The worst day of my life

(This is a post I wrote years ago but never published. There’s so much talk about anxiety recently, that I thought I’d publish it)

It was one of the most painful experiences of my life but I remember that I didn’t scream. I was in too much pain to waste energy screaming. My face was contorted with pain and confusion. And I was listening for a snap, because my arms and legs were doing their best to break their own bones, bending into crazy angles totally out of my control. And the pain was unbearable.

Many years have passed since that night and there have been quite a few contenders for “Worst day of my life” but its right up there at the top of the list. I’d been sick for about a year. I had an extreme case of Social Anxiety. I had to stop working. I hardly left the house. I couldn’t use public transport. Interactions with most people was excruciating.  I was attending a Mental Health Clinic, and the doctors I saw, were unfortunately awful; terribly misinformed and part of a very flawed mental health system.

I was never properly diagnosed. They were just chucking all kinds of pills at me. Each dose of medication had a zero positive effect and many terrible side effects. Some were almost worse than the illness they were supposed to fix. One cursed me with blurred vision, stripping me of books, drawing, or TV, leaving me with little to distract me from my anxious thoughts.

Another pill counteracted the blurred vision but in turn made me restless. I say restless, like a say vinegar on an open wound is a little bit sore. It was a sickening restlessness. When you sat you had to stand and when you stood you had to walk and when you walked you wanted to sit again and when you sat again you’d just rock back and forth. You’ve seen it haven’t you? Well they’re not crazy people. They’ve just been given crazy medication. Update: I’ve just looked this up, and it has a name: Akathisia.

Next on the list was an injection to counteract the Akasthisia. But this one had a side-effect too. They don’t tell you that though. They don’t want to scare you. As it’s really bad and only happens to rare individuals.  So back to the attic…

My hand was the first to go, it started to bend forward at the wrist and I couldn’t get it back, then my whole arm twisted backward. My other arm had gone around my back and was doing its best to break. All my limbs started twisting and contorting. I had to use all my strength to stop my limbs from breaking themselves. It all happened so quickly. I’d collapsed onto the bed in a fight with myself, suddenly in a terrible horror movie.

After the initial shock, I dragged myself off the bed and somehow got down two flights of stairs, which isn’t easy when you’re busy trying to break all your major bones. I’d got to the phone and managed to dial 999 somehow but by the time someone answered I was just on the floor screaming with the phone dangling on its cord and I couldn’t manage to ask for an ambulance. The operator eventually hung up.

After maybe ten minutes it began to ease up. One of my brothers arrived home. I told him what had happened. He didn’t get it. And just looked at me as if I’d two heads.

I went back up to the attic to gather myself. Then my hand started twisting again. I shouted down the stairs ITS STARTING AGAIN. He ran up the stairs and when he saw me writhing around the floor doing my impression of Christie Brown going through an Exorcism, his jaw dropped and he turned white .

Our GP arrived very quickly. I was never happier to see a large syringe come out of a bag. Whatever he gave me stopped the side effect straight away. The next day, my medication was changed again. A month later, I voluntarily stopped all medication, and stopped attending the mental health clinic. Instead I started a very slow and long journey of accepting my condition and learning to cope with it. This acceptance led to a level of confidence that was enough to start my first job since I got sick, in a phone printing factory. My confidence grew, I got better jobs, I got on with the rest of my life. Social Phobia never fully went away, it just grew more manageable.  End of story.

Update: I’ve been looking this up again. And I’m pretty sure the medication was Mellaril. An extreme medication for Schizophrenia known to cause an “Acute Dystonic Reaction” which is what’s described above. NB: I had zero symptoms of Schizophrenia. I had a classic case of extreme Social Anxiety. Such was the state of mental health care in Ireland 20 years ago.

The truth about tattoo removal

So you’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo removed for a while now. Google has brought you to youtube where you’ve ended up watching lots of cool videos of tattoos getting zapped by laser. Viola! All gone! That looks easy!

Although a picture can speak a thousand words, and a video can speak a million, the thing with words is: they can tell you about the stuff that you don’t see on videos which can be very deceptive. Here are those words.

