health

Corona virus and the myth of “normal”

I call this accidental pocket IPhone photo: Whirlwind. I thought it fit

I was listening to CBC Radio as I do most weekends and a retired minister from somewhere in Ontario was asked this question: “If you were still preaching, what do you think your message to your parishioners might be this Easter Weekend in the context of this novel Corona virus crisis?”

His response was very short because of time constraints but he suggested that if we learn anything, it should be that the “new normal” that keeps getting referenced is a misnomer.

He pointed out that for most of the people in the world, there is no “normal.” Normal is that mythical reality that a very small percentage of the world population gets to live because of their education and their economic wealth.

Nobody in their right mind would want to go back to the “normal” that existed immediately before this crisis because that normal isn’t something any of us should be aspiring to return to. It isn’t sustainable.

 That normal is all about the one percent.

That normal is about how as humans we are encroaching upon other species to a degree that is forever changing the world’s biodiversity to the detriment of our health; a point this novel Corona virus hasn’t got through pointing out, in an almost retaliatory way.

Normal is being okay with the inequities that exist in society with the impoverished, as always, bearing the most direct and painful impacts on their lives. They live in crisis every day.

Normal is all those problems we have shamefully incorporated into our daily life – passing street people with toques on the ground for spare change – with no collective will to change that.

Any new normal might be all the things we knew were problems but have never acted upon.

Things like providing appropriate levels of resources including services for prevention, intervention and adequate treatment for mental illness.

Things like providing decent social housing so instead of being okay with people begging for money, in every city in the world, recognizing that every person deserves the dignity of having a roof over their head at the end of the day.

Seeing the compassion and wisdom, and even financial savings to society, in providing a guaranteed universal income.

Taking one’s personal moral opinion out of how we treat drug addiction and accepting that it is, first and foremost, a health/mental health issue and then providing the resources to treat it as such.

Switching to prevention as the main medical model, not treating illness that has taken decades to develop because of lifestyle choices, including my own.

Rethinking how we change social isolation, not just in the elderly but in young adults, in seniors and in middle-aged and older men. Especially since so many of us live alone now.

Coming to terms with ethical questions about the value of any life – at one month or 100 years.

Understanding that thinking small, thinking only about yourself and your family’s well being is now a threat to humanity.

Internalizing once and for all that climate change is still the greatest threat, much more so than this virus.

I was listening to another interview where an evolutionary biologist from UBC, Sally Otto, PhD, was speaking about how humans have brought more destruction on the biodiversity of the planet than any other species. Of course, we’ve head that before. She says we’ve become  particularly good at destroying those species which could be considered “the specialists” and contributed to the greatest biodiversity in the first place.

While she says, she doesn’t have a lot of hope because of our impact on the natural world, she does have hope because of the way scientists around the world are working together with collective knowledge leading to better and quicker solutions. We see that as work on a vaccine and general research about the virus proceeds at unheard of before speed, because of global collaboration.

My friend Gwen pointed me towards this interview with Malcolm Gladwell. In this interview on the Munk Debates, Gladwell spoke to the issues I summarized above using a soccer team as the example.

A soccer team is only as strong as its weakest link. If you were going to improve the team, focusing on that weakest link and making it stronger would be the quickest way to make the entire team stronger. Our unsolved social problems are the weakest link in humanity.

I’m making mental notes of things I need to change in my own life when this is over. I expect many of you are doing the same thing.

The novel Corona virus is shining its wily contagious ways on the old normal and all its problems like never before.

We are now at a crossroads that will shape the evolutionary biology of human beings just as we continue to deliver the death blow to so many others species.

Breathing your way through anxiety

I’ve been noticing a few posts on social media about how some of us who have experienced anxiety and depression throughout our lives are feeling a little better than we expected to feel during this pandemic.

And let me be clear: I’m not holding this up as something to aspire to. If you’re finding yourself to be a total wreck, trying to get out of bed, trying to find the motivation to do anything, acknowledge how you are feeling. Acknowledging feelings helps you let them go. Denying them keeps them stuck in your body. Then accept it.

If you or someone you know has spent most of their lives in the “fight or flight” response and suddenly now, you are surrounded by others who are feeling like you’ve felt for good chunks of your life, to lesser or greater degrees, feeling relatively well right now in the middle of this pandemic becomes a little easier to understand.

If in childhood you were in a family situation that put you in the middle of crisis intermittently for whatever reason. Maybe you lived with an abusive or a very moody and unpredictable parent. Maybe one of your parents was living with a mental illness, officially diagnosed or not. Maybe one or both of your parents was addicted to alcohol or other substances. Maybe you experienced difficult things that left your physiology and mental health impacted. 

