Alone Again, Or…?

I posted this to my Facebook friends a couple of days ago:


I live alone and don’t have any signs of illness, but I could understand her precautions: as she said, the outfit was as much to protect me from possible infection as it was for her. But it was another gentle reminder of how our lives are being disrupted by an unseen enemy. In normal course, I would have been phoned by my GP practice to tell me that there was a blood test request form for me to pick up. I would then take that to the local hospital and join what always feels like half the population of our small town in the queue to be leeched. However, I had a text message on Tuesday from the practice telling me that they would only be doing telephone contacts for now, and the hospital closed all of its day clinics on Wednesday. The district nurse told me that their service had been tasked with taking on the urgent cases, which was a little scary: to be fair, she did say that I didn’t meet the criteria for urgency, but was nevertheless on the list for a visit. In all honesty it was much more convenient for me and saved me the return cab fare. But it got me thinking about how even simple tasks are being complicated, and how much we owe to those in the front line of caring for us. Would you want to be going into the homes of those who are potentially vulnerable to illness at any time, let alone in these Covid-19 days? I sure as hell wouldn’t!

The visit also got me thinking about my own precautions and care. One of the signs of Covid-19, so I understand, is a raised temperature. Time to dust off my thermometer, just in case. But then I realised that I hadn’t seen it since I moved flat nine months ago. Oh. No problem, it would be in the kitchen cupboard with my small stock of first aid stuff, wouldn’t it? Nope. Maybe it had been put away in one of the bundles of stuff that went straight into storage cupboards? Another nope. After all, thermometers are pretty small, so perhaps I’d moved it into one of the drawers in my lounge furniture – all three of them? Triple nope. Time for my usual response to this kind of situation: a muttered ‘oh bugger.’

Perhaps I could think of another way round this? More in hope than expectation I hit the websites of the major pharmacies, like Boots and Lloyds, and – no surprise – every single model was out of stock, even the ridiculously expensive ones which should really have been made of solid gold for the prices charged. Or would have been charged, if they’d had any. I then tried Amazon, to be met with a similar story. Most offered possible delivery dates from mid-April until well into May – I could be dead by then, ffs! Looking in more detail at the various offerings, I also noticed that, apart from their unavailability, they all had one other thing in common: they would all be sent from China. Now, I’m no Donald Trump (whose favourite band is presumably China Crisis), but that did seem a potentially unnecessary risk to take. So I did what any self-respecting (but not yet isolating) Brit would do in these circumstances: I made a cup of tea (not China) and sat down for a think.

As is so often the case the tea worked its magic properties. It suddenly struck me that, as this flat has much less cupboard space in the bathroom than my previous one, I had a small bag of bits in there that I hadn’t opened since the move. Hey presto! One thermometer complete with protective case! Joy unbounded! Well, ok, I’m a Brit, so I was a little bit pleased. A quick clean, to protect myself from my own ancient germs, and I gave it a test drive. All worked as it should, so I stored it carefully in the aforementioned kitchen cupboard in case I need it again. My temperature was right at the low end of the ‘normal’ range but there is no way I’m going to start worrying about that! That would be a tale for another day if there was any change, and I really hope I don’t have to write that one!

Returning to my starting point, I’ve also been spending a good bit of time thinking about those in the front line of caring for and supporting us. I worked for 20 years in the NHS and, whilst I wasn’t a clinician, I met a great many in my time there. One attribute they shared, as do all of those providing my own current care, was their dedication to what they do and to the people they treat. I didn’t laugh or scream at the nurse who came to see me: that would have been completely inappropriate. As I said earlier, I live on my own. I’ve agreed with close family that we won’t see each other until it is safe to do so: I suspect that I might be late for my granddaughter’s second birthday in June, but I’d never forgive myself if I caught something and passed it on to her, my daughters, or other family. I’m alone, not lonely. I will survive quite happily as long as I can get food and medications delivered, as now, and the nurses can work out a way to substitute my weekly bandage changes if, as I suspect they will, the premises I go to are shut down. Look back at what I said in my Facebook post: it’s good to feel looked after. However long this lasts it will be temporary, in the great scheme of life. I give thanks to those whose dedication is supporting me through this and will see me to the other side. We all owe them our gratitude.

I hope you are also taking care of yourself and, like me, feel well cared for and supported. And please heed the advice from the powers that be. They may, like ours, have initially been slow off the mark, but their advice is guided by science, which is critical at this time. Be well. Stay safe.

