Category Archives: The Autistic Atheist

Monument colouring and other absurdities

So the world is attacked by islamists again, and what do we do in response? We light up monuments around the world in the colours of the French flag. I despair…

And as for those saying ‘pray for Paris’? I think the situation is bad enough without even more religion being thrown at it. Have some sensitivity, please.

What’s my take on the latest atrocities? I think enough is enough. The western world has allowed islam to flourish within its borders, and this is the result. I think it’s time that islam was treated as a dangerous and violent cult rather than the religion of peace that it rather ridiculously claims to be.

But don’t mistake me for an islamophobe – though you can call me a religiophobe if you like. I have similar problems with christianity – in particular right wing American christians that think they have rights over a woman’s uterus, and catholics who think they have rights over what people do in their bedrooms. And Judaism – have you actually read the old testament? Murder, rape and slavery are the order of the day, all sanctioned by the bloodthirsty and vicious abrahamic god that is shared between judaism, christianity, and islam.

Anyway, when something like this happens, it’s all very well saying #JeSuisCharlie or adding a red, white and blue overlay to your Facebook profile picture. What is needed is action. Islam has proved time and again that it can’t (or rather, won’t) co-exist peacefully with the rest of the world. So what is the rest of the world going to do?

Share Button

Did Lariam cause or worsen my depression?

Today I came across an article on the BBC News website, discussing the vivid hallucinatory dreams that one person experienced while taking Lariam tablets as a prevention against Malaria during a trip in Africa.

This got me thinking back to an African road trip I had done through Botswana and Zimbabwe way back in 1994. Like the article’s author, I took Lariam (the brand name for the drug Mefloquine) for a few weeks before, during and after my trip.

I didn’t (to the best of my memory) experience any vivid dreams, but I do remember a 2 day period during the trip when I felt extremely depressed and nervous. At the time I put it down to a bit of homesickness and after it had passed I forgot about it.

But the BBC article author’s experience with depression, paranoia and anxiety after his trip piqued my interest, and so I did a little googling. Guess what I found:

All these sources are agreed on two things:

  1. Lariam is proven to be a cause of depression and anxiety (among other equally serious issues such as psychosis and suicide ideation)
  2. The effects of Lariam can persist for months and even years after the patient stops taking it and may in some cases be permanent.

My own experiences of depression (apart from the brief episode while on my trip) started a year or two later, as far as I can recall. It wasn’t as if I woke up one day and suddenly found I was depressed – it crept up on me slowly and insidiously until there came a point where I realized that something was wrong.

My family doctor was not particularly helpful and simply prescribed a few weeks worth of tricyclic antidepressants, which had the effect of numbing my feelings, both positive and negative, and in the end I discontinued them, figuring that I would get over it in my own good time.

During the next few years I didn’t connect my state of mind with depression, though my drinking steadily increased and if I look back there’s absolutely no doubt that I was depressed. In 2005 I sought help from a counsellor at my family doctor’s clinic, and they suggested I attend some cognitive behavioural therapy sessions. I attended a few but wasn’t convinced by their conclusion – that I was suffering from low self-esteem.

In the end I had to stop the sessions due to my plans to emigrate to Malta finally bearing fruit.

And to cut a long story short, it wasn’t until 2009, in Malta, that I discussed my depression and alcohol abuse with an understanding doctor, got medication that actually helped, gave up drinking, and started 3 years of weekly counselling sessions that were ultimately my salvation.

Now, looking back on the various stages of my life, the places I was educated, the places I’ve worked, the towns I’ve lived in, and the state of mind that prevailed during each of those stages, I can see that before using Lariam I had some minor anxiety issues and the occasional brief bout of depression, whereas after that period my depression gradually grew until it effectively controlled my life for many years before I finally got the right kind of assistance and support.

Now, I will never be able to prove that taking that course of Lariam was directly responsible for my depression and anxiety over the last 20 years, but it certainly seems possible that taking Lariam could have been a factor in worsening my symptoms, even if it wasn’t the sole cause.

