This newspaper editor knows how important science is

A change of pace, for my blog; today, I thought I’d share a blog post on science, and its importance in our everyday lives. The reason I’m sharing someone else’s post, and not writing my own, is because I’m new to this 🙂 As far as having scientific knowledge or experience goes, I’m a newbie with less than 2 years of university-level study under my belt. But I *am* learning. I *am* getting better at separating the wheat from the chaff, with regards to science vs. pseudoscience, evaluating scientific studies, etc… and this article explains (better than I would) why it’s important for me to continue improving.

Science or not?

In this information age, where Professor Google has become the expert of choice, being scientifically literate is an essential life skill. It is as important as reading and writing.

Sydney Morning Herald editorial, 20 October, 2014

At a time when the Murdoch media are focused on bullying scientists who won’t come round to the empire’s way of thinking, it’s good to know that there are newspaper editors around who are not only intelligent, but have a lot of integrity. I refer particularly to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald who today published one of the most lucid and timely articles I’ve seen about the importance of science and the state of scientific literacy in the general population. Here’s some of the text:

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My Thoughts on Murder–Part 2

Sorry, I had to take a break there. I intended to post more the next day, but I was crying all over the place, etc etc, blah and blah, so on and so forth… behold my final thoughts:

In conclusion: no one will ever convince me that killing a child is the right thing to do. But equally, if you present me with someone who *does* believe that, then you’ll never convince me that person is sane, either. Regardless of how they got there, regardless of background factors, regardless of the minutiae of their life which I (and you) can’t be privy to, it’s typically INSANE people who feel like they have to kill themselves/their kids/other loved ones. In which case, if you see this sort of situation unfolding somewhere, and you’re in a position to do so, for the love of all that’s holy, get in there, make calls, protect them, protect their loved ones, ESPECIALLY protect their kids–but don’t act like you know best and it’s your right to judge them. It’s not, and more importantly, it helps NOTHING and NO ONE. And what’s more important–making yourself feel holier than thou, or potentially saving someone’s sanity and someone else’s life?

Issy Stapleton’s attempted murder is a tragedy, and I cannot read about it over and over again. If I did, it would grind my heart into sawdust. And many of the things I’ve read about Kelli Stapleton DO make me question her own compassion and empathy for her daughter, if I’m honest. But for fuck sake, who do I think I am, that I would get to judge her? In some of the clips I’ve seen from a couple of years back, she looks like she’s on the brink of crazy to me, and I don’t even know the woman. If her husband, his/her parents, their wider family, their pastor, Issy’s professionals, etc etc etc didn’t see that something was wrong with Mommy Stapleton, then she’s not the only problem.

This society we live in, that instantly vilifies people for doing batshit crazy things, needs to change. What we need, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a society that’s better at recognizing “on the brink of batshit crazy” and helping people BEFORE they land right in the middle of Batshit Crazy Land. Please, believe me. When you find yourself on the train to *that* place, and you don’t know how to get off, and you need some help, the very *last* thing you need is to be shamed into staying silent. And for all I know, that’s what happened to Kelli Stapleton–she was told too many times to think positively, to look at the help Issy had, to make the most of the therapies available, to continue trying to “cure” Issy (ASD can’t be cured, folks–and the suggestion, when you really look at it, is an ugly and dangerous one)… and the result was a never-ending battle of wills, a futile attempt to “re-wire” a child’s brain through dodgy therapies, the erosion of a woman’s sanity, and worst of all, the near-death of a beautiful, innocent child.

That shit has got to stop. We have *got* to get to a place where people can say, “I think I’m going nucking futs,” without feeling the stigma behind it. We have *got* to get to a place where we can acknowledge that children with special/complex/different needs are exactly that, to raise (complex, and arguably more difficult) without assigning any blame to the kids themselves–or the parents. We need to get to a place where, when an autistic kid has a meltdown in a store, society doesn’t judge the parents and strangers don’t try to “discipline” the kid themselves (has actually happened, to me)… THAT is the kind of shit that makes parents feel like they *have* to alter their kids’ behaviours. It makes them feel like they *can’t* always let their kids develop at their own pace (because when some cock of an old dude comes up behind my daughter and shouts wordlessly at her in a store, and in the moment I’m not quick enough to think about calling the cops and pressing charges, my first thought is “Oh no, my sweet baby; how can I make her stop acting like that, so that bastards like him don’t try to scare her?” as I sit there struggling not to cry).

I get it. When you see the way some people treat your child for being different, you become DESPERATE to make them seem less different. That’s not hard to understand, really, is it… and it has to change, or shit like Issy’s almost-murder will keep happening. And as sorry as I do feel for Kelli Stapleton, it pales into nothingness beside what I feel when I think of Issy herself… or of randoms shouting at *my* baby girl, in a store, and the hurt, bewildered look on her little face… of that woman who berated us and told me my son was badly behaved, for not knowing (at the age of 3) that it’s not okay to take a stranger’s hand (hers… what a fucking douche, she was–I cried loudly and publicly, that day, after losing my cool and shouting at her)… that whole pile of SHITTY SHITTY SHIT has got to stop, and it will only ever happen when people with ASD and their parents aren’t made to jump through eleventy-billion hoops, just to get the kids treated like human beings. So-called “mercy killings” are only a symptom of the problem, which goes much, much deeper; and I believe the problem is the result of personal mental health issues, plus the way society treats people suffering from them.

