I haven’t blogged or commented on blogs for what seems like ages. I then avoid looking at mine and other blogs through a combination of shame and reduced motivation. The Jim machine is grinding to a halt.
Hold on a minute, this isn’t the Jim way! Where’s your energy, your positivity man? Goddamit you’re British, show some resolve. OK OK, so how to get out of this black hole of lethargy and procrastination?
I know, I’ll take my lead from Trump. I need to find someone or something to blame. That’s the real man’s way of dealing with a crisis. So let’s play…… THE BLAME GAME!
The first person to blame is my partner. God, that feels insensitive but hey I’m desperate here. Nearly 4 weeks ago she came off her bike and slid along the road on her face. She fractured her upper jaw and damaged her teeth. No dentists operating but there are emergency hubs so we’ve been travelling back and forth getting that sorted. I hate to use that as an excuse but in reality it has been tough physically and emotionally for her and it’s meant, quite rightly that I’ve spent more time looking after her. Her not being able to chew properly has meant I’ve become really good at soups and smoothies. Thankfully she is slowly on the mend and we console ourselves that it could have been much worse.
That brings me onto my main excuse for not blogging- My Biology and Evolution. Stick with me here. The scientist, Amy Arnsten was writing in an article I read a few weeks ago that in times of stress basically our primitive brains come to the fore and the stress hormones kick start the old flight or fight response. The impact of stress also tends to reduce the impact of our “pre frontal cortex” or more sophisticated part of our brain. I’m doing a poor job of this I know but the bottom line is that the chronic stress of living in these current days is affecting our ability to focus and concentrate. Apparently it’s not just me and it’s not laziness, it’s good old neuro science.
This reduced working of our “thinking, reasoning” brain and the increase in stress hormones doesn’t just lead to an inability to focus, but also leads to an overall lack of motivation. Arnsten explains that an often forgotten part of our flight or fight response to danger is to “freeze”, which can feel a lot like mental paralysis. “Losing the ability to have really motivated, guided behaviour can be linked to all these primitive reflexes,” she says.
For many people, this has led to what Arnsten calls a vicious cycle of losing focus, beating yourself up about it, and then making your prefrontal connections even weaker . “Why understanding neurobiology is so helpful is that you can watch yourself in that downwards spiral and you can say, ‘This is just my biology, evolution is making me do this, this is normal neurobiology, and I don’t have to blame myself, it’s okay,’ she argues. Arnsten is my new hero!
So there we have it. A convoluted way of saying it’s not my fault that I’ve been remiss in my blogging. But having said that, non- primitive brained Jim intends asserting himself and getting back into blogging and I’m looking forward to catching up on other’s blogs.
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain-edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when I shall myself die. Arid interrogation: yet the dread Of dying, and being dead, Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
Morning Folks! Is that what you wanted to see on a blog post. A first verse from a poem that’s a meditation on death and dying? In these times? Probably not.
So why have I put it out there? I think it’s because despite all the daily statistics about the numbers of daily deaths many of us haven’t quite confronted or looked at our own fears of dying and mortality. We know that we will all die but we are uncomfortable truly coming to terms with it. But this virus has shaken things up. It’s stark message is that any one of us, at any moment could be infected and could be one of the unlucky ones that ends up dying. It does affect older people more but there are plenty of younger and healthy people dying as well. It feels like it’s out there, ready to pounce and any of us could be next.
That prospect of imminent death is clearly always there but the virus has put it centre stage and made it a collective anxiety. Every single one of us could be susceptible to it and it’s very uncomfortable. It makes us consciously or unconsciously face our dread of dying. There’s no avoiding it and maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Of course for some, there is no dread or anxiety because they have faced the reality of death and come to some accommodation with it. For others death holds no fear because they are either fed up of life or have the comfort blanket of their faith to envelop them in hopes of an afterlife.
For the rest of us we can either push the subject away or confront it. Push it away and I believe it will not actually go away but will haunt your subconscious manifesting itself as unease or anxiety. Confront it, maybe for the first time in your life, and there could be a surprise.
Philip Larkin confronted death but found no comfort, only dread and some great poetry. Others though have found that confronting death is not only natural and normal but can also enhance our experience of life. To know what will inevitably come to pass can make us appreciate what we have in this very moment in time. It sounds trite but it’s true.
So, far from being depressing; confronting our own mortality, honestly and without pretty embellishments, could be the best way of enhancing our enjoyment and appreciation of life.
So let me finish with a positive view off death to counter balance the dread view of Philip Larkin. Here is a quote from a writer from the Buddhist tradition, Sharon Salzburg:
“I think [meditating on death] could make us a lot happier, we can feel free from so many of life’s irritations and annoyances and be truly in awe of the miracle of life and the time we do have. If we deeply see the folly of holding on, we can be much more in harmony with the flow of change.”
Maybe a message we will all get from this situation is a reminder that humanity and individuals are not in control of everything, that things do constantly change, our lives are indeed finite, but being alive is something we often under appreciate.
This rumination has helped me, (I tend to be more Philip than Sharon) so I’m going off now to eat a fantastic breakfast, walk outside and tell someone now how much I love them.
Ok a short post- mainly to share some observations for what they are worth
1 I love Jacinda Ardern- New Zealand’s PM. Really I do! Last year she impressed me with the way she dealt with the awful incident of the terrorist who targeted Muslims. Now she is impressing me with how she and her country is dealing with Coronavirus. Decisive, effective, compassionate, empathic and to top it all, she and her ministers take a voluntary 20% pay cut. So yeh- I love that woman and I wish my country had a leader like that.
2 Leading on from point 1. When reading about Jacinda I was struck how many of the countries dealing most effectively with the crisis in the world are led by women. Check out this article, makes fascinating reading. Certainly makes you think.
3 My last post about how now is actually a good time to stop drinking resonated with a few readers. Made me realise that I was so lucky to have given up on 1st September last year. I’ve given my body a fighting chance of being better prepared should I contract this bloody virus. But then I thought,”Was it luck or was there something in the Zeitgeist that led me to giving up drink at that point.” I’m beginning to thing there was a confluence of factors; greater awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet (good old Greta!), more people shunning the handed down assumption that to have a good time you had to do things like drink, a growing distrust of how big business encourages unhealthy habits, and a realisation that we can shape our own destinies.
4 I look around now and see many people overeating, drinking more excessively, basically a lot of people who do not seem very fit. Not all by any means but a lot. I see a divide according to class and inequality and realise that for all the talk about public health, successive governments, in the UK at least, have simply not done enough to promote good public health. School playing fields have been sold off, public spaces reduced, no real money has been put into cycling and building a network of safe cycle paths, there’s still no minimum alcohol unit pricing in England despite the evidence that it works (as in Scotland) and the suspicion reemerges that governments have a bigger interest in tax receipts from the food and drink industries than really making a difference to public health. We have neglected real efforts to help all sections of our societies healthy, and now when having a healthy body is the one defence we seem to have against the virus we realise just how important health is. We have a pandemic that people like Bill Gates warned us about 5 years ago but for which there was little to no preparation. We merrily boozed and chomped our way through more than we ever needed. Governments could have spent time and money preparing for a pandemic but that costs money and some governments think we all want a low tax, consumer society where we can consume scarce resources and eat and drink ourselves senseless above all else. Maybe they got that wrong. Maybe that’s not how many felt before the crisis and even more feel differently now.
Maybe the Zeitgeist is about to change. Let’s hope so.
It’s already a cliche, but it’s true- we are living in strange times. But also counter-intuitive times. I’ve now had people with anxiety and depression telling me they feel oddly more relaxed and better than before the Corona crisis, isolated people saying how comforting it is to not be the only ones isolated, indeed the crisis has led some to be more connected than ever before. Strange times indeed.
That got me thinking about alcohol. I haven’t spoken much about this subject since the outbreak of the virus because it didn’t seem of much consequence, I was wrong. This is the perfect time to talk about alcohol and in a rare moment of Jim giving advice I would say to anyone reading this considering giving up alcohol- do it and do it now- it’s the perfect opportunity.
Steady on Jim. People are drinking at this time and for many it’s a welcome relief, a source of comfort and pleasure, only a sadistic bastard would advise people to give up at this time of most need. What’s wrong with you, show a little compassion man.
Yes, it does seem counter intuitive but hear me out. If I were still drinking, this lock down for me would be open season for binge drinking. It would be like being on holiday; no major work commitments, unstructured days, minimal driving and no censorial judgements. It’s lock down! Wear your dressing gown all day, binge on box sets, eat chocolate and ooh look its midday let’s have a G and T. I would be knocking it back slow and steady, spending days in what I would have considered hazy, disconnected bliss. Except it wouldn’t be bliss for long. I’d start feeling rough in the mornings, guilt would creep in as would post drinking anxiety. I would get grumpy and take out my self revulsion on my partner. In short I would quickly become a mess.
So clearly this is directed not at the glass of wine a day brigade but the serious drinkers, the ones who find it hard to stop in the absence of normal restrictions. Drinkers like me (I’m now happily 7 months sober by the way). So here’s the thing. Why is now the perfect time to stop?
Reason 1 If you don’t stop it will be easy to find yourself in holiday mode and your drinking issue could easily spiral into a serious drinking problem as outline above.
Reason 2 If , like me, your drinking is conditioned to a large extent by social events this is the perfect opportunity to stop because those social triggers have ceased to exist. No pubs to negotiate or restaurants to sit in watching others knock back the wine. No family BBQs or big birthdays. No Easter get togethers or beach picnics. Some of the key anxiety producing events for people trying to stop drinking have vanished. Even if you wanted them they do not exist for the moment. So sieze that opportunity. It’s like having a head start. My first two months of sobriety were spent dealing with these social triggers and having to summon up massive amounts of will power to get me through. It seriously does get easier after the first two months so this lock down situation is like being in rehab without the £1000 a week price tag. So you can see, you would be mad NOT to use this opportunity to give up drinking if you have been seriously considering it.
Reason 3 The BIG one! This is the one that could be the difference between life and death. Seriously. Alcohol is bad for our immune system. Fact. Don’t just listen to me I’m not a doctor, but listen to these guys:
“Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia. In recent decades, this association has been expanded to a greater likelihood of acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS), sepsis, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), and certain cancers; a higher incidence of postoperative complications; and slower and less complete recovery from infection and physical trauma, including poor wound healing.”
The word sobering comes to mind! Let’s have some more:
“There are a number of ways alcohol impairs your immune system, making you more likely to get sick. First, it’s important to know that the microbes living in your intestines, your gut’s microbiome, plays an important role in fighting diseases. This happens in many ways that we’re just beginning to understand. When you drink a lot of alcohol, it has many negative effects on your digestive system. It damages the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb many nutrients. It also severely disturbs your gut’s microbiome, significantly altering the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. Alcohol affects the way health gut microbes interact with the immune system. Alcohol also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood. These rogue bacteria can cause inflammation in the liver and may lead to liver damage. Alcohol doesn’t just affect the function of the digestive tract. It also affects the respiratory system. Excessive drinking may impair the function of immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system, leading to increased risk for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Because the immunity of the mucus is impaired in both the lungs and digestive tract, any disease can become more severe.” (Recovery Ways)
It’s there in black and white. It’s not controversial. Try this – https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/why-drinking-too-much-may-cause-lung-disease-070714.html It’s established and known science. With this current virus there are no drugs that can cure if, no vaccine as yet. The medical interventions are there to support the body as it fights the virus. The only thing that will defeat the virus is our own body’s immune system. Our body becomes our life saving drug store. Would you take the one thing that could potentially save your life and weaken it, damage it and make it less effective? No, of course not, but that’s exactly what you will be doing if you drink alcohol, (let’s say excessively), during this crisis. Your immune system is damaged by alcohol so if you want to give your immune system the best chance of beating this virus, stop drinking. I’m against being directed what to do but these are indeed strange times. We are told to stay in. I follow that advice because it could keep me alive. If you have a problem with drink like I had, here’s my advice; stop drinking, it’s the perfect opportunity and it could save your life.
Oh and if you do decide to stop right now, follow some of the sober blogs I follow. You’ll get the support and encouragement you need and you’ll hopefully see that giving up isn’t about denial, it’s about opportunity and freedom. Post Corona you’ll be glad you did it.
It is a funny, strange world we live in right now. I was thinking how rare it is that, right now, wherever we are in the world we are all basically facing the same situation. All of us, at the same time, collectively seeing our worlds turned upside down by this invisible virus that no one has immunity to, that can kill but leaves most essentially unscathed. It threatens but we don’t know if and when we will get it and what the outcome will be. So we park that thought and carry on making the best of things, hopefully looking out for each other and finding fun and laughter somehow amongst the chaos, sadness and uncertainty. A unique shared experience.
Of course, in reality the observable facts of the virus may be the same but our experiences are not shared . My experience of the virus as someone semi-retired, a home owner with grown up kids living in the country is not going to be the same as a migrant worker living in poverty in India. Whilst I can potter around finishing some gardening, popping to the shops, doing my bit to help and enjoying the chance to catch up with friends online and write my blog, others are wondering where their next meal is coming from, what to do with stressed out, bored kids or actually living with the virus unsure if they are going to survive or spend days connected to a ventilator not knowing if they are going to live or die. So maybe we need to talk about shared external circumstances rather than a shared experience?
Then I look at a society similar to us in the UK. America, the great US of A. Wealthy, privileged USA. A stable democracy like ours enjoying an incredibly high standard of living. Two of the lucky ones in global terms and yet what a difference at the moment. And the key difference is in how those countries are being led. Over here in the UK, yes we have a right wing, flawed leader in Boris who inexplicably pushed to take us out of the best trading block on the planet, and yet he still knows how to act and behave when it really matters. He and the government haven’t got everything right but most people here acknowledge that that are fairly intelligent people sincerely doing their best for the country. When Boris’s stand in (he himself has the virus) spoke two days ago, I thought, I don’t like this man (Dominic Raab ) or his politics but I could admire the way he was dealing with things and how he addressed the nation. He offered his condolences to those families that had lost loved ones. He praised the medical and other staff making so many sacrifices. He spoke with compassion and he gave accurate information. This is what you want from the leaders in times of crisis.
Then I watched clips of Donald Trump. My heart sank. Attacking reporters who rightfully questioned his lackadaisical stance at the beginning of the crisis in the US, open mouthed as he suggested that masks and other equipment were being stolen and sold off by medical staff, appalled at the brazen way he offered his corporate buddies a chance to sell themselves and their companies as thousands die in his country because of his refusal to take the crisis seriously earlier on when he had the opportunity to take real action. I could go on. His admission that he only speaks to governors he likes, acting like some narcissistic teenager and chillingly saying to a press conference that he wished 80% of them were not there, in other words his critics. The Americans I have met are warm, open, loud, vibrant and creative. The bloggers from America that I read are all incredibly compassionate and I can only imagine how they feel when their president gives a press conference as he did last week where spoke about the number of deaths and offered no words of condolence or compassion to those that died or their families. A disgrace to his own country.
My heart goes out to the millions of Americans who have to live with this man in charge of so many aspects of their lives. I feel that despite having a government here that I didn’t vote for, those in charge do have a sense of compassion, public service and intelligence that gives me some confidence that they know what they are doing.
So shared circumstances, shared common threat, shared experiences of living through completely changed social arrangements but very different experiences framed by the leaders of our different countries. I’ve focused on the UK and the USA here but I’m aware that this crisis Is highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of leadership across the globe. A hope would be that populations hold their leaders to account when all this is over and that the ignorant and the inept get the comeuppance they deserve. In the meantime it’s local communities that are being energised and taking control, helping each other and finding ways to connect and find solutions to the common problems we face. Let’s hope that’s a common experience that survives this crisis.
One of my sons lives near London, the other in Sheffield. I see them maybe once every few months. I call them on the phone- no joy. They don’t do phone calls, it has to be conversation via WhatsApp. I send a message saying it’s easier to say what I want to say via a call. They text back that they are in the middle of something. Then there’s 20 minutes of intermittent texting to communicate something that would have taken 2 minutes on the phone. It’s a generational divide. At least we now have one.
Growing up I wondered when they were going to exhibit the generational rebellion I had shown to my parents. My dad hated it when I played Hendrix in the house. “Rubbish!” He would shout, “the Devil’s music” or most bizarrely, “That bloody Hendrix can’t even play the guitar properly.” Try getting your head round that statement. I loved that feeling of inhabiting a different counter cultural world to my parents. My offspring,however ,have been a massive disappointment in that respect. Sure at 8 years old they mocked my musical preferences; laughing at my Tindersticks albums, yawning at Leonard Cohen and running a mile at Hank Williams. Then it all changed. My music collection became “cool” and they were right of course. My unrecognised claim to fame is that I single handedly championed the music of Nick Drake when I was 16 and no one else was listening to his albums . Now everyone’s on the bandwagon and I tiresomely have to remind everyone that,”I FOUND HIM FIRST, HE’S MINE.” So, you get the picture, they love the music I loved and now own all my old vinyl. No generation gap there. But when it comes to communicating we live on different planets.
What now with isolation? Strangely I’m communicating with them more than ever before and they are even using voice calls or as we used to call them, telephone calls. The national lockdown seems to be making people communicate more than when there were no restrictions. Before lock down I didn’t see them for months and hardly spoke to them , now I don’t see them for months but I speak to them all the time. If I were cynical I’d say they are prepping me for financial support. But maybe they are being sincere, maybe they see me as part of the vulnerable group; male, over 60, overweight, and are getting in early – doing that connecting with my dad before he croaks it stuff.
The other possibility is they are bored and after doing all the other things; exercise, shopping, cleaning, cooking, hobbies, Netflix, sex, eating, more sex and toenail trimming they have run out of things to do and thought, “oh well nothing else to do, let’s call dad.” But I’ll take that and it might be one of the unexpected bonuses of this shitstorm of a situation that friends and family connect more and appreciate each other more. That seems like a good silver lining.
Which brings me to tonight. I’d never heard of “Zoom” until last week now I’m hearing about this videoconferencing app everywhere. Both sons have accounts and yesterday we even had a chat where there were four of us on screen including my ex, the boys’ mother. Let’s just say that was a novel and interesting social situation, good, just strange. The upshot is that tonight my eldest is hosting a quiz on Zoom and my ex and her hubby will be there, I’ll be there as well as my partner’s children. All dispersed but coming together for some fun and entertainment. Just as it often takes a funeral to bring people together so it now looks like Coronavirus is helping us connect more in some ways than we ever did when we were free to move around. Is there another lesson to be learned here post crisis? I think so. I hope so. In the meantime I’m going to read and digest some quiz questions and answers because those kids need to know that daddy knows best.Yes I am very competitive and I like winning.