Sunday 30 October 2011

ECT is barbaric and should be banned. Right?

ECT is barbaric and should be banned. Right?  That's what someone said to me last night on Twitter.
It’s a no-brainer (to coin a black humour pun), isn’t it?  ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) involves putting an electric shock through someone’s head to trigger an epileptic seizure. The psychiatrists can’t even say for sure how it might work.  Totally unproven. 

Cut and dried, huh? 

Except no.  Not really. 

I know more than I should about ECT.  I have trawled websites; I have studied academic papers; I have read interviews with those for it and those vehemently against it.  

Would I ban it?  No.

Why? Because I was put in the invidious position of having to decide if someone I loved should have it.  I made that decision – not remotely lightly – and it, quite literally, saved her sanity and her life.
This is a difficult subject for me, as some of you will know.  I can’t use names because – last time I tried to talk about the circumstances that led up to this – it caused a huge rift with people I love. So.
Let’s just say someone close to me – let’s call her Josephine – developed severe psychosis. As in, she thought she'd killed people. She thought she was being tortured. She thought she was being crucified, for pity's sake.  Over and over again.  
She tried to kill herself in hospital.  When she was transferred to a mental health unit, she tried to kill herself again. And again. When she ran out of the means and strength for quick active suicide attempts, she stopped eating and drinking and tried to kill herself that way. Medication did nothing. Therapy? Don’t be stupid. She thought anyone who talked to her was a devil. The devil.
Basically she was running out of time.  Let me be very clear here. I have nothing but praise for that mental health unit. They were superb.  Her psychiatrist was the most humane, intelligent and downright kind doctor I’ve ever met. Somewhere I still have all his phone numbers – yup, home and mobile included.
When he suggested ECT as a ‘last ditch option’, he put it like this. ‘You won’t like the idea. Nobody does. I don’t. I only suggest it as I think, right now, it’s the only way to save her life.’ He went on to say. ‘We don’t know how it works. Not really.  But sometimes it does.  Will it work for her?  I don’t know but, frankly, it’s all we’ve got.’
Let’s get a few things straight. ECT is given under general anaesthetic, with a muscle relaxant. When 'Josephine' was able to talk about it, she said there was no pain.

And, yes, she was able to talk about it because, to cut a long story short, it worked.  It brought her back.  How? I dunno. But I do think that sometimes our brains develop sheep-tracks...synaptic pathways which become hard-wired through constant use.  What ECT seems to do is to switch the train tracks (to mix my metaphors quite appallingly) so the brain stops using that particularly dark synaptic pathway.  Once she realised what was happening (after three sessions) she chose to continue with the ECT – her own choice.  There was some short-term memory loss but we all accepted that as a small price to pay for her peace of mind and sanity.

Yes, it’s a very crude treatment. Yes, it’s distasteful.  And yes, I’m sure, in some cases it is used inappropriately, just as many drugs are given inappropriately; just as many things are done inappropriately. I am quite sure there are some terrible abuses. But just remember, before you ban it…things are rarely black and white.  It is so damn easy to judge.  So so easy. Because, let’s be honest, it makes life a lot simpler, huh? 
One thing, however, is very clear to me.  Without ECT ‘Josephine’ would have died in mental torment.  I can’t stress that enough – she believed she was in hell – real living Hell.  She was existing in mortal terror and bitter despair every moment of the day.  This ‘barbaric’ treatment brought her peace. 

Black and white? Cut and dried? 

For an informed overview of ECT I’d suggest you look at the MIND website here. 

Natural birth vs Caesarian

As James approaches his thirteenth birthday, I've been thinking a lot about birth.  Today I see in the News that  women will be able to choose whether to give birth naturally or via Caesarian. It made me remember a piece I wrote over twelve years ago after my son James was born – unnaturally.  I read it back and found a whole pile of anger rising up - even after all these years.  Because we still judge women on the way they give birth. We still judge women on breastfeeding.  We still judge - full stop. Anyhow.  This is what I wrote - for the Daily Mail if I recall - all those years ago.  And I wonder, I really do. Has anything changed?  

