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The Black Hole June 28, 2012

Posted by J. in Genius.

Depression is a real bitch.

One day over the winter, Larry and I were having one of those conversations that married couples do. The ones you’re told about before you get married that come under the heading “Communication is Important” without anyone telling you how absolutely sucktastic communication can actually be sometimes.

And I found myself crying. Sobbing. I heard myself saying the words, “I hate my life so much.”

I knew that wasn’t right.

I knew that looking at my life as objectively as possible, there was nothing to hate. My blessings are without number. I’m luckier than most. My disappointments are few, my difficulties are surmountable, my discomforts are temporary.

There was no reason for me to hate my life, and in a flash, hearing those words out loud through my tears, I knew something was wrong.

Larry hugged me, apologized for upsetting me, and walked away, confused and upset.

I sat here at the computer and cried. Sobbed. And stared.

And in the back of my head, I felt a little shove. A nudge. And a quiet word in a low, clear voice saying one word: depression.

I frowned. I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. And I typed “symptoms of depression” into the search bar.

Lots of stuff came up. Tons of sites. Forums of people discussing their own depression, their treatments, and talking about the way they were feeling. And I got a list–many lists, actually–but with almost the same content across the board:

  • feelings of sadness or unhappiness
  • irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • reduced sex drive
  • changes in sleep habits–insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • changes in appetite–over-eating, or having no appetite
  • agitation or restlessness–hand-wringing,  pacing, an inability to sit still
  • irritability or angry outbursts
  • slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • indecisiveness, distractibility, or decreased concentration
  • fatigue, tiredness, and loss of energy–even everyday tasks seem to take monumental effort
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, or blaming yourself when things are going right
  • frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide
  • crying spells for no apparent reason
  • unexplained physical problems, like headaches

Of the 15 or so symptoms there, I had 13 on any given day, in varying degrees of intensity.

I realized it had been going on for quite some time. I knew I’d been feeling most of those symptoms since Dave was born. I’ve been feeling a lot of them since Emma arrived. I figured it was just adjusting to a growing family, growing up, growing older.

Sitting there in December, I knew what it was. I was pretty sure, anyway. But I had no idea what to do about it.

When you need help, when you don’t feel well, you call your doctor. My doctor, God love him, is a pill-flinging monkey. Don’t get me wrong. I usually love that. I’m a firm believer in better living through pharmaceuticals. But this is my BRAIN we’re talking about. This isn’t “you might get a rash” or “if you get an erection lasting for more than four hours” kind of thing. This is not a typical case of me knowing what’s wrong and going in to get a pill for it. I didn’t really even know what kind of help I needed. Why was I depressed? Did I need therapy? And how do you pick a therapist? When I needed a pediatrician, I talked to my friends with kids. When I needed a lady-bits doctor, I talked to my vaginally-endowed friends. But how do you ask someone, “So, who keeps your brain tuned up?”

The day after Christmas, I shot an email off to Fr. Albert. As a counselor, he has lots of experience with dealing with Teh Crazy. If anyone would know where to start, I figured he would.

And he did. First, he confirmed that yes, based on what I told him, he thinks there’s some depression going on. “Textbook” is, I believe, the word he used. And he gave me a phone number.

Being depressed, I didn’t call it right away. That takes energy. That takes drive. That takes willingness to actually do something. That means making a push to go past your own nagging doubts and anxiety (which goes hand in hand with depression, by the way) to pick up the phone and put yourself out there.

On New Year’s Day, by happenstance, I was at lunch with my sister and two good friends. And in the midst of laughing and silliness and a really happy, good time, conversation got serious. Over BLT’s and French toast, our own damaged bits began to show. I realized I wasn’t alone in having things that needed some repair, and I came out to them. I told them I was depressed, and needed help, and they were glad. Relieved.

And one of my friends asked a few more questions, filing the answers away in her head.

Later, she brought them out again. Alone, she asked me more questions. And a few more. And she listened. And she asked me questions based on my answers.

