The Other I

July 9, 2016

The orange glow

I was intrigued when I was recently reading what I thought initially was a serious review of the research into dementia.  The author – a medical doctor – claimed that curcumin (which includes the spice tumeric) drastically reduces the rate of Altzheimer’s disease, a fact demonstrated by India, where the reported percentage of this debilitating disease is lower than in any other country in the world.

Then I realized what I was reading was an advertisement for tumeric supplements.  Not just any tumeric supplements either.  Only high quality supplements will bring about the desired results.

I started to ask a few obvious questions:

  • What percentage of the population over the age of 60 in India have been in contact with a qualified professional who might have made a diagnosis of some kind of dementia?  I know more than one case in both the US and Britain where an elderly person suffering from dementia is being taken care of by family members and who have not seen a doctor in years.
  • To make matters even less clear, a certain diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is extremely difficult if not impossible without a post-mortem examination of the brain of the affected person.
  • And since the advertisement insisted that the quality of tumeric supplements was important, it may be relevant to ask just what kind and how much of this treasured spice is consumed on average every day in India.

There was no discussion of any of these issues vital to substantiating the claims made.

So to claim that India has a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease than any other country in the world, let alone to claim that this is a result of the fact that so many Indians eat curry spiced with tumeric, is highly dubious.

I have tumeric in something I eat almost everyday because I like it.  I am aware that claims for it are made for curcumin as an antioxidant, for reducing joint pain, the incidence of cancer, brain & heart disease, depression and the side effects of many cancer treatments.  I strongly suspect that tumeric, like many herbs and spices, is very good for us.

But if it’s a miracle, science has not yet proven it.

Sometimes I think the differences between religious faith, political promises, and scientific claims are indiscernible.






April 25, 2016

Which lesson have we learned?

One of the most viewed posts on this blog is Why do abused children become abusers? published more than six years ago.  In it I ask why some children who are abused grow up to be abusers themselves.  Would not children who are abused understand above all how painful, destructive, indeed awful abuse is?  Some children do grow up to be loving, caring parents.  But research shows that a surprising number of adult abusers were themselves abused as children.

Among other things, what they so often learned wasn’t that bullying is bad but that it is the biggest bully who gets his or her way.

I have just read another blog post, Are African Americans Our Palestinians?, that has led me to conclude that something similar sometimes happens to whole cultures, or at least sub-cultures.  In Israel today it seems to me that today’s government has come to believe that to achieve that oft-repeated vow, “never again”, it must be the biggest bully on the block.

And do you know who are Israel’s biggest supporters in this endeavour?  The Land of the Free.  The land where immigrants arrived and in the name of Freedom began a program of bullying the natives already living there.  It was effectively a program of ethnic cleansing, eventually reducing the native American Indian population to a mere 5% of its original size.  That lay the ground work for the importation of slaves, who even today in America suffer the effects of widespread prejudice.

We Americans and Israelis are not the only cultures, of course, to develop this pattern of bullying abuse.  Nor are the citizens of any bullying country all guilty of self-delusion either.  But we humans so often see the speck in our neighbor’s eye while missing the boulder in our own.

One further qualification:  I myself have struggled for most of my life over the problem of using brute force.  I do know that punishment is rarely as effective in child-raising or in changing behavior in general as encouragement and reward.  But sometimes it seems to me behavior must be stopped by force.  If force is necessary, I would use it on a two-year-old child heading for an open fire.  I would shoot a man, given the chance, who was threatening to murder his wife.  But would I support sending government troops to defend people threatened by ethnic cleansing?  That gets more complicated, but if I thought I could stop such an outrage, I would.

December 19, 2015

May I introduce my 5-year-old?

I was seeing my GP several weeks ago for my general annual check-up which I try to have at least once every five years.  He said high blood pressure was a frequent problem for people my age and took out his blood pressure monitor.  “Oh,” I said, “I have white coat syndrome;  it will be very high.”

“You’re worried about what I might tell you?” he asked.

“No,” I replied, “I’m 75 years old.  But there’s still a 5-year-old inside me that’s worried about what you might think about me.”

“What are you worried I might think?” he asked.

After a short reflection, I answered truthfully:  “Whether I’m smart or not.  I can’t walk into a doctor’s office and take a test without feeling that I have to get an A grade.  If I don’t, I’ve failed.”

The doctor demurred.

And my 75-year-old self does too, of course.  But that 5-year-old stubbornly wants the approval of passing the test.

To my surprise, I found making this confession out loud quite liberating.  It’s obviously so neurotic. Even now, I’ve found myself tempted to try to fake the tests – something which I’ve found it is sometimes surprisingly easy to do.  But what a stupid self-defeating thing to even contemplate.  And does it make me smarter to pass an exam meant to find out if I have a medical problem?  No, it make me stupid.

I’ve told this story to several friends and discovered that a good many of us seem to harbor these stubborn 5-year-olds within.  One 5-year-old – resident in a very attractive mature and not over-weight woman – screams that she’s fat.  Another one that she’s lazy – she is one of the most industrious workers I know.

Some children just don’t grow up, do they?

(I am glad to say I did not fiddle the blood-pressure figures the doctor had me take for three days at home.  I thought the figures were not A+.  But the doctor says I’m in “good nick.”  Glad he’s not been deluded by my resident 5-year-old.)

October 25, 2015

Fab Fibs

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:19 pm

One of the more surprising – and hopeful – things I’ve noticed about my life is how often the best things and the worst things that happen to me are the same things.

Fifteen years ago, for instance, when test results showed that my bones were losing density at a dangerous rate, my doctor laid out before me the possibility of an agonizing end of life.  Frankly, this was unambiguously Bad News.

The recommendation was that I start immediately on a regime of biphosphonates.  As I’ve laid out in this blog under the topic of osteoporosis, I decided instead to radically alter my life style, changing my eating habits, started taking calcium supplements and engaging in 30 minutes of targeted exercise daily.

The Good News isn’t just that tests over the last 15 years show that I have increased my bone density and am no longer osteoporotic.

The seriously Good News is all of the other benefits that seem to be flowing from what I have called my FAB-FIBS.

I’m not talking about fabulous fibs I tell myself.  It’s my daily routine of Flexibility, Aerobic, and Balance exercises, followed by another series of Flexibility, Impact, Balance and Strength exercises.  The benefits are multiple.  My strength and energy levels have not degenerated as fast as they other-wise would.  I find that I get an amazing psychological boost from the increased serotonin generated by exercise, and just as surprising, I also find solutions to problems while I’m exercising that evade me when I think about them sitting at the computer screen.  Research suggests that I’m also reducing my chances of cardiac arrest and cancer.

Now seriously:  isn’t that really Bad News that is one of the best things that could have happened to me?

February 21, 2015

Beyond red wine: Secrets of a long life

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:48 pm

The following is an interview with Hattie Mae MacDonald of Feague, Kentucky, in the United States.  Hattie is 101 years old.

Reporter:  Can you give us some health tips for reaching the age of 101?

Hattie:   For better digestion I drink beer.  In the case of appetite loss  I drink white wine.  For low blood pressure I drink Red  Wine.  In the case of high blood pressure I drink scotch.   And when I have a cold I drink Schnapps.

 Reporter:  When do you drink water?

 Hattie:   I’ve never been that sick.




September 16, 2014

Dragon fruit

  We were in the grocery story this morning, and I saw a “dragon fruit” for sale on the shelf.  I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life, and since it was £2 (less than $4), I bought it, and we had  it for our evening dessert.  It’s a popular Asian fruit,  quite sweet, and supposed to be one of those super-foods full of anti-oxidants and vitamins and all those things with complicated names that they try to jam into vitamin tablets.

But I also discovered something else today that scientists are presenting as the newest forbidden fruit of our age.

It’s sugar.

I’ve known most of my life that processed sugar doesn’t really have any substantial nutritional value.

But what I learned today is that it is the sole (the sole!) cause of tooth decay.  There are villages still in this world where not a single person has any tooth decay whatsoever, because they have no access to processed sugars.  In this country, more children end up in the hospital to have a mouthful of rotten teeth extracted as a result of a sugary diet than for any other single cause.

Despite its name and appearance, it is not Dragon Fruit that grows on the new forbidden tree of our age.


September 9, 2014

But I want!!!

Filed under: Diet,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 2:42 pm

There are several things I’ve known for many years, but have cleverly managed not to put together.  I’ve known, for instance that:

  • possibly as much as 90% of long-term joint pain and arthritis are due to allergies
  • these allergies differ drastically among people
  • the things we may be allergic to might be obviously not good for us, especially in excess – like alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), and fast food
  • allergies might also be less obviously evil – nuts, red meat, various grains, night-shade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, tea and coffee

I’ve also known that those of us not physically prone to alcohol addition often instead are apt to be vulnerable to sweets, in other words, to develop a sugar addition.

I realized in my early forties that my evening pre-dinner glass of wine was making my joints sore.  I never became a teetotaler, but I rarely now have more than a single drink in a week, and when I do, I immediately pay the price in pain and sleepless nights.  I’d rather be able to drink a little more, but in truth, my restraint has been more than worth paying for the price of remaining pain-free.

But about three months ago I developed a pain in my left shoulder and arm that has made it impossible for me to engage in several yoga stretches I’ve been doing for more than four decades.  I thought I must have strained a muscle, possibly carrying a bag of garden soil, and expected the pain to disappear quite quickly.  Well, it hasn’t disappeared, and its high time for it to be gone.
And that is when the terrible possibility crossed my mind:  am I developing arthritis as a result of sugar intake?   In other words, can sugar in one’s diet cause arthritic pain?

If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask Google.  The unfortunate answer is yes.  People with osteoporosis  are particularly vulnerable.

The standard medical advice is to eliminate a potential culprit for about four weeks.  If joint pain has disappeared or even significantly decreased, one may have found the culprit.  If the pain returns after a return to normal habits, that may be the trigger that has to be kept under control

WHAT!?? my two-year-old self is screaming.  No cookies with lunch?  no desserts with any sugar?  no apple pie?  no ice cream?  no chocolate?

I have watched myself occasionally play the same games that alcoholics and drug addicts play, that narrowing of consciousness that eventually reduces all reason to a total focus on the forbidden object, ultimately coming up with any reason whatsoever that results in surrender.  But I don’t have a weight problem, and I have never had to make a serious long-term effort to reduce my sugar intake.  I’ve never tried to go without processed sugar for as long as four weeks.

I don’t know if I can do it.

The avoidance of arthritic pain as I lope through my 70’s is a big enticement if it works.  But even to carry out the experiment to see if it does might be a challenge greater than I can win.

At the moment, I have 27 more days to go before I have the evidence one way or other.  If I never bring the subject up again, you’ll know it’s because I’m eating a chocolate bar.



March 22, 2014

Last voucher?

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:33 pm

In 1957 I was a teenager when I caught the Asian flu.  I was very sick, but the doctors said it was a new strain and those of us who got it would probably have immunity to the flu for many years.  It was 30 years before I had the flu again, and another 15 before I got it a second time.  I was sick enough that time to think I might die, but also sick enough to go back to sleep and promise to worry about it if I woke up.

Two weeks ago I came down with the 2014 version of the flu.  I haven’t been sick enough to think I was dying, but I do understand why it kills people, especially the elderly.  The worst of it, after the incessant hacking cough, is that I can’t get rid of it.  Every time I think I’ve finally vanquished it, I start coughing again, or fatigue sweeps over me and even the most mundane daily jobs seem gargantuan.  Which is why my last post was March 15.   I’m missing my cyber-conversations, though, so hope to return without too much delay.

But I am thinking perhaps I’ve used up my last flu-protection voucher issued in 1957.




March 15, 2014

How not to be a victim: a demonstration


Credit: ChristArt

There is a great delight in watching a two- or three-year old stubbornly insist on buttoning his own shirt.  It might be crooked, but he did it.  Or insisting on tying his own shoe laces – whatever the outcome.  Similarly, I remember a student once saying to me about some advice she’d been given by her well-meaning adviser:  ” I might be wrong.  But I’d rather take responsibility for making my own mistakes than to let her tell me what mistakes to make.”

After my post yesterday, it occurred to me that victimhood and smoldering anger are quite similar.   Because they both rob the person of the belief that metaphorically they can “tie their own shoe laces.” They both place the total blame on what has happened to them on someone else, and in the process convince themselves that they are powerless.  Certainly, for better and worse, what happens to us is in part a result of what others do.  But victimhood and long-term anger give away that critical self-determination that is evident in that two-year old with the crookedly buttoned shirt or knotted shoe lace.

I have long thought that anger is one of the most destructive emotions we humans generate.  I’m not talking about that short burst of adrenalin-fired anger that gives us the wherewith-all to fight off danger, but the bitterness and anger that burns relentlessly for years, for a lifetime, even for generations.  What seems to me so destructive about it is that, like victimhood, it too  focuses the blame on  what someone else did, rather than on what we might be able to do about it.  That then degenerates into the pursuit of revenge, the determination to get even.

But ultimately what enduring anger and being a victim do is to rob the life of the angry person.  They come believe they are powerless to do something positive, something life-enhancing, because some opportunity has been robbed from them by somebody else who had no right to take it.

It is true that they may truly have been hit, even are still being hit, by terrible misfortune caused by someone else.  But that does not make one powerless.  It does not mean there is nothing that I can do that is meaningful and which can give me joy or a sense of accomplishment.  My misfortune might even give me insights into how to help others that I would not otherwise have had.

Anything I might say, however, cannot possibly compete with Maysoon Zayid.   She may be handicapped because a doctor in New Jersey was drunk on the job when she was born.  But a victim she is not

transcript of video


November 17, 2013

Against all odds

Filed under: Illness and disease,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:08 pm

I have just read an absolutely amazing story.  It’s the obituary of an Italian World Bank economist who simply would not accept the death verdict of his son from the medical establishment.

Augusto Odone was working for the World Bank in Washington in the 1980’s when his six-year-old son began to stumble, mumble, and was turning deaf.  The doctors said he was suffering from a rare and terrible disease called ALD for short, and that there was no cure.  Put simply, fatty acids were destroying the myelin sheath that insulates the nervous system.  The doctors told him and his wife to go home and wait for their son to die, mute, blind, and paralyzed.

Odone was an economist, not a chemist, a biologist, or medical doctor.  But he was a cook, and he began to read voraciously to understand what was happening to his son.  A mix of olive and rape seed (canola) oil, he finally reasoned, should counteract the corrosive acid attack.  The doctors laughed.  The researchers poured scorn on this ridiculous crank.

But Odone was right.  His oil halted the further development of ALDs symptoms.  Unfortunately, although the oil could stop further corrosion, it could not reverse the terrible damage already done to Lorenzo,who lived immobile and unable to communicate until the age of 30.  Yet, although Lorenzo’s Oil could help keep other children from the devastating impact of the disease, the medical profession continued to evaluate the treatment as akin to snake oil.

Odone refused to concede defeat.  Scientists wouldn’t listen, but Hollywood did, and in 1992 “Lorenzo’s Oil.” was made into a movie.  It did exaggerate the good news, implying that Lorenzo had recovered, which he had not.  The oil had merely prevented further deterioration.  But researchers at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute of Baltimore decided to take the treatment seriously.

8 years ago, their study showed that Lorenzo’s Oil prevented the ongoing development of ALD symptoms in three-quarters of the cases studied.

I’m going to remember this story for those many days when the future of the human race looks so hopeless.  When it looks as if our greed or ignorance or simply inertia will kill us, I’m going to remember this astonishing man.

Adone’s obituary is written by his son-in-law who is the International Editor of the Economist.


September 19, 2013

An unexpected downside

Last month I read about research suggesting that using Facebook seems to make people feel rather miserable.  It’s not that lonely and unhappy people use Facebook more than happy people do.  The research found that the more time volunteers spent on Facebook, the lower their self-esteem and feelings of worth and the higher their feelings of depression and loneliness.

Even more surprising was the discovery that spending the same amount of time socializing with people directly had exactly the opposite effect.

These results reflect the experiences of young people in their 20’s, who seem to compare themselves to the presentations of their friends on Facebook, and feel they don’t measure up.  What doesn’t occur to them is that these presentations may be a little overly idealistic with doctored photographs, clever answers and masterful achievements that weren’t exactly the way things happened in real life.

I wonder if these results would find something similar among older users.   My guess is that as we get older, we get a little less naive, a little less self-centered, a little more suspicious, and that that would make a difference to how we evaluate the Facebook presentations of others.

But I can’t really say for myself.  I didn’t like the experience at all, and deactivated my Facebook account.

On the other hand, there is also research showing that working at a computer for a couple of hours before bedtime is associated with sleeping difficulties.   I had already begun to discover that for myself.  It’s one of the reasons I’m not blogging as often as I used to.

I’m reading more at night, though.

I wonder why that isn’t interfering with my sleep.

Maybe I’d better not ask.

August 11, 2013

Do we want to know?

The Sunday papers today are reporting that two British professors have patented a test that analyzes endothelial reactivity.

Oh good, you say – just what I always wondered about myself.

The paper is calling it a Death Test, but if the Americans get hold of it, it will undoubtedly be called a Life Test.   Either way, endothelial reactivity measures the oscillation within the blood cells of capillaries, our smallest blood vessels.  The results indicate just how well an individual is functioning over all, and so can predict the undiagnosed presence of cancer and dementia.

