Thursday, 9 July 2015

Feel Good Pills of the Summer

Around one year ago in the summer of 2014, just before the new academic year started, a host of personal issues had begun to coalesce and worsen; if strangers (friends of housemates) were in the kitchen, I'd go without food or water; if I needed something from the shop around the corner I'd order takeaway instead to limit human contact. Hardly the healthiest options both physically or financially. Finally I decided enough was enough, so I stamped my little foot (in my mind) and set out to do what needed to be done (in my mind and in reality). Now I have a tendency to research most anything before I go ahead with a decision and bless the Internet for having the answers to damn near anything (I now know which part is the mortar and which is the pestle). But this wasn't quite a black and white set of questions and answers that the font of all knowledge (Wikipedia) or the oracle (Google) could answer, they could only take me so far. These were personal experiences that would differ for everyone. Add to that the fact that nothing was genuinely happening to me to trigger anything; maybe I was just lazy or shy. That's when a little blue bird came to my aid. The connections I had made on twitter allowed me to broach the topic of anxiety issues with people I knew to be vocal and open about their experiences. Through those conversations and a determination to get to the bottom of things I made an appointment with a doctor (at a time I knew there would be few, if any, people present for their own appointments) and unloaded my concerns upon their medically trained mind. I wasn't scared or concerned about doing so, on the contrary I was looking forward to getting a real opinion, in fact I was more worried that the good doctor would say I was mentally sound and send me on my way. How do you contend with the fact that you're just bad at functioning in day-to-day life? As it turned out I was diagnosed with a triple threat of mental health issues, albeit very mild ones compared to what I had learnt in my research: Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and that ol’chestnut Depression just for good measure. The pun-loving me got a kick out of being depressed and SAD at the same time. And so my 8 month love affair with medication began.

Meds are a funny thing. Personally I don't like taking anything unless I really need it. Headaches and the like can be toughened out. A cold can be reasoned with if you have the time and patience to do so. If things get bad enough then sure have a painkiller or what have you, but that just isn't me; I like to know my body is doing its job without external stimuli because I’m stubborn like that. That day in the doctor's office though? Well I'd had enough. Put me on medication, doc, because I don't have the patience for therapy, not yet. Picture it all dramatic like if you want. Maybe some sweeping orchestral score playing over the proceedings. The good doctor went through the possible forms of treatment and allowed me to make the decision of chemical enhancement (makes it sound cooler) over therapy with regular check ups on my progress. Later that afternoon I popped my first antidepressant and went about my business. They worked too. Eventually I was calmer, less irritable, perkier (which I get makes me sound like a cheerleader or something and lord knows my calves would really pop in those skirts). Even the doctor noticed at my check ups. Dosage ran out, prescription was repeated, pill popped, happy days. They even let you do it all online now. No people! Bloody brilliant.
Towards the end of that academic year I placed a repeat order and waited for the confirmation that comes a few days later. And waited. And...waited. I begun to ration my remaining meds assuming a glitch had prevented the confirmation. Eventually I realised I may well have none left and rationed them just enough to wean myself off with as few withdrawal symptoms as possible. Withdrawal hit it's peak for a few days resulting in some irritability and flu-like symptoms, yet before I knew it I was med-free. Almost a month after my meds ran out I was notified that I needed a regular check up again and was given "28 days worth of medication to fulfil the time while I scheduled an appointment". That was pretty funny. Now I know I could have gone into the health centre and followed up on things but that isn't exactly straightforward for someone who won't even go into their own kitchen sometimes. Plus I was curious, you know? Was I any better? Did the meds allow me to confront things or simply blanket the issue in a ‘no tears, only dreams’ type scenario? Were they genuinely making a difference or was most of it in my head? My penchant for research and natural curiosity kicked in and I had to know. As of writing this I can say for certain they were doing something right. Since being free and clear of them the old habits have begun to rear their ugly heads only now I'm more vocal about them, no longer content to suffer in silence. The most interesting thing though is that I swear I feel more off the meds. Emotionally I mean. More specifically I experience negative emotions more now. Anger, fear, envy. I can't remember ever feeling so much of it over so prolonged a period of time while I was medicated. Which sounds awful, sure, but I also didn't do anything creative while I was medicated either. I hadn't written a single piece of fiction, poetry, or whatever in that entire pill-induced state of so-called normalcy. And as of now I'm not sure what's worse: to be complacent yet content, or to be creative and suffer. I want to be a writer. I love stories. Not creating anything and not even caring just seems...wrong.

