Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie

I hate meeces to pieces!

Recognize that? You’re dating yourself if you do. That expression comes from a cartoon program, The Huckleberry Hound Show, that ran from 1958 to 1961. In particular, it derives from a segment of the show called Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks—Mr. Jinks being the cat who hated the two meeces (mice), named Pixie and Dixie.  (The label in this photo is incorrect, incidentally–the cat’s proper name is ‘Mr. Jinks’ with a ‘ks’.)

Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx

And, actually, I don’t hate meeces. At eight or nine years old, I used to look after my friend Ann’s pet white mice when she went away on holiday. I like mice, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs, so having a ‘moose loose aboot the hoose’ (as the Scottish might say) would not be a huge problem for me, except for their unsanitary habits.

Also their destructive propensities—chewing indiscriminately, and carving out nests in places we’d rather they didn’t.

Also their ability to breed in a short time frame, and increase their nuisance potential.

Also their ability to carry disease to humans.

two mice

I’ve heard it said that mice are incontinent, but another source tells me that it’s worse than that. Mice will constantly urinate—on purpose–to mark out their territory.

And as for mice carrying diseases which can be life-threatening to humans, the ‘house mouse’ is a primary carrier of Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, which can be acquired by individuals who are exposed to fresh urine, saliva, droppings or nesting materials.

Then there’s the potential for salmonella infection when a mouse has contaminated a working surface where food is prepared.

While hantavirus is also mouse-borne, and is an extremely serious and sometimes fatal illness, it doesn’t appear to come from the garden-variety house-mouse. Hantavirus comes to us from deer mice.

In any case, mice and humans cannot cohabit happily—at least not from the human perspective.

An important thing to bear in mind is that while one might see only one mouse, the odds are pretty good that there will be more than one in residence. A mouse litter consists of six babies who will all mature in six weeks, so an infestation can happen rather quickly.

infestation

And since their teeth do not stop growing, a mouse must wear them down by chewing on things. If they’re nesting in walls or burrowing into insulation around large appliances–areas where there might also be wiring or tubing–it could be a serious problem.

Mice in nest

I keep my dish towels in a drawer in the kitchen, and it appeared to me they were using it for their toilet. I’ve taken to storing my dish towels elsewhere while we deal with the unhygienic interlopers.

Imagine wiping your dishes with cloths upon which a mouse has pooped and peed. Not good. Disgusting at best, dangerous at worst.

After finding the poop in the drawer, and hearing suspicious noises from the dog’s stainless-steel food dish when we weren’t nearby, we knew that there were small critters helping themselves to Willie’s leftovers. We also knew that murder needed to be done–it was them or us–but I for one didn’t fancy ‘doing the hit’ myself.

My husband set a trap near the dog food, and I got up the next morning to find a mouse with his one paw caught in the trap. He’d dragged the trap into the middle of the kitchen floor, trying to get out of it.

After exclaiming the requisite, “Oh no…this is AWFUL!” (a sentiment doubtless shared by the victim) I scooped him and the trap up in the dustpan, grabbed a pencil, and made for the back door. Then I wedged the pencil point under the trap wire holding his paw, and released him into the wild. He limped a bit, but he still had three good paws and that would have to do. I noticed that he was a fat little thing. Been living very well, apparently.

And no doubt there were more where he came from.

Thought perhaps I should borrow a cat. Wish I had my own. Have to confess that I don’t like a cat’s method of keeping the vermin population down, but perhaps ‘needs must.’ It’s greatly tempting to just hire a hit-man (hit-cat?) and fuhgeddaboudit.

Cat and mouse

Cats seem to enjoy playing with their prey, which I imagine to be a kind of torture. I think about the terror of the poor mouse when under the power and control of a cat. In normal daily life, fear does not seem to feature strongly in a mouse’s makeup; they are intrepid explorers, and will approach humans under the right circumstances. But a cat batting a mouse around, chasing and nibbling on it–as inclination directs–would likely be a nightmarish experience for the smaller of the two.

This extract from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno gives us another explanation for why a cat toys with its prey…

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry,

[…]

For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

Nice to think that the cat’s motive in tormenting a mouse prior to biting its head off is to give the mouse a sporting chance to escape. I somehow doubt that this thought is foremost in the feline mind, however.

In any case, a cat-in-residence might be a useful deterrent to a mouse-in-residence.  The latter will not like the smell of the former, and might consider a moonlight flit on that basis alone.  A nice and easy solution–no bones broken and no blood spilt.

My feelings for mice are much in sympathy with the thoughts expressed in this excerpt from the poem, To a Mouse, on Turning her up in Her Nest with the Plough, by Scottish poet Robert Burns:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!

Yes, they steal our food (or dog food), but the poor beasties must live. I just wish that they would choose to live elsewhere than in my kitchen. It seems that they might be nesting behind the built-in dishwasher, where we cannot get at them.

Unlike a cat, I do not like to torture mice. I suffer when I find one in the trap still alive. It wouldn’t be so bad if their necks were snapped and they died instantly, but that hasn’t happened on at least two occasions. We use traps because we don’t like the idea of poison.

I was sitting in the family room the other evening, after evicting the one mouse we’d caught, and another mouse came out and had a look at me. Cheeky beggar. He knew I wouldn’t do anything more than shout at him to get lost. Which I did. No point in getting up; he was gone in a split second.

But I’m hoping he’s permanently gone now. My husband re-set the trap, and I heard a loud ‘snap’ yesterday evening. He went to check–I refused to look–and this time the trap wire came down on the poor wee beastie’s neck, and he went to Mousie Heaven instantaneously. I didn’t look, even then, for fear that there would be some signs of life and possible continuance of suffering—which would then be compounded by my own, empathetic suffering.  At that point I just wanted to fuhgeddaboudit.

I had been looking at humane traps on Amazon that same day. Humane mouse traps entice the beastie into a container that one can take outside. Much better, I think.

Will go ahead with the purchase if there are indications of a continued mouse presence in our home. Mouse murder is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for some of us. Eviction is infinitely preferable.

Wonder if it is now safe to return my dish towels to the drawer? In the interests of prudence, I shall remain vigilant yet a while…

 

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses

It’s New Year’s Day, 2018, and sunny and cold in southern Ontario. I’m sitting here reflecting upon the occasion, and wondering whether it deserves any special notice.

Is there a clear line of demarcation between the year 2017 and the year 2018? Can the previous twelve months be lumped together, tied up with string, and put aside? Can we say, “2017 is finished its run—CUT—it’s a wrap”?

If it was largely a bad year (as I’m inclined to think, from my personal perspective), 2018 supposedly presents a blank slate, a fresh opportunity for good things to happen.

Well, it’s not a bad thought, as thoughts go, but I’m not so sure it’s true. Still we might just use this occasion to be a little reflective, as well as forward-looking, and it never hurts to work up some improvements. I don’t like ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ however. They’re a little too self-important, and potentially dangerous.

There are loads of New Year’s quotes from famous people circulating on the internet at the moment. Here’s one:

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this — To rise above the little things.” — John Burroughs, American Naturalist & Essayist

Okay, John, define “little things.” What are you doing when you rise above them? Are you ignoring nagging little problems or nagging little people? Beneath your notice are they? Granted that we can’t spend all our time fussing over inconsequential things, but this statement is a little too broad to be of much use to me.

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” — Anaïs Nin, French-Cuban Author

Yes, Anaïs, I agree with that… New Year’s resolutions have always seemed a pointless exercise to me. If something is a good idea to do on January 1, it was probably also a good idea to do on December 27. Why wait? Also, if it’s something you really don’t want to do, and you make it a key feature of these beginning days of the year, it may not survive for long. And since failure creates a certain mindset that can spill over into other areas of your life, it’s perhaps best not to risk setting yourself up for that.

“New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” — Mark Twain, American Author & Humorist

Exactly, Mark. I would say do NOT give a resolution any power over your happiness and self-respect. If something is a good idea to do, just get on with it at an appropriate time.

“From New Year’s on the outlook brightens; good humor lost in a mood of failure returns. I resolve to stop complaining.” — Leonard Bernstein, American Conductor, Composer, Author

If you don’t like something, Leonard, you have my permission to COMPLAIN. A ‘mood of failure’ sounds a bit gloomy and depressive, however. Never lose your sense of humour if you can avoid it. That is vitally important.

I’ve never shied away from giving misfortunes or problems a cold, hard stare. I moan about things that are frustrating or annoying, with a view to changing them for the better, if possible. If there’s ANY humour in it, I use that to keep me buoyant for the fight. You can’t let things get you down. If they ARE getting you down, you need to walk away and let someone else carry the ball.

Some people run from what they perceive as negativity. They don’t want to confront the bad, even if the bad must be identified, acknowledged and addressed in order to promote the good.

Does identifying bad things poison our lives in some way? Maybe temporarily, since there are a host of unpleasant feelings accompanying it. However, perhaps we can consider that our efforts to improve things will benefit others. We are rarely the sole sufferers when things are not right, and sometimes the weaker members of society do not have the energy to fight the wrongs.

I tend to find the humour in things when I write about them—when I’m moaning about them to somebody else. Writing is cathartic and restorative for some of us. If I can see a humorous aspect to something, I give that full play—not to make light of it, but people will still get the point you’re making if it’s an important one, and it will be an easier pill to swallow.

The problem happens when someone is constantly bewailing some grievance, and doing nothing more than that. It gets wearing. And if the only positive action that’s looked for is typing ‘Amen’ and clicking ‘Share’ on Facebook, it’s just an invitation from one person to another to wallow in misery alongside them. (I might temper that remark by saying that perhaps there has been some ‘consciousness raising’ done as a result of it, which might be applied to future opportunities.)

The flip side of useless moaning is the ‘Pollyanna’ attitude—which is worse than useless. For these people, all is perpetual sunshine and light. A mush-brained, oozing sentimentalism, absent of any critical thought or intelligence, is not just useless, but irritating. I’m sorry to sound harsh, but the Pollyannas need a really good shake.

These quotes below come closest to expressing useful thoughts on this New Year’s Day, 2018, at least for me…

“Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.” — Brooks Atkinson, American Theatre Critic

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” — Hal Borland, American Author & Journalist

Perhaps it is useful to run a mental review of the previous year and see what we can learn from it. Should we (could we) have been better prepared on some occasions? Would it have made a difference?

If I were to make some changes in my life for this year, I think that being more physically active would be one. Also setting aside time for the things I want to do, such as playing music, reading, studying languages. Taking more time to notice things would be another…just simple things around me. What the birds and the squirrels get up to in the back yard, for example. Those little observations can clear your mind of a lot of rubbish.

I’m not going to set a deadline, nor keep to a schedule, nor put any pressure on myself. Best to be kind to ourselves and others on as many occasions as possible in this new year—in between the moaning and complaining and the shaking of Pollyannas, of course.

 

Victoria: Beauty and the Beast

“With the advent of puberty, fed by hormones, the Beast within me grew. I experienced anxiety and panic attacks, some so severe that I had to be taken to the emergency room. I was always accused of taking drugs. I wasn’t, though I should have been. The Beast fed on every thought and emotion until it became so big, so powerful, that I could no longer see any light. Everything was darkness.”

[from an article by Michelle Moreno, entitled “Hiding ‘The Beast’ of Mental Illness,” posted on website themighty.com on March 14, 2017]

Winston Churchill called it his “Black Dog”—his bouts of depression, which could last months at a time.

1 Winston Churchill
That these were serious to the point of being life-threatening is evident from this entry in Lord Moran’s Diary:

August 14, 1944
The P.M. was in a speculative mood today.
“When I was young,” he ruminated, “for two or three years the light faded out of the picture.  I did my work.  I sat in the House of Commons, but black depression settled on me. … I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.  I like to stand right back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train.  I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.  A second’s action would end everything.  A few drops of desperation.”
[“Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran,” Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1966, p. 179]

Notice that he said, “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.” And that, “I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.”  He began talking to Moran about when he was young, and yet he used the present tense when describing his strategies to avoid the impulse to jump in front of a moving train or off the deck of a ship.  Not “I didn’t like” (then), but “I don’t like” (now).

Even though Churchill was aware that these episodes of depression could tip him over the edge to suicide, he was able to maintain a hold on rationality, and stand a little back from the abyss.  He seems to have been fortunate in that the degree and nature of his mental illness allowed him to use these strategies to avoid making that split-second bad decision.  Not everyone is so fortunate.

While his depressions were evidently debilitating, they did not seem to have been totally incapacitating…as we know from his life and career.  No doubt he would be classified as a ‘high-functioning’ depressive personality.

Still, as Lord Moran said, “He dreaded these bouts and instinctively kept away from anyone or anything that seemed to bring them on.” [Moran, p. 195]

Mental illness, like any other illness, can affect people to varying degrees.  Are there triggers for it?  Maybe that depends on the person.

There does not appear to have been a trigger for Virginia Woolf’s final episode of mental illness.  Below is her suicide letter to her husband, written just before she filled her overcoat pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse near her home on 28 March 1941.

Dearest,
I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

2 Virginia Woolf

It’s impossible to imagine, for a person not similarly afflicted, how people can decide that their death will benefit their loved ones.  Nor can people imagine the level of mental torment that can drive a person to seek oblivion rather than suffer another day of it.  But we do know that this is the case.

And that’s not all we know.

While we might not know the causes of mental illness, nor the triggers for a bad episode, we do know that this disease is life-threatening, and that people need help with it.

We’ve all heard of migraine sufferers being so prostrated with severe pain that they have battered their own heads against walls.  That’s hard for anyone who’s never had a migraine headache to understand.

The medical profession cannot discover a cure for migraine headaches any more than they can discover a cure for mental illness.  These are both diseases of the brain…episodic conditions for which no cause has been determined.  The world of medicine attributes migraine headaches to the nerves and blood vessels of the brain, but the specifics of it are unknown.

Changes in vision often signal the onset of an episode of migraine headache, and the headache itself can last as long as 72 hours.  I remember a temporary office worker in my workplace experiencing this preliminary visual disturbance.  I’ve never seen anyone so frightened and distraught.  She was a young, apparently fit and healthy woman in her early 30’s, literally trembling in terror at what was about to happen to her.  She knew that she wouldn’t be able to drive her car at that stage, and asked for us to call an ambulance to get her directly to the hospital.  Somebody left work to drive her there, but we were all a little bewildered.

Even with knowing something about migraine headaches, we had a hard time grasping the extent of the emergency.

I recently listened to an interview where a person with mental illness described the onset of an episode of depression.  She said that visual changes were the first indicator that an attack was imminent.  She described it as a kind of tunnel vision, followed by a numbness in her face.

Just like the migraine sufferer, she was in no doubt about what was coming.

However, the similarity ends there, because most of us have had headaches, and can understand that a migraine headache is a monumentally large and incapacitating headache.

On the other hand, most of us have not experienced an episode of mental illness, and the physical, mental and emotional anguish that accompanies it.

An episode might signal a loss of control by the victim, and sometimes unpredictable behavior in response to distortions of perception and understanding of their immediate environment.  Maybe the person will basically shut down, and experience extreme lethargy and a sort of catatonia.  Maybe they’ll have overwhelming anxiety, extreme fear and paranoia.  No matter what physical symptoms manifest themselves, we won’t understand what’s happening to the person undergoing the crisis, what they will do as a result of it, or what we can do to help, and so we’re frightened.  We’re frightened of the unpredictability and the uncertainty.  We’re frightened of our ignorance.

