M is for Mental Health

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Now I am am no Mental Health professional, and some MH conditions are chronic, and need professional treatment. With my neck firmly and willingly on the line, most are not.

Stay with me on this.

This is about mental well being, a sort of keep fit for the brain.

The object is to suggest some tools to avoid common mental health concerns. They are my opinion only, and your mileage may very.

 

  1. You are one of many. You are not that special. Some will love you, some will hate you, some will enrich your life, others will not. Most will not even be aware of your existence. Good things will happen to you, bad things will happen to you. You were born, you will die, and you have no control over either of those. You simply are. You are that consciousness behind your eyes and just over your nose. You are that last interaction good or bad. Accept this. Try to do more good than bad.
  2. To paraphrase one of actor Jack Nicholson quotes, “The less I care, the happier I am“ So the message here is to care about things that are within your influence. Care about the people close to you, the people who want to be with you, or be part of your life. There is little point getting all riled up and passionate about things you have no sway over. View these other things as what they are, just entertainment. Support your team, but if they are not the winners this time, that’s no reason to feel bad, or to feel angry or depressed. You can celebrate the game, and feel grateful to be part of it.
  3. Have a look at mindfulness as a way of enjoying the mundane, as well as the spectacular. Even sat at the keyboard typing, I can marvel at the apparent dexterity of fingers and hands, feel the comfortable pressure of crossed ankles and so on. Try to do the best you can at whatever your doing.
  4. Try to minimise your exposure to harmful substances, and avoid where possible being dependent on these. Recognise the difference between say a social drink with friends, and getting completely shitfaced. One is a great and acceptable use of your time, the other is not. Understand your limits, and understand how judgement can be clouded when intoxicated.
  5. Get a good sweat on several times a week. Your personal level of fitness will determine what is required, but physical exercise makes you feel better. It’s all do do with some complicated internal biochemistry, but it really works. Just don’t use it as an excuse to beat on yourself. In any way. You are doing this for yourself.
  6. Try to avoid treating yourself on payday. Treat yourself the day before payday, with what is left. Better still, with half of what’s left, and squirrel away the rest for another day. Avoid reckless debt. Experiences are way much better than things. If making a large purchase, ask your sales person how much commission they are making on it. Or put it another way, how much money are you going to give them personally to buy this thing. Remember, if they fudge the answer, what else is fudged about this deal. Do your research. Let’s not forget who is doing who a favour here.

 

Only experience will show what works for you, but try to protect your mind. Life may harm you, but it’s how you view that harm that defines you. It’s not enough to blame your misfortune on an event, and give up. You must always move on, or you won’t. Take help and advice as needed, but move on. Two little quotes, Dory in Disney’s Nemo, “ Just keep swimming, just keep swimming “, and the French Foreign Legion, “ March or die “

And away’s celebrate your Victories. Its personal to you, and important.

 

Be happier.  

 

 

 

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N is for Night Shift.

 

Even before the 24/7 world we live in now, there was the night shift.

It used to be the domain of the emergency services, lorry drivers, and a few others.

Now it is much more widespread, with at least 12% of the workforce regularly working nights.

That is about three and a half million out of a total of thirty two million employed people, Unemployed or otherwise economically inactive accounts for a further ten and a bit million.

So at any given time, some 3% of the population are trying to sleep during the day.

When the other 97% are not.

This is a personal issue for the other 3,499,999 people, who like me, find that night shifts account for about a 1/3rd of my paid hours.

As a regular night worker, I am able to share the benefits, of a much shorter life expectancy, feelings of total exhaustion on a regular basis, and a totally non existent sleep pattern.

Do you really need your Supermarket open all hours?

As part of the Emergency Services, and thus publically funded, there is an EXPECTATION that the work will be done, the crises will be averted, and the majority of the other sixty odd million people will be able to carry on with their lives, blissfully unaware.

I stress it is my choice to be on that front line. Commitment, duty, and vocation are not words widely used, out of this industry.

