Tag Archives: survival

Songs from the darkest hours

I’ve been encouraged to show up and blog about the dark places. Knowing that it is useful to do so is really important to me. Depression takes away all sense of worth and purpose. It suggests there is no point getting up and trying. Nothing can be improved. Nothing can be fixed. It brings suffers, me most certainly included, to places of feeling that everything we do will be bound to fail. Of course I know, logically and because of the CBT work I’ve done, that once you let that take over, and stop doing anything, you have nothing to fend the depression off with. You’re just that worthless, useless person who does nothing and it is not a long walk from there to feeling like the world would be better off if you were not in it.

A sense of worth and purpose, a reason to show up. It can be a life-saving thing. And so I show up and blog in the hopes that I can say something useful, something that will help another person not quit today. Tell me that you need me and I have a reason to be here. Let me tell you that I need you to make that visible, that it helps, it makes a big difference.

I turn to the smallest things. A button sewn back on a garment. The washing done. I make jam. Small things I can point at, as evidence that I am not a total failure as a person. My jam came out ok. I have some merit.

I know, from book reading, that this has its feet in esteem issues. The person with good self-esteem knows that they are intrinsically worthwhile, loveable, valuable, acceptable. Depression and low self-esteem often go together, it can be a bit chicken-and-egg as to which causes what. I should not, I have been told by the books, base too much of my self-esteem on external achievement, or I will fail to cope when, inevitably, I fail at something. I should not base my sense of self-worth on how much money I earn, because that is to turn myself into a commodity. I should not depend on the opinions of other people for a sense of value. I find that very interesting. It’s like reading about Ancient Rome, or Mars: Things I can imagine maybe were, or are, but that are otherwise totally unavailable to me.

I have two things I want to share today. Beautiful, inspiring, reasons to keep writing from Neil Gaiman – http://www.theguardian.com/books/neilgaiman

And this song, which is an anthem to me. A reminder that others have walked these paths before me and survived them well enough to come back and sing something so raw and real that it often makes me cry just listening to it. I do sing this one myself, but I’ve got to be in a very good place to pull it off. Hearing it is a reminder that sometimes I feel together enough that I can sing this for other people. Sit down next to me…


The end of medicine

I’d noticed maybe twenty years ago that there was an issue with antibiotics. I’m not a scientist, not working in medicine, and even so, I got the message. Antibiotics were a finite resource. To make them last longer we needed to stop routinely giving them to animals and prescribing them for the slightest ailment. Apparently no one else paid much attention. We have a myth (upheld by the movies) that science will find a magic solution in the nick of time. It hasn’t, and the end of antibiotics is now looming.

Without antibiotics, operations will be far more risky, and things that are currently routine will cease to be so. This may mean a collective shift in how we think about medicine, and for me, it’s flagged up some rather uncomfortable ideas about the current systems. The obvious answer to losing antibiotics is to invest more in preventative medicine. There are plenty of ailments that can be avoided, where small, early interventions reduce the need for bigger ones later on. There are many conditions we know perfectly well can be alleviated or avoided just through lifestyle changes.

But here’s the thing. If someone has a heart attack at fifty, goes on to need a bypass, medicines, later a pacemaker, more drugs, more hospital time, they cost a lot of money. Or to put it another way, a lot of money is made out of them. A fit and healthy person who seldom needs to see a GP, much less anything more involved, does not make money for anyone – or at least, not for drugs companies or medical companies. There are financial benefits, for some, from others being ill. There is a whole industry out there that depends very precisely on other people being ill. Then there are the health insurance companies, and even in countries like the UK where medicine is mostly free at point of access, there is still the option to pay for a faster service, and people turning a profit. The more interested our government gets in introducing market forces into medicine, the more reason there is to have people get sick and need curing, the less reason there is to keep people well in the first place. The logic of the market place simply is not consistent with treating human beings in a compassionate and civilized way.