Human society has historically treated mental illness as a defect reflecting badly on a person and his or her family.  At one time, and in some cases maybe still today, families of these people have hidden them away, fearful that the condition might be hereditary, with the potential to adversely affect the family’s prospects for continuance and prosperity in life.  Mental illness was all about damage control, and, in severe cases, it was standard procedure to put the mental-illness sufferer in a supervised and controlled environment—an institution.

People’s fears and lack of understanding have created a stigma which inhibits the healthcare support opportunities for mental illness even today.  The stigma prevents people from explaining their need for help, and for seeking medical assistance.  It also creates a barrier that medical people struggle to surmount when called upon.

When (and if) a person experiencing a severe episode of mental illness manages to present themselves at the Emergency Department of a hospital, the triage nurse will not see torn flesh or a broken limb.  Unlike a heart or respiratory ailment, there will be no standard symptoms with a potentially identifiable cause.  Furthermore, chances are that the mental illness sufferer will be so disordered in thought by that time that they will be unable to explain the problem they’re experiencing.  This situation is often beyond the capabilities of a hospital to deal with adequately, but the condition can be every bit as life-threatening as any other serious illness.

The first step in removing the stigma–which must be removed in order for sufficient levels of healthcare support for mental illness to be accessible–is openness and communication.

And that brings us…finally…to Victoria.

3 March 17 2016 at Kiwanis festival 2016

Victoria was a lovely, 27-year-old music teacher who suffered mental illness for at least 10 years before she finally ended her own life.  She was the daughter of my first cousin, who suffered along with her, trying time and again to get the help she needed throughout those years.

It was not Victoria’s first attempt at suicide that ended her life; but this last one was perhaps unexpected, even though the risk of it was ever-present.

Victoria had made the following Facebook post on December 7, 2017, just four days before she died…

I’ve never known struggle like waking up unsure if my brain will allow me to accomplish what I want to do every single day. Staying organized and scheduled helps, and learning coping strategies makes it somewhat manageable. But when it’s all said and done, for some of us, our illnesses are like our own personal puppet master – we can pull against the strings to fight but it ultimately has control. It always seems at Christmas time that puppet master gets even more controlling.

I’m making this point now for two reasons.

Firstly, to send a message to those of you who don’t have this issue. We’re nearing the most difficult and dangerous time of year for those with mental illness. The busy schedules, stressful Christmas deadlines, financial burden, and everything else during this supposedly “joyful” time, can cause relapses, heightened symptoms, and expose feeling of loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness. So I just want to send you a reminder to take just a little bit of time out of your busy December schedules to think of the people in your lives that may be suffering from the things I listed above. Whether it’s a phone call or a text, a quick visit, or a coffee date, I think if we all made a pledge to reach out to at least one person who struggles with the Christmas season, we could really make a difference. Some may need a friend to face the busy crowds to complete their shopping despite the anxiety holding them back. Someone that’s alone may just need some company to decorate their tree to turn a lonely experience into a positive one. It doesn’t take much, but we’re all so busy right now with so much on our minds, so I’m posting this little reminder and challenge for everyone who reads this. Sharing the joy you feel will just make your Christmas that much better anyway! You may be the extra strength that’s needed to fight that mental illness puppet master for one person to make their holiday season a happy one.

Secondly, I want to address those of you who are suffering, and dreading these next few weeks (because I know many of you are doing it in silence). My challenge to you is to recognize one positive thing at the end of each busy December day, no matter how crazy and stressful things get, no matter if gravity seems tripled or your chest feels crushed with anxiety. Find just one positive thing, because I promise you it is always there. Also, do one thing that you would consider “self care” every day – whether it’s quiet time alone with a book or a bath, a workout, a glass of wine, a beer, or a cup of tea in your favourite mug. If you’re as strange as I am, it may be watching Super Bowl highlights in bed right before you fall asleep so your day ends with a positive memory! It could even be as simple is as taking a few minutes to stop what you’re doing when you’re stressed and listen to your favourite song. Give every day your best effort, but recognize your limits and don’t beat yourself up for getting behind or missing deadlines. (There are 12 days of Christmas for any gifts not prepared for the 25th after all!) Most importantly, please reach out for help if you need it. If there’s anything I’ve learned this fall, it’s that almost everyone out there wants to help those of us who are suffering, but they sometimes don’t know how or are afraid to reach out. So please, please don’t be afraid to ask. Look forward to the fresh start in the new year, and take things one day, one hour, even one minute at a time right now. If things are really bad and you think they could get worse, make a list of people you can contact in times of crisis and write down the mental health crisis line (709-737-4668) and put it in a safe, accessible place. It may take a lot of effort, but this doesn’t have to be a bad month.

I’m writing this right now because I just had a friend reach out to me after a very difficult 24 hours and what he said helped me achieve the clarity and focus to gather these thoughts. I was on a downward spiral and one simple Facebook message may have just stopped that, so I had to share this in the hopes it could also help someone else. It may be a little selfish because I also may need to revisit this post every day this month to review my own advice in order to push through.

So let’s focus a little less on “things” this Christmas and a little more on helping each other and taking care of ourselves. Ironically, the Grinch may have actually said it best: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  ❤️”

Facebook was the medium Victoria used to convey her experience of mental illness to friends, friends of friends, family, and others.  She described what she did to cope, and the difficulties and frustrations she had with getting help from medical institutions.

To give you a sense of her life over the previous months, the following are selections from Victoria’s Facebook postings during the year.

From Victoria’s Facebook timeline, April 11, 2017:  an up-beat post talking about her successes to that point in 2017…

“It’s legitimately the happiest I’ve felt in all of my 27 years, which is an even bigger victory considering at this point last year I was ready to give up on life altogether. I just completed my double New Years challenge of 100 days of no junk food and 100 happy days on Instagram. It’s the first time I can remember that I’ve had close to that many good days in a row and can proudly say that I’ve yet to “lose” a day to mental illness so far in 2017. As for the food, I survived 100 days without any cake, cookies, ice cream, candy, chocolate, dessert of any kind, baked goods, chips, breaded protein, French fries, pizza, and any deep fried or fast foods. My only “treat” was beer! I survived the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl with no nachos and wings, no chocolate on Valentine’s, over a week of eating on the run during the music festival, a birthday without cake, and had to watch everyone else eat pizza at our annual Kiwanis survival party! It was primarily an exercise in maintaining mental control, but the 20-pound weight loss was a much-welcomed bonus and I’ve reached higher fitness levels during this challenge than I ever have.

I learned so much about the benefits of focusing on the positive and will be taking this new mindset with me way past the 100-day mark. Having to find something happy and somewhat original to post every day helped reinforce everything I’ve learned on the road to recovery over the past few years and I encourage anyone who’s looking for some motivation to look up the hashtag and the challenge website. (100happydays.com) It makes me a little sad to scroll through Facebook and still read so much negativity and see so many people thriving off criticizing others. I often see similar posts from myself in my memories from 6-10 years ago when I was completely miserable and struggling to fix my problems with medication instead of getting to the root of the problem. I wish I could help those people see how much better life can be in every way when you train your brain to let go of negative thinking altogether and fight intrusions with logical thought and by planning coping strategies to equip yourself for tough or unexpected bad times.

I want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout and before this challenge because I definitely didn’t do it on my own. I especially want to thank the fantastic support system I have around me within my studio with all of the students and their parents. I just had to share my celebration cake tonight with Chandler, Jill, Victoria, Kelsey, Reilly, and Andrew because they are such an important part of this accomplishment and my motivation to get to this point. I’ve said before that beating mental illness wasn’t about ever crossing a finish line, but after these last 100 days, I sure feel like I’ve put this monster in remission.

I’m sharing so much personal information again because I truly want to help. So message me, message someone else you can trust, buy a book of positive quotes, sign up for your own challenge, do everything you think could work for you. But just know that things can get A LOT better – even from the deepest, darkest times imaginable – it just takes a lot of planning and work, and surrounding yourself with the right people (and pets!) Please ignore the skeptics. It’s easy for me now because I was one of them. I would have rolled my eyes at this post more than anyone else seven or eight years ago. If you can find a way to live a positive lifestyle despite what you’re feeling, things will change and eventually you’ll feel those bad thoughts a whole lot less. Onwards and always upwards, friends! 😄”

4 100 Happy Days, with cake

On June 29, 2017, Victoria posted this, along with a link to an article…

“I’ll share this article every year again and again because it’s one of the best I’ve read.

I’ve tried to find a balance between continuing to spread awareness through my own personal experiences, yet also constantly reminding myself that it’s not necessary to feel I have to justify my actions and strange lifestyle to the world. I barely understand myself how one day I can be in such a dark place that I’m physically unable to attend a friend’s wedding, yet four days later I can stand in front of hundreds of people and pull off a concert that includes 50 kids without breaking a sweat. It’s like a permanent roller coaster ride, except you’re blindfolded and it’s impossible to tell if next you’ll be headed upwards or suddenly into a downwards free fall. Eventually you learn to prepare for both. And that’s why relationships and a social life are so difficult to maintain.

I do know that the single best breakthrough I ever had was learning to embrace positivity after fighting it for years and years. There actually is something good (or at least beneficial) in every crazy day, it’s just a little more difficult to find in some. As I transition into my less structured summer schedule, I’m just happy I can’t comprehend this concept of “boredom” that so many people seem concerned with regularly!

I’m not going into a lot of detail tonight but I will say that the highs I’ve experienced within the past year are worth struggling through the lows a million times over. I’m strongly encouraging you to read this article in full if you are trying to understand your own anxiety, or that of a significant other, child, friend, co-worker, or if you simply enjoy seeing the world from other perspectives. Enough understanding eventually leads to acceptance. My own personal acceptance has been a whole lot of fun over the past year. I’ve decided I may just have to keep this brain yet!

No really, please take a few minutes to read this!! (Or save it for later – the best Facebook feature yet!) ⬇️⬇️

High-functioning anxiety feels like…

A snake slithering up my back, clamping its jaws shut where my shoulders meet my neck. Punch-in-the-gut stomach aches, like my body is confusing answering an email with being attacked by a lion.

High-functioning anxiety sounds like…

You’re not good enough. You’re a bad friend. You’re not good at your job. You’re wasting time. You’re a waste of time. Your boyfriend doesn’t love you. You’re so needy. What are you doing with yourself? Why would you say that? What if they hate it? Why can’t you have your shit together? You’re going to get anxious and because you’re going to get anxious, you’re going to mess everything up. You’re a fraud. Just good at faking it. You’re letting everybody down. No one here likes you.

All the while, it appears perfectly calm.

It’s always looking for the next outlet, something to channel the never-ending energy. Writing. Running. List-making. Mindless tasks (whatever keeps you busy). Doing jumping jacks in the kitchen. Dancing in the living room, pretending it’s for fun, when really it’s a choreographed routine of desperation, trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in your head.

It’s silent anxiety attacks, hidden by smiles.

It’s always being busy but also always avoiding, so important things don’t get done. It’s letting things pile up rather than admitting you’re overwhelmed or in need of help.

It’s that sharp pang of saying the wrong thing, the one that starts the cycles of thoughts. Because you said too much, and nobody cares, and it makes you never want to speak up again.

On July 2, 2017, an up-beat posting about receiving one of the “150 Faces of Clarenville” awards, along with her grandfather, the former mayor of the town…

“I am totally shocked but so honoured! While I wasn’t surprised to see my grandfather receive one of the “150 Faces of Clarenville” awards last night, I had no idea I was on the list as well. I love this place with all of my heart and can’t imagine a better place to grow up, run a business, and now buy my first home. I’m a Clarenville resident for life for sure! It’s an amazing feeling to share this award with Grandad – the hardest working person I know and my number one role model for life. I’m so appreciative to the committee and want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who has made this Canada 150 week so awesome in our town. A week to remember for sure!”

5 Victoria and grandfather, 150 faces of Clarenville

On July 3, 2017, a post in celebration of the anniversary of Bruno’s adoption from the SPCA, seven years ago…

“It’s a little late, but while everyone was celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1st, I had even more to celebrate – seven full years with the strangest, grumpiest, most entertaining dog who ever lived! He was clearly enthused about his “gotcha day” photo shoot…”

6 photo of Bruno

On August 10, 2017, a post about the New England Patriots sports room in her home [Victoria was a huge fan of the Patriots]…

“I thought about this room for years and then even when it became a reality this spring I still had to wait through the last couple of months of the offseason to fully enjoy it. But the wait is over and I finally get to watch my first game in my dream Patriots room RIGHT NOW! At this moment I’m probably the happiest human in the world and every bit of blood, sweat, and tears that it took to get to this point were 100% worth it. I still can’t believe this is my house!!
(Stay tuned for more updates – a bar is in the works!!)”

7 sports room 1

8 sports room 2

On August 19, 2017, a post about a very successful fishing trip with her grandad; she says…

“What a day!!”

9 Victoria with Grandfather and fish

On September 7, 2017…Victoria posted a remembrance of a friend she worked with at the SPCA…

My heart is broken over the loss of one of the best SPCA volunteers I worked with during my five years on the job. She was such an awesome person. Constantly thinking about her family and friends. The message below from Ashley is an important one. ❤️

Ashley Anne Balsom
September 7 ·

I know this is going to be a really tough week for a lot of people out home and those back at school. For anyone at MUN this is the number for the counselling centre 864-8500. As well this is the mental health crisis line 24-hour mental health crisis line: 737-4668 (local) or 1-888-737-4668 (province-wide). If you can’t access either of these resources you can also check out the 7cups of tea online portal where you can talk to someone anonymously about any struggles you may be dealing with. My thoughts are with you all

Below are some photos of the music studio she created in the basement of her home.  These were posted to mark the first anniversary of her at-home music studio:

10 music studio 1

11 music studio 2

 

Victoria Oct 1 2017

On September 15, 2017, a photo from a recent outing with her dogs, Bruno and Belle…

“I love my evening work schedule on days like this one and I think these guys do too! Summer isn’t over yet!! (No bear sightings today!)”

14 Bruno and Belle

On October 19, 2017, an ominous portent of things to come, she tells us about a mental health crisis she experienced, and the local community health facility’s inability to meet her need…

“I never use Facebook for negativity but I feel I have to speak up about this situation. After weeks of fighting alone and considering seeking help at the hospital, I finally walked into G. B. Cross emergency unit yesterday afternoon. I told them I was going through a mental health crisis and needed a psychiatric assessment. I was not safe to drive, I was not safe to be released alone, and I had little memory of the previous seven hours in which I had driven to and from St. John’s, but less than two hours later I was shown to the door with an outpatient appointment for 24 hours later. I left feeling much more hopeless than I entered. I was just looking for help and was essentially told there was nothing they could do for me. I told them I was there because I didn’t feel safe and they sent me on my way without even a consultation from a mental health professional. By finally seeking help, I actually put myself in a more dangerous situation. Because I was well spoken, and had not harmed myself already, I was pretty much turned away.

Would things had been different if I was covered in blood from self harm? If I was shouting profanities and making a scene and threatening terrible actions to myself or others? I know for fact it would have been. I was respectfully asking for help and I was not taken seriously. I’m not trying to compare any situation here because I think all cases should be treated with equal importance but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that suicide rates are high among well respected working professionals. I think about my great uncle, I think about the much-loved RCMP officer who were lost.

I thought we had come so far since I was first assessed at a hospital almost ten years ago, but it turns out our system is as unorganized and inconsistent as ever. Everything in the media including advertisements from our own health care system is encouraging us to seek help BEFORE things get extreme, and as stupid as I felt walking through those doors yesterday, when I compared it to my previous situations, I thought I was doing the right thing. I had to reschedule an appointment with my own psychiatrist on Monday because I was too sick to drive to St. John’s and I knew I couldn’t continue suffering until her next available appointment on November 27th without making some kind of change.

