Book Review: Natural Causes

“For all our vaunted intelligence and ‘complexity’, we are not the sole authors of our destinies or anything else.”

Natural Causes: Life, Death and the Illusion of Control, by Barbara Ehrenreich, is a sometimes provocative but genuinely questioning exploration of modern western attitudes to health, fitness and ageing. The author is a doctor although not of medicine, holding a PhD in cellular immunology. She writes from a personal but also knowledgeable perspective.

Starting with the increase in routine healthcare testing and screening now expected of supposedly sensible citizens, she explains why she has opted out of those she has a choice in taking (living in America some tests are required for medical insurance). She has decided that, having reached an age where she considers death could be deemed acceptable, she prefers to enjoy her life and not spend what time remains anticipating its end.

The book in no way rejects the worth of advances in modern medicine but rather questions the intense preoccupation so many have with attempting to control their health. She points out the lack of correlation between many diet and fitness fads and increased longevity. She notes that medical interventions can also produce harmful side effects, at times triggering conditions they aim to prevent becoming deadly.

Written with a dry wit she opens by looking at a number of screening tests carried out on women which are unpleasant, invasive and of dubious worth. The trust placed in doctors has granted them a power over other’s bodies that makes questioning what they do appear an act of foolishness, the patient marked down as uncooperative.

“Physicians have an excuse for flouting the normal rules of privacy”

Back in 1971 patients started asking why certain demarcations were necessary and examining themselves

“many doctors were outraged with me arguing that in lay hands a speculum was unlikely to be sterile, to which feminist writer Ellen Frankfort replied cuttingly that yes, of course, anything that enters the vagina should first be boiled for at least ten minutes.”

As well as questioning the usefulness of tests the author discusses over-treatment and the marketing of alternative medicines. She then moves on to the exponential growth in the use of gyms and other such facilities in the late twentieth century.

“a fashionable segment of the society had taken up a new project – themselves”

She writes that what resulted was women being masculinised, men feminised and all increasingly objectified. Unfit behaviour signified lower-class status, as did certain food choices. In fitness culture there was a separation

“in which mind struggles for control over the lazy, recalcitrant body”

Such attitudes spread into the workplace where incentives were offered to employees presented as workplace perks. Weight and size became a measure of ability.

“But there’s a darker, more menacing side to the preoccupation with fitness, and this is the widespread suspicion that if you can’t control your own body you’re not fit, in any sense, to control anyone else”

The increasingly vocal and judgemental public looked at healthcare costs and taxation, deciding that blame could be apportioned to those needing treatment.

“the less-than-fit person is a suitable source not only of revulsion but resentment”

The mega-wealthy and self proclaimed smart elites, particularly those in Silicon Valley, started looking for ways to achieve immortality, asking in all seriousness

“why should you ever die?”

The author points out, in case any reader needs reminding, that death happens anyway and often from the causes the various personal projects have worked so hard to avoid – cancer, heart failure, autoimmune diseases. However it is looked after, the human body continues to function in unpredictable ways.

The focus of the writing moves on to mindfulness where the brain, as a muscle, is given repeated work-outs to affect change. The mind is also affected by its bombardment of negative attitudes towards those who do not look or act as proponents of health and fitness expect.

“Still we persist in subjecting anyone who dies at a seemingly untimely age to a kind of bio-moral autopsy: Did she smoke? Drink excessively? Eat too much fat and not enough fiber? Can she, in other words, be blamed for her own death?”

This is particularly noticeable in commentary on the lifestyles of those living in poverty whilst rarely looking at the reasons for their choices.

“Concern for the poor usually comes tinged with criticism.”

Having explored the efforts influential segments of society put into caring for their bodies, the author then turns attention to why they continue to die anyway. She explains how cells grow and change, how certain cells work to clean up but can mutate.

“Deadly combat among cells is part of how the body, and especially the human body, conducts its normal business”

Towards the end she steps back from this preoccupation with self quoting Stephen Hawking.

“We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe”

A human being is a building block of matter, existing for a time and with some perhaps contributing to the natural order in some unremarkable, minuscule way. Before and after, the universe continues.