The flip side of this is that healthy people are more productive, more likely to be employed, more likely to have longer working lives than those who are sick. Someone who dies young won’t draw a pension, of course. And if you have a surfeit of poor people who you can’t keep in gainful employment, and you are only thinking in terms of money, letting them die off might make a lot of sense. It’s all about priority. When money comes first in all judgements, kindness and decency won’t get much of a look in. When the price, the cost, the economic value are the first measures you explore, sick people may generate you more GDP than well ones. I have no idea how the figures stack up, but the results are there to see all too plainly. Far more time and effort goes into cure, than prevention.

In a world without antibiotics, preventative medicine has to make more sense. Precautionary measures and lifestyle changes have to predominate, at least if we’re serious about survival. And if money can’t be reliably made the other way, that could well swing it.

The antibiotics problem isn’t news. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone. It was inevitable, we knew it was coming. Just the same way that we know that we will run out of oil, gas and coal eventually. We know climate change is on the cards too, or at least, most of us do. So are we going to follow the antibiotics model here and pretend there isn’t a problem, or hope a magic fix will come in a timely fashion? There are a lot of things we might just have enough time to do something about, but only if we get off our collective posterior sooner rather than later.

So often the argument for not acting comes down to anticipated costs. We can’t be green, it’ll put our industries at a disadvantage. We can’t clean up, it costs too much. No one seems worried about the figures that might be involved in not acting. What is it going to cost us, longer term, if we don’t tackle the pending oil crisis and the melting of the ice caps?

Of course by then, the odds are someone else will be in government, so why worry? They can deal with it. Or science will magic it away, or if we close our eyes and all sing very loudly, we can pretend none of it is happening. It’s not just fantasy, its suicide.


Finding the good

There are days when my sense of all that is wrong in the world overwhelms me. From the small, everyday cruelties through to the epic injustices, there is so much to grieve over. I’ve had too much contact with sadists and sickos, people who hurt and use others, and feel entitled to do so. Any contact would be too much. The perception that the bad far outweighs the good, can be crippling. To keep going in any positive way, requires hope.

Looking for the good in things is a choice. It is about holding optimism in the face of experience, and the more crap life throws your way, the harder that gets. Refusing to be beaten allows me to stave off both cynicism and despair. Apathy and a defeatist attitude are not good tools to work with, even if lapsing into them may seem easier. Sometimes optimism is a full time fight, but the alternative is a loss of self, a loss of belief in the future, and a loss of belief in the humanity of others.

Sometimes you have to be looking hard for the good things, to spot them. The worst people I have known in my life had their moments, even. One, who went to prison, had a deep and abiding love of dogs. That doesn’t redeem him in any way, but I make a point of remembering that. Sometimes entirely selfish motives will push a person towards doing the right things anyway.

Sometimes the good in a day is small and subtle. It’s a burst of birdsong, or a smile from a stranger. It’s seeing the little plant that has managed to break through the tarmac, or the way the sunset catches the water. When you’re paying attention to these small things, they start to seem a lot bigger. Getting away from what is solely human to find the good in other things can be a great help. The trees are not thinking about the economy, only about budding and spring. The hills do not care for our laws and troubles, they just are. There are different perspectives to find, and solace to be taken from them.

Making a conscious effort to find the good in a day takes practice. However, there are aspects of misery and despair that are all about cutting ourselves off from everything, retreating deeper into the self. It may seem like a protective move, to disengage, but it also deprives us of the connections we need. Seeking the good is also about an attitude shift, because it assumes there is good to be found. Often it’s easiest to find what you’re looking for, and expecting the worst brings it into focus.

When you find something good, share it. Celebrate it. Even the smallest gestures towards making better, are precious. A kind word, a tiny gesture of compassion or friendliness, a joke shared. These are all ways of fighting back against the forces of misery and apathy.

When something or someone seems impossible, you can still change how you think about it. Every set back, every new problem, is a challenge to rise to. Every idiot and asshole making your life difficult gives you opportunity to be a better sort of person. Every difficult thing is an opportunity to prove something, and to shine. Often no one else will notice, but in singing your own triumphs you can get something useful out of the crap. And sometimes, when you voice the little wins, the things faced, the idiots well handled, someone else will share that with you in a good way.

