Sometimes Life Happens, Part One: Death.

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My grandfather died in August. At the end, it was not unexpected.

It gets that way when someone passes the 90-year mark, and he was 92-years old. I held his hand a few days before he stopped breathing. He was sitting in an uncomfortable chair, in a dark hospital room with three other dying men, beside a wide window with a view of a brick wall, and I knew it would be the last time. We talked about doctors, and tests, and my grandmother, and how much he wanted to go home. But he knew it wasn’t possible.

Almost every conversation we had over the summer, and even last spring, had a sense of inevitability in it… he wanted to be younger. To be free of the pain in is legs and back. To be able to walk without a walker. To be able to walk the fences on his hobby farm, to make sure they were secure so the cows couldn’t escape. He wanted to be able to talk without pausing for words. To hear without needing repetition.

He wanted to eat properly cooked food, to enjoy taste. Until recently we would meet at a local diner, for a lunchtime steak, with mushrooms and horseradish. That’s what he wanted.

To sit down with his friends over coffee and talk about engineering, to talk about recent news, to catch up on the Canadiens, to trash talk the Senators, to find out more about his grandchildren… to ask about his great-grandsons. To flirt with the waitress.

For the last few years he lived in a retirement home that he hated. A few years ago, there was a fire at the one he liked… the one where he was happy, and he had to move. He was hurt, physically, during the evacuation. And he never really recovered, mentally, from having to abandon his home. From having to run away from his belongings, from having to not be in charge of his life. My grandfather, until then, was someone who ran in to help. He was the one who was most likely ‘in charge’. But after that, I think, he felt smaller. He felt frailer. He felt like there was an ending coming. Like he could see he was losing, or lost, control over his life. And he hated it.

He had been a large man. A quiet, dignified man. A man people listened to, who went to for advice, someone we learned from. He grew up poor, with three sisters and three brothers… his father was a train conductor, his first home was a renovated blacksmiths shed. But he graduated from three of Canada’s top universities. He was a star athlete, he won a Memorial Cup playing for his University hockey team. Strong, vital, intelligent… and he knew, towards the end, exactly what his condition was. There was no dementia in the end. There was no short circuiting.

When he had the energy, he could still be engaging. But everyday there was less energy. Less willingness to talk. More pain in his eyes. More complaints about his joints. More complaints about doctors. About not having control over his life, about having to rely on people to change his fucking pants. About having to wear fucking diapers. About not being able to tell his stories anymore.

He tried, over the summer, to repeat his stories to me… to show his work photos to his 4-year old great-grandson, my son. And I listened. And my son played on the floor between us. I had heard them all before. Several times. And I laughed in the right places, but not because I had to. Because his stories, his life, had meaning. He had done things, met people, had insight worth listening to over and over again.

I never stopped him from telling me a story I had heard a dozen times over. Ever. Later on, I could help him. I could give him the right word to help him continue his story, but I’d always listen. I was always interested. Not because there was a duty, but because he had been around the world dozens of times — he had dinner with presidents of country’s, and university’s, but never talked about those. He never bragged about his accomplishments, or talked himself up. It was always about the work. It was always about the people he worked with.

He talked about his friends. About the people he worked with. About the people he trained and hired. He never talked about being captain of his hockey team, or being the leading scorer in his league every year he played. He talked about the game he was watching. He talked about the players on the ice.

He hired people who needed the work. Then he taught them the skills to keep them working. After church, when we visited him on his hobby farm in rural Quebec during the summer, he would take my brother and myself out for an ice cream. Or a pop. Then we would visit with his friends along the long, winding road back.

On his farm, I would quietly follow him, waiting to be needed to hold a flashlight, or just to be useful. He taught me to drive his tractor when I was 9-years old. He put me in charge of driving the pick-up truck. Of baling the hay. Of feeding the cows, we would walk through the fields — him wearing a handkerchief on his head, me wearing rubber boots that were just a little big, and he would tell me the names of all the cows. Even the ones in the freezer.

I never had a father. So he made sure that I understood life. And he did it quietly. In short, two-week clips.