I am not angry with anyone at G.B. Cross, and the nurse who assessed me was especially encouraging and understanding. I am so angry with our system. I could have been another unnecessary victim last night. We’ve made it to the point in which most people are able to talk about their mental health issues without fear of judgement in both social and workplace environments. Now we need more from our health care system.

If you leave a hospital feeling worse than when you entered that hospital, something is wrong. I am discouraged, I am frustrated, I am sad that I now feel as if I don’t have a safe place to go in a time of crisis in my own community. I sure hope that someone in this province is working to make this better. For now, if you’re feeling in danger or in immediate need of help, I recommend finding someone to take you directly to the Waterford Assessment Unit or calling an ambulance to do so. I don’t want anyone else to feel what I felt yesterday.”

There were 205 comments, 962 reactions with emoticons, and 1,452 shares for this posting.  Victoria always had plenty of support, love and good wishes from all over.  Here are three of the 205 comments posted in response to Victoria’s Facebook post:

A few years ago my daughter attempted suicide while I was out of the country. She was taken to the Waterford hospital and observed for a few hours. The doctor then asked her if she was going to try it again. She said no and they released her and sent her to a homeless shelter! That was 5 years ago and I still get angry when I think about it. Thankfully she is doing much better today.

 

This makes me so mad, we have no help for mental health. Been going through this with my son since he was 13 yrs old, back and forth to Corner Brook to St. John’s, and got nothing to show for it. Only a headstone I have to visit every day, 😢 23-year-old young man that cried and begged for help but was let down 😡and who suffers now? We the family because of the health system that we are supposed to have.  Stay strong Victoria Best, and don’t give up.

 

My girlfriend was sent home on “suicide watch” when she lived alone and she did show up with her arms cut, and started her car with fumes going in… they don’t do sh*t for anyone here…bleeding or not…they don’t seem to care.. I’m so sorry you had to face this & I hope you find the strength to rise above it all. If you EVER need help there are 24hr lines, chats, text apps, family & friends… even strangers but NEVER let your voice go unheard … I am happy you are still here to tell your story.. and I wish you nothing but healing & positive for the future never let anyone make you feel like you do not matter, you do.. very much.. your life is important and I am so sorry this wasn’t seen by professionals 😞❤️ ..just know you are beautiful, you mean so much and that things WILL get better.. never let anyone make you feel small.

On October 21, 2017, two days after her posting about the frustration she experienced trying to get help from the community hospital…

I appreciate all the support from my last post, and was glad to see so many people share both my story and their own experiences. An awful lot has happened to me since then, including some bad choices made out of frustration and feelings of hopelessness, but I’m already back home and ready to fight for some change so I never have to experience another week like this and so hopefully no one else will be pushed to do what I did. Our health care system sure has a long way to go to create a better system for assessing mental health patients in times of crisis, but I was lucky enough to follow one bad experience with an amazing one at St. Clare’s Hospital these last two days. I was admitted yesterday as a psychiatric patient being treated for a medical emergency and I received the best care, and absolutely no judgement from a single person I encountered – the PCA who stayed with me, the lab techs, the med student who examined me, my doctor, the psychiatrist who was on call this morning, and every fantastic nurse. They were encouraging, supportive, and so willing to talk for hours to help me come to terms with what I went through. I’m home after such a horrible experience so quickly because of the work of all of these amazing people and I’m thankful to each one of them.

Please keep sharing your stories about your issues with mental health assessment in this province, even if you want to send them to me personally. I’m going to put them all together and hopefully we’ll have enough to really push for some change. I know something like this can’t be fixed overnight but something as simple as a mandatory 24-hour hold on patients with suicidal ideation in any emergency room sure would have made this a much better week for me, my family, and friends.

Each of us knows someone struggling with mental illness so we have to speak up so that future generations don’t have to go through these terrible experiences when they need help the most. I know now that we have the support of many of the health care workers, and that many share our frustrations. We have to keep fighting for progress one small step at a time!

On November 8, 2017, apparently back on track after that terrible episode in late October, she posted a tribute to her neighbour, who’d recently passed away…

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each others life.”

This week we are saying goodbye to a truly extraordinary person I have the pleasure of calling family – someone I referred to from an early age as my neighbour or Mr. Martin, but in recent years have more frequently used the terms “my ‘other’ grandfather” or simply “George.”

George is one of those great humans that didn’t just make the people around him better people, but hugely impacted his whole community, province, and I won’t even hesitate to say, made the world a better place. He is the epitome of strength, perseverance, volunteerism, dedication, and passion, and it would be difficult to find another person with such exuberance for life. That’s why I can’t bring myself to refer to him in the past tense – he has the kind of spirit that will live on through a lot of us who know him, and on the golf course, in the bowling alley, in his church, and in the many other places he loved for a very long time to come.

It wouldn’t be a tribute to George if it was entirely serious so I’ll have to end by saying that I just hope wherever he is right now it has an all you can eat daily buffet breakfast (with a special table just for Tim Horton’s honey crullers), and like Paul mentioned earlier this week, I hope it has a golf course so he can reach his goal of shooting his age!

I found this anonymous poem this week, and it does a great job of simply summing up all the nice comments I’ve heard from so many people about George’s life this week:

Life Well Lived

A life well lived is a precious gift, of hope and strength, and grace,
From someone who has made our world a brighter, better place.
It’s filled with moments, sweet and sad with smiles and sometimes tears,
With friendships formed and good times shared, and laughter through the years.
A life well lived is a legacy, of joy and pride and pleasure,
A living, lasting memory, our grateful hearts will treasure.

15 George and Victoria

On November 19, 2017, she was watching her favourite football team, The New England Patriots, play against the Oakland Raiders and thinking about her award-winning music students…

“Escaping to Mexico for a few hours with my team, but my heart is in Halifax tonight. So proud of my Royal Conservatory Gold Medalists Eda and Ava who are attending the medal ceremony this evening, and wishing I could have been there too as planned!”

On November 24, 2017, she marked the first anniversary of buying her first house…

“One roller coaster of a year in the books already! I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point. If it’s possible for a house to be the love of your life, then I know this is the one. It’s been my favourite place to celebrate the good times, but also the most comforting place to be when things get difficult. Here’s to the next year of music-making, sports-watching, and ocean-view breakfasts in my favourite place!”

[The posting below was embedded in the previous one, and takes us back to the previous year, just after the sale on her new house closed…]

November 24, 2016…
“This moment alone was worth every sacrifice of the past couple years a million times over. Almost seven years of basement apartment living comes to an end today for me and the dogs – I AM OFFICIALLY A HOMEOWNER!!”

16 Victoria and dogs with house

On November 30, 2017, she was sorting out her passport application for a planned trip…

“Looking for someone travelling from Clarenville to St. John’s today that can bring in a form to my mom to resolve an issue with my passport application. Only three weeks until I’m on a plane so would really appreciate the help!”

Sadly, she never made that trip, because less than two weeks later she had a relapse of her disease, and chose not to suffer any longer.

17 June 30 2016

These postings are just a little snippet of her life over the few months before her death.  It doesn’t paint the whole picture, because the family members closest to her are not shown (with the exception of the photos of her grandfather).  But her family was always ‘in her corner’; and, as I personally know, especially her mother, who fought along with her against the illness.

Victoria had a happy, satisfying life, with love and support all around her.  She was beautiful, intelligent and talented, with a job she enjoyed teaching music…

18 Christmas Dec 21 2016, at piano

19 June 30 2014, Victoria playing guitar

She was an outdoors girl who enjoyed hiking with her dogs, Bruno and Belle, and fishing with her grandfather…

20 Victoria hugging tree Dec 18 2012

21 Victoria with Belle and Bruno, Gros Morne National Park June 26 2016

She loved her music students and her lovely home.  She loved her community, her neighbours, friends, and family—and they all loved her.

Paradoxically, what this serves to do is to provide the answer to the question, “Why.”

Why would she end her own life?  Because, even with all the joy she had in the life she loved, she had a mental illness, and in her case it was, tragically, terminal.  There was an intruder in her brain:  a monstrous puppet-master, a beast.  It drove her to do the unthinkable.

Poet and writer Sylvia Plath committed suicide at the age of 30, after struggling for most of her life against depression.  She had two young children at the time of her death, and was alone in the house with them, having been separated from her husband for the previous six months.  Sylvia put her head in the gas oven in her kitchen so that she might die of the fumes, but prior to doing that, she took great care to ensure that none of the fumes would escape the kitchen and affect her sleeping children.

23 Sylvia Plath1

She had sealed around the doors separating her from her children by using tape, towels and cloths.  The timing of her suicide (4:30 a.m.), and the instructions in her final note also signalled her care that her children should be found fairly soon afterwards (a home-help person was due to arrive that morning).  Her doctor said, “No one who saw the care with which the kitchen was prepared could have interpreted her action as anything but an irrational compulsion.”

Maybe the act itself was an irrational compulsion, since the impulse to live is more understandable than the impulse to die, but there was nothing irrational about the careful preparations made for the subsequent care of her children.

I don’t know why people persist in trying to explain—to rationalize—mental illness, as if ‘changing your mind’ will cure you of it.  If there is some imbalance in the person’s body chemistry that results in distorted thinking, paranoia, extreme anxiety or whatever, we might have to accept that there is a physical cause for the mental disease.  I personally find that my own thinking and emotions get a little out of control when I am coming down with an illness.  When the cold or flu manifests itself with the first physical symptoms a day or so later, I can say, “So THAT’S why I was feeling depressed the other day.”  It’s pretty consistent–I’ve noticed it time and again.

But so many people look at a person suffering clinical depression and want to know why.  They tried to analyze Sylvia Plath’s relationships…a supposedly authoritarian father (who died when she was eight years old), her mother, her husband…as if an explanation could be found there.

I recently heard an interview of Jenny Lawson (“The Bloggess,” who also suffers severe bouts of depression), in which she said, categorically, that nothing bad had ever happened to her to cause her mental illness.

And I don’t know why anyone would think that a person can be talked out of it.  There may be some benefit in counselling with a view to developing coping strategies, but when an episode reaches crisis proportions, no one should be surprised that the coping strategies are not always available when needed.  At best, the counselling may help the person to keep hold of the thought that, as Jenny Lawson has written in her blog site, the illness tells lies.  When one is in the throes of a depression, despite what ‘the beast’ in one’s brain is saying, the darkness WILL lift, and one WILL regain one’s life and self.  The lie is that the darkness and the torment is all there is, forever.

As is obvious from Victoria’s life and writing, she was intelligent, and no one was more positive, optimistic and capable than she on a good day.  She was courageous and generous in sharing her experiences to promote understanding and care for others.  She knew the dangers of her illness, and was aware of the times that she needed medical help.  It does not seem to be possible to maintain mental equilibrium with force of will alone; medical assistance must factor into care, at least until medical researchers manage to come up with something curative.

Medical research can look at viruses and bacteria under a microscope, but cannot—at last not at the moment—test human cells in a laboratory and isolate the ‘germ’ of a mental disease.  As a result, and because the brain is the generator for the intangible world of thought, ideas, and imagination, people somehow think it possible to work from the outside-in and compel the mental illness sufferer to ‘get their mind right.’

But what if, for example, mental illness is caused by something biological, perhaps an allergy or something of that nature that disrupts our body chemistry and affects our brains?

Victoria appears to have attributed her success against her mental illness earlier in the year to her new mode of thinking positively.  The fact that she also altered her diet makes me wonder about the part it might have played in the success she experienced at the beginning of the year.

The following may be anecdotal evidence, but I had a friend whose daughter was suffering all the symptoms of schizophrenia.  My friend had to retire from work to stay home and look after her daughter.  They tried to find help everywhere, and eventually heard about a physician in Ontario who believed in modifying diet to resolve mental problems.  His thought was that some people have sensitivities to certain substances, and eliminating them could have a beneficial effect.  When they visited him, he suggested that they stringently avoid any foods with additives, preservatives, dyes and so forth.

After a period of months, she was so much improved that she could return to work, and has been living a normal, drug-free life ever since.  Quite a dramatic result, but maybe not a ‘one size fits all.’

I was glad to see that there is currently some support for looking at a biological cause for mental illness.  The following comes from an article by Kirsten Weir, “The Roots of Mental Illness, How much of mental illness can the biology of the brain explain?” [from the American Psychological Association website, http://www.apa.org, June 2012, Vol 43, No. 6 Print version:  page 30]

“Eric Kandel, MD, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of brain science at Columbia University, believes it’s all about biology. “All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases,” he says. “The brain is the organ of the mind. Where else could [mental illness] be if not in the brain?”

That viewpoint is quickly gaining supporters, thanks in part to Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who has championed a biological perspective during his tenure at the agency.

To Insel, mental illnesses are no different from heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic illness. All chronic diseases have behavioral components as well as biological components, he says. “The only difference here is that the organ of interest is the brain instead of the heart or pancreas. But the same basic principles apply.””

I hope that one day we will look back on these days as ‘the unenlightened times’…the dark ages of mental illness…not only in terms of attitudes, but also in terms of treatment.  In some ways our era is a continuance of the time in the 18th century when fashionable people—and others who could afford it—paid an admission to tour Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital in south London, England.  Those people who toured Bethlem Hospital did so largely for entertainment purposes; to look at the ‘lunatics’ warehoused there and observe their manner and eccentric behaviour.  This propagated the perception of the general public that people with mental problems were ‘the other’…that they were not quite human.  I think we know better than that, today, but we still have a long way to go to gain full understanding.

Even in 2014, a 15-year-old named Chris Brennan died of asphyxiation while at Bethlem hospital after repeated self harming. The coroner found lack of proper risk assessment and lack of a care plan contributed to this death.  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlem_Royal_Hospital]

It’s difficult to understand how a person with a history of repeated self harming, and who is under medical care in hospital, can die as a result of improper risk assessment and lack of a care plan.  2014 was only three years ago–surely SOMEONE knew what to do to help him?  But apparently not.

And speaking of self harm, here are Victoria’s own words on that subject…
This is from Victoria’s Facebook posting of January 25, 2017:

“Mental illness has been a daily struggle for me since I can remember. Today it still affects me each day, but I am winning this war because of the fantastic support system around me, some great coping strategies, and the work I did to remove negative thinking from my life and focus my brain on logic-based thought almost exclusively. (If you don’t know what DBT is, please look it up.)

On the outside looking in, this past year seems to have been full of successes and happy moments for me – a great year for my business, two sold-out charity shows, and of course successfully purchasing a house on my own. 2016 was the best year of my life, but it was also the worst. So goes the roller coaster ride that is fighting with your brain every day. I’ve achieved all these successes by only focusing on the positive experiences in my life, so that’s what you see on social media. I’ve learned to let the failures go immediately – they are just learning experiences wrapped in ugly paper anyway.

But today is about awareness so I’m going to share a little more of my story. I was always open about my issues but there has always been one topic I’ve been hesitant to talk about. I was speaking with friends and tweeting while drinking my morning coffee earlier on this inspiring #BellLetsTalk day, looking at the scene you see in the attached photo, when I decided I was ready to open up a little further.

You see, I had the misfortune of developing an invisible “self destruct button.” I haven’t fully adapted to my new positive lifestyle yet – it seems when things are going really well, my brain is unable to process a certain amount of happiness, so I do things to sabotage my own successes. You saw the happy concert posts and videos, but you didn’t see the severe panic attack that almost cancelled the show in which I completely blacked out for over an hour. You saw me on my new front lawn with my two dogs, smiling and holding my house keys, but you didn’t see the crash that forced me to sleep for two days straight, right through my original closing date – almost costing me everything I had worked so hard for.

