Category Archives: Health

On death. Or life. Or both, actually.

One day I am going to die. My heart will stop beating, and my blood will stop being pushed around my body. This self-sustaining organic system that I walk around wearing will fail. After everything I have forced upon my body over the years, at some point it will no longer be able to keep functioning. It will fail, and it will stop. I will stop.

When that happens, it may come as a surprise. It may be as the result of some massive trauma; I may simply run out of blood because it’s leaked everywhere, or certain key bits of me may be compromised beyond repair.

Or… I may be aware that there is something deeply wrong with me, and my death may be the end of a medical battle. I may have known for some time that somewhere inside me, something was destroying me from within.

Whichever route gets me there, I will eventually stop. I may stop quietly in my sleep… however, knowing myself, I doubt that very much; I wake up if a moth so much as farts on the way past my bedroom window. I am fairly sure that right at the end, I will be awake and aware. Even if it is just in some primal way, I will know when the end of me arrives, and I will be scared.

In the final moments though, I don’t think I will be scared for very long. I don’t know what brain chemistry does to perception at the point of death, mind you – it might stretch time weirdly, like it does in a car accident. Although I reckon if that happens, some kind of “-amine” will be released in conjunction and it will get all trippy and 60’s-music-video on my ass.

All things considered, I’m not actually scared of dying. It’s the life bit right before that which concerns me.

(For context, I’ve just listened to Blackstar, the last David Bowie album. I’ve had it for the best part of 4 months, but have bottled listening to it until now.)

2016 has brought death and loss sharply into focus, for me and for a lot of other people around the world. I am aware that people die every day and that they are all important to someone. However this year has heralded the end of many people who had global renown, and whose impact was was felt by many more people than just those who were in their immediate lives. It can’t help but sharpen your thinking about certain things when you lose so many people in such a short period of time.

It’s generous to think that I will keep living an enthusiastic and independent life well into my 80’s or 90’s, but the reality is – that might not be the case. Tonight might be my last night *cue dramatic music*

I do not believe that anything happens to us spiritually once we’re dead. We stop, and we degrade. I do not believe that we have souls that are released from a physical shell, I do not believe that there is a world beyond this one, or a higher plane, or a heaven. When we’re done, we’re done. We may get to leave a legacy behind us that impacts other people (for good or for evil), but most of us will only exist in memory.

So the real question then becomes this; if I stopped living tonight, what’s my legacy, my memory?

Does my sister know that I loved her beyond anything else? Is my houseful of shit simple to sort out when I’m not here? Was I living the life I wanted to live? Did I inspire joy and amusement in those around me? Would the people left alive behind me be able to say in confidence that I had a good fucking time while I was here?

I believe that the answer to all of the above is yes. Don’t get me wrong, I have lived through a load of awful situations in the past – and I haven’t been on the Harry Potter studio tour yet… But! Right now, at this very moment, I am living a life of enjoyment, happiness and balance. It took me a long time to get here, and it was hard-fought, but this is a state that I fully intend on staying in until I stop living.

I would encourage all of you to start cutting out the parts of your lives that cause you pain, anger, or sadness. Find ways to let go of the one-way transactions in your life, where you give and get nothing in return; the thankless jobs, the selfish individuals. The things and people that drag you down to less than you should be. If you need it, get help to be the best version of you that you can be.

Let’s be honest, you never do know when you will come to an end, and life is too short to be doing anything other than that which makes you smile while you are alive – and that which makes YOUR PEOPLE smile after you are gone.

On that note, I can confirm that after much experimentation and deliberation, Kale farts are seriously the worst farts ever.

You’re welcome.

My Brain Is Going To Kill Me

I often say quite flippantly that with my less-than-healthy lifestyle and exercise aversion, it’ll be a heart attack that ends my run on this planet. The truth is though, I’m genuinely scared that it will be my brain that lets me down in the end.

While I have been really fortunate to sidestep pretty much any other medical issues so far, I have suffered from migraines since I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and my word, they are absolute  fuckers.

I feel lucky that the symptoms have gradually become less intense as the years have gone by, and whilst I don’t experience all of the symptoms all of the time, when I was a kid I used to get the full shebang. There’s the splitting headache which is always in the same place, running from the crown of my head in a straight line down to behind my right ear. The left hand side of my lips and tongue, plus my left hand get numbness, then pins & needles. Nausea and vomiting sometimes come to join the party; on one occasion a couple of years ago, my first delightful indication something was wrong was my recreation of that bit in the Exorcist with my morning coffee. They are all pretty nasty and it’s a complete lottery; I never know which combination I am going to end out with.

By far the worst element for me however – and the only one that I DO experience every time – is the loss of sight. You know those floaty things you get in your vision sometimes? Well, imagine those made of a jagged streak of light which prisms into different colours. When I was younger, that was how I knew I had a migraine on its way, because one of those would appear in the top of my right eye.

These days, it starts as patches of lost vision. When I was 9, we did an experiment in Science class to demonstrate blind spots;

Close your left eye, look at the cross, and then move your head slowly backwards and forwards.

Close your left eye, look at the cross with your right eye, and then move your head slowly backwards and forwards.

At one point, the dot on the right will disappear. That is exactly what happens in my vision when I am getting a migraine. One time I was driving on the M1 motorway up to Sheffield, and the steering wheel of the car just vanished. Today at work, my right hand started to disappear as I was typing. It is now my warning that I have twenty minutes to get to safe ground.

