What Is Wrong With Us?

I’ve had a bugger of a cold this week. I wish my legs ran as well as my nose does. I’d be running five-minute miles and two-thirty marathons. I’d also be a lot more attractive. There is nothing quite as unsightly as a man who’s left his snot faucet wide open desperately looking for a fresh tissue.

(That’s probably not true. I thought of at least half a dozen more unpleasant sights while I was writing that sentence. Ask me about them some time when you’re feeling strong.)

I’ve gone through three big boxes of tissues and filled the wastebasket twice over with the detritus of my virus. It’s all soggy tissues and crushed and empty lozenge blister packs in there. It’s really quite unpleasant to look at and I can’t imagine it’s much more pleasant for anyone else to contemplate now I’ve mentioned it.

I felt really quite ill for the first half of the week. I’ve been very tired; off to bed well before ten at night and sleeping for nine or ten hours. The last time I felt as poorly as this was last April  in the week before the Manchester Marathon. At that time, I passed out at home on the sofa and couldn’t do much at all to prepare for my race. I missed that race, of course as I have so many others.

I passed out once before. I woke one night feeling really odd when Anne was away in Wales with some friends. I went to the loo, spent five minutes heaving and sweating, threw the contents of my stomach up into the pan and then blacked out. I came to some time later with Harry knocking on the door, asking me if I was all right. I wasn’t completely coherent. I desperately wanted to go to sleep there on the floor but something was telling me that I should get up, move around, get to bed, at the very least take off the sodden dressing gown which was very nearly not staying wrapped around me. Ewww…

Pus and snot and blood and shit and urine aren’t often fit topics for dinner table conversation. They’re not fit for the sensibilities of a lot of people and I’m sorry about that but I’m preparing an argument and I had to do it. So, while we can’t often talk about pus and snot and all the rest we can’t ever talk about mental illness.

I read Andy Baddeley’s blog post this week about his depression and performance anxiety. It resonated so strongly with me. The most important thing in his post is that he felt he could talk to his friends about his depression.

People who fight cancer are now seen as heroes, warriors against an implacable and nearly invincible foe. People fear cancer because it’s a nasty disease. Nearly everyone must know someone who has died of cancer. Fear means that people don’t want to talk about it but slowly, slowly, attitudes are changing. Prognoses for many cancers are improving as a result of research and better cancer care. People are living with cancer now and not just dying from it and that means that people are willing to talk about it more.

The same is not true of depression or other mental illnesses. I can guarantee you will never, ever read a tabloid headline about a schizophrenic hero overcoming the the odds to fight against their disease. Never. Not ever. Papers will publish pictures of mums with cancer but without hair being brave and awesome and being mums. Race For Life is a fantastic phenomenon which has given many women the running habit and it’s a fundraiser for a cancer charity. I can’t imagine that Run For All The Sad People would have the same impact and not just because I’m crap at naming mass-participation fundraising events. It’s not about the name, it’s about our attitudes to mental health and those who lack it.

We are even more afraid of mental illness than we are of cancer. Mentals are mental after all, aren’t they? They get locked up because they kill you, don’t they? Bollocks, complete bollocks. The trouble is that the popular conception of someone with mental illness is the axe-murderer. I think this is because we don’t talk about our own mental illness when we have them.

Mental illness is not rare nor is it always severe. Most people with depression for example have the psychiatric equivalent of a bad cold or a mild dose of flu. It’s not pleasant but it does pass. The cruellest thing about mental illness is the isolation that goes along with it. It’s seen as a weakness or a failing. Nobody sees flu or Ebola or heart disease as a character flaw. As Andy says in his blog, nobody wants to admit to failing so we keep our mental health issues quiet. We go into seclusion when what we need is the help, support and love of everyone around us. You can’t catch depression from a depressed person.

There is something wrong with our society. I hope that we’ll see more blog posts like Andy’s in future to dispel the nonsensical shite that clings to mental health issues. If more powerful people like Alastair Campbell talk about their mental health then we’ll see that it’s not about weakness or failing it’s just about being well or unwell.

Share This:

What I Swear About When I Swear About Running

My legs fucking ache. I mean they’re sore, sorry, tired, wee twigs of nothing much at all other than embarrassment. This morning’s Wimpole 10k Hoohaah was hard work on a warm and breezy morning. The climbs took whatever little oomph I had in my wet rag legs and put squeezed it out as thoroughly as one of those old fashioned mangles. My get up and go got up and fucked off after about 3k and now I’m sitting here on my sofa watching re-runs of NCIS with a cat flaked out beside me. She has spent quite lot of time this afternoon with her nose in my smelly ‘pits with no sign whatsoever of distress. She’s a strange creature.