Sometimes my self-destruct button means drinking enough to put life on pause. Other times it means eating so much that I can’t sleep with the stomach pain. And occasionally, I do some real damage, and that’s what this photo is about. Self harm is one of the least understood topics associated with the mental health spectrum today. It’s an addiction you can never fully recover from, and is always in the mind of those affected, even when the scars have faded. It’s the most spectacular release with the most devastating and frustrating consequences. It has plagued me every day since my first cut over twelve years ago.

When things started getting better for me, I booked a tattoo appointment to get my extensive thigh scars covered up. It was a part of my goal to change my perspective on the bad things that had happened to me in the past. I couldn’t erase the scars, but I could turn them into something beautiful. For such a large tattoo, three sessions were required. My first was in July 2015, the second the following December, and the last was scheduled for March 2016. After my second session I began counting down the days until a time when I would no longer have any visible scars to cover up. No more shorts in the summer, and maybe I could even wear a bathing suit someday! I almost made it. I had two days to go. But then on March 15th, 2016, I had the worst relapse of my life. I was devastated to go to my final tattoo session to cover the last remaining scars on my leg with my arm wrapped in a bandage. Then, after eight months and all the happiness of moving into my first home, it happened again on New Year’s Eve.

Why am I sharing this very personal story with the whole world? Because I’m so scared for the girls and boys who are alone in their rooms, lonely and frustrated, who just want to feel better and have run out of viable options. I was 14 and I was that girl. If I had a time machine, my only wish would be to go back to that first incident and stop myself from making that first cut. That’s why I’m sharing this story – so maybe I can stop that first cut from happening for someone else. There is ALWAYS a better option and there are people out there to help you find which one will work best for you. There are so many better things to absorb your anger, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness than your own skin.

I’m also sharing this today as part of a pledge to make it through this entire year without another relapse. I promise every single person who reads this that I will do absolutely everything in my power to stay clean of self harm for all of 2017. If I make it – actually WHEN I make it – I’ll book an appointment to cover up my remaining scars and finally achieve my original goal.

It’s also a reminder to always be kind. A person may seem like the happiest person in the world, but you never know what struggles they face behind closed doors. As always, I am so willing to talk to anyone and everyone who needs some outside help with their own mental health issues. I know a stranger with no background information can sometimes be the most helpful when you need a fresh perspective and I’m willing to be that person.

And last but not least, even though the focus is on today, please remember to continue this conversation every day of the year. I am so appreciative of the continued support, Facebook friends, and I will continue to pay it forward.”

24 tattoo

Tragically, Victoria was unable to stay completely clean of self-harm for all of 2017.  The year that began with the best intentions, ended with the worst outcome.

A person taking the step of ending his or her own life usually leaves family and friends with an added dimension of shock and grief, and so it was for Victoria’s family and friends.  However, while the cause of her death was incomprehensible, it was at the same time known.  Because she was so generous and open, with a talent for writing and an earnest desire to help, her friends and family could express their sorrow while celebrating her life and accomplishments at her funeral service.   Many, many people, some total strangers to Victoria and her family, joined them at the visitations, in sympathy and respect.

And, unlike most deaths, there was something people could do to help cope with the loss.  They could carry on where Victoria left off, advocating for mental health support and promoting understanding of mental illness.

News of Victoria’s passing, and its cause, was broadcast on television, on radio, and in newspapers, thanks to the friends who knew that she would want to continue to be the instrument of advocacy.  Everyone wishes that she had stayed to continue the fight herself–no amount of benefit can ever compensate for her loss–but she does leave a legacy.  This can be seen in the determination of her friends to eradicate the stigma of mental illness, and continue her fight for better mental healthcare resources.

This song by the Beatles was important to Victoria, and emblematic of her struggle…

Blackbird

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

25 Victoria playing guitar Juy 10 2015

A Sign of the Times

I was saddened to hear that a used-book shop in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, was closing its doors after being in business since the early 1970’s.

It happened quite suddenly, although I’m sure people could see it coming.

One day the door was locked, and the handwritten sign in the window said, “We have tried to keep Afterwords going, to serve our community and to support our family. In the end we can do neither. Good-Bye.”

A short while later, the store re-opened for a few more days to liquidate stock at greatly reduced prices.   My neighbour told me about it, she and I being great book-lovers.

So I went down there, feeling a little depressed, but incapable of resisting the siren call: ”Books at reduced prices.” I had to obey the summons.

I parked on the road, and walked into the shop, greeted immediately by that lovely, musty, old-book smell. Unfortunately, another woman of around my own age had gotten there ahead of me. Not that there wasn’t room for both of us, but she was apparently oblivious to the sanctity of the occasion. She was pushy and loud–demanding of the owner that he direct her to where a certain genre of book was shelved.

He responded in much the same way I would have responded, were I in his shoes, although I cringed when he did it since he could easily have been speaking to me. He said to her, in a grumpy/exasperated way, “You obviously haven’t been in the store previously, or you would know the layout, and where everything is.”

david-benson-owner-of-afterwords

It was an honest, heartfelt remark made with some justification. Three reasons:

First, the shop WAS organized very well, with all the travel books in one section, fiction in another, self-help in another, religion in another, and so on. A quick walk around the little shop would quickly and easily tell one that.

Second, her ignorance pegged her for not being a regular customer; she had obviously only troubled herself to visit the shop on that day for bargain-hunting purposes. SHE was one of the reasons he had been forced out of business. I suspected that he loved his bookshop (who wouldn’t?) and, like people everywhere who love their jobs, it defined him, gave him focus and purpose, maybe nurtured his spirit.

Third was the way I felt about us, she and me—neither of us having done anything to support the business. I felt like a vulture picking over the bones of something that had died, while the former caregiver stood by watching as we did it.

In essence, even though he was the bookshop owner, he had been fired from the job he loved. By her. And, unfortunately, since I had forgotten all about his little shop and hadn’t been there in at least ten years…me.

She was not phased by his remark in the least (I would have walked out if he’d said that to me, licking my well-earned wounds), and persisted in wanting to know where the books were that interested her. She wanted some Newfoundland books. I thought that that might just mark her for a mainlander–that plus the total absence of a Newfoundland accent, and her general manner and demeanor. That’s not to say that Newfoundlanders can’t be pushy; but they’d be pushy, IF they were pushy, in a different way entirely. It would have been very much less offensive to the person being pushed if a Newfoundlander were doing the pushing.

I’m mainland-raised by Newfoundland parents, so I have an awareness of this cultural difference that I can’t really account for, other than instinct.

In any case, he directed her to the shelves where the Newfoundland books were kept. They happened to be right beside where I was standing–near the door, since I had just walked in.

She responded to him in the same brash tone of voice, “No, I’ve seen those.” And he told her that that’s all there was.

I went around the corner to look at the books there, and he came into that section to re-shelve some books. I wanted to speak to him, but wasn’t quite brave enough for it.

So I did the only thing I could, in sympathy, and that was to move quietly and reverently amongst the bookshelves, treating every book I touched as if it were leather bound, and trimmed with 22kt gold leaf. Didn’t matter that it was an old paperback with cracked plastic coating on its cardboard cover, I treated it like a museum piece.

She didn’t leave right away, because I saw her later at the check-out counter. She had made her purchases, and left her books on the counter while she put on her jacket. The cashier signalled for me to put my books down on the counter—and thank goodness, my arms were aching. I told her how sorry I was that the shop was closing, and she mentioned that it had been in business for over 40 years, but times were changing.

Perhaps overhearing my conversation with the cashier brought some understanding of the occasion to this woman. She grabbed her bag of books off the counter, shot a “Too bad” at the cashier, and walked out.

That ‘too bad’ might have sounded callous to some, but to me it just sounded clumsy. I began to suspect that this woman was just not empathetic, and didn’t know any better way to express sympathy, once she was aware that sympathy was called for.

I rather liked the bookshop name, “Afterwords” although, given present circumstances, it had a poignancy not intended at the time the shop first opened its doors.

“Afterwords,” the shop, might have been named with the thought in mind that its customers, in the most basic sense, would be shopping for collections of words in book form. Customers would visit the shop because they were there ‘after words.’

Whatever the original intention was in naming the shop, it seems that the name now takes on a new shade of meaning. Below is the dictionary definition:

“Afterwords: a concluding section in a book, typically by a person other than the author.”

The book shop,“Afterwords,” as it shuts its doors, itself concludes; its conclusion written by people other than authors—or bookshop owners. It was written by us–we the book-buyers and readers. It’s partly because we’re reading on Kindles, and iPads, or ordering inexpensive new books from Amazon through the internet. They deliver right to our doors, rain or snow notwithstanding, without our having to drive into a busy downtown area and find parking on the street in a spot that has a functioning parking meter so we won’t run the risk of being ticketed.

Then there are the used-book-store competitors: the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, and maybe also Value Village. These places are often more conveniently located than a downtown book shop. In the case of the Salvation Army, the books can be very inexpensive. If I just want a book, that’s usually where I go.

The larger bookshops, like Chapters, often have inexpensive books that they’re selling off.  A second-hand bookstore would have difficulty competing with them.

If I want a particular book, I go to Amazon. The chances of my combing through the offerings of a small used-book store and finding exactly the book I want are slim-to-nil. Not worth the trip to town.

And if I want a book RIGHT NOW, I find the electronic book online and download it to my Kindle or PC. It takes seconds.  Don’t even have to get out of my chair.

And then there are libraries. Books on loan for free. And now e-Libraries.  Some of them are audiobooks, which can be read to me while I do other things.

I have to say, however, that electronic books will never be better than a real, physical book. Where do you put your sticky notes in an electronic book?  (Of course, nobody desecrates a book with handwriting on the pages, do they?)  Electronic book-marking is a pitiful and useless imitation.  Also, how do you quickly flip back through the pages to re-read something, and easily return to where you left off? That’s why God made thumbs, in case you were wondering. No, I’m in control with a real book. An electronic book just leads me by the nose. Not the same.

But the Afterwords cashier was right, the times they are a-changin.’ And as sad as it is in many ways, it has to be.

The writing is not in Afterwords any longer; it’s on the wall.

 

Getting Right up Somebody’s Nose

First a word about my banner…I love that face. There’s something worldly-wise about it. Also a bit cranky, I think. He’ll be asking me, “Are you Creationist or Evolutionist”? Well, the answer is “Evolutionist.”

He might also be asking me—if he is as wise, and as cranky, as he appears—”WHY are you introducing THIS topic?”

I suppose I ought to have learned by now that it isn’t possible to talk about politics or religion without getting right up somebody’s nose. Still, this topic came to mind because of an e-mail I received today. I’ll explain later…

So…Does God Exist? (Nothing controversial about that, right?)

People say, “No, He doesn’t, because a loving God, a powerful God, would not allow all the evils of earth to occur, and to continue to occur…diseases, famines, wars, etc. These things would cease if God lived.”

People say, “No, because his proponents are often self-serving, amoral kinds of people who live sumptuous lives while picking the pockets of elderly people in poor health, living on meager pensions.”

People say, “No, because Old Testament Bible passages are often obscure and meaningless, and sometimes objectionable.”

People say, “No, because I personally have no proof.”

I’ve been keeping an open mind, because I was raised in a family that supported and attended a church.

Some people I like and admire have been atheists, and other people I do not like or respect have been church proponents or ministers. Of course, the flip side is also true, some atheists are uneducated and ignorant people while some religious people—apparently intelligent, thoughtful and insightful people–live and work in quiet faith that God exists and is a force for good in the world.

I want to believe that there is a loving, caring deity who will take our loved ones to heaven when they die. To know that such a place exists would give me comfort when I grieve for family that have passed on.

Do I believe that God does not exist because there are diseases, famines, wars, violent crime, terrorism, cruelty, corruption, and so forth? Not necessarily. What if our natural state of being inclines us to commit evil acts, and it is only through God’s intervention and guidance that people—the majority of people, I think–strive to be good, honest, and kind?

Why, if God exists, does he not enforce goodness and kindness by eliminating, counteracting or punishing all the perpetrators of evil and cruelty in the world? Well, maybe we are an experiment. Maybe God sent his son to earth (as Christians believe) to point us to the true way to live in peace, and once we were told, we were left to ourselves to make what we can of it.

If we’re failing—if we fail absolutely—we, and this planet we live on, may be destroyed. God may just wash his hands of Earth and its inhabitants and try another experiment on another planet once we’re done.

Also, there was the Noah’s ark story, and God’s promise to Noah that there would never be another flood to destroy the earth. The rainbow is the symbol of that promise. So, in other words, He would never again completely wipe out all life on the planet because we’re not living right.

Now God seen some sinnin’ and it gave Him a pain,

And He says “Stand back, I’m going to make it rain.”

He says “Hey brother Noah, I’ll tell you what to do,

Build me a floating zoo.

(lyrics from “The Unicorn” by The Irish Rovers)

Can I truly imagine that there is an omnipotent being that exists beyond time and space? I can’t even come to grips with the concept of time, nor space in its vastness, so perhaps that’s the purpose of the Holy Spirit, or its equivalent in other religions. We must experience the presence of God in our little world on this planet via this essence of God that moves among us everywhere on this earthly plane. It’s invisible, but perhaps accessible through meditation…that ‘still, small voice’ that guides us. Is that a bit fanciful? Maybe so. Maybe not.

1 Kings 19:11-13 King James Version (KJV)

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

I got started on all this because I received an e-mail from our church minister who is encouraging us all to pray this week. We’re to engage in prayerful meditation in whatever way we find suitable, and contemplate a specific Bible reading during that time. He’ll be guiding us by e-mail. (I don’t think I would dare unsubscribe.)

This is a new concept for me–e-mails from our church minister. If we stay away from church for months at a time, he can still reach us, it seems. Might be the way of the future. Soon there’ll be a way to submit our tithes and offerings through Paypal. I wouldn’t mind that, actually.

The minister calling us to pray this week raises the issue of prayer in general. Throughout my life, prayer has been advertised as a means of asking God for the things that we want.

So what does it mean when one has asked for something in prayer and has not received it?

Supposedly, we were sometimes told, because that thing was not considered by God to be suitable for us—for whatever reason. It might be that it was the wrong time for us to have it, or perhaps He has something better in mind for us, or maybe our faith is being tested—can we live with disappointment and not reject God for being unobliging when we’ve been on our best behaviour and asked nicely for something?   There were many reasons to help us deal with it, and not look at God askance.

But what if the thing that is prayed for is the restored health…the life…of a loved one? How could that be denied to us if we’ve prayed fervently and sincerely for it?

I’m not sure that we should regard prayer in the same light as writing to Santa Claus to give us the things that we want. Even when it’s the health of a loved one.

Some people seem to look at prayer as the opening of negotiations with God–a promise to make some concession and in return to receive whatever thing it is they want: “Just give me this thing, Lord, and I’ll stop binge-drinking/gambling/beating my children/kicking my cat”—or whatever.

No, I do not think that God would be amenable to such an unimpressive overture in the guise of prayer. Bargaining for something using your own bad behaviour is not quite in the spirit of the thing.

