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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!]

 

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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 😉

300 Not Out – A Retrospective

August 29, 2018 29 comments

Recently I mentioned that I was planning something to mark my 300th post. Well, this is number 300, and the more observant among you will have noticed that it has been more than a month since number 299. The gap is much longer than I had intended, partly due to my natural indolence and a bit of illness, but more the result of the several false starts I made on the planned post. Finally, I’ve accepted reality: it just wasn’t working, so I’ve consigned it to the WordPress equivalent of the round metal file on the floor. I covered some of this ground in my recent-ish post 69 Months Later, but I’ve been looking back over what I have posted over the years, and post number 300 seems as good a time as any for a fuller reflection on what I’ve done, whilst using that as a stepping stone to the future. So…. here goes!

I’ve often restated why I began this blog so, at the risk of boring you, I’ll do a brief recap now to start off this retrospective (you have my permission to skip this bit if you’ve heard it before!). I was diagnosed in late 2011 with depression, and was off work for more than nine months. When I went back I was invited to take a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and, as part of this, I did a number of written exercises which got me thinking more than I had ever done before about me, my life, and what was important to me. After all, I was only 59 so it wasn’t too late to start! At the suggestion of my counsellor, who described my writing as ‘inspiring,’ some of these became the basis for my first few posts. These can be found under  ‘My Story’ in the menu above, and if you haven’t read them before I think they’re worth a few minutes of your time if you want to know where I’m coming from.

The point of doing this wasn’t to wallow in self pity, though: what would have been the value in that? I started blogging because I had realised how important our mental health and well-being is to us, and hoped that by sharing my own experience I could encourage others who might also be having a hard time to see that they weren’t alone. The response was encouraging, so I decided to keep going. Mental health is still, and will always be, important for me and it is a theme to which I return even if I’ve rambled off into the distance for many of my posts.

I think you can learn a lot about blogs from the category descriptions their authors use. I’ve tinkered a bit with my categories over the years, both to tighten up what was in danger of becoming an amorphous mass, and also to (hopefully) make it easier for readers to find their way around. The current menu structure has been largely unchanged for quite a while now: it works for me, and reflects what I’m trying to do. Dip in to some, if you haven’t before. You’ll see that some just take you to the most recent post in that category, while others give you a sub-menu of posts – basically, these are the shorter menus (some were getting ridiculously long!).

Over the past couple of years the number of people following my blog has increased tremendously. Many of you won’t have seen some of my earlier posts before, and I’ve mined my back catalogue a lot to share some of these. I usually add a new commentary, updating what I had previously said, and I hope you have enjoyed some of these. It should go without saying that any post which has been given this treatment is one that I enjoyed writing and revisiting, and sharing them again has the added benefit of sparing me from writing something new! As this is a retrospective, I thought I’d highlight a few favourite posts – both mine and those which appear to have been popular in others’ eyes.

Rather surprisingly, perhaps, when I went through my back catalogue I found quite a few posts that I hadn’t recycled. Some of these, such as those I produced in the two years that I participated in November’s National Blog Posting Month – post every day, watch the quality fall off a cliff – were probably best left alone, and I’ve long since removed the menu link for them. Masochists can always find them via the Archives tab on the right, and looking for the Novembers of 2014 and 2015! One early post which I rather like was Dazed And Confused, from August 2013, in which I had one of my little rants: the target for this was marketing, which is a worthy subject for a moan! Another post from 2013 has a great deal of meaning for me. In those days I often responded to the daily prompt offered by WordPress, back when these were meaningful thoughts, rather than the single word option they went for instead – which was responsible for more pointless doggerel appearing in my email notifications than I could ever have wished for. No surprise to me that these prompts were eventually discontinued. In this post, My Mind’s Eye, I was looking ahead to my imminent retirement and sharing the symbolism of the London Eye for what I wanted to do with my future. My two wonderful daughters took me out for a special day to celebrate my 60th birthday and retirement – I must have mentioned my wish to go on the Eye, as that was part of my day! For some reason it took me a while to write about that day, but I eventually got round to it three years later in A Celebration – another of my favourite posts.