As I was dying on my arse towards the end of the final climb of the morning I had a particularly virulent swearolog running through my head. “Please end. Please fucking end. I don’t mind if I die as long as I die in front of this fucker but please end.” I usually feel more supportive of my fellow runners but today it was all about me and my woefully shagged legs. I wanted to stay in front of every bugger I overtook and cursed my legs and lungs when I couldn’t.

I took a walk break to sip some water at the halfway mark and found that I couldn’t breathe when I started to run again. Running with COPD is always a bit of a challenge. My lungs just don’t function as well as they would have had I not given them a nice tarry coating over twenty-odd years of smoking. I have nobody to blame but myself so that means I reserve a particular vitriol for my own stupidity.

Sometimes I wish that the first thing to fall to hand in my language toolbox weren’t the fuckhammer but it’s just so satisfying to give things a thorough twatting with it. I don’t think things actually improve when you use the fuckhammer. I didn’t run any faster because of it today for example. I couldn’t have; some complete tosser had taken the fuckhammer to my legs already. You just feel better for the emotional release.

I’d like to know whether different people get the same amount of relief from using different words. For some people “Dash it all” would have the same degree of intensity as “Bugger it all to fuck” does for me. Someone should do that experiment. I would but I don’t know anyone who would want to be really sweary for science. Also, I’m a fuckwit who wouldn’t be able to design such a research study.

In addition to the fuckhammer, the linguistic toolbox contains the cuntdriver, the bastardrill, the twat chisel and the plane speaking. Everyone has their own range of descriptors and emotional intensifiers which they use when they’re communicating. Some can do it wordlessly. If you know what you’re doing you can give your opinion of someone as a cockgobbling twatbasket with only a raised eyebrow.

Swearing can carry the same degree of linguistic invention and innovation as other speech. I love playing with words and swearing is a bit like playing in the mud. Who doesn’t love splashing through mud? Making mud pies? Mudtastic fun! And you can do the same with words for fucktastic fun! So remember that when you have your linguistic wellies on.

Share This:

Food, Glorious…

I want to talk about food. It’s so much more than just nutrition. We have a complex, complicated, infuriating relationship with food. It’s bound up in external power structures and personal struggles for freedom or control.

There have been times when I just couldn’t be arsed to eat but that’s depression for you. Hunger failed to overcome lassitude until I could summon the oomph to toast some bread or boil a kettle for tea. There was just the smallest feeling that I might not be able to move my arse from the bed or the sofa but I could overcome the need to eat. Sometimes even the smallest and most stupid victory is all you have. There could be something of a much larger magnitude going on for some people living with eating disorders. I don’t really know.

In a more positive way, there is food as celebration. I’m an awful one for cake. It’s a code for a small luxury or reward and not just a confection of flour, eggs and sugar. It’s notable that we celebrate with cake and not, say corned beef sandwiches. (Other sandwiches are available.) We have birthday cakes and wedding cakes, cakes at Christmas and Easter and to mark every other celebration. Cake is acceptable when alcohol just isn’t and not just when children are involved.

I’d like to know why. Why it’s cake, that is, and not bread or cheese or fruit or honey or anything else. A birthday sausage is somehow almost completely wrong and not just for vegetarians. Sugar has been a luxury and indulgence for centuries. It’s very expense made it a means to display the wealth of the person laying on the spread. The depth of a man’s purse on display in the delicious shape of a very sweet slab of cake.

Celebratory cakes are an evident hangover from those times. We have a cultural memory of hand-crafted display and indulgence even if we can buy some mass-produced, iced confection from a supermarket for a couple of quid. I’m still not sure why it’s cake and not another expensive foodstuff like squid ink pasta, for example.

All those beautiful, tasty, sweet and sugary calories in cake bring me back to  the complex emotional relationship we have with food. There is that slight tang of guilt that some of us swallow with every mouthful. If food is a reward for “good” behaviour then starvation can be a punishment for “bad” behaviour and there we have a very simple and probably completely inaccurate explanation of the origins of eating disorders.