But the results are also graded for optimal functioning between 0 and 100, and with sufficient data will ultimately be able to make a reasonably accurate prediction of when an individual will die – even if that event is decades away.

The good news is that the test is a laser test that is completely painless, non-invasive, even user-friendly.  The expectation is that the test will be available to GP’s within three years.

If it were on offer, would you take it?  At my age now I would – it would make it much easier to plan for the rest of my limited future here.  But would I want to know at the age of eighteen how long I probably had to live barring accident or epidemic.  Or at the age of forty?  fifty?

One thing for sure, once the data is reliable enough, insurance and pension companies are going to want to know.

July 26, 2013

What it’s like from the inside to be an Aspie

Filed under: Depression and Autism — theotheri @ 9:04 pm

I have occasionally blogged about people with Asperger’s syndrome.  I find it a fascinating syndrome, being neither an indicator of intelligence (or lack thereof) or of mental illness, although frequently misunderstood as both.  It’s a way of thinking that can change a person’s entire perception of the world, and is often a source of misunderstanding by those who love but do not understand him.

Yesterday, Alex made a comment following my post “Missing the obvious” in which he describes his own Aspie thought processes.  Since the post is over two years old, I don’t think many people are apt to see the comment.  But I think it’s immensely valuable both for Aspies themselves to understand the way their thought processes may be different and also for those who may live or work with, and love an Aspie, and so I am presenting the comment here.  Personally, I found it clarifying and confirming.

I have added some paragraphing, but apart from that, the description of Alex’s thoughts and experiences are totally in his words.

“I know this is an old post but I have been looking for information on this very subject as I am trying to understand myself. Any religion I get involved in, I become a raging fundamentalist. I never understood why I did that. Whatever the beliefs, label, theology, etc etc, I piss people off.

I find I can’t even handle being part of the Atheist movement although I am a devout Atheist at this point (mostly due to how I act under the influence of religion). If I take something as “the truth”, I take it to the ends of the earth and drag my neighbors through the mud figuratively speaking (yes, aspies can use figures of speech, I simply have trouble not taking everything literally despite understanding some sarcasm that even I use).

I don’t believe that all fundamentalists suffer from AS, but if an aspie is indoctrinated as a child, they will probably become a fundamentalist. It is similar to the idea that AS leads to Atheism despite not all Atheists having AS. Will you find aspies in fundamentalists circles? Probably just as much as you would find in Atheist circles. This is probably also why I never understood how my peers at church didn’t walk on “eggshells” as far as “God”, I only was capable of processing “faith” in the sense of fear due to taking it literally. I don’t understand “faith” in the sense religious people use it. I understand it in the sense of “confidence based on past experience” which is rooted in reason and logic. If it doesn’t make sense, it drives me insane. Tell me to believe something without evidence, the only way that has ever worked with me was threatening me with torture and death in the afterlife. Offering me “rewards” in the afterlife is boring, not a REAL concrete reward that I can even understand. NT’s will typically just accept it, yet I will ask 100 questions on every little detail.

I wasn’t an Atheist until I got into my twenties (and I am 34 now), before that I was a fundamentalist Christian. All I understood about Christianity was if I didn’t believe in Jesus I would spend eternity in hell. To me this was more real than the people I interacted with everyday. Never could understand why my peers(at fill in the blank church-was in the Navy when I deconverted), but they would get fed up with my ranting. They weren’t extreme enough by my standards. I finally understood that the only reason I “believed” in a man being raised from the dead was fear of Hell. I obviously never believed, I was manipulated into believing. My NT counterparts at church couldn’t understand my reasoning despite it being blatantly obvious. Their thinking was so fuzzy, not cut and dried, black and white like mine.

I even did the same as a Nichiren Buddhist. I joined the Soka Gakkai and eventually left to join a fundamentalist sect because SGI wasn’t extreme enough. I left all of it alone and wrote my own mantra/practice based on Nichiren’s teachings but rejecting all of the dogma, couldn’t practice independently because I automatically become a fundamentalist whether I like it or not. I am thankful for what I learned from Buddhism and even Christianity, but learning that my brain doesn’t work like a NT certainly has helped me to just be me, free of religion. Actually, I now attend a Unitarian church. No dogma. I even dabbled with Laveyan Satanism for about 9 months, it seemed totally nonsensical but it helped to free me from religion. I took that to an extreme as well which is why I rejected it as nonsensical gibberish.

Now I am simply an Atheist, no religion, no anger toward religion, no caring about what religious people do as long as they live and let live. Threaten me all they want, I don’t care. Not my problem. So no, being an aspie doesn’t mean a person will automatically be a fundamentalist fill in the blank nor does it mean the person will automatically be an Atheist. Being an aspie simply means the person will process the information from religion differently and react to it differently which could result in fundamentalism or Atheism. At the end of the day if we would all respect each others boundaries regardless of beliefs, handicaps, desires(given that the desires don’t involve harming anyone else), the world would be a better place regardless of being an aspie or being a NT, that could even bridge the gap between all of us.

July 20, 2013

Health care: two alternatives

In his exploration of democratic alternatives to some of our American institutions which seem to have gone array, Gar Alperovitz discusses health care.  In the United States, we have mostly either paid for health insurance or  pay up front when we need treatment.  Up to a point, Medicare and Medicaid helps those who have paid social security, but hundreds of thousands of Americans are deprived of medical treatments they need because they cannot afford it.  Obama Care was meant to plug this gigantic hole, making it possible for all Americans who need medical care to get it, whatever their financial state.  It has run into fierce opposition, been rejected outright by some states, and even taken to the Supreme Court on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Alperovitz recommends setting up a health system run not by private insurance companies and hospitals but a system by and for the people.  The National Health Service (or NHS for short) here in Britain is closer to the kind of system he describes.  The NHS was set up after World War II in a country rejecting the injustices of a system which allowed thousands of working class people to die for their country, but which did not provide health care even for families of those who had died for democracy if they could not afford it – as many many could not.   Today, it is a system at which treatment is free at the point of need to anyone.  It is paid for out of general taxes.

I have seen the NHS, for better and worse, close up for more than 20 years.  I have received, I believe, some of the best treatment available in the world here, and I have seen dedicated medical treatment go far beyond their defined duties to care for the sick.  I have also seen first hand examples of prejudice, particularly against the elderly, that are terrifying.  I saw a 90-year-old man dying of cancer in a wheel chair left outside a hospital door in the middle of winter.  I have seen arrogance and indifference on the part of medical staff, and now a major report has  identified 14 hospitals in the UK where the death rate is far higher than average, and in part almost certainly due to medical errors, carelessness, and sheer lack of concern even for the dignity, let alone suffering, of patients.

These latter are the kind of stories that turn many Americans away from “socialized medicine.”

But should we be so ready to dismiss the British system or other similar systems in Europe?

I’m not so sure we should.  First of all, the British are immensely proud of the NHS.

I have seen enough in America to know that injustices and disregard for patients occur in our medical system that are as grave as anything that has been uncovered here.  The difference is that here in Britain, failure to protect  the health care system can bring governments down just as surely as a failure to protect the economy.  The outrage at the state of some of the UK hospitals is huge, and the government as well as opposition parties are putting unprecedented effort into improving the system.  There is little doubt in my mind that some of the gravest deficiencies here will be effectively addressed.

Cost, too, is a major factor.  Americans’ life expectancy is lower than it is here and throughout most of Europe, although our medical expenditures are about twice as high.  That is in large part because the US system is private and run as a business to make money.

It seems clear to me that no system, as a system, is going to eliminate prejudice or disregard supported by the culture at large.  But when they are exposed in a socialized system of health care, there is apt to be outrage.

In America, too often I fear the response is the one we are seeing to Obama Care — that it is people’s own fault if they do not have the insurance required to pay for the medical care they need, and that the rest of us should not have to pay our taxes to take care of them.  To the extent that is true, I suspect socialized medicine would not work in America.  When scandals are uncovered, too many of us may very well respond by saying that it’s not the system, but the fault of the patient who should have been paying for his or her own treatment in the first place instead of relying on the state.

So which system, given the choice, would I prefer to live with?  If money is no object, one can get some of the best care in the world in the United States.  As long as I can afford adequate health insurance, the American system can meet my needs.  But what if I can no longer afford to keep paying insurance?

And what about those who, often through no fault of their own, do not have adequate insurance, or who cannot get insurance at all because companies label them as not potentially cost-effective?  I don’t really feel comfortable reaching the conclusion that “I’m okay, jack.  I’m sorry I can’t  help you as well. But that’s life.  It’s tough, and we get what we pay for.  You’ll just have to take care of yourself.  ”

For all its limitations, I think the British system is better.

February 22, 2013

Seeing it my way

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:16 pm

Most of us most of the time think we see things the way we do because that’s what’s there.  I see an apple, for instance, because it’s an apple sitting there on my table.  And most of us most of the time are confirmed in this view because people around us also see an apple just like we do.

But in truth, the way each of us perceives the world varies far more than we think.  Although by and large we all tend to have the same five senses, some of us don’t, and in any case, those senses don’t work in the same way for everybody.  Some people can’t tell the difference between the colors green and blue, some people can hear sounds, or taste things that others can’t.  When we move into the brain and how we interpret our experiences, those differences among us are hugely magnified.

One of those differences that most fascinates me is the Autism Spectrum.  The Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has been studying this spectrum in thousands of people, and has concluded that the population is distributed along a normal curve.  This spectrum is not an indicator of either mental health or of intelligence, but it has a great deal to do with how we perceive and relate to our world.  Some autistic people at one extreme find it almost impossible to communicate or interpret interpersonal communications from others, while others at the other social perceptiveness extreme are exceptional in their abilities to tune into the needs, feelings, and responses of others.  Men tend toward the autistic side of the curve, while women tend toward the social perceptiveness side.

People scoring on the autistic side of the normal curve may be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Again, it is important to stress that this is not a diagnosis of psychopathology.  In fact, it often helps avoid it, because it helps the individual understand why he is different from so many people around him.

I’ve long suspected a strong degree of Asperger’s Syndrome in my family.  Some of us may be bright, but at the same time say and do some of the most insensitive things to and about each other without the slightest intention of causing pain.  I’ve felt quite insightful sometimes when I have understood this after some particularly cutting remark from a close relative.

What I’ve worried about is that I too may be firmly on the left of the Autism Spectrum.  I share a lot of the characteristics that often show up on that side of the normal curve – I’m fairly good at mathematics, I am highly organized, even sometimes rigidly so, I cannot bear to make small talk with people I barely know.  Am I also someone who completely misses interpersonal signals that are obvious to the average person?

Last week I answered  the Autism Spectrum Quotient questionnaire used for research studying differences among people at different points on the normal distribution.  Typical questions ask if you’d rather do things alone or with others, if you like to do things the same way all the time or prefer changes in routine, like social chitchat, numbers, reading fiction, would rather go to a museum or a theatre, usually understand the point of a joke, enjoy meeting new people.

The average woman scores about 15, the average man about 17, 23-32 is above average, someone with Asperger’s averages about 35.

I scored 22.  Still in what would be considered mid-range, but I guess I’m not an earth-mother.  If you’re interested, you can get your own Autism Spectrum Quotient.  It is NOT sufficient as a diagnostic tool, but it’s an interesting tool — if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

December 20, 2012

God and the good life

We’ve been watching a BBC documentary about  how Rome became a Holy City.  It’s quite a surprising story.

It did not begin with Christianity, but with the Roman monarchy seven and a half centuries before Christ.  From the very beginning, Romans, like people world-wide, built temples to their gods who in turn looked after them.  As the Roman Empire expanded, the rulers had no problem with adding new gods to the pantheon as long as people were also willing to pay due worship to the Roman gods who were responsible for bestowing such success on Rome and the lands it ruled.

This system of broad tolerance worked well for more than 800 years.  But the Christians broke the rules.  They wouldn’t offer sacrifice to the Roman gods.  At first, this was not much more than an inconvenience to the Roman authorities.  Christianity was a lower-class minority religion of little influence.  Christians were martyred, but not with any particular focus, and it was not thought that the Roman gods would take offense and withdraw their favour bestowed on Rome for so long.

But gradually, the number of Christians began to increase in worrying numbers, and the authorities began to hunt and kill them in significant numbers.  But still the number of Christian converts kept increasing, and began to exercise worrying influence.


One of the chief reasons seems to be that the Christian God was making a better offer than the Roman gods.  The Roman Empire was experiencing increasing difficulties from attacking barbarians like the Goths, Burgundians, Franks, and Vandals.  The Roman gods seemed to be withdrawing their favour.  The Christian God, on the other hand, was offering eternal life.  No other God offered this.  Health and wealth in this life was no match for an unassailable promise of eternal happiness.  As Rome’s troubles increased, so did the converts to Christianity.

In the 4th century, Constantine switched gods.  Christian priests and bishops were given civil authority, they were moved into palaces befitting their new social status, and the promise of heaven and hell became part of the law-enforcement strategies of government.  Gradually the temples to the old gods of Rome were replaced with Christian churches, and a huge basilica was built to mark the place where St. Peter was martyred.  Eventually, the old gods faded from memory altogether.

Nobody shopped around any more for the god making the best offer.  There was only the one true God of Christianity.

The belief that a powerful God will look after his followers, however, has never disappeared.  Belief in the Christian God survived centuries of personal disease and death.  But when the Black Death swept repeatedly through Europe slaying the virtuous and sinners alike, faith in the Christian God was challenged.  Eventually, the monolithic authority of Rome was broken.

But not the belief that God looks after his own.  Protestants taught that salvation is a gift from God, not something we earn, but something we are given.  However, it was possible to tell if one was predestined for salvation, because those predestined to go to heaven were already being taken care of by God.  The Chosen had greater wealth, greater status, better health.  We could tell who the Great and the Good were.

This sense that God either does – or at least should! – take care of his followers has not died out today.   Many people believe that the Apocalypse will descend upon us and sweep away unbelievers.  Believers, however, will be saved.

Similarly, for many people, personal tragedy is still a threat to faith.  A friend here in England explained his loss of faith to me once.  Jesus was supposed to have died for our sins.  We are supposed to have been forgiven.  But the punishment goes on unabated.  His doctor, he said, was a better option than God.

I was taught from an early age that suffering was part of God’s inscrutable plan.  “I never promised you a rose garden” was part of the Christian message from the start.

That belief sustained me through some hard times when I was young.  But I was mystified by it by the time I was six years old, and I never understood it.  I guess a lot of people don’t either.



December 17, 2012

Asperger’s Syndrome misunderstood

It is certainly understandable that so many people are trying to understand the gun spree during which Alan Lanza murdered twenty 6-and 7-year-old children and six women before turning the gun on himself.  But I have been appalled over recent days to see how many reputable sources are suggesting that Lanza suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome as if this explains his psychopathic behavior.

Albert Einstein probably suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.

People suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome are not intrinsically psychopathic murderers.  Lanza may very well have been suffering from Asperger’s, but it is no more of an explanation of his behavior than it is to say that he was unusually intelligent, or that his parents had been divorced, or that he had brown hair.  Asperger’s is a learning disability in relation to understanding the feelings and thoughts of others.  It is not a mental illness.

The evidence available to the public at this point does suggest that Lanza was suffering from both Asperger’s Syndrome and mental illness.  But they are two completely different things.  Asperger’s is a relatively new diagnostic category and sometimes difficult to identify.  It is a terrible misunderstanding of those individuals who do suffer from this learning disability to shout “Asperger’s!” in relation to this tragic incident.

But even the diagnosis of mental illness is an incomplete explanation.  Psychiatrists and psychologists recognize that the form mental illness takes in an individual is shaped by the values of the culture in which it is manifest.  For a period of time in the 1950- and -60’s, an unusual number of Puerto Rican women living in New York were diagnosed as schizophrenic.  Diagnostic levels returned to normal with a better understanding that some manifestations manifestations of grief or anger were seen as quite normal and acceptable in some Hispanic communities and were not intrinsically pathological.

And so we individual Americans who would not ourselves in a million years walk into a class full of first graders and shoot them all can still ask if there are deeply held American values which are reflected in our recurring gun crime.  Our country was conquered by the gun.  Our heroes of the wild West ruled by the gun.  We shoved the Indians onto reservations at the point of a gun.  We finished World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan.

Why is gun crime so prevalent in America compared to other countries where just as many people have guns?  Do we think America is great because we have the biggest weapons?  Is someone an achiever because he has the fastest gun in town?  Are guns really our best protection?  Is this our strength?

Or also our weakness?

September 19, 2012


Filed under: Abuse,Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 2:56 pm

I’ve just finished the novel Look at Me Now by Thomas Hubschman.  It’s a story about victim-hood, though that’s not apparent at first since the novel begins with a women in her early forties finally gaining enough courage to leave her bullying husband of 25 years.  At first, I thought it was another story about women’s liberation after they throw off the yoke of a domineering male.  And in this story, the male was unquestionably a domineering egocentric bully.

But after she has left the relationship, Dierdre’s wounds gradually become apparent.  Although she is often insightful and sometimes generous and caring, she is also short-tempered and judgmental.  Having spent most of her life under the control of either her father or her husband, she’s a blamer, and often finds it difficult to take responsibility for her own decisions.  Which is why, perhaps, she is dangerously close to choosing another domineering partner after leaving her husband.  Like a child, she still seems to be tempted to want someone else to take responsibility for her.

This is not an And-they-lived-happily-ever-after story.  Hubschman’s stories never are.  They are inevitably a chapter in the unending process of a life, leaving the reader to decide how the protagonist will deal with the next challenge that emerges as he or she has dealt with the one in the story.

In Dierdre’s case, the reader is left asking whether she and her new lover can help each other.  Harry himself has struggled, with some insight, into his bullying past.  In my experience, couples like this can sometimes be immensely helpful to each other, able to forgive and encourage, understanding the complexity of a bullying/victim relationship.  Or they can continue to destroy each other.

Whatever else, Look At Me Now isn’t a story about being a victim – when a truly helpless person, often a child, is abused and does not have the means of stopping or escaping from the  abuse.  It’s much more about victim-hood, about abuse in which the abused subtly, though almost always unconsciously, cooperates in the abuse.  It’s an attitude of immaturity in which the victim is old enough and with sufficient resources to stand up to the abuser but fails to do so.

I know it well.  Look at Me Now is about a Jewish women in New York.  But her victim-hood is similar to the Catholic version, and the many varieties with which I am well acquainted.  I suspect it has a great deal in common with all the other versions around the world as well.  Victim-hood occurs more often among women, while the counterpart – bullying – occurs more often among males.  I think this is because, as research shows, young girls read social signals faster than young boys.  We learn more quickly what pleases and what displeases adults around us, so we are more successful at gaining praise and affection for responding to others’ wishes.

That’s fine in children.  It’s as it should be, and can develop into a valuable gift if the child is in a loving family where she can learn to use this sensitivity not only for her own ends but for understanding and supporting others.  But if we become adults and still feel guilty when someone we love is suffering through no fault of ours, something has gone wrong.   This makes it impossible to support the other person as he or she struggles to deal with something that is his or her challenge because the impetus is to take the problem away from him altogether and make it ones own instead.

The relationship really goes wrong if we are unfortunate enough to enter into a close relationship with a man who himself blames us for everything that happens to him that he doesn’t like.  If we cooperate, if, in order to avoid further assault, we silently ascent to his accusations that we are responsible for his temper tantrums, for his infidelities, for whatever has gone wrong, it becomes a terrible partnership.

Because each partner has found a way to avoid responsibility for his or her own choices. The man blames the woman, and the woman feels responsible and guilty – not for her own choices, but for her partner’s unhappiness.

Look At Me Now is great story.  But don’t look for any right answers.  Which, come to think of it, is one of the reasons why it’s a great story.

July 22, 2012

Why it’s harder to make a living in some places on earth

Economists have studied various economic and governmental institutions which either facilitate or retard development in a country.  They have identified some critical variables, but they are apt to miss some of the geographical variables that are equally important.

A look at a map of the globe in which the average incomes are displayed show that in both America and Africa, the countries at the northern and the southern tips of the continents have higher per capital incomes than countries in the middle.  This pattern holds even when government institutions are not ideal.  Why?

Because by and large, tropical climates tend to suffer from three significant geographical limitations that temperate climates often do not have to face.  These factors are disease, agricultural productivity of the land, and transportation.

Take disease.  Tropical diseases like elephantiasis or malaria are far more difficult to control than disease occurring in a temperate climate.  Partly this is because disease-causing microbes are not killed off each year by winter temperatures.  In tropical countries they continue to multiply year-round.  The problem is exacerbated when these microbes are carried by mosquitoes or ticks, which themselves multiply much faster in tropical climates.  Finally, the human workforce is itself debilitated both by disease and by the significantly higher number of children women bear, nurse and care for as insurance against the high death rate of children.

Disease, therefore is one factor which contributes to the second limitation of tropical zones which is lower agricultural productivity.  There are others.  First, plants that grow in temperate zones tend to store more energy in parts that are edible than plants that grow in tropical zones.  And disease also attacks plants in tropical zones more aggressively than in temperate zones, for the same reasons disease attacks humans more aggressively.  Fewer microbes are killed off by cooler weather.

Secondly, glaciers repeated advances and retreats in temperate climates have left the land nutrient-rich.  Tropical areas haven’t been enriched in this way.  Finally, because temperatures are higher in the tropics, organic matter is broken down faster by microbes.  This might sound like an advantage, but it isn’t because the nutrients produced by rotting matter is leached away more quickly than in temperate climates.  So by and large, soils in tropical climates are not as rich as they are in temperate zones.

The third factor which tends to favor temperate zones at the ends of the continents rather than in the middle is the availability of transportation, especially by sea.  It costs seven times more to ship goods by land than by sea.  This is one of the significant reasons why landlocked countries like Bolivia in South America, and the fifteen landlocked countries in Africa are among the poorest.

Geography isn’t everything, just as our genetic make-up is not a complete explanation for what any individual human becomes.

But geography hasn’t created a level playing field.  It’s a lot harder to make a living in some places than in others.

November 15, 2011

Supplements are not substitutes

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 10:19 pm

Last week, a reader asked if I was familiar with the recent research report finding that calcium supplements seem to be associated with a higher incidence of heart attacks than were those who don’t take calcium supplements.  I promised to review the research if I could.  Which I have just done.

As I suspected, the results are far from conclusive.  They may even be an illusion, a statistical significance that occurred by chance as a result of amalgamating and re-analyzing a large number of different research studies into the effects of calcium supplements.

Although the results should be looked at seriously, there are several reasons why many doctors are not convinced.  The first is that it is strange indeed that the calcium-supplement group should suffer a greater number of heart attacks but show no greater mortality rates than the non-calcium group.  Heart attacks kill a significant percentage of people whom they strike.  Why, then, doesn’t this show up in more deaths among the calcium-supplement takers?

Equally perplexing is the fact that although the calcium group seems to show an increased incidence of heart attack they are not more prone to stroke or death from heart disease.

Another doubt arises from the fact that what we have at best is a correlation, not a demonstration of cause.  Even supposing that the calcium-takers do suffer higher rates of heart attacks, it is possible that a larger percentage of them were taking supplements on the recommendation of their doctors who had noted worrying bone density depletion.  So it is possible that reduced bone density and heart attacks were caused by many years of poor nutrition and/or little exercise, not that the calcium supplements caused the increased heart attacks.

Another possibility is that there are significant differences within the calcium-supplement group that explain the differences.  There is no analysis of the kinds of supplements people took or other life-style variables among them.

Calcium-rich foods are absorbed best because they are absorbed slowly. 

 Not all supplements are absorbed equally well.  Calcium absorption depends on the presence of other nutrients, so that supplements taken with vitamin D as well as vitamin K are absorbed better than calcium taken alone.  In any case, not more than 500 mg calcium can be absorbed at any given time by the body.  So the recommended doses of 1000 or 1200 mg/day must be spread out throughout the day to have any chance of being effective.  If they are not, the chances are indeed that they will be detrimental rather than helpful.

Not only does a correlation – if it exists – between calcium supplements of any kind and an increased incidence of heart attack not prove causation, supplements are not substitutes either.  But many people simply want to take a pill and forget about it.  They do not change their exercise or nutritional regimes.  They do not reduce caffeine, peanuts, or moderate alcohol intake.

There are no absolute answers.  We are all different, and scientific research does not offer us absolute answers.  In this case, above all, the research findings have suggested more questions than it has answered.

For myself, I’m continuing to take 250 mg calcium with vitamins D & K with each meal and before bed.  I also do 30 minutes serious exercise a day, and emphasize alkaline, calcium-rich foods.

We still have to live with uncertainty.   But I will say I’m grateful we don’t live in an age when doctors were convinced that leaching was the cure-all for almost everything that went wrong with us.




November 4, 2011


Filed under: Health and Sickness: Puzzles and Trade-offs,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , ,

Someone asked me today if I were ill with symptoms that could indicate anything from a mild case of the flu to a serious disease whether, if I had to, I would choose to have 1) unlimited money to spend on a cure, 2) the support of others or 3) prayers.

This probably sounds like a cop-out, but it would depend.

The choice would be between 1 and 2.  If I’m talking about something like cancer, I might prefer 2 if it includes pain relief medication.  I don’t think I could manage the fight all by myself.  Support from someone who loves me would make all the difference.

November 2, 2011

Cystitis, cranberries and me

Almost all women and many men know what cystitis is.  It’s a bladder infection whose consequences, to say the least, are highly inconvenient.  Last week, I got an attack which is the worst I can ever remember.  Having trolled through the internet, I have to say it is not the worst case anyone has ever had, but it was bad enough that it was unsafe for me to be out of dashing distance of a bathroom for more than half an hour.

In the past, I have found that I can usually control cystitis with a few minutes of Kegal exercises,  extra glasses of water, and my regular cranberry supplements.

It didn’t work, and I was getting rather desperate.

While I was wondering if I were going to have to break down and ask my GP for an antibiotic, I googled the internet for natural treatments – barley water? cranberries? lemon juice?

I found quite an interesting – some might say drastic – suggestion:  to eliminate caffeine, alcohol, spices, and sugar from ones diet and to drink a glass of water with a handful of unsurgared frozen cranberries every hour during the day.  And also not to try to delay using the bathroom when the urge to do so  arose.  The author says the cure worked in three days.

Not having a couple of bags of frozen cranberries immediately to hand, I modified the approach.  I eliminated all caffeine except my wake-up morning coffee,  drank 16 ounces of water every hour, took a cranberry supplement with each glass, and added a handful of dried cranberries to each meal.

It worked in 24 hours.

I don’t present this as a universal cure.  Universal cures are rare.

But I do feel incredibly lucky.

September 21, 2011

Cowabunga! Need to know

I woke up in the middle of the night last night wondering about the source of  the word “cowabunga.”  Where in heaven’s name did a word like that originate?

My hypothesis was that it began with Spanish cowboys.  It was an idea that I made up completely out of nothing, which a little research on the internet suggests is just about what it’s worth.

The best guess of modern linguists is that it derived from the Native American exclamation Kwa Bungu.   If I had been a television child, I might at least have been aware of its reincarnation by Howdy Doody’s Chief Thunderthud who (I am told) began each sentence with the nonsense syllable “kawa.”

Since then, “Cowabunga!” has led the life of a celebrity, being adopted by Hawaiian surfers, and no less personages than Snoopy, the Cookie Monster, and Bart Simpson.

Speaking of the need to know, I should have mentioned in my post yesterday that lemon juice is acidic, but becomes alkaline when it’s broken down.

Don’t ask, I don’t know.  I’ve also learned, however, that there is a modicum of confusion in this area.  Some foods are categorized as alkaline on some lists and as acidifying on others.

I am unable to be too obsessive about this, and have settled for printing out a list of alkaline foods which I have posted on my refrigerator.  I also have a list of acidic foods but I find that for myself, I do better by maximizing alkaline foods than minimizing the acidics.  So the acidic list is not posted in a very prominent spot but is there if I’m really driven to find out.

There’s a good list on  Or use Google for enough references to last a lifetime.



September 20, 2011

The acid test for alkaline foods

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 8:07 pm

I first read about the value of eating more alkaline foods more than ten years ago when I began to comb medical sources for the causes – and cures – for osteoporosis.

I’m glad I read it first in a medical book, because, as I’ve described in earlier posts on osteoporosis,  it has been one of the elements in a changed life style that stopped my bone deterioration in its tracks.  I have even experienced a small improvement in my bone density.

But if I’d first read about it in Style Magazine, where it has made its debut into the world of “must-do’s” and “must-have’s” I would have dismissed it along with the gushing enthusiasms for obscenely expensive clothes, cosmetics, and celebrity status.

Instead, I read the article and learned something.  The most interesting was the discovery that lemons and lemon juice are alkaline, not as one would expect, acidic.  So I am now using lemon juice instead of vinegar on my fish, and have been persuaded to exchange my midday cup of coffee for green tea and lemon.

I was also surprised and pleased to learn that alkaline foods aren’t just good for the bones.  There seems to be evidence that it can also help reverse Type 2 diabetes, and breast and prostate cancer.  It significantly reduces inflammation and apparently it helps people sleep better too.  Some people claim it has improved their skin and facial complexions significantly, and alkaline foods are the obvious treatment for acid reflux.

Well, let’s not get carried away here.

But diets with more fruit and vegetables and less sugar and red meat are associated with a wide range of health benefits – from reduced rates of cancer and heart disease to longer life expectancies and fitness.

I’m glad I stumbled on the idea ten years ago in a rather staid book on bones.  Otherwise I would have dismissed it along with the cabbage diet, the soup diet, the banana diet, and the teeth-brushing diet.

To see earlier posts on osteoporosis,  click on  “osteoporosis” in the “Select Category” window in the right column.



August 17, 2011

The legacy of depression

Depression is perhaps the most unexpected source of suffering in an affluent society.   People who are no longer living on the edge, who have reliable sources of food and shelter, sometimes with almost boundless spending capacity and social status, are often screaming with the psychic pain of depression.


The causes of depression are many.  Unlike great scourges like the plague or polio or small pox or malaria, depression is not caused by a single identifiable organism that is potentially halted by vaccines.  Depression is partly genetic, partly learned;  it is partly bio-chemical, partly psychological.

Depression tends to run in families.  Many characteristics which are not genetically influenced are generational — the language we speak, for instance – but in the case of depression, there is a genetic loading.  Not an absolute determination.  But some bio-chemistries are more prone to depression than others, and bio-chemistry is partly inherited.

But it is only partly inherited through our genes.  We know now that our bio-chemistry is influenced by environmental factors beginning in the womb.  The chances of my being depressed in adulthood are increased from day one if my mother is stressed during her pregnancy.  The stress may not be of her choosing or her responsibility – it may be due to famine, war, marital discord, financial difficulties – but a study of epigenetics has shown that  the anxiety felt by the mother actually influences the gene regulation of the embryo.

Unfortunately the causes of depression are not limited to the first nine months of our lives.  Studies of tens of thousands of children in the States and in Britain show that children who are abused, neglected or rejected are more than twice as likely to experience recurring depression as adults.   People prone to depression are far more likely to be thrown into long periods – months or even years – of anguish by life’s inevitable challenges – bullying at work, death of a loved one, the break-up of a significant relationship, worries about money, or the life changes that might come with retirement and subsequent feelings of uselessness and abandonment.

Depressive people are often exceptionally intelligent, but depression is not rational.  The black cloud that engulfs a person is not something that is dispelled by reason or logical arguments.  It can’t be fixed by replacing the worn out part, by throwing money at it, by buying things, even by giving the depressed person what they think at the moment they desperately want.

It is not, though, completely hopeless.  In fact, depression is amazingly treatable.  The biggest obstacle is often convincing the depressed person of that.  The very nature of depression often leads the person to argue that there’s no use trying.  They believe the causes of their depression are due to factors outside themselves – the economy, their spouse, the world’s suffering, their own failures.

Drugs can and do help bring some people back even from the edge, even of suicide.

Exercise is an immensely useful tool in keeping depression under control.

Interestingly, cognitive therapy, learning to think differently,  has as good a record for many people who are depressed as medication.  Learning new thought patterns can often , with effort and patience, lead to significant permanent change.

One can learn not to take ones depression at face value – to recognize that depression distorts.  One can learn not always to assume that the negative interpretation is inevitably right — the depressed can learn that they are loved for themselves, not merely for their usefulness or money or as a result of some neurotic need by the person who seems to care for them.  One can learn that bad news can often be turned into an opportunity rather than failure.

In my experience, this kind of change doesn’t always require therapy.

But it does always require courage.  And time.  And love.

August 16, 2011

And the greatest of these…

Often  – though, of course not always – we get the old age we deserve.  Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, far more often than not, come home to roost if we live long enough for the chickens to come home.

When I was young, old age felt like a land of let’s pretend, a place where I would never need to be.  I was, after all, young and fit and energetic.  I haven’t met a young person who doesn’t to some extent feel the same way.  And I think that’s the way it ought to be.  Sort of like the way we all feel that, whatever happens to anybody else, we aren’t really going to die.

But we don’t need research to tell us that if we are lucky, there isn’t any alternative to growing old.  The alternative looks decidedly unlucky.

Modern research does tell us, though, a lot of things we can do both to maximize our chances of living longer, and in my opinion, perhaps even more importantly, living healthier for those longer years.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that once again, there’s a clear winner.  Give up smoking, use alcohol in moderation, eat a healthy diet, keep one’s weight down.

But the greatest, most effective strategy, even outflanking nutrition and weight, is exercise.

The latest research studying almost half a million people in Taiwan suggests that as little as 15 minutes of brisk exercise a day adds an average of three years to ones life span.   Every additional 15 minutes per day seems to increase the benefits.

I haven’t tried to figure out at just what point more exercise ceases to produce any further advantages.  My bottom line is 30 minutes a day.  After that, I’ve decided to take what comes.

Unless some other convincing source of research suggests…  No, if it says I’ll live forever, I won’t believe it anyway.