The loss of vision creeps over my right eye, then drifts across and causes my left eye to tunnel down. Once both of my eyes are impacted, that’s when the pain kicks in.

I work about 8 minutes drive from my house, so whilst it’s a harrowing experience, I know I have enough time to get home. Once I have recognised a vision spot, I take 4 ibuprofen tablets and I just leave. I get home, crawl into bed and stay there for about 4 hours until the pain fades off. After that, my brain just feels really sensitive and swollen, and I have to be careful not to move too fast. Or sneeze. Please no, anything but the sneezing.

Whilst I only get migraines once every 6 months to a year, I never know what is going to trigger them or when. As a consequence, I never go anywhere without ibuprofen. I have two packs in my kitchen, one in my drawer at work, one in the bag that I take my language books to London in, and one in every rucksack that I own.

I know myself that my migraines today are nowhere near as bad as they were 30 years ago, which may or may not be because now I know how to mitigate the effects. I also appreciate that I don’t suffer anywhere near as badly as some other people – my Nan’s next door neighbour is bed-ridden for 3 days normally.

Wherever I sit on the scale of effects, it’s terrifying. I lose depth perception, and reality itself seems like it has slid out of arm’s reach. I stumble around with my hands out in front of me like a Scooby Doo zombie, I quietly start to panic and I don’t feel like I can’t even speak properly. There is something happening inside my brain that I have absolutely no control over.

No-one has been able to pin down exactly why migraines happen, but as far as I understand it; chemical changes in the brain stem cause the brain to react in an unusual way to usual things. I still don’t really know what triggers mine, but it always seems to be things that I am looking at. So – my body spikes my brain’s drink, and instead of looking at my display screen and going “Oh hey, look at you – all reading shit and typing” my brain sees the monitor, gets over-stimulated, freaks out, and goes to sit shivering and rocking in the corner.

My brain happens to be my favourite thing about me, and the idea of anything happening to it really does scare me. Strokes, Alzheimers… every time I get a migraine it reminds me how delicate a balance there truly is inside my head and how vulnerable I am to things that I am not in charge of.

An evening with Robin Williams

I started a bit of a thing a little while back, with the passing of Rik Mayall – a tribute day. I take a day out of my life and dedicate that time to the appreciation of the artist who has passed, and left a hole in the world behind him.

I organised Mayall-Fest; an amusing event in tribute to a genius and pioneer of British comedy. I filled my fridge full of beer and threw the house open to all comers. We had the Young Ones, Bottom and Blackadder on the playlist, though we didn’t get through nearly all of it – I of course picked up the beer-and-comedy baton the following day…it’s only right and proper, you see.

Utter bastard.

Utter bastard.

It was a splendid day. We laughed our arses off. The comedy was funnier than I actually remembered it being, but I guess that’s no surprise since I was a small child the first time round. We drank, we laughed, we revelled in each others’ company. It felt fitting.

Today has been very different. Today I have had a day dedicated to Robin Williams.

I didn’t tee this up in the same way I did with Mayall-Fest, which was meant to be a riotous, outrageous celebration of the riotous and outrageous comedy that Rik Mayall brought to us. Today felt more sombre.

For those of you that have been living under a rock, or don’t have internet access, Robin Williams died on 11th August 2014. I will add the ‘allegedly’ tag in here for the sake of protocol, but he allegedly took his own life, at the age of 63. He had suffered with depression and substance abuse for many, many years, and had clearly reached a point where he felt he couldn’t continue to exist in this world any more.

This has been a real shock to the rest of the world, and a wake-up call to a lot of people. How could a man so successful, so FUNNY, so clearly bright and intelligent, a man who brought joy to so many… How could that same man be experiencing so much pain that he chose to end his own life? It’s almost unconscionable, and it is extremely difficult to make any sense of it.

But that is kinda the point. There IS no sense to depression.

Anyway, back to my day. I didn’t set this up in the same carnival spirit as I had with Mayall-Fest. I had quietly decided that it was something I wanted to do, and my sister came along to share the day with me. I had lined up my personal Robin Williams favourites – Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, and Mork & Mindy. We ended out adding Mrs Doubtfire as the last on the list because my sister recommended it.

I knew that Good Will Hunting had emotionally destroyed me the first time I watched it, so I put that first in the running order, and then stacked up what I believed to be comedy afterwards to mitigate the sting.

How very wrong I was.

I understand that as humans, we are very good at overlaying our own perceptions on top of things, and seeing things that are not necessarily there. Even with that in mind, the pain seemed to leak out of the eyes of Robin Williams in everything that we have watched today.

Even the summations to Orson at the end of Mork & Mindy seemed to be a plea from a bruised soul, wanting the world to be a gentler place.

I knew in advance that Good Will Hunting was going to set me off, but I have cried more times today than I was prepared for, and my chest and throat ache with sadness. The last thing we watched was Mrs Doubtfire, and the last words of the film were Robin saying “Good bye.” I know I have a tendency to be a soppy sod, but that set both of us off again.

How many wonderful people that you know are battling with demons inside themselves? How many people who bring the average Awesome Factor of the human race up are actually trying really hard to find a reason not to leave it?

I was linked the following video via Upworthy, and I genuinely urge you all to watch it. It helps to make a little sense of the senseless, to give words to something that people often find hard to explain, and to shed light on something that is not visible for a lot of people.

Take care of yourselves x

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