A few years ago, he told me he understood how sick I had been. That he understood — between the manic depression, and my father abandoning us — how hard my life had been. He actually told me that, just quietly and without judgment or accusation… “I know you’ve had a hard life.”. And I nearly broke down. Not out of sentiment, but because I finally understood that he had been watching me.

Then, in the end, during his last few days in the hospital, my quiet grandfather started talking about love, and life, and hope. He had visits from friends, people he had golfed with for years, people he had worked with years ago, family. And he told me he loved me. That he loved my son, my family.

That he respected me. Then I held his hand. I gently shook it. And left.

My mother was in the room when he died. He was talking to her, decided he wanted to take a nap, and didn’t wake up.

Because there were so many people who wanted to be at his funeral, to pay their respects, the service was held a few weeks later, on September 6. The next day, we buried him in a small cemetery, close to his hobby farm, in the mountains of Quebec.

…my baby boy, my grandfathers second great-grandson, was borne later that night.

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...thanks.

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Posted in Clinical Depression, Health, Little Victor, Manic Depression, Mental Health | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Even More Mental Studies & News: Saliva test for depression; Measles outbreaks in Canada; Watching memories form in real time; Mother faces charges after son dies while being treated with ‘herbal remedies'; Canadians use a lot of antidepressants

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“…researchers, publishing in Pediatrics, decided to test four different pro-vaccination messages on a group of parents with children under 18 and with a variety of attitudes about vaccination to see which one was most persuasive in persuading them to vaccinate. As Chris Mooney reports for Mother Jones, the results are utterly demoralizing: Nothing made anti-vaccination parents more amendable to vaccinating their kids. At best, the messages didn’t move the needle one way or another, but it seems the harder you try to persuade a vaccination denialist to see the light, the more stubborn they get about not vaccinating their kids.”
‘According to a New Study, Nothing Can Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind’ — Slate Magazine.

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‘The first biological test for clinical depression has been developed by scientists in a breakthrough that researchers say will enable it to be identified and treated at an earlier stage.
Academics at Cambridge University have established a link with excess levels of the hormone cortisol.
Researchers found that teenage boys who showed traditional depressive symptoms and had high levels of the hormone were 14 times more likely to be clinically depressed.
It means that for the first time, doctors could definitively identify the illness by a simple blood test. It also marks the first time that scientists have established that depression could be caused by a chemical imbalance.
Joe Herbert, professor at Cambridge University, an author of the study, said the link could help identify young people at risk of “prolonged or even lifelong mental illness”.’

‘Depression saliva test may reveal those at risk of lifelong mental illness, revolutionize treatment, researchers say’ — National Post

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‘Blood sugar considered safely below diabetes or even pre-diabetes levels may still be linked to a raised risk of memory problems, a new study suggests.
German researchers found that people with elevated – but not unhealthy – blood sugar levels tended to perform worse on memory tests than those with lower levels. An area of the brain most responsible for memory also differed between the two groups.
Previous studies had found links between blood sugar disorders – such as diabetes and a pre-diabetic condition known as impaired glucose intolerance – and poor brain function and dementia, lead author Dr. Agnes Flöel told Reuters Health.’

‘High blood sugar tied to memory problems, study finds’ — Fox News

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The importation [of a single measles case] resulted in 839 exposed persons, 11 additional cases (all in unvaccinated children), and the hospitalization of an infant too young to be vaccinated. Two-dose vaccination coverage of 95%, absence of vaccine failure, and a vigorous outbreak response halted spread beyond the third generation, at a net public-sector cost of $10,376 per case. Although 75% of the cases were of persons who were intentionally unvaccinated, 48 children too young to be vaccinated were quarantined, at an average family cost of $775 per child. Substantial rates of intentional undervaccination occurred in public charter and private schools, as well as public schools in upper-socioeconomic areas. Vaccine refusal clustered geographically and the overall rate seemed to be rising. In discussion groups and survey responses, the majority of parents who declined vaccination for their children were concerned with vaccine adverse events.’
‘Measles Outbreak in a Highly Vaccinated Population, San Diego, 2008: Role of the Intentionally Undervaccinated’ — American Academy of Pediatrics

