Category Archives: Observations

Cause, correlation, cancer and obesity

Last week, the charity Cancer UK started a campaign to tell people that obesity causes cancer – more on their website – https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/obesity-weight-and-cancer There’s a very good piece here pointing out that ‘cause’ and ‘correlation are not the same thing. https://medium.com/@laura_86024/an-open-letter-to-cancer-research-uk-19ecaa71b263

Humans are easily persuaded to see correlation as cause and effect – this is the basis of all superstitious thinking. We’re prone to seeing patterns even when no patterns exist. That there is a correlation between obesity and cancer is really important and needs investigating. Correlation means there is a good chance of underlying issues causing both. Unless you can identify a mechanism that means one thing results in another, it is not helpful to suggest there’s a causal link. So, what other options are there?

Stress. Some of us may store fat as a stress response – good article here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428710/ So adding to the stress of larger people by telling them their size is going to cause cancer may… wait for it… increase stress levels.

Alcohol has a lot of calories in it and is strongly linked to cancer risk in a mechanical way. Alcohol consumption could easily, for some people, be an underlying cause of both obesity and cancer risk.

Every article I’ve read about cancer avoidance has advocated having a good diet high in fruit and veg, and getting plenty of exercise. Poverty diets don’t deliver this, and a poor diet leaving you with low energy is not conducive to staying active. What if poverty causes cancer?

If you show up to the doctor with a health problem, and you are also a larger person, the odds are you will be diagnosed with fat. If you lose weight and don’t get better – as has happened to a number of people I know – you may then get your symptoms taken seriously. Being diagnosed as fat increases your risk of having the early signs of other conditions ignored. It’s not going to cause cancer, but it does mean you are at higher risk from any illness if you don’t get your symptoms properly investigated.

We’ve recently discovered, after years of being told that weight is the cause of diabetes, that there’s an impact from air pollution, too. Pollution is recognised as causing lung cancer, but according to the World Health Organisation website, there are questions to ask about the impact on other cancer risks. If you breathe it in, some of it is probably getting into the rest of your body. If pollutants can give you lung cancer it seems fair to ask what risk they pose for other cancers. Here’s a piece exploring whether air pollution might contribute to obesity – http://thescienceexplorer.com/brain-and-body/pollution-making-us-fat and another study about what happens when pollutants accumulate in your body fat – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150227084315.htm – studies are ongoing as to the health implications.

If you make obesity and cancer the responsibility of the individual, you don’t look at collective responsibility for pollution and poverty. It is easier to blame and shame an individual who is at risk, than it is to invest time and money helping them. It is painfully easy to persuade people that being fat is a personal failing and that shaming fat people is the best way to help them. There’s plenty of research out there that demonstrates blaming people for their body shape does not lead to productive, health-improving changes in behaviour.

It’s shit science. Correlation is not causality. There may well be a great many people for whom conventional weight loss tactics don’t work, and many underlying causes that link obesity and cancer that will be ignored if we insist on simply focusing on weight.

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Honesty and touch

My whole adult life there has been a steady supply of men who put their hands on me without my consent. I’ve had one round of successfully persuading a chap who was rather too hands on with me to stop because it wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve gone a lot of rounds being told that it means nothing, they do this to everyone and that they weren’t prepared to make the effort to remember not to do it to me. There has repeatedly been pressure to accept this contact passively. I also note that the vast majority of ‘I do it to everyone’ guys do not in fact treat guys this way.

There’s a lot of entitlement underpinning the idea that your right to touch someone is more important than their right to say ‘no’ to being touched. There’s also something very weird (I think) about touching someone and claiming it means nothing. I’ve been the recipient of kisses on these terms as well. I do not want to be kissed by people who mean nothing by it. I find it immensely disturbing.

My suspicion is that the men who do this get something out of it that they aren’t willing to be honest about  – be that the pleasure of touch, or the pleasure of making a female-presenting person like myself accept them doing this – it could be a power trip. If you can touch someone and make them accept that, you have all the power in a situation. If you can touch someone you desire and then tell them you don’t find them attractive so they aren’t allowed to make anything of it, there’s all kinds of power-over going on.

Why haven’t I resisted more strenuously? To avoid awkward escalation. Because I’ve felt that if I protested I might be entirely rejected – a perfectly reasonable fear. Because I am easily persuaded that of course no one finds me attractive so it can’t be coming from there. I also find touch emotionally affecting, so if someone touches me as though they love me, or desire me, that can have a really big impact on me, and can do so quickly. To then hear that it meant nothing and I should make nothing of it is unsettling to say the least.

