Worker bees

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I was feeling a bit miserable when I woke up this morning.  Today I have been missing one very important thing about my former work life; that wonderful feeling of being involved in the transformation of lives.  I felt proud of each student as they left around this time of year.  They were all, without exception, very different from when they started their courses three years previously.  I was a part of their transformative learning for thirteen years, and it is a hard thing to let go of.

I became curious about why I didn’t feel like this last year.  Well, last year retirement was still new and I was still finding out what it meant, I guess.  We had not long got back from our ‘big trip’, and I was delighting in having time to pursue all kinds of hobbies, including creative writing; I was just finishing off a completely free futurelearn course this time last year (If anyone fancies following that one up you can find it here:  https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction).  I was all fired up, after that.

So, I had a buffer last year.  This year, I miss my students.  Funnily enough, I am meeting one of them later this week, which is nice, but I miss that sense of purpose I had – a reason to get up and get dressed each day.

Of course, another reason I might be feeling a bit low is that it has also been a pretty hard time recently for those of us who live in Manchester.  On May 22nd a suicide bomber killed 22 people at Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert.  Some of them were parents collecting their kids, and the youngest victim was eight years old.  Manchester folk won’t be defeated, and there have been many wonderful examples of random acts of kindness following this awful event.  The worker bee (above), the symbol of Manchester for many years, has become a symbol of hope after hate. But the atrocity has shaken many of us.

Well, I never promised you that every post would be positive, did I?  I don’t think I am depressed, but I know I have to get a grip so that I don’t become it!

Anyway, I decided today to get on my bike.  I haven’t ridden it for about a year, since my diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my right hip.  I had read or heard that cycling was not a good idea, but recently I have seen a physio for my left shoulder impingement, and I asked him for advice about my hip.  He kindly gave me several booklets from arthritis research (http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/shop/products/publications.aspx). In them, I learned that cycling is actually encouraged, which perked me up no end.

I thought I had better take it easy, so I pushed it up the hill from our house, before getting on and peddling.  I had forgotten how to use the gears, added to which the chain was rusty (note to self:  keep oiling!), so it took a bit of getting used to (I pulled on the break instead of changing gear at one point – luckily did not go over the handlebars!).

I went past an old lady, who was sitting on a bench.  She had a dog, who was sniffing and wagging nearby, as they do.  I said a cheery hello as I cycled past, and then I decided to turn round and have a chat.

I found out her name is Selina, and she is 89.  I asked her if she knew what the internet is.  She said yes, though she hasn’t used it.  I explained the concept of blogging, and she gave me permission to use her picture and tell her story.  Selina is a twin.  Her sister’s name is Florence, and they live together, not far from me (their mother was called Selina Florence).  About ten years ago, she fell and broke her hip, and was in hospital for about ten weeks.  Her daughter, who is in her fifties right now, took the dog in, and when her mother came out of hospital she suggested they share the care of the dog.  The daughter used to be a dresser at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but moved to be near her mother and auntie so that she could care for them.  She had hoped for a job in a Manchester theatre, but it never worked out.

Selina’s daughter is typical of so many women in the prime of their lives, and often much older, caring for even older relatives.  A recent newspaper article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2818298/Burden-caring-family-takes-toll-women-50s-Health-suffers-juggle-responsibilities.html) reports research by the University of London which suggests that there is a significant negative effect on women’s health when they care for others in this way.  Some women in that age-group find themselves sandwiched between caring for their parents and caring for their grandchildren, as people live longer and child care costs become a strain on young families.

