Tag Archives: rant

Personal rant: on CBT

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

This kinda follows on from my rant last week about talking and depression. I was reminded about the different things I’d tried, or been recommended, or been sent to…and CBT’s one that always comes up.

I appreciate that CBT is a really useful thing to have. It’s a set of techniques that can stop panic attacks before they start, make you realise when a depressive episode is warping your thoughts, allow some balance and distance from the emotions that swamp you. It’s theoretically really useful, and a lot of people really benefit from it.

And I hate it.

I was referred to the service back in 2012 when I had my third (I think) major depressive episode – it was just an automatic referral to accompany the medication. So I went.

I managed two sessions. I came back from both in tears.

CBT relies on someone seeing the patterns in their behaviour and thoughts, and acting on those before they spiral down into the destructive cycle. It’s a set of techniques for positive thinking and prevention, but it does rely on an existing pattern of behaviour and a set of identifiable triggers.

I felt completely wrong. I don’t have “proper” panic attacks (I get short of breath rather than having a heart attack feeling), I don’t have a trigger for my depressive episodes, and I don’t get set off by certain things. I already spot my blaming thoughts and generalisations. Bluntly, I don’t do depression correctly.

And being effectively told that I am like this because I can’t manage my own thoughts was piling an extra load of blame onto someone who’s already struggling under a heavy load.

I know the depression is my own fault. I blame myself for it every day. It’s my head, my brain, my thoughts. I actively have to fight the urge to just give up. The worst part of mental illnesses is that it’s your body causing the problem – at least a broken leg is caused by something external!

And so CBT essentially blaming me for the problems was really a kick in the guts.

However, I did spot that I already do some of the techniques. I was taught as a child not to generalise; if you’ve done something wrong, it’s not because you’re crap – you’ve done one thing wrong. If you’re not feeling attractive/clever/human, it’s simply one moment or one thing – don’t extend it. That’s a major part of avoiding the sinking pit of feeling generally awful.

But for everything else…I have ended up working it out for myself. I can usually spot when I’m sinking and when I’m rising, and I know from experience what care I need to give myself and what support I need to ask for. I can definitely spot a panic attack, and I take steps to either remove myself from the situation or get somewhere that I can pass out in peace. I block as many of the self-harming thoughts as I can, while still admitting that they exist and taking steps to neutralise them. In short, I use as many of the CBT techniques as I can, but adapted for my own needs – and I use my own techniques for everything else, because that’s what works for me.

I think CBT is excellent if you do have ‘traditional’ panic attacks, or you can place a trigger that sets off a depressive episode or a panic attack. If you can identify what the event or thought is, you can act before it gets too bad. Being able to be self-aware, particularly when you have a mental illness, helps divide the illness from you and helps you realise that you are not the illness. There’s more information on the NHS website, and there are usually courses running across the country – if you think it might help you, then seriously do check it out.

But if CBT doesn’t work for you – if you already do the techniques, if your mental illness isn’t in a traditional format, if you don’t have specific triggers – then you’re not alone. Work out what works for you, and what’s going to help you. You know what you need, and you can do it.

Kate’s Editing Checklist: Additions

After several interesting conversations on Facebook, I’m extending my editing checklist…actually, I’m going to make it into a page, too. I think it needs it. Thank you to everyone who commented!

So, some comments:

Which is a good point. I had a convo with @O_T_Curtis that made me think, too; when do those clichés become too much?

I also had some very interesting comments around jobs and farming (aka. sheep are buggers and don’t follow along nicely), and the importance of researching anything you want your main character to be doing.

And it’s now a page. If anyone can think of anything else, please do comment on the page or ping me a tweet!

Kate’s Editing Checklist

P.s. This is now a page with extra additions – feel free to suggest more if you think of any!

So, after yet another minor rant from me (this one to do with the complete lack of women in a fantasy world), the boys got fed up and suggested that I write out my editing checklist. When I’m playing cliché and let’s-annoy-Kate bingo, what am I actually looking for?

Or, in writing terms: when you’re worldbuilding, what do you need to consider?

The Real World

  • The Narrow Bechdel Test: Two women have a conversation…
  • The Wider Bechdel Test: …about something that isn’t a man.
  • 50/50 world gender split: do you at least have something approaching this, or a good reason why you don’t have it?
  • Are there children mentioned?
  • Are you using ‘mother’ (or ‘father’) as a job description?
  • List all your characters; are certain job types only ascribed to one gender? This applies as much to ‘soldier’ or ‘shopkeeper’ as it does to ‘servant’ and ‘whore’.

