This, too, shall pass

A friend told me that when her baby was born, her husband went into a serious bout of depression. He was unemployed. Depression had happened, on and off, before in his life; but this occasion, especially, the bottom-pit was sustained. The baby was unsettled, life felt... uprooted.

Eventually he'd gone to see their GP and said that whilst he doesn't plan suicide as such, he does wonder sometimes what it would feel like to throw himself in front of a truck. The GP organised a psychologist's appointment for that very same day and said that 'ideation' - thinking about it - is the very last step before 'planning' it. So, yeah, it was very good he'd finally come to see a GP! And whilst it really would've been better if he'd come earlier :), this was good. They could do something about it.

The friend is better now. Her husband is better. Their kids are grown.

I remembered this story when, a few months ago, I was walking to school in the morning through drizzle and darkness and thinking, man, I wish I could get a few months off somehow. I remembered that our family had bought life insurance and trauma insurance for the next 15 years. (Trauma insurance, in a nutshell, is like a halfway between health insurance and life insurance: if any of us get diagnosed with some serious, debilitating disease like cancer or stroke or whatever, then we get a payout of about 2 times our annual income which would, in theory, help us cope with the situation whilst we need to take time off work to care for the kids and the ill one.)

I was walking and thinking, what if I got diagnosed with something that's serious enough to warrant a payout, but not immediately debilitating? Basically, something that would give me an excuse to say, sorry, guys, but I need to go off and live for myself for a little now. Maybe go backpacking for a couple of months, whilst I still have health, before having to come back and deal with treatment or whatever. It's not that I wanted to be ill - I was just trying to picture scenarios that would allow me to go away for a couple of months. (And, no, I don't plan on insurance fraud. It's not really my kind of soup to get into.)

When I caught myself picturing that scenario in my head, I thought to myself with a grin: Maria, that's not good. 

And to be fair, it probably was one of the hardest times of this year. My daughter had been ill for several weeks, getting up between 4:30-5:30 each morning with a hacking cough. She still hadn't started school, so I was driving kids to different places of childcare at 7:20 each school morning. My own school assignments had started piling up. Weather was windy and rainy, and as we don't own a clothes-drier, I was routinely hanging up washing at 6:40 am and planning my dies around when and how I'm going to get the clothes clean. My husband lost his job. A washing machine broke down. I had low iron and had just started another treatment to try to get iron levels up into normal range. Just... stuff building up.

I went for a long walk with a friend and whilst I did note that I could not think of anything to drop from my days, it did feel good to just accept that I was in a bit of a trouble for the moment.

***

Within a few weeks, things were better. My iron levels were higher, the treatment was working. Washing machine was repaired. My husband had started another job. The autumn winds retreated. My daughter started school, making morning dropoff into a single act of taking kids to daycare, in a bicycle trailer no less! Some days I would not even touch the car.

And this is how it always goes. 'This, too, shall pass.' Whatever the occasion, whether it's a tough autumn, or a 3-year quantity surveying study, or walking up a hill towards Gillespie pass, or a baby who does not sleep - eventually, it will, always, pass.

***

Photo from yesterday:

About to go drop toys off at the toy library. 'Horacio' the horse didn't fit in the storage pocket, so he'll have to hang out like that. Sorta works like a bike flag, IMO. By the way: yes, the kids still fit in the trailer. Both. It's a bit tight, like sardines, but they fit. (If anything, it kinda keeps them from annoying each other physically, because once they're in, they can't move much in there :).)

The life of a student

There comes a point in the evening when I am (attempting) to proof-read my assignment and I cannot decide, when I've written "Maintaining faces" in an underpinning section, is "faces" the correct spelling?

Or is that how "faeces" (=poop) is spelled?

Faces. Faeces. I look at the words, unable to decide, and then realise:

Maria, go home. You are tired, that's what you are. At a point where you cannot decide how to spell "faces", it's time to go home.

So I go home.


Smell of fresh bread in the morning

We bought a breadmaker. Aside from waking up to the smell of fresh bread in the morning, there is now this: when the bread comes out of the machine with the spinning blade still attached to the bottom, my husband calls out, "It's a boy!" When the bread has a hole in the bottom (left by the spinning blade that's detached), he calls, "It's a girl!"

Yes, honey, I can see that fresh bread is making quite an impact of your life ;)

Butter

Ha! My 8-year-old has figured out the good stuff :).

8: "Can I have a marmite toast, please?"
Me: "Okay."
8: "Just a little bit of marmite. Lots of butter!"
Me (grinning): "Okay."

Angry

I stood up from the computer last night and muttered, "Fuckin' money."

I then stopped in the middle of the room and said to my husband, "Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world. United States is..." I trailed into an exasperated sigh.

14 million. 14 FUCKIN' MILLION!!!

Yemen's population is 29 million people and about 14 million are on the brink of death - due to starvation. Almost 100,000 (!!!) children under the age of 5 have already starved to death.