Today I am ill, but when I looked up from my editing job, I saw an egret fly past my window, its form a magical, ghostly white against this dingy sky. It looked so pristine, like an emissary from the otherworld. And yes, it is cold, but I have a man who has brought wood in and made me a fire. I’ve lived in far harder conditions than this, having to build a reality out of crumbs. It can be done, and often there are more than crumbs to work with, especially once we start passing them around. Good things have a habit of growing and expanding, if they are given the chance.

This is all about belief. We can choose what we believe. If we choose to seek the good, to believe in the existence of silver linings in clouds, and frogs who turn into princess, and wool that turns into gold, then perhaps we can make it happen. The only thing I am certain about is that the person who keeps striving has a little hope of success, but the person who gives up, has none.

 

And it’s a bit of an irony, having written that this morning, and sat here the recipient of yet another slap from reality, and wondering how not to give up. But life goes on, somehow.


Whatever it takes

In the blog before last I suggested that people in survival situations do ‘whatever it takes’ and had a challenge  over that. It was one of those statements I typed out quickly as part of a different argument, so the subtleties of the issue just weren’t tackled. I really appreciate people catching me when I do these, because it requires me to think, to figure out ideas that I may have been taking for granted.

What I’ve come up with may be entirely personal to me, I don’t know. Usually when we talk about morals, ethics, behaviour we tend to assume that a given person has one set of values. On reflection, I realise that I do not. I have a number of levels within my ethical thinking, I’m going to simplify it to three for ease of explaining, but that’s probably not all of it in some instances.

I have ideals. These are the standards I would like to uphold, the things I think would be optimal. They include only buying organic and ethically sourced food, clothing and other objects, only using electricity I have generated myself by green and sustainable means, not using fossil fuels, re-using and recycling rather than throwing anything away, never losing my temper, never speaking or acting in haste, always acting with absolute care, thoughtfulness and integrity. There are others, but that’s enough to give a flavour.

In reality, I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat if I stuck to those ideals, and I certainly couldn’t buy clothes on those terms. The realities of not having much money are just not compatible with my ideals. I’m stuck with the available levels of technology, and while I have very low fossil fuel consumption, I’ve not got that down to no use, yet. And of course the whole being human thing means I’m not always perfect in my self-control, speech and behaviour.

So, I have an aspirational level of ethics, and the reality. I push towards the aspiration in every way I can think of, but the nature of those ideals is that if I get close to reaching them, I’m going to shift the goalposts. Those aspirational ethics are not fixed, they exist to stretch me.

Then there’s the ‘whatever it takes’ ethics, and I suspect we all have these too. I don’t steal. If I genuinely couldn’t feed my child by any other means (postulate some apocalyptic scenario if you will) I would take what he needed. No question. But that doesn’t mean that I would consider absolutely any behaviour if I had the right justification. I don’t believe that rationalisation holds water, although I have the impression some people do think that way. I would not, for example, kill someone in order to escape from an extreme poverty scenario. I would not countenance doing anything that put my child in danger to achieve any other end.

The idea of doing whatever it takes has a connection with whether you see the ends as justifying the means or not. For someone who does, ‘whatever it takes’ is a very broad remit indeed. I don’t see the ends as inherently justifying the means, I think instead that the means must support the intended outcome. So there are definitely things I would not countenance doing.

For most people then I think ‘whatever it takes’ exists within a moral framework. No doubt there are people who can uphold their highest ideals no matter that happens to them, but I for one have a ‘bottom line’ ethic as well. They come into play when two ethical positions collide. Duty of care versus something else would be the most obvious. How far would I go to save a life, to protect a habitat, to prevent a worse injustice from occurring? I’m not sure, I won’t know until it happens.

I’m not going to die of cold rather than burn coal. That’s putting immediate survival before aspirational ideals. Whatever it takes, is relative. It depends a lot on how you define survival and how you craft your priorities.