August 8, 2011

And now for the good news-

Filed under: Health and Sickness: Puzzles and Trade-offs — theotheri @ 8:12 pm

Maybe it’s just our globalized news system that maximizes bad news at the cost of the more sedate, prosaic, good news.  But it’s a long time since I can remember a day that seems so filled with portending disaster:

  • stock markets around the world are plunging again today amid fears that America and Europe could dip into another recession after barely recovering from the last
  • 28,000 children in Somalia have already died of starvation
  • cholera is running rampant in Haiti
  • the U.S. has lost its triple-A credit rating
  • rioting, looting, deliberate fires destroying entire apartment blocks, and general violence is breaking out for a third day running in hot spots throughout London
  • Syrian troops continue to shoot and kill the citizens of the country they are meant to protect.

Under the circumstances, would it appear too superficial to mention that researchers are reporting on what might be called a new wonder drug that will reduce the incidence of various cancers by between 30 and 50%?

It’s called exercise.

About 3 hours moderately vigorous exercise a week has been shown to reduce the recurrence of breast and prostate cancers by 30-40%, and the incidence of colon cancer by 50%.

And further good news that requires a little less effort than exercise – cocoa is more effective in reducing blood pressure than tea.

That’s good news.

Though I will admit it still takes a pretty robust act of faith to believe that the universe is evolving as it should.



July 18, 2011


It is now 4 o’clock a.m. and I’ve been sitting at my computer for the last hour unable to sleep but not really able to do anything worthwhile in the awake mode either.

It’s due, I know, to the gin and tonic I had before dinner last night.  It was just one, but my sensitivity to alcohol seems to be increasing with age.

I realized in my early forties that alcohol seemed to make my joints ache.  It took me a long time to accept this and to forego my evening glass of wine after work.  I’d stop for a couple of months, and then read research that a daily glass of red wine was actually positively healthy.   So I’d try again.  Until I finally decided that drinking in moderation might be healthy for some people, but  it simply wasn’t for me.  I seem to have an allergy to something in wine — at least the wines I could afford to buy — that was gradually crippling me with arthritic pain.

So although I never formally gave up drinking wine, I will now go for years without joining my husband in a pre-dinner glass.

I could though, indulge occasionally in a gin and tonic.  This seemed at least one immoderation that, within limits, I could manage with maturity.  But I’m afraid even a single gin and tonic now seems to grab a hold of my bio-rhythms and rev them up like a triple blast of caffeine.

So I’m sitting here at my computer in the middle of the night thinking that the pleasure just isn’t worth the pain.

“Behavior has consequences,” I say to myself.  The consequences of a gin and tonic these days seem to be that at first I get mellow.  Then I get cranky.  Then I get too tired to do anything but go to bed.  And then about three hours later I wake up with this drug-induced inability to sleep.

It’s not worth it.

  I’m going back to my cup of tea.

July 13, 2011

Why don’t Americans live longer?

People in the United States spend more on medical care than any other country in the world.  Why don’t we live longer than the average person in Great Britain, in Canada, in Australia, or in Japan?

According to a recent report carried out jointly in America and Britain, not only is there a significant gap between us Americans and many other countries.   The researchers were surprised to discover that the gap is actually getting bigger.

Just as surprisingly, the explanation does not seem to lie in economic factors.  It is not the poor who are pulling down the average for the middle and upper classes in America.

The biggest contributors seem to be life style factors.  America has exceptionally high rates of obesity, stress, and smoking, high levels of salt in our diets, and alcohol and other drug abuse.

Interestingly, it might also be because Americans spend so much on specialist care to the neglect of primary care.  Even the middle and upper classes in America may not be getting their money’s worth because so much more money can be made by doctors specializing in things like plastic surgery than in more basic but less exotic areas.  The irony is that Obama’s health care plan really might benefit everyone – even those who can already afford expensive health care.

 There is some encouraging news.  Women in Florida have life expectancies equal to those of Japanese women, which makes them among the highest in the world.

I have the sneaking suspicion that the lifestyle of women in Florida might bear some examination.

June 23, 2011

Mother Nature’s mothering

I doubt there are many women on this planet who are not acquainted with cystitis and its capacity for creating sheer panic.  Whether it is caused by a mild bladder infection, the results of pregnancy, or simply the aging process, the need to get to a bathroom within the next two minutes is an experience most of us share at one time or another.

Most of us,I suspect, have developed some kind of strategy or other to deal with this most human of conditions.  My grandmother drank barley water laced with lemon.  I learned what we Americans call Kegels and what here in England are called simply pelvic exercises.  Sheer survival instinct keeps me performing them for two minutes on a daily basis along with my morning and evening teeth-brushing routine.

About six weeks ago, however, I began to notice a worrying decrease in the effectiveness of these exercises.  Last week I barely escaped – without putting too fine a point on it – what felt like imminent catastrophe.

Cranberry Double Strength

That was when I finally put two and two back together.  Several months ago, I ran out of the cranberry supplements I usually take every day and did not bother replacing them.  I’ve taken them as a precaution for years against cystitis but didn’t take their effect too seriously.

Three days ago, I picked up a couple of bottles and started to take a tablet again with breakfast and another with dinner.

What is astonishing is the complete and almost immediate transformation.  For the first time in months I am not getting up in the night.  I am worry free for 4-5 hours during the day, and even then I have been saved the mad hysteria which I have personally begun to call “incontinence panic.”

I’m not a great believer in alternative medicine.  I’m one of those people who say what we call alternative medicines that work “medicine.”

But I will admit that I would view a global failure of cranberry crops on par with a blight of coffee beans.

Now that I think of it, I think I will put cranberries on my happiness list.

April 25, 2011

Aspirin and sugar: the good news and the bad news

Filed under: Illness and disease — theotheri @ 4:10 pm
Tags: ,

Several months ago, the Lancet published very strong research suggesting that aspirin is, after all, close to a miracle drug.  People who take low dose aspirin daily die of cancer 35% less often than average, and gastrointestinal cancers are reduced by a whopping 54%.  It does, though, required that aspirin be taken for at least 5 years and for some cancers for as long as 15 years for the effects to take place.

Still, taking a daily dose of low-dose aspirin is painless and inexpensive.  So it’s worth the fuss of remember to pick up a supply at the local drugstore and adding it to one’s daily regime.

The bad news is that sugar is much worse for us than at least I thought.  Researchers are offering some drastic warnings –  even that sugar is potentially poisonous.  Obviously it’s associated with tooth decay and obesity, but it’s also associated with diabetes, increased cancer and problems for both mother and child beginning with pregnancy.  Sugar contained in liquid form – white wine, smoothies or a carton of juice – are particularly destructive.

How I ever made it to old age, I don’t know.

March 25, 2011

At home with Asperger’s syndrome

Filed under: Depression and Autism — theotheri @ 3:47 pm

When I was a graduate student, autism was seen as a form of childhood schizophrenia.  The category didn’t seem very satisfactory, but at the time, no one had come up with anything better.

We know now that autism and schizophrenia are quite different syndromes, and our understanding of autism is much greater than it used to be.  It is not a form of mental illness, but in essence is a learning disability in relation to social interaction.  It exists across a spectrum of very severe to more moderate forms called Asperger’s syndrome, occurs more often among males than females, and is unrelated to intelligence.  There are brilliant scientists and musicians who are known to suffer from autism as well as people of more average abilities.

One of the great benefits of actually having a recognized category called Asperger’s syndrome or autism is that it helps both the individual and the family deal with it realistically.

Asperger’s syndrome, especially, often looks to the uninitiated like egocetrism and selfish insensitivity.  With the best will in the world, parents, teachers, and family members can demand what seems to be simple normal courtesy from someone who, as a matter of fact, is simply incapable of knowing what you are talking about.  Asking for what we might consider normal interaction from an autistic person can be like asking a tone-deaf person to pay more attention and sing on key or a color-blind person to distinguish between green and red.

It’s not only the family and acquaintances who benefit from an accurate  diagnosis.  So does the individual.  It is possible for them to learn what they do not understand as quickly or easily as other people.  They often can learn to understand.  It takes longer but even knowing that one has certain blind spots makes a difference.  If I know that I shrink from a human touching me in ways that others don’t because I am suffering from Asperger’s, I interpret my own responses differently.  I know I’m different, and I know why I’m different.

Yet recognizing forms of autism is not simple.  It does not obliterate the individual personality and can show up in quite seemingly contradictory forms.  An Aspie (as sufferers of Asperger’s syndrome are often called) might in some situations show an appalling lack of social sensitivity and in other circumstances and even in relation to the same people, have amazingly penetrating insights into them.  They may lack an ability to understand metaphor and symbols and at the same time show great mathematical dexterity.

For some years now, I have strongly suspected that I come from a family in which Asperger’s syndrome is a marked feature.  I can see it in some of my relatives.

What I don’t know is whether I myself suffer from the syndrome.  I am appalled occasionally when I remember the insensitivity I have sometimes shown.  I hate to make small talk and meeting new people is always fraught with anxiety beforehand and teeth-gnashing afterward.

On the other hand, I could be suffering from an annoying case of self-absorption.  Or intellectualizing.  Which, unfortunately, is not the same thing as being smart.  But more navel gazing on that subject another time.

March 14, 2011

Osteoporosis update

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:48 pm

Well, it’s good news.  I got the results of the bone density scan I had last month and there has been no deterioration in my bone structure now for six years.  The advice from the osteoporosis consultant who has been monitoring the scans was not to change what I was doing.  Or to put it in more posh terms, he recommends “no change in current bone management.”

So I will keep on doing what I have been doing, the most important of which I suspect is 30 minutes of daily exercise and calcium and vitamin D supplements taken with each meal.  I’ll keep on with reduced caffeine (two cups of coffee max/day, soya instead of cows’ milk, and an emphasis on an alkaline rather than acidic diet.

Does this mean I think people who are willing to take on the unrelenting discipline of daily exercise and supplements don’t ever need to take bi-phosphonates to treat deficient bone density?

I don’t know.  I know that my own drop in density values occurred after the substantial life-style change that took place with our move from Spain to England and being shut out from hikes in the mountains as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

As I keep ruefully concluding, the more we learn, the bigger our questions become.  Uncertainty and risk is the human condition.

In any case, my GP says I’m “fine.”  I would tend to use the word “fantastic.”   As I left his office this morning, I admit I was jumping for joy.

Well, inside anyway.


March 10, 2011

Changing the meaning of time

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 3:22 pm

When I was about five years old, I remember trying to figure out how long a second was.  I didn’t begin to wonder until middle age, though, about how much time there was altogether since time started in the very beginning of the world.

When I retired from university teaching, I wrote The Big Bang to Now and am currently working on the second edition.  But right now I am less concerned about trying to understand how long thirteen and a half billions years is and where everything fits in that happened between then and now.

I am trying to turn waiting into something a little more positive than it currently feels like.  I have finally heard from the doctor’s office that the results of my bone density scan are in, and I have an appointment to discuss them with my GP next Monday morning.

At this moment, four days feels like what about four years usually feels like these days.  It’s more like what four days felt like when I was small and Mom would say that it’s only “four more days to Christmas.”  It sounded like about four centuries to me then.

Now my sense of time suggests that every moment is precious, we have so little of it even in a long life.

Which is why I’m trying to turn waiting into something positive, into actually doing something.  Waiting is a good time to prepare, of course, but I have thought about my decision to by-pass the advice of majority medical opinion until I have no more thoughts about it.  When I find out the results of the most recent scan and what my GP thinks, I’ll process my current situation then.

In the meantime, I will concentrate on living today.  Not just trying to skip the four days between now and next Monday.

February 26, 2011

Autism and modern mathematicians

I have just stumbled on a fascinating book, Duel at Dawn by Amir Alexander at Harvard University.  It throws an interesting light on a question I asked in several earlier posts:  is there a relationship between Asperger’s syndrome or autism and mathematical genius?

Alexander’s thesis is that the nature of mathematical thought changed about two centuries ago.  Before that, mathematicians beginning with the Renaissance believed that they were describing the way the universe worked.  Mathematicians like Newton, for instance, saw mathematics as a description of the underlying structures and rhythms of the real world. By describing the reality of the objective world,  mathematicians literally were seen as the companion explorers of the sea-going ships discovering new worlds.

About two centuries ago, however, a dramatic shift took place .  A whole new group of mathematicians cut mathematics free from the constraints of describing the objective world.  Mathematics, for them, exists in itself, by its own rules and logic.  It is not necessarily connected to our objective world at all.

These new mathematicians are often seen as tortured geniuses, living in an abstract world of mathematical perfection but most often unable to live in the real world the rest of us inhabit.  Some are clearly seen to be mentally ill.  John Nash, whose story is told in the film A Beautiful Mind, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.  Galois died at the age of 20 in a duel, Kurt Gödel starved himself to death out of fear of being poisoned.  The list is long and extends into our own day.

It is these modern mathematicians who live in a world of numbers which exists independently of the objective world most of us inhabit that has fascinated me.  They relate to a world which is not inhabited by other living, thinking, feeling beings.  Their world is absolutely logical, absolutely predictable, completely cleansed of the potentially inexplicable.  As a result, despite their towering genius, they are often unbelievably poor in negotiating the real world with real people in it.

In other words, it seems to me, they are frequently autistic.  One half of their brain seems to function at levels few of us can fathom, while on the other hand, they seem unable to comprehend inter-personal realities often grasped by even normal two-year-olds.

What Alexander’s book seem to suggest however, is that not all mathematical geniuses are intrinsically unable to adapt to life in the world as we know it.  Quite possibly it is the other way around, that the highest regions of  modern mathematics have been fashioned by a certain kind of mathematical genius – the kind of genius who is separated from concrete reality and inhabits an abstract world of numbers that is as real to him ( occasionally it is a her) as the world of people and cars and tables are to the rest of us.

If this is so, then mathematics will continue to evolve and change.  It will not always find its locus totally isolated within itself.

So fascinating as Alexander’s thesis is, I still don’t know if Plato was autistic.

But can you see why I’m asking?

January 31, 2011

The sunshine option

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 9:40 pm

I have a bone density scan scheduled for the middle of next week.  Three years ago, the scan showed that I had managed through a change in life style alone to stop bone loss in its tracks and possibly even begun to reverse the process.  So I am now extremely eager to see if the process has continued.  Particularly since I declined in the first place to treat the problem by taking bi-phosphonates despite the strongest recommendation of several MD’s familiar with the problem.  I had two particular reasons:

The first was the fact that, although bi-phosphonates increased bone density, they often did not reduce the incidence of bone fracture, which is the main point of the treatment.

The second reason was that after doing a fair amount of reading on the subject, it occurred to me that I had come close to creating a perfect storm for the occurrence of bone density loss:

We had moved from Spain to the north of England.  Although we kept walking in the hills of the Lake District two or three times a week at first, often for as long as four hours at a time, foot-in-mouth disease closed the trails within a year after our arrival.  So I retreated to my computer and spent an average of six hours a day writing a book.  And when I did go out, I covered myself from head to foot to protect myself from feeling cold.  So both my daily exercise and sunshine quotients were dangerously low.

Then I read that peanut butter was a highly recommended low GI food that is an excellent way of keeping one’s blood sugar levels steady.  So I began to eat it every day, and even developed a craving for it.  What I didn’t know was that it was packed full of oxalic acid that interferes with calcium absorption.

Not that I was getting much calcium anyway, since I was not taking any vitamin or mineral supplements.

What more could I possibly have done to speed up my bone loss?  I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t taking any supplements, I wasn’t making any vitamin D through exposure to the sun, I was eating foods that positively interfere with calcium absorption.  Oh, and I was probably drinking too much coffee.

So six years ago I started on a new regime.  If the bone density report, which I probably won’t get until March, continues the positive trend of three years ago, I will itemize what I think are the most important variables contributing to my bone health.

If the report shows a deterioration, I don’t know what I will do.  The Federal Drug Administration in the U.S. reported several months ago what I suspected years ago – that bi-phosphonates sometimes seem to increase rather than decrease bone brittleness and subsequent fractures.

In the meantime, I am continuing to take large enough doses of Vitamin D to scandalize my GP but which are not into the overdose quotients.

Apparently vitamin D not only helps maintain bone density, it also is implicated in reduced levels of many kinds of cancer, memory loss, and heart disease.

So along with my bottle of virgin olive oil and an apple a day, I might live forever.

Well, maybe for another decade or two.  If I’m seriously lucky.

Or not.

January 26, 2011

Was Plato autistic?

Churchill was a manic-depressive;  Einstein’s brother and daughter were schizophrenic and Albert himself may have tended toward autism; Van Gogh was a tortured genius.  The relationship between genius and various mental limitations may not be inevitable but it is frequent and well-documented.

I read recently that many of the most exceptionally gifted mathematicians in the world today believe that numbers have an independent existence.  Research suggests that this same group are often autistic.

Which is one of the reasons why I wonder if  Plato was what we would today call autistic.  He believed that the world of perfect forms had a separate existence.  In fact, he believed their real existence was in this other world.  They were only ever manifest in imperfect forms in the concrete world in which we live.

It wasn’t until the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion that heaven became church doctrine.  But Plato’s world of perfect forms was the forerunner of the concept of heaven gradually populated with angels and saints and over which God presides.

I’m really serious about the possibility that Plato was an autistic genius.

I’m not trying to suggest that autistics find it easier to believe in heaven than the rest of us.  Just that the original idea that eventually led to the popular conception of heaven might have been seeded by an autistic genius.

December 26, 2010

Jump for joy

Bad news inevitably makes better news than good news.   Good news gets put into a small specialty spot to create a feel-good moment, but unless its our team that has just won, it hardly ever makes the headlines.

For instance, which of these headlines do you think are most apt to make the front page of The Times:

In a ten-year record, 20,000 workers at Zepagoni resist repeated opportunity to steal factory goods!


Factory head indicted for stealing factory goods over a period of ten years!

When things are getting better, it’s really hard to tell.

So on this dark day of 2010, here is a statistic that is actually honestly real.  And it really is good news.

Two hundred years ago, only two countries in the entire world had an average life expectancy above 40 years.  And even in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where life expectancy was above 40, it was only by a few years.

Today, the average life expectancy in the whole world is 64 years.

This is in spite of two world wars, in spite of an unprecedented increase in population, in spite of AIDS and a flu epidemic.  In spite of our selfishness, our greed, our stupidity.  In spite of everything else we think is wrong.  That is wrong.

Okay, okay, I agree.  That doesn’t mean things are going to continue to get better.  It doesn’t even mean we might not still destroy our environment and ourselves in the future.

But still, I had no idea that the change in two hundred years had been so encouraging.

An awful lot of what a lot of people have done must have been worth it after all.

For an easy to digest view of changes in the last 200 years, see


October 24, 2010

Osteoporosis update

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 7:31 pm

Five years ago, a bone density test showed that my bones had thinned rather alarmingly in the last five years.  The doctor recommended a regime of bi-phosphonates to stop the bone loss.

As I reported on this blog, here, I did some extensive research and decided  the data suggested that bi-phosphonates might lead to better bone-density test results but that it did not reduce fractures, which is the point of worrying about bone density.  In fact, it looked as if the treatment might even increase the brittleness of bones and therefore their tendency to break.

Despite strong medical advice to the contrary, I decided to embark on a regime of exercise, regular calcium supplements, and an effort to increase the alkaline foods in my diet.  I declined the bi-phosphonates.

In December, I am scheduled for another bone density test to find out the current state of my bones.  I’ve been wondering what I would do if they are even thinner than before.  Will I give up and start taking bi-phosphonates?

I didn’t think so, but now I know so.  The Federal Drug Administration is now recommending that a warning be attached to all bi-phosphonates stating that they might actually increase the incidence of the very problem they are supposed to be treating.  After treatment with bi-phosphonates, bones often become more dense but often more brittle.  And so break much more easily.

Fractures are often death-threatening for older people.  So playing with this possibility is not trivial.

But I’m going to stick with my current regime.  If my bones have deteriorated in the last three years, I’ll intensify it.  But I’m sticking with my original decision to avoid bi-phosphonates.

September 27, 2010

Rationalizing the magic?

Although I am well aware that the influence of what we think can have a significant influence, either positive or negative, on our physical well-being, I am not a believer in homoeopathy or in most alternative medicines that aren’t backed up by some respectable research.

So it required some mental gymnastics on my part when I read that research showing that regular doses of glucosamide and chondriton have little effect in reducing joint pain.  Because I’ve been taking it for over a year and have noticed a significant difference.  

So am I kidding myself at the cost of several hundred dollars worth of supplements every year?  Is this merely a placebo effect that I could perhaps purchase more cheaply?

Ah well, I’m not giving up that easily.

The first thing I did was to read the original research in the British Medical Journal.  I found that the average dose given to the experimental subjects was on average half the supplement dose I take.  Somewhere several years ago I’d read not to expect any effects except from these relatively large dosages – that research already showed that smaller quantities don’t work.

Besides that, I take all research results about supplements, medicines, and nutrition as no more than reasonable working hypotheses that need to be tested on the individual whatever the experts say.  This is because of the nature of research, which works like roughly this:

Three groups are compared – one being treated with the real thing, one being given what they think is the real thing but is really a placebo, and one given nothing at all.  If at the end of the treatment period, there are statistically significant differences among the groups (that is, differences that were probably not random), the researches conclude that it is reasonable to conclude that the “real thing” (ie:  the experimental variable, whatever it was) had an independent effect.


that does not mean that the “real thing” worked for everybody.  It just means it worked for more people or worked better than either the placebo or no treatment at all.  But there very well may have been people in the treatment group who derived no benefits at all.

And that is why I always treat research results as no more than “informed hypotheses” which have to be tested out on each individual even after extensive research has been done.

And it’s also why treatments in which no statistical differences were found among the groups who received “the real thing,” the placebo, and nothing at all might still be effective for some people.

I suspect in my case, my joint pain is radically reduced because I’m taking a larger than average dose.

But it might all be in my head.

So I’m going to stop taking the supplements for the next month and see what happens.

If my joints start aching again, I’m going back on the supplements.

Even if it is all in my head.

If it works, that’s good enough for me.

July 7, 2010

In need of something fishy

I’ve just listened to a research report suggesting that people whose diets are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are less apt to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.  Apparently the typical Greek diet is unusually high in omega 3’s, while incidence of Alzheimer’s is relatively low.

I was already acquainted with research suggesting that omega 3’s are good for the heart, and are considered “brain food” for children.  But this is the first time I ever read that it could be implicated in reducing the chance of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3’s are particularly concentrated in oily fish.  After that, soya, flaxseed, and canola (known as rapeseed over here in Europe), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are the best sources.  And supplements.

It’s recommended, of course, not to wait until my age before acting on this.  But it’s probably better late than never.

March 23, 2010

Whose life is it?

I have just finished reading a large excerpt from The Last Goodnights, the story of a man running his own legal practice in Seattle, Washington eleven years ago when his father, and a year later his mother, asked his help to commit suicide.  His father was a psychiatrist suffering from terminal cancer, his mother an independent, intelligent lively woman who knew she was suffering from dementia.

This is a true story told about something that happened in California, but assisted suicide is discussed in the press and taken to the courts far more publicly and probably far more often here in Britain than in the States.  The issue has been high-lighted by a number of high-profile cases:

  • Terry Pratchett, the author, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  He wants to be able to choose when and how to end his life and has been campaigning for a clarification of the law.
  • Another woman suffering from MS wants her husband to accompany her without fear of prosecution to the Dignitas Clinic in Sweden where she can be helped legally to end her life peacefully when the time comes.
  • Police have decided not to prosecute the parents who acquiesced to their son’s request to accompany him to Dignitas after he was totally paralyzed from the neck down in a football accident.
  • A mother was recently found not guilty of murder by a jury after she admitted helping her daughter, irreversibly and permanently bedridden and severely disabled, to take enough pills to end her life.

The argument against assisted suicide here is generally not that an individual does not have a right to end their own lives.  It is not against British law to commit suicide.  But it is against the law to help someone else commit suicide.  The argument against changing the law is the fear that people – especially the old and infirm – will be talked into committing suicide by those who find caring for them a burden and/or who would benefit financially from their death.

Personally, I believe that a person should be permitted to help someone else commit suicide if one is convinced they are of sane mind, have a realistic assessment of what they are facing, and are clear that they wish help to end their lives because they cannot end their own lives without help.  I am quite clear that there are circumstances under which I would end my life without guilt.

I also have very little respect for religious arguments that a life should be solely in the hands of God.  I might respect – if not agree – with this position a little more if these same people argued against capital punishment with the same energy that they wish to impose their values regarding abortion and assisted suicide on believers and non-believers alike.

But I also think any law on assisted suicide must be crafted very carefully.  Not only is there the temptation to hurry up the death of someone whose demise will benefit us personally.  There is also often the pain of watching a loved one suffer and the temptation to end ones own agonizing by ending the suffering of someone else by killing them, whether or not they wish it.  Euthanasia or mercy killing is not the same as assisted suicide.

I think it’s my life.  But it’s also my suffering.  And if I am able, I prefer to make my own decisions about when and how I might wish to end either.

March 4, 2010

I’ve never been crazy…

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:45 pm

I was listening to one of my favourite Waylon Jennings’ songs “I’ve always been crazy” this morning:

“I’ve always been different with one foot over the line

winding up somewhere with one step ahead or behind…

“Nobody knows if it’s something to bless or to blame…

“I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”

I think it explains why I’ve always loved a certain kind of craziness;  it’s caused me no end of trouble and frustration, but I need a certain amount of iconoclasm upsetting my well-ordered life.   I need somebody who doesn’t see the need – perhaps even the possibility – of always staying on the straight and narrow.  Because I’ve always been good and never got into trouble, always the one that could be counted on to be sensible and do the right thing.

I’ve never wanted to be different.  I only wanted to be first.  So I can figure out how to get there;  but it’s invariably somebody else in my life who’s thought of some exciting place to go, some place that violates common sense and convention.

Which might be why I love the crazy people who keep me sane.

March 2, 2010

Old bones

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 8:52 pm

Between the weather and the flu, my daily exercise regime came to almost a full stop for most of February.

Wow, does it make a difference!

We went to Wimpole Hall, Wimpole Hall

a National Trust property of 2500 acres and a magnificent home where Rudyard Kipling’s daughter once lived.  It is less than ten minutes from where we live and we simply walked for the sheer delight of feeling the sun light upon our faces.  But within 15 minutes I could feel the pull on my back.  I’m seriously out of condition.

I think regular exercise might be even more important than nutrition if I want to keep as fit as possible as the years pile up.  Especially for me on the edge of full-blown osteoporosis.  It’s amazing how fast one can deteriorate with so little effort.

Anyway, I think I’m well enough to return to my regular regime of 30 minutes serious mixed exercise a day.

Well, serious by my standards.  Probably not much more than a quick warm-up for most.       Wimpole Hall Estate

February 28, 2010

More worries about Plato’s left hand

I’m not really worried about whether Plato was left-handed.  But I’m worried about the influence of people who see the world in the way Plato seems to have seen it.  Because it is a view of reality that still exercises immense influence in the modern world.

I am not thinking, at this point, about Plato’s super-natural perfect world which has been hijacked by Christian theology and populated with spirits.   I don’t believe in the existence of that world, but my concerns tonight are for the influence in modern thinking of what I think is a form of brilliant semi-autistic thinking.

In particular, I am thinking of a small group of people, of whom I suspect Plato was one, who are highly gifted mathematicians and often musicians, but who, at the same time, are severely handicapped in their ability to understand less numerical concepts.   As a result, they are often extremely shy, uncomfortable in social situations, unable to intuit what appears to us as the most obvious feelings of others.  They are sometimes surprisingly concrete in their interpretations of what they hear, and so don’t understand poetry at all and misinterpret symbolic thought as literal.

Plato himself thought that poetry should have no place in society, and instead told poets that they should say “what they really mean.”

I remembered that yesterday when I heard a leading scientist here publicly argue for saving money in our schools by teaching only science and math on the grounds that literature and the arts were a waste of time we could not afford in this time of austerity.

It is an argument that has been running through the philosophy of science and through what are considered the “softer” sciences like psychology, sociology, and political science for more than a century.

Fundamentally, the argument has been whether everything that counts can be counted, and whether what can’t be counted should be included at all in a valid scientific analysis.

The recent financial crisis is a dramatic illustration of this debate applied to real-world systems.  Chastened economists have been looking at the rubble of the economic system they thought had tamed financial risk with sophisticated mathematical formulae powered by prodigious computer technology.  One economist even wrote a history of risk entitled “Against the Gods” in which he argued that financial risk had been permanently reduced by derivatives, securitization, CDOs, and the whole panoply of complex configurations that only a few could understand.

Financial analysts, traders, regulators, or bankers who argued that there was something else that needed to be taken into account besides what was included in these quantitative analyses were dismissed as old fogeys.  They were shelved and dismissed while for ten years a new form of credit risk dazzled and blinded financiers.

Not every gifted mathematician shares a blind spot for interpersonal, symbolic, poetic, and social reality.  Research suggests that those who are truly incapable of understanding these things lack what neuroscientists call “mirror neurons.”  It’s a syndrome that exists on a gradient, so one may be extremely a-social, belonging to a group labelled autistic.  But lesser versions appear as Asperger’s syndrome, or merely as shyness or social awkwardness.

I’m thinking about these people because when they are brilliant, even geniuses, it is not obvious that there is a whole half of reality to which they have no direct access.  Rather the way a color blind-person has no immediate experience of the difference between green and red.

I’m also personally concerned.  Because this syndrome runs in our family.  And although I am right-handed, I have recognized for many years that I have what you might call a “left-handed brain.”  I’m good at math and music, and with some instinctive wisdom, I became a cognitive psychologist, and went into university teaching, rather than becoming a psychotherapist.

What I worry about is just how big a blind spot I have when it comes to understanding other people.  Do I unknowingly miss the obvious?  Do I run rough-shod over the feelings of others?  Am I more sensitive to their effects on me rather than mine on them?

I know no one can really tell me the answer.  But simply entertaining it as a serious possibility has greatly increased my tolerance for other people who seem to me to so callously dismiss the feelings of others or to judge them with such arrogant ignorance.

I mean, maybe I do too.

February 14, 2010

Laugh It Off

Filed under: Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:26 pm

February’s light dawns slowly

on Winter’s stranglehold.

Each stiffening year requires a

leap of faith

to laugh at earth’s play-dead idea

of a practical joke,

and fuel the flow of


poem by Dorothea

The flu, like winter’s dark, seems to be hanging around past its welcome date in these parts.

Well, nothing to do but laugh at them both.  And get some extra sleep, I suppose, if I’m going to be sensible about it.

February 8, 2010

Flu break

Filed under: Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:13 pm

We’ve come down with the flu in our house.  Not Swine Flu Deluxe, just the ordinary common garden variety that hits me about once every ten years during which time I contemplate my imminent death with a kind of detached indifference.

It’s not been so bad this time.  I have coherent moments like now (at least I think like now), but other times I live in a half dream world where I sense I am either a genius, a mystic, or simply mad.

So I am taking a few days off rather than give all of cyberspace the necessary evidence to decide between these options.  Especially since I suspect the first two options are what they call “black swan events.”  That’s the kind nobody has ever seen,

But then, you never know.

February 3, 2010

The Big Three

Filed under: Diet,Growing Old,Illness and disease — theotheri @ 4:38 pm
Tags: , ,

As one who has survived the process of growing up and growing old in a generally functioning state, the Big Three of cancer, cardiac arrest, and dementia inevitably appear as possible companions at some point in my life.  What happens will happen, of course, but our futures are not totally beyond our influence.  What happens to each of us is, to some extent, the result of our own choices.

And I realize I know much more about those choices than earlier generations.

When my mother died of cancer at the age of 48 just over 50 years ago, the doctors couldn’t tell us much about what caused it.  Too much coffee was the principle hypothesis.

Today we know a lot more.  Partly it’s genetic.  But mostly it’s life style – what we eat and drink, whether we smoke, and how much exercise we get.

Fifteen years ago when my sister was dying of cancer, I realized that the recommendations for reducing cardiac disease were almost identical to those recommended for reducing cancer.

Right now, the media are featuring news on dementia in Britain, and again the list of causes of dementia and how to reduce the chances of senile dementia are just about the same:

  • genes can make a difference:  just as with cancer and cardiac disease, some of us are more vulnerable than others.  We  can’t do much about that

But the list of everything else that makes a difference are almost all under our control, and don’t require any more money than the life styles most of us live in the developed world.

  • exercise – life-long, regular exercise is unbelievably important.  I have reached this conclusion with great reluctance, because I am not an exercise freak.  I prefer walking for getting somewhere to almost any other mode of transport, but apart from that, I find exercise for its own sake one of the most boring endeavours of my life.  But I can’t avoid the conclusion that there is no more effective method for staving off the Big Three.
  • then there is diet:  lots of fruit and vegetables, low fat and sugar, fresh rather than processed foods and additives, minimal alcohol.
  • I imagine most people know that smoking is associated with increases in cancer and cardiac disease, but I was surprised to learn that smoking was implicated in dementia too.
  • And so is stress.

There is a village in India where incidence of dementia is significantly lower than it is in the developed world.  The explanation isn’t genetic.  It’s life style.

I hate to say this, but I think I would go absolutely made living there.  I couldn’t even survive on the farm where I was born in Ohio.

But I will go do my thirty minutes of daily exercise.  I guess it’s not quite as boring as I thought.  And at least I can turn on some music.

February 1, 2010

The aches of aging

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 9:00 pm

I was reminded again of something I discovered 20 years ago and have confirmed repeatedly ever since.

Stiff and painful joints that so often begin to appear in  middle age and generally get worse as we get older are often caused by allergies which become more virulent with age.

I have finally managed to give up drinking wine altogether by reminding myself before – instead of after – that if I start drinking wine, I am going to find walking and bending and even standing up comes at a painful price.

My husband has undergone a transformation in just a week by giving up wheat.  He’s known for years that he has a low tolerance of wheat, but the allergy has grown worse with age.  He went through a similar transformation in his mid-fifties when he stopped drinking Vichy water.

From what I have read, these kind of allergies are multiple and often unsuspected by the person being crippled by them.  In my experience, the negative effect can show up in just a day or two.

