Voicing Opinions

On life, psychology, religion and other matters

I’ve had a viral type illness for over 6 weeks now. It started with a vicious double combo of a panic attack and vomitting. It has persisted with bouts of light headedness, stomach cramps, excess tiredness and cold symptoms. And all of these exacerbated by a hair trigger tendency to an extremely anxious reaction to each symptom – I have to disregard the symptom as much as I can or suffer waves of debilitating illness.

There have been times when I have felt that I was going to pop my clogs. The relief that I was not was empowering. The strange situation where some days left me feeling supremely healthy – totally at odds to these symptoms – saw me driven to write in fluidly on my latest book. The difference between these oasis days and days beset with a struggle for health are enormous.

So frequent have my dips into ill health that I am treasuring just being alive. I am revelling in my writing. Sometimes, especially on these high health days, I get a writing flow that sees time evaporate by. I rarely have to rework what I write. But I always remember the feeling of good health slipping away and I drive on in celebration, the opposite of complacency.

Or at least this is what I thought.

But after a day and a half of feeling well, my memories of my ill health are almost gone. I start to fret about the trivia of daily life – should I have eaten that cake or will it add to my waistline.

This capacity to forget even profound things is mostly ignored by most people. They vaguely realise that the ‘flu’ they had last week knocked them outfor a few days, but are all too engrossed in today – they have moved on.

Of course, many things do plague us – emotional baggage drags us down all too often. But in this instance, I really really do want to learn a constant lesson from this bout of illness, assuming of course that does eventually go away. I feel determined to treasure each day. But I know that the process of treasuring will work with a memory that fades so rapidly, it very swiftly becomes only a vague echo of the urgent force that I want to remember it as.

Mothers give birth again because of the power to forget. And we get drunk again because we seriously distort our memories of the last time.

Panic attacks

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There is a fairly strict taboo in the UK that mental health issues are not generally discussed. It is entirely satisfactory to mention that you have a bad cold, but not that you are suffering from anxiety, or depression, or are hearing voices. It is a cue for the listener to avoid the person and make a hasty retreat.

Partly for this reason, and partly a result of an acutely bad choice of words that the mental health impact of ‘panic attacks’ are rarely listened to with the sympathy they are due.

You will know if you have had a panic attack. You may not know it by that name, but will have had the fright of your life from such an attack. In one sense, it is a panic attack, but this simply does not convey the severity of its impact. I believe that the word terror is closer to the experience. I saw the doctor after my first, having measured my heart rate at 120 in the small hours of that morning in bed. I had lain there with dizzy head and racing heart feeling totally convinced that I was having a heart attack or was simply about to die. Does a ‘panic attack’ properly describe such feelings? I think not.

At the time, I has assumed that the cause was the medication I was taking. Since then, recurrences have similarly frightened the life out of me, a long time after terminating that medication.

A ‘panic attack’ is a feeling of anxiety whipped up into a crescendo of a peak. It is a response by the body to a sustained anxiety state. It occurs almost randomly, unrelated to thinking or activity. I can assure you that waking from a dream state into the very high anxiety state that precedes a panic attack is rapid and totally unnerving.

Fortunately, in spite of the massive bombardment of emotional and physical urgency that accompanies a panic attack, I can often detach myself enough to realise that it is an overreaction. The mental discipline to do this is hugely demanding – at the very time when your energies are almost completely engaged by the attack. A great catch-22 situation!

So the next time someone tells you they had a panic attack, you will realise that this is not just that they panicked that they left the front door unlocked. Instead, they had been overtaken by a massive feeling of impending physical doom. Give them sympathy.

I met a very lively, friendly lady in a coffee shop the other day. Her beaming face has reappared a number of times since. Each time, she greets me as if a life long friend. OK, she may talk and interrupt a lot, but you can feel that her heart in in the right place.

Today, late on a Sunday morning, a cross adorned a chain on her neck, and a bible lay neatly in front of her on the table. Fortunately, she does not force her religion on me.

I strongly believe that her religion is a significant reason behind the flush of healthy life she exudes.