It’s summer again. Summer 2015 when hoverboards are supposed to floating around instead of just pollen (curse you hay fever!). Summer is the hardest time of year for me mentally; the hot weather means wearing less clothing so my BDD raises its voice; the longer days and sunshine mean people want to be outside more so my SAD and BDD engage in some sort of harmony that no one asked for but can’t do anything to stop (kinda like Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise); and of course depression just tags along because depression is an asshole and gets a kick out of anything you do or don’t do. All in all it’s an unpleasant time. When did my meds run out? Start of Summer. So really I’ve chosen the toughest time to run the gauntlet without any pill-induced superpowers. But I’m doing it. This article, blog post, whatever, is the first non-academic thing I've written since my pre-diagnosis, pre-chemical enhancement days. The past twelve months have been something of a learning experience in what can be triggering and what can be coped with. I know full well that what I went through, am still going through, is nothing compared to people I spoke to during my research and I have profound respect and awe for them. A veil has been lifted on the stigma surrounding mental health and those under its heel as well. Unless you’re vomiting from one end and/or the other, in a cast or sling, or are literally leaking vital life sauce from an unexpected hole in your meat sack, people will treat you as a testament to good health. For me that becomes irritating. For those going through worse? I can’t imagine how to react. Yet those few I spoke with keep soldiering on, possibly secretly wishing the nay-sayers/unsympathetic step on Lego or cross paths with every shin-level coffee table in a room. As for me I'm finally writing again. But I’ll always miss being able to use my favourite Simpsons' quote:


“I get me brain medicine from the National Health!”

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Lust

Lust. If lust had a job in the real world then it would probably be in sales.
And Lust would be good at it too. I mean really good.
Lust would be the greatest god damn salesperson the universe has ever seen.
Know why? I'll tell you: Lust can make you so sure of something, so damn sure, that you become convinced it is the best course of action. Until Lust takes its foot off the gas pedal.
Then you're fucked.
Possibly because you actually just did that very thing.
For a moment Lust sells you that second-hand car you can't afford and you're all go go GO. You can't get enough of it. You're all hands and tangled sheets. You're locked doors and tissue paper.
Worst of all you think it's all your idea. Because of course you've never made a bad decision in your life.
Then Lust takes its foot off the gas pedal.
For a moment you curse yourself for being such a sucker. Then you laugh and shrug it off. Tissues are easy like that. And browser tabs are closed faster than you can think.
Sometimes Lust is sly though. It slows you down so smoothly that a few days have passed before you realise you couldn't afford that car for a reason.
You're old car was just fine and it was just as much fun to drive. Yet you still remember going that much faster. That little thrill more.
And you keep thinking about her knowing full well you can't afford it.
Then you're fucked.
Still...damn fine salesperson that Lust.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Writing Prompt: Two Boys & A Bot