I have learned over multiple rounds of this that I am not supposed to respond at all. The ideal response from the perspective of those dishing it out, is to passively accept whatever is done to me. If I question it, there can be backlash. If I respond to it with affection, or Gods help me, with anything that could be read as desire, the slapbacks can be nasty. In these situations, it is not my place to do anything active and that, frankly, makes me very cross and very unhappy. Every time I’ve tried to talk about this I’ve found that the men doing it feel it is fair for them to touch me, and not fair for me to respond. It’s a line of thought I am pretty sure is held together by our wider culture – that male access to female bodies is a right, and that active female sexuality is unpleasant. We are to be appealing and quietly manhandled and make no comment.

If you want to touch someone purely on your own terms, with no reference to what they do, or do not want, you shouldn’t be touching them at all. If touching people means nothing to you, then you should not be touching them. If you desire someone and want to touch them on those terms, you should have the decency to own it, and not gaslight them by telling them it is something else entirely.


Time off – some observations

I took last week off – sort of. I still wrote a few blog posts and checked my email most days, but compared to a normal working week it was minimal stuff. I used the time to look after my home a bit, to read, craft, walk, and rest.

By Friday of my week off, I was starting to feel a bit better. That told me a lot about how exhausted I’d been. I need to make some ongoing changes around rest and time off, clearly. Once I reached this point it was also noticeable that the anxious aspects of my thinking had toned down significantly. I would like to spend more of my time not so close to the edge, so this is something to explore.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what uplifts and restores me, and how to do more of that.

I’m going to keep notes on how long I’m working each day, so I can cap the length of my working week. There are some hazy areas around working and not working for me. Is rehearsing a mumming side work? Is doing technical support for a friend part of my work time? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not going to get bogged down in the details because the self employed life is sprinkled with speculative stuff that never turns into paying gigs, and fun things that turn out to be research. I can’t read a book without learning something, but that doesn’t necessarily make it work…

I want to be able to work a solid eight hours a day when my brain is sharp and fast. I want to have the rest of the day off to do domestic things and potter about. I know if I slide into longer days I become slower and get less done for the time put in. Creativity is dependent on having time when I’m not busily thinking about workish things –I’ve not been getting this balance right. I’m hoping this time off will have given me a reboot and that I’ll be able to change some of my working patterns.

And if it hasn’t been a successful reboot, I’m simply going to do it again!


Pausing to reflect

It’s my birthday today. I find birthdays are a good time to pause and take stock of things. Quite a lot has changed for me over the last year – I’ve become more involved with Transition Stroud, which has brought a whole host of new people into my life. I’ve had a lot of upheaval around work, which has given me a better sense of my limits and possibilities. I’ve coloured an entire Hopeless Maine graphic novel. I’ve written and performed a lot of poetry, and I’ve started dabbling in storytelling.

Birthdays inevitably have me reflecting on how this day has played out in other years. Some have been memorably good. Some were deeply unhappy. It’s a day that highlights what’s best in a person’s relationships but that will also flag up insufficiency in a way that’s hard to miss. This is a good year in terms of people.

On the whole, I like how my life is going at the moment. My ambitions are on the small side and I’ve become much more focused on the details of daily life than on big schemes. The things I most want are fairly feasible. The changes I want to make moving forward aren’t very dramatic, but might improve my day to day standard of living a bit. I’m getting better at deciding when to say no, so as to protect my time and energy. I do a lot of saying yes, and I remain willing to offer help, support, volunteer work, and the such – I’m just being a bit more picky about who gets what of that. I’m working out how to step back as well as how to step forward.

The state of the world worries me immensely. I reflect a lot on what can be surmised about people living at the ends of empires and civilizations. I think about my radical ancestry – the many people who fought, and sometimes died to try and advance the causes of equality and fairness, many of whom never saw that get results in their own lifetimes. I keep reminding myself of all this because it is important perspective. Life is not like a movie, and I may not get a coherent narrative arc. The important thing is to do what I can and to stay hopeful and active, and to help as many other people do that as possible. Giving up is one sure fire way of being defeated, and while there is life, there is some sort of hope, however frail that may seem some days.

Birthdays are a reminder of how finite our lives are. None of us will live forever. If we keep on with the unsustainable choices, many of us will shorten our own lives, and the lives of others. Life, and time are the most precious things we have and the question of how to spend that well is one to keep asking.


Taking time off

Taking time off as a self employed or freelance person is challenging. First of all, no one pays you if you aren’t working so you have to be able to afford the economic hit. Secondly, the odds are there’s no one to cover you so all the key work has to be done to fit around the time off. Thirdly there’s the fear most of us seem to experience that if you don’t do all the work you can when it comes in, that work won’t come back – it will dry up or you’ll be less prepared for the next patch when you’re under-employed.