Speaking of stress, those who manage avoid working night shifts will never experience the thrill of being expected to make critical, and potentially life changing / ending  decisions, when totally exhausted.

It’s a lot more common than you’d think.

But you only get to hear about it when we get it wrong.

This is the fun bit, the other 10,000 correct decisions are irrelevant. In the eyes of management, and often the media, it’s the mistake that defines you. We quite rightly expect value for money for services we pay for. Emergency services workers are not miracle workers, but they do perform unseen miracles everyday.  

You would miss them more than you could possibly imagine.

Really short today, last couple of Night shifts have been insanely busy. If I told you what I’ve been doing you wouldn’t believe it, and you’d probably have trouble sleeping.

 

 

O is for Open University.

No longer the preserve of strange Black and White TV programs in the 1970’s, the Open University has developed into a very credible alternative to bricks and mortar Universities.

University funding, and student loans, are under review at the moment, here in England. Despite being part of the United Kingdom, which is a bit of an oxymoron, University funding is different and significantly more expensive to the individual in England.

Student tuition fees were introduced in the late 1990’s by the New Labour Blair Government. They were originally set at about £1000 per year. That is the same as about £1300 today.

They are now £9250 per year for students starting this year. For a typical student living away from the family home a bill of £50k is not uncommon for a three year degree course.

So the student loans company was set up to provide eye watering amounts of debt to aspirational students. Given the target customer is only 18 years old, they are quite easy to fob off. You will only start to pay it off when you earn over a certain amount. You won’t notice the monthly repayment. All your mates are doing it.

Context. It is not the Universities funding the loans. They are the ones selling the courses, and taking the money. The secondary and higher colleges are part of the sales force. The Universities bear no risk here, no motivation to get the best out of their clients, no motivation to ensure their clients get the best careers, the higher earnings, to pay back the money.

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This is where I actually feel sorry for my daughter, who needs degree level qualification for her chosen ambition.

There are four options.

 

  1. Take a University place anywhere. Move there, get the loan for fees and maintenance, hopefully get a higher degree, and move into career, start paying it back.
  2. Take a local University place, as luck would have it, we are within easy commute for two Universities, get a loan for fees, hopefully get a higher degree and move into career, start paying it back.
  3. Reevaluate life goals, consider apprenticeship route to similar but potentially less rewarding career.
  4. Have a long hard look at the Open University.

 

Everyone’s circumstances are different, but, if your chosen path doesn’t not involve significant time in the lab, or playing with lots of expensive hardware, then OU is worth a look.

Your course fees for a degree with OU are just under £19000, not just under £28,000.

You still have a tutor.

You will still develop and hone critical reasoning.

You will still have to work hard

You will demonstrate much more self motivated disciple, time management and commitment.

You will demonstrate a finer sense of financial acumen.

86/100 FTSE 100 companies use OU to further train their staff.

It is a very well respected University.

Perhaps most important of all, it has the largest student body of any University. Your fellow students will be a mix from all age and social groups. A much wider skills and experience base to interact with.

A common complaint is that it’s too hard. Shall we think about that? If that is a common view, how does your OU degree look to an employer? Determined, strong, committed, motivated, ambitious, hard working, intelligent.

Are we really encouraging adults into starting in the workplace with a £50k mill stone hanging over them?

Is the three more years in school really worth an extra £31k in debt?

How many thirty somethings are still paying for a teenagers decision?

 

It is worth a critical look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P is for PO, Life Skills 101 #3

PO is for Pissed off, not Post Office

No, I am not pissed off,  This is an internalised and destructive feeling I would most strongly recommend you strive to avoid.

At the end of this Micro article we will be helping to identify why we feel PO, how to minimise the effects, how to recognise external PO factors and impacts, and how to push through this fairly negative and self inflicted condition.

PO can be caused by a number of factors, far to many to be totally inclusive in a minor blog post, that basically exists to try to get my writing muscle exercised. We could broadly lump the factors into two piles, Internal and External.

