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Migraine Awareness Week 2019

September 3, 2019 13 comments

Those of you who weren’t reading or following my blog in the early days will probably be unaware that I used to do a series of ‘Dates To Note’ posts – if you’re interested they can be found in the menu above. These ran through 2013 into 2014 but I decided that they had run their course and, apart from a few reblogs – and a spoof –  there haven’t been many more since then. I have, however, decided to do a new one-off to recognise that this week (1st to the 7th September) is Migraine Awareness Week. I first posted about this in 2013 and have followed up on that a couple of times, but felt it was about time to do something new.

I’m sure many of you have experience of migraine, either yourself or with someone close to you. I was first diagnosed when I was 15 – to save you the maths, that was around 50 years ago. Since then I’ve had several migraines a year apart from one blissful period in my 20s when I went three years without one, and foolishly hoped I was somehow ‘cured.’ Not so. And the older I got, the more migraines I had and the longer they seemed to last! Five or six a year wasn’t uncommon, and they lingered for up to three days instead of just the one when they first started.

I hope you follow the link above, which takes you to the Awareness Week page on the Migraine Trust’s website. The Migraine Trust organises this week as a means of educating people about migraine, and their website has a lot of helpful information and links. Their headline statistics are frightening: every day in the UK there are 190,000 migraine attacks. The condition affects one in seven people, and is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. In other words, it is a big issue! They have undertaken much research into the underlying causes of migraine, but their aim is ultimately to find a cure for this debilitating illness. This is especially important as only about half of those who suffer are actually diagnosed with the condition: if a cure could be found, that might encourage more people to seek help.

One of the things the Migraine Trust encourage you to do is to keep a diary of your migraines and share it with your doctor. I did this when I was first diagnosed with depression, as I seemed to be getting headaches and migraines all the time, and it was very helpful to see what pattern – if any – there was. In particular, the site might help those who say they have a migraine when it is actually a bad headache: believe me, there is a difference and you’ll know it if you’re a fellow sufferer! When I was running the Dates To Note series I always gave a link to the NHS website as this is a very good source of information, and their coverage of migraine is as good as everything else they do.

My diary showed that there was absolutely no pattern to my migraines, which often seemed to occur with no prior warning. Most of mine started the moment I woke up: there was no build up to them throughout the day, as some people experience. That made it difficult to assess, but we managed to find a tenuous link to late night tea and coffee, or eating, before some of my migraines. I cut these out on doctor’s advice, but was never convinced that this made any difference. Like most migraine sufferers I just shut myself away in a darkened room until it felt safe to open the curtains again. Medical science has yet to agree on a set of defined causes for the illness: whilst one of the causes is believed to be emotional factors, such as stress, mine have always been noticeably different from regular headaches, which tend to fall into the category of ‘tension headaches.’ Migraines are believed to be a result of chemical changes in the body affecting the genes, and the genetic effect can mean that they are passed through the generations within a family. My Mum used to suffer badly with migraine and it has always been believed in our family – and by doctors – that I inherited this from her.

So how can you explain the fact that I have had far fewer migraines since I retired? I now live a life which, as far as I can possibly make it, is free from stress and tension. And the frequency of migraines has dropped noticeably – go figure! Does this mean that what I have believed for around 50 years was wrong? Even if that is the case, I can’t really see how I could have changed my working life to remove stress factors, which were part and parcel of any job I had. But I do find it interesting that a reduction in the number and length of migraines since I retired may somehow be related to that major lifestyle change. It is nearly six years since I retired, and I can only recall seven or eight migraines in that time – when I would probably have endured something like 40 in a similar period whilst working. I can recommend retirement for a number of reasons – apart from having to be old to do it – but for me a dramatic reduction in migraine frequency is one of the biggest benefits!

If you’re a fellow sufferer you have my sympathy. If so, or you’d just like to know more, do take a few moments to look at the Migraine Trust’s website – here – as I’m sure it will be of interest and help to you.

 

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Health In Numbers

June 9, 2019 16 comments

A post for Men’s Health Week

I mentioned in my previous post that, here in the UK, it is Men’s Health Week from 10th to 16th June. I’m not sure if this applies elsewhere but, as the week is organised by the Men’s Health Forum (MHF) – which is a British organisation – I’m guessing maybe it is just us. But if you aren’t from the UK don’t stop reading now: the issue of men’s health is equally valid everywhere.