And I don’t believe we can say that our seriously ill loved one survived through God’s grace and mercy. God may be gracious and merciful, but I don’t think that we can say that He granted a reprieve for OUR loved one, unless we can explain why he didn’t grant the same for someone else. We’d have to resolve in our minds why God would save THIS worthy person from illness and death, and not THAT worthy person. Can we really say that one is better than the other, or more worth saving than the other? Did our family pray harder than that family? And what about innocent children suffering serious illness and death? Why would God save one and not another? So…can we really thank Him for saving a child if that divine act was completely arbitrary?

No, giving thanks for returning one child to health makes no sense if we cannot see why another child had to die.

We’d need to be able to explain why bad things happen to good people. And while we’re at it, why good things happen to bad people. If we accept the basic premise of religion…that benefits accrue to those who live virtuous lives, it seems senseless.

And since we are created in God’s image, He should not be surprised at these questions.

Genesis 1:27 King James Version (KJV)

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

I rather like that passage from the Bible. “MAN” was created in God’s image: MALE AND FEMALE.

Male AND female were created in God’s image, unless I’m missing something. So is God a hermaphrodite? Oh…I don’t think I want to go there. Forget I said that.

Back to the discussion of bad things happening to good people…we’re told that God is mysterious and wise, and we do not possess the ability to understand.

For me, that’s a little too convenient an explanation. We’re told that we cannot understand, so we must have faith, and that our reward for faith is that we will go to heaven when we die.

And what about people throughout history, living in bad conditions under oppressive governments being told by ‘The Church’ that their fate is in the hands of God, and they will be rewarded for their sufferings in heaven?

Karl Marx writes in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.

We tend to hear Marx quoted as saying that “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” usually understood to mean that people submit quietly to societal or governmental abuses, poor living conditions, poverty, disease, whatever, when they believe that they will receive their reward in heaven. Religion then becomes the tool of a society or government for maintaining the stability of a populace under adverse conditions. It facilitates the continuation of abuses against a country’s citizenry, without incurring any risk of revolution.

That quote in isolation—and I haven’t studied Marx, so I don’t know in any great depth his thoughts on religion—tells me that he would like people to abandon religion as compensation for living under bad conditions. He evidently thinks that once that compensation is relinquished, people will—or ought to–set about righting the wrongs in their society.

That’s a good point. But he does say that religion is “the heart of a heartless world”—and that’s almost encouraging for people who wish to maintain their faith and religion. Since people today are far less likely to submit to governmental abuses without protest—religion or no religion—authoritarian uses of religion to subdue people and make them passive and accepting no longer apply.

Perhaps the best that can be done in support of religion is to promote the Bible lessons that point to ways of living that are peaceful and kind to all creatures. Whether atheist or not, people cannot object to those things. But that would mean cherry-picking from the Bible, which is touted to be the Word of God in its entirety.

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”   – Richard Dawkins

Well, there’s that, I suppose.

Is it possible that the Old Testament can simply be viewed as a flawed historical document with sections that are confusing, contradictory, or no longer relevant? Should we use only the New Testament as guidance?

I think that I will continue to observe the outward form of attending our little church when I can, out of respect for the memory of my parents at the very least, and try to come to terms with its teachings in a way that is meaningful and understandable to me. My faith will consist of believing that there is something in the Christian religion for us to use in living every day. I’m only speaking about Christianity at the moment, but I like Buddhism very much from what little I know about it, and Wicca has some appeal as well. Do those three seem contradictory? I don’t think they have to be. I think that if we study and meditate, seek openly and honestly for answers in all philosophies and religions, we will learn what we need to live a life of moral responsibility and kindness to others.

In other words, we aim for living a good life in which we love (as much as it is possible) and help one another, and foster peace and harmony in as many ways as we can. Does that mean ‘turning the other cheek’ when we are wronged by corrupt politicians or cheated by scammers, and just accept quietly and submissively whatever misfortunes come to us by way of our fellow humans?

Hmmm…don’t think so. It would be nice to float through life on a cloud of beneficent goodwill for everyone, but that does not necessarily help us—nor other people. Scammers need to be stopped from victimizing the elderly, governments need to be held accountable, injustices must be routed wherever they are found.

I’m remembering the story of Jesus physically driving the merchants and money changers out of the temple. Two of those accounts, from the book of John and of Matthew are below:

John 2:13-16 King James Version (KJV)

13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

And that same incident related in Matthew…

Matthew 21:12-13 King James Version (KJV)

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Jesus, in these accounts, whipped the merchants and money changers and overthrew their tables. In so doing, he took action not only against the fact that they were defiling a house of worship by their presence—turning the temple into a marketplace–but also making it a ‘den of thieves,’ no doubt by cheating people in their business transactions.

Following his example, I think we should not submissively turn the other cheek when we are being cheated. We should reserve the right to complain when we see that things–large and small–in this world are not right and ought to be changed. We should not worry that speaking up and saying things that are ‘negative’ in tone reflects badly on us. It’s the right thing to do; for our fellow humans, for all things bright and beautiful in this world, and all creatures great and small.

But we probably shouldn’t whip anyone, okay?

 

When My Coffee Mug Spoke for Me

What am I doing with Salvador Dali on the banner of this article, you say? Bear with me, all will be revealed.

I’ve been a long time between postings, and this post is just a transitional filler whose purpose is to cut through the cobwebs, evict the dust-bunnies, and let my poor, neglected blog know that I plan to return when my ‘opus’ is completed. I hadn’t intended to write an opus, but I don’t think that I’m in the driver’s seat anymore.

It’s not just that summertime distractions kept me away from writing blog articles, although that was part of it. It happens that in a silly (and somewhat uncharacteristic) moment of single-mindedness, I said to myself that I would post nothing else until my genealogy article was completed. That was an unnecessarily restrictive rule to set, because it ought to be possible to dash off a few random thoughts on other things while “the great masterwork” is in production.

Oh dear, now I’m fearful of having raised your hopes that there will be something momentous soon to follow.

Let me hasten to disabuse you of that notion…“my masterwork” is more apt to bore than fascinate, so I wouldn’t want to excite anyone’s anticipation. Genealogical records are generally of marginal interest to anyone other than the writer, even when the reader is hanging off a very substantial branch of that same family tree. Unless the family story is being told by a particularly skillful writer–like David Macfarlane in “The Danger Tree”–it is reduced to a mere exercise in record-keeping:  ruthless self-indulgence of the names-and-dates variety. I will indulge, in spite of that, because I feel that my family history needs to be recorded for the edification of future generations of our family. With any luck, one day a skillful writer of the David-Macfarlane variety will take the bones of it and add some flesh and blood.

But I’m here for the moment to blether on about my favourite ‘statement’ coffee mugs…one that I outgrew and one that I will never outgrow. They were my workplace coffee mugs, relics of a bygone era, and used for periods of years at a time when I worked in an office.

I’m inclined to think that a workplace coffee mug can speak for one surreptitiously, because few people would imagine that it reflects anything of importance about a person’s general attitude to life or work–should they care to know.  I like to think that my coffee mugs reflected a wry sense of humour, which I cultivated at every opportunity, and very much needed at times. If your home décor or your fashion sense reflect aspects of your personality, why wouldn’t the coffee mug that you use throughout the day—every day—at work also say something about you? If somebody is using a chipped and stained “I-heart-NY” mug every day, maybe that says something, too…that perhaps the person doesn’t really care what holds their java. (What else don’t they care about at work, we wonder?)

My first mug had a cartoon figure of a woman in a typical 1980’s woman’s ‘power suit’, facing straight forward. Projecting towards her on a diagonal from both her right and left sides are two arms in pinstriped suit jacket sleeves (distinctly masculine). The index fingers on the hands extending beyond the sleeves are holding up the corners of her mouth to form a smile.   The caption on the mug is “I Love My Job.” That was during my career-building days, when my relationships with the predominantly male hierarchy at the company were both good-humoured and mildly antagonistic.   I was subjected to the usual acts of unfairness and inequity, but I still liked the people. I suppose I realized that it was their ‘conditioning,’ and that they were not essentially bad people. The cartoon woman even looked like me at the time, being fair-haired and spectacled. I still have the mug, and will add a photo of it to this article at some point.

That was the mug I outgrew.

I outgrew it because times changed and I changed. The job was not just a job, it was a career–a work in progress–and so I didn’t think it was appropriate to advertise in even a humorously sarcastic way whether I loved it or not.  It was something I walked into as the new technology (computers) were introduced to offices in the mid-1980s.  I was in on the ground floor, and welcomed the opportunity.

I also outgrew that mug because the ‘dress for success’ fad passed on, and perhaps the only good it did was to give a surface indication of an office worker’s serious desire for career promotion. If wearing the appropriate clothing signalled that, then we would wear the appropriate clothing. Blue suits! Everyone knew what you were talking about when you said, ‘blue suits.’ Blue suits were de rigueur male attire in the office in those days. Women had to think about suits as well if they expected to be taken seriously. In those days (the 80’s) it was of almost exaggerated importance. We wore shoulder pads like NFL-players.

“Dress for Success” was (and is) a book by John T. Molloy, and it was all about dressing to project a professional image.  It was good in its day, because I suppose some people really had no idea how their appearance affected people’s perceptions of their competence and professionalism.

I recently had to take my father to an appointment with a geriatrician at the hospital, and I got a preview of the doctor when she came into the waiting area to speak to the receptionist.  I didn’t know who she was at the time, and I remember thinking, “The doctor really ought to have a quiet word with that woman about her appearance; she looks like she ought to be sitting on a beach in Jamaica with a glass of rum punch instead of working in a hospital.”

The “doctor” (for such she was, in spite of my apostrophes) was somewhere in her late 50s.  She had over-bleached, medium-length blond hair tortured into kinks, makeup ladled on, and she sported an outfit consisting of eye-gouging, acid-toned colours in a bombastic print that wouldn’t look out of place in the tropics.  Lime-green shoes were a feature.   Her personality matched her outfit, so perhaps I should have been thankful that appearances, in this case, were not deceptive.  I didn’t feel that we were in the hands of a competent medical professional, and I was not wrong.

Today there’s an organization called “Dress for Success.” It started up in 1997, and the following is their mission statement:

“Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”

Well, the doctor’s career might not have been seriously hampered by her flamboyant dress sense, but I confess that I’m a bit ‘old school’ where medical professionals are concerned.   In a hospital, the only way to tell who is a nurse and who is a member of the cleaning staff these days is if one of them is pushing a mop.

In any case, there seemed to be a little too much emphasis on surface appearances in the office of those days.  That’s my recollection, in any event.  It’s changed radically over the years since then, as we all know.

My next office mug was one I used for many years as well, but it was more for the late 1990’s, when I was working exclusively with computers, networking and office communications equipment. I remember saying to people (in fun) that one day they would find me hanging from a Cat 5 cable in the wiring closet. Those wires had a life of their own, and somehow managed to get into a tangled rat’s nest despite my continual efforts to keep them organized. Troubleshooting problems was always a challenge when there were so many things to think about–not only cables and wires, but networking equipment, mainframe terminals, standalone computers, squirrels…

Yes, you heard correctly, one time a squirrel ran along the roof beam in the plant, and decided to stop for a nibble on my fibre optic cable.

Pretty much everyone has experienced the frustration of a malfunctioning computer or internet communications device. Just imagine experiencing everyone else’s frustration of malfunctioning computers or communications devices. Sometimes by the time I heard about problems the person was beyond frustrated and fit to be tied—understandably, of course. They were under pressure to get things done, and their office tool had transmogrified into a monumental obstacle.  My career choice sometimes seemed to be a test of mental fortitude.

So my next mug reflected that daily workplace reality for me. My sister had bought it for me when she visited the Salvador Dali museum in Florida. The mug had a black schematic drawing of Salvador Dali on it, and the caption was, “La seule différence entre moi et un fou, c’est que je ne suis pas fou!” Dali actually said, “L’unique différence entre un fou et moi, c’est que moi je ne suis pas fou!”

dali-mug

Near enough. For non-French speakers, what Dali said was, “The only difference between a crazy person and me, is that I am not crazy!”

Working daily with computers as I was, I never failed to be amused at that.  It just never got old.

Anyhow, in a retrospective view of those 28.5 years of working in an office I can say that the good balances-out the bad. I still have those two coffee mugs in my kitchen cupboard at home, and they each recall to memory my circumstances in those two phases of my career.   More than anything else, those mugs remind me that the way I coped with difficulty was (eventually) with humour. I won’t say that my coping mechanism was always immediately successful, but it never completely deserted me. When I left the workplace, I left with my sense of humour intact. Wish I had known the full value of that in the early days, and perhaps how to have used it to better advantage. I used humour in a defensive way, but Mark Twain evidently felt it also made an effective weapon…

“[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain

Well, I suppose that laughter could be an effective weapon against humbug in the wider world. Blowing humbug to rags and atoms with laughter in an office could potentially inflict serious collateral damage, unless used very judiciously indeed. It would require a finely tuned sensibility to know when it was likely to be effective. I think it was safer to reserve the belly laughs for Scott Adams’s Dilbert cartoon.

My favourite Dilbert had to be Dogbert’s Tech Support. He answers the phone to the pointy-haired boss with, “This is Dogbert. How may I abuse you?” Dogbert represented ‘the dark side’ in which we never indulged, but he was cathartic in that there were times when I would have loved to have exerted a similar, flagrant advantage over certain people—the small minority of people, thankfully. Those people weren’t funny, not then and not now.

At the very least, I can say that my Salvador Dali coffee mug was instrumental in helping me to maintain my equilibrium on the more challenging days just by making me smile.  On another level, Dali’s statement gives us to understand that being crazy and appearing crazy can be two entirely different things, and so surface appearances can occasionally be deceptive.  And if perception and reality sometimes differ, then things, on a bad day, might not be as bad as they seem…?  In any case, my Dali coffee mug appealed to my sense of humour and to my preference for substance over surface, and I’m sure it will be one that I will never outgrow.

I can still look at it today, and smile.

 

This One Is Full o’ Piss and Vinegar…

I had a hard time using the word, “piss” in my title, since in Canada it is, or was, a vulgarism.  Mind you, the expression, “Piss off” to inform someone that you are no longer enjoying their company–or perhaps that you are having difficulty believing something they’ve said–is fairly commonplace now.

It used to be that when I heard someone in the U.K. asking, in polite company, if someone were ‘taking the piss,’ I’d feel a teensy bit startled for a split second.  It is, as I discovered, another fairly commonplace expression, and simply means ‘are you being facetious?’ or ‘are you pulling my leg?’

I also used to be a bit surprised when my U.K. friends and relatives would ask to use the ‘toilet’…since the ‘t’ word is rigorously avoided in Canadian culture.  We will ask for ‘the ladies’ or men’s room’ or ‘the rest room’ or ‘the washroom’ before we’ll ask for ‘the toilet.’  In fact, we’d probably pee ourselves before asking for that.  I will always ask for ‘the loo’ when I’m in the U.K., because I still can’t bring myself to ask for the toilet.  When I first visited Scotland back in the 1970s and asked one of my husband’s aunties if I could use the washroom, she was a little perplexed that I suddenly wanted to do some laundry a few short hours after my arrival.

Anyhow, it’s all to do with accepted word usages, and it’s just that some words did not become commonplace in Canada (within my experience).  We talk about toilets to our plumbers and that’s it.  In the U.K., the word ‘toilet’ probably means the room where the toilet is located, and not necessarily the fixture itself—although I’m not absolutely sure.  We in Canada would expect it to mean the actual receptacle, and so by asking for it by name, everyone within hearing might then know what we intend doing when we get to ‘the washroom’—and, good heavens, we can’t have people knowing that!