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By the end of March, there were 320 cases of the disease in B.C. The outbreak started at the church’s Mount Cheam Christian School and spread through the community from there.
It’s one of several outbreaks that have cropped up across the country this year, sounding the alarm on what was once considered a childhood disease now virtually wiped out by advances in vaccinations.
In 2002, measles was declared “eliminated” from the Americas. [...]
Dr. John Spika, with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), says, despite a 95% coverage of the measles vaccine, clusters can still be expected in communities that have rejected them.
PHAC says there were 83 cases of measles in 2013, and only 10 in 2012. [...]
Before a second dose of measles vaccine was introduced in 1996, ensuring 99% immunity, Canada still reported thousands of cases, Spika said, including more than 6,000 in 1991.’

‘Measles makes a comeback, but not if you’re vaccinated’ — Toronto Sun

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“It’s strange how once you notice someone who lives on the street – once you have given them a name and a story – you start to notice them everywhere.
After that first meeting I saw JR in the Glebe, dragging his bag of bottles and cans down Bank Street. In Centretown around Place Bell.”

‘Our mental health scandal is Ontario’s closing of mental hospitals’ (Opinion) — Ottawa Sun

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‘Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine used advanced imaging techniques to visualize how the brain turns molecules into memories. In research conducted on mice, scientists put fluorescent “tags” on beta-actin mRNA, the “molecules crucial to making memories.”‘
‘For The First Time, Scientists Capture Brain Making Memories In Real-Time (VIDEO)’ — inSCIder

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‘Between 30 to 50% people suffer from a major depressive episode in their lifetime. It is generally considered to be a disease of the brain, an illness that needs treatment. In the millions of years of human evolution, natural selection was at work, ensuring that the ones among us who were best at surviving, adapting, and reproducing, carried the human species forward. Mental depression reduces ones ability to survive, adapt, and reproduce. It would then be reasonable to expect that those humans afflicted with this disease would have become extinct by now. The genes responsible for, or conducive to depression, should have eroded out of the thriving gene pool. But that, as we know, is far from the truth.’
‘Clinical Depression in the Context of Human Evolution’ — Mahendra Palsule, ‘An Unquiet Mind’

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A Calgary mother is facing charges of negligence and failure to provide the necessities of life in connection with the death of her seven-year-old son, who died of a treatable bacterial infection in March.
According to police, the boy was bedridden for 10 days before his death, however, the mother declined to seek medical treatment, relying instead on homeopathic remedies and herbal medicines.
It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents,” said Calgary Police Service Staff Sergeant Michael Cavilla. “The message is quite simple: If your child is sick, take them to see a doctor.“‘

‘Calgary mother who relied on herbal medicines facing charges after son, 7, dies of treatable bacterial infection’ — National Post

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One of Canada’s top psychiatrists says too many Canadians are treating life’s normal spells of misery the way they would handle something they dislike about their bodies: By asking a doctor to make their lives better.
That may explain why we take twice as many antidepressants as Italians do, and more than Germans or French, says Dr. Joel Paris, professor and past chair of the department of psychiatry at Montreal’s McGill University.’

‘Psychiatrist warns against trying to cure ordinary sadness as Canadians among top users of antidepressants’ — National Post

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Posted in Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Diabetes, Health, Mental Health, Mental Health News | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Why I’d be happy to have a drink with Ebenezer Scrooge

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A few nights ago I was watching the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Die Hard, and flipping over to A Christmas Carol during the commercials. When I was a kid the Scrooge movie freaked me out just enough so I haven’t been able to watch it all the way through since – just to add to the freakiness, this time it was the colourized Ted Turner Edition, so everyone was wearing pastel coloured waistcoats, and 1850’s coal-oil soaked London looked like 1985 Miami.

But I must have caught it at just the right – or wrong – commercial breaks because I didn’t see the movie as a condemnation of Scrooge, or even his lifestyle. When the Ghosts started popping up, especially the Ghost of Christmas Past, the movie actually offered perfectly sound reasoning for Scrooge’s behaviour.