"The operating theatre lights were glaring as my baby was born.   The surgeon was laughing about football and the radio was blaring some loud rock song.   I had been pumped full of every drug going before having a six inch incision carved into my belly.  It was about as far away from natural birth as you could imagine.   Yet I wasn’t complaining for one moment.
This might come as a surprise to people who have read my features and books on natural health over the years.  It certainly came as a surprise to me.  When I discovered I was pregnant I automatically assumed I would give birth in a pool in a room lit by candles scented with aromatherapy oils.  I would use my yoga breathing and engage in the full primal ritual of pushing out a baby the way women have since time immemorial - without the help of doctors and drugs.  Then I would take my baby to my breast - no nasty formula milk for him.  So what happened?

In our NCT class we all merrily dismissed the pain-free options - epidural was virtually a dirty word.  Pain management was the name of the game.  But at 4am when I was being induced with Prostin pessaries (a hormone designed to kick off labour) I needed more than a back rub.  The pains were fierce and unrelenting.  I hadn’t slept for over 48 hours and was sobbing with exhaustion.  And this wasn’t even labour.  When the night duty midwife asked if I wanted a shot of pethidine to help me sleep I virtually kissed her.  Within five minutes I felt a wonderful lassitude seep through my limbs and into my mind.  I slept.  Drugged up to my eyeballs.  Bliss.
After my second night of misery ended again with pethidine, I decided that enough was enough.  I wasn’t going to be a stoic any more.  I was going to flush my principles down the toilet and chicken out.  I ordered an epidural.  “Sensible girl,” said the midwife.

Labour was interesting.  I lay in bed strapped up to a drip, wires hanging all over the place while Adrian and I watched television or, for a change, watched my contractions as they appeared on the monitor. The epidural wore off twice - and I coped.  But at no point was I tempted to say “Forget topping up the epidural; I’ll go it alone.”   After fourteen hours the obstetrician said we had a problem.  My baby was in a posterior (back to back) position and seemed stuck.  I wasn’t even going to be able to give birth through the natural channel - we were raced off to theatre and James was born by section - at a whopping 12lbs 8oz.
The whole experience made me think long and hard about natural health and childbirth.  At first I felt guilty.  As if, by opting for a pain-free birth I was somehow letting down the side. Virtually every book I had read insisted that natural childbirth would empower the woman and be of enormous benefit to the child.  Yet I have never felt as unempowered as I did when I was writhing in pain.  It wasn’t “good” pain.  It just hurt.  I felt weak and miserable and desperate. 
The more I thought about it, the more I pondered whether we haven’t lost the plot a bit here.   I wonder if we are, to coin a phrase, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, women were designed to have babies naturally.   But if we follow that argument we would have our teeth drilled without anything stronger than a whiff of neroli oil.  We would breathe our way through surgery. 
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying all women should have high-tech births. But I feel we all need to be far more open-minded, to drop the dogma which has grown up around childbirth.  I am concerned that there is a fanaticism springing up about natural health - a kind of “all or nothing” approach.  Nature is good ergo science is bad.   Nature is good.  I had a huge range of homeopathic remedies following my section and needed very few analgesics afterwards. But science is good too.  If I had given birth “naturally” at home on Exmoor it’s possible that neither James nor I would be here today.   In an ideal world conventional and complementary medicine work hand in glove - they should not be at battle with each other.

The dogmatism extends to breastfeeding.  I never even thought about it until James was born.  I would breastfeed and that was that.  Breast is best.  End of story.  Except James would not breastfeed.  He took one look at my nipple and screamed.  I joked that he’d probably had a bad experience with breasts in a past life and didn’t worry too much.  The midwives all said he would take to the breast - give him time and his hunger would persuade him.  Except it didn’t.  The days passed and as each new midwife came on duty she would take her turn in trying to fix him on.  Each one came in with a look that spelled quiet confidence - she would be the one to latch on the problem baby.  Each time they tried and each time James shrieked.  I stopped making jokes and began to worry.  He started to get jaundiced and became very listless.  Eventually even the most confident midwives became concerned and gave him a bottle of formula.  He gulped it down in one, burped and went to sleep happy.