We, as Canadians, believe that the necessity to perform bodily functions, even though in a hygienic manner, should be disguised by every means possible.  I suppose that’s why women (in North America, at least), used to excuse themselves from the table at a restaurant by saying that they needed to ‘powder their nose’ or ‘freshen up.’  Perhaps the fact that women habitually retired to the ladies’ room in pairs was to reinforce the notion that the purpose of the trip was for hairdo and makeup restoration.  Chances of two people needing to use the plumbing fixtures at precisely the same time would be remote, right?  So by venturing forth together, one woman would be a cover for the other.

“How on earth did she get onto THIS topic,” you say?  Good question.  I’ve been mentally cooking up an article on vinegar, and wanted to pair it with something.  So I thought, “What goes with vinegar?”  I expect you can answer that by now.

I suppose we don’t know the first appearance of the expression ‘full of piss and vinegar,’ but John Steinbeck used it in his 1938 novel, The Grapes of Wrath:

Grampa walked up and slapped Tom on the chest, and his eyes grinned  with affection and pride.

“How are ya, Tommy?”

“O.K.,” said Tom. “How ya keepin’ yaself?”

“Full a piss an’ vinegar,” said Grampa.

…which generally means, ‘full of vim and vigour,’ apparently, although I’ve been under the impression that it meant, ‘feisty’ (spirited, plucky, gutsy, etc.).  Similar, but not quite the same thing.

And at this point we shall switch from piss to urine, shall we?  (If you don’t want to go there, I will understand…Bye for now, and have a nice day.)

Urine and vinegar have both been around a very long time, and humans have apparently wanted to put them to beneficial use whenever possible.  This has required a great deal of experimentation, as you might imagine.

We know where urine comes from, so let’s talk about where vinegar comes from.

The word vinegar comes from the French word vinaigre (vin for wine and aigre for sour).  Bacteria spores in the air convert a fermented liquid into a weak form of acetic acid.  So basically it is this second fermentation of sugars or starches while the liquid is exposed to air that produces vinegar.  Vinegar can come from the juice of sweet fruits and grains such as barley (malt beer), apple (cider) and grape (wine), yet it can also be made from roots or wood (often the base of white distilled vinegar).

As for how we use vinegar, we have records dating back to the ancient Greeks.  Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC) recommended a vinegar preparation for cleaning ulcerations and for the treatment of sores.  Also, a popular medicine composed of honey and vinegar was prescribed for persistent coughs and other uses…

On the Articulations, by Hippocrates, written 400 BC, translation by Francis Adams:  “The treatment, if no fever be present, consists in the administration of hellebore, but otherwise it is not to be given, but oxyglyky (decoction of honeycombs and vinegar) is to be given for drink, if required.”  [http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/artic.86.86.html]

Today, vinegar is being investigated for cardiovascular benefits, improved calcium absorption, antitumor effects in cancer, and so forth.  Home remedies suggest vinegar as a treatment for ALL sorts…arthritis, hemorrhoids, insect bites, athlete’s foot, you-name-it.

Modern medicine (non-home-remedy) findings on the benefits of vinegar are interesting…

Blood Pressure Regulation, Cardiovascular Disease, and Vinegar:

In the rat model, acetic acid administration enhanced calcium absorption and retention; moreover, in humans, calcium absorption in the distal colon was enhanced by acetate. Clearly, much work is needed to establish whether vinegar ingestion alters calcium absorption and/or blood pressure regulation in humans.

Whether chronic vinegar ingestion affects other risk factors for cardiovascular disease in humans is not known.  Hu and colleagues reported a significantly lower risk for fatal ischemic heart disease among participants in the Nurses’ Health Study who consumed oil-and-vinegar salad dressings frequently (5-6 times or more per week) compared with those who rarely consumed them…”  [http://www.medscape.com]

Good enough reason to use oil-and-vinegar salad dressings!

Cancer and Vinegar:

In a separate trial, mice fed a rice-shochu vinegar-fortified feed (0.3% to 1.5% w/w) or control diet were inoculated with sarcoma 180 (group 1) or colon 38 (group 2) tumor cells (2 x 106 cells subcutaneously).  At 40 days post-inoculation, vinegar-fed mice in both experimental groups had significantly smaller tumor volumes when compared with their control counterparts. A prolonged life span due to tumor regression was also noted in the mice ingesting rice-shochu vinegar as compared with controls, and in vitro, the rice-shochu vinegar stimulated natural killer cell cytotoxic activity.

The antitumor factors in vinegar have not been identified.

[…]

Thus, because acetic acid in vinegar deprotonates in the stomach to form acetate ions, it may possess antitumor effects.

Reducing Cancer Risk with Vinegar:

Vinegars are also a dietary source of polyphenols, compounds synthesized by plants to defend against oxidative stress. Ingestion of polyphenols in humans enhances in vivo antioxidant protection and reduces cancer risk.

A case-control study conducted in Linzhou, China, demonstrated that vinegar ingestion was associated with a decreased risk for esophageal cancer.  However, vinegar ingestion was associated with a 4.4-fold greater risk for bladder cancer in a case-control investigation in Serbia. [http://www.medscape.com]

Well, the fact that vinegar DOES have antitumor factors is all I need to know.  I don’t have the details of the Serbian study that indicated a greater risk for bladder cancer, but perhaps if vinegar is consumed with other foods there will be less likelihood of any problems in that area.

Some comparisons between home remedies using vinegar, and modern medicine, are instructive:

Disinfecting Using Vinegar, Home Remedy:

Apple cider vinegar’s ability to draw out toxins is one reason why it is good for applying to insect bites. As an immediate solution, you can place vinegar directly on the area and rise it off.  Dip a cloth in the vinegar, press it against the bite and the itchiness will cease, sealing some of the broken capillaries at the surface of the skin.

If the bite has drawn blood, the vinegar will disinfect the area and prevent further bacteria from entering the wound. [http://blog.emergencyoutdoors.com/home-remedies-the-many-medicinal-uses-of-vinegar/]

Disinfecting Using Vinegar, Modern Medicine:

Recent scientific investigations clearly demonstrate the antimicrobial properties of vinegar, but mainly in the context of food preparation.   Experts advise against using vinegar preparations for treating wounds.

“…experts caution against using vinegar as a household disinfectant against human pathogens because chemical disinfectants are more effective. However, undiluted vinegar may be used effectively for cleaning dentures, and, unlike bleach solutions, vinegar residues left on dentures were not associated with mucosal damage. [http://www.medscape.com]

Seems that modern medicine does not advocate vinegar for wound treatment, but it might be good for cleaning your kitchen countertops or dentures.

Dentures are made of acrylic, so the acid in vinegar should not damage them.  I notice in one of my ‘uses of vinegar’ sources that they recommend brushing your teeth with undiluted vinegar…not sure that it’s a good idea to brush teeth with anything acidic. In fact, I would guess that it’s not.  There might be damage to tooth enamel.

Swimmer’s Ear, The Home Remedy, using Vinegar:

If the itchiness is more than you can bear, try a few drops of white vinegar in the ear canal (much like medical ear drops). Ensure the vinegar gets deep into the ear canal by moving your head slightly. Then after 30 seconds allow the fluid to drain out.  Aim for two drops for each ear and continue for five days.   [http://blog.emergencyoutdoors.com/home-remedies-the-many-medicinal-uses-of-vinegar/]

Swimmer’s Ear, Modern Medicine, using Vinegar:

Although investigations have demonstrated the effectiveness of diluted vinegar (2% acetic acid solution at pH 2) for the treatment of ear infections (otitis externa, otitis media, and granular myringitis), the low pH of these solutions may irritate inflamed skin and damage cochlear outer hair cells.   [http://www.medscape.com]

Sounds like there’s an acknowledgement from modern medicine that ear treatment with vinegar is effective–but with caution.

Jellyfish Stings, The Home Remedy, using Vinegar: 

To treat the stings immediately, pour vinegar over the affected area to inactivate the stinging cells.  Any kind of vinegar will do,. If tentacles cling to the skin, avoid touching them with bare skin. Above all do not rub or scratch the skin as this will further inflame it.  [http://blog.emergencyoutdoors.com/home-remedies-the-many-medicinal-uses-of-vinegar/]

Jellyfish Stings, Modern Medicine, re using Vinegar:

Immediate vinegar application at the site of jellyfish stings is practiced at various coastal locations around the world because vinegar deactivates the nematocysts. However, hot-water immersion is considered the most efficacious initial treatment for jellyfish envenomation because the venom is deactivated by heat.  [http://www.medscape.com]

Well, if one is on a beach after having just been stung by a jellyfish, and a bottle of vinegar is available from an attendant for first-aid treatment, I think that more immediate relief is to be had from that source.  Chances are that it will be more difficult to treat with hot-water immersion quickly.

Nail Fungus, Home Remedy, using Vinegar:

Fungus growth under the toenail can become extremely painful if not treated properly.  If possible cut the dead part of the nail off and soak the toe in diluted white vinegar for ten minutes.  Repeat this twice daily, once before putting your shoes on and again at the end of the day when you take them off.  [http://blog.emergencyoutdoors.com/home-remedies-the-many-medicinal-uses-of-vinegar/]

Nail Fungus, Modern Medicine, re using Vinegar:

In the popular media, vinegar is commonly recommended for treating nail fungus, head lice, and warts, yet scientific support for these treatment strategies is lacking.  [http://www.medscape.com]

I note that the ‘Modern Medicine’ statement does not actually refute the Home Remedy recommendation.  Chances are that ‘scientific support is lacking’ because there has been no investigation.

Weight Loss, Home Remedy, Using Vinegar:

Allow your system to adjust to the process. Apple cider vinegar can assist with dieting as it works as a diuretic, draining the body of excess fluid while also reducing the appetite.

Take one teaspoon in two cups of warm water before each meal, coupled with regular exercise.

Weight Loss, Modern Medicine, Using Vinegar:

Subjects were also asked to rate feelings of hunger/satiety on a scale ranging from extreme hunger (-10) to extreme satiety (+10) before meal consumption and at 15-minute intervals after the meal. Bread consumption alone scored the lowest rating of satiety (calculated as area under the curve from time 0-120 minutes). Feelings of satiety increased when vinegar was ingested with the bread, and a linear relationship was observed between satiety and the acetic acid content of the test meals.

In a separate trial, healthy adult women consumed fewer total calories on days that vinegar was ingested at the morning meal…. Thus, vinegar may affect satiety by reducing the meal-time glycemic load. Of 20 studies published between 1977 and 1999, 16 demonstrated that low-glycemic index foods promoted postmeal satiety and/or reduced subsequent hunger. [http://www.medscape.com]

Seems to be something promising there, of which I am taking note!  If bread is desired at a meal, perhaps providing a dip of oil-and-vinegar dressing to have with it would be helpful.

And now let’s explore the uses of urine, shall we?  How about running your car, for starters…

Sarah DeWeerdt for Conservation Magazine, Wednesday 9 March 2011 11.57 GMT

“…Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University who has developed a technology to generate hydrogen fuel from urine.

Botte recognized that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea. Place an electrode in wastewater, apply a gentle current, and voila: hydrogen gas that can be used to power a fuel cell.

Her system operates similarly to the electrolysis of water, a process that can be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells – except that ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so less energy is required to split them off. Botte isn’t the only scientist with her mind in the sewer. A group of scientists in the UK, for example, is working on a fuel cell powered directly by urine.

Okay, now there’s a sustainable resource put to good use!  And as for medicinal purposes…

Urine has, in fact, had an impressive range of practical uses for much of history. A key area was medicine. In Rome, Pliny the Elder recommended fresh urine for the treatment of “sores, burns, affections of the anus, chaps and scorpion stings”, while stale urine mixed with ash could be rubbed on your baby for nappy rash [a.k.a. ‘diaper rash’]. In early-modern Europe numerous medical luminaries went further. Pioneering French surgeon Ambroise Paré noted that itching eye-lids could be washed in the patient’s urine – provided that it had been kept “all night in a barber’s basin” first. The father of chemistry, Robert Boyle, advised certain patients to drink every morning “a moderate draught of their own urine”, preferably while “tis yet warm”. Anyone indignantly demanding a second opinion would find that Thomas Willis – the richest doctor in England at the time – was instructing a young gentlewoman to drink her own warm urine against “extreme sourness” in her throat.

Other cases could be far more urgent. In about 1550 the Italian doctor Leonardo Fioravanti  saw a man’s nose sliced off in an argument, and promptly urinated on the fallen organ before stitching it back on. Henry VIII’s surgeon, Thomas Vicary, recommended that all battle wounds should be washed in urine; and others advised the same for potentially gangrenous ulcers, or poisonous bites and stings. Being sterile when it leaves the body, urine was then a far safer cleaning agent than the kind of water typically available.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/unusual-uses-of-urine

Ingesting urine as medicine seems to have been thought efficacious in France during the 17th century.   On 13 June 1685, for example, we find Madame de Sévigné telling her daughter of how, “for my vapours I take eight drops of essence of urine.”

I have the book, Lettres Choisies de Madame de Sévigné (published 1866), and her letter to her daughter of June 13, 1685, does say, “ Pour des vapeurs, ma chère enfant, je voulus, ce me semble, en avoir l’autre jour : je pris huit gouttes d’essence d’urine, et, contre l’ordinaire, elle m’empêcha de dormir toute la nuit : mais j’ai été bien aise de reprendre de l’estime pour cette essence, je n’en ai pas eu besoin depuis.”   Evidently she thought the treatment served its intended purpose, other than causing insomnia through that night (unusual, as she says, for her), since she did not require a repeat dose.

And if you’re wondering whether you can drink your own urine in a survival situation where you’re dehydrated and unable to find water, you basically can, IF you distill it.  Apparently the sodium and other minerals in urine actually make you more dehydrated, in much the same way as drinking sea water.  And best only use your own urine, since pathogens from your own body are not likely to cause problems for you.

Apart from its potential uses as a medicine taken by mouth (which has limited appeal for some of us, I have to say), urine had other uses in the ancient Roman world…the fullers who washed and dyed Roman clothing used it in their processes, and tanners used it in theirs.

Ancient Roman Fullers

It might not be surprising for the advocates of urinotherapy, but our pee has been used for centuries as a cleanser. The Romans not only brushed their teeth with it, but regarded it as an effective laundry soap. In order to wash the tunics, pee was collected on the street by means of vessels that were carried away as soon as they had been filled up by the urine of passers-by. Specific workers called fullones (fullers, washers) had the task to stomp (always with bare feet, of course) on clothes placed in tubs full of water and old urine.

Do you wonder how this worked? Well, urine contains urea, a nitrogen-based organic compound. If stored, over time it decays into ammonia. This has a high pH and is a caustic, yet weak base when added to water. Therefore, it serves to break down organic material, neutralise dirt and grease, produce cleaning foam and help disinfect fabrics. Tellingly enough, most of the household cleansers we use nowadays do actually contain it. Ammonia was also helpful in keeping the clothes white and soft and make the colours brighter. Oh yes, stale urine can work both as an extracting agent and as a mordant too, that is it serves to bind dyes to a cloth. In the first case (pee as extracting agent), soaking certain natural substances in stale urine provides fine pigmentation, which is useable to dye wool and cotton. Let’s say you want to get purple: then let lichen orchil ferment in old pee and you’ll have the desired colouration.

[http://www.mediamatic.net/395620/en/fashionable-pee-cleaning-dyeing-and-tanning]

And this from the Ancient History Encyclopedia [http://www.ancient.eu/article/46/]

Arguably the most important job in the Roman clothing industry was that of the cleaners, or the fullers (Latin fullones). The fullers’ shops serviced an entire town, where they dyed, washed, and dried garments of all types.