The Physical Stuff

  • A woman’s body doesn’t know she’s pregnant until a week after fertilisation. Please don’t put some mystical thing in about ‘feeling’ or ‘just knowing’ the morning after – even with some magical ability you’d be hard-pressed to tell one bunch of cells from another for several days afterwards.
  • Periods happen, for a week, every month. If you’re doing a journey that involves women, they will be concerned about it – and wanting to take a bath fairly urgently when you reach civilisation again. It’s a pretty messy business no matter how carefully you manage it.
  • Period pain. I refuse to believe that everyone up until the modern world had a pain-free time, so there is likely to be a need for painkillers along with your food and supplies.
  • If you’re considering having “one night of fantastic sex that leaves the woman with a child to remember her love by”…yes, it could happen, but it’s pretty statistically unlikely. Please carefully consider if you want that sort of annoying cliché in your book.
  • If you do use rape against any character, please think carefully about why and how you are portraying it.

The Disability Checklist

  • If you’ve previously had wars or fighting, or you have major industry (for example, ship-building or coal-mining) in your world, you’re going to have disabled veterans and workers. How does society treat them?
  • Have you considered the likelihood of invisible illnesses such as PTSD or depression, particularly for characters that have been through a traumatic event?
  • How does your society deal with physical illnesses? This applies as much to infections (for example, leprosy or influenza) and things like cancers as it does to physical disability.

The Evil Guys

  • If you tick more than two things on the Evil Bingo Checklist, please rethink their character.

    Baddy Bingo
    Evil Bingo Checklist
  • Are the Evil Guys given a decent backstory for why they’re Evil? It is just a matter of perspective, after all.
  • Do they have countless hordes of soldiers ? Is so, where did they come from? Why are they swearing loyalty (or happy to be paid by) said Evil Guys?
  • Do they live in a looming fortress  or underground lair? (This includes caves). Major cliché right there.

The Fighting

  • If there’s a battle, does everyone die slowly with plenty of time to say their last words? (Nasty and brutal realism says hello!)
  • Is there a valid reason why your world cannot have women fighting?
  • Have you got technology creep (aka. have you mixed weapons from different eras without considering the implications)? What is the dominant weapon and fighting style?
  • Is your hero unreasonably skilled with weapons without any real practise?
  • Is your hero an unlikely leader who suddenly finds some charisma?
  • Does your hero somehow dramatically save the day single-handedly? Bonus points if it’s single combat.

The Love Interest

  • Are they the only person who is described as beautiful / interesting / charming / stunning?
  • Do you pay more attention to their clothing / looks than to anyone else in the story?
  • Do they immediately fall for the protagonist? Or, conversely, immediately passionately hate said protagonist?
  • Is there a love triangle? This isn’t per se bad, but…just be careful how you do it, ok?
  • Any chance of LGBTQA representation? Do your main character(s) have to be attracted to (only) the opposite sex?

The Economics

  • Where does the food come from? How do they get water? Particularly for journeys, how do they ensure the ongoing supply of either of these things?
  • If you have got unreasonably large armies (good or bad), how are they being fed? What’s the administration from behind the lines like? As a student of military history, the amount of armies that survived on foraging because their supply lines got cut off / failed is ridiculous.
  • What are the cities based on? Palaces on top of mountains look nice, but trading is a problem. Why was your city based at that spot originally?
  • What’s the economy based on in your various societies? What do they buy/sell/trade?

None of these points are a complete no-no: if you have a reason behind it then that’s great! If your city is on a mountain because the swamps are a nightmare/things attack/a mad King wanted it there, no problem. If you want a culture with crossbows to attack a culture with nukes, do it – but explain why there’s the technology differential. If your supporting character is a full-time father, that’s fine – just don’t make it the default.

The idea is to make you think about all of these clichés. Everyone has ‘default’ settings – especially me – and we don’t often realise that we have them until someone points them out. And when that ‘someone’ is an editor with a red pen and a good line in snark, well, I’m just sayin’ that you might want to check this list out before your manuscript gets sent to them…

Anyone got anything else that really bugs them when they read a book? Wade in in the comments!

 

Ps. I reserve the right to add to this list or turn it into a permanent page…

On baddies, evil, and motivations

So, I was reading a book a few weeks ago that was making me pretty angry. I’ve already had a rant about diversity, but I also had a bit of a rant about Baddies…

It really bugs me.

I had a go at getting some sense from villains over at Almond Press; my basic argument is that they need sensible motives. They need background. They need reasons. No-one is born evil, and the villain could always be the hero…in a different story. A villain without a motive is as baseless as a hero without one.

So why the frick do so many people buy into the trope of Evil Villain Doing Bad Stuff?