I felt terrible.  I scoured the books looking for advice or just plain comfort.  There wasn’t any.  “Keep persevering” was the message.  The implication was that there is no such thing as women who can’t breastfeed - only women who won’t.  And women who won’t are “bad” mothers.  I read over and over how breast milk and only breast milk can give your baby all it needs, tears streaming over the page.  I looked down at James, quietly (and very happily) sucking on his bottle and sobbed all over him.  He wouldn’t get my immunity; he might get allergies; he might not be as intelligent - all because I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) breast-feed.  Nowhere did the books tell you what to do when your baby just wouldn’t have anything whatsoever to do with your nipples.

My own community midwife was wonderfully supportive. She tried everything she could think of and then agreed I was fighting a losing battle.   “Don’t beat yourself up - you gave it your best shot,” was her sensible counsel.  But as I read yet another book I couldn’t find it in my heart to believe her.  Somehow I had failed.  

Once again there was no middle ground.  Yes, breast is best but what if you just can’t breastfeed?  Every time I took out a bottle rather than whipping out a boob, I felt the world was looking at me and quietly condemning me for not caring properly for my baby.
We’re caught once again by dogmatism, by the childbirth fascists who insist there is only one way to do things.  It’s a trend, says my health visitor (another great source of comfort), a reaction to the years when formula was fashionable just as natural childbirth is a reaction to the over domination of hospital and drug-based childbirth.  She reminds me that most of my generation was brought up on formula and that we seem to have coped okay.  I have stopped reading the books now.  I have even managed to stop feeling guilty.  Now I just feel angry instead.

I’m angry because, while well-meaning, the barrage of “natural is the only way” is putting women under terrible pressure.  It’s tough enough having to cope with pregnancy and childbirth in the first place without the pressure of having to do it in one “right and correct” way.  Of all people, I know the benefits of natural health but I really think we need to bring some balance back to this issue.  Natural births are great.  But so too are high-tech births.  If you want drugs, fine - have them.   Then use natural therapies to offset any side effects.  If you want a natural birth, go for it - but keep an open mind and if the pain gets too much, ask for pain relief and don’t feel you’ve failed.  Do try to breastfeed if you can - but if you can’t it’s not the end of the world.  Formula milks are now highly refined - most now do a pretty good job of imitating breast milk.  In fact, if the mother is not well nourished the baby might even do better on formula as they contain optimum levels of vitamins and minerals.  Many also now include the essential fatty acids which can improve brain function (and very few breastfeeding mothers include those in their diets).  

Birth is not a predictable event - every one is different.  So by all means have a birth plan but be prepared to be flexible.   That way you won’t be devastated if fate throws a spanner in the works.  Providing you give your baby all the love and the best possible emotional “nourishment” you can I don’t think it really matters how he or she is born.   Looking back, I don’t care that I had the drugs, the major surgery, the high-tech hospital birth.  My only regret is that I wasted precious hours, days and even weeks with my newborn baby languishing in a quagmire of guilt."   

Saturday 29 October 2011

Save the lesser spotted small shop

You know what’s bugging me?  Well, no, you don’t but, yup, if you keep reading, you’re gonna find out.  Supermarket delivery services.  All I keep seeing lately is people whining about them – the music at Ocado is boring; Tesco wouldn’t deliver to the right door; Asda were 18 hours late… Eh? 18 hours?  Shit, actually I’d be pissed off at that, come to think of it.
But really.
People say they miss having local shops. They lament the homogenisation of the High Street. They grumble about massive out of town superstores. But, but, but….they sit there ordering vast shops from said supermarkets. WTF?  I just don’t get it.  When you do that you are, quite literally, sticking a stake into the not quite yet undead heart of small local shops. Yes – you!
I can hear the reasons and, trust me, I know them. Choice. Quality. Price. Ease. Time. And, for sure, if you work all day and the only shops around you are those homogenised High Street ones…then…well…what can you do?  Honestly, I'm not beating up on you if you do the click click thing.  All I'm saying is - think about it.  And, if you can use local shops, if they still exist, the poor bastards, then use them. Before they vanish altogether.  Because, believe me, the local shop is an endangered species.  It’s the mercantile equivalent of that fluffy panda with the infeasible reproductive cycle; that sad polar bear on its vanishing bit of ice, that small invertebrate that nobody gives a sod about in the rainforest because it isn’t pretty. 