Throughout the narrative sources are cited for readers wishing to dig deeper into the claims made. I felt at times that accuracy was simplified for the sake of readability but this remains an interesting subject presented in a mostly cogent, always accessible way. It is not a polemic against any of the topics covered but rather an invitation to question why we accept certain widely held views, ceding to demands made. It advocates for choice, to live and enjoy life before those recalcitrant cells call time, as they inevitably will.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Granta.

Death is not a dirty word

This week I was saddened to read that Stephen Sutton had passed away. He was a young man who appreciated and made the most of the precious gift of life that was taken from him way too soon. He was inspirational not just because of the phenomenal amount of money that he managed to raise for the Teenage Cancer Trust, but because he did not fear death nor allow his illness to become the focus of his final years. Instead he embraced the life that he had left, an attitude that we could all learn from. None of us know how long our lives will be.

Health is big business. Books and newspapers sell when they carry stories about the latest discovery of a wonder food or exercise fad that promises to help proponents live longer. Why this focus on longevity? It is always desperately sad when a young person dies, but what is so appealing about living to be 120 years old when, with a few exceptions, the human body appears to start it’s terminal decline before we are 80, however healthy our lifestyle has been? As far as I am concerned, quality of life trumps quantity.

I will put my cards on the table here and admit that I am in favour of voluntary euthanasia. I have no wish to spend my final years in a nursing home no matter how well run such an establishment may be. If I ever start to lose my marbles then I hope that there will be a humane way out.

I do not understand why some people fear death. Those who believe there is a hereafter generally expect it to be an improvement on the here and now, unless they have lived really wicked lives in which case they should be sorting that out pronto. Those who believe that this life is all there is expect nothingness when they die; why would that be a concern?

What I fear more than death is the bit that comes just before, hence my support of voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary is the key word here. None of this equates to others making judgements on who should live and who should die. There are plenty of people with serious physical or mental health issues who can find good and valid reasons for wanting to prolong their lives. For those who have made a concious and reasoned decision to go though, I would like there to be more options.

One of the problems with having this sort of discussion is that talk of wanting to die is equated with depression, which requires a different sort of treatment altogether. I am no expert in this area so do not feel that I can offer informed insight into how best to deal with these often misunderstood illnesses. I think that we could all benefit from a better understanding of mental health issues.

What I would like to see considered more openly and seriously is autonomy at life’s end, particularly for the elderly who are often patronised and whose wishes are swept aside or ignored. It would appear that death is no longer seen as natural but as something that we should be doing absolutely everything within our power to avoid. I do not wish to rush my demise and would like to think that I have many more years left on this earth, but I do not see prolonging my life as the ultimate goal.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” (Hunter S. Thompson)

I do realise that this attitude is a gamble that could end up being somewhat selfish. If my choices result in my early death then it is my family who will suffer. Those who are left behind can have their lives altered irrevocably by the loss of a loved one. Voluntary euthanasia though offers the option to discuss beforehand why it is desired. Understanding can go a long way towards facilitating acceptance and closure.

I know that there are many people who, for religious or other deep seated reasons, do not consider that we have any right to shorten a life, even our own. I would not wish to trample on their right to hold such beliefs and live accordingly, but object to having their choices foisted on me.

When I die, whenever that may be, I do not wish my loved ones to wail and gnash their teeth. I want them to look back at the years I had and realise that they were good, that I made the most of my time here. I may not have achieved anything great (although I think that my kids are pretty awesome) but I took hold of each day and I lived it.

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. [..] I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” (John Green)

What I do not want is to have my last days coloured by boredom and suffering, by a long and expensive wait for the inevitable in conditions of indignity. If I do not go suddenly and unexpectedly then I would appreciate having the ability to choose the time of my own demise.

Can we talk about death without those who are still alive, who have perhaps suffered the loss of a loved one, getting upset? I enjoy my life and I want to continue doing so. I do not, however, wish it to be prolonged just because this is possible. I choose to live. When the time comes, I would also appreciate being allowed to choose to die.

 

 

Understanding Ithaka

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I start each week with a fierce determination to make it better than the last. I rarely feel satisfied with my accomplishments, although I am not sure why this should be. I am trying to get to some place that even I cannot fully picture, let alone actualise. The best I can do is to take small steps that feel like a move in the right direction, that give me a feeling of satisfaction rather than despair.

Last week I had four good days in a row. I put down a lot of writing, ate sensibly, met up with a friend for a walk and kept on top of my duties to my family. I wasn’t demanding too much of myself and I was feeling good. Then, on Friday, it all started to slip. Over the weekend I had a major slide and yesterday my mood totally crashed. I cannot explain why any of this happened, there were no specific triggers. I knew that I had to get myself out of the pit so I did what usually works: I immersed myself in a book.

A good book is such an amazing piece of portable magic. Curled up on my sofa, ensconced from the demons that whisper insidiously inside my head, I travelled back in time and across an ocean to live alongside a twelve year old girl whose family had messed up due to the death of her sibling when she was a baby. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ is a rich and engrossing read. It has it’s flaws, which I may cover elsewhere, but it gave me enough food for thought to enable me to process my own issues. It did it’s job for me.

I considered writing a post about how I was feeling on Sunday, but decided against. I was feeling depressed, but I do not consider that I suffer from depression. I have friends who do and I am in a much better place mentally. That I can pick myself up so quickly suggests mood swings more than illness.

Many years ago, when I was being treated by my doctor for ME, it was suggested that I might benefit from counselling as mental issues were a possible factor in this recently recognised malaise. I was granted six sessions under the NHS and went along because I wanted to talk to somebody, anybody, about how I was feeling, the storm in my head. I had been living in England for some time and was struggling to make friends. Although I had a lively social life, I found the English distant compared to my native Irish.

Growing up in Belfast it was common to call in on friends or family unannounced. When I first moved to England and started to get to know people from my place of work I would do this, and soon picked up that my behaviour was considered odd. I learned to phone ahead, to check that it was convenient before visiting. It made me feel that I was not welcome.

What I needed back then was a close friend, a confidante. I had plenty of acquaintances, but none who I could talk to about how I was feeling. Thus, when my doctor suggested the councillor I swallowed what scepticism I had and agreed to give the proposed treatment a try. It proved to be an interesting experience.

From my personal study of psychology and sociology I knew how counselling was supposed to work. It was unfortunate that the counsellor assigned had serious issues of her own. By the fourth and final session (I cancelled after this) she had unburdened herself and I realised that I could be a sympathetic listener, drawing her out, encouraging her to share. When we parted company I knew more about her than I wished, whereas she knew next to nothing about me. Perhaps I should have considered a change in career.

I found strategies for dealing with my own issues independently and life moved on. Now that I am, once again, having to deal with my demons I yearn for that still elusive confidante. My sister remains the only person who seems to understand what goes on in my head, but she lives in another country and has her own life to lead.

My mood swings may well be to do with age and the stage my family is at. Although the manifestation of my social awkwardness may be atypical, I do not believe that my neurosis is unusual. I wonder do most people simply have someone that they can talk to, or is the world filled with people struggling alone. Am I simply less concerned than most about admitting that sometimes I find the act of living tough?

Having spent the last three days getting through my latest storm I am now behind on a great many tasks. My house is a mess, I have stories unwritten and my urgent ‘do’ list grows ever longer. In three days time my children break up from school for Easter which will throw my everyday schedule into disarray. With important exams approaching stress levels are high and finding the balance between offering personal space and support tricky.

Life is the journey not the destination. I appear to be travelling without a map or a compass. I never did like surprises.

Ithaka (C.P. Cavafy)

 

 

Best laid plans

To read the other posts in this Blog Hop click on the badge and follow the links.
Perfection Pending

In case anyone missed it, yesterday was Saint Patrick’s Day. As an Irish girl living in a foreign land I am, of course, enthusiastic in my support of my home country. I mean, I wouldn’t want to live there again, but I am more than happy to lay claim to my Irishness from a distance at every opportunity that presents itself.

