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Feeling Good?

May 10, 2017 33 comments

A post for Mental Health Awareness Week

Many of you have started following my blog in the past year or so, and may not be aware that I originally began this over four years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others. From the comments I’ve received since then it appears that this has happened far more than I could ever have hoped, although I admit to having strayed off message quite a lot since then. You will probably also be unaware that I ran a series of ‘Dates To Note’ about key days in the calendar, mostly around health and social care. They can be found from the menu above, if you’re interested. Not wanting this to become stale or repetitive – I can do that without setting myself up for it – I stopped these as a regular feature two or three years ago. But this week has prompted a slight return, to borrow a phrase from Jimi Hendrix.

I’m slightly confused by this – it doesn’t take much – but I have seen various references (mostly American, I think) to May being Mental Health Awareness Month whilst here in the UK this week, from 8th to 14th May, is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, we have two ‘Dates To Note’ though as I’m British I’m concentrating on our week. This is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find their site here. The MHF do a lot of good work campaigning for better mental health, and provide a wealth of useful information on mental health matters. I commend their site to you if you want to know more. If you are in the States the equivalent organisation there is HealthyPlace, and you can find their site by clicking on the ‘Stand Up’ logo at the top of the column to the right.

For this year’s Awareness Week the MHF is turning things on their head. As they put it themselves, ‘Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.’ To support this they commissioned a piece of research which has found that, rather disappointingly, only 13% of us feel that we are thriving in this way. The report can be found here – it is fairly short and easily read, and includes a definition of what ‘thriving with good mental health’ means, in case you were wondering.

Having been diagnosed with depression five years ago, I am acutely aware that it is something which is never ‘cured.’ I’ve been off medication for more than two years now, but always have that underlying worry that I might slip back into ways which allow the depression to take hold again. My physical health has been far from good for the past two years, and this has rendered me more housebound than I would like. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I know that this isn’t good for my mental health, but physical health needs are winning out at present. If you look at the MHF site you’ll find a brief survey to complete, which gives you an assessment of how well, or otherwise, you are thriving. It is only seven questions and takes a couple of minutes. Anyone who has been diagnosed with depression will at some point have completed an assessment like this with a doctor, though this one is slightly different in its focus. Having had a few recent pangs of concern, I approached this with some trepidation. As always with such questionnaires, the important thing is to answer as honestly as possible – lying to yourself is pointless! I took the survey, and this was my result:

Click to enlarge

To be frank, I was pleasantly surprised at this, and found some encouragement from it. I would encourage you to take the survey – and if your score is low please consider visiting your doctor to talk it through. I know from my own experience that hiding from yourself, failing to accept that you might need help, can be very damaging. I was eventually off work for more than nine months, and have always felt that this could have been much shorter if I’d accepted the need to do something sooner than I did. So do as I say, please, not as I did!

The flip side of this coin is that you could take this test and get a similar result to mine, and think everything is alright. But there are limitations to such tests, and if you are at all worried about your mental health – if you feel that you aren’t thriving – it would be remiss to think that your result means you don’t need to do anything. As I say, I’ve had my own concerns recently, and these won’t go away simply because I’m ‘around the national average.’ Our mental health is precious, and I’ll be taking good care of mine, including signing up for the MHF’s package mentioned in the screenshot above. I hope you do whatever you can to look after yourself.

Regular readers will know how important a role music plays in my life. Indeed, it is one of many factors which contribute to our mental wellbeing, and is used in therapy. You may have recognised that the title for this piece is borrowed from a song, the most famous version of which is this, by Nina Simone:

I trust that listening to that will have raised your spirits a little! Have a good day, and be well.

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International Day of Happiness

March 20, 2017 23 comments

In case you hadn’t noticed and the festivities had passed you by, today is International Day of Happiness. I think we could be forgiven for not noticing this as the celebrations here in the UK appear to be non-existent. How could this be? This is a long-standing tradition that goes all the way back to, er, 2012, when it was first decreed by the United Nations. Here’s the relevant extract from their resolution, in case you don’t believe me:

The words are worthy, but I have a huge degree of difficulty in understanding how anyone can think that we can be told to be happy. It’s a bit like telling a depressed person to ‘get over it,’ it isn’t something that can be made to happen just because someone says so, or wants it to happen. Frankly, with all the evidence to the contrary, I think the UN is on a loser with this one and has many far more serious matters worthy of its attention. The world is in a mess, and decreeing a day to be happy is, frankly, ludicrous. Here in the UK we’re faced with the ramifications of the vote to leave the EU: the levels of xenophobia and racism that the campaign and its aftermath have stirred up; the uncertain financial and political future our country will face when we go it alone, led by a government that is clinging grimly to a mantra that everything will be wonderful when, in reality, they are as clueless as the rest of us; the possibility that not only will we leave the EU but will see the UK break up. Reasons to be cheerful? I think not.

Take a look at the wider world and the situation is no better. ISIS and other terrorists are implacable enemies of peace and harmony. There are ‘populist’ movements throughout Europe making electoral gains. And the largest ‘populist’ vote of them all was the one that bought the lies of a conman only interested in feathering his own nest but has somehow persuaded a minority vote to get him elected President of the US, due to their crazy Electoral College system. But, to be fair, he does seem to be doing his bit to contribute to Happiness Day: we Brits are still laughing helplessly at his assertion that GCHQ was somehow involved in the plot he imagines Obama started to bug his offices. Trumpgate; the comedy gift that keeps on giving.

I could go on at length about this, but that is not the aim of this post and many, far better informed, commentators than I exist to do this. My point today is to pick up on the apparent stupidity of designating a day to be one on which governments worldwide can do something to highlight and improve an emotional construct. Try telling that to the many refugees around the world, or those who are discriminated against for reasons of religion, ethnicity or colour – and by this I don’t mean those who happen to be orange. The phrase ‘pissing in the wind’ comes to mind.

I’ve painted a deliberately negative picture, and no doubt there are loads of activities and initiatives being taken today in the name of happiness. One such example is this piece from today’s Metro newspaper. There’s nothing new here, but advice on how to improve your mental health can never be repeated too much. To me, that is exactly what encouraging people to be happy is all about. There is allegedly a website for the day – happinessday.org – and I was going to give you a link to it. But I’ve tried it in four different browsers and it doesn’t load – maybe it’s crashed under the weight of interest?

But whatever is being done today in the name of happiness, I wonder how much of it has any long-term sustainable benefit. Maybe it’s just me being an old curmudgeon but I suspect that all the worthy efforts that may be being made will soon be forgotten, and that is really sad. Governments, those with the power and money, should be doing much more to help us all be happier. But vested interests tend to get in the way, and the rich continue to get richer at the expense of the less privileged. It will take a lot more than a token day to change that for the better.

One of the things in life that makes me happy is music. So, not wanting this to be an entirely negative post, I leave you with three minutes of musical happiness:

Try telling me you aren’t happier after watching that than you were before! Have a good day, and be happy – remember, it’s mandatory 😊

American Pi(e) Day

March 14, 2017 22 comments

As every schoolkid should know, the fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table was Sir Cumference. He got that way from too much pi.

Or maybe not.

Readers of longer standing may recall that I used to post occasional Dates To Note and originally ran a version of this post in that series two years ago. I rather like this one, as it gives us Brits a chance to marvel at how weird the USA can be so, for newer readers, here’s a reworked version.

In the UK last week was British Pie Week, whilst in the USA 14 March is National Pi Day. Being a good British citizen of proportions that make me the answer to the football fans’ chanted question ‘Who ate all the pies?’ I was naturally drawn to this. However on further investigation I found that it was in fact a ‘celebration’ by Jus-Rol who make…yes, you guessed it…pastry. I felt rather let down by that, as we have such a tradition of pie-making in this country that it deserves better than blatant commercialism. Oh well!

It was actually the fact that the Americans thought that Pi was worthy of a whole day to itself that caught my attention. My mind was suddenly full of images of those guys who used to present the Open University maths progammes in the 80s – wild hair, wild eyes, outrageous shirts and strange knitwear – gathering together (in circles, of course) chanting strange incantations to the mythical aspects of a mathematical constant, whatever they may be. In case you’re like me and school was a long time ago – or you didn’t listen – the definition of Pi given on the website is:

“Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.”

I’m not sure about the claims of worldwide celebration, to be honest. For a start, I don’t know how many countries use the short form calendar backwards to make the 3/14 link possible. Sorry, American readers, but it’s just illogical to put it that way round: days become months, months become years, so it makes more sense to me that today is 14/3/17. Having got that mini rant off my chest, I guess there must be geeks all over the world who would welcome the opportunity to celebrate a concept. But how do you do it? And why? And how did it all begin?

As usual, I turned to the fount of all knowledge, i.e. Wikipedia. You can read the whole article here, but in summary the day was first marked by a physicist called Larry Shaw in San Francisco, in 1988. Heeeeere’s Larry:

The pi(e)man

What did I say about 1980s mathematicians! There are apparently some educational aspects that make this a day worth giving some attention, such as the competitions in schools to see who can recall Pi to the most decimal places. I’m sure that will be helpful in your future career, kids! But even the instigator of the concept made the link to PIE rather than PI, as you can see from his photo. Yes, they eat pies to mark the day. Apparently they also throw them, but that just seems sacrilegious! I was also intrigued to discover that as 14/3 is also Einstein’s birthday, Princeton, where he lived for 20 years, hold an Einstein look-alike contest on the day. Give up, guys, I’ve got it covered from my one and only attempt at taking part in Movember:

Me and Albert. Or vice versa.

Clearly, Pi Day is a big thing in the States, as even Google has in the past got in on the act:

That’s about as confusing to me as the idea of celebrating a concept, if I’m honest. But if you have a moment do take a look at the Pi Day website. You’ll learn more about Pi than you can ever have imagined (or wanted). I love the tab given over to ‘Pi Sightings’ and especially the Pi Pie Pan, which you can see at the head of this post. Maths becomes fun at last! Well, almost. And if you want to know the history of Pi, it is encapsulated in this little ditty:

Whoever thought mathematicians could be so amusing, eh? I think I’ll stick with Don McLean’s original, thanks. But definitely not the Madonna abomination:

Happy Pi-ing, USA! We think you’re strange 😂

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