What happened to shopping daily for what you need right now?  It’s actually way more economical cos you don’t buy tons of crap you don’t really need.  Okay, I know I’m lucky.  I work from home and Dulverton has brilliant shops. We have a great veg shop, farm shop, butcher’s, baker’s, deli, sweet shop cum off-licence cum purveyor of coffee-flavoured tablet (oh yes!).  Yet, even so, I still see the Tesco vans ploughing up and down the road and really, it makes me sad.
Cos it’s not just about economics. It’s about community.  When I pop in and out of my local shops, I chat to people; I plug into what’s going on, I connect.  And, before you say it’s a rural thing, I did exactly the same when I lived in inner city London.  Do I use supermarkets?  Yes, of course I do.  But only occasionally, not as the norm.

Let's have some stats eh?  You can't argue with stats...  ;-)
- 2000 local shops close every year
- By 2015 there will be no independent retailers in the UK - that's 50,000 businesses.
- The average person now travels 893 miles a year to shop for food. (and no, you can't wriggle out by saying the van is coming to you - that's still road miles!)

So, c’mon folks.  Let’s give it a go, hey?  Eat local. Eat seasonal. Support small.  Support local people, not thumping great big business. Go on. Start today.  

Friday 28 October 2011

I've been censored!

I’ve been censored.  No, really. Not quite banned, like Marek’s book (which Kindle refuse to publish in the UK – Yes, really!), but censored.  I’m so excited I may just hyperventilate. 
As you possibly know, I write a blog for The Lady magazine. I’m not entirely sure why but hey, why not?  

Anyhow, the Ann Summers and vibrators in Bath story was still making me chuckle (not least because the offending item, having been dispatched to said friend, didn’t work so she sent it back to me and I sent it on to Ann Summers who insisted it was working and sent it back – to me - but no, it patently wasn't doing anything so I figured maybe it was just me being inept so so I passed it round the pub and nobody, no, not nobody could get the darn thing even to wriggle, let alone vibrate so I sent a stroppy email to Ann Summers but haven’t heard a dicky-bird) hence I thought I’d reprise it with a few juicy added extra bits for The Lady. And yes, that was one hell of a Ciceronian sentence – blame it on the child as I’ve just been doing Latin prep with him.

Anyhow, I sent it off (the blog post; not the vibrator, I've given up on that and I'll get her a nice juicer instead) this morning and back came an email from the lovely Katie. 
'I think it’s hilarious but it may be too risqué for the site.’ 
Get that…I’m too risque.  I tell you, my life is complete. Except, the email continued. ‘Do you have anything else you could send over…today.’
Today?  As in this day? As in now? So I went on Twitter and bleated.  And then I asked my good followers, what should I write about, for The Lady?

@AnneWareham: [firmly] ‘Gardens. You have to be sweet and kind about gardens.’
- But mine is full of thistles and weeds (spot the song reference). 
@kitschyanna: ‘Doilies and Labradors.’
- But the one I wrote had a springer spaniel in it.  And a colonel. *sigh*
@frankiesachs: ‘Write about blow jobs. Then whatever you wrote about before will seem tame in comparison.’ 
- Nice thinking, Frankie..except…
@frankiesachs: ‘Hahaha. It was already about blowjobs?’
- *wince*  Not quite.
@kitschyanna: ‘What? Between the colonel and the springer? :O’
- Nooooo.
@CatParrott: ‘Bread/moss/kittens/jigsaws.’
- Hmm, there's a challenge. Could I weave all of those into one post? 
@RenWarom: ‘Making crotchless panties from doilies?’
At which point poor Gordon in the US spluttered all over the screen that he'd just woken up and the first thing he'd seen on Twitter was crocheting crotchless panties.
Oh really. And off they went off on a long riff about needlecrafting deeply unLadylike garments and *dashes over and has a quick look* yup, they're still debating it several hours later.  Seriously I do wonder about the people I follow on Twitter sometimes. J

