Uh, brain damage?

July 21, 2011

I was skimming over a book that I am planning to give to a charity shop. It’s a self-help book about depression. It has a quiz in it called “The Pleasure Test” to help you work out what you like to do. I suppose the fact that I read that and immediately thought “oh, I’d like to know that” is also proof that my brain doesn’t work properly in the first place but moving on…

So I jump to the quiz – looks pretty easy – six sets of six questions arranged in panels A-F. Here it is:

First two pages of "The Pleasure Test" from 'Overcoming Depression' by Dean Juniper

First two pages of "The Pleasure Test" from 'Overcoming Depression' by Dean Juniper

Second two pages of "The Pleasure Test" from 'Overcoming Depression' by Dean Juniper

Second two pages of "The Pleasure Test" from 'Overcoming Depression' by Dean Juniper

I didn’t bother to read the instructions first and doodled down my answers on a little square of white paper. When I got to the instructions I realised that I’d answered 6 as “most pleasurable” and 1 as “least pleasurable” instead of the other way around. Plus adding up the scores seemed to depend on the answers being in columns rather than rows. I was getting confused and frustrated. I tried to work out my score from my little square of white paper and couldn’t do it. Really couldn’t do it. Frustration was increasing and getting into that tight, unpleasant feeling. So I took another little square of white paper and rearranged my answers into vertical columns and the correct numbers. It was hard to hold in my head which box across was which box down and then also ‘translate’ the number but I did it eventually. Then I tried to add up my scores and still … couldn’t work out how to do it. I went to another window and started typing in some stuff from another book in an attempt to cool down a bit (impressing myself by this more mature response rather than a tantrum). I came back to my little squares of white paper and looked at them again. With total fucking shock, I realised that I had seriously screwed up rearranging my answers. The first row didn’t go have the number 1-6 but several were repeated. I tried to correct it. I looked at the other rows and realised they were all like that – I’d thought I’d done it right at the time. I’d genuinely thought I’d done it right and it was so utterly wrong. Here are my little squares of white paper:

First attempt at answering quiz

First attempt at answering quiz

Second attempt at answering quiz

Second attempt at answering quiz

It was only as I was writing this post and working out how the hell to upload images, etc, that I realised that the answers were in fucking columns in the second attempt (that being part of the point of doing it again). I hadn’t down it wrong – though the first row was now wrong after my panicky rehashing. But I believed it had been wrong. I was convinced I had done it wrong. I couldn’t see how I’d done it wrong but yet, there it was: wrong wrong wrong. Part of me was even a bit impressed that is was so wrong.

It’s taken my two hours to do all this – work this out and work out how to put this stuff in a post. All in the safety and calm of my sitting room and in my nightie (oh yeah, showering …). I can’t even imagine me doing any of this in public. The humiliation and embarrassment? And it’s a big assumption that I would get to that public place. And guess what, I’m kind of upset just now too (you can tell by the excessive conjuctions). And I’ve still not got the fucking answers to the goddamn fucking quiz.

There’s something wrong with my thinking. I don’t feel like anyone believes me. I don’t often believe it either. So that’s the point of this post: a little bit of proof for the future.

Overcoming Depression by Dean Juniper

July 21, 2011

How many self-help books are called “Overcoming…”? Is that the only way of looking at mental illness or something? Certainly was for me and that didn’t end very well.

Anyway, I was given this book by my ex-boyfriend. I think he told me that he thought it was “good” or “useful” or something similar. He had a mild depression after we split up and I wonder if this book helped him with that and he thought it would then help me. Mild depression, as in the subtypes of depressive illness used by ICD10 and DSMIV, is an actual geniune illness and the “mild” at the beginning of the name trivialises and demeans a pretty fucking unpleasant experience. But that is another rant. However, mild-to-moderate depression and severe depression are not the same experience and it pisses me the hell of when they are all treated as one and the same thing.

Very little of this book was useful to me. Most of it was very proscriptive and frankly patronising. For example, according to the book, to cope with depression requires that people:

“‘Have aims and hopes that are adjusted to their personal realities.

Maintain a steady, other-blame, credit balance on their personal responsibility account.