For myself, I feel a tinge of jealousy that she can retain a belief (in God) that carries this benefit. A conviction that God is n attendance at all times, looking after me would have been a powerful antidote to immense feelings of helplessness this week, where severe anxiety, and its peak state – a panic attack – have plagued my day and night.

Sadly, it is not just the feeling that I cannot trust in a guiding figure. More that I am acutely aware of the complete absence of such a force. So I am drawn into an even deeper negative malaise.

So my realisation that God does not exist, and that believers should be made to realise their mistake has gone almost full circle, where I am jealous of the benefits of a blind belief in something that cannot be proven. Almost full circle – I cannot cancel out my lack of belief. I cannot suddenly discard the edvidence against the existance of God just so as to gain the benefits of belief – the benefits of belonging to a Worldwide club!

There is a sad aspect to this – belief in a positive outcome for matters in your life, regardless of whether it is based on real facts or religion, has strong health benefits.

So please think before ever trying to bring a believer ‘down to earth’.

Work

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At the basic level, work is the expenditure of energy.

In everyday terms, work is an activity done for someone.

But the theme of this blog is that of subversive indoctrination, so I am referring to our indoctrined definition of work is an where you perform an activity for someone else for money.

You see how there are two deviations from the everyday definition of work :

  1. That the work must be for someone else
  2. That it must be paid for

We are so heavily conditioned to see work in this way that it blinds us to many of the real values humans can offer to the World. One of the very very basic examples is that of a ’Housewife’, a demeaning term for a fundamentally crucial role. Normally a female role, because there is no direct payment for the service of bringing up children, caring for the home, shopping, and preparing meals, we treat it with way too much disrepect.

I have personally been proccupied with guilt on too many occasions when I take my daily or twice daily trips to coffee shops. I do recognise how very lucky I am to do this. But that I am merely lazing around, and ‘obviously’ not working is also a reflection of a global indoctrination.

Let me give you an example.

A friend I have acquired via these cafe visits has been struggling with his life lately. I have chatted with him, giving him emotional support, and some guidance gleaned from some of the many books I have read. he was sufficiently grateful to hug me. Twice.

Yet to a bystander, we wee just idling time away. At best, I was being a good friend. But no way was I deemed tyo be ‘working’. Yet in a very real sense, I was. I was expended energy to help him. I was working for his benefit. Because I was not qualified, employed, or paid to be a counseller, then what I was doing was not work.

So I was only ‘not’ working because of arbitrary labels. If I did the very same things as a counseller, I would have been deemed to be working.

More subtlely, I was applying knowledge hard earnt reading books. So when you see me reading in a coffee shop, rather than see me as ‘just’ relaxing, it may be more prudent to see me as both relaxing and researching – extending myself for the benefit of both myself and others.

One of the sad things is how much of my 51 years I have been oppressed under the weight of such indoctrination. I am trying to peel away these layers and give myself the credit I deserve for doing what I do, paid or otherwise.

This process is very similar indeed to that I went through to liberate myself from religious indoctrination to become an atheist, albeit one who respects religious people.

It is only in the process of addressing the indoctrination that you first become aware of it. This itself is an enlightening exercise.

The catalyst to this article was this anti-indoctrination article :  http://www.anxietyculture.com/purpose.htm.

When you think about people toiling away at work, just realise that the capitalist mechanism, underpinned in many ways by competition, results in many many people duplicating in large what their competitors do. This is fundamentally wasteful – each Insurance Company has their own suite of extremely expensive computer systems that do pretty well much what their rival systems do.

Imagine what we could do without that duplication of effort?

I hope to add to this entry over time. The theme is the failure of good intentions.

 ‘But you are always …’

Ill, injured, unhappy. You fit the word to suit your condition. I happen to be described by many of my friends as ‘always injured’, for example. The reasons elude me, but I am regularly nursing an injury or two.