For this year’s event the MHF is focusing on numbers. Their website shares a number of frightening statistics, some of which I’ll be covering here. They have produced a series of posters which are intended to be displayed in health centres and workplaces, and these make sobering reading. There is a ‘summary’ poster, which is this one:

That doesn’t cover the full set of numbers the MHF are highlighting, but you can see very quickly from it that there are many things we men should be taking better care of. I’m probably typical, in that I need to pay much more attention to my physical health. I am moving home shortly, but once that has settled down I’ll be seeing the dietician at the local hospital to get some advice on improving my diet. Initial contact has been made and they are due to call me after I move to fix an appointment. That will only be the start of it, though, as I know I need to do much more.

One of the other posters tells us of the number 20:

As if I needed any further warning about that, I got it in tragic and dramatic fashion yesterday. Justin Edinburgh, the manager of one of the three football teams I support – Leyton Orient – suffered a cardiac arrest last Monday and passed away yesterday. He had just led the club to probably its most successful season ever, and was looking forward to taking us back into the English Football League. He had just returned from watching one of the clubs he used to play for – Tottenham Hotspur, another of my three – play in the Champions League final, and had been to the local gym with his wife.  He was fit, took good care of himself in a stressful job, and had everything to look forward to. Justin was 49. If you ever needed a reminder of the fragility of life, and of the validity of the MHF’s statistic, there it is.

Those life expectancy figures are a little scary for me. One in five of us men dies before reaching 65 (or even 50, in Justin’s case), and two in five before reaching 75. I’m comfortably in that range, and I know I need to take much better care of myself. Does that apply to you, too? It is never too late to do something about it!

Whilst most of the key numbers concern physical health, the MHF does include a couple of mental health statistics too. The first of these is this:

This raises the huge issue of social inequality, which is far too complex for this post. Sadly, I don’t think the current political situation in this country is conducive to removing the barriers that prevent the achievement of social equality – indeed, I believe we have a government which is doing its best to widen the gap between those who have and those who don’t. Of course, I recognise that to be a sweeping generalisation, and social inequality has existed for thousands of years, so it isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. But it does put into context how hard we all need to be working towards improving our health – both physical and mental.

A further terrifying statistic for men lies in the other MHF poster which focuses on mental health:

Despite the depression I have often chronicled here I have never, ever, had any suicidal ideation. Again, this is a complex issue, and various reasons have been suggested as to why this might be, but if you ever have a thought like that please, please seek help before it is too late. And you don’t have to be male to do that!

If you’ve read this far and are female, and are wondering ‘what about us?’ I would contend that as the stereotypical male buries his head in the sand about health issues – except, of course, for manflu – we need a kick up the wotsit to make us take notice. Physical and mental health are important for everyone of whatever gender, and I think it is good to see a focus on those who that stereotype says might well be in denial about their need to improve their lifestyles. I know I do: I just hope I can actually do more than just talk about it. And I suspect that is equally true of many others.

Please do follow the link I gave earlier to the MHF website. They do a good deal more than run this awareness week, and there are a number (see what I did there?) of useful resources available to you on the site. They say that they have 1.4m visits each year: that doesn’t happen if people don’t think it worth their time and effort.

[I have put this post under my ‘Dates To Note’ category. This was a series I ran through 2013, with occasional returns since then. All of the posts I have placed in that category are available – in reverse chronological order – from the menu at the top of the page. Go on, click the link – you may find something of interest!]

 

Why Do You Pretend To Be Normal?

May 29, 2019 16 comments

A fellow blogger – Stevie Turner – published a post on Monday about the odd phrases that people have entered into search engines as a result of which they have landed on her blog. Her post is called ‘WordPress Search Terms,’ and can be found here – as with all her posts, I recommend it. I’ve often marvelled at some of the weird and wonderful things people search for. In my case, I once wrote a post for Think About Sex Day – yes, it really does exist – which gave me the opportunity to use the word ‘sex’ in the post’s tags, giving rise (or not, ahem) to countless disappointed people since then. I commented on Stevie’s post that my all time favourite was someone who had found my blog by asking ‘why do you pretend to be normal?’ I’ve always hoped that wasn’t aimed specifically at me, but there is always that nagging doubt, isn’t there?

At first I said to Stevie that I hadn’t tried to answer the question, but then I dredged the depths of my memory and realised that I had, in a post from June 2013, entitled ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal.’ The post was written in response to one of the old WordPress daily prompts, back in the days when a) they still did them, and b) they were sensible. As you can see from the conversation I had with Stevie on her post, she expressed an interest in seeing my earlier attempt so, on the basis that I was guaranteed at least one reader, I agreed to share it again. Here it is – I’ll drop back in again at the end for a postword:

—-

STRANGELY STRANGE BUT ODDLY NORMAL

Daily Prompt: The Normal

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt asks ‘Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?’