So, y’know. Be the change. When you see someone struggling, be the person who offers practical help, but also, who tells them it’s *okay* to feel like this. It’s *okay* to feel like you want to leap off a cliff, sometimes. It’s *okay* to think that you’d want to take your kids with you. It’s *okay* to need to talk to someone professional, about these feelings. Sometimes, talking about it is the only thing that will stop you from *doing* it… so if you see someone who needs to talk about that sort of thing, please, don’t shame them into silence. Accept and understand them into getting help, and maybe, just maybe, we can avoid the terrible tragedy of another attempted murder-suicide…. maybe.

So. I did a good job keeping this one short and sweet, yeah?


My Thoughts on Murder–Part 1

Okay, as the mother of 2 kids with ASD (and suspected ASD, myself) I feel I’d be amiss if I didn’t comment on the Issy Stapleton situation… if you need background, that’s what Google is for. The internet is awash with information about Issy, and her mother, who is (as far as I know) awaiting sentencing at this very moment. I have far too much to say about this, and I’m trying to make it as brief as possible, so here goes:

1) Everyone knows that murdering people is wrong. If you try to murder your child, you are in the wrong. No one–regardless of their compassion for the family, including Issy’s mother–is trying to say otherwise. If anyone actually believes otherwise, they need a throat-punch… or, some crazy pills/counselling/etc. Which brings me to point 2;

2) I felt compelled to kill my kids, once. I *immediately* realized that my thoughts were batshit-crazy, and I got some help, and actually made my partner risk losing his job by having him take 2 weeks off work while we waited for my meds to kick in (they did, SO fast–I thought it was all kinda bullshit, and they wouldn’t do anything, but after 2 weeks on an SNRI and about a week on a standard SSRI plus an anti-anxiety med, I could think, again… and I spent DAYS weeping over how close I came to doing something that, in my right mind, I would never never never have even contemplated). But perhaps some background, re: feeling like I had to kill my kids:

3) First of all, it was never my eldest–she’s the more severely/obviously/classically autistic–because I figured she’d get a free pass, on the Day of Judgment. More background? Oh, alright. When I have a near-psychotic break, apparently I fall into an extreme depression with a distinctly hellfire-and-brimstone flavour. So, I was going to ask God for forgiveness, then kill myself and my “higher-functioning” son, because *I* was toxic and ruining my kids’ lives, and I wanted to spare *him* from Hell by making sure he went to Heaven when he was young enough to get in. (Why did I think I was literal poison, to my kids and everyone else? Why did I think my boy would go to Hell, but my daughter’s more severe autistic traits would cause her to be spared that eternal punishment? I’m not qualified to examine that question, really. Give me another few YEARS of these psych classes I’m taking as and when, and I’ll get back to you on that… but how about, “I was FUCKING CRAZY at the time,” for starters?) But moving on to how this affects my view of the Issy and Kelli Stapleton debacle:

4) Because of my background, I am always going to assume that a mother who hurts her child/ren isn’t quite right in the head. Because I remember how I felt, when murder-suicide seemed like the only right choice, I am never going to assume that someone else isn’t SUPREMELY fucked up mentally, when they pull a stunt like that. For that matter, any time I hear of *anyone* killing themselves, I don’t see it that way… as someone else said, depressed people don’t kill themselves–depression kills them. Or schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness, when it becomes so bad and so distorting that the reality of others is no longer a reality you’re even aware of. Which brings me to my final point:

5) Unless you’ve personally lived with the kind of mentally-distorted perspective that can make you believe, e.g., your presence is literally poisoning those around you, and you HAVE to cut yourself out of their lives, quickly, as soon as you can, like so many cancerous cells from a human body… unless you’ve been there, you don’t have the right to comment on other people’s (fucked up, undeniably wrong, morally indefensible) actions without some empathy and compassion. And if you HAVE been there, then, like me, I’m guessing you watch these sorts of proceedings in a perpetual state of heartbreak, tears ever-present at the back of your eyes, thinking no thoughts at all without the ever-present mantra repeating endlessly inside your skull: “There, but for the grace of God, there, but for the grace of God, there, but for the grace of God….”