This week off has been a couple of months in the planning and setup. For some years now, I’ve managed to take the week off between Christmas and New Year. That’s easier because most people don’t work then so there’s not a build up of work queries to deal with. One week off a year, plus working some weekends and not always being able to offset at the time means living closer to the edge of viability than I think is clever. I’m also aware that creativity depends on downtime, and I need more downtime. I could also use some hours and energy to invest in my living space. I’m not going away, I’m just going to do different things for a week, and maybe nap more.

This blog will be running – I have some guest posts to share (which has been a great help) and will cobble a few together as I go (as I have with this one) because I need to get on the computer to check there are no ticking time bombs waiting in my email.

Patreon is still running this week, I set that up last week. If you want to support what I do, get more of it, and help me stay a bit more feasible, this is a good place to jump in – there are various levels, and everything helps. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB 

If you want to make a one off donation, that would also be lovely! Ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T

You can also support me by buying my books, which are available from pretty much everywhere that sells books. If you want the comics and aren’t in the UK, your best bet ishttps://bookdepository.com – stuck my name in your book site of preference to see what’s out there…


Dancing Awkwardly

Dancing has been important to me for most of my life. However, as I frequently struggle with pain, stiffness and low energy, it’s also a bit of a challenge. This is something I’ve been deliberately working on for a few years now. I can’t throw myself about like a lunatic pixie anymore, so finding new ways to dance that my body can sustain has been necessary. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I’m using my arms more – I can create an impression of speed and energy with my hands for far less effort than using my feet. Also, big, slow arm movements look really dramatic, but don’t even raise my pulse. I have the energy for those, reliably.

Jumping up and down on two feet at the same time jars everything and is way too labour intensive. However, a bouncy shift between feet with one foot on the ground at all times takes far less effort and jars nothing. I can feel like I’m making a lively response to the music without wearing myself out too quickly.

Dancing from the hips and not moving my feet very often takes less energy than moving my feet.

I can share the motion round my body, if I have one or two bits of me moving I can be creative without getting too tired. I am learning to think more about my body as a whole when dancing, and how to use every part and spread the motion around so I don’t strain anything.

I can work with my own awkwardness. There’s interest and drama in not being smooth and graceful. Sometimes it is better to dance more with my elbows and knees, to embrace the stagger, to flail a bit and let my body do what suits it. Overtly not-sexy dancing can be emotionally liberating as well. I don’t have to be sexually performative or attractive, I can be messy and punk and feel better about myself for dancing with what I’ve got.

I don’t have to go with the most obvious rhythm in a piece of music, there are always slower currents in a song that I can get into. I can dance with different melodies and instruments. It doesn’t have to be all about the drum speed. Again, I have the scope to do something more interesting by resisting the obvious and co-operating with my own body.

My limitations are obliging me to be a more creative dancer. Amusingly, from the feedback I’m getting, what I’m doing looks high energy. It isn’t. I can dance while barely raising my pulse, if I want to. I can dance without hurting myself, not overloading joints or tiring my muscles too much. I can dance with my own limitations and by doing so, I feel better in my body and better about my body.

 


Female presenting body, in a corset

I have a complicated relationship with my body. It is me, and in many ways feels alien and more like something I inhabit than a place I could call home. I look overtly female, but what’s on the inside doesn’t connect easily with that. I can’t bear the performative stuff – issues of energy and feeling fake and so I don’t do makeup or much with my hair, and most of the time I dress in the ways that make me feel comfortable. I can’t present in a more masculine way because of how I feel about trousers – wearing them without a big tunic or dress, I feel too exposed from waist to upper thigh. I mostly want to cover up there, and make unavailable. I can’t stand swimming gear designed for female bodies.

We have a steampunk event in Stroud this weekend. I bought a corset for it. I have worn them before but not in a long time. I’ve spent the last three Saturdays on my high street, promoting the steampunk event, and for two of them, I wore the corset. It was educational.

Before the first round, I was really anxious about how people would respond to me. I was afraid of being grotesque, of disgusting and horrifying people who saw me dressed that way. I was afraid of being laughable. I also had no idea how anyone I knew would respond to me and how I would feel if any attention had a sexualised feel to it.

No one expressed horror or disgust. I had one round of a stranger putting a hand on my hip in passing, and that wasn’t comfortable at all. No one who knew me was weird with me, there were some slightly flirtatious responses but those were gentle enough not to alarm me. I have a lot of anxiety around being read in a sexualised way and having that reading justify treating me in a sexualised way. I have fears about my clothing being taken as my consent or being read as meaning things about me that I do not mean. I want to be able to be playful and expressive with clothing, but this is often a difficult area for me.

