image result for a wish after midnight
Also, hooray for introverted protagonists, ordinary people, and others who don't normally make it into fantasy novels. Because they're pretty much all in this book.

It's pretty clear from the synopsis that the book contains some heavy issues, such as, I don't know...the Civil War and how black Americans are treated by society then and now. And Jenna is an African American girl, but her dad is from Panama, and her family also has Native American heritage, so the character is "diverse" in that sense. She and her boyfriend are also members of a minority religion. 

But I don't really believe that the "diverse content" sticker is supposed to warn you about all that. Anyway, are all those things we really need to be warned about? For fuck's sake, A Game of Thrones has a character eat a horse heart and ride around on dragons in fantasy-Asia -- yet we need a "diverse content" warning about a normal kid from modern-day Brooklyn? I don't fucking think so. 

I suspect "diverse content" is in place just to make sure you don't buy a "black book" by mistake. 

But if you'd looked at the cover, you'd know that A Wish After Midnight is about African American characters. If you have a problem with that, you probably haven't gotten to the stage where Audible warns you about it. (Which appears to be only after you purchase the thing, which is also weird.)

Or maybe it's a coded warning that "this book contains the n-word." But again, if you'd read the synopsis, you'd know A Wish After Midnight is about the Civil War. So even if you were offended by it, you might not necessarily be surprised. And if that's what they meant, then why not use a language advisory? "This book contains adult language and racial slurs."

This weird little content warning just seems like another gate kept by Amazon's mysterious censorship gods. Like, watch out! You might end up reading "diverse content" in books about characters different from you!

Different from you. That's the implication here that really bugs me, I think. The assumption that their audience is all the other things the characters are not (namely, white) and might need a warning so as not to be shocked. 

I know I put "Diverse Reads" tags on some of my book reviews. But, hopefully, I seem as though I'm trying to promote diversity, rather than warn about it. Doing the Diverse Reads series is an attempt on my part to read more widely and to let others know about more of these books. Looking at Audible's content warning, I really, really hope it hasn't come across in the wrong way. :P

I tried to see whether Audible puts "diverse content" tags on books with themes other than race, but the warning doesn't seem to pop up before the final stage (and I'm too broke to try and find a pattern). If I purchase Mind Games, which has a blind protagonist, a depressed protagonist, and a graphic depiction of a suicide attempt, will I get a "diverse content" warning?

Or is it really a race thing?

*squints suspiciously at Audible*

I think I'm going to try Nook Audiobooks for the time being. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Diverse Reads Review: Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy

This book was another impulse purchase when I was bored and had very little money in my checking account. If you're going to be broke, it's better to have a book. 

I selected Stonehill Downs for a "diverse reads" review because fantasy tends to be overwhelmingly filled with white people and settings based on European culture, myths, legends, and figures. Stonehill Downs has a black protagonist, and her experience of the traditional pseudo-European fantasyland is quite different.


Currently Reading

Summary

When the mangled corpses of citizens start appearing among the remote villages and hills of the Stonehill Downs, it's up to Mal and Avani to figure out why. Mal is the newly named Vocent, a powerful necromancer sworn to the king's service. Avani is a shepherdess and weaver with latent powers of her own. Displaced from her island home, she has made her living on the Stonehill Downs. Now that murder and dark magic threaten her new life, she joins Mal in his attempt to seek out the truth and stop the bloodshed.

Review: 4 Stars!!! Yeah!

Let's get the bad out of the way first. I give this one four stars because the characters made up for any problems I had with the plot. 

Don't get me wrong -- the plot was great! The mystery of the murders, Avani's backstory, the way the writer gradually revealed more and more of the fantasy world -- it was all well-structured and unfolded naturally. Until the end.


 

Worldbuilding problems

Towards the end, we're introduced these weird god-beings with a weird fantasy-ish-pseudo-Celtic-type name. We're asked to accept these creatures with zero explanation. I imagine Remy thought she was leaving a clear trail of breadcrumbs to this revelation, but I was blindsided. 

I followed who the suspects for the murders were supposed to be, and what the underlying motive was -- that made sense. Making the jump from that to these mythical creatures was a leap too far. Are they vampires? Gods? Feyfolken? It was a great buildup to a poor delivery. Perhaps the "big twist" was related to mythology. All fantasy inevitably draws on myth to some extent.