Over the weekend the boys in green did us proud by winning the Six Nations rugby championship after a hard fought game against France in Paris. Yesterday, another slightly less illustrious rugby match was played, one that I used to support from the freezing cold stands at Ravenhill in Belfast and which fostered my continuing mild interest in the sport. The school that my niece now attends came up trumps winning the Schools’ Cup final. My understanding is that they were worthy victors in another close fought match.

I wanted to wish my friends and followers a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day so, with my love of Teddy Bears, was delighted to find this little video which I spread around my social media sites: Irish Dancing Bears. After a wobbly start to the day, by evening I was feeling good, ready to celebrate, looking forward to continuing with my many and varied plans for the week ahead.

Except this morning I woke up feeling dreadful. Not mentally dreadful this time but physically, so now my plans are in disarray. I had to cancel the appointment I had made with my gym coach as I could barely make it downstairs for a cup of much needed tea, let alone think of attempting a workout. The swim I had planned is not going to happen this afternoon, and it remains to be seen if I can summon the energy to craft a story I hoped to submit to a challenge later.

In the grand scheme of things me being ill is not the disaster that it once was. I no longer have young children who need my time and attention; as co owner of our business I can grant myself time off work when needed, I have not been required on a client site in years. Being ill has simply messed up my own schedule and fuddled my brain. It is frustrating that my determination to make this week count has been scuppered so unexpectedly. I do not like surprises, especially ones that demand I do not stray more than a few feet from a bathroom.

At times like this I am grateful for machines. When I struggle downstairs to fetch myself another drink I can load and switch on the dishwasher, sort a pile of washing, then escape back to my bed to rest my aching head. I am also grateful for the home delivery service that will ensure my groceries arrive as planned. By the time my family return home this evening the worst of their detritus will have been sorted and the cupboards restocked. The house may not be as clean and tidy as I would like, I may not manage to achieve much for myself, but my little family should not be inconvenienced.

Why am I so concerned about not inconveniencing my family? A part of me thinks that I should just lie here until someone comes home and then wail about how awful I feel, try to drum up a bit of sympathy or appreciation for the efforts I go to making sure their lives run so smoothly. Of course, I will not do this. Mums are expected to cope, not to make a fuss. It would be an interesting experiment to see how they reacted if I suddenly demanded some attention, but I will not be putting them to the test.

I have walks with friends planned for later in the week as well as an important meeting at my children’s school, so I hope that this illness is short lived. I am impatient with incapacity; I do not show enough appreciation for my normally healthy body. Days such as today when I feel so dreadful remind me that I take it too much for granted.

Even assuming that I recover quickly I will now be playing catch up for the rest of the week; perhaps next week will be better. I would feel more positive about that thought if it did not recur on an almost weekly basis.

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So I said I wouldn’t talk about this

I’m on a diet. I wrote about this earlier in the week and promised that I wouldn’t go on about it too much. Day 5 and here I am going back on my word. Oh well.

The cutting back on food has actually been going fine. Not so the exercise. I have only managed to get to the gym on one day this week. A mixture of me trying to be an awesome mom and my kids conspiring to prove what a waste of time this is has resulted in much of my week being wasted. Plus I have been trying to succeed in one of my other determinations for this year, to keep my house in better order. I have had a little more success with this.

That one day at the gym though? The muscles in my arms have yet to forgive me for making them push, pull and lift those weights. Funny how I can feel so good after a workout and then suffer for days afterwards. Not funny at all really. When I mention it to the family they smirk and tell me it is because I am old. Thanks guys.

Yesterday was not a good day. Yesterday I woke up feeling ill, really ill. Sweats, shakes, nausea and dizzy ill. And all I could think was, is this because I have been eating too little and trying to do too much? I’m trying to improve my health here, not get ill.

So I gave myself an easy day to rest up and allowed myself to eat a normal dinner. I also eschewed the wine, almost unheard of for a Friday night. I still feel a bit ropey this morning and have no idea if my change of diet was anything to do with how I felt. And my arms still ache.