I don’t want to talk about them and not only because I don’t know enough about them. Whatever I say about anorexia or bulimia or dysphoria would probably upset someone for no good reason and I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to link to Beat’s website and point you there. Whereof thou knowest nought, thereof thou shouldst keep silent. Nevertheless, if you know someone who would benefit from help, please point them or their loved ones in the right direction.

Remove the joy and the fellowship from food completely and you’re left with food as nutrition. The only place I’ve ever heard of food only as nutrition is from the founder of a company called Soylent. I can’t find the reference here to the interview. The attitude lying behind this product is that food is just food, a means to keep physiology running. I disagree completely, of course. A shared meal is an opportunity to bond and talk, to exchange ideas and news. When you do it, where you do it and what you eat while you’re doing it are all less important than the people you share the meal with and that you talk while you’re doing it. I don’t think you’d have much of a shared experience over a vat of concocted food powder. You’d have a better meal of porridge. The emotional connection goes through the food somehow to the other people.

All food comes from somewhere of course. Its production and distribution is increasingly complex. There are geo-political implications involved for nations in considering their food security. Meat production uses up land and resources and demand for meat is increasing as more people become wealthier. We’re going back to food as display here. I really want to talk about GMOs in food but that’s probably another post when I’ve had a chance to do more research. I’m not going to talk off the cuff about that. I will say now that I can see the value in using as many different technologies as possible to meet the challenge of feeding the billions of people living on our planet. The rational thing would be for us all to farm maggots or eat Soylent or its like but we’re not at all rational about food and that takes me back to where I started.

Sorry for the lack of swearing this week. Normal service will be resumed soon when I talk about fuckwits or falling over.

Share This:

Tell Me The Truth About Lufu

There is a problem with English. We don’t have enough words. Really. There are only about 170,000-ish entries in the OED and it’s nowhere near enough. There are about another 47,000 obsolete words. You’d think that among those 211,000 or so words and another 9,500 derivatives there would be sufficient words for love.

Maybe it’s hyperbole but I find myself loving a lot of things and many, many people. I love running – of course – except when I don’t. I’m not especially enamoured of it just right now. My mojo has become nojo and rather than fret about it I’m just letting it go. I’ll run or I’ll not run and hope that the love comes back in time for me to get some Thunder Run training in. Because I’m not bricking it about that at all. No. Not me.

I love cheese and sausages and bacon. Sorry, vegans; I do. I have been experimenting a little with not eating meat and cutting back on dairy and to be frank, it hasn’t worked at all. I’ve tried soy “milk” and almond “milk” and thought I might as well have had Milk of Magnesia. My knee-jerk breakfast when I haven’t had time for my porridge in the morning is a bacon roll. I forget about the pig who died to sate my hunger until I see an animal transporter and then the guilt hits me like a bolt gun. Tonight’s beef with peppers and paprika was spectacular. I thought this afternoon about dinner and that’s what popped into my head and I was out of Tesco’s with 400g of cattle flesh before I’d even remembered.

Love and guilt, mixed together as if I were having an affair with meat.

Which brings me to people and relationships. I love my friends, I really do. I can’t think of a better word to describe the general feeling of esteem, bonhomie or intimacy I have for all of them but at the same time love is a completely inadequate word to describe every relationship.

I remain besotted with my wife more than 10 years after we met. I need her like I need my next breath. Then there is the whole naked thing and I’m really not going to go into that here. I think everyone is going to be so very pleased about that. She is my closest friend and dearest companion. I like her even more than I like bacon and I love bacon and there we have an example of the inadequacy of the English language.

Nor is it particularly nuanced. There are no graduations in love for varying degrees of intimacy, friendship or esteem. It goes without saying that I don’t have any real desire to get sweaty and breathless with any of my friends except when we’re racing, yet I love them. I don’t want to share intimacies of the same kind as I do with Anne even with my dearest friends but I don’t have any word to describe the emotion I have for them other than love.

I love a cup of coffee in the morning but I don’t derive the same amount or kind of pleasure from it as I do from seeing my wife’s face.

Then there are the cats, chickens, nephews and nieces, parents, brothers and sisters and everyone else I love. It’s such a small word, such a huge range of emotions. Ancient Greek does better. There is eros, that naked, sweating, boobs and bits love. Philia covers my feelings for cheese and bacon quite well. Family stuff is mostly storge unless you’re in parts of the Appalachians then there is agape. Agape is the selfless love of one for another. It gets mentioned most often in relation to theology nowadays and that’s quite sad. There should be more agape in the world. It would mean fewer misunderstandings when telling a friend that you love them.

Share This: