Wednesday, 2 March 2022

If you are feeling OK right now then there is something wrong with you

The tide of life comes in, the tide goes out

Let me start by clarifying something, setting a context.  I don't consider myself an alcoholic. I don't drink on my own, I don't drink 3-4 days a week, when I do drink it is in a social setting and I thoroughly enjoy it. Yesterday was something different. Over the last few days, I've been feeling an increasing sense of anxiety. What is happening in Ukraine is something beyond anything I've seen in my adult life (the Cuban missile crisis was more serious but I was a baby and have no recollection). The scenes from Ukraine are appalling. I have many friends who are both Russian and Ukrainian. Many of them went to the same University in Minsk, where my wife studied Russian in 1987. I visited them (as detailed here) during the time of the Soviet Union. The appalling thought that some of these fine people's children may well be killing each other has preyed heavy on my mind.

That is bad enough, but I really cannot see any easy way out of this solution, I can only see it getting worse over the next few days. The best case scenario seems to be that both sides kill so many of each others people that they give up and go home, that is no best case at all, is it? The worst case? That this escalates into a nuclear conflict. I live in London. The city I love and the city I was born and raised in. It is presumably one of Putin's top targets, should things deteriorate. My three children live in London. What sort of a world have a brought them into? For the past three days, I've not really been listening to the radio. I've been putting on old Punk rock and Ska playlists, to try and forget the misery that has descended on the world, just as we emerge from a pandemic that destroyed the normal pattern of life. 

Last night, as I walked home, in the rain from work, I contemplated the evening ahead. I'd contemplated a quiet, alcohol free night (as was Monday) watching my team, Manchester City on TV. Normally, this would be a pleasant prospect. Last night, I realised I simply couldn't face it without a drink. I never feel like this. Ever. But last night I felt in a state of semi panic. I had anxiety issues as a teenager, but these subsided long ago. I have not felt as I did yesterday in my adult life. 

As I walked home, I recalled the words of my long deceased father. I recall having a conversation with him about the stress of being a WW2 bomber pilot. Two things came to mind. The first was his advice to always pray at times of stress. At the time of the conversation (probably around 1984), I was very cynical, but his advice was to find a quiet space, close your eyes, recite a few prayers and pray for the courage and strength to prevail. He advised that just taking time out to focus would always help. I've never faced the stress he suffered, flying over hostile territory, being shot down, held prisoner of war, seen my friends killed and decapitated. In comparison, my life has been a breeze. But I always have kept his advice in my personal tool locker. I also recalled his advice on alcohol. His squadron was what was called a Commonwealth squadron. He was an Aussie and his crew were from around the Commonwealth. One crew in his squadron were of Indian heritage and were devout Muslims. After a few missions, despite being an exemplary crew, they were suffering deep issues with stress. My Dad alerted the Medical Officer. The MO called them in and stated "The Koran states that Muslims can use alcohol for medicinal purposes. You chaps are all suffering from stress. As your doctor, I am ordering you to proceed to the mess after each mission and drink three large whisky's, this will help you sleep and deal with stress. Under no other circumstance and at no other time are you permitted to drink. This will help you complete your mission in the RAF and get you home safely". My Dad saw one of them in the 1980's, who told him that the drink he had after his final mission was the last one he'd had. The lesson was that sometimes even the strongest people need some help. We don't all have a kindly MO to seek us out, so don't be afraid to ask. Use the tools at hand to help. 

I cannot possibly compare the stress I was feeling yesterday with what my Dad and his RAF comrades were experiencing, but I recognised that I was feeling far from OK. I followed Dad's advice. I went to a quiet place and said a few prayers. It did calm me down and see things with a bit more clarity. I'd recommend it. If you are not religious, try some meditative or relaxation exercises if youa re stressed as a first step. However I still felt far from normal. Despite it being a dry day on my weekly calendar, I realised I needed a drink. I went to the services club and had a couple of pints with a friend and then shared a bottle of wine whilst watching the match with my wife.  

Do I feel better today? That is an interesting question. I do not have the feeling of rising panic that I had yesterday. Maybe I managed to keep the lid on it. Rght now I guess I won't really know until later when we see what the day brings. The news on the radio is truly awful. The Ukrainian president has announced that 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. This is appalling. Can you imagine how those 6,000 families are feeling? I can think of nothing worse than the death of a child. What sort of a leader inflicts that on their own people? More to the point for me, in Mill Hill, London, what sort of people wallow in this misery on Twitter and seemingly enjoy such misery?  I find that repulsive, I have to question what motivates such people? Funnily enough, my Dad had a word for such people. He called them 'shinyarses'. People who spend their life sitting on their backsides, pontificating about everything, without ever actually achieving anything at all. We all know the type. 

We can't step out of the world. We can't prevent madmen from starting wars. We can't prevent idiots tweeting rubbish about it. We can't prevent ourselves from feeling a sense of acute anxiety. To be honest if you are feeling OK right now, there is probably something wrong with you. It is quite normal to feel anxiety at times of conflict. Over the last century, we've developed a far better understanding of stress. We can't avoid feeling anxious about situations such as the Ukraine. What we can do is remove unneccessary stress from our lives. We can turn off the news, we can put on our favourite music. I've long had a policy of blocking people on Twitter who I have no wish in engaging with. I thoroughly recommend it. I've gone a step further and asked friends who have been sending me screenshots of various things that I don't wish to see to stop, if people want to tweet rubbish, that's fine, it's their business but I won't be seeing any of it. There is a word for people who rant in empty rooms, but I'll leave that to your imagination.

I have a day off work today. The first for a couple of weeks due to a couple of my staff having covid. We will have a nice long dog walk in the rain, then I'll go to the gym. I was looking forward to a jam with my band later, but our drummer has flu, so maybe I'll write some songs later. It will definitely be a night off the booze tonight. If you are feeling anxiety or stress as a result of the current situation, there is nothing wrong with you. It is a perfectly normal and rational response. Do not try and sweep it under the carpet and pretend all is OK, acknowledge it and discuss your stresses and fears with friends, loved ones or people you trust. Do not feel bad with yourself if you find yourself drinking too much. You may want to address it, but first recognise that it's a perfectly rational reaction to such events. 

When I started to write this blog in 2008, I made one commitment. It was that I would always be honest. For some that is a difficult concept to get their heads around. But I've found that telling the truth about my feelings having cancer, in relation to bereavements, about dyslexia and about my life in general has been appreciated. I have no agenda in writing this. I've been surprised on occasion how people have told me that just reading someone else is feeling how they are has helped. Please understand that I'm not a counsellor, I have no formal qualifications beyond A levels. I make no claims to be intelligent, if you read any of my school reports, you'd probably conculde I'm actually quite thick. But for some reason, it seems that people do connect with what I write. I hope that this helps someone, somewhere. All I really know is that just putting it down has helped me get my head together. 

I finish with one last thing that my Father told me about the bad times in life. He said "Always remember that just as the tide comes in, it goes out again. When the sun is shining, the tide is out and there is a glorious beach as far as the eye can see, you must always remember that the tide will come in, the clouds will form, the wind will howl and the rain blow in and the waves will crash covering you in spray. But eventually the wind subsides, the rain stops, the clouds disappear and tide goes out and the beach is once again blissful". The tide is in today. One day, it will go out again and the sun will shine. 

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