[And…. I will continue this tomorrow, I think]


Silver Linings Playbook–Almost a Film Review

So, I’m watching, “Silver Linings Playbook” (as in, right now–I paused it to come write this) and I wanted to mention the scene that resonated with me while it was still fresh in my mind. Bradley Cooper’s character is (finally) seen taking his meds (Seroquel and Gabapentin, I think, but don’t quote me on it) and in the very next moment, we see him (finally) replacing a window that he smashed days earlier. I’ll return to that scene in a moment, but first, let me digress into the parts of the film that resonate less:

The character in the movie is bipolar, and like most depictions thereof, it’s a little off when compared to my personal experiences… which are not mine, per se; as far as I know, I’m just a garden-variety, chronically depressed person; but I have bipolar family members, and the protagonists of most movies exploring the condition seem slightly… ah, what’s the word… not exaggerated–that’s the very key to sometimes realizing when a person is bipolar, or noticing that a person you know to be bipolar has come off their meds–I mean, it *is* pretty common for unmedicated bipolar disorder to manifest as exaggerated mannerisms and speech patterns… so it’s not fair for me to say the depictions seem over-exaggerated (they really don’t–I’ve seen my dad lose his shit over something as stupid as whether or not the mayonnaise jar was closed properly, and by “lose his shit” I mean become physically violent and exceptionally, loudly enraged) and I really can’t put my finger on what it is that seems off about Mr Cooper’s portrayal, except to say, it just doesn’t hit me right.

Maybe it’s the lack of actual joy when he’s meant to be manic; I’ve seen folks (most often, my dad, again) go from the happiest person you ever saw, to a screaming pillar of rage, in about 3 seconds flat (which I’ve been led to believe is pretty standard/one of the standard ways a manic episode can play out) but that’s the difference–even when my dad gets happy-that-becomes-angry, or happy-with-an-undertone-of-anger, his delight seems genuine. Everyone watching him may realize he’s about to flip like a Olympic gymnast, and start screaming obscenities and slamming doors in the place of playful banter and enthusiastic endorsement (of whatever he’s endorsing), but *he* doesn’t realize it. Is that the key? Getting the actor to somehow forget that, 3 sentences into his ecstatic speech about whatever’s on his mind, he’s going to about-face and start ranting about what’s wrong with society? I don’t know how you would even do that… but I do know that self-awareness of the way the monologue is about to shift, does not look anything like manic episodes *I* have personally witnessed.

And can I just say, I feel like a dick for using all this clinical speech. I have exactly 2 semesters of psych classes under my belt, some years spent in therapy, knowledge of a few folks who are confirmed bipolar (mostly relatives) and I sometimes watch movies and read books. That’s it. Those are my credentials. I haven’t actually earned the right to talk about an entire group of people, like, with any kind of authority. This is just me, sharing my (subjective, no doubt very biased) observations… but for the pittance that it’s worth, I’m not all that keen on “manic” rants that seem purely angry, or constructed to become angry, because in my very limited experience, manic folks usually *do* start out happy. I mean, it’s a crazy, OTT, “calm yourself down and take a chill pill quite literally” style of happiness, but it still seems happy. And as a huge fan of movies, I’m always watching for, and always love it, when writers/actors/directors get the hard stuff right…

…which is the scene where newly-medicated fella finally fixes that window. There was nothing in the world (not his parents’ embarrassment, not his own repressed shame, not a basic sense of appropriate behaviour) that could make him fix the window that he smashed in a fit of rage. The window was unimportant. The book he had just read DESERVED to be thrown out of the window, and the window was just collateral damage, and he was not apologizing for it. (All done very well, by the way. I bought it, completely.) And then, he takes his meds, and like a switch being thrown, there he is, fixing the window, as meek and mild as the Baby Jesus (I know, I know, Mary’s meant to be the meek-and-mild one, but just let me have it, it sounds cute). And this is what resonated with me–both the fact that he changed so rapidly and so thoroughly, with the medication, and also the fact that, as bummed out as he was to be taking it, objectively, he was being more useful on the meds than he had been off.

I think that says everything about why those of us who are on anti-depressants or anti-psychotics (or any kind of mental health drug for the long haul) actually *stay* on the meds. We may hate the way they make us feel without even being able to articulate how that is; we may hate the lack of enthusiasm (for anything) that comes with certain medications; we may resent the sexual side effects, the fuzzy-around-the-edges feeling of trying to think through a chemical haze, the increased appetite plus decreased concern about weight gain, and a hundred other things; but in the end, we can’t argue with a substance that, like magic, like a modern-day miracle, transforms us into people who can suddenly remember why you don’t get to smash a window to smithereens and just leave it there. Yes, we may be more prone to repeating our observations; yes, we may be a little less sharp generally; yes, our colours may seem a little faded, especially to ourselves; but all the creativity and originality, all the quick-thinking and clarity, all the shiny you-ness of your best self, doesn’t seem to matter when you’re weighing your idealized notions of that self against the prospect of being able to even entertain concepts like “morality” and “personal space” and “property law”.

And watching this movie, I see all of that realization happening, right there on Bradley Cooper’s face, as he eyes up a nice new window and (wearily, resignedly, with a resentment whose claws have been clipped) slides it into place and hopes it fits; just like the imperfect fragments of his life. We see it, film-makers. We get the metaphor. Using a window to make your point is an especially nice (if obvious) touch.

And even if, by the end of the film, he’s come off the meds and made his (thus far, failed and ridiculous) attempts at positive thinking and healing-through-exercise work, well, I will still have the scene that makes the movie worth watching. For me, this film isn’t going to get any better (or worse) than the sight of his face in that moment when he realizes that, yes, he can fix the “window”… but only if he uses the tools provided.