Image property Simon StÃ¥lenhag via Geek Art Gallery


A lone police van trundled along a long forgotten dirt road that terminated at the edge of an overgrown field of grass. It broke from the tree line and made its way towards the three figures in the centre. But not a direct course; can't do with the appearance of attack. The office in the passenger seat let out a sigh "I hate fieldwork."
The driver shook his head and gave him a disapproving look while the others in the back attempted to smother their amusement.
"Smith, one more wisecrack out of you and you stay in the station for a month."
Office Smith promptly put his most serious face on; hard eyes; mouth fixed into a tight line.
"That's more like it," uttered the driver as he reached two digits to his headset, "Station this is unit six-upsilon-niner-niner, we have positive visual on subjects. Will attempt retrieval of stolen biped and control module."
The radio retorted with long hiss.
"Dammit, nothing but snake chatter. Control module must have a security blanket over the area. Looks like we're on our own." As determined and convincing as the voice was, the younger officers in the back gave one another nervous glances.
Slowly they exited the vehicle, careful as to not slam the doors or make any sudden moves. The biped stood frozen in a ready state, poised to move at the slightest chance. Three heads all focussed on the new arrivals to their peaceful point on the planet, claw raised as the lead officer approached.
"THAT'S CLOSE ENOUGH," boomed a metallic voice.
"Okay young'un" said the driver as he softly padded the air behind him, signalling the others to stay put, "we wont come any closer. Just want to talk."
The three figures remained motionless, save for the claw that bobbed slightly as the hydraulics pumped.
"My name is Officer Winchester. These here are officers Smith, Wesson, and Colt." He paused briefly to allow the information to sink in. "We've been sent to bring back what was taken, you understand?"
Two heads nodded simultaneously, yet the claw remained pointed towards the unit. The biped glanced almost fearfully at the holstered weapons on the hips of the officers and Officer Winchester shared a thought the rest of his unit most likely had; what the hell has he go to be afraid of?
"Now you need to return what was taken and then we can all get back to what we would normally be doing." Winchester was by far the eldest and most experienced, but even he was attempting to calculate just when this was all going to go south. It was just a matter of time.
"DON'T WANT TO. DON'T LIKE BEING BACK THERE."
"You have to understand, we're just following orders. It's the way of things. Can't just go taking what you want."
Silence. The words were getting through somehow, whether it was the fatigue from being out here so long or not, Winchester felt a spark of understanding.
"BUT THERE WILL BE TROUBLE. MOTHER WILL PUNISH." Now the voice was tinged with anxiety. Two massive feet, multi-jointed operating claw, a good ten feet of solid metal and power, and yet still afraid of Mother.
"THESE ARE MINE NOW."
"Now you know full well that isn't true. Those two things belong back in the factory they came from. Hell one isn't even complete. You're missing a claw there." That's it, thought Winchester, sow the doubt.
The other officers had ever so smoothly spread wider as all attention was fixed on Officer Winchester, no longer a solid target but now four. Should the big one make a move it was better there was one injury, no matter how great, and three guns to counter.
"IT'S BROKEN...THE HAND WON'T MOVE ANY MORE." The last part came in a sulking tone only a child can manage.
"Well there you go then. You just hand them back to us so we can get them all fixed up." Winchester bargained. He testingly took a few steps forward as he spoke and was struck by the odour coming from the machine; burnt almonds. Any machine that hasn't had its tanks renewed regularly starts spitting out the stench. The steps were a bad idea.
"STOP MOVING. I TOLD YOU. NO ONE LISTENS." Anger. Theft or no, this one wasn't processing things properly. "I'LL MAKE THEM LISTEN."
Age, experience, leadership capabilities, none of it makes a difference when a three tonne giant comes at you.
"Oh shit," managed Winchester before his entire body was kicked clear, landing ungracefully behind the van.
"Unit move!" shouted Smith taking his unholstered weapon to hand.
Flashes of light and heat tore through the air, most leaving naught more than scorch marks on the hull of the behemoth. Split seconds of silence opened up between shots and impacts that allowed the broken form of Winchester to utter curses. The scorched earth and now smoking hull was now half lost in a haze of weapon emissions and the now black smoke being pumped into the air by the great machine, it now so drained of fuel it was burning its own tank lining in the sudden burst of movement. Still the two small figures remained unmoving.
"Cease fire, cease fire." Came a disembodied voice, the owner lost among the smoke.
The noise all but diminished save for the hissing of burnt grass. A stray wind began to clear the sight, he aftermath becoming all too clear.
"Colt, check on Winchester, we've got this," ordered Smith.
Winchester lay in a pool of his own fluids, staining the ground with what made him function. "This did not go to plan," his broken voice managed before fading out entirely.
"There was a plan, sir?" Colt teased.
The same disapproving look crossed Winchesters face, though now slightly comical as one eye hung limply from socket.
"Colt? How's the old thing doing back there?" Shouted Smith, one eye still trained on the silhouettes in front of them.
"A lot of damn work to fix him but he just scowled at me so he's probably fine."

One hour later and the field was now swarming with figures tending to the last few fires in the grass and a small unit subduing the thief with inch thick steel cables. Around the back of the van sparks and crackles came from the form of Winchester as a repairman restored his eye and voice.
"That should do you for now, sir. We'll have to sort the rest back at the station but it doesn't seem too serious. Nothing a little R&R and some elbow grease can't fix."
Smith gave a grin "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Hey doc, you mind taking my visual and audible capabilities away so I don't have to look at this idiot?" Groaned Winchester as he was hauled on to a stretcher. "Smith, report."
"One of the little ones got caught by a stray shot. Plastered its brains in a bunch of hot piles. Big one is being strapped as we speak and the control module is being taken apart in a cleanbox. Can't get inside to see any more; you know how those factory types are with their little portable surgery rooms."
"We lost the biped? Aw that's all I need. Station is going to have us running diagnostics for weeks for that stray shot." Griped the damaged form on the stretcher.
Unit 6u99, or The Gunners as they were known, began seating themselves in the van, Smith now at the wheel in Winchester's absence.
The stoic Wesson suddenly chimed in, "Why did you think he did it? Why take them?"
"Damn thing is a factory-line bot. All it does day in day out is tend to the little ones, moving vats about the place. It'd drive me pretty nuts. Besides, you see the smoke coming out of the thing? Who knows how screwed its processors are after burning that much liner." Suggested the new driver as he fired up the engine.
"The control module is kind of okay," stated Colt, "but the biped? That one's all fleshy and soft. There's no bot parts or anything, just one hundred percent human. Did you see the mess the head left after that stray round? Gross."
The van reversed over the dark oil stain left by their leader and then started back along that forgotten dirt road back to civilization and Mother. Mother would fix the bugs in the big claw unit and things would go back to normal.
And they could always make more humans.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Writing Prompt: Family For Dinner

