How charts changed my idea of writing

The Menell Media Exchange conference provides an opportunity for journalists to share information and learn from each other. The MMX is a project from Duke University and was held at the Maslow Hotel in Johannesburg.

An exciting program on Friday, 19 August, showed once again how passionate we are about anything to do with Journalism. Out of all the conference sessions, the one I particularly enjoyed was the “Telling stories with data” session lead by Laura Grant, an independent media consultant. I found it interesting in many factors. And as Grant quoted Cairo:

“We use graphs and maps because they help us to see the truth in the data.”

-Alberto Cairo

And then it hit me; all those stories I’ve written about numbers, amounts and percentages could have worked and looked much better with a graph. I also learned that putting numbers in a graph can make it much easier for me to see what the results are. Sometimes we write something, but you don’t “see” it in your mind nor understand it. And how can you explain it to your reader if you do not understand it yourself?

Let’s take the petrol price as an example, a price that fluctuated profoundly in the past year. If I saw the amounts in the form of a graph, I would’ve seen the fluctuation and illustrated it better. Another example is the exchange rate of the rand; which swayed more than the cast of Dirty Dancing. Speaking about dirty, the exchange rate was quite a ballerina when President Zuma had a few Minister of Finances in only one week. And I must say that a graph of this year’s exchange rate would be quite interesting.

Grant also focussed on an extreme presentation method. Giving us tips and tricks and even questions to ask ourselves when we design a graph. Questions like “is there a comparison?”, “which composition would look best?”, “what is the distribution?” and lastly “is there a relationship in the data?”

As a designer myself, she spoke of a few programs I know and also introduced me to other alternatives. Google Sheets and Datawrapper being my favourite data programs to work with were also mentioned, including Cloud Highcharts, Pictochart, Infogram and more.

Allister Otter, a friend in the media of Grant, spoke about maps and how it can be used for a lot of news stories, even if you just want to see a visual to describe it better to the reader. Otter used the elections as an example, showing how easy it is to make a map if you have the correct information. Google my Maps and Batch Geo were some of his favourite programs to use.

Another much-loved saying that we enjoyed was the fact that pie charts are a total no go, but if you use them, make sure it adds up to a 100. Our honours class and I think our lecturers will agree that although we learned a lot, our favourite part of the conference, was the amazing food.

Warriors Unite

I’m Carla Mouton, I have schizoaffective bipolar mood disorder ii, ADD and anxiety. So what? I drink my medicine prescribed by my psychiatrist every day and I live a most-of-the-time normal life. I don’t even know what counts as normal? It’s probably like that very plain burger you buy when you’re running out of money, a piece of overcooked meat in a hamburger bun and maybe a pickle. Anyway, I see a psychologist weekly and sometimes life isn’t a fairytale, but who’s is?

But because I have a mental illness and sometimes acts differently because of it; I’m seen by most people as a weirdo, freak or attention whore; like so many others.

There is a stigma surrounding mental illness, and it needs to stop. People should know that people with mental health problems don’t suddenly turn into a werewolf and eat their families. We’re Warriors, we battle our unseen enemies every day, just like a diabetics  need their insulin daily.

We need to end the stigma surrounding mental illnesses by talking about it. Sometimes these types of emotional bullying can lead to bad relapses, skipping or not taking prescribed medicine and even suicide. If more people talk about something it becomes less strange. Remember the Game Of Thrones series premiere? Oh, a series about winter and a lot of people dying that you learn to love? That sounds boring. And then some people watched the premiere and now everybody is a GOT zombie. We should at least get it to Fifty Shades of Grey level of okay to talk about.

And who other than the people fighting their demons every day to start it. Not be ashamed of their mental illness, not define ourselves as freaks, looking after ourselves, saying no and why you can’t drink or stay out too late or being afraid to take pills in front of people. If we are not ashamed, so will society see we’re not werewolves.

So let’s unite Warriors and fight not only to go on in our daily lives but also to change society’s perception.

Podcasts of Previous Posts

So, you’ve stumbled onto my blog by accident. But you like the vibe, ’cause it’s the coolest thing ever,  but you’re not in the mood to read? Well no problem my audio book friend, here are the podcasts of the previous posts.