Selina is lucky, not only in that she has a daughter to care for her.  I don’t want to suggest that all caring is negative; I am sure Selina’s daughter is happy to do care for her mum.  Selina also lives with her sister, which further protects her against the loneliness that comes often with old age.  Loneliness in oder age is, according to one study, twice as likely to kill you as obestity (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/16/loneliness-twice-as-unhealthy-as-obesity-older-people). But then, poverty is an even bigger killer …

So, to end this cheery blog post: women like Selina are role models in more than one way.  She sits on her bench and waves a cheery hello to anyone and everyone.  She keeps as active as she can, despite having broken her hip some years ago.  She sees her daughter regularly, and feels cared for.  And she lives with her sister – a very precious gift.  Incidentally, her sister smokes and drinks, which Selina does not.  Both are still alive at 89.  Which kind of underlines the importance of positive human contact in older age.  I just wish that the improvement in Selina’s chances of living healthily into older age could be mirrored in her daughter’s.  That daughter, whatever she gains from her role as carer, has given up a lot, including the job she obviously loved.  I do hope she also feels cared for, by someone.

You rock

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I have been thinking lately, about how we are all potential role models.  No.  We ARE all role models.  That is a huge leap for me.  It means I have to accept responsibility for the way I am, knowing that I might just be shining a light for someone else, or if I am not careful leading someone in the wrong direction.

On January 1st 2017, I gave up alcohol.  Initially, I did so for a month – Dry January has become a thing that many people do, and I knew from experience that it would be difficult but rewarding.  I have, or had, several health conditions that I knew to be exacerbated by alcohol, and I had become increasingly concerned about the news that it is also a carcinogen.  In fact, in 2015 (the most recently released figures), there were 8,758 deaths associated with alcohol in the UK; that is 14.2 deaths per 100,000 adults.  While the rate is higher for men than women, the highest rates are in the 55-64 age bracket (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/alcoholrelateddeathsintheunitedkingdom/registeredin2015).  I am 64.

During Dry January, I became increasingly aware that I wanted to take it further this time, but I was concerned about needing support.  I came across One Year No Beer (https://www.facebook.com/groups/199505820380513/), on recommendation from another DJ-er.  The support I found there, and the extra support I gained from paying the small one-off fee for extra support, was transformational. I have genuinely found that the longer I stay Alcohol Free (AF), the more my life rocks.  And the more I rock you rock, and the world rocks.

Which leads me on to my responsibility.  I am beginning to share in this blog what I have learned and am learning, in the hope that it can shine some light in someone else’s darkness, or maybe just make it easier to see that needle and thread.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately, is that when we get rid of something addictive, we miss the dopamine rush we get in our brains when we indulge in that addiction.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, released when we experience something pleasurable.  When something makes us release it, we want to go back for more – which is why it is so hard to give up something like alcohol!  In addition, we develop a myriad associations with drinking, which become triggers for the craving.  We drink because we want to celebrate, because we are sad, because we are angry, because we want to be sociable, because the sun comes out, or because we are on holiday or it is the end of a long working week.  Undoing each and every one of those associations is like untangling the wires you find behind your computer desk, then rewiring each plug.  Only a lot more difficult.

So how can we begin this rewiring?  Well, the answer I feel lies in the dopamine.  Lots of people I have made virtual friends with on this journey engage in 5 k runs and other hard core exercise.  I do love a bit of exercise-induced endorphins, but sometimes I just want to have fun!  So, I am seeking more and more of the fun stuff in life, to get it into my brain (literally!) that there is more to life than alcohol.  In fact, and I often repeat this to myself, alcohol never made anything better!  But walking in the sunshine and looking at the view from the top of the hill – well, that is magic!  As is dancing my socks off.  Sitting and having a cuppa with a friend.  Reading a good book.  I could go on.

So, my challenge to you, dear reader, is twofold:

  1. Find something that rocks your world. Find that (healthy) dopamine rush.  Comment below on what that might be.
  2. And remember: you are a role model.  You rock. What are you going to do with that knowledge?

 

Medicine Man

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I have had a good week.

I have been on two walks, each about 6.5 miles.  One of these was absolutely stunning, and both were from outside our own front door.  We are very lucky to live in the Pennine foothills.