Now, thankfully, Lariam is hardly ever prescribed for malaria prevention – there are far better drugs available. But as far as I know it still isn’t actually banned worldwide. And if you’re ever advised to take it, I would seriously recommend that you refuse. It could change your life, permanently, in ways that you really, really don’t want.

And where does this leave me? Well, where I was before, I guess. I suffer from depression and anxiety, that’s a fact of my life that I can’t change. I keep both controlled reasonably well, most of the time, using medication and ways of coping learned during my counselling sessions.

Does the thought that my depression may have been prevented or lessened if I hadn’t taken Lariam make me angry? Well, yes, up to a point, but what’s the point in being angry at something in the past that you can’t go back and change? Being angry at things has always been one of my depressive symptoms and I can do without even more of it.

Share Button

Blasphemy under threat again (kind of)

A recent ‘Jesus & Mo‘ cartoon referred to renewed attempts by Saudi Arabia to push for a GLOBAL law against blasphemy:

Well, the Saudi Arabians and their deity can fuck off. The reason I added ‘kind of’ to the title of this post is that I don’t think anyone elsewhere in the world is stupid enough to think that this would be a good idea.

But this is what we can expect from a country that defines atheism as terrorism. I kid you not. Wild, huh?

One of the fundamental tenets of freedom of speech (which, as you know, I support without reservation or qualification) is that ideas and beliefs must be subject to criticism without fear of penalty. That includes religious beliefs of any and all kinds.

If you have the right to believe in a deity (and you do have that right), then I have the right to criticise and, if I choose to, ridicule that belief. You don’t have a right not to be offended. And after all, blasphemy is simply about being offended by something. No more, no less.

Share Button

A fundamental freedom

Recently, a Dutch women’s abortion rights group, Women On Waves, organised an inspired publicity stunt to highlight the difficulties that women living in certain European countries face when trying to obtain an abortion.

The stunt, reported in the news links below, entailed flying 2 boxes of medical abortion tablets over the border from Germany to Poland using a miniature drone, so that 2 Polish women could get the abortion that they needed. Obtaining an abortion in Poland is only permitted under certain specific, extreme, circumstances and it is believed that there are a significant number of illegal back-street abortions carried out in Poland each year, with all the risks and hazards that this presents to the women concerned.

The drone operation was a complete success, in that the Polish women were able to take the tablets, and awareness of the issue was undoubtedly raised from all the media coverage.

Some of the women responsible for flying the drone were apparently arrested though the exact charges have not been revealed at the time of writing. I’m at a loss to understand what possible crime could have been committed, since both Germany and Poland are in the Schengen open border zone and the tablets were apparently prescribed by a doctor before being flown across the border.

Church-led Discrimination

This action highlights the inequality and discrimination that exists across Europe, where in some countries abortion is available on demand, and in others it is almost unavailable (e.g. Poland) or completely unavailable (e.g. Malta). I’m focussing on Europe because that’s where my main residence is.

It may not need saying, but of course the unavailability of abortion correlates almost exactly to the relative strength of the catholic church in those countries.

Yes or No

Regular readers will know that I tend to see things in black and white, and it seems to me that either a woman has the right to control what is happening in her own body, or she doesn’t.

If she doesn’t, then we may as well deny her the vote, the right to equal pay, the right to contraception, and the right to press criminal charges for rape, because equality just went out of the window.

If she does, which seems to me to be the more civilised option, then she should have the right to abort an unwanted pregnancy on demand. There should be no need for her to give a reason, just as there should be no need for me to give a reason for wanting a vasectomy, for example. I’m willing to accept practical limits (for example, only before the foetus, if born prematurely, would be certain to live) as long as the woman is given ample time to make her decision.

To me, the arguments are as simple as that. I don’t subscribe to the ‘life begins at conception’ argument – it seems self-evident that sentience and self awareness can’t exist in the early stages of a pregnancy, and furthermore I am of the opinion that the value of something that already exists (the mother) trumps the value of something which may or may not come to exist (the potential child).