Still Trying To ‘Take It Easy’

Three years ago today I began my series of #SaturdaySongs. This kind of ran out of steam, although I have revisited it on several occasions, and its spirit lives on in the #SongOfTheDay I post on the Facebook page for this blog – the link is in the right hand column if you want to take a look, and maybe even sign up. The first post was, as I said at the time, an easy choice to make: after all, I’d used it for the title of my blog! If you haven’t seen it you can find it here or from the #SaturdaySongs section of the main menu, at the top of this page.

The post tells the story of how the song came to life, in a collaboration between Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. I won’t repeat myself here (for once!) but do take a look if you’re interested. I was prompted to revisit that post by one of those chance findings on YouTube: a live performance of the song on Spanish TV by Jackson Browne, Sharon Shannon and an uncredited mandolin player. I’ve tried, but haven’t found anything to identify her (help welcome!). This version is lovely, and really gets to the heart of the song:

It got me thinking, mostly about why I gave my blog this name. At the outset, if any of you remember, I chose the amazingly original and creative name of ‘Clive’s Blog,’ but when I retired in September 2013 I felt the need to rebrand, to reflect the way I wanted my life to be from then on. I had several possible choices but settled on this one, and I’m not thinking of changing it again anytime soon. I had always wanted to retire at 60 and achieved that aim, and had lots of plans as to how I would spend my time. This included increasing the number of music gigs I attended, theatre visits, museums and art galleries, and getting a season ticket for my ‘local’ Football League team – Leyton Orient. I live at the end of a London Underground line which enables me to be in central London within around 40 minutes, and Leyton is on the way in, so it was all going to be easy.

For the first two or three years I really did ‘Take It Easy’ and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Many gigs, museums and galleries were attended, and I managed a few theatre trips too. The highlight, though, was that first season of being a regular at the Os: it was the team’s best season for ages, culminating in a wonderful evening when we won our promotion play off semi final and then the final itself – at Wembley Stadium, no less. Sadly, we lost on penalties after being 2-0 up in both the match and the penalty shoot out. It’s the Orient way!

So what changed? My health let me down, that’s what. By that I mean physical, not mental, health – for a change. I have a condition which affects my mobility and travelling on public transport, especially up to London, is an absolute no-no at present, and has been for a few years. So much for being in charge of my life or, to use a phrase which has been prevalent here for a while now, ‘taking back control!’ My entertainment is now home-based, with reading, television and music to the fore. That wasn’t a change I had envisaged being forced to take, and it has taken a while for me to come to terms with it. I may never be ‘safe to travel’ again, and have had to accept that I might also not be able to attend live music, theatre or sporting events again. My ‘social life’ is now largely based around visits to the hospital and my doctor, and home visits by those who live close enough to me. I have the phone and online communication to keep me in touch, so I don’t feel cut off from the world, thankfully. But this experience has taught me that, whatever our intentions may be, we may need to make changes to our plans.

I probably sound as though I’m feeling sorry for myself, but I’m not. It would be easy for me to give in to ‘losing’ my ability to be more active and outgoing, and to sink back to the kind of depression I suffered eight years ago – which is why I began blogging, in case you missed that part! But I’m determined not to let that happen. I went for one of my regular blood tests yesterday, as part of the monitoring that I go through for my health – they want to check that I don’t develop diabetes. I guess that at some stage that may happen, and I’ve been reading up on it, as there are some horror stories about what it can mean for you. But I don’t have any of the symptoms, and would therefore be surprised if it was diagnosed. Even if it were, I would be hopeful that it would only mean a need to alter my diet and possibly take a few more pills every day, and that feels manageable.

So why should I feel sorry for myself? There are millions of people around the world who are far worse off than I, and I have much for which I should be – and am – grateful. There is, I think, a simple lesson for all of us in this: look for the positives in life, not the negatives. If you do, you will be far better placed to cope with the curve balls life can throw at you. I think I sound a little glib in saying that: after all, who am I to tell anyone else what to do? But I say it with feeling: it seems that modern life surrounds us with huge amounts of negativity every day – for example, politics appears to be based on it – and it can feel overwhelming. But if we can wade through all of that there are plenty of good things to be found, and perhaps the act of seeking them out can help us to appreciate them all the more.

I’m still trying to keep ‘Take It Easy’ as my mantra for life. Some days it feels more difficult than others, but I choose to look for the positives. I hope you do, too.

Why Do You Pretend To Be Normal?

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:

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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?”

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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 😉