Loraine is a herbalist. Now, my views on herbal healing are skeptical at best. You know what they call alternative medicine that works? Medicine. But I found myself confessing to her that I was scared shitless of anti-depressants. The side effects terrify me. And the two biggest ones that I hear across the board from people are that the meds tanked their libido and made them gain weight.

Um, those are two things I could NOT afford to make worse. Losing what tiny little bit of sex drive I had would kill my marriage, and gaining another 20 pounds might well kill me.

She told me that she felt my depression had a lot to do with my hormones. I’m 43 now and have been battling menopausal symptoms for years. Before I got pregnant with Dave, even. She asked all about my periods, if the worst of the symptoms happened at regular times in my cycle…I don’t even remember now all the things she asked.

But, when I thought about it, all those things that were wonky with my period, stuff my own beloved ob/gyn assured me were a normal part of  having a baby and being over 40, they did sort of go hand in hand with not quite “feeling like myself” anymore.

I asked her if she could recommend something that I could take and she gave me a big smile and said, “Of course I can. It’s what I do. It’s what my degree is in.” She worked for years in a women’s health center, dealing with women who were seeking alternative treatments for women’s health issues.

Again, skeptical. Fucking hairy-armpit, kale-eating hippies with their ooga-booga voodoo cures.

But I trust Loraine. And she laughed and said that my symptoms, the way I described feeling, the things going on with my body all sounded exactly like all the women between 40 and 65 that she saw while she was working there. And that she thought she could help me.

She came back from the natural herb voodoo hippy store with a bottle of supplements. Black cohosh and chaste tree, mostly, with a bunch of other stuff in smaller amounts. Kudzu, alfalfa, red clover, tangerine oil, lavender, valerian…probably some grass clippings. Who the fuck knows?

My body went haywire for a bit and I almost gave up, but she said, no, stay on them. Give it a month.

And in a month, I had to admit that I was a bit better.

In two, I was much better.

At the end of three, my cycles were much more normal. I felt more like myself. I could tell I had a bit more hitch in my giddyup. Larry could tell.

I added St. John’s Wort on my own. I read about it, researched it, saw it had clinically proven effects on mild depression, minimal side effects, and I had no contraindications to taking it. And this time I knew enough to give it some time to work.

And it did. I added a B-complex vitamin to the cocktail and can say, sitting here 6 months after I tearfully composed an email confessing that I needed help, I feel quite like myself again.

Depression is a black hole. I’m luckier than most. I wasn’t in deep. I know how God works and I’ve become quite attuned to his voice, and adept at following his gentle nudges. Faith has been described as taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase. In this case, those stairs led up, and I had faith enough to put my feet on the first step. Never underestimate the power of that kind of faith.

I’m blessed that on top of all the things I knew I had even in my darkest moments, to have discovered anew that I have wonderful, amazing, supportive friends in my real life and inside my computer who have been a hand up out of that hole. I have a patient husband who might not understand, but always tries, and always has my back. I have smart people around me. I have a greater appreciation for my body and my mind and the things it can do, and I listen to it.

More than anything, it was finding myself admitting to the people in my life that I have some issues and hearing, “Yeah, I have that, too. ” I’m not alone. And I’m coming out, in case you’re sitting out there in Computerland feeling not quite like yourself. You’re not alone, either.  No matter how deep the hole you’re in is.

For me, there was a light I could focus on, to keep climbing towards. I’m grateful to be able to say that it’s good to be out in the sun again.


If Knitting Was Exercise, You Could Bounce a Quarter Off My Ass June 21, 2012

Posted by J. in Genius.
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So, the United States Olympic Committee ™ has sent a cease and desist letter to Ravelry for trademark infringement. In a nutshell, Ravelry is a wildly popular fiber art site on the Internet, and this is the third year they have hosted the Ravelympics with knitting themed events. One is supposed to compete in the knitting event while watching the Olympics. You can read an article about it here, along with the full text of the letter. It sums it all up.