1. A lot of the tattoo removal videos are done in laser clinics in the US where it’s more prominent to use some form of anaesthetic. But they don’t usually bother with that. Not in Ireland, and not in my experience. You just have to bear the pain like you did when you had the damn thing done. And it’s just as sore, maybe more so. Though it was only after I had a new laser technician that I discovered the first one was a sadist, and it’s not so painful when you a more caring technician who occasionally pauses the LASER THAT’S BURNING YOUR SKIN OFF.

2. These videos make it look like you have one session and that’s it, your tattoo is gone forever. And that is even more deceptive.
– It takes many many sessions to remove, at least a dozen depending on tattoo.
– The first session is the most effective and most noticeable reduction. Subsequent sessions may have ZERO visible effect. I had several in a row where there was no reduction.
– When you see a tattoo magically vanishing in a video, what you don’t realize is what you’re really looking at is a skin coloured blister. When your skin calms down, the tattoo re-emerges almost as strong as it was.

I’ve been going every 6 weeks for a year and a half now, and recently my mum pointed at my (slightly faded) tattoo and said “I thought you were going to have that removed?” oblivious to the fact that I have just finished my full course of my tattoo removal. In fact, I had to have many more sessions than I was told would be necessary.

It was maybe 14 or 15 sessions in all. I stopped counting. And the final result is that the outlines are mostly gone. Pretty much failed at removing any of the fill colour. I have to make an appointment for another round of sesssions with a different laser clinic, who have a machine that might do better at removing the fill colour. Which will obviously cost more.

So – the moral of the story is: be prepared for a much longer haul than those videos suggest.

Here’s the most recent one that I’ve seen:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/i14CDCBflc0

My story:

There’s nothing quite like a very bad tattoo to remind you just how stupid you were when you were younger. I wonder just how many stupid acts I’ve been able to forget over the years. But there’s no forgetting this one. Only excuse I can give my self for such a stupid tattoo is that I was way under age (no one in the tattoo shop batted an eyelid though). I didn’t want to just pick a tattoo out of a catalogue, I wanted something different and for some bizarre reason, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to have a tattoo of an Adidas logo with my name instead of Adidas. Would love to go back in a time machine and ask myself what the hell I was thinking.

I’ve wanted to have it removed for years now. I’m forever pulling my t-shirt sleeves over the stupid thing which might as well read “Yes, I am an utter moron”.

So I finally scrape together a few quid and make an appointment and a year and a half later, after a lot of sessions, a lot of which had no effect, I just have a more faded tattoo.

Here are some photos taken just after some of the laser sessions.

Before any treatment

Half hour after first session. Some of the lines are faded:

After third session

After Fourth session

Insert 4 sessions here that had such little effect, that I didn’t bother taking any photos.

Directly after 8th session

After 9th session.

And here it is today. After a total of maybe 14 or 15 sessions:

Here’s before and after

I’ll write an update in a few years when it’s gone altogether!

Quincy M.E. and Cameron Diaz doing the La Bamba

Pun intended : you may or may not remember that I have a particular interest in memory. If you read this post you can see why my interest would be piqued by a review of a book called “Moonwalking with Einstein – the Art and Science of Memory“, as it’s a very similar story to mine; someone with an average memory (or in my case, a terrible memory) discovers amazingly effective memory techniques, then spends a year memorizing all kinds of obscure things with ease, but ultimately, realises he still can’t remember where he left his car keys, or his car! and also realises that even though these techniques are very handy for some things, it’s still far easier to write down shopping lists and stick people’s numbers in your phone. The one big difference with my story and this is that I didn’t end up entering a national memory competition.

Joshua Foer is a journalist who began writing an article about the U.S Memory Championships, and then a year later gave as good as the other memory masters. “Moonwalking with Einstein” is bookended by those two events; his attendance at the 2005 U.S Memory Championship, and his entry into the 2006 event. What you get between the book ends is a fascinating exploration of the science, art, and history of memory, mnemonics and memory techniques.

When I first heard of the book, I thought it may only be for people like me who have an interest in mnemonics but it’s selling by the truckload and getting great reviews everywhere. The title “Moonwalking with Einstein” is a reference to the kind of mental image that’s all too familiar to anyone who uses these techniques. When the missus asks me for one of my numerous pin numbers, or the WiFi code, or similar, I say something like, “let’s see that’s a bear on a bike trying to eat a cat in a shell…. that’s 94977165.” So I found reading about someone else’s experience with all this stuff a fantastic read. Though everyone else seems to be enjoying it just as much.