Anyhow, the thought about blogging for The Lady on crocheting G-strings or knitting whips made me laugh so much I missed lunch entirely and realised it was midway through the afternoon and I still hadn’t come up with an alternative.  Then another tweet caught my eye and I sighed with pleasure. That’s what I’d write about. Not a hint, not even a whiff of sex involved.  And, oh so suitable for Hallowe’en.  
Blood sacrifice.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Cold...and Hotter

Moel Siabod

So. Wales. It didn't go quite as planned.  We usually make this trip a couple of times a year, to stay with Adrian’s mother, to visit his family.  Over the years I have grown fond of Llandudno, a Victorian seaside resort, faded yet somehow bravely chivalrous.  But it was pure love at first sight when I cast my eyes on surrounding Snowdonia.  Mountains. Mountains. Craggy peaks. Wild tumbling rivers. Dark eerie lakes. Before James was born, we climbed so many of them; Moel Siabod probably my favourite.  But – strangely - never Snowdon.  Yr Wyddfa. The 'tumulus'. This time, I promised, we would.

Except…my mother-in-law fell ill.  A bad bout of flu.
Just as I am fond of Llandudno, I'm also deeply fond of Doris. Okay, so at first she raised an eyebrow but then, who could blame her? I wasn’t a nice decent Welsh girl after all; I was an outlandish Londoner, a brash stroppy English woman.  But she soon mellowed.  
I just have endless admiration for her attitude to life.  She brought up two boys singlehandedly and worked damn hard as a school secretary. Now she’s retired, she plays damn hard too. She gets out there, she does stuff: she belongs to countless societies; she has tons of friends; she does Pilates; she ‘has a go’ at whatever comes up, whatever’s on offer – whether it’s a talk on Bronze Age mining or The Inbetweeners at the cinema (okay, so she thought she was going to see One Day but hey…)  She’s canny with her pension and goes off on all manner of trips and holidays. She reckons life’s for living and I take my hat off to her. 
She has a weakness for fashion:  she’s a devil for clothes and shoes.  I fear that, in my uniform of skinny jeans and jumpers, I’m a sore disappointment.  However, this time, I had a trump card.
‘I’ve got a pair of Hotter boots,’ I told her.  I confess I hadn’t heard of Hotter until Doris started rhapsodising about them several years back.  They come from Lancashire originally so I figured they were a ‘northern’ thing.  Except, no, they’ve got shops all over the show. According to her they're the bee’s knees, the dog’s bollocks, the whatever of whatever of footwear (oh, alright, she didn’t really say dog’s bollocks).
Keswick walking boots by Hotter
I knew Doris was ill when she didn’t even raise her head at the magic password Hotter.

I tried again. ‘They’ve sent me a pair to try out.’ I paused for dramatic effect. ‘You know, Hotter...’
Nope, not even the slightest widening of the eyes. She didn’t even ask which style they were. She was really truly ill. Completely buggered. There was no way we could wander off up mountains all day. So the testing of the boots (called Keswick, by the way) would have to wait.
I’ve had the same pair of walking boots for, what? Ten years? Something like that.  A pair of Brasher boots, bought on holiday in Connemara where my earlier pair had finally given up the ghost (yes, I tend to keep things until they fall apart in tatters).  These, in comparison, felt unbelievably, unfeasibly light.  Yet they came with the GORE-TEX® promise of complete waterproofability.  Hmm. Back on Exmoor (Doris got better by the way; we didn't just drive off, leaving her forlornly coughing in her sick bed), I looked at them and they looked at me. 

