Why Do You (Still) Pretend To Be Normal?

In these strange days of pandemic and lockdowns, many articles have been written about what life may be like when it is all over. Will we ever go back to being as we were, or will we have adapted into a ‘new normal?’ It was therefore a bit of a coincidence to see that I had posted this a year ago today, and I thought it worth sharing again for newer readers, or for those who might have enjoyed it so much the first time round and might be so bored in lockdown that they would welcome a chance to see it again.

As you will see, the main part of this is a reworked version of a post I originally wrote in 2013, but I haven’t really changed my view in the intervening seven years. Normal, for me, may still very well be different from what passes for normal for you or others: I’m pretty certain that Numpty Trumpty’s version of normality is miles away from mine, for example! Whatever (to get in a plug for my WOTY), it is a concept that I think we might all be revisiting in the months and years to come: “do you remember what life BC was like?” Let’s revisit this in a year’s time and see what we think then!

A couple of footnotes:
1. Mention is made in the previous posts of Men’s Health Week – it is coming around again, this year from 15-21 June.
2. BC, in case you needed reminding, stands for ‘Before Coronavirus.’

Take It Easy

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…

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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.

Health In Numbers

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!]