But there are a number of aspects to these statements :

  1. I am not always injured. So the statement is an exaggeration.
  2. The tone of voice people use is a negative, demeaning one. They are telling me off for being injured.
  3. I never, ever want to be injured. I never try to get injured. I hate it how slowly I recover from injury.
  4. There is a paradox : the more often someone is ill, the less sympathy and support they get, yet the more that they need.

It is for this last reason that people are dismissive – they do not want to get drawn into repeated support or sympathy. So they try to detach themselves from a supportive role by casting the victim as a foolish instigator of their own recurring condition.

As I said above, and repeat now, I never want to get injured. I never want to have recurring headaches. But the more that I do, the less likely that I will receive sympathy of support.

Easy life

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I feel that the old proverb that Ignorance is bliss has a fairly solid foundation in real life. I can only judge this by observation since it can only rarely be applied to myself, but feel convinced of its vailidity.

Observe that ignorance is a weakness of awareness. Many a builder is content to cement brick after brick into place, seemingly oblivious to the tedium of the work.

Compare such a person to a severely autistic person. They are bombarded on a minute by minute basis by sensory awareness of details of their surroundings. Details that wash over normal people, simply by the expedient that they are mostly not relevant.

For myself, I have a different kind of overload – a tendency to overreact to events. I obsess when the weather is very bad. I feel instantly angry when I hear someone sneeze. I cry when I am criticised. I am so moved by the beauty in the apperance of some people that I can sustain a living as a Wedding photographer. And artist.

I often do not know when I will get a severe emotional reaction to something. I really do not ask or want to be reactive like this. Those around my put the blame on my conscious decision to get worked up about something. And this matter (or not) of choice, is what I want to focus on here, along with the conesequences of emotional overload.

And I do know what it is like to be unreactive. After vigorous exercise, this is how I am. Things gently wash over me and it is so profoundly relaxing. By contrast, my daily life is like a kind of fight against a stream of reactions to many things.

Let me look at the strange situation where something apparently innocuous like a sneeze can drive me mad. I can be happily engrossed in a book at a railway station, oblivious to my surroundings. 2 seconds later, after the person next to me has sneezed loudly, I am dragged out of my book and forced by my brain to feel angry – I get to feel the angry type sound of the sneeze entirely against my wishes.

And this is part of the problem with overreactions – they happen involuntarily. Once started, the conscious effort required to suppress them is so huge that it wears you out.

And here we het a cascade of problems. The frequent emotional overloads drain your adrenal system so that you can suddenly hit a brick wall of tiredness. This then mkes you extra vulnerable to any more emotional situations until you are too tired to react. This is itself at least the source of some relief.

But the night may bring nightmares as you relive and try to rationalise the unrationisable reactions of the day.

So you awake tired and more vulnerable.

And wary of the kinds of situations that might affect you.

So you develop two distinct coping strategies.

First, avoidance of potential overload situations. For example, you may play the peace maker rather than get into an argument.

Second, you may try to change the World so that these events cannot happen so often. For example, you tell people to eat  noisy food in another room.

Both of these strategies are doomed to failure, but what else can you do? Humans are designed to seek optimum route through life. So you read lots of self help books. And wade through many many techniques, often contradicting each other. For example, “You only have one life, so ditch those friends who are not so good to you.” is at odds to with the concept of facing up to people.

All sorts of phobias and emotional baggage are accrued as a person on an emotional rollercoaster traverses life. Additionally, the extent of your rollercoaster ride is rarely understood simply because there is always something wrong with you. As if the more problems you have, the less justified you are to sympathy!

Meanwhile, compare with the builder type. Someone who is easy going, where things wash over him. He accrues very little baggage, acquires lots of friends who enjoy his easy going nature, and sails through life. Mostly – easy going people are likely to get in debt, miss appointments, and so on.

But it is sad that easy going people are admired for this characteristic that they have always had, and which, virtually by definition, they do not work at.

However, you try to get an easy going person to act fast and decisively in a time of great urgency and you’ll end up doing it yourself.

 What do you think?

I had one of those rare moments of enlightenment today. Stumble had stopped me accesing atheist sites, so I stumbled instead on psychology sites. It talked about introversion, and how it is so often misunderstood.