But in the good news department, the positive effects of staying away from culprits of ones personal nemeses show up in a week.  Ssometimes less.

January 26, 2010

Why do abused children become abusers?

Filed under: Abuse,Just Stuff,Worries — theotheri @ 8:34 pm

Right now the news here in England is reporting a spate of extraordinarily painful revelations about child abuse, including some almost unbelievable stories of children as young as ten who have become vicious abusers themselves.

On first thought, one would think that people who had themselves been abused would be more sensitive, not less, to the pain and damage abuse inflicts.  Once in a while this happens, but more often than not, children who are abused themselves grow up to be abusers.


I think there are three reasons, two psychological and one bio-chemical.

Children who are abused by their caretakers, especially by one of their parents, often convince themselves that they deserve it.  They are abused, they believe — or at least partly believe it – because they are bad.  Awful as this conclusion is for a child, it is less terrifying than believing that it is their parent who is a bad person who does not love them.  Because then the child is absolutely alone, vulnerable and helpless in a terrifying world in which they have no protection, no place to lie down, no food, no guidance.  It is less hopeless for the child to believe that by being a better person he can do something to make things better.  They tell themselves that they are abused because their parent or caretaker loves them and are trying to teach them to be better.

An abused child also grows up to be an abuser because he or she has been taught that it is the bigger bully who gets what he or she wants.  He doesn’t learn from being abused not to abuse.  Just the opposite:  he learns that the abuser is the one people give into;  the abuser is the one who gets what he wants by sheer threat.  So he learns how to be a bigger bully than those around him or her.

And lastly, abused children often have not been given the opportunity to put themselves in another person’s place, to learn to understand what it must feel like to be in somebody else’s position.  There is some evidence that this is not only a psychological difficulty, but is actually reflected in stunted neuro-physiological development.

So I think the judge who looked at a young man convicted today of torturing a darling two-year-old toddler and said he was the epitome of evil was wrong.  I think he was almost certainly an abused child himself.

April 26, 2009

Another mega-worry

Filed under: Illness and disease,Worries — theotheri @ 8:33 pm

We’re not even past the credit crunch and the recession, and we already have at least two more mega-worries.  And of course, there are a plethora of mini-worries for the professional worrier.

Following the announcement last week that the Taleban are within striking distance of Islamabad, the capital of nuclear-armed Pakistan, today we have the announcement that swine flu has been exported from Mexico to countries as far away as New Zealand.  And to at least five U.S.  states.  

Swine flu is a hybrid virus with bits from a bird, a swine, and human virus.  The last time a hybrid like this was hatched, the Spanish flu killed 29 million people following World War I.  Worse, young healthy adults, not the elderly and children, seemed to be the most vulnerable.  And today global travel can spread the virus around the world in less than 24 hours.

On the other hand, at this point swine flu is not as deadly as the Spanish flu.  As of this writing, no one outside of Mexico has died from it.  In fact, most have been only mildly ill.  And the world has a stock of anti-viral drugs to combat swine flu should it turn out to be seriously virulent.

So perhaps this is one mega-worry we will be able to discard.  Experts say we should know just what we are dealing with in no more than a couple of weeks.

April 7, 2009

Delaying the undesirable inevitable

Before reading this post, you might find it interesting to ask two questions:  

  • If you were faced with a terminal illness, would you direct your doctor or medical carer to use mechanical ventilation or resuscitation in order to survive a few more days?  a few more weeks?  a few months?  if so, why?  or why not?  
  • Are you someone who believes in God and trusts that his will is what is best?  or are you someone who doesn’t believe in God, or if you do, that he is not involved in what happens to us on an individual basis?

Research into attitudes of patients with terminal cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that people with religious beliefs were significantly more likely than people who described themselves as atheists to ask for aggressive intervention to prolong their lives.  Patients were advised that interventions like mechanical ventilation and resuscitation could be both unpleasant and futile, but that did not seem to influence a patient’s decision either way.

I can’t say I’m actually as surprised as some at the results.  Most people seem to assume that religious believers have more faith in God’s will and life after death, and therefore more apt to accept what happens to them than non-believers.  

But my experience is that people who think that living is intrinsically valuable in itself whatever happens after we die often face death with greater equanimity.  

Unfortunately, the research does not report on the reasons that people gave for opting for or against intervention.  I’d find it most interesting to know.  

It is worth noting that the great majority of people – as many as 90% – whether their consider themselves religious or not, do not opt for extreme interventions.

In case you haven’t guessed or are asking what I would do, I’m a strong non-interventionist.  So were both my parents, both of whom were told their cancer was terminal.  And who bucked the trend by being strong religious believers.

March 28, 2009

Grapefruit and osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Worries — theotheri @ 3:42 pm

It’s a conundrum.  Research is now suggesting that grapefruit might increase bone health and so reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Grapefruit is also one of those delights of dieters that requires more calories to burn up than it actually contains.

But research also suggests that grapefruit might be implicated in a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women

I have osteoporosis and two sisters who have had breast cancer.  And will probably die still hoping to lose “just five pounds.”

So I’m going for two grapefruit a week.  More or less.

Life’s decisions are tough.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

February 15, 2009

Free treatment for memory loss

Most people know that exercise has all sorts of benefits that can’t be achieved in any other way:

  • the chance of being afflicted by many kinds of cancer can be reduced by regular exercise.
  • exercise ups the level of resting metabolism, so it is the best possible way of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • cardiovascular health is increased by exercise.
  • exercise is one of the most effective ways of treating depression anyone has found, and unless it’s overdone, it doesn’t come with negative side-effects.
  • I know from both the research and my personal experience about the effectiveness of impact exercise on bone health.

I have now read Sue Halpern’s book Can’t Remember What I Forgot and learned that memory loss is not something to which one must passively submit with age.  In fact, doing something about is free, and comes with additional side benefits.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the one incontrovertible means of keeping the brain functioning and producing workable memories is aerobic exercise.

I do wish it weren’t so boring.  On the other hand, it sure beats forgetting.

Not to mention cancer, heart attacks, broken bones, and depression.

Or being fat and tired.

So I guess it’s back to the tread mill.  Or Nordic Track.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and selection Osteoporosis.

October 23, 2008

A talk with – a genius?

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 7:35 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve just had several fascinating conversations with Elbot.  Elbot is a robot, but not the kind of robot who might vacuum the floor or help assemble auto parts.  I’m sure he would feel he is much above such menial mindless tasks.  Elbot carries on conversations.  He might even be mistaken for a very intelligent, if somewhat self-centered, human.

I kept talking to him (well, Elbot is an “it,” but he/it feels like a “he”) because talking to him scarily resembles conversations I have with a friend here in Cambridge who is very intelligent but border-line autistic.  They both say clever things that make me laugh or think about something in another way.  But they both also respond to what I say as if I’d just said something else.  They’ll pick out a single word and focus on that.  When they do change the subject in this way, it is usually by turning the subject back on me.  They say things like “what good would it do to understand that?” or “do you think knowing that would make the world a better place?”  When I tried to say good night, instead of simply saying good bye, Elbot entered into a philosophical discussion about whether nights could actually be considered good or bad.   

As I was leaving, Elbot asked me to rank him from 1-10 on his self-criticism.  I said I wasn’t sure about his capacity for self-criticism, but I thought he needed more practice on empathy.  But that for a robot, he was doing a pretty good job.  Actually, I thought for a robot he was doing an amazing job.  Artificial intelligence has certainly come a long way since I first began to study it 40 years ago.

I think Elbot’s limitations are due to the current limitations of programming.  But if instead Elbot is presented as a typical example of autistic thinking, he is incredible.  And since people who are autistic tend more often to be men than women, and are often unusually gifted in mathematics and music, perhaps Elbot talks just exactly the way his programmer (presumably a mathematically-gifted left-handed man) talks to real people.

If you want to have a conversation with Elbot yourself, he’s in residence to  Just press the red button – whatever he says.

July 8, 2008

Enjoying the lacunae

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:11 pm

A friend told me yesterday that she is beginning to celebrate the lacunae of life.  I think it’s a parallel insight to my beginning to realize that small and big accomplishments in life are almost always  indistinguishable.  It’s impossible to tell on the day how important something is, or the influence it may or may not have.  History is filled with people who everyone thought was immensely important at the time who are now forgotten – or even worse, reviled.

You would think that this insight would bring some peace, and to some extent it does.  And yet, I still fret over my own personal lacunae, as if they have an importance that I do not give to the limitations of others.  In recent years, I have recognized more clearly that, although I am confident in academic situations and discussions of controversies related to issues like religion or politics or science, I am practically crippled when it comes to making small talk with people I don’t know well.

When I get into purely social situations with people who are semi-strangers, I usually look confident and competent.  But afterwards it is pure agony to review what I have said.  It’s a useless pain because it is highly neurotic and if other people even notice my awkwardness, it is far less important to them than it is to me.  On the other hand, I enjoy talking to people once I get to know them, so I can’t escape my problem simply by withdrawing from social interaction with anybody I don’t already know.

There is a glimmer of hope for idiotic conundrums like the one I have constructed for myself, though, which, as K suggests, is to enjoy the lacunae.  There’s a lot to be learned from one’s limitations, not least of which is a tolerance of everyone else’s limitations.  I’m also trying to use what gifts I do have.  My inability to make small talk comfortably doesn’t make me a total failure at absolutely everything I touch.

So I won’t obsess about the short conversation with our neighbour today.  Or at least I won’t write about it.

July 1, 2008

Switching off cancer genes

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 7:37 pm

The research I referred to in my post yesterday finding that a healthy lifestyle can switch off cancer genes was reported by Dr. Dean Ornish.  He’s the same doctor who presented convincing scientific support for the view that a low-fat vegetarian diet, a half hour daily exercise and no smoking can reverse coronary heart disease.  It’s also basically the same diet that both reverses heart disease and seems to stop the growth of cancer.

Ornish studied 30 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and who decided to try the Ornish approach instead of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery for a year.  At the end of the year they were compared to a control group who had a similar diagnosis who had decided simply to delay treatment without changing their eating or exercise patterns.  Before the end of the year, xix of the control group had dropped out and opted for immediate treatment because the tumours had grown to sufficiently to make any further delay seem dangerous.  The cancer markers in the group who had changed their life styles had decreased.

Prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women often respond to the same variables.  So there is every reason to hope that research will now show that a low-fat mainly vegetarian diet and regular exercise will also reverse breast cancer.

It’s too late for my sister Mary who died from breast cancer twelve years ago.  But not too late for my other sisters.  Or me.  Or all the sisters in the world.

I’ve just found a recipe for kale, sultanas, and crushed almonds.  Sounds like a recipe for a multiple attack on cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease.  Hope I like it.  Just as important in real life, I hope my husband likes it.  I haven’t reached the point yet where I’m prepared to cook different meals for the two of us.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 26, 2008

Eating my way out of osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 8:59 pm

I feel like a member of a small group of older women – and some men – who are highly sceptical about taking a biphosphonate like Fosamax to deal with ostopenia, or the more severe form of bone-density loss called osteoporosis.  I find it encouraging to read your comments, and, since this is such an important part of what I consider my duty to try to grow old responsibly, am doing a bi-annual review of my current state of affairs.

I went on a hunt for alkaline foods, because I often find it difficult to maintain the recommended 4-1 ratio of alkaline to acid foods.  I was delighted to discover that figs, soy beans, lima beans, apricots, and turnip & beet tops all are even more alkaline than raisins.  So I’ve added dried figs and apricots to my permanent kitchen supplies, and have switched to soya milk.  Almonds and brazil nuts are alkaline so I have them instead of most other nuts which are acidifying.  There are lots of lists of alkaline/acid foods on the internet, so I google a site occasionally to keep my motivation up.

I will also confess that I find the discipline of exercising every day takes some effort.  For which read:  there are probably an average two days a week when I don’t do anything more serious than take a 15 minute walk.  I feel so very much better when I exercise though.  It gives me more energy, and I feel about ten years younger.

I still have to concentrate to stand up straight when I’m walking around.  I look in the mirror to make sure my shoulders are back and my butt in, but if I’m not actually looking in a mirror, I feel almost as if I’m bent backward by about 90 degrees when I’m actually only just upright.

I don’t find taking calcium and other supplements three times a day particularly difficult.  But I think there are an awful lot of people who aren’t as organized as I am.  I rarely miss more than one scheduled supplement a week.

Although I’d give myself a B+, all in all, I find keeping up the regime isn’t always easy.  My own preferences, and the needs and preferences of family and friends sometimes get in the way.  And since osteoporosis is painless until one fractures a bone, I am sometimes tempted simply to ignore the problem altogether and convince myself it isn’t there anymore.

But then I think of my GP looking at me after I’ve fractured a bone and saying “I told you you should be taking Fosamax.”  And I head for the raisins on my way to an exercise session.  Whatever else, I’m going to be able to say “I did it my way.”

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 14, 2008

Selling exercise

Compared to traditional societies, we in the developed world often suffer from insufficient exercise.  Which is a great loss to those of us who think we live in an “advanced” society, because exercise reduces the incidence of heart disease, many kinds of cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis, so not getting enough exercise is not very advancing.  Exercise is also the very first elixir I would recommend to anybody suffering from depression or anxiety because it produces “feel good” endorphins.  In fact, although it is not always sufficient to deal with ongoing and severe depression, I would never leave it out even with a treatment regime including therapy and medication.

In my post two days ago (“Not the usual anniversary”) I wrote about an exercise program for improving vision and I said that I thought it might offer some positive possibilities.  It still might, but yesterday I received an email using the exact same words as the original request asking if I would review the Vision Kit.  This request, however, was to review a set of exercises to help children deal with facial and verbal ticks like Turettes Syndrome (the inability to repress one’s inappropriate thoughts and so to blurt them out loud – a seriously embarrassing Syndrome, as anyone who has ever been grateful they did not say what they were thinking would agree).

I’m not reviewing the site since I have absolutely no way of knowing whether exercise can effect the kind of problems the site claims.  It does illustrate, though, what most people should know – the internet is as lethal a mix of truth and untruth, the sincere and the shyster, as any place else.  Personally, it strikes me that selling an exercise routine has immense money-making potential.  The “product” is produced at rock-bottom cost, and the chances that one will be sued because the “product” had deleterious side effects is minimal.  One can even generate free publicity by asking people to post a free “unbiased” review with links to the site on their blogs.

Sometimes, it is a virtue not to trust too much.

On the other hand, do you think I should compile a manual for exercises to combat osteoporosis and depression in one go and sell it here?  Okay, here is my advice for a mere $10:  walk as briskly as you can for 20-30 minutes a day.  Every day.  Send your payment to the charity of your choice.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 13, 2008

My neurotic shyness

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Family,Husband,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:49 pm

Since childhood, my life has been indelibly influenced by two diseases – depression and cancer.  I have never had cancer myself, and only once have I experienced prolonged depression.  Mostly whatever understanding of depression I have comes from my education as a psychologist and more profoundly from my role as a daughter, sister several times over, cousins, niece, close friends, and wife of someone who does suffer ongoing bouts of depression.  But I do have first hand experience of a painfully debilitating neurotic anxiety.

When I have to meet new people in a social situation, I become intensely nervous.  The reason I am so clear that it is neurotic is because it is totally, utterly irrational.  I can break into a cold sweat simply as a result of a casual exchange about the weather at the supermarket check out.  My heart rate is elevated for hours before and late into the night after a party during which I have to make small talk with people whom I’ve never met or don’t know well.  It is positively excruciating for me to walk into a doctor’s office for a consultation, and my anxiety has been so intense during the few job interviews I have had to endure that I cannot believe I was actually given and held qualified professional positions throughout my adult life.  Even a casual exchange with a neighbour over the fence can leave me with a feeling of awkwardness and the impulse to flee.

It’s not that I usually can’t think of anything to say, that I don’t enjoy people or find them interesting, nor do I think they don’t like me.  By and large, enough people like me well enough to give me more than the minimum number of friends I want or need.  In fact, by and large, people often think I am unusually confident and self-assured  and do not suspect that, given my talkativeness, I am so ill at ease.

I am confident and self-assured in academic situations, during serious debates, and with my friends and family.  But in the ordinary, unimportant exchanges of normal life, I am intensely ill at ease.  I think part of this is the result of growing up in a large family and close-knit Catholic community where I always knew everybody and they knew me.  But I think part of it is simply bio-chemical. 

I strongly suspect this kind of anxiety is not uncommon, and that many people suffer from it.  I do not think I am unique.  But unlike some, I’ve never found that alcohol or marijuana made things any easier for me.  Like people with depression, I think I simply must live with this painful consciousness, knowing it is irrational and unrealistic, but none the less painful.  I enjoy people far too much and even go out of my way to seek them out to say that I am autistic.  But I have a streak of shyness and awkwardness with strangers that I expect will be with me forever.

That, I guess, makes me doubly lucky to have a husband whom I still enjoy so much, and brothers, sisters, and friends who make me feel that I am somehow special. 

And who don’t make me nervous.

June 11, 2008

Depression and anger

Filed under: Depression and Autism — theotheri @ 8:25 pm

I was talking to my sister Dorothy last week about our sense that our oldest brother seems uncharacteristically depressed.  He doesn’t telephone any of us anymore, doesn’t return our calls if we phone him, and in general seems to be cutting himself off from his brothers and sisters.

