Making things happen

I would have to go back and check to find out how long I’ve been trying to get in with mental health services up here, but I finally have an appointment tomorrow for a psych assessment. I’ll have to put it on my credit card, but then hopefully I can claim it back from WINZ as a special needs grant. This is both a relieving and terrifying way to end the week, which started on Sunday with me almost calling Lifeline (I ended up emailing them instead and haven’t had a reply, which I assume is indication of how underfunded they are, because they’re a mental health charity in New Zealand and the government doesn’t give a shit), poking my head up on Monday evening to wonder which gang rape everyone was talking about, avoiding Twitter for half the rest of the week, then getting a call on Tuesday to book this assessment. I have no idea how it’s going to go, despite having had psych assessments before, once for a service like this one and once after a suicide attempt.

I guess the trick is to present myself as urgent enough to bypass waiting lists but not urgent enough to need inpatient care. It’s funny, if you look for crisis mental health services, almost all the results tell you first off to call 111 and remove dangerous objects. Which, I mean, is good advice, but you get the idea looking at them that the only kind of mental health crisis the professionals acknowledge is a suicide (or homicide) attempt. I’ve heard dozens of stories about people who were turned away from urgent care because they said they weren’t going to kill themselves, whatever the reason for that (eg a solid promise to someone, deeply held religious beliefs, no effective way to do it and too much knowledge of what can go wrong if you don’t do it right). It’s similar in that sense, I guess, to my experience with Housing New Zealand.

Incidentally, on my contact course for Mana Māori, our kaiako told us a story about a class(?) she’d taken where they were discussing a kōrero tahito in which a character i whakamomori. The class was shocked – surely the preceding events hadn’t been bad enough to warrant suicide?! The speaker had to explain that whakamomori did not always mean committing suicide, but also, or perhaps rather or originally, to withdraw. These days we don’t have many options to withdraw. You have to be pretty independently wealthy, really, to be able to take time away from a job without having to justify it to the government, to have somewhere to retreat to, to supply yourself with food and whatever else you might need to sustain you. Anyone else gets hounded and harassed with demands to just get back to work and stop being lazy. You have to have appointments and meetings and assessments and run around collecting documents. It isn’t much of a withdrawal and it’s no wonder that so many people give up just because the hoops are too small or high to jump through and it’s easier to give in to the Protestant work ethic (tellingly typoed at first as worth) and keep dying a little inside. The first time I tried it it ended in a nervous breakdown. We’d do well to listen to other cultures sometimes.

“Presents well”

I managed to get to see my new doctor today, and he seems pretty good. When I asked about a referral to DHB mental health services he said that they don’t do as much in the area that would be helpful to me and instead wrote me a letter for Phobic Trust, but if that doesn’t work out we’ll try DHB instead. He also clarified some points in my medical history and checked how things were going at the moment.

The letter for PT describes me as “presently presenting well”, which apart from the duplication (which is actually even funnier – it came directly after “both anxiety and depression present,”) makes me laugh a bit because it’s so “duh!” for me. When you’ve had depression your whole life you learn to hide it. If I wasn’t capable of “presenting well”, I would not be sitting in a doctor’s office, particularly one I’d never met before. I wouldn’t have left the house. I’d probably be in bed, like I was for four days last week after the DHB told me I had to find $85 to see a GP and gave me a phone number in case I wanted to kill myself. It would be easier to kill myself than to call a hotline in that state. I probably don’t “present well”, over the phone, when I’m suicidal, but I wouldn’t know. Avoiding presenting badly is instinct now and I can’t find a way to turn it off.

Possibly the strangest experience of my life

Even though this happened this morning until about half an hour ago, I need to backtrack a little to tell it properly. Normally I do not remember my dreams. If I do, I wake disturbed, exhausted, sweaty, with the sheets in a tangled mess. In these situations it’s invariably been a nightmare. Yeah, only remembering nightmares kind of sucks, alright. But the night before last I had a dream that wasn’t a nightmare and remembered (most of) it. I commented on it on Twitter so some people will have the jist, but basically it was a tv show about an insomniac whose dreams tell the future. I wasn’t watching tv, I was watching the events, but I knew it was a tv show anyway. It was interesting because extreme insomnia (worse than mine, he sometimes didn’t sleep for days at a time) produces a lot of symptoms and he was in the mental health system. Distractable, forgetful, really flaky, and in the worst patches prone to the occasional waking hallucination (which did not tell the future, they were just your standard hallucination). And with good writers you could probably actually do something pretty interesting with that material. Also while he was a main character who’s a guy (boring) he was also a) not socially awkward or avoidant, just had a hard time holding down friendships because of aforementioned side effects of insomnia and b) not a jerk, which two points set him apart from at least idk 60-70% of male main characters on tv. (Incidentally he, of course, makes new friends in the first episode. They’re a het couple who live together but call each other bf/gf so don’t sound as serious as they are. They are Patrick and Laura. I got the feeling Patrick was a cop and Laura was some kind of teacher, but I’m not sure.)