Those things might range from sexual abuse to witnessing another member of your family being abused to any experience that really emotionally affected you negatively and changed you in some ways from that point on. The list is endless. That’s trauma! All of those negative and unhealthy experiences will impact everyone very differently but with some predictable commonalities.

For those of us who can relate, living with uncertainty and being prepared and being on guard or being hypervigilant is just a lifelong way of being. It’s not healthy. It’s hard on the heart and the kidneys. And sometimes in times of extreme stress, it can make you seem less intelligent than you are.

That’s especially true if you begin to disassociate where you lose your train of thought. You might just freeze. Your vision fogs. Everyone around you suddenly feels like they are there but not there, mere human outlines drenched in a soft hazy wash.

If that’s been your experience, then a pandemic is just falling into line with the uncertainty you’ve lived with your entire life in in one way or another.

You hear people focusing on the uncertainty right now, wrestling with that when it seems like just accepting what’s happening could be a more helpful response.

I’m not saying I haven’t been anxious lately. I’m feeling anxious writing this now that I’m paying attention to my body. But I’ve been aware of trying to recognize that. STOP and be aware of it. STOP and sit down. Stop and BREATHE. STOP and go out for a walk.

Because let’s get real, if you aren’t even a little bit anxious in the middle of a pandemic then honestly you need to check in with yourself and get real.

Anxiety isn’t the issue. It’s what you do with that anxiety that can make a difference in how you function.

If you’ve haven’t done any meditation or investigated other modalities of healing then the exercises in this video might seem weird to you. Having experienced just a taste of somatic movement earlier this year in a class offered by a yoga practitioner from Mayne Island, I’d recommend just watching this and trying it.  

I trust the experience of this individual and that’s good enough for me.

Join Dr. Levine as he leads us through a series of Somatic Experiencing® exercises to help regulate our nervous system. #somaticexperiencing #drpeterlevine

Posted by Peter A Levine, PhD on Thursday, April 9, 2020

 

Check your attitude during COVID-19

The best thing you can do for your mental health right now, if you haven’t already, is to snooze or get rid of every single person on your social media feeds who thinks this is the time to debate what’s going on because they don’t “trust” the government or they’re trying to prove some sort of point.

Get rid of anyone off your feeds who purposely makes others feel bad or in general is argumentative and negative.

My life is already and intentionally filled with people, the ones I am closest to, who are focused on being positive, helpful, optimistic (way more optimistic than I usually am), future thinking and expecting the best. There’s no room for conspiracy theorists in my own little delusional universe and that’s the way I like it.

I work for the B.C. Government and I can assure you there isn’t a single person in any ministry who isn’t doing what they can to make things easier within the realm of what’s possible for citizens in B.C. They are doing the best they can under these very difficult circumstances that are requiring immediate response and instant decisions, in an institution that isn’t used to making change on a dime.

There is that old saying when it comes to keeping the peace in relationships: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Well, now that question has changed slightly. Do you want to be right or do you want to be sick or in the worst case scenario, dead?

Focus on beauty and positivity. Join an online meditation group or whatever kind of group turns your crank. Listen to symphonies performing concerts online. Watch comedies on TV. Once you figure out Zoom or messenger, have a chat with those people who aren’t going to ramp up your anxiety, but in direct contrast, recognize that now is the time to soothe it.

This is not the time to prove that you’re an intellectual, wiser, more enlightened or more incisive than others. This is the time to be the kindest, most compassionate person you are capable of being. Be a good listener. Be open. Watch how you’re impacting others. Your community needs you to do the very best you can do.

This is also not the time to be a rugged individualist, stubborn insistence that you’ll be absolutely fine on your own. You’re missing the point. If someone reaches out to you and you don’t even respond to them, you’re not getting what’s going on and how you could use this as a time to rethink the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are your entire life.

If you’re like a lot of people, you have probably never been so connected to family and friends online on a daily basis – checking in, keeping spirits up, having a laugh, commiserating. Doing what humans have been doing for centuries – around the piazza, around the water cooler, at the watering hole, over the fence and now, from your own living room – apart but together. Same same but different.

Shut the Front Door to stay sane during COVID Crisis

Monks on the street in Phnom Penh.

For the first week, I couldn’t put down my cell phones.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I was watching the daily updates from Dr. Bonny Henry and Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, which I feel obligated to do as a government employee, and because I love watching how Dr. Bonnie Henry relays the information.

But then, come today, I felt like enough already! I know everything I need to do at this point. Wash my hands. Distance myself 6 feet when outside or around anyone. Stay home as much as possible. Get outside in the fresh air, maintaining the recommended distance.

I got out for a walk the past two days and it was so wonderful to feel the fresh air and to see spring beginning to bud all around.

But it’s when when I’m in my own space that I need to control myself in terms of watching media of any kind.