Scrooge’s mom died during childbirth, so his father resented him. When Scrooge was old enough – four or five – his father sent Scrooge away to school in an attempt to get rid of the kid. As a child the only friend Scrooge had was his sister, who died giving birth to a son, who Scrooge would hold responsible for his sister’s death. To add to the insult, Scrooge’s nephew comes back later in the story as a poor, but frustratingly happy young man.

Despite everything Scrooge remained a Christmas lover, and moved to the big city where he got a job as a clerk. At this point he met and gets engaged to Alice, a beautiful and deluded woman who believes it’s a virtue to be poor. She and Scrooge are very happy together for a few years. When Scrooge attains a certain level of success she breaks up with him – Scrooge says “I love you, I’ve struggled to be better than I was.” She says “fuck you, you’ve changed, here’s the ring, I’m outta here.”

At this point Scrooge rightfully swears off personal relationships, except the one with his business partner, Jacob Marley. Years later, after being told Marley is not long for this earth, Scrooge tells his clerk there’s no point rushing to Jacob’s bedside because “we’ve all got to die, Cratchit”.

It seems as though his entire early life was just one swift kick to the groin after another. In a purely historical context I understand how Scrooge must be seen as the ‘really bad dude’ — the beginning of the Industrial Revolution was not a kind time for the working man. But even in that context Scrooge remains a sympathetic character. I always thought, just from watching the Muppet version and reading some of the book, Scrooge was meant to be a character without a soul and the Ghosts were trying to give him one.

But Scrooge was just a decent dude who had everything taken from him, and the Three Ghosts were ultimately just showing him what he had left was worth living for. Even though they’re basically the same character, Scrooge is definitely not Henry “scurvy little spider” Potter from “A Wonderful Life”. That’s definitely a hateful bag of hate in dire need of a life enema.

In the end, however, by far the biggest Christmas movie miracle of them all has to be when LAPD Sgt. Al Powell puts five shots into the torso of the ‘previously presumed to be dead’ Euro-trash Terrorist, thus saving the lives of John and Holly McClane at the end of Die Hard.

God bless us, every one.

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…I originally published this here in 2007. It was also picked up by a newspaper in 2011 — which still makes me feel all squishy inside.

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...thanks.

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Posted in BiPolar Christmas, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression And Christmas, Health, Humor, Humour, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Mental Health | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Mental Health News: Depressed woman denied entry to US; Fathers are important; pregnant women with bipolar vulnerable; psychopathic tendencies; government monitors social media

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A Toronto woman denied a flight to New York as part of a cruise trip wants to know how U.S. border agents knew about her history of mental illness.
Ellen Richardson says she was told by U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport on Monday that because she had been hospitalized for clinical depression in June 2012, she could not enter the U.S.
…Richardson told CBC News that border guards referenced her 2012 hospitalization, and not her book, in denying her entry into the U.S.
At the time, Richardson was told she could only enter the U.S. if a doctor — not her own doctor, but one from a short list of others whom she had never met — signed a document vouching for her. She would also have to pay a fee of $500.
…U.S. border guards are allowed to bar anyone they deem a threat to themselves, others or their property. They have access to police records — including even uneventful encounters with officers — but medical records are supposed to be held in the strictest confidence.”

‘Canadian woman refused U.S. entry because of depression’

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The [Canadian] federal government tracks Canadians’ social media comments and other content, including Twitter, Facebook, blogs, chat rooms, message boards, social networks and video and image sharing websites.
The admission came Friday after a tender call was posted by Public Works seeking round-the-clock, “real-time monitoring and analysis of social media content,” with the ability to “target key influencers found in blog commentary and social conversations.”
The department later issued a statement defending the activity and explaining it already monitors social media as part the government’s general media monitoring.’

‘Explainer: The implications of the federal government’s monitoring of social media’

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“New findings from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) show that the absence of a father during critical growth periods, leads to impaired social and behavioural abilities in adults. This research, which was conducted using mice, was published today in the journal Cerebral Cortex. It is the first study to link father absenteeism with social attributes and to correlate these with physical changes in the brain.”
‘Dads: How important are they?