‘Okay, you two. Let’s see what you’re made of…’ I muttered, slipping them on. Jeez, they were light – it was like wearing slippers. Truth to tell, I felt a bit undressed marching out with the SP.  It had rained solidly all night and there was a small river running down the road outside the house.
I raised an eyebrow at the Keswicks. ‘You’re gonna get wet, y’know,’ I said splashing through a puddle.  They gleamed quietly in understated mahogany. A bit overconfident, you might say.
‘Okay. Let’s see how you handle the Chimney,’ I smiled evilly. I’d had a look at their soles and, frankly, they looked a bit lightweight, a bit wussyboot.  The rain had washed away most of the mud, leaving the chimney more or less bare rock and, to my surprise, they handled it pretty damn well.  Chwarae teg, as they say in Wales – fair play.  
The path evened out to pure mud and through we sloshed, nearly up to the ankle.  The Keswicks are lower cut than my Brashers and I did think I might get a soaking but nope. 
By the time I tied the SP up outside the Co-op he was soaked but my feet were totally dry and toasty warm. Plus…just take a look at that pic below…the clever little sods had shrugged off an hour’s worth of thick Exmoor mud.

Verdict? I’m impressed. The Keswick (£95) really is a damn good little walking boot that can take reasonably tough terrain in its stride. Supremely comfortable, extremely light and 100 percent waterproof.  Quibbles? Well, I’ve got very narrow feet and they didn’t tie up as snugly as my Brashers. I also didn’t feel I had quite the ankle protection I’d prefer if I were mountain climbing over very uneven terrain and the boot isn’t high enough to march through streams, as opposed to deep puddles. But that’s being very picky. For most hiking purposes they are just fine and dandy, plus they're lightweight enough for everyday trolloping around.  Would I recommend them?  Yup. I would. 

*waves* to my SIL Deborah and Adrian's cousin Beth who I know read the blog - though the buggers never comment.  Better not tell Doris about this though, eh? I might just undo twenty years' of good work.  ;) 

Sunday 23 October 2011

Meningitis - what you need to know

Okay, rare serious, sensible post coming up.  I tend to keep my blog for mad personal meanderings but sometimes something comes along that needs flagging up without making any kind of joke.  Meningitis.  I really urge you to read this (I’ll keep it short) and then to find out more. And not only if you have young children – this disease can kill at any age.

Some time ago I asked you to fill in a short survey on the blog and huge thanks to those that did.  I’m not a huge fan of stats as they can so easily be swayed whichever way you want to take them.  But a couple of the results stood out for me as meaningful.

72 percent of people who responded didn’t know which subtype of meningococcal disease their child had been vaccinated against (it’s C only). 
73 percent did not know which type of meningitis causes the most death and disease in the UK (it’s B). 

Hey, guess what?  I didn’t know either.  And I’m supposedly a health journalist. 

Dr Rob Hicks
A few days back I went up to Birmingham to take part in a blogger forum on meningitis. It was fascinating and terrifying in equal portions.  Meningitis is complicated and I freely admit I didn’t know all of these facts:
·       -  Meningitis is caused by either a virus, a fungus or a bacteria. Not all types are as dangerous as one another. - The bacterial form is the most dangerous – and can be deadly. There are many types of bacterial meningitis.
·        -  Meningitis can develop VERY quickly.  A person can go from apparently healthy to critically ill in just FOUR hours.
·         Approximately ten percent of people who contract bacterial meningitis will die – even if they are correctly diagnosed and receive early and appropriate treatment. Those that don’t may lose limbs, suffer brain damage, blindness, deafness or be left with learning difficulties or epilepsy. This is one SERIOUSLY scary disease.
·        Those most at risk are babies and young children (over 50 percent of cases occur in children under five years old) followed by adolescents (those of you whose children have just gone off to college? Make sure they know about this).  Military personnel and travellers to areas where the disease is endemic are also at risk.  But anyone, yes anyone, can contract meningitis. It is contracted by direct close contact with an infected person or via air droplets (you don’t catch it from shaking hands, for example).  
So. How do you tell if you or someone else has meningitis?  The main lesson that came out of the forum was:
Don’t wait for the rash. 