Anyway, that’s not DIRECTLY relevant here, it’s just background and context. Last night shortly before midnight I took my anti-depressant as usual, but didn’t have my usual sedative, so instead I took 2mg of lorazepam. My dose is supposed to be 1mg, but that was set ages ago and I’m starting to build a tolerance. I’m trying to keep usage down, still usually take 1mg, but since I didn’t have any seroquel I decided to take 2. Not sure if that had any bearing on this morning.

See, I woke about quarter to five, with a desperate need to see what time it was. Didn’t remember any dreams. Normally when I wake I lie in bed quietly for quite a while but today I needed to know the time. My phone wasn’t under my pillow where it usually is. I remembered putting it in the pocket of a zip up hoodie and fumbled around until I found the right pocket and got it disentangled from my keys. It had gone flat, so then I went and took out the charging cord for my tablet and plugged the phone charger into the usb socket in its place. I had to wait a little before it would turn on, let alone start up. Bear in mind that next to me, within easy reach, I had a computer (asleep but on), the tablet I’d just unplugged (fully charged and on) and my 3DS (plugged in, on and asleep), all of which have time displays.

So eventually I manage to find out the time on my phone and settle down a little. For some reason I decide I need to check my mail, because last night I’d sent several messages to my sister explaining more about my dream (see above) and I seem to have written a lengthy paragraph to Sarah this morning that I do remember writing but it’s starting to fade a bit. What I do remember is tweeting, quite a lot. Looking at the door to figure out if it was open (it wasn’t), deciding it should be open, getting up to open it and the curtain. Going outside to check on my plants while it was still dark, using my tablet’s screen as a light, and deciding that I’ll need to tie one of my peas up because it’s growing in the wrong direction. And I remember that everything made sense at the time. Completely perfect sense.

Here’s a series of those tweets:
Continue reading

It’s a miracle!

A lot of people’s first introduction to science comes in kindergarten or the first couple of years of school, growing a bean in a little cup. To be honest I can’t actually remember whether I did that or whether I just feel like I did from reading about it so much. Later we had cacti but otherwise I’ve never been much of a gardener. Well, not for the growing part anyway – I love the harvesting. My parents’ place has or had a heap of plants that pretty much looked after themselves – a lemon tree for a little while (by the time my mother replaced her orange Vauxhall when I was nine or so it had already been replaced by two huge sunflowers), a cherry tree for longer, strawberries (now tomatos and parsley), the massive feral raspberry bush in the little bit of land behind the garage that now holds four big compost bins and the dug-over pit that was our long drop in 2011. And, of course, the two that have been a constant – the plum tree out the patio door and the grape vine that stretches along the back fence. I spent a lot of autumn afternoons after school sitting on the lawn, backpack abandoned next to me because I’d yet to even go inside, eating the darkest grapes off bunches until I was full. There was so many that we never really ran out of them and my mother would turn some into grape juice, put it in old ice cream containers and freeze it. Earlier in the year – usually around January, during the school holidays – the plums ripen, and for a while it was always my job to get up into the tree to shake the branches or pick them straight off and drop them into a plastic New World bag, because I was small and light. One day when I have a rental place I know I can stay in for a few years I’m going to get someone to send me some cuttings from the grape vine and see if I can find a young damson plum tree.

Which brings me to the point. Home gardening is getting popular. I guess for some people it’s trendy. For others it’s the economy. Some people just enjoy it. It was partly the second for me, and partly that several people on Twitter were talking about it and the weather’s been warming up the last couple of years (I don’t know how much of this glorious sunshine is from being further north and how much is climate change, but it’s fantastic). You can probably spend a ton on a garden with mini greenhouses and seed trays and different kinds of soil and mulches and fertilisers and all those tools. Or you can do what I did – get a few 6L tubs and some potting mix off trademe, get a friend to mail you some seeds and put it all together. Some of the little seeds probably got lost in the soil because it has bits of bark and pumice in it, not the fine-grain soil that plugs up the tiny cracks they can fall down, but I’m going by the theory that nature has managed to grow plants for a lot longer than people have.