– – –

And from a different angle, but wholly related, about a month ago I came across a website called Memrise. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, rather than the usual quick tweet when I come across a site I like. Memrise is a really well thought-out site designed to help your learn, or rather, memorize the vocabulary of various languages. I’ve been on beginners Spanish for the last month. I’ve been on/off trying to learn Spanish for years.

Memrise is by far the best tool language tool I’ve ever used. There’s the usual stuff: english / spanish phrases, with audio snippets. But every phrase has a mnemonic suggestion, a mem. It’s crowd sourced too, so you can add your own mem. For example a Fortnight in Spanish is Los quince Dias. My mem for this is: “Picture a fort at night, and on top, Los lobos have Quincy M.E. and Cameron Dias dancing to La Bamba.” How much easier is that to remember than repeating the phrase over and over and hoping it sticks? I’ll never forget that image, another phrase memorised with ease. And at it’s most basic, that’s all the memory champions do, and to some degree Savants too. And Memrise utilises the technique quite well, you don’t even have to come up with your own mental images.

What other language courses fail to do is give you the tools to learn. It’s a bit like buying a wardrobe from Ikea but they don’t give you the tools to build it. Memrise supply the phrases, and the tools to memorise them. By the way, I swear I have absolutely nothing to do with the site, I’m just very impressed by it. Oh and it’s also free. Completely free, as in no ads either. It also works quite well on an iPad. It’s as good as an app, without having to install an app.

The site also uses gamification pretty well too, something else I have a passing interest in that’s growing in popularity. Memrise gamifies language learning by daily quizzing you on your phrases. You get points for every correct answer, and creep up the league table. It becomes quite addictive, like in any game, always wanting to improve your high score and go higher in the league.

They also employ the metaphor of a memory garden, which works quite well. You have to plant seeds (new words), and harvest plants (add them to the quizzes), tend to your garden (practise new words) and water your wilting plants (practice old words). I guess it’s a bit like Farmville, except, instead of annoying everyone else on Facebook, you learn a new language. I’m just so impressed by the level of thought and execution that has gone into this site, without any profit in mind.

– – –

And the thing that ties in “Moonwalking with Einstein” with Memrise is that over the course of the book, there are a few characters who coach Foer in his memory techniques, members of the K7 memory masters, whose initiation is memorizing a deck of cards in a minute, drinking two beers and kissing the knees of three women. Or variations thereof. And it is these two guys Ed Cooke, and Ben Whately who have setup memrise. So I feel like i’ve been surrounded by these guys for the last few weeks.

So there you go if you’ve any interest in memory or learning new language, there’s a 5 star book and a 5 star web site.

p.s. I was discussing this with a colleague, very recently, who happens to speak Spanish fluently, and he asked me “why don’t you just remember Los quince Dias, instead of dancing on forts and shit?” and I guess some people can, but he’s just reinforcing my idea that a lot of people make the terrible assumption that everyone else learns, and thinks, and remembers exactly like them.

 

Different folks, different strokes

The response to Facebook updates always reminds me of some topics that I get to thinking about now and then:

  1. Different people learn new things, and adapt to new things, in very different ways.
  2. People are as different to each other on the inside as they are on the outside.

In technology upgrades, two types of people always surface; those who embrace change, and those who resist it and want to stay in their comfort zone. Two valid responses. Two different personas.*

Though there’s also a third type that’s easy to miss. People who couldn’t really give a shit one way or the other.

Years ago, part of a job I had, was to try and make everyone else’s job easier.  You know, automating tasks and tweaking processes. But when I sent out updates, there was always a few groaners. And I found that really surprising at first. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would groan about something designed with the sole purpose of making their life much easier.

Again it all came down to learning something new and implementing change. Even though the learning something new was “Just click this, instead of 5 minutes doing that” and implementing the change took just a moment. Some people are naturally inclined to resist change, regardless of the reward. That’s mother nature fucking with your head. As she does in many ways.

I also discovered, that if I researched various methods of carrying out a task, and found one method infinitely easier than the others, there would still be people who preferred another method entirely.