This is a subject I’ve been struggling to write about for quite a while – since I started blogging last autumn, in fact. I think what has held me back from this is a twofold fear: firstly, that I would look as if I was trying to be an eminent expert, which I’d never claim to be on anything; secondly, it could be pretty dull. But the prompt has persuaded me to do it, so here goes. This is a companion piece to my earlier post today on Men’s Health Week.

Pretending

How do we define what is normal? What standards/criteria do we judge it against? Do we mean ‘conforming to societal norms?’ If you have a mental illness, like my depression, does that mean you are abnormal? Or if you are physically disabled, does that mean you aren’t normal either? Is ‘normal’ something to want or aspire to anyway?

Seeking inspiration, I tried looking in the dictionary. It said:

NORMAL, adjective

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

2. serving to establish a standard.

3. Psychology:

  • approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
  • free from any mental disorder; sane.

So there you have it. It’s a fair cop but society really is to blame for anyone who isn’t normal! I once asked someone on Twitter, now an ex-friend, to define normal and her off the cuff response was along the lines of ‘being or doing something that matches more than 50% of the population.’ That is, I guess, the societal norm approach. But why should you be considered abnormal if only 49% are like you? Where would – or could – you draw the line in such an assessment?

The reason we are no longer friends is that she decided I am an unpleasant, needy ‘attention whore,’ and that I am psychotic. And she said this in a very public way. Naturally, I strongly disagreed with this assessment but it makes my point for me: two people’s view of the same thing, or of each other, can be so different that the ability to define what is actually ‘normal’ must be subjective. In other words, it is different things to different people. To show how hard it can be to assess normality let’s consider her as an example. I know this is a cheap shot but I’ve waited six months for this so please indulge me briefly! Unless more than half the population has slept with over 200 people of both genders and posts pictures of their genitalia on the web to help them feel good about themselves, then by her own definition she is abnormal. And I’m pretty sure she deserves to be called an ‘attention whore’ far more than I do. But that’s just my assessment, and whilst those are true facts about her – unless she is a liar too – I’d imagine that she’d disagree with me. Not easy, is it?

Medication can be good for you!

Medication can be good for you!

Looking back at the dictionary definitions, I don’t really have any problem with the first two, which I see as being ‘situational’ definitions. But as you might expect I really cannot agree with the psychological view! Whilst those may be the standards used by clinicians to diagnose their patients, I don’t believe that people with depression or other mental illnesses are helped by being defined as ‘not normal’ in a social context. I function perfectly well in society. So do most others with this and similar illnesses. Of course, medication can be helpful in achieving that, but would anyone consider it wrong to take medication for an ongoing physical condition, such as diabetes? I think not. That ‘not normal’ description, taken out of context, fuels the beliefs and prejudices of people who don’t understand that there are different types of illnesses. It is a factor in creating the stigma that exist: having depression does not mean you are ‘psychotic.’ But it is easy for people to be led into believing otherwise in these days of mass consumption of mass media. Remember The Sun’s ‘Bonkers Bruno’ headline when Frank Bruno was admitted to a clinic suffering from a depressive illness? I rest my case!

As Men’s Health Week is just about to begin it is an appropriate time to ask, not just for men but for all those suffering depression or who are in some way not ‘free from mental disorder’: can we please stop being thought of as abnormal? Why should we or those who have a severe physical illness or disability be regarded as anything other than normal? Basically, that is an insult.

Ignore labels. I am me. You are you. We are us. We are all unique and special, in our own way. One thing you can do better than anyone else is …. be yourself. 

Who wants to be ‘normal’ anyway?”

———

And this is me today. The concept of normality isn’t something I think about every day, but that line about being yourself is the one that best sums it up for me. We each have our own version of what it means to be normal, and it provides us with the reference points by which we live our lives. Why should anyone define normality for us? As I said in the original piece, it is to some – possibly a large – extent a subjective matter. How we perceive ourself must impact on our view of others, mustn’t it? How could we possibly remove that from our reference framework?

A triple of footnotes:

1. Men’s Health Week is coming up again. This year it runs from 10 to 16 June. I’m intending to do a post about it – it’s about time I reintroduced my Dates To Note series.

2. Apologies for the little piece of revenge I exacted in the original piece. It wasn’t very noble of me, I know, but it was all true and I did feel better for it!

3. The title of that original was borrowed from a song: the opening track of Kip Of The Serenes, the 1968 debut album by the Irish hippy folk band Dr Strangely Strange. In case you were wondering 😉

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