I planted six different kinds of seed, though the cucumbers might not be any good. So far three have sprouted. The broccoli and mini lettuce look pretty much the same – a gangly thin stalk, two spring-green leafs coming off it at the top. I think they’re bigger today than they are two days ago when I first saw them, putting the buckets back to their spot after the storm blew itself out. The peas are in one of the planter boxes because I spotted the unused stakes. I had eight seeds and I planted two at the base of each. Now there are six tiny furled green things poking out of the dirt – a couple of them close enough to the surface, now, that you can see the white balls they’re attached to. One of them I found about a foot away, so I think it got washed out of its place at some point, and I’ve carefully put it back, but even if it survives I have more pea plants than stakes. When they’re bigger I’ll get to pick the four best ones to keep. For now though they’re tiny – like when you look at an ultrasound of an early pregnancy and you can sort of see this shape, and know how it’s going to turn out, but right now you’re not entirely sure how it’s going to get there. I mean, obviously I’m not making an equivalency between a baby and plants, but it’s still sort of cool, making little holes in the soil and tipping some seeds in, covering them back up, and then patiently checking on them every day, making sure they’ve got enough water, until a couple of weeks later suddenly there’s these tiny spots of green peeking out. And one day they’ll be actual plants. Much bigger than they are now. Looking pretty damn different. And you’ll be able to break off pieces and eat them.

Okay, so the metaphor breaks down a bit at the end. But it’s still pretty damn fantastic, growing things.

On friendship and giving back what you receive

This isn’t a problem I’ve had before: I have too many friends. The problem is that, being broken, I tend to like other people who are broken, who can relate to each other and not get impatient because they don’t understand why we can’t always do the things normal people can. Some breaks are bigger than others, of course, but most of us have cracks somewhere.

Just, when you put so many broken people together, someone’s probably always going to be having trouble. And this is the bit that really bothers me, because so often I want to do more to help than I know I can, and self-care means that sometimes I don’t even reply to tweets, which leads to feeling that I’m doing nothing for anyone. A few times I’ve felt like commenting on this but always it’s been soon enough after someone else’s hurt that it will look too much like a subtweet.

I’m not really looking for anything on this – mostly I’m procrastinating on finishing adding all my files to Zotero because jesus fuck why do I have so many and my back hurts from Daisy knocking me into the door. So now I’m going to eat free chocolate and maybe read for a while.

The All New, Best Ever, Famous Pancakes

Man, I love desserts. I expect a lot of people do. I don’t even see the point in a restaurant that doesn’t have a good dessert menu and I think there should be more restaurants that are just… all day dessert. Even aside from that, baking, awesome. You can probably tell from the bread and the scones and the ginger biscuits I have in the oven. And while the internet is FANTASTIC for that, I have some really strong opinions on the shit you can find.

Like, eggs. Why the hell do two different ingredients come in one container that you have to smash to get open and can’t close again? I’ve seen recipes that call for nine egg yolks, and no whites. What’s with that?? Sure, I could find a couple more recipes that only use whites, but what if I only want one dessert? Then there’s recipes that want half an egg. Half an egg. Again, these are not resealable bags here (and also eggs are really hard to split in half). Unless you’re specifically making a single serve mug cake, just double the damn recipe or gtfo with this half an egg crap.

While we’re on recipes, I have yet to see any recipe with only two ingredients. I’ve seen things that claimed to be recipes. But “a packet of muffin mix” and “lemonade” is not a recipe. That’s putting lemonade in your shitty prebought muffin mix. And while mixing golden syrup into vanilla ice cream is delicious, it’s also not a recipe. Even if you manage to find two actual ingredients that go together, it’s still not a recipe, it’s [x] and [y]. “Oh, what are you eating?” “Frozen banana and peanut butter.” Pretty much your only excuse for using a finished product in a recipe is if the recipe has several different parts, like an elaborate dessert that layers caramel, posset with chunks of meringue in it, panna cotta, sponge, and jelly. In that case you’re totally welcome to just buy the meringue and make the caramel by heating an unopened can of condensed milk, or you’ll be there forever. Otherwise all you’re doing is plating your food creatively.