We all know (don’t we?) that the key symptom of meningitis is a purple rash?  Well, while it is a symptom, it’s actually a late one, showing that septicaemia (blood poisoning) is rampaging through the body.  The early symptoms of meningitis are often very unspecific and flu-like (high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, photosensitivity – bright lights hurt the eyes). 
The main point that Dr Rob Hicks put across was simple:
Trust your instincts as a parent. 
Don’t be scared of ‘wasting the doctor’s time’. ‘There are no such things as neurotic parents; just caring ones,’ he said.  He’s damn right. 
In babies, look out for pale blotchy skin. Cold hands and feet (while the rest of the body feels feverish) is an unusual, but telling, symptom. Rapid breathing or grunting; an unusual cry or moaning.  Refusing food or vomiting. Generally fretful and/or floppy, listless and unresponsive.
The stiff neck can be a useful symptom in anyone over two.  ‘The person simply won’t be able to put their chin on their chest; it will be simply too painful,’ said Dr Hicks. Also look for severe headaches and muscle pain; for a dislike of bright lights, confusion and irritability, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
Regarding the well-known glass test – many of us didn’t really know how to use it. Do you?  Basically you need a clear glass.  Press it on the rash and look through the glass.  The spots will not disappear or dissipate in any way. 
My purpose with this blog post is not to frighten you. And I wouldn’t want you to dwell on this.  I just think we need to know how to recognise this disease and to know what to do should it happen to someone you know.  Forewarned is forearmed, right?  As the Meningitis Trust says: ‘Knowing the signs and symptoms can save lives.’

If you want to know more, I would urge you to look at the websites of the three charities which attended the forum.
The Meningitis Trust – Provide free services and community based support for people affected by meningitis in the UK. Support group has a 24-hour helpline 0800 028 18 28  They have produced a free downloadable app for Smart phones
Meningitis ResearchFoundation - Campaigns for earlier recognition, better treatment, aftercare and support.  Lobbying for the introduction of vaccination against all strains of meningitis (a MenB vaccine may soon be available) and for greater awareness of the costs of the disease (see their petition on the website for full details).
Meningitis UK - devoted to finding a vaccine to protect against all types of meningitis.

Please note: I was paid an honorarium for attending this forum (however with no obligation to write about it). I have donated it to the three charities above. 

Friday 21 October 2011

Igam Ogam up the Great Serpent

Llandudno.  Again.  Twenty years I’ve been coming here, to the place where the mountains meet the sea. 
This time I joined Adrian and James half the way there…at Telford.  Where a tiger smiled and showed me the way. No, really. He did.  You gotta love it when you're looking for the loo and a big guy dressed as a tiger points the way.  
Different morning walking here.  No hilltop fort, no wide open field, no strong wild river.  Instead, down to the seashore, to walk by waves.  But no. The tide was in. No beach. No halfway place – neither sea nor shore. No borderland; no liminality.
So, when a path is closed, you go another way, don’t you?  And that way led up, up, up. Up the Great Orme. The Great Worm. The Giant Serpent.  Too much symbolism there – let’s leave it be for the moment eh?
Igam Ogam, said the sign.  Literally.  Igam Ogam/Ogam Igam. Zig-zag/zag-zig up the ziggurat.  For every hill, every mountain, is a pyramid of sorts.  The wind so hard, so harsh, taking my breath away. Wishing I had tied my hair back as I could barely see.  And really, sometimes it is so hard to see clearly.  Even when the view is really wide, stretching way across the silver sea to the mountains beyond. Snowdonia.  Which makes me think. I must manifest a hair cut J ..and maybe a change…of colour. What do you think? 

I’ve been thinking about shamanism a lot lately as I edit my YA novel, Walker – a book about shamans, about signs, about earth medicine. Medicine? Signs?  Are they here too? Oh for sure (foreshore).  A narrow rocky path, steep, so steep, with perilous drops either side.  Gorse, so much gorse, snatching legs, pricking hands.   Gorse, the flower totem signalling despair, despond, hopelessness. For feeling useless.  Shit, shit, shit… No, seriously, literally - there is just so much shit all over the fading grass.  Why? Goats. Wild goats. There, there, there. Sea-goats. Capricorn. My sun-sign. My shit?  Probably.  Fish-goat-worm – ah, now there’s an interesting trinity of creatures. Christ/Satan/Serpent.  Ah hell, I promised I wouldn’t do this…

And there, hanging, totally still, a hawk. A kestrel.  How? How, when I am being blown every which way by the relentless wind, does that small bird just stay motionless, unaffected?  What minute shifts of musculature are holding its body, which weighs barely anything, so still?  Still. Hmm. Hate that word.  But anyhow.  How does it?  Is that the message?  Control? Balance?  And then, of a sudden…it drops. Clear, focused, controlled.
And here I am, right here and now.  In the pub.  Because it’s the only place I can get wifi.  My iphone has decided  not to play ball either. So I am out of touch.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel.  And see. With a hawk’s eyes?  Ah…wishful thinking.  J

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Bullying, racism and the Shadow...