Having begun this blog to post about mental health, I’m rather proud of the fact that my three posts which have achieved the most ‘likes’ from readers are all mental health posts: see the ‘Top Posts & Pages’ links to the right. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a huge readership for this blog, and a typical post is likely to pick up around 20 to 25 likes: these three posts are all comfortably beyond that and the top one, Mental Health Matters, has 140 likes. For some of you that is nothing significant but for me it is astonishing! It was written in response to a report in the paper, about the way that the commissioning bodies for health services here in the UK were diverting funds which were supposedly ringfenced for mental health treatments, using them instead for other services. It seems that I wasn’t alone in finding this outrageous! Those top posts can all be easily reached – just click on the titles – so please feel free to take a look at any that you may not have seen previously. Mental health has been a recurrent theme for me. I used to do a regular series of ‘Dates To Note’ which were usually about health and social care subjects. Mental health featured often in these posts, which have their own menu entry above – as, of course, does mental health itself. If you’re interested, you’ll find my most recent posts – from May this year – under both menu headings. One of the aspects of mental health that has exercised me on several occasions is the way that it is stigmatised. This post from 2013 is an early one of this sort, and I have used that as the basis both for a reblog and a reworked piece. Sadly, this is still an issue now and I fear there may need to be another post of this kind when the time comes this year. As I said, mental health is still an important issue for me, so expect to see more about it in future.

Another important subject for me is music, which has played a central role in my life since I was a child. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, but I couldn’t live without music. It gets its own special mention in the tagline for the blog, and the blog’s title is that of one of my favourite songs. As well as countless sharings of songs at random times, I also have my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs where, by and large, I share the story of why a song is important to me. The menu gives you easy access to them all, but probably the most important piece for me which relates to a song isn’t in that series: I Hope You Dance, which I wrote to welcome the birth of my first grandchild, has that honour. I’m grateful that so many of you have hit the ‘like’ button for it: that means a great deal to me.

So, after 300 posts in nearly six years, where do I go from here? What does the future hold for my blog? I don’t imagine that I’ll change my blogging habits in any perceptible way: I’m not someone who can produce to a schedule and, since I retired and tried to remove stress from my life as far as possible, I imagine that there will still be erratic gaps or, more rarely, very short periods between posts. I don’t want to be driven by a clock or a calendar, but at least that means you’ll always have that element of surprise when an email notification lands on you! In short, the future for this blog will be more of the same though hopefully not in any boring way! A blogger I respect enormously told me in a comment today that I ‘have a fantastic blog.’ I’m not sure I deserve that, but I’d like to think that I can in some way inform, entertain and amuse you sufficiently to make you come back for more.

Those of you who, like me, use one of the free WordPress packages will, no doubt, have noticed that Facebook have recently made an ‘improvement’ which has meant that we can no longer share posts with our Facebook friends. They did this in the name of reducing fake news: frankly, I think removing this facility from those of us with personal blogs is ridiculous, but who am I to question Farcebook in its infinite wisdom? This has, however, prompted me to do something new. So, as you can see from the picture link to the right, I have…. cue fanfare…. started a Facebook page for this blog. I haven’t done much with it yet, but the intention is to post pictures, YouTube videos and news links which I hope you’ll find interesting and enjoyable, as well as being relevant and complementary to my blog. And, of course, new blog posts will all appear there – Facebook still lets us do that, probably because it gives them the option to bombard us with entreaties to ‘boost’ our posts. For a fee, of course. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be taking up their kind offer! So please, take a look and if you feel in the mood to ‘like’ the page I’d be very grateful. As I said, there isn’t much there yet, but I intend to make it somewhere worth spending a moment or two of your time. I expect I’ll be plugging it here a bit, too!

This has turned out to be a much longer post than I intended, so thank you for reading this far! Thank you also for following my blog – assuming that you do, of course – and for bearing with me for however much of the past six years or so that you’ve been here. Thank you also for all of the likes and comments: it’s good to know that so many of you have enjoyed at least a little of what I’ve been doing, and being a part of the blogging community and sharing those interactions is what really makes it all worthwhile.

See you again soon, I hope 😊

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