I won’t have a moan about recipe names, just to shock you. To be fair, they are hard to name. I do think “all new”, “best ever” and “famous” are a bit overused, but I can’t talk about using names since our favourite chocolate cake is called Linda’s sticky chocolate cake. Do I have the faintest clue who Linda is? Hell no. Does she make a damn fine cake? Hell yes.

And now the smell of ginger is wafting through the house, meaning my biscuits are just about ready. Mmmmm biscuits.

Medical hypocrisy

I may have another post later, but for now, an article is going round about a doctor who refuses to prescribe birth control to his patients. There are two versions, one pretty well reported one in the Herald and another shorter one in Stuff’s Lifestyle section, because the decision to use a particular type of medicine is a lifestyle, not a decision about your health, financial means, employment situation, stability or emotional ability to commit to a child. There are some choice quotes from the doctor in both versions, such as how he won’t give the pill to women unless they are using it between pregnancies or have already had four children and thus realised their reproductive destiny. Instead he recommends the rhythm method, which is perfect because it’s got a huge failure rate, and does this for patients as young as sixteen. (He doesn’t prescribe condoms, either.) Legally, he has to instead refer patients to another doctor who will prescribe birth control, but the woman who brought this man to the media’s attention says that he was quite reluctant to do so and she had to stand up for herself pretty forcefully for him to give in.

There are a few facets to this. Firstly is the fact that doctors are authority figures that can be very difficult for people to argue with. Even grown ups who are pretty gutsy in other areas of their lives may be hesitant to stand their ground in a situation like this, especially considering the baggage society places on sex, especially for women. It’s pretty easy for someone to walk away from a doctor’s appointment feeling completely shamed, even if objectively they don’t believe the moral line the doctor’s been laying on them. (This is also a problem for LGBT, overweight patients, mental illness, etc.)

Secondly, this is different from a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription, which is something that is also pretty shitty. Doctors appointments cost money – it doesn’t cost you to walk into a pharmacy and hand over a prescription. If you live in a city (which not everyone does, and in both situations this might be the only doctor or pharmacist within reasonable transport distance), it’s a lot easier to try a different pharmacy than to try a different doctor. Just yesterday we were discussing the costs of GP visits, after another article was published about the increasing numbers of people going to emergency departments for things that a GP ought to be responsible for. My doctor in Christchurch charged me about $45 a visit, with a community services card. Some low cost services are more like $15, but the pressure placed on them by the huge need means that they’re stretched beyond capacity and some may have to close. There are doctor’s clinics that will charge more than $70 for someone who isn’t actually enrolled. The cost of health insurance premiums that cover GP visits might not be worth it even if you go regularly, like I do. A lot of people simply cannot afford to try different doctors until they find one who’ll give them the prescription, and while they may well ask the receptionist at the later clinics before bothering to make the appointment (though this can be fraught too if you’ve just been made to feel like a massive whore for daring to have sex with your fiance while not being in a place where you’re ready to start having kids), they probably won’t think of it the first time, because we like to assume that New Zealand is a pretty progressive country.

Finally, the thing that most baffles me is why birth control is so fucking special. Aren’t doctors there specifically to thwart god’s will in the first place? Presumably he treats other medical conditions, right? What if it’s someone’s destiny to have crippling arthritis or terrible acne or a life-threatening disease? Why is it okay to save lives, but not to prevent them? Particularly because if someone finds they can’t get birth control and so chooses not to have sex, and doesn’t slip or anything, that seems like more of a problem than birth control. Birth control fails. I know tons of people who were conceived through at least one form of birth control, including me. If god really wanted me to get pregnant, I’m pretty sure the fact that I’m not having PIV sex with a fertile cis male and haven’t done so in about eight years is a hell of a lot more of a problem than the fact that I take birth control pills to avoid dealing with periods.

What wild, spurious accusations

As an initial hilariously awful note, I realised I should find out who my local MP is now. It used to be Ruth Dyson, who votes the right way on things and also turned out to be unexpectedly awesome when I started following her Twitter, but now I’m on the northern edge of the Ōhariu electorate – that’s right, Peter Dunne. Peter Dunne is actually, seriously my local MP. I’m really not quite sure what to do with this knowledge.