These podcasts were used, and compiled in cooperation with me, by PUKfm 93.6 to make more people aware of mental health. Thank you PUKfm!

The Diary Of A Warrior: Four Sixteen

The Diary Of A Warrior: Warrior vs Stigma

The Diary Of A Warrior: What Depression Really Feels Like

The Diary of a Warrior: What Mania Really Feels Like

After the post about how depression feels like, I got loads of requests to write something about mania. First of all, manic episodes can be pleasant as well as really unpleasant. Have you ever regretted what you did after you were so drunk you cleaned your hands with a fridge magnet? Well, that is how mania feels like. You act and feel like you are absolutely over your limit drunk or high on Coke, and not the good kind.

Not everybody experiences mania in the same way or  extremity. Mania usually goes with being impulsive, promiscuity, talking way too much, you laugh and you kind of act like the Joker in Batman. Except your hair doesn’t suddenly turn green and you don’t get a kickass evil laugh or become a psychopath. Your mood is elevated and you have an amazing self-esteem, you feel like Beyoncé and act like one of the Kardashians. Also, you can still be enthusiastic with none or very little sleep and feel great and energetic. You’re also very goal-oriented and productive, so remember when you wanted to do that DIY-thing you saw on Pinterest? Well, go take some flats and glue two dinosaurs to the soles and make yourself some high heels.

 

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Yes, it’s a thing.

 

And then there’s the bad part, you have the constant need to take part in pleasurable activities, activities that can lead to pretty bad consequences. Activities like swiping your credit card until you can smell burnt plastic, making stupid investments and doing things you don’t think through. Things like sexual indiscretions, where your manic episode leads to hypersexuality. Hypersexuality is pretty much what it sounds like, a sudden increase in sexual urges or sexual activity. Another symptom is extreme impulsivity, for example getting weird tattoos and piercings or coming out of a salon looking like My Little Pony.

But, like everything that has to do with mood disorders or mental health in general, it always differs. Even mania itself differs, you get hypomania and mania. Hypomania is the lesser of two evils and the symptoms of the manic episode aren’t that extreme. But, you still do stupid stuff, like getting a weird or hideous tattoo.

I remember the day well, I went with a friend who thought long and hard about her tattoo, and while holding her hand I decided I’m getting a tattoo as well. No, not my cool Project Semicolon tattoo that gets me through the day. No, moi got a Batman tattoo on her side-boob, and although I still love my BatTat, I can’t help wondering how weird it’s going to look like when I’m old – a raisin version of the Bat signal? Also, I was so anxious that Ben Affleck was going to mess this choice up for me.

So yes, you know the movie The Hangover? It’s pretty much like that, and you do wake up with a tattoo of Zach Galifianakis. When it comes to a manic episode you have unrealistic beliefs in your abilities and you feel indestructible. Some people even get agitated, furious and aggressive. Apparently, it’s a huge party in your head, like being on MDMA or VERY drunk.

But how does every out-of-control-party end? With regrets and a headache. And so does mania, after a manic or even hypomanic episode, you crash. You fall into that hole I’ve spoken so many times of before in my previous post, a depression episode. It can be days, months or even a year or more. Every person’s depression or manic state differs in length.

The relapses I have, like the one I’m experiencing at the moment, can be awful. I blacked out because my brain was trying to compensate for the state I was in. That’s how important those hormones are for a person to function. Side-effects can be awful, but at least you can sort of function normally.

So, I guess you can say I drink my meds to keep the party in my head low-key and stormless. Just the way I like my social festivities.

Please feel free to comment with your opinion or story. This post was originally written on 18 September 2016.

The Diary Of A Warrior: What Depression Really Feels Like

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.

“What does depression feel like?” I’ve heard that single question a hundred times before. And every time I’m asked that question, I use a different way to describe it, because every time it feels different. It’s sort of like a paper cut because that never feels the same either. Sometimes it’s on your finger, other times on your hand and even sometimes you don’t even know how the hell you got a paper cut somewhere. It even varies in depth and size. So you see what I mean if I say depression has the same characteristics, but it can feel different every time. Surprising you, just like that innocent piece of paper that’s now making you bleed.