To borrow a line from Chuck Wendig: I AM VILLAIN AND SO I WILL DO VILLAINY IN THE FORM OF AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND WILDLY OVER-COMPLICATED SCHEME. Wants to destroy the world, check. Kills innocent people, check. Rapes someone important to the hero, check. Seriously, am I just going through a DC comic here? And if they have glowing eyes, you get a cookie.

It’s old. It’s tired. And it’s boring.

Give me a villain who acts against the hero. Give me a villain who has thought about the consequences of his actions, and weighed up the scenarios. Give me a villain who doesn’t want to be doing what he’s doing! Give me two opposing ideologies, both of which are equally valid. Give me someone with reasons and background.

Even if they’re insane – fine, although you’ll have to go a long way to beat the Joker. Insanity isn’t a catch-all for routine murder and torture; every madness has its own cold logic, its own reasons and rationale. If they were abused as a child, that’s fine, but show how those specific circumstances have affected things. Abuse isn’t a one-hat-fits-all. What did it do? What did it break? And maybe those circumstances did some good things as well as some bad; maybe the villain will go out of their way to rescue children in the same circumstances, even while not giving a damn about the rest of the world.

Make your villain as understandable as the hero, and that will make them even more chilling.

And please do something about the cliché talk and maniacal laughter. It’s just dull.

On representation, women and imagination

Warning: rant ahead.

I just (well, yesterday) finished a book that made me angry enough to have a proper rant on Twitter…

There was nothing wrong with the book, per se. Decent writing. Nice worldbuilding. Good action plot, keeps everything moving in a save-the-world sort of way.

But hooo boy. I had two major problems with it; the cliche’d baddies, and the lack of representation – by which I mean women. I’ll rant about baddies some other time…

So, the book. It started with an Army and Fighting, so ok, men. But there was a woman! In the main party! Yay! She…did things, in a vaguely useful way, and then suddenly got all Emotional and Caused Problems and Had A Cry About It To The Hero. *sigh* Aaaand then she fell in love with the…well, I suppose he was sort of the sidekick-hero. I saw that one coming from Chapter 2 – although actually, I guessed there would be a love triangle. Kudos to the author for not doing that, and also for not dwelling on it. So some plus points there.

But every other main character, or secondary character? Male. The only exception was two women – who, admittedly, were leaders, and did play a suitable plot point – and whose inclusion meant that the novel scraped the Bechdel test….by two sentences. Two.

The frustrating thing is that I can cope with that when it’s needed. Yes, armies were primarily male. Yes, there are situations where all-men is fair. Yes, there are points where you are going to only encounter prostitutes or slaves.

But for frick’s sake, where’s the imagination? You’ve created a world with monsters, dragons, giants, evil armies, magic – and you’re telling me you couldn’t envisage a world where women maybe fight alongside men in the armies? You’re telling me that in these interesting and imaginative communities you have your hero encounter, the women simply clean or cook or get raped? That’s it?

I am not asking for every character to be gender-swapped. I’m not asking for 90% women. I’m not asking for a radical overhaul. I’m asking for some thought.

Since 60% of our current population is women, maybe that should be considered a default? If you want 90% male characters, you’re going to have to convince me that your world is set up in a way that allows that. You’re going to have to explain to me why women only cook or clean – and why men don’t get raped (as it’s only women victims), don’t have gay relationships (suspicious that we don’t see any despite the 90% men), don’t stay home to look after the kids (because only women care about children!) You’re going to have to explain to me why your worldbuilding allows for dragons and magic, but won’t allow a woman to handle a sword, or command an army, or even do something like be a scout – as apparently that’s not a very martial role, but martial enough that it can’t have a women in it. You’re going to have to explain to me why the baddies aren’t women, and why the odd people that are encountered along the hero’s Heroic Journey are. All. Bloody. Male.

There was nothing to stop at least half the secondary characters in this particular book being female, and nothing to prevent a lot more female names cropping up. It wouldn’t have changed the plot, wouldn’t have changed the lines, it wouldn’t have changed the characters. But it would have made the damn thing a lot more realistic for those of us who happen to have different genitals, and therefore apparently can’t be soldiers, or baddies, or leaders, or onlookers, or anything interesting you choose to put in your slice of dreamland – all we’re seen fit for in this slice of fantasy is slaves, victims or whores.

Whoop-de-do.

 

NB. To be a little more fair to this particular book; there was a gay relationship mentioned (briefly, for a sentence, and then never brought up again) and as mentioned above, two of a community’s leaders were women, plus one of the main party was female. Apparently one of the main characters in the next book is female as well; I’m actually looking forward to reading it, even if I am feeling a bit cynical and jaded at this point – it’s clear to me that there’s been no actual malice here, just a complete lack of any thought put into trying to represent things other than the default male. But the book did also struggle with fantasy baddy cliche, so that’s another rant…