And therein is my point. And I think it’s a big one. I think it’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in the last decade. People are very different to each other. More different than many people allow for regardless of the well known idiom in the title of this post. That’s the problem.

There’s as much, if not, much more difference between you and me in how we think than how we look. The way you think, learn, work, interact, enjoy, hate, feel about something is quite different to other people. Your brain took a completely different path to arrive at you being you.

Keep that in mind, either with colleagues, family, or friends, and some shit will be easier … either for you or whoever you’re interacting with. Life lesson 101 over and out.

*some updates are just shit, regardless of your persona – because of design by committee, or a lack of basic UI Design principles, aka common sense, or again not recognizing different personas – but that’s a different debate. I’m neither arguing for or against the latest Facebook update

Please don’t say you drive a Morris Minor

morris minor 1

On census day PLEASE don’t say you drive a Morris Minor unless you really do. Because then you’re forcing the rest of us into Morris Minors whether we like it or not. And a lot of us really don’t want to be forced into buying a Morris Minor just because most of the country SAY that’s what they drive. In reality most of them don’t drive at all any more, and really only take the odd lift in a Morris Minor at weddings, and funerals.

“On the question of religion the enumerators have been instructed to guide people to fill in the form to reflect their background rather than their current position. How does this help us plan for Ireland’s future?”

“I’ll use an analogy: imagine a survey on car ownership. The question “Do you have a car?” is not asked; the survey goes straight to “What type of car do you have?” And then, someone who has no car is encouraged to say they have a Morris Minor because, way back, it was the traditional family car. What use would this information be?”

BRIAN WHITESIDE – Think carefully before answering census question on religion

Fish spotting

Lunch time. Full tide at Clontarf bay. Spotted lots of fish; large Roach right in against the wall swimming in couples and threesomes. Busy shoals of silvery fry trying to stay away from the Roach, and even some jumpers farther out clearing a few feet out of the water and making a big splash like something from an old irish coin.

I can’t quite remember which came first. Being obssessive about trying to spot wild fish whenever I’m near water. Or those weird recurring dreams where I’m obssessively trying to spot wild fish whenever I’m near water.

I honestly can’t remember whether some memories, like spotting a big carp in the Liffey, are actual memories or just memories of dreams. But spotting fish is a bit of an odd experience these days; I have so many strange dreams about fish-spotting that when it actually happens for real, like at lunchtime, I feel a little dizzy, as if I’m half transported back to dreamland for a few seconds and have to look away from the water to get head back to reality. But I never can tear myself away, and have to wait for the fish to swim away before I come back to reality.

Yes – definitely one to be filed under waffle.

The Dimiyagi code

Degas trotted off to the ballet school once more. He’d sketched the dancers hundreds of times now. And crafted many paintings. But to say he was infatuated with the dancers was a façade of sorts. It was the dance teacher who intrigued him most. He didn’t know anyone quite like him. He was not from Paris that was clear, but he didn’t even seem from this time. Though that thought might have been suggested by the tall tales that he would tease Degas with. That he was a man who traveled through time and place to teach his ways. That he was a man who traveled from country to country and from one century to another. He traveled from when and where so he could treat lucky individuals to his unique teaching style.

And his teaching style was unique. He often took the dancers on strange trips to perform bizarre chores for days on end. They would never question his methods and would spend days carrying out these strange tasks before returning to the dance class. Degas would humour the teacher always asking for more stories of his past, and he almost believed him, the detail of the stories wove a convincing tale.

Most intriguing of all was that the teacher said he never taught the same subject twice. And never lived in the same country twice. And never lived in the same time period twice. In 1924, he taught bullfighters in Spain. From 2040 to 2042, in Peru, he taught robots to play football better than humans. Of these tall tales Degas had a favourite; of the America boy the teacher thought to fight. Degas asked the teacher to tell that story again. And smiled as he heard it once more.

It was later that day that Degas painted one of his masterpieces, La classe de danse. The dancing class. This time he made sure to include their very special time travelling teacher. Mr Miyagi. Wax on, Wax off Daniel San.

Mi padre está muerto

If the sun on my face wasn’t good enough reason to be sprightly, having an appointment, some business to attend to, while hurriedly strolling down a dusty backstreet in Spain, felt quite good. You could almost imagine I lived there in Sitges, hastily checking my watch as 9am approached. That is, if it weren’t for my pasty skin buttered in factor fifty, and the plasters on my ankles where my new sandals chaffed.

We’d decided it’d be a good idea to take Spanish lessons for one week at the start of the holiday. A week in Sitges then up the coast to Barcelona by train for the weekend of Sonar. I’d never learned a language. Unless you count nine school years of Irish and three years of French. But that didn’t count. Then I didn’t want to learn, and now I found I couldn’t learn.

Two idioms merged to become truisms. One involves old dogs and new tricks. And the other, a slightly lesser known fact; it’s much harder to learn a new language if you haven’t already learned a language in your younger years. So trying to teach an old dog a new language is quite the battle.

The first thing I learned in Spanish class was that I was the only person in the dunces’ class, the absolute beginner’s class (the missus just needed some brushing up, and took the expert’s class). The next lesson I learned quite quickly too; they don’t speak English in Spanish school. I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. And my teacher wouldn’t speak a word of English. Well, I had the holster of usual phrases but that was it, so this impasse was a major inconvenience. It was though they never actually expected an absolute beginners in the absolute beginner’s class. Not really. Surely everyone would have some basic Spanish at least? It was a very slow start. I stared at her blankly as she made funny sounds and gesticulated. It was like a game of charades but even if I’d know what she was mimicking, the answer in my head would merely be in English.

A phrase I learned quite early, and one that has stuck with me since is “no entiendo” (don’t understand!). I used this phrase many many times that week. It was my deflated sigh of defeat. Uttered with the familiarity of an aging Señor with long white whiskers. But despite being on holiday I worked hard, and did my homework, and made some progress. On the last day we were ending on an exercise that was going quite well, though still quite basic in form. I had to describe my father in short phrases.

While elsewhere in the same building, the missus discussed Spanish politics and perfected her imperfect tenses, I sat there like the village idiot and pronounced : Mi padre es feliz (My father is happy). Then scraped the barrel of my soggy memory for some more words I could use, true or not.

“Mi padre es gordo”
“Mi padre es inteligente”
“Mi padre es pequeño”

Just as I was beginning to run out of adjectives my mobile rang. It was my mum. “Madre” I said apologetically, eyes going up to heaven, then gesturing more seriously to indicate I should probably take the call. I found my next adjective in the call, but hadn’t yet learned its Spanish equivelant. I ended the call and finished the exercise in English.

“My father is dead.”

A legend dies

Derek “Crosaire” Crozier died over the weekend. I made sure to get a paper yesterday and was determined to finish it but alas I didn’t quite make it.

No other crossword comes close to the elegance of the Crosaire. But I stopped doing it a couple of years ago. I couldn’t justify paying 1.80 every day when I just went straight to the Crosaire, and often didn’t look at the rest of the paper. Except for some interest in the art page, the rest of that paper just puts me asleep.

It was such a ritual part of my morning, an OCD ritual; I had that fold down to a tee, black bic at hand (had to be black), all answers in upper case, and a diagonal tick over the number of every solved clue. Doing the online version just didn’t do it for me somehow.

Elsewhere:

My attempt from yesterday
crosaire

Hooked on audiobooks

I’ve been meaning to check out audiobooks for years and now I’m hooked, obsessed even. I got a nice birthday present of an ipod nano and some itunes vouchers on a recent birthday, so I bought an audiobook instead of music. The convenience of it is fantastic, I’m flying through books much faster than I would have been able to with paper just because it’s hard to get the time (and the silence) to sit down with a book. But with a little ipod I can appreciate a good book cleaning the kitchen, out for a walk, or pottering around the house doing bits and pieces, or even minding the rugrats.

My attention wavers very easily though. Even with a regular book I could quite easily read two pages before realising I wasn’t even listening to myself. Always reminds me of that Laurel and Hardy scene:

Laurel and Hardy “Beau Hunks”

Stan: reads a long letter to Ollie;
Ollie: sighs and looks sad

Stan: What’s the matter Ollie?
Ollie: Didn’t you read it to me!?
Stan: Yeah but I wasn’t listening.

I’ve had much more of a tendency to drift off while listening to a book and doing chores, or out and about, so there was lots of rewinding.

And I fell asleep listening to it every night too. I’ve read myself to sleep for as long as I can remember so an audiobook on a nano is great. No longer do I have to get up and turn the light off when the book hits the ground. And if I’m not falling asleep listening to a book, I’m listening to a podcast. Yes I’m very late to the world of Pod and I’m a total convert!

Sometimes lately I feel like my life is just fleeting away before my eyes. Not getting much done, or at least not much that’s fulfilling,  plonking myself in front of the tv more often than I’d like. Never dreamed I’d be an Apple fanboy but it’s given me a new  lease of life.

So, onto the books. For my first audiobook I asked for recommendations on Facebook and bought the one that was mentioned twice. But then I got the next few straight away and ploughed through them too.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Didn’t really enjoy this first one unfortunately. I just couldn’t relate to it and didn’t care about any of the characters. I didn’t find much of it entertaining. I really should have gone with my gut because I saw Bolaño compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Garcia’s 100 0f years of solitude is the only novel I decided not to finish. Both of them are Spanish-to-English translations featuring more characters than my brain can process. I had to keep referring to Wikipedia’s list of characters. I get the feeling I just didn’t get it (Savage Detectives), maybe the joke of treating a bunch of poets as if they were the Mexican Mafiosa was supposed to be more entertaining than I found it.

Most of the reviews on Amazon are 5 stars but this one struck a chord with me:

The Savage Detectives, I agree with several recent reviewers, lapses into spectacular and permanent tedium less than half-way through. Bolano has never lost me, until this book. When I reached page 400, knowing there were still a couple hundred pages left, I experienced something akin, I think, to torture.

Life’s too short for just ploughing on with it but I was curious if it would all come together at the end, and it cost 26 fucking euros. So I stuck with it.

The book was narrated by different male actors, who put on appropriate accents and personalities for each of the characters. One outcome of this, with so many characters, is that it can be hard to tell what sex the character is suppsoed to be.  At one point I read of a long love affair between two guys. Then, only towards the end, one of them pronounced to have her period. Doh!

I didn’t really expect the acting you hear in an audiobook. It’s a restrained form of acting. Somewhere between straight narration and a radio play but it does enhance the experience when done well.

The Road

Next on the list was The Road.  I deliberately wanted something a bit more mainstream and  Iliked the sound of The Road. Sounded nice and dark. And it’s impossible to avoid hearing little pieces about it, and a lot of little pieces add up to a big spoiler. Tom Dunne and his guest’s are the biggest offenders. And you don’t need to hear any more about it from me, but  I really enjoyed it. Was 1/4 the length of the previous book too yet was 4 tiems more entertaining.

Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard book

This was apparently awarded audiobook of the year at some ceremony. All the reviews I read were glowing. But not one of them mentioned that it’s a children’s book! With some things I’m still a big kid but not really books. I need something a bit more. It was entertaining, amusing and very well read by Gaiman himself. So, entertaining enough  but still a children’s book and not really in a  way, I thought, that was universal to all ages, like The Curious Incident. So, back to the big boy’s stuff.

George Pelenecanos – The Way Home

Chris Flynn, a runaway Wigga on the right side of the tracks battles against the sobering onset of maturity.  Written by one of  The Wire writers, and narrated by one of The Wire actors (who plays a minor role thiugh). It’s similar in content; really good characters and a good story wrapped around social commentary. In fact I found some of the social commentary, mostly with regards to the treatment of young offenders, a bit forced onto the characters. Similar to how you might contradict dialogue in a movie for explaining a plot. But only a little bit. I mostly really enjoyed The Way Home;  and will buy Pelecanos again.

Next

I’ve wanted to try some nonfiction audio but some reviews I read, of Steve Pinker for example, is that it’s not really suitable as an audiobook. But I got something lighthearted. Notes from a small Island by Bill Bryson, who I love.  I’ve justbought that, and that’s my itunes voucher gone now with the help of Gorillaz latest album. So I’ve  joined Audible. Have these in my listening list:

Juliet, Naked (Unabridged)
Nick Hornby Slam (Unabridged)
Slam (Unabridged)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Unabridged)

The Time Traveler's Wife (Unabridged)

It's Only a Movie (Unabridged)

Any recommendations?