Let me tell you about the time my brother tried to cook me for dinner.

It was by all accounts a classier affair than the usual cannibal tales you see and hear in movies. No bubbling cauldron here or grand oven in a sweet-smelling house, oh no. There was marinading with rich sauces. Finely chopped vegetables of the highest quality more at home on the plates of the wealthy than in some run of the mill stew. Hannibal Lecter himself would have given a firm nod and glowing smile were he attending the meal. And that's exactly what it was.

A meal.

He didn't want to kill me. No, murder was far too filthy a task for my brother to tarnish his precious time with. He was just curious that's all. I'll admit that even I was interested to know. I mean it is just meat after all. Albeit the meat was me and the me had a life with hopes and dreams and a comfortable but tedious job at a bank. Ha ha, oh yeah that was the funny bit; there's me spending several hours a day surrounded by people's hard earned green and suddenly I'm to be served up with a side salad. Well I thought it was funny. Maybe a little poetic...ironic? Ah who knows, that old song screwed up everyone's perception of irony. Catchy though. I actually got to see the chick in concert once and she--oh shoot I'm getting off topic. Where was I? Oh yeah, my brother didn't get the gag. He was the serious one in the family which worked for him in the long run. Keep a level head all your life and your success becomes big enough to warrant using laser cut titanium steak knives to deftly carve slices of your brother on to exquisite china plates.

POP

Ah, there goes the champagne. Like I said, classy guy my brother, so I picked up one or two habits from him. Now I know what you're thinking 'who has champagne at a regular dinner' but I never went in for the whole wine thing. Waste of a grape if you ask me. No I'd much rather have a beer but champagne makes me feel all floaty in my head. There I go again getting off topic. Terrible habit. Obviously the evening ended with me not being digested beneath a finely tailored suit that hung on the frame of my own brother. There comes a point, as I'm sure you can imagine, when your own mortality suddenly stares you in the face and makes things very clear.

You fight.

Or you die.

I wasn't ready to become meat and even when the thing I was to fight was my own flesh and blood, my family, I fought. When I was trapped, tied up, half submerged in some flavouring, I kept thinking to myself how my brother would look himself in the mirror afterwards. Stare into his own face knowing he had killed and consumed not just another person but someone he had grown up with, shared laughter and love with, arguments and rivalries, hopes and dreams. A life. And do you know what I realised after the whole ordeal was over? After I had survived? Looking at yourself in the mirror is pretty damn easy. But then I had to look at his face first which was more or less the same thing.

Identical twins are funny like that.

So that's my story. I'm sorry if it wasn't told very well, I've never been one for captivating my listeners. It's still a good story though. It has drama and tragedy and tension. Oh and that joke about the money and the salad? You could almost say I...garnished it just right. Ha! See, I'm learning how to tell it better. Practice makes perfect as they say. There's more to it as well but it's the sort of thing that goes in an epilogue of a book. I bet it would even have more flare that way. I might write it one day now that I have the time. My brother really did have a lot of money you know. Not much for taste though, I mean look at this kitchen? Art nouveau belongs anywhere but a kitchen. His kitchen is awful...my kitchen now I suppose.

DING

Aha! That's the oven ready. Perfect timing. I was starting to ramble there at the end. Ooh, you'll like this, watch; just an ordinary double-wide refrigerator right? Wrong, it's the oven! Like it? I modified it myself; my brother was the serious one but I got the creativity. Big meals need big ovens and this one certainly does the trick. It has helped cook all kinds of delicacies for me.
Well thanks for listening, detective. It's very therapeutic of me to get all this off my chest now and then. Clears the mind. You should never eat when you're stressed you know? Now lets get this gag off, don't want it burning up in the oven and spoiling the meat.