There were two concepts that the article discussed. One, that shyness and introversion are not the same. And two, that introverts are often very happy to chat.

You see, I had assumed that my daily habit of visiting coffee shops to chat meant I was at least partially extroverted. Apparently, introverts are not all shy, and often do engage in good conversation. It is just that they need to spend a larger time on their own, ruminating on matters, or engrossing themselves – too much chat overloads them.

An extrovert needs human contact to get energised, needing little or no time to recover. They despair of the dullness of being on their own.

Additionally, the article describes how extroverts misunderstand introverts, thinking them ignorantly quiet. And because they are indeed often quiet, the extroverts never get to learn that the introverts dislike the in-your-face attitude of extroverts. But the key frustration for introverts is that the extroverts rarely ever want or try to get to understand how introverts feel.

I do try to understand how others feel, so I guess I am indeed more of an introvert than I thought.

Extroverts tend to get on and get involved in exciting things that would overwhelm introverts.

Introverts often get their kicks from computers, books, and other non-people things.

They tend to misunderstand each other.

But neither behaviour is right. Just different ways of living. Where it becomes a problem is when the natural behaviour of one type simply does not fit a situation.

With the enormous power of thousands of years of indoctrination, with massive churches and cathedrals legitimising their activities, religions can carry out otherwise criminal acts. We appear to be morally obliged to accede to all requests made in the name of religion.

Islamists butcher the genitals of young females. Americans ostracise non-believers.

But religion, like atheism, is a belief system. You act according to what you believe to be true in the absence of form corroborating truth.

I would like to claim that my belief that the World was not created by an almighty power be respected in the same way that a religious view claims the converse. But more importantly, I want to claim freedom for those oppressed in the name of religion. And have the weight of numbers of atheists as my support – atheism is hardly a fringe, eletist belief system.

On this theme of fairness, I thought I would add another insight.

The last week or two, I have been having progressively greater pain in my teeth. Initially when very hot or cold food was eaten, and now for hours at a time with no obvious trigger.

The pain is in a molar on the lower left side, and the matching molar on the upper left side. Now how unfair is that – not just one toothache, but two!

But then I thought about it.

It is exactly the opposite of unfair. It is nicely timely that problems in two teeth should manifest themselves at the same time, thereby requiring only one sequence of visits to the dentist.

Then I wondered about the pain itself. Is it really necessary to feel such pain? And I realised that I have done absolutely nothing about these teeth simply because the pain comes in fits and starts – there is literally not enough pain for me to take action.

Instinctive gut reactions to discomfort, such as when it gets too hot, and we moan of poor sleep, are often misjudged. They represent shallow thinking – merely emotionally driven verbalisations.

Fundamentally, fairness is only really meaningful when dealing like with like. It is basically fair to apportion an inheritence equally to offspring. But what if one of the offspring is severely disabled?

 We are different, so life will necessarily not be the same for any of us. To one degree or another, some will get a better deal than others.

But people often do not ponder long on the degree with which this difference manifests itself in the real World. Insomnia is a very common complaint, disturbing sleep and leaving the poor sufferer somewhat less than fully energised each day. I discivered today that my friend Nick cannot remember at all ever failing to sleep well. Even allowing for a poor memory, he essentially falls asleep within 3 minutes if hitting the pillow every night, his mind free from worries or thoughts that might keep him awake. Each morning he awakes fully energised, ‘like a bullet’ in his words, often working for 12 hours.

Additionally, and at least in part a corollary of the good sleep, he cannot remember when he was last ill.

So, every day as far as he can remember, he functions effortlessly, unrestrained by tiredness or illness of mind or body.

For many people, never in their whole life have they had a day as good as Nick’s normal day. Yes, of course, you get used to good and bad, but I certainly know which I would prefer.

Statistically, Nick is stratospheres healthier than almost everyone in the UK. He is a nice, pleasant, friendly, happy fellow, and you wonder what on earth he has done to deserve this. But this is life – indiscriminantly treating people very very very differently.