But where I really want to critique this "twist" is in its revelation to the main character, Avani. Avani is a black islander living among white people in a European-ish country. She maintains her own religion, artistic practices, and cultural beliefs.

That means that she, like the reader, has no frame of reference culturally for the narrative's big "twist." This makes her the perfect avatar to actually explain this to us, the very confused readers. Which didn't happen. After the initial shock, Avani acts like she knows exactly what's going on. 

And I didn't. And that annoyed me. I so badly wanted to like this, but I can't love a book when I don't know what's going on.

Love triangle: Best part of the book?

This love triangle was fascinating. And I don't often say that. 

Mal and Avani have sexual tension, although their different personalities and cultures cause friction between them. Mal can also be an immature jackass, and Avani a stubborn hothead, so there's plenty of fuel for conflict. 

Then there's the tiny detail that Mal is married...to a dead woman. 

Image result for love triangle

Mal is a necromancer and his familiar is his dead wife, Siobhan. At first, it seems like a partnership of equals based on true love that transcends the grave. But the more you read, the more it becomes clear that this relationship is unhealthy, codependent, and creepy. So fucking creepy. 

It was awesome. I love horror. I love fantasy. Fantasy-horror mashups are my favorite. Speaking of which...

Screw you, fantasy, necromancers are awesome

In most fantasy, kings with necromancer advisers/enforcers are automatically evil. Death? Evil! Necromancy? Super evil!

Stonehill Downs does a different take. Mal is a public servant. He uses necromancy to investigate and solve crimes. He has a secret evil necromancer lab...which is a fantasy version of a modern forensics lab.

The magic in the book was pretty interesting. In some respects, it's severely limited; in others, very powerful. Avani also has latent magical talent, although she resists the way her adoptive homeland treats magi. As a magus, she would be forced to swear service to the state, because people consider unattached magi too dangerous.

Fantasy cultures and representation

Obviously, authors are limited in how they represent real-world ethnicity and cultures in fantasy settings. However, fantasy writers are still writing for a real-world audience. The fantasy novel becomes a place where writers can subvert, challenge, or avoid tropes of race and cultural difference. 

For example, in Avani's culture, magic is considered a gift from the divine. Mal is an unapologetic atheist, and he demands Avani let him train her and form her experience to better fit that of his own culture and beliefs.

Unsurprisingly, she refuses. As a former refugee and a minority in her adopted homeland, she doesn't feel the need to assimilate in order to be accepted. In fact, she finds many of their practices weird and frequently nags Mal about his familiar, which her culture considers a curse. This is a viewpoint he -- and his creepy dead bride -- definitely don't appreciate.

Have I mentioned how much I love horror fantasy? I really, really love it.

Lurve...

Learning to find common ground is a key part of the romance that develops over the course of the novel. I'm pleased to say that while Stonehill Downs illustrates a strong bond, it leaves the resolution of the romance open-ended. 

Like I said, a lot of fantasy is based on white ethnic groups, cultures, and myths. Stonehill Downs is set in a European-based fantasy kingdom, but the reader experiences that setting through the eyes of the black female protagonist. As such, the European-esque culture, religion, beliefs, and dress are not accepted as a norm from which all other cultures deviate. Quite the opposite, in fact. Avani's perspective becomes a lens for examination and critique. 

Conclusion

Even though I didn't understand the ending very well, I highly recommend Stonehill Downs. I'll definitely be checking out the sequel. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The friends who go away for a while

I'm not a very good friend. Actually, I'm pretty sure I'm terrible at being friends with people. 

I don't text much. I forget to reply via text and messenger until hours or days later. I don't often hang out with people and I feel awkward asking them to. I'm always working or at rehearsal or whatever. Sometimes, it's just too exhausting to try to interact with people. 

But, I do still try to be there for people in whatever capacity I can. And I do at least try to let people know I will be there if they need someone to talk to. 

Because I know that when I need someone to talk to, and there's no one there, it sucks. 

I have a few close (closer?) friends. I'm not a social butterfly. I don't have a giant network of friends to fall back on and my family is also more or less useless in that regard, so being ghosted sucks. It's the worst feeling. I would much rather someone tell me "Hey, I don't want to hang out anymore" and go away rather than wondering for months what I might have done wrong or whether they will eventually respond. 

Mainly, though, I get worried. Especially when there's a relationship involved. Twice now my friends have ghosted only to reenter my life because an abusive relationship was isolating them.