You always feel yourself sinking into that same darkness that whispers depression in your ear, but it always feels different. Sometimes it feels like heartache – I always say I would rather be stabbed by a gentleman than get my heart broken by one. You know what I’m talking about, that sting, that dreadful pain sucking the life out of you. Like that scene in Indiana Jones where that terrifying dude rips the heart from a boys’ chest. Quite literally, but you feel the same as if your heart was also ripped out of your chest,  leaving you only with complete and utter sadness. But the thing is, nobody broke your heart, so why do you feel this way?

Other times it feels like you’re drowning – you feel your lungs rise with water and you try to fight the ocean current with everything you’ve got, you try to go up for a single breath – but you start to feel so tired, you just want to let go and give up, let the water drag your body without any refusal.  And to think an hour ago you were fine, having fun on the beach, and now you’re drowning.  It’s like hearing that it’s a beautiful day outside but you can’t see anything in this windowless room you’re trapped in. Sometimes depression feels like you’re walking in a scary alley and you’re too busy looking around you that you step into wet cement – you try to get out, but you’re stuck. And everyone is walking past the alley and you cry out for help: just like the boy in Indiana Jones, the person thrown into a windowless room, like the poor soul who’s drowning and now as someone who feels like she’s going to be stuck in that horrid place forever.

Later on, it feels like you’ve been living for ages, decades even. And you’ve felt and witnessed tragedy day after day. You’ve seen war, poverty and people dying. You’ve loved and lost, you’ve seen the things no one wants to see or feel. And you are so angry, and you treat the people you love with irritation and aggravation. Not because you feel irritated by them, but because you’re just so angry and tired of feeling this way. And you want to be left alone, but you don’t want to be alone – and you know that doesn’t even make sense – but that’s what you want. And the worst part is that you don’t even know why you feel this way. Then one day you realise you’ve never been more alone because you’re scaring away the only people left that care for you. So you try to pull yourself together, you sob in the shower but smile in public, because you think that if you act alright you’ll be alright. Then one day it breaks, it tumbles; you see your life shatter into a thousand pieces. And you know that you did it to yourself, you hid it away, pushed it back like Dr Jekyll – but Hyde always found a way to escape. And now you’re more alone than ever, and your life is in pieces. You heard that you’re cruel and heartless and too aggravated, but that was you fighting to be normal, and you wish you never fought, you wish that you just took that blade you stared at for such a long time once, and you stabbed yourself, broke your own heart. Cut yourself with the piece of paper. So you can finally find peace, like the boy in Indiana Jones.

And if not, you feel yourself sinking even deeper in the hissing darkness and it feels like it’s eating you from the inside, until there is nothing left, until you don’t care about anything anymore and the sparkle that used to be in your eyes are long gone. You’re a ghost of the person you used to be, just an empty shell.

And that is what depression feels like.

The 6 Best Apps A Journo Should Have On Call

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I know this post is sort of focussed on a certain group of people starting with Journa- and ending with -lists, but hey, maybe you’re a stalker, which is sort of the same thing. So if you’re a journo student, a journalist or just a stalker; check these apps out. Because they rule ’em all. All of the following apps are free, except if stated otherwise or if you want to go premium.

1. You’ll need something to record your source with, most smartphones have their own recorder, but Cogi is so much cooler. You can change the settings; so that you can record meetings, single voices and only the most important parts of certain conversations. It can also block out background noise.

Cogi
Cogi

2. No notebook on hand? Google Docs, Google Keep and your own smartphones’ notepad can all come in handy if you’re a fast typer. The cool thing about Google Keep is that you can use a stylus or even your finger to write your notes (if your phone is touchscreen – which it probably is because you’re not living in the 90’s anymore), and then the app will turn your scribbles into text.

Google Keep
Google Keep

3. What’s a journalist without proof? Or  you left your DSLR in the car? Your normal cell camera may be cool because it has “beauty mode”, but with Camera FV-5 for Android, you can shoot anything with the extra DSLR capabilities. The same sort of app for Apple is Camera+. You can also edit in both these apps. According to Daniëlla van Heerden, eNCA journo and a specialist in the mobile journalism #MOJO field, Filmic Pro is her go-to Apple app. The app was recently launched on the PlayStore, so that’s a big YES for Android users. FiLmic Pro might be a bit pricey, but according to van Heerden it’s totally worth it.