I’ve been on Zoom. I’ve been on messenger chat. I’ve been checking in and staying connected to others that way. It’s good. It’s almost a novelty at this point.

Deepak Chopra announced today that he is removing himself from all social media and is going into a room in his house to meditate and find and cultivate inner stillness for an entire week beginning today.

I’m not going to do that. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I do however feel the need to get some quiet from the noise and to think about some of the things I’ve learned from the stress reduction courses I’ve been taking since January and focus on extreme self care.

It’s time to put the old practice to the practice!

By the way, Deepak Chopra will be hosting a worldwide meditation next Sunday, March 28. Check out his Instagram page.

I want to share with you this fantastic chanting of Tibetan monks that I love. So sit yourself down, plug in, take a few deep breaths in and out, close your eyes and just listen to shared humanity focused on a single intention: https://youtu.be/0D4V5awe-PA

And afterwards, if you haven’t already, you could download Calm and Headspace

One day at a time peeps. Just one day at a time.

COVID-19, the almighty revealer

The corona virus has reminded us that the most highly educated and the least are of equal value in their service on the front lines.

The artificial socioeconomic value system that ties human worth to occupation is once again revealed as the arbitrary paradigm that it is.

In this time of crisis, and needing all hands on deck, the people whose socioeconomic status is at the bottom–the retail clerks, the janitors and cleaners and private home care providers or nursing home staff, child care providers and delivery/truck drivers are every bit as critical as the PhD medical staff, the online technology software wizards, the virologists and pharmacists and medical researchers.

Regardless of how undervalued the lowest paid people may feel on a typical day, they are now the canaries in the coal mines and the heroes on the front lines. They’re providing services that are every bit as important as the doctors and nurses responding to the deadly puzzle unfolding before their eyes.

These contributions have been revealed to be of equal value in our reliance on them but the difference is, those on the lowest end aren’t being protected in the same way. Many aren’t wearing gloves. They can’t back away when they’re ringing through groceries. They’re depending on you to do that, to keep them as safe as you can by not being there at all, or by following the rules of distance,  6 feet or 2 meters, and staying home if you’re feeling any of the symptoms at all. And self-isolating if you’ve returned from a trip, meaning, going right home, not to any grocery store where you’ll be in contact with others, then staying at home (14 days) until you know you are not ill.

Parents are on the front lines in a whole other way. Their roles are now magnified. They are having to offer the comfort, provide the distractions, set the example, waylay fears and anxiety, cook and be especially fastidious around the house in cleaning and making sure everyone in their family, from children to octogenarians, understands and keeps themselves and others safe by following the advice of the public health officers.

It’s a challenging time for social butterflies. They’re already losing their minds or they haven’t even taken the advice to heart, still going about their lives as if nothing is all that different.  

Someone pointed out that sometimes people respond to anxiety that way. They pretend everything is the same, denial their modus operandi.  They fail to understand or take to heart that their actions can no longer be dictated by preference or whim when those actions may cause someone else to lose their life because of how well or how poorly they changed their behaviour.

That’s the difference in mortality numbers between Taiwan who did everything right (100 deaths) and what’s happened in China, Italy and what’s to come around the world when seemingly draconian protective measures happen too late.

Sometimes I feel like the people who have had little hardship in their lives, emotional or otherwise, are just not very equipped to have the resilience required when things change for the worse on a dime like this.

They are so used to getting what they want, everything at their beck and call, that it’s hard for them to imagine they have to do something different when that something isn’t their choice.

And the most dangerous, the conspiracy theorists, are in heaven and in hell, so status quo for them, I guess.

The human body and its frailty holds the power.

Accept everything you must do to keep yourself and other’s healthy.  Accept everything. Accept what you can not change.

Flattening the curve means fewer people get sick quickly and all at once and that alone can save lives.

I’m not saying instant adaptation is easy or nice, but it’s not that hard either. Not really. Not in comparison to the worst case scenario you or someone who matters to you might find themselves in.

This video from an artist named Matteo Marchesi speaking near Lombardy, Italy, is compelling.

His father is an intensive care doctor. https://vimeo.com/398651424

Learn more about what’s happening in B.C. via the B.C. Government’s Covid-19 updates: www.gov.bc.ca

 

 

 

Amusing yourself during a pandemic

The thing about being an introvert and being told to hunker down is that it’s almost like being told, “Hey, just be yourself.” Finally! You mean I can just stay home and binge read, watch TV, clean my apartment, go for a walk in the park, go down to the beach, drink some wine, make some soup and chili and I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing SOMETHING Instagram worthy?

It would seem the most important thing to control during this pandemic, as is true every single day, is our own thoughts.

A friend told me that she heard this cool thing. The word Pandemic can be broken down with the middle syllable “dem” — which originates from Greek and means “people” — and when you take out the people or “dem” in Pandemic whaddya got? Panic! Pan-DEM-ic! Very clever! And accurate.