Internal factors are, if you like, the imaginary cartoon characters that sit on the shoulders, one good, one bad.

The Good one, sits on my left shoulder and whispers gently into my ear. “ You would feel a lot better after a run. Get the heart and lungs working, build up a sweat, let those wonderful endorphins rage for a while.“ The watery grey mush that is my brain processes this, and agrees it’s a good idea. For whatever reason the runny sweaty thing does not happen.

The Bad guy then starts ranting in my ear, “ You really are a waster, lazy slug, are you auditioning for the Michelin Man?”

The grey mush also processes this, and it leads to feelings that include less than complimentary self worth, a negative body image, and some internalised anger against myself.

If you like, I have beaten myself up, and various conflicts between the bits of me that want to wear less tight and expansive jeans, and the bits of me that want cake, have caused an internalised feeling of PO. I could now be described as PO with myself for not managing some slightly arbitrary and self imposed goal.

Other internal factors are available.

External factors are legion. We live in a tight little part of the planet that sustains life without too much technology. A host of beings competing for space and resources. Like rats from a shipwreck, clinging to a piece of wood, fighting for space, tumbling over each other, pushing off the weakest or the unlucky. Often, we are not as well behaved and orderly as those imaginary rats. We are a dark, savage and violent species, but that’s another story.

In a typical day, we are not shipwrecked and pushing others into shark infested waters, despite secretly wanting too…..

We are however subject to unthinking actions of other people. Actions that impede your actions. You have a plan, keeping it simple, for example, you are driving to work. That is your plan, to get to your place of employment.  You have already accepted the punitive costs of having and using a car on a much degraded road network, but you want to eat, so you go to work. You need to exchange your time and abilities for money to exchange for food, shelter and so on.

It is the random chaos of life.  A thing that is real, and a thing you have absolutely no control over at all, not even a little bit.  An event occurs that impacts on your ability to move yourself from where you are, to where you need to be.

It could be Mrs Muggins has spotted her neighbour, and wishes to share information about the price of bread at a previously unconsidered retail location, and in order to do so, has pulled her car over in a less than considerate place, obstructing you from moving towards your goal. It is of no importance to you, but clearly is to Mrs Muggins, so much so, that it trumps your important mission.

It could be one of the many utility companies have to repair a piece of infrastructure helpfully buried under the road, and have set up a surprise set of traffic lights.

It could be that some previously unconsidered yet critical part of your car has failed, rendering the whole thing useless till repaired.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Many factors can spoil your plan of getting to work, and you have no control over them, but they will still cause you to be PO.

Being PO is destructive, can cause feeling of stress, anger, rage even. How many times have you seen some poor bugger leaning continually on his horn, which seems to be the motoring equivalent of a primal scream. Has no effect on the cause, and its value as a vent is questionable.

A couple of tools that work for me, your mileage may vary.

Anticipation. Recognise its a crowded planet, and other people will be sharing the space you need to use. You may be able to cover your commute in ten short minutes if no one else is about, but it is unrealistic to expect everyone else to stay off the road just because you want them to. Leave early. Travel and arrive relaxed. Listen to the gentle melodies on the radio, not thrash metal. Try it, even if just one time. It works for me, and the analogy of driving to work can be adapted to many other situations.

You are basically preventing or minimising external factors from impacting on you, and thus causing internal feelings of PO as well. It’s a win win situation.

Acceptance. Accept the path of your life will be mined, dug up, confused, covered in effluent or worse. Your control over your destiny is mostly an illusion. Accept that no one else cares about what you want right now. It’s not their problem. It may help to think of them as puppies, or unruly children, or homicidal maniacs, or basically unpredictable, illogical, unthinking, and mostly unintended. They have their own goals, their own priorities. They might be impeding you, but that doesn’t always make them bad people. And, always remember, you are quite possibly the cause of someone else feeling the same PO emotions.  