The typical fullonica needed tanks for washing, dyeing, and rinsing the garments, as well as space to dry and finish them. Garments were usually washed in human urine, which would have been collected from the public restrooms around the town, and also possibly imported from outlying areas.

Okay, that’ll do for corroboration for urine’s use in cleaning and dyeing clothing.

Then we have cosmetics…

The Elizabethan surgeon William Bullein advised those “whose faces be unclean” to wash their skin with “strong vinegar, milk and the urine of a boy”. In 1675 The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight in Preserving, Physic, Beautifying, and Cookery told of how one’s own urine was “very good to wash the face withal, to make it fair”. Compare the northern Scottish author Mary Beith, who (writing in 1995) emphasises that, “today, urea remains an important ingredient in medicinal skin creams,” also recalling “babies having their faces wiped with their own wet nappies” by way of skin care…”

And urine must have been a handy commodity during WWI…

“…soldiers of the first world war…used cloth patches soaked in their own urine as rudimentary gas masks (the ammonia in the urine counteracting the chlorine in the gas).

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/unusual-uses-of-urine

Wikipedia offers this bit of information…

Starting in 1918, British naturopath John W. Armstrong prescribed urine-therapy regimens that he devised to many thousands of patients, and in 1944 he published The Water of Life: A treatise on urine therapy, which became a founding document of the field.

But…”There is no scientific evidence of a therapeutic use for untreated urine.”

As J. R. Armstrong says in the introduction to his book:

It has been argued that it cannot be right to take back into the body something which the body is apparently discarding. Yet this objection ignores the principle of composting as practised by organic gardeners. Rotting dead leaves, when dug back into the soil, provide valuable mineral salts to nourish new plant life.

Not sure I can wholeheartedly agree with that.  But, on the celebrity front, British actress Sarah Miles has drunk her own urine for over thirty years…

Published 16/09/2007

“…Miles has a dottily eccentric English charm that makes it impossible not to warm to her — even when our chat turns to what she is most well-known for after acting. “On my tombstone will be engraved: One of the untouchables — she drank her own pee,” she told the New Statesman in 1998. “That’s what all Indians do!” she harrumphs. “That’s what Ghandi did. That’s what Nero did! That’s what everybody that I think looks fantastic in old age does! I thought: ‘Well, if they all look that bloody good, I think I’ll have a go!’ It tastes like good beer. You take it mid-flow every evening and morning. You just swig it down. It tastes fine.”

And for how many years have you been drinking your own urine, Sarah? “Thirty.”

She can tell by the look on my face that I’m horrified. “Urine! It immunises you against your own allergies. Clinics use it for cancer. It is used for all kinds of illnesses.

“Why does humanity have a problem with me drinking my own urine? I can’t wait to get off this planet!”

Some would say Sarah Miles was never truly on it.

[http://www.independent.ie/woman/celeb-news/i-cant-wait-to-get-off-this-planet-26318135.html]

Well, I think that after looking at all this, I will probably try to use more apple cider vinegar in my diet, and continue to use vinaigrette dressings for salads.  I already soak my fish and chips in malt vinegar, just because I like it.

As for the benefits of drinking urine, well…umm…yuck to that.  Have to wonder if they’re ‘taking the piss.’

 

VITALOGY, Lesson the Third: How to Become Fat or Plump, and The Evils of the Waist Belt

This will be our third lesson in 19th-century health management, and we’ll start, as in the previous two, with some information about the source:  Vitalogy, or Encyclopedia of Health and Home was originally published in 1899 (I believe), and my edition is dated 1922.  It was published by the “Vitalogy Association, Chicago, Illinois,” and there are two copyrights:  1904 and 1913.

The authors are Dr. Geo. P. Wood, and Dr. E. H Ruddock, whose photos appear in the banner image.  In their book they instruct the reader on various aspects of turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th century) medical practice, which can be quite surprising from our 21st century perspective.

Here are some excerpts that you might find interesting:

waist belt

WAIST BELT

This and its kindred waist compressor are the most destructive inventions to human health on the Face of the Globe.  King Alcohol claims his victims by the hundred thousand; but these by the millions.  Abominations:  Dr. Ellis, in his Book on Health, says:  “The majority of our women are partial invalids, and most of our misses are miserably ‘peaked or puny,’ because they or their mothers before them wore those abominations, and that many of them are unfit, and should not be allowed to become, mothers of families.”  He further adds:  “The strong arm of the law should by all means be evoked to stay this deterioration and destruction of the human race.”

The very least compression, almost, on the waist is a great foe to the human system and to health.  The consequence is, no father should ever allow a Waist Belt to enter the portals of his home.

Deaf to Reason:  It is often said that it is useless to protest, preach or proclaim against this evil.  It is true that the ignorant and giddy are deaf to reason or advice, but not always so with the more thoughtful.

Diseases Produced by Tight Clothing

Medical authorities agree on the following as being a list of the principal diseases that are caused by tight dressing:  Apoplexy, headache, consumption, giddiness, jaundice, womb diseases, cancer of the breast, asthma, spitting of blood, palpitation of the heart, water on the chest, cough, abscesses in the lungs, eruptions, diseases of the kidneys, also of the liver in some of its manifold complications, bad digestion and loss of appetite.  And to these consequences should be added that of bearing generally unhealthy and deformed children, a large proportion of which soon find a premature grave, while others swell the list of the inmates of asylums and almshouses, thus carrying into the next generation the ill-starred fruit of a sinful indiscretion.

And in case anybody doesn’t already know…

HOW TO BECOME FAT OR PLUMP

Activity of mind or body prevents fattening.  Sufficient rest and sleep must be taken.  Persons who desire to become plump and remain so should retire about 9 or 10 p.m. and sleep until 6 or 7 a.m.  A brain-worker needs more sleep than a muscle-worker.  Pleasure or recreation, before going to bed at night, is desirable.  A drink of water should be taken immediately on rising.  It should be fresh water, and not that which has stood in lead pipes or in a pail, nor should it be too cold.  The breakfast should be plain and substantial, the year round, especially in summer.  A course of fresh, ripe fruit should first be eaten, then potatoes, meat or fried mush, or oatmeal porridge, bread and butter.  The drink may be cocoa, or milk and water, sweetened.  If tea or coffee is used, it should be weak and taken with plenty of milk.  A drink of water may be taken an hour or two after a meal; it aids digestion.  If one becomes faint before dinner, a cracker should be taken with a glass of water.  The hearty meal of the day should not come later than five hours after breakfast.  Soup should be taken at this meal; it helps digestion.

There are certain Brahmins or Priests in Asia who are very corpulent.  Their diet consists of vegetables, milk, sugar, sweetmeats and “ghee.”  Dr. Fothergill states that a strict vegetable diet produces fat more certainly than any other means.  Condiments, spices, and stimulants should not be taken unless they are very mild.  Much cold water, at meal-times, should be avoided.  It chills the stomach.  Every meal should be eaten slowly and with pleasant company, and a half hour, at least, of rest taken afterwards if possible.  If a full, hearty meal lies heavily on the stomach, as it often does, with dyspeptics, a drink of hot water, sweetened or salted to the taste, aids much to complete digestion.  About 3 or 4 p.m. a drink of water should be taken.  Supper should be light; bread and butter and tea, with some mild sauce.  Children and old people should retire early.

Another method of becoming plump is a free diet of oysters.  They may be taken in any form, raw or cooked, but they should be eaten without vinegar or pepper.  To sum up, then:  to become plump one must use plenty of water, starchy food, oysters, fats, vegetables, sweets, and take plenty of rest.

Strangely, I cannot find anything in this 971-page volume on ‘diet’ or ‘weight loss.’

I find it interesting that much of the advice for gaining weight in Vitalogy is what we are told for losing weight today…drinking water, eating vegetables, getting sufficient sleep.  And if one is feeling faint before dinner, why not have a little something more substantial than a cracker with a glass of water if one wants to GAIN weight?—although perhaps the rationale was to avoid impairing the appetite before a main meal.  And how does Dr. Fothergill imagine that “a strict vegetable diet produces fat more certainly than any other means”?  Perhaps we’d have to look at how vegetables were prepared and served at meals for the answer to that.  Maybe they used pastries and/or rich sauces…creamed peas and suchlike.  And what made them think that a “free diet of oysters” would promote weight gain?  One raw oyster might contain around 10 calories, and there’s nothing sweet, fatty or starchy about it.  But again, it may have to do with preparation.  (Six Oysters Rockefeller pack a calorie count of 220.)

I think the good doctors were a little ‘over the top’ in their condemnation of the waist belt, but I suppose we have to assume that the purpose of the belt in their day was never to hold clothing in place on the body, but to cinch the waist unnaturally tightly for reasons of fashion.

This photo of Lillie Langtry might explain why there was no need to counsel people on ways of losing weight.  If, as we believe today, one of the main causes of weight gain could be too-generous portion sizes at a meal, the fashion for a constricted waistline in the late 19th century might have been the reason that obesity was not a problem in that era.  A surgeon today might put a ‘gastric band’ around an obese person’s stomach to reduce its size and prevent excessive food intake.  In the late 19th century, it seems that the waist belt or band did the same job…

Lillie Langtry

Be well!

 

You Can’t Get There From Here

I was sitting at a traffic light the other day, and since it was a busy time on the roads (when is it ever NOT a busy time on the roads in my part of Ontario?), I had about three changes of the light at the same intersection to sit through.  Plenty of time to listen to the French language radio station and repeat some of what I was hearing, for practice.  Nobody thinks you’re odd to be in a car all by yourself while talking anymore, thanks to the cellular phone.   Traffic being what it is these days, most people are probably talking to themselves out there.

Not much to see in the lines of traffic all around me on that day, or any other day, come to that.  Cars are all ‘much of a muchness’ aren’t they?  They all look alike to me.  I don’t know how many times I’ve walked from a shopping mall to the parking lot and tried to get into somebody else’s car.  Thankfully there’s usually no one sitting in them at the time.  Except once.  People really ought to keep their car doors locked when they’re sitting in a shopping-mall parking lot–so that strangers won’t walk up and try to get into the car with them.

As I was saying, on that day I sat at the intersection (and sat and sat) and finally noticed the name on the back of the car ahead of me.  It was a Prius.  That piqued my interest a little.  Where did they come up with that name?  Where do they come up with car names in general?  Take Volkswagen, for example.  The word volkswagen means “People’s car” in German, as I think we all know.  The car company was founded in 1937 at Adolph Hitler’s instigation for the express purpose of manufacturing a car that would be affordable for the average worker.  The first beetle (although not called that initially) was designed with aerodynamics in mind by Ferdinand Porsche, in case you didn’t know.  Porsche’s own company made car designs for other companies at the time, so he needed Hitler’s collaboration to make the Volkswagen.early Volkswagen2

And also, as we all know, the name ‘Beetle’ evolved over time based on its appearance, and it is now officially the name of the car model—or its present incarnation.  I like the Beetle for the same reason that I like the Mini Cooper…it’s distinctive, and easily recognizable.

I was shopping for a small SUV a couple of years ago, and the Volkswagen Tiguan was looking like a good bet.  It was hard to get excited about it, mind you, but it looked solid enough and I expected a Volkswagen to be a good quality vehicle.  So I test-drove it, and got a price quote from the sales rep.  One key feature under consideration at that time was colour choice—I knew I’d have to pay extra for a non-standard colour, so I wanted to know what colours were on offer as a standard.  She said to me that they had five colours:  grey, black, red, and two shades of white.  I said, “So you only have one colour?”  She said, “No, we have five.”  I said, “No, you have one…white, grey and black are not colours.”

I lost interest after that, and never bought the car.  If cars all look alike, the only thing you can do to add an interesting feature is select a pleasing colour.  I forget what I would have had to pay for something other than white, black, grey or red, but I was so bored with the car-shopping experience by that time I just abandoned the project.

I guess I’m spoiled by the car designs of yesteryear.  Thunderbirds and Cadillacs and Corvettes and Mustangs all had something to say in terms of design back in the 50s and 60s.  I drove a Camaro Berlinetta at one time–1980s, I think–in a sable-brown colour.   Wish I’d kept it.

For me, performance, reliability, reputation, are all good, but why can’t we have something ‘fun’ to look at?  Something with a luxury interior as well.  Is that so wrong?  Am I asking too much?

Nobody writes songs about cars anymore, have you noticed that?  There are songs about driving, but no songs about particular car makes or models—at least none that I can find.  The most recent songs that mention particular car models are Little Red Corvette, (Prince, 1983), and Freeway of Love, (Aretha Franklin, 1985)–Aretha’s music video features a 1950s pink Cadillac.   [Here’s a great place to look at 1950s tail fins, incidentally:  http://www.westside-59.com/50s-Cars-and-Fins.htm] .

Freeway of Love (Aretha Franklin, 1985)

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

Wind’s against our back

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

In my pink Cadillac

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ip_pjb5_fgA]

Then there are The Beach Boy songs…

Fun Fun Fun (The Beach Boys, 1964)

Well she got her daddy’s car

And she cruised to the hamburger stand now

Seems she forgot all about the library

Like she told her old man now

And with the radio blasting

Goes cruising just as fast as she can now

And she’ll have fun fun fun

Till her daddy takes the T-bird away.

The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (ca 1964)

The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny, Go)

Has a pretty little flower bed of white Gardenias (Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny, Go)

But parked in a rickety old garage

Is a brand-new, shiny-red, super-stocked Dodge

And of course, Wilson Pickett…

Mustang Sally (1966)

I bought you a brand new Mustang

A 1965

Now you come around

Signifying woman

You don’t want to let me ride.

And this one was fun…

Hot Rod Lincoln (1972)

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye

A Cadillac sedan passed us by

I said, “Boys, that’s a mark for me.”

By then the tail-light was all you could see.

Now the fellas was ribbin’ me for bein’ behind,

So I thought I’d make the Lincoln unwind.

Took my foot off the gas and man alive,

I shoved it on down into overdrive.

A Thunderbird, Cadillac, Mustang, Corvette, and a souped-up Lincoln and Dodge…I think we’re unlikely to see the same car-centric songwriting again anytime soon.

Even the 1983 horror movie, Christine, which was based on a Stephen King novel by the same name, featured an older-model car:  a 1958 Plymouth Fury that went around killing people.  (Well, you’d hardly expect a 1972 Toyota Corolla to try to kill you, right?  Even if a Toyota Corolla DID try to kill you, it’s not something you, or the movie-going public, would be too awfully worried about beforehand.)  My friend Christine used to have the bumper sticker ad for the Christine movie stuck on her fridge door:

Watch out for me

I am Pure Evil

I am…CHRISTINE.

Let’s have a look at some of those old cars–they weren’t all T-birds and Mustangs.  When I saw this model (below), I immediately thought of George F. Babbitt from Sinclair Lewis’s novel, Babbitt, although he dates from at least a couple of decades earlier.  Don’t know the exact year of this one, but it’s probably ca 1955.  The car is a ‘Zephyr’—which means a ‘soft, gentle breeze.’  It looks a little too ‘bowler hat’ to suit that name, I think…

george babbitt2

 

Here’s a bit from ‘Babbitt’…

Babbitt’s spectacles had huge, circular, frameless lenses of the very best glass; the ear-pieces were thin bars of gold. In them he was the modern business man; one who gave orders to clerks and drove a car and played occasional golf and was scholarly in regard to Salesmanship. His head suddenly appeared not babyish but weighty, and you noted his heavy, blunt nose, his straight mouth and thick, long upper lip, his chin overfleshy but strong; with respect you beheld him put on the rest of his uniform as a Solid Citizen.