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself what it means to feel attractive and to feel good in my body. Inevitably some of that is relational and about how people respond to me. Sometimes I find it really affirming when it is the visible femaleness of my body that gets a good response. I have a lot of gender identity issues, and feeling allowed to present as feminine, and it being imaginable that I am not hideous is a big deal for me. But other times, that doesn’t work for me at all and I don’t want to be read as gendered.

So much of it comes down to feeling good enough and acceptable. That putting my hairy mammal body into spaces where there are other bodies is not an affront. That I am tolerable. I put that body into a not-tightly-laced corset so that the curve of my hips was visible, and my breasts emphasised. No one laughed at me. No one told me off. No one said anything to me about my gender identity or my sexual identity or what they had decided to infer from my corset. This is a very big deal for me.


Stories about ourselves

We all tell stories about ourselves. Humans are storytelling creatures and we like to make narrative sense of the world. We present ourselves to each other in the stories we tell about what we’ve done and seen, where we’ve been and who we’ve known. Many stories are very short and often we don’t notice them – as tellers or as audience, or what effect they might have.

I’m intrigued by people who tell stories about the sorts of people they are – that they are empathic people, or highly aware, sensitive, special – these come up around Paganism a fair bit. These are stories that tend to come from people who seem to be none of those things, in my experience. Then there are the people who want to tell a story about who you are – to measure you and demonstrate that they understand you. When there’s depth of relationship this can be valuable feedback, but it’s the empathic people who do it off the cuff I find least helpful.

No doubt we’re all inclined to make ourselves look good when we tell our stories. We want to pick out the best bits. At some point there’s a line to cross between a good retelling and an actual falsehood. That line is seldom easy to see.

One of the falsehoods I see frequently, and that I know to be harmful, is the habit of bigging yourself up. Social media is full of it – people putting their best self out there and doing their best to look like they have great and successful lives. I see authors doing it too – overplaying book sales, what ‘best seller’ on Amazon means, and the like. Success is attractive, is the theory. Who wants to buy from a moderately successful author? The trouble with this comes when you need help.

If you’ve been telling stories about how good you are, but those stories aren’t true, how can you ask for help? I’ve seen authors who have presented as successful start Patreons and not get any support – either because what fans they have believed the success story, or because they never had many fans in the first place. On the flip side, creators who are honest about how things work for them are often much better supported. Fans understand the struggle, and care and want to be involved. In practice, most creators don’t earn enough to live on and investing time in creativity alongside regular employment isn’t easy. But when you’ve overplayed your success, this is hard to talk about.

When you’re over-invested in the story of your own success, you can end up tied in knots about your reality. This way lies cognitive dissonance. When you have to believe in your literary legacy, even though no one seems to be reading your books. When you have presented a perfect family and cannot then admit how your household is falling apart… The greater the distance between your stories and your reality, the harder it becomes to let anyone into your life. The more you’ve misrepresented to look good, the harder it gets to effectively ask for help.

The stories we tell to ourselves, about ourselves and about our relationships with other people are tiny, every day things. We might not even notice when we do them. We might be crafting it deliberately as good PR, as fake it until you make it, as positivity or to feel better. But, these distortions come at a cost – they increase anxiety and feelings of pressure to succeed and they don’t reliably work as marketing strategies, whether you’re trying to look good to your family, or sell more books.

Most of us identify more with stories of honest struggle and occasional success than we do with people who seem to have it all. Our kindness is engaged by empathy with other people’s trials. We can enjoy the success of people we feel have earned it but may resent people who seem to have had it all handed to them on a plate. Better not to fake it until you make it. Better to be real, and human, open to being supported and able to have a wail about the crap along the way.


Things I am doing

A bit of an update about what I’m up to at the moment!

I’m back down to a more manageable number of day jobs – I’m currently doing freelance work for Moon Books, Sloth Comics and Transition Stroud, alongside doing voluntary work for Transition Stroud and The Woodland Trust.

This weekend I’m off to Edinburgh for the Scottish Pagan Federation’s conference. This is my second event this month, having done the Pagan Federation Conference in Wakefield. In May, I have a video in the online Pagan Federation Conference, and am involved with Stroud’s Steampunk Weekend.

I’m still writing regular columns for Pagan Dawn, and for Sage Women Blogs.