"You're insane!"

Now now, detective, that's hardly professional of you. And after I treated you so well; fed you, kept you entertained. Don't ruin it.

"Please don't do this!"

Oh but detective it's already done.

I'm hungry now.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Writing Prompt: The Nightmare With a Clipboard

As part of a writing prompt, the wonderful folk over at io9 put up the below picture. Yours truly decided to give it a whirl. The following story is the result. Enjoy!

Image titled "Nightmare" from Imaginism Studios' Bobby Chiu and Chris Sanders, via The Art of Animation


Given the circumstances, subject 19, or Colin as the boys in admin had begun referring to him, had one of the finer rooms amongst the study group. His bed was plush and akin to that of a cloud, so they were told. A human cloud. One of those white ones that resembled an out of focus lump of brain. Not like the clouds back home thought Devigora the Forsaken One, of the Buckingham Forsaken Ones. Back home they appeared to be composed of an endless black tinged with a poisonous green. Lightning the colour of dry blood would leap across their surfaces followed by a thunder akin to that of a rockslide grinding bones into dust. They were really quite beautiful. Human clouds were so dull and clean it's a wonder they even bothered to look up.
Devigora shifted her clipboard into a more comfortable position.
"Now then, 19, in our last session you showed a remarkable amount of resilience to our spiders program. Even the newer version with the nasal infiltration. The folks upstairs are really quite impressed."
"Muh...spi...ders...muh-nuh," shivered Colin, eyes wide and staring into oblivion.
"Oh, 19. You really do give the best feedback." Devigora beamed, her fangs shining with an otherworldly moonlight.
Frankly in this line of work getting any form of coherent nonsense out of the inane babbling was like getting blood from a stone (not the bleeding rocks of Stav'nuk'gahar, that would be silly). But Colin was actually quite clear and responsive. He even stopped wetting the bed several months earlier. A real trooper this one.
"Now since you're showing such promise it's only right that you get as much of a reward out of this as we do working on yo--with you. I mean we're not monsters!" She looked genuinely  hurt by the very idea. Why, this was important work. The company was responsible for some of the most twisted and depraved thoughts and dreams known to mankind. Waterboarding? Them. Serial killers? Them. Reality TV? Them. If it wasn't for Them certain works in the human world may never have existed. Stephen King would be crunching numbers at a tire dealership. Hannibal Lecter might have been a great ficitonal hero of the medical world. Though that Lovecraft fellow was a complete anomaly and studies are still being undertaken to make sense of it. Common theory suggests he was actually half human, half Nightmare. This also suggests a level of kink amongst his parents that doesn't bear thinking about.
The wyrm beneath Devigora inched forward, hot reeking breath brushing Colin's ear. It was hungry. It's bat-like nose could smell the fear emanating from subject 19 and this stirred it's eight stomachs. Soon to be nine if it moved any closer. That's the problem with smoke-wyrms; the longer they get there more there is to feed.
"Fwuh pff r-reward...?" See? Colin was a pro.
"That's right, 19. If you give us the best you can give from the next stage of programming, we're willing to give you a little vacation. You may even be passed over altogether during your little sojourn and not have to come back at all." This of course was a complete lie. The efficiency and mental anguish department determined that the best subjects, like Colin, eventually put up little blocks that prevented them from experiencing the worst programmes. Or they went mad and gave false data. Humans were very selfish.
"Buh-buh sca...scared...muh-mee," whimpered Colin. He couldn't see Devigora and the wyrm, not really, only feel they were near and think there was something in the furthest reaches of the corner of his eye. He would fall asleep again soon, though he didn't want to. Waking up in his own room again. Fortunately he had begun to remember less and less of what it was that kept him awake in the dark.
Devigora rolled her eyes at the mention of subject 19's mother, then regretted the accompanying head motion. The ethereal wind that kept her hair afloat and gave her the natural grace and beauty renowned amongst the Buckingham Forsaken Ones, occasionally blew strands the wrong way. This phantom breeze had knotted some strands about a horn. Beauty was such a curse.
A shudder from the wyrm signalled that the programme was ready for insertion. It showed promise this new programme. Something to do with maggots and hunger and patriarchal death.
Colin twitched once more then drifted off into not-so-peaceful slumber. Devigora marked some boxes on her clipboard, fidgeting all the while. Smoke-wyrms were fantastic for inspiring terror and delivering news to their riders. But they were terrible office chairs.