Saturday, September 22, 2012

As the weather gets colder, the beasties move in

Spider, originally uploaded by Sparrows' Friend.

I like spiders, but not in my bed. This one was evicted.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On what other people might say when you've got ME, or cancer, or whatever

Action for ME has invited members to contribute to an article on "What not to say to people with ME" for its magazine InterAction, in response to a blog post by Toni Berhard. I've sent this...

What not to say to people with ME? Are we going to publish a rule book? Seriously? Who cares what people say? If they're well-intentioned but don't honestly know what to say, they may blurt out something that comes across all wrong, and if you're having a bad day you may take it the wrong way, but can you honestly say that you'd always say the right thing in similar circumstances? I bet you can't.

Toni Bernhard says she doesn't want to hear, "Give me a call if there's anything I can do" because it's unlikely she'll call "because I’m too shy, too embarrassed, too proud, too sick—or a combination of the four." Well, that's her problem, surely? And if someone says something that's really unhelpful or plain daft, that's their problem.

Maybe it's my age (68) and the fact that I've got multiple health problems, not just ME, including having had cancer twice, but I'm just glad to still be here; I couldn't care less what other people think or say. I did, once. I overheard an arrogant surgeon telling medical students on his ward round that "ME is what I get on Friday evenings after a busy week," just after he'd examined me. I was so cross I told a junior doctor I wanted to discharge myself and find another surgeon. She said the surgeon didn't have much of a bedside manner, but he was the best there was with a knife - so I stayed, and he did a good job.

Toni Bernhard's blog post reminded me of a column that Deborah Orr wrote for the Guardian in April, when she'd had cancer, called "Ten things not to say to someone when they're ill". They included, "You're looking well." Some people just can't take a compliment, can they? I have more sympathy with Barbara Ehrenreich, the American writer who's also had cancer. She hates the cloyingly upbeat "pink ribbon culture", and so do I. She also wrote in her book, 'Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World', about all the clichés beloved by obituary writers about "fighting" cancer, or "losing the battle". Compared with that sort of rubbish, having someone tell me that I still have my sense of humour, despite having ME, is fine by me. One thing I do get cross about is quacks; when you've got ME, you get a lot of people recommending quacks of one sort or another. They even have ads for them in our magazines!

It's all about expectations, isn't it? You're having a bad day and you want comfort and support, but then you come across someone who's not really thinking, maybe they're preoccupied with what's going on in their life, and they say something that upsets you. It's not easy, if it's that sort of day, but maybe that's their problem? Your problem is allowing yourself to get upset.

A couple of years ago I did a pain management course with Arthritis Care; another of my problems is severe arthritis, mainly in my spine. I soon realised that I already knew how to manage my pain. I've been doing it for years. It's called distraction. I'm interested in lots of things that are far more interesting that ME, and if I'm interested in something, anything, other than ME, or pain, I forget about it - most of the time. We all have bad days.

I have a feeling that my contribution won't find favour with a lot of InterAction readers. I've noted a tendency to victimhood among many with ME, which makes me disinclined to associate with them. It tends to drag you down.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On no-touch soap dispensers

When the advert for Dettol's no-touch soap dispenser came out, I thought it was a joke. Part of the blurb says, "The Dettol No-Touch Hand Wash System eliminates the need to touch a soap pump ever again," because a soap pump harbours millions of germs on its button, or whatever-you-call-it. As many canny shoppers have already spotted, you'd wash all those germs off after you'd touched a soap pump anyway, so what's the point?

This product is symptomatic of the crazy consumer-led economic system, if you can call it that. Whenever politicians opine on the need for economic growth, they invariably refer to ways and means of boosting retail sales. We mustn't just buy what we actually need; we must go out and buy what we want, which might be the latest soap dispenser; a totally unnecessary bit of plastic kit that uses toxic batteries, which will soon end up in landfill, after wasting energy transporting it from A to B and so on. I believe you can also get toothpaste dispensers, for people who are too lazy to squeeze a tube, and no end of other personal hygiene and beauty products that simply complicate keeping clean and looking good.

All you need for hand-washing is soap, preferably without palm oil from an unsustainable source (the sort that's grown where forests used to be). As for those millions of germs; there might be some left, after you've washed your hands with soap, but as my mum used to say, a bit of healthy neglect never did anyone any harm. In other words, an obsession with cleanliness can lead to a loss of natural immunity to infection. Dirt is good, in moderation.

Click here to buy soap from the Orangutan Foundation, to help save the red apes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One-track atheism

The Oxford English Dictionary defines atheist as "a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods". The word is derived from the Greek a- 'without' + theos 'god'. Calling yourself an atheist tells you no more than that; it doesn't tell you that an atheist is intelligent or that he or she has positive values; it doesn't tell you what his or her attitude towards religion or religious people might be. Yet there appears to be a common misconception among some atheists (mainly online) that it tells you all of these things, and more, so now there are arguments about the right sort of atheism and an assumption that atheism and anti-theism are necessarily the same thing, and that if you are an atheist, you're automatically anti-religion.

For these reasons, and others, I've been disinclined to describe myself as an atheist for some time. Using the word risks attracting all sorts of daft ideas about what I may or may not think or believe, or disbelieve. That's the trouble with labels; people will insist on using them as a basis for false assumptions.

The most irritating atheists are those who seem obsessed by religion, especially Islam. They're blinkered. They don't seem able to interpret what's happening around the world, particularly in the Middle East, except in relation to religion or religions. It bores me to death. For these one-track atheists, all religion is bad, and because it is, people with a religious faith are the source of all our problems. They're not interested in understanding religion in its historical, social and economic contexts. They reduce the conflicts in the Middle East to Muslim V Muslim, or Christian, or Jew. They see all Muslims as one homogeneous mass, who all think alike and have the same values. They think that if only religion was banned, everything would be all right, forgetting (if they ever knew) that totalitarian states have tried that, and it didn't work.

So please excuse me if I don't describe myself as an atheist, though I'm certainly not religious. If anyone imagines that I subscribe to some sort of atheist world view, you can forget it. Religion is irrelevant to my life; it interests me, but not enough to want to know why people keep on about spirituality or mysticism, which are such vague notions as to be meaningless.

Many atheists give the impression that they think they're cleverer than people with a religious faith, simply because they don't have one. They're not, and the more obsessive and strident they are, the less clever they seem.

If I had to use any labels, they might be secularist, free-thinker and all-round awkward sod. Leave me out of any atheist movements. My brain works perfectly well as it is; independently.

My advice to one-track atheists? Shut up, and read history, geography, sociology, politics, and learn more about how religions developed, and why. As for religious people; there are many reasons why they're religious, and many ways to be religious. If you dismiss them all without understanding any of that, you're as ignorant as the most fundamentalist religionist; in other words, you're as bad as they are.

There's so much more to life, don't you think?