I also don’t subscribe to the “only in case of rape” or “only if the woman’s life is in danger” arguments. If a woman has full rights over her own body, as I believe she should, then such arguments are completely superfluous.

Like I said, black and white.

Ports in a Storm

So if a woman in Poland, or Malta, or Ireland, or anywhere else in Europe that abortion is illegal or unfairly restricted, decides that getting an abortion is the right thing for her to do, what can she do?

At the moment it looks like she has two options.

Firstly, she could travel to a country where abortion is available on demand. Right now that means The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden or Switzerland. Currently Sweden has the most liberal laws, with abortion being available on demand up to 18 weeks into pregnancy, including for women who do not live in Sweden.

Secondly, she could apply online for a medical abortion kit from the Women On Web website. This kit consists of a number of pills and may be used up to around 12 weeks into pregnancy. I would assume the kits are sent out in plain wrapping! The website asks that the woman completes an online questionnaire and makes a donation towards costs, but that’s all.

Useful resources

Share Button

An improved prognosis

This is a follow-up to my post from two years ago, “Dealt a Blow“.

So, having had the subarachnoid haemorrhage in 2011 and a number of follow-up interventions in 2012 and 2013, it’s time for me to bring you up to date with what the hell is going on inside my skull.

My previous post got as far as me not looking forward to a further angiogram after the one in March 2013 showed that there was still some blood flowing inside my coiled aneurysm after having two coilings in 2011 and 2012.

Well, I flew back to London to get a further MRA in September 2013, and towards the end of the year got the results which said that I would have to have ANOTHER coiling via angiogram (my third), since the aneurysm wasn’t sufficiently blocked off. So I jetted off to London again in January 2014 (this time with girlfriend in tow) and underwent the coiling process via angiogram (under general anaesthetic) at what was becoming my regular haunt, the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Bloomsbury.

Before, during and after a coiling of an aneurysm

It was around this time that I looked back to all the medical interventions I had since my original haemorrhage, wondering why it was proving so difficult to block the aneurysm completely. I reluctantly decided that I simply couldn’t risk training in the gym any more, no matter how light the regime. It seemed entirely possible that too much training was raising my blood pressure and preventing the total blocking-off of the aneurysm.

After I got home I learned that I would no longer be able to have follow-up MRA scans in the UK, I would have to have them in Malta. No problem, I thought, and called Malta’s national hospital to arrange one. Three weeks of complex negotiations, phone-call hopscotch and red tape cutting later, I finally got myself onto the patient list of a Maltese neurological consultant and had my first consultation in February 2014. They scheduled an MRA for July to review the most recent coiling.

This MRA in July 2014 was, believe it or not, the first time I had treatment in Malta since the original haemorrhage back in 2011. The results came through quite quickly (quicker than in the UK), and this time, FINALLY, it was good news. When I met my consultant in August 2014 she said that the aneurysm appeared to be totally blocked off, though they would need to send the images to the NHNN in London to get a second opinion.

This was done and in March 2015 I received my first ever official ‘All Clear’. The NHNN agreed that the MRA showed there was no blood flow in the aneurysm – the blood flow in the vessels of my brain were bypassing it completely. I would need annual MRAs to check all was still good, but no more angiograms would be on the immediate horizon.

You can imagine the level of relief I felt. Since 2011 during my initial recovery, the aneurysm had felt like a huge shadow stalking my every step through life, and now that has been lifted.

I still bear the invisible scars of the subarachnoid haemorrhage, like a lot of SAH survivors. My eyes get tired and vision gets blurry much more frequently, and I have a much harder time with bright lights and glare. My medium and long term memory is nowhere near as good as it used to be. I get dizzy spells. Once in a while I suffer a day or two of extreme physical fatigue when I can hardly support my own head. And of course I have to avoid heavy lifting and anything which is likely to increase my blood pressure. But I’m still here, and with this prognosis I’m likely to be still here for some time to come. That’s what’s important.

Share Button