As for self induced PO, try being mindful of yourself. After a few years as a adult, you will have slumped into a number of behaviours which are unhelpful or even harmful. Perhaps I should go for that run, but would it help to try some brisk walks first. Little and achievable victories really help. You cannot go from multiple years of cake abuse to a perceived body ideal in a matter of weeks. But if you start to eat less and move more, it will become attainable, eventually. It is beyond the scope of what I am ready to write today, but mindfulness, marginal gains, and habit forming are all things you could look up, to see if these will trodden paths can help you.    

Anticipation and acceptance. That is today’s message, even if only to remind me, that I am but one of many.

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Have a gentle day.  

Q is for Quandary.

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The whole alphabet thing was started on this blog as an exercise to get myself up off the mental couch and get writing. Everyone has a tale to tell, and a blog is a useful way of getting started

My tale will be told gradually, if for no other reason than it is a life lived, to a lesser and sometimes greater degree.

I am a Pratchett fan. What is that? A Pratchetter?  Sir Terry talks about many things in his “Discworld” series, which I was pleased to stumble across in the mid 1980’s. Many of his apparently made up theories, dispensed as wit and wisdom from a variety of colourful characters, have a basis in science or just common sense.

One of the best, in my humble opinion, is the Trouser Legs of Time. Essentially, your trousers will only really go on way way. Two legs won’t fit down one hole, unless they are not your trousers, or rather, not your time line or your reality. Trousers could be put on back to front, but then you will be uncomfortable all day, literally, in the wrong reality.  To really kick this analogy a bit further, we all have a pair of trousers.

Why is it a pair of trousers? You don’t refer to a jumper as a pair of jumpers. You do refer to socks as a pair of socks, and shoes as a pair. This is more logical, both comprising of two seperate things.  Is is a south of the waist thing? Please don’t get smart about a pair of gloves. They fit on your hands, which fit in your pockets, of your trousers, and thus below the waist. QED. Why am I even thinking about this, or worse, writing it down.

We all probably have a pair of trousers, literally, we all have our own life’s, our own realities. Some are frayed shorts, some are tailored on demand to suit the wealthier wearer, some are denim, some are a nasty mix of plastic and cheap cotton. People’s realities are their own, and those who realise these tend to be more relaxed.

You have to live your own reality, however crap it is. If you want to change it, for better or worse, you have to take action to make the new trousers fit. I represent an obvious analogy at this point. Personally speaking, my reality is that my 36 inch waist jeans are getting little tight.

I may yearn for the days of 34 inch or even 32 inch. There have been too many cakes, curries and pints of beer consumed, and not enough hours running, or cycling or otherwise getting sweaty for the 34 inch reality to exist.

Two realities loom in front of me now, literally, it’s a trouser legs of time moment. Peering down one leg, a decision was taken, and the whole sweaty thing was matched with a reduction in the consumption of cake and curry. In this leg, it was accepted that effort would lead to a result, and that a decade of inhaling cakes and biscuits is not cleared up overnight. At the end of this leg, there is a gentler fit on the 36 waist trousers, or possibly a new pair in size 34.

The other leg leads to a more relaxed attitude about buying a 38 inch pair of jeans, being happy with cake and beer, and shutting down that nagging voice in the back of your head that has been screaming about heart disease, diabetes, and outrageous blood pressure.

Both realities can exist, but you have to be in your own reality at any given time. It’s not enough to made a decision. Action is required. You will not be forced to do it, there is no one who will drag you off the sofa, and chase you down the road to get you moving and sweaty on a regular basis. You have to want to take action, to want to make changes, to choose the best trouser leg for you.

Not to be confused with Reality TV, which has nothing to do with reality, but is cheap TV fodder for the feeble minded, or possibly a social scientist.

The Quandary in this micro article was what to write about starting with Q. The rest of the alphabet is pretty much covered, with one or two exceptions. J and I are looking weaker than my ( low ) average, but there are a few days in hand yet. Quandary roughly fits the Pratchett model of self determination, or Trouser Legs of Time, so we’ll leave it at that.