My main point, though, is that if you’re going to argue with someone, you should probably know something about them before you start making personal attacks. Like, you should probably know whether they struggle with disability, live on well below the minimum wage and have a lengthy history of involvement with community organisations before you say that they’ll never be as qualified as Paula Bennett because they don’t work hard enough, got all their knowledge out of a book and have no real life experience. For example. Relatedly, I spent half of this morning practically crying with laughter as Tau Henare flailed madly attempting to make an insult stick.

Now, sure, I’m not that badly off. I have safety nets and I know how to navigate bureaucracy, though whether I have the energy to is another matter. I grew up in a stable household, went to good schools and got a pretty good secondary education, which are things that are not accessible to everyone, and I’m extremely lucky in that regard. But when I was a wet behind the ears middle class eighteen year old, my higher education goals were Classical Studies and English, not Māori Studies and Social Policy. I imagine very few well off people with no life experience choose social policy as a field (backed up by conversations with classmates on the forums and contact courses), so if I were to try to insult someone who I know studies it, that would really not be my first choice. Mind you, “do-gooder” and “you read books” aren’t exactly my top choices in insult either, so clearly I’m already coming at this from a different place than Tau.

It says something, though, that an MP for the governing party thinks like this. Not only is he willing to get into an argument that involves personal attacks against members of the public, the attacks themselves are very, very revealing. If you think education and wanting to do good are bad things, what does that say about what you think is good? If you have to ask people how something affects them to understand why they don’t like it, how much does it reveal about your own priorities? Shouldn’t the government be concerned about how policy affects everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, and shouldn’t they educate themselves about the ramifications? It’s not even as though they’d have to do much work – there are private citizens and interest groups putting in incredibly detailed submissions about these bills that explain exactly what negative impact it could have. But over the last couple of years there have been numerous bills passed that have had overwhelming opposition at the select committee stage, including some that have had well over 99% of submissions opposed, at least one where the only submission in favour was from the Police, and currently the GCSB bill which is strongly opposed even by the Human Rights Commission.

Bring on the budget

Well, I’ve been doing this complete financial independence thing for a few weeks now and it’s going pretty well – halfway through the week I still have $80 in my main account because I haven’t had to buy much in the way of groceries yet. (And, tbh, I haven’t left the house for a couple of days due to the rain.) Some of that I’ll want to put onto my credit card though, which I used on Monday to pay the service fee for my broken computer, thanks dogs.

Some things I’ve already discovered which none of the budgeting sites ever hinted at:

- My breadmaker? Probably the best investment I’ve made. The price of ingredients per loaf is miniscule, I can make fancy flavours of bread without paying a premium, and I’m excited about eating it, with or without spreads. Mostly without, though I did pick up some honey.
- Porridge is basically the perfect breakfast. It’s filling and warm and really, really cheap.
- Milk, not so cheap. I used to drink it all the time, now it’s basically restricted to an ingredient in my favourite bread and poured on my porridge in the morning. Fuck milk, man. Things to drink, I’ve found, is actually a bit of a sticking point, though I’d noticed this well before I moved. There’s very little that’s both cheap and healthy except for tap water. The cheapest thing is fizzy or powder cordial (especially since growing up we mixed it with twice the recommended amount of water), the healthiest is probably either milk or the really good juices, or possibly drinking yoghurt. Really, while we have a huge range of decent food, there isn’t as much of a choice in drinks. Probably no wonder that coffee is so popular, though I can’t stand it personally.
- Wellington’s public transport is shit expensive. I mean, part of that is because it’s crammed into whatever little valleys and hilltops it can so there are some long distances that Christchurch just doesn’t have to deal with, but only part of it. I’ve only seen one mention of transfer tickets that specified it HAD to be used for literal transfers – the ticket would only apply to the next bus you could catch, rather than the two hours Christchurch buses give you. To be able to travel on any public transport at the cardholder price, I’d need three different cards – Snapper for the really central buses, one for TranzMetro, and one for the Mana/Newlands buses that I take to go to J-ville or Porirua. There’s no daily or weekly fare limit – in Christchurch you only ever have to spend two fares in a day and five days of that in a week – a single fare on Metrocard is $2.30 (the long distances metro buses out to Rangiora etc are $3.30), so that’s a weekly limit of $23. Anything past that is free. I could easily spend $23 by going to the zoo twice in Wellington! So, it’s a REALLY good thing that there’s a decent supermarket at the bottom of the hill, well within walking distance, and I don’t have to add bus fares onto my grocery trips. Especially since I can only buy in any trip what I’m able to carry up the hill afterwards.