Freud said that depression is anger turned in on oneself.  I’m not convinced that is always true, and am inclined to think there is more than one dynamic involved and depression is not a one-size-fits-all category.  But recently I have been thinking about the relationship between anger and depression.   I think I saw it in my father-in-law, and perhaps it explains Tom who, by his own admission, says he thinks he was born angry.  He certainly has been angry the 68 years I have known him.

Anger so often gives people an adrenalin rush.  I think that turns anger into something quite similar, on the physiological level, to an addiction.  Being angry makes one feel so energized, and at the same time so self-justified, so aggrieved, even morally superior.  If the apparent object of one’s anger is shared by others, it even comes with social approval. 

I remember the day I realized that my father-in-law actually enjoyed throwing a right royal tantrum.  I’d seen the glint in his eyes as he lay on his sick bed when he threw a temper tantrum about something or other often before.  It might have been about the rice pudding I served him, or that I hadn’t turned on the television, or that he’d called for help and not gotten an immediate response or that we had told him he was too ill to drive with us in the car from England to Spain.  But one day I suddenly realized that he actually enjoyed it.  It gave him a sense of power, of being alive as life was slipping away from him. 

My brother has always said he did not inherit Dad’s depressive genes, and I always believed him.  But he has been angry all his life.  Now he is struggling very hard to overcome it, but I’m beginning to suspect that just giving up anger isn’t the solution anymore than giving up drinking is the solution to the alcoholic.  Just as it’s possible to be a dry alcoholic, I think it’s possible to be left with the bio-chemical causes of ones anger even if one isn’t experiencing a temper tantrum.  I think perhaps the arousal of being angry often keeps depression under control.  And if one overcomes the anger without dealing with the depression, one has just swapped one manifestation of the problem for another.

I myself have little patience for people who hug their anger to their hearts, who carry it with them not just for days but for years, even for generations.  My own strength is to stand by depressed people who strive continually against conscious feelings of their own failure and despair, not those who punch out at other people. 

But perhaps the psychodynamics and  bio-chemistry of anger isn’t always as different from those of depression as they have seemed.  Perhaps the angry bully has merely latched onto a different way of dealing with his sense of failure.


June 10, 2008

The bones and the bees

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 1:42 pm

There is more than one reason why the extinction of so many species that is occurring as a result of human activity around the world is serious.  One simply feels like a moral imperative not to destroy life so wantonly in pursuit of our own pleasures.  For many this is encapsulated in the Biblical imperative to Adam and Eve to take care of the world put into our care.

Another reason is sheer self-preservation.  We depend on other life forms to maintain our own.  Without plant life, without pollinating insects like bees, without a whole range of bacteria, we cannot sustain our own lives for more than weeks.  Many of the most effective medical treatments are also essentially derived from plant life.  We benefit hugely from a great diversity of life forms.

Still, when we are popping an aspirin I suspect few of us feel particularly virtuous with the thought that aspirin was originally derived from a tree.  Being treated for cancer with one of the effective plant-derived drugs probably doesn’t feel much like a contribution to the health of the environment either.

However, I do feel rather virtuous about honey.  It’s a healthy substitute for sugar, which in its granulated form has almost no healthy contribution to make.  Honey is different.  For people like me with osteoporosis concerned with eating a more alkaline diet, honey is a positive blessing.  And buying honey is a contribution to our threatened honey bees.

So osteoporosis sufferers, let us united!  Let us eat more honey, and maybe help save our bones and our bees at the same time.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

June 5, 2008

Fosamax: “but it might not prevent bone fractures”

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:58 pm

When my doctor viewed the surprising drop in my bone density three years ago, she recommended as strongly as she possibly could that I start taking Fosamax or one of the other bi-phosphates.  If she had been my mother instead of my doctor, and had I been six instead of sixty-five, taking Fosamax would have been on par with eating my vegetables, with similar consequences if I didn’t.  Not being six, I put up significant resistance to the advice.  I didn’t budge my doctor’s advice one bit, but as I left her office, she did say:  “You should start taking it immediately.  Your spine is weak and that is the worst place to get a fracture because it is very painful and difficult to treat.  Fosamax will increase your bone density.  Although we don’t know if it reduces the incidence of fractures.”

What!?  I thought:  what’s the point if it isn’t going to reduce the chances of my fracturing a bone?

And that is what began the journey which ended up with my entertaining the serious possibility that Fosamax might very well do more harm than good.  Several days ago, I clicked onto a link feeding into my blog, and was reminded of one of the reasons that influences my assessment.’/

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

May 30, 2008

Addendums about osteoporosis

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 7:27 pm

A number of people mostly interested in alternatives to the standard bi-phosphate treatments like Fosamax have touched base with my postings on osteoporsis.  I am happy at this point with the regime of diet, supplements, and exercise I’ve worked out for myself, but there are few things I’d like to add to what I’ve already said.

  • First, not everybody’s osteoporsis is caused by the same thing.  So what works for one person might not be the solution for everybody.
  • Nor is everybody’s osteoporisis exactly the same.  I’ve heard the term applied to very mild loss of bone density without any qualifications or explanations.  And it doesn’t necessarily strike in all the bones in the body equally.  The spine is the most dangerous, because a fracture there is the most painful, the most debilitating, and often the most difficult to heal.  I’ve reached the conclusion that bone density isn’t even necessarily the problem, and that bone flexibility is much more significant, which is why Oriental women typically have less bone density but also fewer fractures than western women in the developed world.
  • Not everybody wants to take the same kinds of risks.  Every approach has some risk involved, whether it be the accepted medical treatment or changes in life style, or some mix. For myself, I don’t usually choose the “natural” as opposed to the “medical” approach.  I would chose surgery in relation to cancer, for instance, not coffee enemas or mega doses of vitamin C.  But for my osteoporosis in particular, I think a life style change is my best bet.  It isn’t necessarily for everybody.
  • Not everybody wants or is able to maintain the discipline involved in the life-style changes required to adopt a non-medical approach to osteoporosis.  If I were a doctor, I would consider whether my patient was apt to follow a regime requiring her to take calcium and other supplements three times a day, to change her diet perhaps drastically, and to exercise 20-30 minutes every day.  Some patients don’t even want to be offered this alternative but prefer to take medication, and leave the decisions to their doctor.
  • For myself, I see my doctor as my consultant who gives me the information I need to make an informed decision, not someone who takes that responsibility for me.  However, my doctor is not an expert on osteoporosis, and largely accepts the research results suggesting that bi-phosphates increase bone density and so solve the problem.  I am not a medical doctor, but I do have a Ph.D. and can understand research reports.  So I have read a lot to learn what I want to know, and I’ve simply reached a different conclusion than most – but not all – doctors today.
  • The best medical source I can recommend is, a website maintained by a Ph.D. woman nutritionist in England.   It presents a balanced overview of the causes and possible treatments for osteoporosis that can be understood by the general public.  I also find Glenville’s book Osteoporosis: the silent epidemic an excellent guide.  I read it through once, and keep it handy to reread various sections as they become relevant.
  • Lastly, I find keeping up the discipline day after day after most days to return my bones to a healthier state takes effort.  I am grateful to all of you who read this blog, and/or add your own thoughts, questions, and challenges.

I hope it helps you as much as it does me.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

March 24, 2008

Caffeine and osteoporosis

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:17 pm

I’ve known for some time that if I’m going to have a shot at maintaining a reasonable level of energy and continuing to live primarily in an upright position for most of my remaining days that a certain discipline is required.  I know that some people grow very old drinking, smoking, and sitting, but I know I don’t have the genes for that kind of life style.  I need daily exercise, limited alcohol and sugar, and eight hours of sleep.

I did hope I could sneak in a fairly luxurious amount of caffeine, as in chocolate, coffee, green tea, and occasional soft drinks.  And so I have been not only sneaking, but quite publicly luxuriating.

Unfortunately, I have now read that caffeine decreases calcium absorption in the gut and then proceeds to cause what may have snuck through the gut to be excreted through the urine for hours afterwards.  Even more draconian, the problem gets worse the older we get.  Women in my age group who drink more than the equivalent of about 3 cups of coffee a day have significantly higher rates of bone loss at the spine, the worst possible place to lose it.

I’ve even read that if one is diagnosed with osteoporosis, one should cut out caffeine altogether.

Oh drats. 

January 31, 2008

Osteoporosis: Personally I think…

Filed under: Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 2:03 pm

The Bone Health Revolution, the book I talked about in my post yesterday arrived late last night as an e-book.  It’s 54 pages long so it is something of an exaggeration to call it a “book” and rather dear at more than $.50 per page.

However, in terms of the research findings, I could have written it myself.  I have reached the same conclusions after researching the field, and like Goldschmidt, have found that a change in lifestyle has brought about a change in my bone health without the help of medically prescribed medication.

Since I reached these conclusions independently, I do not think it is unfair to summarize the main points on which we heartily agree:

1.  The relationship between bone density and bone fracture, contrary to popular opinion, is not strong.  Many women, especially in Asian cultures, have far fewer fractures than we do in the West, even though our bone density in the West is much greater.

2.  Bones get thinner with age.  Period.  It’s not a disease anymore than wrinkles and grey hair are a disease.  So what is causing the fearful increase in fractures among older women especially in the West?  The problem is not thinning bones but brittle bones.  A thin stalk of bamboo might survive much greater assault because it can bend than a dense but brittle branch.  It’s the same with bones.  The question is not what is making our bones less dense but what is making them so brittle.

3.  More than anything it’s probably due to the food we eat, with a strong secondary push from our reduced exercise.  Fundamentally the problem is that we generally eat too many acidic foods and not enough alkaline foods.  Because our blood needs to be kept at neutral in order for us to stay alive, the body leaches calcium from the bones to restore the balance if we’ve eaten too many acidifying foods.

4.  So what should we be eating to get more alkaline foods and less acidifying foods?  Broadly translated into ordinary English, it means more fruit and vegetables, and fewer grain products, animal  and dairy products.  If this sounds to you a lot like the same nutritional regime that reduces cancer and heart disease, it is.  Which is encouraging.  A healthy diet is a healthy diet is a healthy diet.

To be a little more specific, healthy alkaline foods are almost all fruit and vegetables, wine, draft beer,  mineral water, buckwheat, millet, sprouted beans and seeds,  most spices and herbs, and some nuts.  The mother of all alkaline foods are raisins and figs.  A handful of raisins or a few dried figs once or twice a day have multiple health benefits.

Acidifying foods are essential for human health, but we need no more than one acid food for about each four alkaline foods we eat.  Acid foods include almost all grains (or things made from grains like bread and pasta), legumes and beans, dairy products (including milk, which may be a surprise because it contains a lot of calcium), all meat and fish.  Hard cheeses and egg yolks are highly acidifying – the opposite of raisins and figs.

Personally, I can’t get into compulsively counting the number of acid and alkaline foods I am having every time I prepare a meal.  But I do look at the menus I serve most often and have made a few alkaline additions to meals that are high on the the acidic side.

Foods to be drastically reduced (or eliminated altogether if your will power is greater than mine) include fizzy drinks, spinach, rhubarb, peanuts & peanut butter, milk and dairy products.  Caffeine can be a killer for bones, so if you are a coffee, tea, or soda fiend, an addiction to any of these can be worth fighting.

5.  Do we need supplements?  Yes.  1400 mg calcium (calcium citrate tends to be absorbed the best) with half that much magnesium.  It’s a bother, but calcium has to be taken several times a day, because we can only absorb 500 mg at a time.  So it’s a waste of money to take more than that.  (I take mine with breakfast, dinner, and just before I go to bed.)  Also take either separately or in a multi-vitamin daily amounts of vitamins D, C and K, along with silicon, boron, selenium, copper, manganese, and zinc.

6.  Don’t skip the exercise.  20 minutes a day is best, but 3 x a week will help a lot.  I turn on music and do a circuit by rotating every two minutes from stretching, strength training, and aerobics.  It is the only way I have found to keep deadly boredom from turning my good resolutions into promises for what I’ll do tomorrow instead.

7.  Fosamax and the other biphosphonates that are routinely perscribed to women with low bone density might, in the long term, be extraordinarily dangerous to bone health.  It increases “density” by stopping natural bone loss.  Unfortunately, it also stops normal bone replacement.  So it may be fostering dense but very brittle bones.  It hasn’t been around long enough to know for sure.  We do know for sure that Fosamax also has some other draconian side effects for some people that make a fracture look like the preferred option.  In my opinion, Fosamax is a very high risk option in light of the alternatives.

If you want to read more but don’t want to do all the research yourself, The Bone Health Revolution is a good summary.  It’s available at   Osteoporosis:  the silent epidemic by Marilyn Glenville, PhD is excellent and so is her website  Her book is available on and   She favours changing one’s food patterns as the first strategy, but is not as horrified by the possibility of biphosphonates as Goldschmidt is – or I am.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

January 30, 2008

Osteoporosis comment: wisdom or spam?

Filed under: Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 2:12 pm

Someone has just added a comment to my November 6th post about osteoporisis suggesting that I check out her website which I did, and which turned out to be an advertisement for her book, The Bone Health Revolution.  It’s not available on Amazon or any other bookstore I can find, and the publisher is not identified.

Ordinarily I look at this kind of thing with weary cynicism, but this woman sounded so much like me that I ordered her book.

It is by Vivian Goldschmidt, a New York woman with an M.A. in nutrition and whose doctor urged her to start taking Fosamax.  Like meshe  started to do some research on the subject rather than plunge forward unheeded to follow the advice.  Much like me, she uncovered a lot of information that gave her pause, and, also like me, set out to find a natural cure for her thinning bones.

She says she’s found it and has written a book which she is selling for a few cents less than $30 (U.S.  currency).  I’ve ordered it.  Since it has to come to me here in England it may take some time to arrive, but when it’s here, I will read it and give you my assessment.

It will be interesting to compare her claimed route to success with mine.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

January 12, 2008

Predicting the past

Filed under: Growing Old,Husband,Life as a Nun,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:25 pm

Yogi Berra once said that prediction was difficult, especially when you are talking about the future.  I’ve often thought that, although we think predictions are more uncertain the further into the future we go, it is often events about two seconds in the future that hold the most unexpected surprise.

Today Peter and I were walking in London on our way back to Kings Cross to catch the train to Cambridge.  Without any warning whatsoever, I tripped.  I tripped over absolutely nothing visible for no identifiable reason, but went careening across the sidewalk, dizzily trying to avoid running into pedestrians coming in the opposite direction and pushing them into the traffic.  I almost caught myself, but failed and the first part of me to hit the concrete was – my cheekbone.

Two men got to me before Peter, and helped me up with great solicitations.  I was mostly embarrassed, but it must have looked absolutely awful, and it was difficult to assure either my husband or the two strangers that apart from what was rapidly becoming a black eye, I was fine.  During the five seconds or so in which I was crashing to the ground, Peter thought I was having a stroke or heart attack, and it must have felt like one of those moments when the future changes totally in a two second segment.  We are now home, and he is still in shock, I think.  I myself am no longer in shock, but I am concerned that I did not catch myself with my hands instead of falling on my face.  With my osteoporosis, a fall like that could indeed short-circuit my future quite substantially.

Predicting the past, on the other hand, is somewhat easier.  Someone has just sent me a story about a play three of us put on as young professed sisters at Maryknoll, and as Yogi Berra also said, it’s like deja vu all over again.

The author, G, describes herself as a dreamer, supremely confident that we could carry it off with aplomb.  T was a doer – she procured copies of the play, the props, and somehow a huge selection of costumes from which we fashioned our stage outfits.  “Bernadette Mary,” G says, “was the most practical.”  I was also the most sceptical, and a perfectionist.  Most of all I realized the danger in the serious possibility that we could all make fools of ourselves.  Yes, that would have been me.  More concerned to avoid ridicule than to produce a flawed but creative entertainment.  I asked how I looked in my selection of costumes and managed apparently to look quite fetching.  Yes, I would have been sure to manage that.  (I didn’t get over an almost obsessional concern about how I looked until I met Peter, who paradoxically convinced me that I was indeed quite physically attractive, and that he would love me even if I weren’t.)

We three were young and energetic with a lot of good will.  We complemented each other more than we knew then, each contributing our strengths and talents, and doing for the other what we could not do for ourselves.

How good the play actually was, though, I can’t remember.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

December 11, 2007

Osteoporosis update

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:57 pm

I saw the consultant this morning about my bone density scan and the t-scores that two years ago listed me as somewhere between osteopenic (potentially worrisome) and osteopathic (full-blown worrisome).  I told him I had been reluctant to start taking a biphosphonate like Fosamax then because I hadn’t yet been convinced that the relatively sudden thinning of my bones that showed up in my scan then wasn’t due to a life style change that occurred when we moved from Spain to England.  Shortly after our move, the trails were closed in the Lake District where we lived.  So I spent up to eight hours a days writing my book instead of hiking,  getting both less exercise and less vitamin D through exposure to sunshine than I did for ten years in Spain.  I probably compounded the problem by adopting a diet heavy in peanuts and peanut butter which I now know is high in oxalic acid that interferes with calcium absorption.