With a bit more free time than expected yesterday I inevitably went on line and, thanks to a friend, came across this http://100happydays.com/. Wavering between ‘Is this really cheesey?’ and ‘What a fun idea’ I decided to sign up. Assuming that I manage to stick with it my twitter feed is going to contain some random photos over the next few months as I find something that makes me happy each day. Today I am happy because I have time to write.

Living with three teenagers my weekend mornings do tend to be quiet. Given the chance my not so little darlings sleep until close to midday. Even when they wake earlier they stay sequestered in their rooms. It is the perfect opportunity for me to retire to my writing space. I tell myself that I am doing them a favour by choosing such a quiet pastime. I suspect that my motives are less altruistic.

I should also make some time for reading. When I was away last weekend I started a book that my daughter bought me for Christmas, ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace. So far I am enjoying it but it takes a lot of concentration. It is not a book that I can just pick up and set down quickly, or read large chunks of at a time. I am hopeful that, if I can persevere, it will be worth the effort. It is taking some effort to read though.

I like having a mix of books, some easy and some more challenging. I want to stretch my mind and explore new styles. Sometimes, however, I just want to curl up and escape. Perhaps I should try reading two books at a time so that I can pick up whichever I feel able to cope with. I wonder if I would be able to make this work.

I had hoped to watch a film with my little family yesterday evening but my elder son was out at the gym. He is much more disciplined about working out regularly than I seem to manage these days, he tells me off for not managing my time better which I find quite ironic given how he is with other aspects of his life. He and I often have great discussions about the films we watch so I did not want him to miss out. Perhaps tonight we will all manage to keep the evening free.

Meanwhile it has finally stopped raining here in soggy England. As news of the polar vortex has drifted across the pond I have felt rather guilty about mentioning our weather. There are always others having a harder time.

Today looks like being a good day. The sun is out, I am feeling much improved and husband is in the kitchen preparing what will be our dinner later. I will have to allow myself to eat that. Well, it would be ungrateful not to.

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Words

I am thinking about words. Not the fifty thousand or so satisfying words that I poured into my NaNoWriMo file, now floating in the Google cloud awaiting rewrite. Not the thousand or so words that I fill each post on this blog with. I am thinking about the words we speak and, more significantly, the words we cannot speak because they are so hard to find.

On a typical day I do not say very much. Many of the words that I speak could be pre-recorded and played on remote. ‘You need to get yourself ready’; ‘Have you packed your lunch?’; ‘What time will you be home?’; ‘Have a good day’; ‘How was your day?’.

I suspect that the daily repetition is irritating to those around me. The alternative is to say nothing, to stay out of the way, which I sometimes choose to do.

Over dinner in the evening I find that my children now drive the conversation around the table with their happy chat about friends and teachers, television shows and funny happenings. When I try to join in with an anecdote of my own it often falls flat. It is best if I remain largely silent.

My husband rarely makes conversation. We pass each other essential information or significant news. Sometimes we find a topic of mutual interest, an update from someone we have met, a topic from current affairs, but this is a rare treat.

Perhaps this is why I have found my writing to be so therapeutic. All of those words in my head that want to come out, all of those thoughts and events that I want to share but have nobody wishing to listen. I throw them out into the ether and feel pathetically grateful when someone, anyone, responds. It feels like interaction, sometimes even understanding.

Television shows depict friendships where people can share anything and everything with their close friends. In order to draw the viewer in to the plot there is necessary dialogue. Do friendships like this exist in real life? Do people ever share the plot lines of their lives so openly?

I was brought up to adhere to a strict set of rules. There were some things that we should not do, but if we did then it should never be mentioned. There were some things that we should never discuss. If nobody talked of the shameful thing then we could all pretend that it hadn’t happened. It would remain hidden, secret, unspoken, unacknowledged. Eventually it would go away.

Words spoken do not go away. A careless, cruel or unkind word will bury itself deep in the hearer’s psyche where it will fester and grow in proportion, beyond anything intended. It will shape perception of the speaker, creating waves that spread out as a pebble dropped in a pool of still water. Little wonder that many words are better left unsaid.