4. But an awesome photo editing app for the perfect photos is also important. For Android and Apple users, I recommend Snapseed by Google. It is free and this app has everything you need to do at the touch of a slider.

Snapseed.png
Snapseed

Check out Snapseed’s awesome capabilities in this cool video.

5. Social media is an integral part of being a journalist according to every journalist. According to Landi Malan, journo and social media coordinator at Maroela Media, Twitter and Facebook are the most important apps. But a lot of users now communicate through Vimeo, SnapChat, Instagram and of course if you have your own blog, there is an app for that, like the WordPress app. Malan says blogs are also seen as social media apps, and WordPress is definitely her favourite of the bunch. All of the above-mentioned apps are available on the Android PlayStore as well as the Apple iStore.

Social media
Social Media on PlayStore

6. The worst part of being a journo? No money? Yeah, but also transcribing. These two apps, Transcribe player for Android and Transcriber for Apple make it possible to record and transcribe your audio clips for you. Jay technology!

Transcribe Player
Transcribe Player

7. And of course you need the world at your fingertips, so download all those news alert apps, so you can stay on fleek and updated. Be sure to activate the “receive notification tab” on all the following apps that are available for Android, Apple devices, as well as Windows devices.

And that is all the important ones. If you’re a journalist, newsie or just live on coffee and hypocrisy – download these apps to make your work easier for yourself. Know another app that makes being a journo easier? Please let me know in the comments below.

The Diary Of A Warrior: Warrior VS Stigma

After publishing my previous post, Four Sixteen, I received many messages telling me how brave I am for posting and talking about my conditions on the web. I know each message came from a place of love and support, but it made me think: why does it make me brave?

If I had a physical condition  and posted about my illnesses on the web, no one would’ve told me how brave I am for talking about it and sharing my “secret”. So why, just because my conditions are classified as mental illnesses does it make me brave?

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Via EverybodyHasABrain

And I realised that there is an even bigger stigma behind mental illness than I thought. But why? Most mental illnesses are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or the “wiring’s” not working that well, which can be fixed with medication. Yes,we do have our bad days, but so do others with physical illnesses. A diabetic needs insulin as someone with depression needs more dopamine or  serotonin to function.

People are the reason we don’t talk about it, I think this image explains pretty well how people with mental illnesses are treated.

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Image via imgur

Yep, that’s how people are talked to, I have been told a thousand times “just pull yourself together. It’s only in your mind”.

I have interictal psychosis – which is kind of like brain epilepsy. So sometimes, when I experience anxiety, I have impaired speech and most of the time it turns into hallucinations. My wiring is just a bit off, like a diabetic’s pancreas – which is also an awful illness you have to live with every day. But with the help of epilepsy medication and an antipsychotic, I’m fine most of the time.

Having bipolar disorder is a bit different, it has to do with the hormones in the brain. There is no medication for bipolar disorder (science, get on that, thanks), one little pill that I can drink to stay chilled and on route and not stop at the manic or depressed station. There are different types of bipolar, but I’m not gonna bore you with the details. So what do we drink to keep ourselves on route? Wine; I wish. We are on a combination of epilepsy meds/ mood stabilisers and antidepressants. Now, like I said  in my previous post, finding the right combination is no joke. But when you do, you’re okay, most of the time. And like everybody else you sometimes stop at the wrong station or have an off day.

So why are people so afraid of mental illness and to talk about it? But people immediately think aggressive and crazy when they hear the word bipolar. And they think you need to be locked away in the Arkham Asylum if you see or hear things that are not there. I even got asked by friends if there isn’t a demon living inside of me, causing these delusions. Nope.

Warr;ors get bad mouthed every day, and it’s not helping. It’s making things worse; it leads to being afraid of going to a psychiatrist, admitting there might be something wrong, leaving medication and even suicide.

Most people are not educated about mental illness, even though one out of every four people suffer from some sort of mental illness. Don’t let ignorance and stigma stand in the way of your health Warr;ors. If we talk more about it, then it won’t be so weird anymore. So, sort of like Fifty Shades of Grey.