It's when someone has reentered my life, and I've tried to help them get over the bad relationship and move on, and they've apologized for being so absent, and they seem to get back on their feet and then move on and possibly meet another person -- and then ghost you again -- that's when I feel a little more justified in feeling hurt.

I guess I just wonder how many times someone can drop you before you stop picking them up again. 

I should probably feel angry, but mostly I just feel worried. Does that make me a loser? I want to know they're OK. If they've moved to a new part of their life and don't want to be friends, fine, as long as they're happy and OK. Maybe I'm just a reminder of a shitty part in their life that they need to cut loose before they can move on. That would be fine. I would get that. 

But looking back on this pattern of people's romances dominating their lives to the point where it becomes isolating and abusive, and then seeing another pretty close friend drop off the face of the planet, it makes me concerned. 

I don't know where a friend's place is in all this. Am I wildly overestimating my friendship level? Maybe I've been thinking of myself as a Level 5 Friend, when I'm really a Level 2. What business do I have butting into someone's life and nosing around asking if they're OK? This is where I start to psych myself out. 

The problem is, this kind of back and forth is really draining. I have my own issues, and I am torn between not wanting to be an emotional drain on my friends but also not wanting to be used by them as an emotional dumping ground. Because using me to offload all their problems and then vanishing when I happen to need a friend is not very friendly.

This doesn't mean I won't be there whenever a ghost friend wants to resume the conversation. But I think that next time I may make it clear that this sort of arrangement isn't very fair to me or healthy for either of us. I really want to put more effort into friendships, but it needs to be a mutual thing. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

King Arthur Sucks.

I wrote a review of The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemingway, in which I applauded the book for being the first Arthurian adaptation I had read that I didn't despise. I mean, how could I? Despite the book's other problems, it had aliens riding motherfucking dragons!!! Aliens! Dragons! Parallel universes! 

After reading my review, one of my friends asked me why I hate Arthurian legend so much. 

Well. 

Perhaps one of the reasons I liked The Greenstone Grail's take on the Holy Grail myth was because it was so different. Most Arthurian adaptations fall along the same lines. It's the same damn story told almost the same damn way all the time. But The Greenstone Grail took place in modern times, borrowing from the Holy Grail and Arthurian myths without making it so central to the plot that there was no room for other stuff like imagination. 

Say whatever else you want about this book (and believe me, I did), it had imagination. Its main character can dimension-walk in dreams. The Grail itself is an alien artifact created on another planet and locked up on Earth for safekeeping. Magic is a real thing but has significant drawbacks. Magic and science have advanced so far in the alternate universe that they're basically the same thing. Also, aliens riding motherfucking dragons, holy shit. My inner 12-year-old is peeing herself with excitement. 


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That was such a stark change from every other ho-hum fantasy adaptation of Merlin or Arthur and the Holy Grail that it was a relief. 

However, boring adaptations aren't the only reason I hate the Arthurian legends. I just hate Arthur and the entire mythos, period. 

Fuck this guy.

See, most adaptations (that I've seen) glorify the mythos instead of critiquing it. Sort of like how Percy Jackson is the diluted, kid-friendly version of Greek myth without all the incest, murder, rape, and cannibalism. But that makes sense because PJ is for kids. Teen and adult adaptations of the Arthurian legend play all the horrible aspects of the mythos totally straight -- with no serious thought or critique. More boring rise-of-a-hero stories. Blah.

In that vein, most of the stories surrounding King Arthur focus on two characters: Arthur himself, or Merlin. Because, duh, it's called Arthurian myth, and duh, Merlin is a cool guy who does magic and stuff. 

Except that Merlin is a huge asshole in the original stories, trying to raise a shitty little brat (Arthur) into a king. Merlin disguised Arthur's father with magic, allowing him to trick Arthur's mother into believing he was her husband. He raped her, killed her husband, disinherited her daughters, and took the kingdom. All with Merlin's help. 

Merlin is a dick, and I'm tired of reading about him. And frankly, there's only so much you can write about these characters before they stop being interesting. 

Hey, did I mention that there are African and Middle Eastern knights of the Round Table as well? That you probably don't know about because Arthurian legend has been whitewashed and used to glorify Britain's past, white people, and Christians? Sir Morien is a fucking PRINCE, OK? He goes on an epic quest for his father and gets the dude to acknowledge him as his son. Somebody write me a book about that guy.