The gray suit was well cut, well made, and completely undistinguished. It was a standard suit. White piping on the V of the vest added a flavor of law and learning. His shoes were black laced boots, good boots, honest boots, standard boots, extraordinarily uninteresting boots…

He was, to the eye, the perfect office-going executive—a well-fed man in a correct brown soft hat and frameless spectacles, smoking a large cigar, driving a good motor along a semi-suburban parkway.

And there was just something about the front-end of this car that put me in mind of C-3PO from Star Wars.  Something about the eyes…

3cpo and car

Granted, this car is evidently of more recent vintage, but I thought it was interesting that they might have borrowed some features from a creature…

Shark and Car

Some of those old vehicles looked dangerous, too…they had TEETH…

TEETH3

And evil eyes…

EVIL EYES2

They carried missiles…MISSILES2

And as for distinctiveness, here are three red cars.  Would you ever mistake one for the other?maybe corvette3

maybe pontiac belair2

mustang convertible2Found an article on the internet (on ‘wheels.ca’) that agrees with me on the ‘generic’ character of vehicles these days.

When Jim Mattison was growing up in the early 1950s, he remembers visiting Detroit car dealerships with his family each fall to check out the new models. By the time he was in kindergarten, he could name any car’s make and model just by looking at the hubcaps. “At 60 miles an hour and 60 feet away, you could identify a Chrysler from a Ford from a DeSoto,” said Mattison, who spent his career in the auto industry and now runs a Pontiac archive.

These days, even Mattison has trouble telling one brand from another. Government regulations, increased competition and profit-squeezed carmakers have filled the streets with bland look-alikes. With the cost of developing a new car easily climbing to $1 billion, automakers are loath to take risks.

[See more at: http://www.wheels.ca/news/why-do-so-many-cars-look-the-same/#sthash.3EhS2zqB.dpuf]

So car manufacturers don’t have the same flexibility and independence in terms of design anymore, and we end up with all these vehicles looking practically alike.

There’s only one good way through the wind. You can’t have a wide variety of shapes and have them be aerodynamically correct,” said Jack Nerad, editorial director of Kelley Blue Book.

http://www.wheels.ca/news/why-do-so-many-cars-look-the-same/#sthash.3EhS2zqB.dpuf

I don’t know why anybody is worried about aerodynamics and saving fuel when you can’t get above 15 km/hr on the highway because there are so many other dratted cars out there that you can’t move.

Well, I started out talking about the names of vehicles…”Prius” as you may know, means “something that precedes or takes precedence.”

Cadillac, on the other hand, has written its own definition into the Oxford dictionary:

  1. a large luxury car that is the most prestigious brand of General Motors
  2. something that is an outstanding example of its kind, especially in terms of luxury, quality, or size

So, if you say that something is ‘the Cadillac’ of something-or-other, it means that it is among the best of its type.

I doubt that any of the car manufacturers these days will find their products written up in the Oxford dictionary—unless it’s already there, like ‘Prius.’  And not because it’s a car.

Also, I’m pretty sure we won’t be singing about them.

I suppose that cars are ultimately just a means of conveyance, unless you’ve got a squillion to spend and can afford something REALLY fun.  But they’re expensive enough for us average types, and I wish there were more to be had from the car-buying and car-ownership experience.

Oh, and I forgot one.  This is Janis Joplin, 1970…

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,

So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Amen to that.

 

VITALOGY, Lesson the Second: How to Choose your Life’s Partner, and Warnings against ‘Secret Vice’

In this second installment, I’ll just repeat that the information comes from a wonderful book I discovered at a flea market, with the title of, “Vitalogy, or Encyclopedia of Health and Home.”  It is described on the title page inside the cover as:  “Beacon Lights for Old and Young, Showing How to Secure Health, Long Life, Success and Happiness, from the Ablest Authorities in this Country, Europe and Japan.”  The date of publication is 1922, it’s published by the “Vitalogy Association, Chicago, Illinois,” and there are two copyrights:  1904 and 1913.

The authors are two doctors by the names of Dr. Geo. P. Wood, and Dr. E. H Ruddock, and their photos appear in the banner photo for this article.  I’ve been trying to discover some biographical information on the authors, but can’t find anything on the internet.  It seems that the first edition of this book was in 1899…at least that’s the earliest edition I can see ‘out there.’

In any case, judging by the photos, the doctors were over 50 years old at the time of writing it, so likely received their medical training in the 1870s.  That’s an important point to note in terms of this particular article, because their advice on choosing a marriage partner largely derives from physiognomy (analysis of a person’s character based on physical attributes, predominantly facial features), which was the predecessor to phrenology (analysis of a person’s character and intellectual attributes based on the shape or irregularities of the head or skull).  The doctors have expanded on the main focus of  physiognomy to include other physical attributes, but it’s the same basic premise:  that the interior of a person can be learned from their exterior.

Physiognomy has been around a long time, apparently, and was posited by the ancient Greek, Aristotle—or at least the school of Aristotle, if not Aristotle himself.  “The principal promoter of physiognomy in modern times was the Swiss pastor Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801).  The principal sources from where Lavater found ‘confirmation’ of his ideas were from the English physician-philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682), and the Italian Giambattista Della Porta (1535–1615).”  (Wikipedia)

The following gives us an idea of the type of interpretation that would be applied to various features.  This is from Faces we meet and how to read them, by R.D.B. Wells, published by Vickers, London, in 1870, p 14:

Anatomical interpretations :

The forehead is the principal seat of reasoning, reflective and perspective qualities.  Prominence of the lower part of forehead is indicative of a desire to see the world, to study science, learn languages and master matters of fact. Fleshy and blunt foreheads show obtuseness of mind, dullness of comprehension and weakness of understanding. Large and prominent eyes indicate power of expression. Deep-seated penetrating eyes suggest far sightedness and shrewdness. Upward and oblique eyes are seen in cunning, plotting and enthusiastic people. In men a large nose is suggestive of strong character and endurance, whereas in women a large nose is suggestive of aggressiveness and of dominance. A short, flat and upturned nose indicates weakness, inquisitiveness and dependant nature. A large mouth shows possession of good character. If the corners of the mouth are drawn downwards, it shows a gloomy and morose nature. A pointed and narrow chin indicates that the person may be crafty while a small and square chin shows an affectionate nature. If the chin is retreating, the person may show lack of perseverance and feebleness of organization. Large ears suggest generosity while small ears suggest greed for money.

Physiognomy and phrenology were largely discredited as pseudosciences during the late 19th century, but would have had a following during the time Drs. Wood and Ruddock were in training, or in the early years of their medical practice.  Which explains a lot, as you will see from these sections excerpted from Vitalogy

woman to shun

“A Man Hater” Sexually

It is in the nature of things that man should desire to “multiply and replenish the earth.”  With some women and with many men the chief object and aim in marriage is to bring into the world healthy, intelligent and robust children to illumine their early and cheer their declining days.

With all who seek the married state the expectation is that it shall result in a prolonged intimacy with the chosen one and in securing a home—a peaceful, happy home.  It is not then of the utmost importance that steps should be taken, intelligently, to so choose as to gain the ends desired? And is it not the height of folly to go blindly into this, by far the most important relation of his lifetime?

If a man is full-blooded, sexually vigorous and strong, do you suppose that he could reasonably expect satisfaction if he married a girl like the one illustrated as “A Man Hater Sexually”?  A woman whose sexual development was arrested in early youth—who has not enough sexual passion to last her through two years of wedlock?  Assuredly not.  Such women usually have flat chests, narrow hips, bloodless and thin or peaked features, indicative of arrested sexual development and a lack of that warmth and softness that attracts and holds the affections of men.  Some women marry because they want a man to support them.  They will have a horror of bearing children or rearing a family.  Sexually they are man haters.  Let them alone, young man, unless you likewise are indifferent to such things.

How to Find Happiness in Conjugal Relations

When mother or sister perceive, as they are apt to do, that the son or brother designs to “get married” to or is “keeping company” with some member of the other sex whom they have reason to believe would be altogether unsuitable as a life companion, it is of the most vital importance that promptly and tactfully some word of warning be given to that son or brother before it is too late—before the final step is taken that is to result, and so often does result, in a life of misery and sometimes of sin or of crime.  The young man, as a rule, is blind to the facts, attracted by some fancy or some alluring trait; he cannot distinguish its evanescent quality or note that this attraction of feature or mind, as it may happen to be, will not stand the test of intimacy or of time.

If, then, other and sterling qualities are lacking in the woman of his choice love soon fades to discontent, then to apathy, and then to disgust and loathing.  Hence the importance of “whispering in his ear” the timely word that as he values his future happiness or would avoid a life of misery and wretchedness he must stop.  Many may not listen to the timely warning but more will, and thousands of affectionate sisters and often mothers have thus saved a much-loved brother or son from that “hell on earth”—an unhappy, mismated married existence.

woman to marry

Test for a Good Husband

Prof. Goodrich, one of the greatest experts in reading human character, was once asked by a young lady to tell her how she could determine whether a certain young man, who was keeping company with her, would make a kind-hearted husband.  She was a little afraid about getting married because it was such a very important step.

The professor declared that his best advice was, to introduce her young man to some old lady and leave him alone with her for awhile, the longer the better.  Then ask the old lady what she thought of him.  Also, to introduce the young man, incidentally of course, to a young baby, and “do not stay around yourself.”  Get the baby’s opinion of the young man from the baby’s mother or nurse.  If the baby likes him and pulls his mustache or “crows” to him, it is a sure sign that the young man may be trusted.  Babies and very old persons are the very best judges of human nature.  With either, the young man will be off his guard, unless he thinks that he is being watched, and act out his inner nature.  The baby will intuitively feel an unkind presence and promptly turn from it.  The old lady whose sight has grown dim depends more upon her inner or intuitive impressions, and is rarely mistaken when she does.  This, he declared, was his very best advice.

Degenerates

The man who has what is often termed a “bad eye” or a crafty expression should be shunned, as he will surely lead any woman who marries him a miserable life.  Sometimes these eyes are fierce, often restless, while the eyebrows have a tendency to lower.  Notice them when their possessor meets strangers or people he does not like, and the evil spirit back of the eye will be apparent, although otherwise well hidden.  Then, too, we hear much said nowadays about degenerates, not because people have changed, but simply because some scientific students have gathered the actual facts about the number of people who have been deteriorating and have given the proofs to the world.

Anybody looking at the young ladies in any of our large cities cannot help noting how the very slim, narrow-hipped, and narrow-shouldered girls and young women predominate.  This is attributed by the scientists to the very general habit of wearing tight clothing and of tight lacing that prevailed among their mothers a generation ago.  These pretty, trim, vivacious, nervous, sexually undeveloped young women make the poorest kind of wives and still worse mothers.  They are degenerates suffering for the sins of their ancestors.

Young men would do better and be happier to remain bachelors than to marry such girls.

man to shun

Defects of Men

In any city or town one has not far to go to find young men with a more or less slouchy gait, low forehead, chin narrow, jaw widening rapidly until it becomes prominent under the ear, eyes near together, and generally restless, receding forehead and chin, back of head almost in line with the back of the neck, etc.  Such a man, even though of pleasing address, will prove to be cruel, selfish, heartless, liable to fail in business or commit some crime,–if a workman, likely to engage in strikes and frequently out of work.  They are degenerates in whom the natural mental qualities are illy developed and who are sadly deficient in that most important of all qualities, self-control.  They are like an engine without a safety-valve or balance wheel.  They may run all right for a time, but trouble is sure to come before long.  So it is with the degenerate.  He may make a fairly good appearance for a time, but it is not in him to do well.  He, too, will cause trouble.  To a careful observer, the signs of degeneracy are always apparent, and such persons should be shunned for companions and especially avoided when matrimony is the end of the companionship.

True, not many will show all the signs of degeneracy noted in a very marked degree, but some will show marked deficiency in some one feature and slighter ones in others.  Some will show slight deficiency in nearly all, though marked in none.  But all alike are unfitted for parenthood.  It is not their fault, but their misfortune, and society must come to the point where it shall protect itself from the perpetuation of such blemishes of character before it can hope to make real progress and secure a preponderance of noble, capable citizens.

Self-Pollution

There are various names given to the unnatural and degrading vice of producing venereal excitement by the hand, or other means, generally resulting in a discharge of semen in the male and a corresponding emission in the female.  Unfortunately, it is a vice by no means uncommon among the youth of both sexes, and is frequently continued into riper years.

Symptoms—The following are some of the symptoms of those who are addicted to the habit:  Inclination to shun company or society; frequently being missed from the company of the family, or others with whom he or she is associated; becoming timid and bashful, and shunning the society of the opposite sex; the face is apt to be pale and often a bluish or purplish streak under the eyes, while the eyes themselves look dull and languid and the edges of the eyelids often become red and sore; the person can not look any one steadily in the face, but will drop the eyes or turn away from your gaze as if guilty of something mean.

The health soon becomes noticeably impaired; there will be general debility, a slowness of growth, weakness in the lower limbs, nervousness and unsteadiness of the hands, loss of memory, forgetfulness and inability to study or learn, a restless disposition, weak eyes and loss of sight, headache and inability to sleep or wakefulness.  Next come sore eyes, blindness, stupidity, consumption, spinal affection, emaciation, involuntary seminal emissions, loss of all energy or spirit, insanity and idiocy—the hopeless ruin of both body and mind.  These latter results do not always follow.  Yet they or some of them do often occur as the direct consequences of the pernicious habit.

The subject is an important one.  Few, perhaps, ever think, or ever know, how many of the unfortunate inmates of our lunatic asylums have been sent there by this dreadful vice.  Were the whole truth upon this subject known, it would alarm parents, as well as the guilty victims of the vice, more even than the dread of the cholera or small-pox.

How to prevent Secret Vice

[Along with preaching the evils of it to the young…] The regular daily use of the sponge bath conduces greatly to the cure or prevention of self-abuse.  The too free use of meat, highly-seasoned dishes, coffee, wine, late suppers, etc., strongly tend to excite animal propensities, which directly predispose to vice.

A Terrible EvilIn the City of Chicago in one school, an investigation proved that over sixty children under thirteen years of age were habitually practicing this degrading, health and life destroying habit, while among the older ones the habit was even worse, though not so easily detected.

In a country school in Black Hawk Co., Iowa, one bad boy secretly taught all the rest until the entire school practiced this private vice during the noon hour when the teacher was away.

In New Orleans nearly all the pupils in a large female boarding school were practicing this horrible vice and the scandal of the fearful discovery is not yet forgotten.

Worth MillionsThe foregoing article on self-abuse should be in the hands of every young person as it would be the means of saving many bright intellects from becoming stupid or imbeciles, or lunatics or from filling premature graves and be worth to them more than Astor’s millions.

And so we are given photos of this unfortunate fellow, whose name is published, along with his city of residence, Harris, Pennsylvania.  As we are told in the captions, the second photo was taken three years after the first, when the practice of ‘secret vice’ began to take its toll (helped along by a bit of manual touching-up, we think!).  Puts me in mind of The Portrait of Dorian Gray…

vice before and after

I’m fascinated that photos of actual people are included in this book, only one of whom (the type of woman a man may safely marry) might find it complimentary.

In any case, I trust that you are now well instructed as to the best means of choosing a suitable mate, as well as stringently warned of associated evils.  If this advice comes too late to save you from error, I humbly apologize, on behalf of the good doctors, that their wise words were not brought to your attention in a more timely fashion.

Be well.