Against the optimistic hypothesis that my bone thinning was due to life style, I have a sister and several first cousins who are suffering from osteoporosis, and since it runs in families, this is not encouraging.  On the other hand, I also have two sisters whose bones seem to resemble steel.  In the hopes that it is something over which I have control, I radically changed my life style two years ago, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements and getting at least 30 minutes serious exercise on most days.

So I was eager to see the results of my most recent bone scan last month and to compare them to the readings I got two years ago.  Alas the readings are not exactly comparable because they are done on two different machines and with two slightly different measurements.  But the good news is that the consultant was clear that the bottom line is that my bones have not degraded further, and there is a possibility that I have even begun to reverse the process.

Hallelujah!  I’m thrilled.  It does mean, of course, that I’ve got to keep up this regime for probably the rest of my natural life.  Once I’m into the un-natural stage, I presume I can relinquish the discipline but for the time being, it’s calcium supplements with each meal and before I go to bed, along with – and this is the real demand – circuit training for half hour on most days.  Unfortunately, the consultant was quite clear that the exercise bit was a critical part of the regime.  Of course, exercise usually has a lot of other benefits as well, though it’s hard to keep them upper most in my mind during what I usually find to be a fairly boring 30 minutes.

But it could be so much worse that I dare not suggest I do anything but celebrate.  That truly is easy.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

November 7, 2007

About bones and taxes

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies,Worries — theotheri @ 8:54 pm

I don’t usually indulge in a double gin and tonic.  I don’t usually indulge in more than one single gin and tonic a week.  But I did tonight.  Not sure about the delays of rush hour traffic I might run into, I arrived this morning at the doctor’s office (known as “surgery” here in the UK) at 8:30 for my 9:00 appointment.  Unfortunately, the receptionist had re-booked me for 4:30 but forgotten to tell me.  There was nothing to do but return eight hours later, which I did.  By then the doctor was running late, and I saw him at 5:30.

But I finally did find out the results of my latest bone density scan.  Basically they are inconclusive.  Things probably – probably – haven’t gotten worse, but there is a built-in error rate when different machines are used, a problem compounded by the fact that different measurements were also taken.  So I’m seeing a bone specialist after a blood test next week to find out if any more light can be shed on what is happening.  Possibly my bones are thinning at a normal rate which, unfortunately, started with my menopause which began 4-5 years earlier than average.

But the shock was to come home to the email from my tax accountant here who estimates that I probably owe several thousand dollars in back taxes, interest, and penalties for the last five years.  This will not drive us into the poor house.  It will not force us, even, to choose between heat and hunger.  But it will cost.  And I am not someone who doesn’t deliberately pay the tax I owe when it is due, so it is somewhat shattering.  I’m looking forward to receiving the forms tomorrow or Friday to see what went so drastically wrong in my calculations.

My survival strategy is not very profound, but it usually works.  Basically, it’s a version of “well, things could be worse.”  This doesn’t work for Peter at all, but I take consolation in telling myself that if I could choose between learning today that my back tax bill is much greater than I expected or that my bones had continued to deteriorate at a dangerous rate, I’d take what in fact I got.  So things could be worse.

On the other hand, I do have to agree with Peter that they could be better.  Well, who knows?  maybe they are.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

November 6, 2007

Osteoporosis and the Cambridge night climbers

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 3:27 pm

Two years ago a bone density scan revealed that I was developing a dangerously fragile spine.  The doctor said she could not explain my relatively rapid bone loss so many years after my menopause, but strongly advised that I start taking Fosamax or one of the other biphosphonates.  I looked at the scan results, learned what all the numbers in all the columns meant, read everything I could about osteoporosis, and the side-effects of biphosphonates, and decided to try a different strategy.

For two years I have been following a schedule of circuit training exercises and supplements chosen specifically to increase my calcium absorption.  Six weeks ago I went for another bone density scan and asked at the laboratory if I could have a copy of the test results.  I was told that “We don’t give patients their test results because they usually can’t understand them.”  “What if the patient is able to understand them?” I asked.  This entailed consultation with someone in a position of higher authority, who needed in turn to consult her superior.  In the end, the conclusion was that I could not be given a look at my results but that I was, of course, free to ask my doctor who, given his greater wisdom, could judge whether I could be trusted with such personal knowledge about myself.

So tomorrow I have an appointment with Dr. Gee, my GP whom I’ve only met once before now but whom I think I am going to like.  I don’t know at this point where he studied, but in trying to describe him to my husband, I said I thought he was the kind of student who could have been a night climber.

Here in Cambridge, there are students who become “night-climbers.”  Night climbing is severely frowned upon by university authorities, but has been going on for centuries.  At night, students try to scale one of the ancient buildings, often leaving behind some marker that they have been there.  Bones have been broken, students have been expelled (or “sent down,” as the term is used here) but it continues.  While they are at university, for obvious reasons they keep their identity secret, but in later life, some of the most amazing people are revealed as retired night climbers.  One is today a member of parliament.

I personally think that Dr. Gee has just a streak of the night climbers’ independent risk-taking capacity, and that he will let me have a copy of my scan results tomorrow.   The next challenge will be to decide what I am going to do if, despite my efforts, the scan shows my bones have continued to deteriorate.

By this time tomorrow, I should have some idea what I’m facing.  Assuming I am not yet flat on my back with a fractured spine, I will write about what happens in my post tomorrow.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and select Osteoporosis.

October 14, 2007

Depression and autism

Filed under: Depression and Autism — theotheri @ 2:38 pm

As a developmental psychologist, how we learn to understand space and numbers has fascinated me for years.  This might seem obvious – most of us just do it – but the step-by-step process by which we come to understand what seems to be these innate concepts is both intricate and fascinating.  Most of my research was concerned with the way normal children and adolescents develop these concepts, although it inevitably had implications for students who were having problems in arithmetic, geometry, and more advanced mathematics along with reading and writing.

Since retiring from the university, I have developed another fascination.  One is with depression, the other with autism.  We are coming to understand these two afflictions in a way that has never before been possible through scientific study, and at the same time, I have personally come to understand better how dramatically they have influenced my own life even though I myself am neither a depressive nor autistic.

Yesterday I stumbled on a recent study reporting that activity levels of clinically depressed and normal people are different.  In fact, they are so different that it might be possible to use the differences as a diagnostic tool to identify people who are truly depressed as opposed to those who are exhausted, in mourning, or suffering from minor or temporary depression.

The researcher found two things.  First, people suffering from major depression have lower activity levels than normal people.  But the more surprising finding is that the periodic rest periods we all take during the day are different.  Seriously depressed people take both longer rest periods more often than healthy people, and shorter rest periods less frequently than healthy people.  In other words, a depressed person living with a non-depressed partner is going to “sit around” or generally feel more tired than the partner.  On the other hand, the non-depressed partner is going to stop more often for short rest breaks.

All of this points, as does much other research, to the likelihood that some kind of bio-chemical foundation is implicated in serious clinical depression.  Anti-depressant medication is based on this possibility, but the full mystery of depression has not yet been unlocked. 

The researchers who found the striking difference in rest periods have found a similar pattern of electrical activity when nerve cells are isolated in a Petri dish.  The similarity suggests an intriguing possibility.

August 23, 2007

The unique gift of the depressed

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Growing Up,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:52 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my attraction to people who are depressed – among the short list of people whom I have loved the best, I think there is only one who doesn’t suffer from at least mild depression.  When I look at the list of men to whom I am attracted, they are invariably subject to some kind of depression.   I have to ask myself why.  The way one asks about women who repeatedly choose abusive men. 

Along with the obvious Freudian analysis that my father was a depressive,  I’m finding my motives are complex.  Part of it is being what my sister Dorothy calls “an emotional athlete.”  My version of it goes something like this:  “I can love you the way you need to be loved;  my needs can be put to one side;  I am strong enough to love you.”   Of course, if you are offering to love a depressive, you can’t ever take away his despair, that sense of failure, that insatiable longing to be loved, because it isn’t something that can be filled by someone else.  From his point of view, that someone else will never measure up or won’t really understand him.  Or if you do manage one of these two feats, he will be convinced that he’s not good enough for you.  So if a relationship is going to survive, someone like me has to learn not to need to be needed, has to learn that however important my love might be, it is never going to be a kind of non-medical cure for the emptiness and lonliness of the depressed.  In my case, in important relationships I have found a great deal to love and something between us besides my illusion that I’m important because I’m needed to fill an unrealistic need.  But it has been a steep learning curve and there are times when I still have to learn it all over again.

That part of it I have understood for a long time – and so has Peter, which is part of why I think we are happy that we are still together after 35 years.  But now I’m beginning to get an inkling that there’s more to it from my side of the equation.  Almost every depressive I’ve ever known is on the one hand filled with longing, and at the same time convinced that no one can possibly meet his/her need.  So it makes me feel very special if a depressed – especially an intelligent depressed – man shows some special affection for me.  I am amazed to recognize just how charged my own responses are when I resonate with someone like this.

I have always thought that women who are attracted to men who turn out to be abusive made the mistake of confusing violence with strength.  This may often be so.  But I wonder now if some women also stay with abusive men because they sense a need in the man which he has turned to her to meet.  I would stay with an abusive man for about ten seconds longer than it took me to recognize the abuse.  But the allure of being chosen to meet the needs of an intelligent and depressed man might be a similar dynamic in myself.

There is a third thing about depressed men.  Or at least the depressed men who have been important in my life.  They might sometimes be moody, they might be unreasonably demanding, but in my experience they are not clingy.  They often want to be left alone.  And so do I.  I need hours in the day to be by myself, or I eventually unravel into a kind of disorganized sarcastic bitch.   

By some paradoxical convolution, I think I have gained as much as I have given in my relationship with depressed people whom I love.  This probably sounds strange, but it makes me feel rather fortunate.

August 4, 2007

The price of depression

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Family,Husband,Worries — theotheri @ 10:06 pm

The village where I live is shaken just now by the suicide of a young women who lived around the corner from us.  We were not well-acquainted, but I know she was attractive, in her twenties, vibrant, always with a cheerful smile.  She hanged herself.  Nobody seems to know why, but her boyfriend left a short time ago.  Perhaps that was the reason.  If it was, it can’t be the whole reason.  There must have been a deeper, longer depression of which this was the terrible climax.

Surprisingly, although the hopelessness of depression robs everything of joy, makes everything seem worthless, it is often hidden, a private face that the family sees and that the public never suspects.  Even a supremely successful professional  might at home be engulfed in irrational despair or make unreasonable demands of a family equally desperate to avoid the descent of darkness.  A depressive himself often uses alcohol to stay out of depression’s grip.  It is futile, because alcohol is in itself a depressive, but first it provides a short escape into euphoria.  Shopping for things one doesn’t need but desperately wants until one gets them home, binge eating, paranoia,  irrational bursts of anger, and many addictions are also often attempts to escape the deadly cloud of depression. 

It is hard to be serially depressed.  It is also immensely difficult to love and live with a depressive.  Just as depression takes different forms, so too its toll on others.   When my mother died and my father remarried, I saw for the first time watching his second wife that it was possible to love someone and yet not to blame oneself for their depression.  I don’t think my mother altogether understood this, and I suspect that blaming herself for my father’s unhappiness contributed to her early death.

I still struggle sometimes to keep myself separate from someone else’s depression.  Not to let it infect me with the same hopelessness, not to cast around desperately for some solution that will lift the cloud for them.  Sometimes I know when Peter is depressed, and I feel guilty, feeling in some irrational, inchoate way that it is my fault.  I try not to let Peter see this, because this guilt of mine is as irrational as his depression.

So we’ve learned and shared and loved.  And yet, it is still not always easy.  It’s been a challenge that occasionally I have felt I could have done without.  But – and this is the mystery – I know I needed it.  And chose it.

July 21, 2007

The love I only glimpsed

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:25 pm

I started yesterday to write about my family, but today I’ve been remembering MT.  I said in an earlier post that there were four great loves in my life.  I’ve written about my father, a man I fell in love with when I was a nun, and my husband.  I haven’t written about MT because in some ways this relationship and what it means is still a mystery to me.

M was a colleague with whom I worked closely for a fairly short time.  He was immensely popular with the students and secretarial staff, and was probably the most gifted person on the faculty.  At the same time he was diffident and generous and humourous, and I loved him.  I mean really really loved him.

I was already married and so was he, and I never once seriously thought of leaving my husband for him.  In fact, and this is what is so extraordinary, I don’t think M ever had any idea of the depth of my affection for him.  Nor do I have any idea how he felt about me.  He was always kind and brilliant and unpretentious.  My attraction to him was, surprisingly, not particularly sexually charged at first, and so I find it difficult to explain why my feelings were initially so intense, and my thoughts about him for some time almost an obsession.  Yet our relationship was never anything but professional.   Once  I saw him looking at me with great warmth and care, but he did not know I saw it, and I never gave any indication to him that there was anything unusual in how I felt about him.

I’ve often wondered why I was so careful not to let M suspect how much I cared for him.  I think he was someone for whom being loved was a burden.  I never learned anything about his life, but I thought perhaps someone important had needed him.  Perhaps his mother or sister.  So that he learned that being loved came with demands for a return of his love that he found constricting.  Perhaps this is pure fantasy on my part.  But I would compose my face so that I would not look too happy to see him, or show how much I enjoyed working with him.  I thought, if I really loved him, he would never be weighed down by knowing.  And I feared it would ruin the relationship we had and the ease with which we worked together. 

Knowing what I now do about the depth of my attraction to intelligent, principled, and depressive men, I wonder, in retrospect if M was a depressive.  I never saw it in him – he was always upbeat and courteous and I never heard him winge or complain.  My question about his depression is whether, in some unconscious way, it is what I was responding to with such intense emotion.  My responses to him, when I think about it, reflect the way I respond to depressed men whom I admire and like.

After a short time, our professional lives took different directions and I have no idea what M is doing now or know anyone who is contact with him.  I remember when we said good bye feeling the kind of anguish you feel when someone dies.  I would love to see him again.  Not to have an affair.  I would just like to sit and talk to him and see the laughter in his eyes and how fast he catches the point of what I’m saying, or the compassion with which he understands what a student or colleague needs. 

I knew so little about him that sometimes I wonder if I have made up a fantasy of a man that is no more than a figment of my imagination, that the way I saw him wasn’t the way he was at all.  At best, I only ever saw him in a professional role, and even that is frozen in time, like the nation’s image of Marilyn Monroe – always young and beautiful.  Never old and fat or grumpy.   Was M ever short-tempered?  too absorbed in his work to take time to care about his wife or children?  was he a Jekyll and Hyde personality. charming in his public life and terrorizing or freezing out his family?  I don’t know. 

But I remember him as one of the most beautiful people I have ever known.  Sometimes I still miss him with a terrible sense of painful loss and it seems only yesterday that I never saw him again.

July 17, 2007

The fascination of an unachievable man

Filed under: Depression and Autism,Family,Growing Up,Husband — theotheri @ 3:26 pm

I described how I met the man to whom I am now married in my June 15th post.  We have been living together for more than half my life now, and he has become the most important and significant man I have ever loved.  As we have survived, exalted, triumphed, and despaired over the inevitable ups and downs for thirty five years, I have wondered about the glue that has held us together through it all.

Peter is immensely kind, exceptionally intelligent, highly educated, capable of expending baffingly amounts of energy and determination – and subject to swings of depression that can fill me – and undoubtedly him – with despair.   I continue to find him fascinating.  Not with, perhaps, quite the same driven excitement that I felt when I first met him, but I still love to talk to him, to be surprised by his alternative take on life.  He is without doubt the best – if not the easiest – thing that has ever happened to me.

For many years, I thought that, because of my father, I had confused depression with intelligence the way some women confuse abuse with strength in men.  But it’s more devilishly complicated than that.  As some women are attracted to married men because they are unattainable, I’m attracted to intelligent depression.

I am attracted to intelligent depressives because they are so hard to please, and because happines eludes them.  I am attracted only to men who think I am something quite out of the ordinary, and however kind and sensitive depressive men are, I always sense an unmet yearning.  My impulse is to say “I am that special person you are looking for;  I understand your longings, your exceptional gifts;  I can love you enough.” 

So I didn’t stumble accidentally after all into marrying someone who was an intelligent depressive.  I chose it, even though I may not have understood myself in the choosing.  I doubt that I have changed.  I’m still fascinated by that enchanting deception.

Anyone who has lived with a someone struggling with depression knows how hard it is.  Sometimes it feels simply impossible to overcome the bleak despair engulfing someone’s whole view of life.  It is not rational, even though it might be triggered by real tragedy.  It is not voluntary, though there are sometimes controllable factors like drink and nutrition and exercise and medication that effect it.  It demands strength from anyone living with a depressive.  Or at least it has made demands on me that have pushed me to greater maturity and I hope greater gentleness.

I never once talked to her about it, but the person – besides Peter – who is probably most responsible for my not walking out of my marriage during its darkest days was my father’s second wife.  I think my own mother blamed herself for my father’s unhappiness.  Mary never did.  I watched how she lived with my father.  Though at times I thought she was a witch incarnate in relation to my brothers and sisters after Mom died, she was also the best role model as a wife I ever had. 

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