In addition to the walks, I have had time with all four of the UK based grandchildren, been involved in a Hallé Choir Academy rehearsal in Manchester, participated in a very good yoga class at my nearby municipal leisure centre, coloured my hair a fetching bright copper colour, been to a comedy night at the pub down the road, and attended three excellent classical music concerts in Manchester, two of which were free.  I have also done a bit of work (seen a supervisee and two clients).  And, I have seen my GP.

I first went to see the GP a few weeks ago.  My daughter and her brood went back to New Zealand (again) on 27th March, 2017, shortly after our youngest son moved out (again) on March 21st.  And so, in early April, my husband and I were busy re-organising, cleaning and shifting furniture in the three bedrooms they had all occupied.  I noticed myself becoming a bit dizzy, as I often do on exertion these days.  I have always had a tendency to postural hypotension (my blood pressure suddenly drops when I stand up quickly, and I feel a bit dizzy), but I have never actually fainted with it.  I have noticed that it has got a bit worse of late, especially when I am charging around like a two year old.  On this occasion, I had to suddenly lie down in the middle of the landing, because if I had not, I would have fainted.  And so, I saw the doc.

He duly ordered a baseline ECG, and some blood tests.  I mentioned that I was also thinking about asking for a referral to the local osteoporosis clinic, since I was diagnosed in 2010 and have so far resisted medication.  In truth, I thought it might be a way to get them to do another bone density scan, because I had been refused any more of those by one of the other GPs after my last scan results.  His view was, I have the diagnosis and I should therefore take the treatment.  The trouble is, that our mum was stuck on the usual treatment (alendronic acid) and forgotten about.  It made her vomit every morning, and did nothing to stop her suffering repeated spinal fractures, which left her bent every which way.  I am very, very wary of the stuff.  So instead, I had deliberately been requesting the scans every two years or so, plotting the results on a graph, and doing everything I could to self-manage.  This includes weight bearing exercise, eating prunes (for the Boron), and taking an expensive supplement that contains easily digestible calcium, vitamins D3 and K2, and magnesium.  My bone density in 2015 was no worse in my spine than in 2011, and actually better in my hips.  My hips have never been osteoporotic, and in fact were better in 2015 than in 2008.  I put this down to all the walking I do. I confess I felt pretty pleased with myself, but when I was told I could have no more scans it worried me.  How would I know when and if my self-management was no longer working?

My GP and I agreed it was not worth me being referred, until we knew what was going on with my dizzy spells.  And so, here I was on Friday of this week (yesterday, in fact), seeing the doc for my results.

Well, surprise, surprise, all the bloods were fine, and so was my ECG.  I thought that might be the case, actually.  I am just getting older!  And still pounding the hills.  And so, I brought up the issue of my osteoporosis, and a possible referral.  My GP looked at me, and asked: ‘If they give you alendronic acid, what will you do?’ I think he is getting to know me by now.  I had to admit, that I would probably refuse.  However, I did say that my personal cut-off point is a T score of -3.  In other words, if my bone density gets so bad that my bone density is three standard deviations below that of a 30 year old, I will take the dreaded drugs.  A score of -2.5 constitutes osteoporosis.

And so, much to my surprise, my GP suggested that the best thing to do would be to send me for another scan – and then when the results come back, we will look at them together.  And so, that is what is going to happen.  I confess, I was amazed.  He is such a lovely chap, and very respectful.  I don’t want to do him a disservice.  He is a very kind man, and probably would be this lovely with any patient.  I can’t help wondering, though, what would happen if I did not have such a lovely GP?  What if I were not white, middle class, well-educated and articulate?  How often, I wonder, do women of my age get put on these drugs and forgotten about, just as my mother was? And if I had dementia, would anyone be able to advocate for me?  It doesn’t bear thinking about. That day might come, but in the meantime, I will continue to do what I can, to protect my bones and enjoy life to the full.

I am always interested to hear about others’ experience with the issues I am writing about.  Please do feel free to comment, on this or any other blog posts you see here.