I don't care why a country goes to war, because the moment you start intentionally bombing water networks (oh, hello Saudi-coalition airstrikes!) to wreck as much havoc on civilians as possible (5,000 cholera cases every day!), you have nothing to do with governance, diplomacy or international relations.

What you are instead is conscience-lacking, sociopath, hypocritical evilness pickled into a monstrocity jar. I don't care if your ceiling is made of gold and your clothes come from Armani. You are evil.

Peace out.

PS. Why do I read up on world events? Honestly, I don't know. It's easier not to.

However, I'm also at a point in my life where I feel that, actually, ease is not a valid argument for obstaining. The same way that not voting is not being 'apolitical' - what it is, is letting other people make the decisions instead.

Discomfort urges me to make changes to my own way of living. Yes, seeing photos of toddlers who are on the brink of death (and will likely never have good health again due to these stresses) leaves me traumatised, just as seeing seagulls whose guts are so full of plastic that they, literally, cannot eat - but it also means that I am more likely to not be complicit.

PPS. I look at the human evolution and it reminds me of a beech mast year. A plethora of seeds fall on the ground, pest population peaks at incredible numbers and then - collapse. Boom!

This is not sustainable.

Svalbard

Some places will forever stay with me. Svalbard is one of them.


This week I learned that Kaisa Rebane, an Estonian blogger I've followed for a while, has landed in Svalbard to start working as a sled dog guide & handler. I just about squealed when I read that. "OMG! What kennel?! Who with?!" I wrote to her and she replied back, not quite the same team I worked with, but close. She's down in the valley, I used to drive past the kennel she works at now.

I went to bed, buzzing with the energy of feeling excited for her, remembering the life changing moments I had there, wanting... back. Not, as in, wanting to go there now, with kids and family in tow (though how gorgeous would that be!), but wanting, just for a time, to be that 23-year-old again; with an open mind and a panging heart, looking for a place to be.

I returned from Svalbard, straight into the practical realities of finishing a law degree in Estonia, but... it never left me. What I learned there never left me.

No-one will ever know what it felt like, exactly, when I spent those quiet nights at a church up on that hill, and what it felt like when Troels said to me, "I think you'd really like it in New Zealand," (that's what started it all). How alive I felt the morning when the blizzard ripped a stack of dog harnesses from my hand, and I realised I had forgotten my gun at home. My first ever frostbite. The way my heart pounded when the snowmobile started crashing through the river ice and I muttered into my facemask over the scream of the engines to just do what Hans had told me: push the gas pedal. PUSH THE GAS PEDAL!!! If you stop on the river, the snowmobile will crash through the ice; you need to drive until the tracks are on the solid ice again. Man, it was such a wonderful place to be a 23-year-old! I tear up thinking about it, grateful to the bottom of my bones of having been welcomed in and just to have spent a winter there. Of having breathed there, and watched the Northern Lights up above the kennels.

What a wonderful experience it is to now watch someone else's life there, but how saddeningly beautiful it is, too. In a way that makes the eyes well up.

*sigh*









Life in tidbits

Why is it that after months of looking for work, the week I sign a contract with one company, two other opportunities pop up? #notimpressed

Having said that: it feels good to get paid.

***

19 June 2019 - first frost of the year.

***

After 6 weeks coughing which, at times, got almost debilitating, I finally seem to be on the mend. It's not over yet - but at least I have the energy to bike again. In the morning, I strap the kids into our Chariot trailer and pull them along to a YMCA program. Then, I bike off into my own morning class.

At 7:20 am it's not even light yet, but here we go: me on a bike, kids laughing with glee in the trailer as we ride alongside main street, high-vis clothes on, lights on. Ice on the street.

It's kind of nuts. In a good, but very tiresome way.

***

I friend I haven't seen in a while is looking to do a PhD in Germany or UK. Meanwhile, I am thinking: come on, find something in Dunedin, New Zealand instead! Because how cool would that be!

It's good to have new friends, but I miss the old ones.

***

I start looking into the measurement assignment and then realise the irony: I am doing it to the tune of Bruno Mars' "today I don't feel like doing anything" :D


***

The school I am studying at just got accredited to extend a 2-year diploma program into a 3-year degree program. Am I going into a third year?

HELL NO. I'm done. In November, I am out. I've had enough of this.

Overheard at the dinner table

Mister 8 to his sister: "When I turn 9, I'll be older than you."
Miss 5 in reply: "When you turn 100, you'll be dead."

How mountains, oceans and starry nights make for better people

Jo Marchant wrote an article for New Scientist on why mountains, starry skies and oceans make for kinder, nicer people.

Okay, I'm making a bit of a leap here. She didn't actually write that mountains, starry skies and oceans SPECIFICALLY make for nicer people. However, she did write about the feeling of awe and explained what it does, neurologically, in a person's brain.

The article is behind a paywall, so in case you haven't got a New Scientist subscription, I'll sum it up here.

In 2003 two University of California, Berkeley researchers named Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt started studying the feeling of 'awe' and came up with a definition of what it is. "They described awe as the feeling we get when confronted with something vast, that transcends our frame of reference and that we struggle to understand. It's an emotion that combines amazement with an edge of fear. Wonder, by contrast, is more intellectual - a cognitive state in which you are trying to understand the mysterious."

Basically, awe is something that is likely to give you goosebumps (second only to feeling of cold) and make you go, "Whoa, this is AMAZING." A bit like standing on a ridge in the mountains and struggling to grasp how vast the space is. Looking up at a starry sky at night and not being able to get your head around the fact that each star is, basically, like another huge Sun somewhere in space. Feeling the bow of a ship crash over a huge ridge of water on the Southern Ocean and thinking, sh*t, I am so small compared to all of this. That's what awe is. (Wonder, on the other hand, is likely to make you go, "Oh, wow, I wonder how that's possible?")

As Keltner and Haidt studied people who were made to experience awe, they noticed something peculiar: people who experienced awe (as opposed to just happiness or pride etc) changed their behaviour and perceived themselves smaller. They were more likely to help a person who stumbled in front of them. They were more ethical, generous and felt more connected to other people. They signed their names smaller, they drew themselves smaller. The experience of feeling awe diminished their sense of self-importance, but did not change their self-esteem.

Basically: they felt just as good about themselves as before, but they wanted to help others more.

Then, in 2017, another researcher (Michiel van Elk from University of Amsterdam) presented a study of functional MRI scans of people who had experienced awe. His findings struck a chord with what Keltner and Haidt had said before him, because the differences could be seen even on an MRI scan. "Awe quiets activity in the default mode network, which includes parts of the frontal lobes and cortex, and is thought to relate to the sense of self. 'Awe produces vanishing self,' says Keltner. 'The voice in your head, self-interest, self-consciousness, disappears. Here's an emotion that knocks out really important part of our identity.' As a result, he says, we feel more connected to bigger collectives and groups."

Meanwhile, a team from Arizona State University found that awe calms the fight-or-flight response. "Experiencing awe made people feel as if they had more time - and made them more willing to give up their time to help others.

The article goes on to discuss that humans are not the only primates to experience awe - chimps show signs of awe, such as goosebumps, during thunderstorms. The feeling of awe carries an evolutionary neurological function - but we don't, necessarily, utilise it nowadays.

Jo Marchant talks to people who say that teenagers are reporting an increasing sense of disconnect, and that the rise of hatred in the US (and elsewhere) may be connected to the lack of awe. People are spending their days gazing at their smartphones. If we are no longer getting to experience awe, then we are - neurologically - set up to be less humble, less charitable. Education, with its focus on test results rather than exploration is taking awe away from our kids. That has far-reaching consequences not just for education itself, but for the entire human race.

***

To me, the article is not mind-blowing per se, but it does confirm what I've thought all along: that children need to learn both that they, themselves, are important and that the world around them is important.

And to help them learn that, I need to bring them to places that will make them go, WHOA! THIS IS SO WICKED!

Svalbard 2008

New Zealand 2010

School, work, kids, life, health etc

I am so, so tired.

November. Maria, I tell myself, just hang on until November.

This is hard. There is, of course, another option - that rather than being hard, I am just a wuss instead. But, actually, I don't think that's the case. It's hard.

I am keeping abreast with the assignments coming out of school, intent on not ever falling behind, always the first to hand stuff back in. I've been ill for a month. My daughter has been ill for a month. My son has just come out of 2 months of plaster-casts. I've started a job - after 3 months of being an intern, the company have decided that they want to keep me on. My husband lost his job. Twice. And then when a washing machine breaks down (why does it always break down at the most inconvenient times? Or is it that any time feels hard/inconvenient for a washing machine to break?) then life just, promptly, becomes a major pain in the hole.

There is so much going on, no wonder I feel overwhelmed at times.

November - I need to hang on until November when 1) I graduate, 2) start full-time work and 3) my husband stops his work.

F*ck this is hard.

Free Solo

Watched it. LOVED IT! Currently watching it for the second time in a week.



Alex Honnold in Free Solo

Assholes: A Theory

Oh wow. What a movie to make!



Description of Assholes: A Theory on IMDB

Description of Assholes: A Theory on RNZ

It is worth double-checking

It is worth double-checking when:

  • a white person says that people of colour do not get discriminated against,
  • a cis male says that women do not get discriminated against,
  • a real estate salesperson says that a house is warm,
  • any salesperson, really, says that their product is good,
  • a person who is not renting says that there isn't a rental shortage,
  • a person living in a wealthy area says that schools in a poor areas get adequate funding,
  • a person whose parents contributed towards their house deposit says that real estate is affordable,
  • a person whose family are all university-educated says that there aren't social barriers for attending uni.
This list could continue.

The bottom line is: if they are not the person who would experience the problem if the problem existed, then they may not be aware of it.