What to do then with the emotions that are so hard to express but which affect not just the bearer but those around because they cannot be fully contained, they affect the way we live and act? I have tried to explain so much to my nearest and dearest, yet have been unable to find the right words. I encounter blankness, irritation, misunderstanding. Do I keep those words inside and cope as best I can? Do I try to share in the hope that some sense can be made of the way my life is being blighted by these feelings of despair?

Words are powerful and dangerous. A lack of words can be equally hard to bear.

Am I looking for understanding only so that things may go my way? If I cannot make myself understood, the repercussions may cause a reaction that is worse than holding it all inside. How do I find a language deep enough to express such intense emotion in the short time that I can hold a listener’s attention?

My silence is painful but words, once shared, cannot be contained or controlled.

I cannot explain, even to myself, why these emotions exist and affect me so negatively. How am I to find the language that will allow someone else to understand? If I bottle it all up inside, will it explode and cause more damage because the cause was never adequately communicated?

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My day

I am joining in again this week with the Manic Mondays Blog Hop. 

Perfection Pending

Today was going to be a good day. Determined to restart my attempts at healthier living I made sure that I had a relaxing weekend to prepare. I allowed myself all the little treats that I would no longer be indulging in and left a few jobs undone because, you know, I was going to be busy and active and achieve loads each day. Might as well make sure I have plenty to do on day one, yes?

Despite going to bed a little later than usual I woke up when my husband left for work at 5.30am. He is very good at leaving the house quietly and I often sleep through this, or at least drop back to sleep after he has gone. Not this morning though. Never mind, it gave me time to drink a cup of tea or two and go on line before starting my busy day.

As soon as the kids had left for school I got the dishwasher going and started my first load of laundry. By the time the bedrooms and kitchen were tidied I was ready to sort clothes and set up load two. I was determined to walk down to the gym, but first had to service my little flock of hens. I noted that, despite my elder son’s best efforts yesterday, there were still a lot of leaves to be cleared in the garden.

But I had promised myself that I would get to the gym today and have a swim. I went inside and sat down with a cup of coffee because, you know, I just felt like one. And while I was enjoying that welcome beverage, I had a quick browse on line.

Okay, so now half the morning has gone. I thought that I could fit in a quick swim at least, and then maybe get out into the garden with my rake. Good plan, except that after my swim I realised that I was very hungry. A bit of lunch was needed, nothing too much. And another cup of coffee. And a biscuit.

Now it is nearly time for the kids to get in from school and I seem to be on line again, how did that happen?

But it has been a good day. I validated my NaNoWriMo story and was declared a Winner! I should have loads more time each day now that my writing can take a back seat for a while, although I do seem to be filling that time with reading instead. And going on line.

I will not let the fact that my week has started less well than I envisaged put me off. Perhaps if I go and grab that rake right now I will be able to salvage something of my attempt to turn over a new leaf (apologies for that truly dreadful pun).

I could really use another cup of coffee though.

I hope that your Monday has been more productive than mine.

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To read the other posts taking part in this Blog Hop, click on the link below.

Motivation

Our house is on a hill at the edge of a rural village. From my bedroom window I look down over fields and woodland towards a river valley and distant railway line. This morning the valley is shrouded in a light mist. There is frost on the ground and the few remaining leaves on the trees are shades of green and gold and brown. The newly risen sun is trying to break through the light cloud. It is a beautiful morning.

For some time now I have been following a blog written by a young mother in America. I love the way she writes about her life challenges and her thoughts. She sounds like the sort of person I would enjoy getting to know outside of the internet. Our lives are very different in so many ways, yet we also have much in common. I think that we could make some good conversation given the chance.

Yesterday she asked the question, What’s Your Motivation for getting up in the morning? It has set off a whole tree load of thoughts in my head. It made me realise that, unlike my younger self, I look forward to getting up each day. I enjoy the early mornings, the silence and the peace of a sleeping house. There is rarely anything in particular about the day that I am looking forward to doing. When I look ahead, beyond the day that I am in, I feel anxious. When I relax where I am now I feel happy and calm.