I’m currently working on the script for the next Hopeless Maine graphic novel, fitting that in around the paying gigs as much as my concentration will allow. I have not put in the time I wanted to on finishing up an elements book, and I’ve still not found the time and energy to start on a spirits of place book. I don’t have enough hours of good concentration in a day – six is about as good as it gets, currently. It’s not enough, and I know I won’t improve this until I can take some more time off and rest up a bit. It is all too easy to get trapped in spirals of diminishing returns.

I’m still on Patreon. I’m finding it helpful because it makes me take the time each month for something creative. I’m also, frankly, glad of the money. I did slightly better than break even at Wakefield – which is good for an event, I’ve done plenty at a loss. I’m hoping to break even in Scotland. It’s necessary to get out there and do events to raise your profile as an author and sell books, but it is hard for authors to cover costs often, and the chances of coming out ahead are slim.

The amount of time that goes into writing makes it hard to make minimum wage doing it. Thinking about writing in those terms is just depressing so I mostly try not to, But, I have maybe six good hours of concentration in any given day, and I need to be economically active, so there are things to figure out. How much time I can give – to the blog, to voluntary work and to writing books alongside how much time I need to spend on things that earn money.

Fortunately I’m willing and able to live without many of the things that most people take for granted, which makes my home cheaper to run. But, time off can be a problem and I am craving a break. When I do an event and knock out a weekend, I can’t reliably take time off in the week to compensate. I managed a week off between Christmas and New Year, and I’m trying to get a week off in June. I’ll have to take a pay cut to do it – there is no other way. I do not get paid holiday leave from freelance work. I won’t be able to go on holiday for that week – the cost, and the effort of organising are beyond me. It would be nice to just slouch round the flat and read books, and sit under trees and that sort of thing.

If you like what I do, and want to help, then I really appreciate patreon support. Please consider supporting me. If you’d like to support me but can’t make an ongoing commitment, ko-fi is good for one off donations. Thank you.


Adventures with Ankles

Most of my joints will bend the wrong way(s) under any kind of pressure. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve grasped that this is a thing with considerable implications. It explains much of why I hurt, and why I get tired a lot. The tissues supporting my joints are softer than normal, so everything takes more effort, and I’m more likely to injure myself, including micro-damage. When I was first dealing with fatigue issues in my teens, I’m not sure anyone was aware of this sort of thing. No one asked about my joints.

My ankles are especially bad. I spent my childhood falling over a lot, running was scary and difficult. But, I’ve persisted, kept moving, walked, danced, swam, did what I could with this body and tried not to hurt it too much. I hold pens and chopsticks the ‘wrong’ way to alleviate hand pressure. I hold bows the wrong way, I probably type wrongly as well, but I get by.

A few weeks into learning Tai Chi it became apparent that I couldn’t get the knee and toe positions right for most stances. It’s a small knee bend. My teacher talked a lot about not bending knees the wrong way – clearly used to a lot of older students with dodgy knees. I started exploring what was happening between knees and ankles and realised I was loading the joints badly. Thus started a massive program to re-think how I stand and walk.

My ankles default to rolling outwards in response to any kind of pressure (i.e. being stood up). This probably makes me more likely to fall over, and I suspect it puts pressure on my knees and thighs. One of my hip joints is very loose as it is and often problematic. To correct my ankles I had to get more weight onto the inside of my foot. I focused on my big toes. I did it when practicing Tai Chi, and also when walking, and at first it really hurt, and gradually it’s got easier.

This in turn has got me looking at my toes. I’ve never been a serious wearer of pointy, heeled shoes so my toes aren’t much distorted by that, but they do all roll towards the middle. Getting my weight in the right place has meant training my toes to spread out a bit more. I need to build toe strength! When learning new moves I have to figure out how I’m going to get my ankles to the right place, and this can be tricky with bigger steps, but I’m getting there, and my teacher has been supportive and helpful.

I’ve learned a lot about my body in recent months. I’ve learned things that I wish I’d known when I was a child, struggling with sports lessons. I wish my teachers had known. I wish my doctors had known when I started having fatigue issues. I spent so long with body pain being treated like an over-reaction, fatigue being treated like drama, the poor co-ordination that goes with hypermobility being treated like a personal failing or lack of effort. It’s hard to ask for help when you’ve been convinced that your body is fine and your mind is the problem. I’m getting there now, and it’s changed how I feel about myself and what I do with my body.

I’d internalised so much of that sense of my body issues just meaning that I am a crap person in some way. Having a clear sense of the mechanics has been empowering, and allows me to feel better about myself. I get tired more than the average person because everything takes me more effort. I hurt more because I take more damage. It was never all in my head. And now that I’m dealing with it as a thing happening in my body, I might even be able to improve the situation for myself.