Here’s a few suggested diversions to lower the panic, you dems you!

  • In B.C., keep up to date on what’s happening in your community by listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, on the local news as they report out daily, often at 3:00 p.m. or on the Government of BC Facebook page.
  • Then again, be aware of how much time you’re spending getting freaked out by broadcast and social media.
  • Watch the emotional eating and ramp up the self-care. If you’re scarfing down cupcakes and other crap like I was on Friday night like you’re the winner of a zombie apocalypse emotional eating contest,  you might decide that now is a good time to focus on extreme self-care.
  • Forget the toilet paper, buy some greens and avocados and get your guerrilla Dr. Gundry warfare on.  Take your Vitamin C and organic spirulina.
  • Get outside and enjoy the fresh air.  Look at the flowers, take photographs which requires your mind to focus on the present and on only what’s in front of you.
  • Don’t go to a big box store or stand in a long line-up for food surrounded by all those people who have not kept their panic at bay.
  • Try to practice the 2 metre rule of distancing yourself from people – that’s 6 feet.
  • If you’re feeling super anxious, start doing boxed breathing. 
  • If you’ve meditated in the past but stopped, this seems like a good time to breathe in, breathe out, stay focused on your breath.
  • Read a book – Check in on some Canadian authors at Canada Reads.
  • Make some soup from scratch and freeze it.
  • Write in a journal knowing you’re documenting an historic event in human history.
  • Seems like a good time to get back to the practice of the gratitude journal or just take time each evening to think of three things you’re grateful for – apparently just the process of seeking out those three things is good for your brain and can help you focus on your “wealth.”
  • Think about what arts organizations really need your support through this and purchase a ticket or give a donation.
  • Listen to public radio – CBC, NPR in the States.
  • Take an afternoon nap if you can, alone, or even better, with company.
  • Watch a movie, preferably a comedy, not Contagion.
  • Listen to some great jazz or blues or whatever you like best, maybe one of those “poor me” country tunes.
  • Find some podcasts that you’d like to start following.
  • Do your taxes (Yuk for sure, but it is that time of year).
  • Clean your house in a way you never get around to.
  • Do that chore at home you’ve been putting off for months.
  • Kondo your closet.
  • Play a board game or throw a baseball back and forth in a nearby park with your kids or your dog.
  • Call your friends or family who live elsewhere using whatever technology you can.
  • Make a Femo monster of the virus and smash it afterwards. Okay. A little weird, but could be fun. And the video is hilarious (to me)!
  • Yesterday, I was speaking over video chat with my 96 year old friend who I now feel, because of her vulnerability to the virus,  I shouldn’t go visit. While we haven’t quite perfected our use of the technology, we’ll get there. And as she so succinctly said, “What am I supposed to do, dig a hole, take some food and jump in?” The answer? “No. Don’t do that! Not yet, anyway. You’ve excelled at aging. Hang in there!”
  • Research where you want to go when we get past this, even if it takes months.
  • Mostly, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, follow the recommendations and for now, remind yourself that in this moment you are safe. Focus on how well you are right in this moment and focus on the facts, not forecasting the worst.  And carry on.

If you insist, here’s a few links to be over-informed by:

BC Centre for Disease Control:
http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19

Definitions:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center#Terms

Infection Prevention and Control – Canada
https://ipac-canada.org/coronavirus-resources.php

How it spreads: (If you have high anxiety, don’t read this link).
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

Microcosmic Orbit intercepts my own orbit

I absolutely love it when I’m introduced to something that I’ve never heard of before. In my guided meditation class the other night, we were introduced to the Microcosmic Orbit.

This is from Traditional Chinese Medicine and refers to the meridians in the body in which qi or life energy flows throughout the body.

Apparently there are 12 standard meridians in the body. The fire channel, or sea of the yang meridian, is up the back of the spine also called the Governor, running from the  perineum to the top of the head, over the head and connecting with the water channel, the conception, sea of yin meridian, that circles back down to the perineum.

Starting at the belly, imagine molten lava boiling in your belly as you breathe deeply in and out of the belly.

The tongue is held against the top of the roof of your mouth, as far back in the mouth as comfortable, and when the yang energy arrives just above the upper lip and the circle becomes complete, the tongue seals the meeting of the two. At least I think that’s what’s going on.

Imagine a pearl of energy circling the body in this way with your mind focused on the energy of the pearl as it makes the microcosmic orbit or small heavenly wheel around the body joining the yin energy with the yang.

Based on what I’ve learned so far in my qi gong  and meditation classes, I thought this video did a really good job of describing how to do it and what’s happening in the body. Of course, it could take quite some time to get good at it to reap the rewards and probably another lifetime to get my big old belly to move like his. Whatever!