I have friends who love to travel. Not for them the package holiday in the sun, where comfort is guaranteed and all their needs are catered for; they visit amazing places where they explore what lies beyond the standard tourist trail. As soon as they return from an adventure they plan the next one. They live their lives in eager anticipation.

I have other friends whose lives revolve around parties, concerts, outings to the theatre and to restaurants with family and friends. They enjoy the social whirl, the chance to dress up and get out. They are busy and active with their plans and full diaries, sleeping late to recover and prepare for the next big thing.

I have no wish to do these things. I can understand the attraction and enjoy hearing about their activities, seeing pictures of my friends having fun doing their thing. For me though I want the safety and security of home.

I get up in the morning, draw back the curtains and look down on the magnificent view outside my bedroom window. I feel grateful that I live here, at peace with the world. I spend my days reading, writing, making my home a more comfortable place for my family to enjoy. When I go out it is on foot or on my bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside or to visit the local gym and pool.

My days are full and satisfying. I am motivated to get up in the morning because I anticipate the pleasure I will find in this new day. If I think of what lies beyond then events that concern me come to mind: a need to drive my daughter to an unknown city for a conference, a dinner that I must cook for guests. When I look ahead I worry about all the things that could go wrong.

It is not that I fear the future, but more that I remember similar, specific events that caused me grief and wish to avoid the risk of repetition. I feel safe and secure in my day to day life where I can take pleasure in simple activities. Facing the unknown requires courage that I struggle to find.

Other readers of the blog that I linked to above commented that their motivation for getting up and on with their day was obligation. I wonder if I have grown selfish in setting aside the obligations that used to drive so many of my actions. It was these that caused my problems; removing them from my life was a means of self preservation.

It is that self word that concerns me though. I wonder what sort of a person I have become that I live so much for what is good for me rather than others. If I am to serve my family well then I must preserve my health and my sanity, but there is a wider world to consider.

Life has a habit of moving on and changing us as new experiences offer the opportunity to learn and grow. I am not the same person I was a year ago; I cannot know what I will become.

For now then I will allow myself to enjoy this period of solitude and calm. I will continue to drink in the beauty of my surroundings, remaining mindful that transition is inevitable. I am as much a part of this world as all that is about me; I will seek to act with the care and respect that it deserves.

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Good intentions

This week I am taking part in a new Blog Hop hosted by Perfection Pending

Perfection Pending

I am going to talk about my legs. Yes, I know, this link up is supposed to be about parenting challenges. On a Monday morning though? I am generally thinking about my legs.

My three kids are teenagers so getting them to school on any day of the week means little more than ensuring that they wake up on time. They sort themselves out. If I try to help then they become truculent. Don’t you just love that word? When I discovered it I decided that it fits with teenagers so well that I needed to use it more often. I may overuse it a bit. Sorry about that.

Anyway, my legs. They are big. Some women put on weight in the tummy region or a bit higher up or a bit lower down. I do all that as well; actually, maybe not so much the higher up bit, but I digress. When I eat that extra bit of hot, buttered toast (I do so love hot, buttered toast) it immediately expands and settles on my legs. They are huge. So is my consumption of hot, buttered toast.

A couple of years ago I saw some photographs of myself that stopped me in my tracks. Then they started me again, really fast, on the treadmill, the bike and the rowing machine at my local gym. The blob I had become had to go. I cut out carbs and visited that gym every day of the week. I walked, cycled and swam for miles and miles and miles. I lost 20kg in nine months.

Woo hoo! I loved the look of the new me, and I felt gooood. I was fit, I felt fine and I could wear the clothes I wanted.

In fact, I felt so good that I once again allowed myself a few little treats. So maybe the weight loss stopped a little earlier than I had hoped, but that had to happen sometime, yes? Perpetual diets are Boring! I was loving my new look and living it up.

You can guess what happened next can’t you? Gradual increase in weight, gradual return to those comfort breakfasts of hot buttered toast. And each slice expanded and settled on my legs. Which are, once again, huge.