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“The University of Bristol research team investigated some of the chemical processes that underpin how brain cells co-ordinate their communication. Defects in this communication are associated with disorders such as epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia, and therefore these findings could lead to the development of novel neurological therapies.
Neurons in the brain communicate with each other using chemicals called neurotransmitters. This release of neurotransmitter from neurons is tightly controlled by many different proteins inside the neuron. These proteins interact with each other to ensure that neurotransmitter is only released when necessary. Although the mechanisms that control this release have been extensively studied, the processes that co-ordinate how and when the component proteins interact is not fully understood.
The School of Biochemistry researchers have now discovered that one of these proteins called ‘RIM1α’ is modified by a small protein named ‘SUMO’ which attaches to a specific region in RIM1α. This process acts as a ‘molecular switch’ which is required for normal neurotransmitter release.
Jeremy Henley, Professor of Molecular Neuroscience in the University’s Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences and the study’s lead author, said: “These findings are important as they show that SUMO modification plays a vital and previously unsuspected role in normal brain function.””

‘Scientists identify protein responsible for controlling communication between brain cells’

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Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine: “…one of the first in-depth studies of how physiological changes during pregnancy reduce the effects of a commonly used drug to treat bipolar disorder, making women more vulnerable to recurring episodes. The new findings will help psychiatrists and physicians prevent bipolar manic and depressive symptoms during pregnancy, which are risky for the health of the mother and her unborn child.
When a woman with bipolar disorder becomes pregnant, she and her physician often don’t realize her medication needs adjusting to prevent the symptoms from coming back – a higher risk during pregnancy. There also is little information and research to guide dosing for psychiatric medications during pregnancy.
Approximately 4.4 million women in the U.S. have bipolar disorder with women of childbearing age having the highest prevalence. “

‘Bipolar Drugs Lose Effect during Pregnancy, Higher Doses Needed to Stay Well’

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A device that could predict when a person with epilepsy might next have a seizure is one step closer to reality thanks to the development of software by researchers in the USA. Details are to be published in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Data Mining and Bioinformatics.
…current epileptic seizure prediction algorithms require much prior knowledge of a patient’s pre-seizure electroencephalogram (EEG) patterns. This usually makes them entirely impractical as pre-seizure EEGs are rarely available in the requisite detail or number.
software [is being developed] that can learn about the patient’s normal and seizure electrical activity from long-term EEG recordings after diagnosis. The learning process then allows the software to predict when another seizure may occur based on the learned patterns. Ultimately, a portable device with discrete electrodes, perhaps worn under a cap or hat would utilize this algorithm to give the patient an early warning of an imminent seizure. This would allow them to pull over safely if driving or otherwise move out of hazardous situation and into a safe environment well before the seizure begins.”

‘Getting to grips with seizure prediction’

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Neuroscientist researcher, James Fallon, discovers via PET scan his brain ‘correlated with psychopathic tendencies in the real world':
‘”I got to the bottom of the stack, and saw this scan that was obviously pathological,” he says, noting that it showed low activity in certain areas of the frontal and temporal lobes linked to empathy, morality and self-control. Knowing that it belonged to a member of his family, Fallon checked his lab’s PET machine for an error (it was working perfectly fine) and then decided he simply had to break the blinding that prevented him from knowing whose brain was pictured. When he looked up the code, he was greeted by an unsettling revelation: the psychopathic brain pictured in the scan was his own.’

‘The Neuroscientist Who Discovered He Was a Psychopath’

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Posted in Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Depression, Health, Mental Health, Pregnancy | 7 Comments

No Post Day | Driving Songs

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For a lot of reasons, I’ve been listening and collecting a lot of electronica and house music lately — actually, it’s pretty much mostly due to the fact they’re my wife’s favourite songs to listen to in the car.

Until we started dating, a little more than four-years ago, I had never really given the genre much of a chance. I once bought a Moby CD. Another time, I think in 1988, I stole my brothers copy of ‘Pump Up The Volume’, by MARRS.

Several years before I met my wife, I bought a Chemical Brothers CD based solely on the recommendation of someone with perky breasts… but it turned out to be a sampler CD, with no actual songs, just random beats. Or something, and she wasn’t that interesting.

The closest I’ve come before now, really, was during my ‘Industrial Phase’… which I’m still kind of in: ‘KMFDM’, ‘Ministry’, ‘Marilyn Manson’, ‘Butthole Surfers’, ‘Lords of Acid’, other crazy German stuff.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself actually tapping my foot at 260-bpm to our new assortment of in-car mixed-CD’s, which includes ‘Avicii’, ‘Swedish House Mafia’, ‘Lorde’, ‘deadmau5′, ‘Hecq’ and even (!) ‘Skrillex’.

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So… my ‘No Post Day’ challenge, for anyone willing to play along, is:

Go to YouTube, and find a song you shouldn’t like but, for some reason, not only do you like it, you’ll actually turn it up while in the car, bus or subway… then post it in the comments section.

Bonus points: Find one of your all-time favourite songs, and post that as well.

These are two groups I’ve discovered in the past few months… ‘Icona Pop’ and — one of my favourite new finds, ‘A Tribe Called Red’. [YouTube alerts: if you can't see them, you'll find them here and here.]


…I’ve lost some of my self-respect by liking this but, fuck it, it’s catchy.


…but then I get it all back by associating myself with this awesome piece of awesome.

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...thanks.

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Posted in crazy people with no pants, Electronica Music, Health, Industrial Music, Living With Manic Depression, Mental Health, No Post Day, Photography | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Going for a drive through the crazy mountains

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I’m having a discussion with my little sister on Facebook right now about conspiracy theories. She’s a “believer” in pretty much everything — chemtrails, fluoride as brain control solution, grand conspiracies involving shadowy forces bent on… stuff. And things.

Right now she’s convinced FEMA is building camps in the United States, for the purpose of enslaving members of the population who dissent… who are on an ‘enemies list’.

It’s a theory — a junk-hoax — that started way back, during the presidency of George W. Bush. At least that’s where I first came across the videos of earnest sounding people talking over earnest looking documentaries showing bland buildings with fences, with a narrative cherry picked from Robert Ludlum novels — which were sent to me by a friend of mine who had, by then, smoked his way into a pot-induced psychosis.

Back then it was a group of mostly far left-leaning, basically mentally ill people who believed that, if GWB lost his reelection bid, the federal government would put aside the election results, and open nation wide FEMA “concentration camps” for anyone on the magic lists.

Now the FEMA camp hoax is being spread by the far-right, who believe the camps are being readied by the Obama government for anyone who complains about health care and gun control laws.

And, somewhere in there, is my sister. Who is not motivated by politics, but by her belief she “sees and feels things average people do not”. Then she kind of accused me of being part of the “Illuminati”.

It’s very difficult for me to have these discussions with her, because she does believe in these hoaxes. She needs to find reasons for her mental state, and believing there are people “Out There” who are controlling her thoughts, makes more sense to her than believing her thoughts lack control because of a mental illness.

She does recognize her diagnosis. She refers to me as her ‘bipolar mentor’, but she has actually been diagnosed with ‘schizoaffective disorder’. She was, and might still be, seeing a psychiatrist. But she doesn’t take medications, she’s convinced having side effects from the them means she’s allergic to them.

The reason it’s difficult for me to have these conversations with her, is it feels like I’m tearing at a fabric she’s wrapped herself in — her ‘safe-place cocoon’. But it’s so hard to watch her — an incredibly intelligent and creative woman — get so lost in an endless maze of other people’s lunacy.

This kind of endless loop of crazy my sister is caught in — all of these hoaxes are so old, and only kept alive by people discovering six-year old YouTube videos for the first time, all over again — can easily be as dangerous as the anti-vaccine people who are bringing back measles, mumps and probably polio.

And just as sickening.

Update: this morning she deleted all of my comments, and added me to her ‘conspiracy theory’ group on Facebook.

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Speaking of crazy… my wife and I took our two sons on a two-hour ride through the mountains in Quebec, where I spent most of my early summers.

Our kids, three and seven-years old, lasted nearly 1.5-hours before losing their minds to boredom. But being able to stop and take photos of places I haven’t been in two decades — places with so many memories attached to them, was important for me. And worth having the kids freaking out over whose blankie was whose.

Plus, it’s just a beautiful part of the country…

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Posted in Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, FEMA Camps, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health, Photography | Tagged | 3 Comments