This guy.

And the supposed villains of Arthurian legend -- namely, Morgana and Mordred 
-- tend to have legitimate grievances against Arthur and Camelot. At the very least, their stories are more interesting by default because they've been adapted less often. Because they aren't so easily shoehorned into the traditional hero's journey narrative the way Arthur's story is, they tend to just get used as villains in that heroic narrative. 
 

In some legends, Morgana is Arthur's ally, a powerful healer and enchantress. The character is at least partially based on a goddess. She's Arthur's half-sister and ally -- at least until he throws her by the wayside after he becomes king. From her perspective, Arthur is a bastard conceived by the man who raped her mother and killed her father, and the only reason she can't be queen is because society is sexist.

Every story that upholds Arthur and Merlin as heroes and Morgana as a villain does a little more to justify a) the rape of Arthur's mother b) the disenfranchisement of women and c) Machiavellian ideals. All while glorifying the supposed "heroic" ideals of chivalry and the Arthurian mythos. 

And then there's Mordred. 

The first Arthurian adaptation I read was I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer. It's an extremely depressing book about Mordred's life -- how he tries to fight his fate his whole life before giving in and becoming the villain that everyone wants him to be. That book is probably what started me off hating King Arthur and all associated legends. 

Even when he's the hero his book cover is terrifying.
Mordred is the son/nephew of Arthur and his half-sister, Morgause. He becomes a knight of Camelot, and eventually reveals that Lancelot is fucking Queen Guinevere. Arthur, great guy that he is, tries to burn his wife at the stake. Lancelot saves her and they escape.

The story gets decidedly Oedipal when Mordred marries his stepmother and lays claim to Arthur's crown. He leads a bunch of other dissatisfied people against Camelot, meets Arthur on the field, and is beginning negotiations when their men attack each other. Mordred and Arthur end up killing each other. 

Apparently this is all foretold because Merlin prophesied some things. Among them being a) Guinevere would destroy Arthur's kingdom, b) he shouldn't sleep with that one hot chick, and c) his son would kill him. Arthur, who never fucking listens to Merlin, a) marries Guinevere, b) bangs a chick who turns out to be his sister, and c) fathers his son-nephew who leads the rebellion that kills him.

Hell, the only reason Mordred even exists in the first place is because Arthur cheats on his wife with his sister. Mordred has no agency in the story; he's a tool by which Arthur learns a deadly lesson. The mythos is all about how Arthur's unkingly behavior and infidelity come back to bite him in the ass. 

And yet -- and yet -- every single fucking Arthur story glorifies Merlin and Arthur. 

Arthur is not some perfect guy. The myths and medieval romances are about a flawed king of an opulent court, macho displays that often come back to haunt people, a code of honor that leaves little room for mercy, and flawed characters -- from whom we're supposed to learn lessons. We are supposed to look up to their good qualities and deplore their bad qualities.

Also, it's the 21st fucking century and I have yet to see an Arthurian adaptation that puts Morgana as a heroine. Even a tragic heroine. Mordred has an adaptation or two where he's painted as the tragic hero or the tragic, well-intentioned villain. Time for Morgana to get in on that. I've read and seen adaptations starring Morgan le Fay, but even the more sympathetic ones are villain origin stories. At best, she's a manipulator; at worst, she's an evil, power-hungry shrew who doesn't know her place.

Some of that may be blamed on religious tensions. Morgana, a witch who is possibly based on a goddess, is a pagan throwback. In the earlier legends, she's Arthur's ally; later, when Christianity was spreading, she becomes a villain. To some extent, the stories have to vilify her because not only is she a powerful woman, she's a powerful pagan woman-witch-enchantress-goddess person. 

But again: 21ST CENTURY, PEOPLE.

Back to The Greenstone Grail. In that story, the Grandir -- the mysterious ruler of worlds -- is a sort of Arthur/Merlin combination. He's a magician and a puppetmaster like Merlin, but a flawed ruler like Arthur. He is the good guy, but his methods are questionable. He sleeps with his sister, like Arthur. The sister-wife, Halme, becomes a major character and a force for good.

I'm a little more excited by The Greenstone Grail than other Arthurian fiction because if the characters line up to their Arthurian counterparts, then our protagonist Nathan is probably the Mordred figure. And it would be kinda nice to see an adaptation where Mordred is the hero rather than the villain.