Which brings me, if you have stuck with this post, to my Manic Monday. The start of each new week sees me wake up with fresh determination to return to my low carb, high exercise regime in an attempt to sort out this self inflicted problem. I skip breakfast, visit the gym and work my butt off in an attempt to shrink those pesky legs. Except then I get hungry. I don’t like being hungry.

I eat a lot of salad. I like salad, but it doesn’t fill me up. I eat a lot of eggs. I like eggs, but they taste so much better when accompanied by hot, buttered toast.

I did it before and I can do it again. Probably not this week though. Monday has been and gone and I didn’t quite do all that stuff I was totally determined to get done.

Still, next week is a whole new week. I WILL do better, honest. Now, let’s just have a slice of toast to celebrate…

Toast, toasted

To read the other posts in this Blog Hop click on the link below 

Social anxiety

I like to think of myself as intelligent. I don’t mean super intelligent in an impressive way, just intelligent enough to be able to question, consider and understand what is going on around me. Be it politics, economics, marketing, health, parenting, relationships or literature I like to think that I can look at the wide variety of points of view, gain an understanding of where other’s are coming from, why they may think as they do, and form a rational opinion based on life experience and knowledge.

I do not just believe what I am told; I am interested in how the human mind works and how decisions are made. I try to examine from different perspectives and to reserve judgement until I gain a better understanding. I try to be rational, fair and practical.

All of the above has made it particularly difficult for me to deal with the changes that I have experienced in the past few years in my own, personal ability to cope with living my life.

I know that attitude has a huge impact on how we deal with issues in day to day life. I know the importance of a healthy diet and a sensible amount of beneficial exercise. I can rationalise, contextualise and put problems in perspective in my head. Knowing that most of the hurdles that I face are minor, short lived and that other people deal with these challenges just fine; that I dealt with them just fine up until a few years ago; this knowledge simply makes how I am now behaving appear more foolish or, even worse, selfish. My behaviour is irrational. I wish to make myself act in a more acceptable way.

But I can’t.

I think, perhaps, accepting that I can’t may be a big step forward in attempting to live with how I am now. My name is J and I have a social anxiety problem. I dread certain social situations so much that I am physically sick at the prospect of having to experience them. I am dropped into an emotional turmoil where I flounder, desperate to escape by whatever means. The thought of being coerced into certain social situations makes me feel that my life is no longer worth living.

I read that last sentence and think ‘overdone melodrama’. I look at myself and recognise what a fabulous life I lead with my healthy, loving family and beautiful home. What right have I to complain about anything? I am not being asked to face hardship or danger, just to spend a short amount of time in a room full of people.

Just thinking about that sets my heart racing, I break out in a cold sweat, I shake, feel light headed and experience waves of nausea. I want my world to stop and let me off, to run away and hide where nobody can find me and ask me to do this thing. I inwardly beg for mercy.

I cannot rationalise what is going on. I cannot explain why this situation has developed. I cannot find a way to cope that will allow me to meet the expectations of my loved ones and deal with social gatherings from time to time. I have tried so hard and I cannot do it.

What I can do is try to explain that I have a problem. Even this is strewn with difficulties. Mental health issues are difficult for those who do not suffer from them to understand. This situation is hard enough for me to understand and I am in the middle of it, experiencing the problems it causes.

Can I call this an illness when I have not sought medical advice? The health service in this country is creaking at the seams and my life is in no danger. No matter how panicked I may feel at times I am not going to take my own life; I love my children too much. I know that I need to find a way to live with the way I am reacting to certain catalysts. Would others be more accepting if this were defined as an illness even if self diagnosed and self treated?

Left to my own devices I can get by just fine most of the time. If those around me can accept, no matter how reasonable a request may seem to them, that it is beyond my ability to grant them what they wish, then the anticipatory fear would diminish and I may be able to find a way forward, perhaps even a way to improve.

My writing helps hugely as it helps me to clarify my thoughts. I wonder will any of this make sense to others.

English: human mind for performance psychology...