Keep up regular programmes of anticipated and realised pleasures.

Sift and select what they read, view and hear so as to exclude the demoralising or the morbid.

Sustain a faith in something or some person outside themselves.

Establish and nourish at least one confising relationship.

Have hobbies, activities , interests and manageable responsibilities.

Preserve healthy rhythms of sleeping, eating, etc.

Stay sensitive to they own mood-changes and are quick to react to them with rest, relaxation, recreation or variation.

Do no carry the sins of the world on their shoulders.

Are orientated to the present and future, and do not dwell on the past.”

Now, there are parts of that quote that I do agree with and can see the sense behind. But there are just so many unspoken unassumptions and priviledges in it. Who says what “healthy rhythms of […] eating” count? Is everyone equally able to “sift and select […] to exclude the demoralising or the morbid” and what is meant by “demoralising” and “morbid”?  I bet there’s quite of range of opinions there. Still, I find it interesting to read as it shows another way of looking at life and living. I do at least realise that my way is rubbish.

Today in fat-hating culture

July 17, 2011

Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist and professor anthropology who also writes crime novels about a woman who is a forensic anthropologist. At least according to the source links on Wikipedia, there is a fair amount of autobiography going on in her books.

I was given a copy of ‘Grave Secrets’ as part of a random book sharing thing – I posted off books to people on a list and a couple of months later several books were posted to me. I’d never heard of her and had never gotten into crime novels as a genre either. But I read it and was moderately interested by the introductory explanations of forensic anthropology and of Guatemala, where part of the book was set. There was very little about Guatemala and I found that what description and explanation there was in the book, particularly of the brutal and lengthy civil war,  was frustratingly superficial. Not really off to a great start with this book but not that bad either, hey?

Ha, then the initially subtle body judgement escalated into full fat-hatred. Want some quotes? Page numbers are from the UK edition published by William Heinemann in 2002.

“[…] when a woman appeared in the doorway. She was overweight, with hair the color [sic] of dead leaves.” p.91

“There were two doughnuts left in the box. How many calories would that be? One million or two? By tomorrow they’d be stale.” p.145

“[…] I spotted a woman in surgical scrubs. She had long, curly hair, secured with a barette at the back of her head. Pretty and thirty-something, with a quick smile and 36Ds, Lisa was a perennial favourite with the homicide detective.” p.157

“[…] a man I assumed to be the family lawyer. He was tall, with a girth almost as great as his height. A fringe of gray hair ringed his head and curled up the collar of his two-K suit. His face and crown were high-gloss pink.” p.163

“The man’s face, once muscular, had softened by years of rich food and liquor. […] His meaty grip registered a four.” p.163

“Two girls appeared in a doorway across the hall. Both had fried blonde hair and looked like they ate a lot of potatoes. One wore jeans and a UBC sweatshirt, the other a peasant skirt that hung low on her hips. Given her poundage, it was a bad choice.” p.209

” Ryan looked at Gaudreau. ‘I don’t use e-mail that much.’ ‘And when you do?’ Gaudreau shrugged. ‘Sexychaton.’ ‘Thank you, kitten.’ Gaudreau looked as sexy as a baleen whale.” p.215-216

“A man the size of South Dakota dropped a bag on the floor and flooped into the seat to my right. A tsunami of sweat and hair oil rolled my way. Ryan’s eyes met mine, then shifted towards the windows. Wordlessly, he got up and changed location. I followed a compassionate thirty seconds later.” p.246

Most of these quotes seem innocuous at first. Just a writer trying to do short, punchy descriptions of her characters, right? The judgement of the characters’ bodies, which the reader is invited to go along with, is not simply disapproving and downright shaming of a certain type and size of body but is also mocking in tone as well. Using fat bodies as a source of humour is consistent through the story. Contempt is all fat gets in this book and that also sums up my experience with mainstream culture in my part of the world. It isn’t simply the fat jokes that are hurtful but that the readers who laugh along with them are having their own fat-hatred strengthened and normalized. In the end, that is what this book is to me: another push towards keeping the fatties down.

So, Kathy Reichs, welcome to fat-hating culture. How glad I am that you played your part.