U.S. Knitters Outraged After U.S. Olympic Committee Squashed Knitting Olympics–and Disses Knitters

First, I say kudos to them for protecting their trademark. When you own a trademark, you have the right to decide who gets to use it. They have every right in the world to say “Um, that’s our name and we don’t want you to use it.” Period. I support that 100%. And I think that since the Olympic ™ symbols and names associated with the games and organization are copyrighted, that the patterns on Ravelry using them should change them without hesitation, or take them down completely.

What chaps my nips is the reason they gave.

Changing the name of the event, the “Ravelympics.”; The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them. For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career. Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes. The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States. Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect. We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.

It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012). The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement. Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act. Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games.

Certainly Olympic ™ athletes have trained very hard to be able to compete in the Games. But you know what? I didn’t wake up one morning knowing how to make these:Image

I spent a lot of hours hunched over with four pointy sticks in my hands and trained myself to manipulate them, the same way an Olympic ™ badminton player spends long hours practicing with his shuttlecock. I mean, not to take away the accomplishments of the Olympic ™ table tennis team, but I would argue that it takes as much concentration and as many hours of effort, not to mention the manual dexterity required to knit something like this:


This shawl is called Torreyana and it was designed by Kathleen Freeman for Knitty.com. Clicking the link will take you to the pattern if you would like to make one for yourself, but be warned: it was designed for hand-spun laceweight yarn and is beaded as well. It’s what we in the knitting world would call an Olympic ™ level project.

as it does to hit a plastic ball with a rubber colored paddle. I could be wrong about that. It’s been a long time since I’ve played ping pong.

The Ravelympics, I argue, is a celebration of knitters coming together from all over the world in a shared spirit of culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony. No, knitters are not athletes. And not everyone who competes is at the top of the knitting heap. But anyone who’s ever made an afghan knows that it’s an endurance trial–just like a marathon. Not as sweaty…unless you’re working on it in the summer.

The knitting events are lighthearted and fun, but take skill, determination, patience, and endurance to complete, and every knitter who competes comes away from it “faster, higher, and stronger,” able to work stitches faster while remaining accurate and even, at a higher level of skill than before, and stronger in confidence and ability.

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” –The Olympic ™ Creed
I argue that the Ravelympics is entirely consistent with Olympic ™ ideals.To that end, I disagree that knitting events in any way denigrate the effort and accomplishments of our Olympic ™ athletes, and find that the condescending attitude of the USOC in assuming that our craft takes less skill, training, and hours of practice than their sport equally denigrating.

Further, one could argue, I suppose, that the Ravelympics is actually better than the real games because anyone can compete at any skill level. It’s not closed to all but those knitters who have reached advanced levels, because knitting is something where I argue that it is impossible to “peak”. It is more inclusive of age, tolerant of handicaps, and it is one of those things where those who are highly skilled don’t try to out-perform those who are not, but reach a hand down and pull up those who are struggling. We win when we cross the finish line together.

I think Ravelry should go a step further and totally rework their Games. Write a new creed. Set new ideals. Knitting is not “sport”. It is better than sport. There are no doping scandals, no selling out to corporate sponsors, no blurred lines between amateur and professional standings, no international grief, no arguing over rules. Knitting does not inspire nations to boycotts or acts of terrorism. You don’t hear about rampant bribery, corruption, and criticisms of commercialism run amok.

Ravelry should also trademark the name they choose and I hope that the ideals the Summer Knitting Games inspires will prove to be a lasting testimony to what can be achieved with sticks and string.

Make no mistake, here. I staunchly defend the right of the USOC in this matter, and I believe with all my being that it absolutely should protect and defend its trademark to the full extent of the law. It is important that they do. Their defense of what belongs rightfully to them matters to all of us who create things and hope to profit from them. They have a legal right and an ethical responsibility to decide which associations denigrate their brand reputation, and they should. They MUST.

In this case, however, I find myself feeling like I’d prefer not to take part in something associated with the Olympics at all. I’d prefer not to denigrate my art and cheapen my skills by association.