'Mum? Can I talk to you?’ James in serious mood last night. I nodded and we sat on the edge of the bed, looking ahead, cos it’s easier to discuss tough stuff when someone isn’t looking straight into your eyes, isn’t it?
‘It’s school.  They say I’m black.  They call me ‘Blackman’ and say I come from Nigeria.’
‘It’s cos I tan so easily, cos my skin goes so dark.’

Seriously, I didn’t know where to begin, whether to be more pissed off at the bullying or the inherent racism in the little shits. Or to laugh at their sheer fecking stupidity. Anyhow, we talked it through; about how people who bully do so out of low self-esteem; about how people project their shit onto other people (via racism, homophobia etc); about how you deal with bullies (pretty much the same as you deal with internet trolls really) and so on.  But really I just wanted to go into school and pick ‘em up by the scruffs of their sorry little necks and bang their stupid little heads together.  And, seriously, don’t you just wish that schools taught the basics of psychology? Or that parents could get their own shadows under control and not pass them onto their children?  Yeah, right.  Like I’m so perfect! *hollow laugh*

Projection. A psychological defence mechanism where we plonk our subconscious thoughts or emotions onto other people – either one person or a group of people.  Psychologically it's supposed to reduce anxiety by allowing us to express our unconscious impulses and desires without owning them in conscious thought.  In our generally spiritually barren society, in which we generally turn away from the healing power of myth, more and more people project their inner potential, their ‘kingdom’ and ‘queendom’ onto celebrities. It’s heart-rending.  And our shadows?  The parts of us that shame or scare us?  We project them all over the place, willy-nilly – we scapegoat.
Interesting word, scapegoat.  Apparently it’s a mistranslation (ez ozel = the goat that departs = the ‘escape’ goat or ‘scapegoat) of the word Azazel.  Azazel was a demon; also the name of a hill from which sacrifices were thrown.  But anyhow. 
We project our shadow onto individuals (the child who is ‘different’, the ‘whore’ down the road, the drunken tramp, the crooked politician etc) but also onto groups. Men on women; whites on blacks; Christians on Muslims; socialists on capitalists (and, of course, all vice versa and every which way).  War erupts from collective shadow projections – look at any war and you see devils and demons dancing straight from the human unconscious.  

Curiously, the more creativity and ‘sophistication’ in a society, the deeper and darker the shadow annihilation that will loom up in its wake. 
But, see, the shadow isn’t all bad.  We project our darkness but, interestingly, we also project our light.  In the shadow lies power – it’s just that we misdirect it.  

William Blake talks about exactly that in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.

Heaven for form, hell for energy – marry the two and you find the highest form of creativity.
How do you deal creatively with the shadow?  I guess that's another post - though I read somewhere that there are language schools that teach by getting you to adopt an identity entirely different from that which you use in your normal life - causing not only swift learning but also great eruptions of energy.  Interesting, huh?

Ah heck.  This is getting a bit complicated for a blog post, isn’t it?  But really, I go round in circles at the moment. 

Back on the bed, I hugged James.  I also said a few things that made him laugh like a drain but which probably aren’t terribly good examples of ‘proper parenting’ so I won’t repeat them.
‘What can I do, love?’ I asked, after we’d stopped laughing (cos really, you have to laugh, don’t you – or you’d just end up sobbing all over the place). ‘What would you like me to do?’
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘It just feels better having talked about it really.’

And, in a world where often there really isn’t anything you can do physically, cos really, it's all crap, it really is - sometimes talking is all there is. 
But then - if you can't find the right words?  If words only make things worse? Then what?  Shit huh?