 

 

R is for Road.

In another short article about mundane things, the object in the spotlight today is the road. It is such a commonplace thing, it doesn’t even get capitalised. Like may commonplace things, it’s only noticed when it fails to work as expected.

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On the off chance this is read by someone who is not in the knowing of how Britain functions, well, basically it does, but no one can be really sure how.

Road building and repair is funded by General taxation.

The use of powered vehicles is subject to further tax.

Petrol, and diesel, for example, are subject to Fuel duty, to make it sound less like tax, because we are all pretty gullible.

That is then itself subject to a purchase tax, which we call Value added Tax.

Another masterful piece of misdirection, implying that Tax is Value.

Did I mention how gullible they think we are?

To actually have a vehicle physically on a road, you must pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

Another way of saying tax, adopting the old word of excise (literally extort), in the comfortable knowledge most of us don’t know what the word means.

The other document you will need is Third party Insurance. Basically, if you hit another car, or anything else with your car, then your insurance provider may help with the costs.

So you pay an insurance premium, and, yep, that is taxed too..

Insurance is mandatory. Unlike Vehicle Excise Duty, which is paid directly to the Government, you have to buy Insurance from a private company, which will of course profit from the deal.

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With all this Tax flowing in, our Roads should be awesome.

And in many respects they are. Generally.  If you want to go someplace other people go to as well, then there will be a road for you to use.  Most dwellings come with a nearby road, and most dwellers in those dwellings can find a piece of handy road nearby to abandon their personal car for most of the time.

Given they live outside in all weathers, they seem to last quite well if maintained. The problems tend to occur owing to a strange habit we Brits have of hiding all manner of utilities under roads. Stuff that requires frequent attention is buried under something which of necessity is hard wearing and strong. Strange really.

Most cars, which are designed to get you from A to B, spend the vast majority of their time at A or B, parked up, on a piece of road. We might seem a bit selfish in that respect, but, given the amount of coin shaken out of you, there is an understandable sense of entitlement.

 But car use is apparently declining. Given the state of the roads it’s hardly surprising.

I use a ubiquitous basic bog standard hatchback, my dear Wife has a racier hot hatch, that used to be a lot of fun to drive. The bog standard car now gets more use, as it is a lot more tolerant of indifferent road repairs, potholes, speed bumps, and so on. It doesn’t cause your teeth to rattle.

So I predict roads will continue to degrade. It slows traffic down as perceived benefit. Oil based products to make roads will be phased out and replaced with other materials, recycled tyres possibly, as costs equalise. Prohibitive costs will force a lot of people away from personal cars.

This reduction in tax receipts will be made up elsewhere, governments don’t spend less do they? Possibly a tax on fresh air?

Car clubs with shared use will work for some, but requires a level of community commitment and cohesion that is becoming rarer. The need to travel to work should be reducing for some sections of the workforce, as many roles are suitable for teleworking, but we are not ready for that yet as a society. The Office culture is a real thing, and infantile management has little faith in workers ability, and needs to micromanage, possibly to justify its existence?

The other side of this is that 99% of daily consumables, like food, are transported by road at some point. The network can only be degraded so far.

Now if Mr Musk starts making one of his electric cars that is suitable for poorly maintained roads, and priced for the mass market, in a modular format, to suit the small trades / delivery, as well as a family mover, with a solar panel on the roof, we’d be heading in the right direction. Something perhaps like product of an illicit coupling of a Fiat Panda and a Transit Connect?

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In my unqualified opinion. 

Thank you and good day….

S is for Simple

KISS.

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No, not that sort of kiss, but KISS.

Keep It Short and Simple, or even, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Your preference probably says a lot about your character. I lean towards Stupid. 

Complicated has its place, and is sometimes necessary. Mr Musk, NASA, ESA and others do not reliably sling tons of expensive metal into orbit with simple. Complicated can be made simple, just depends how many steps your prepared to break it down to. 

But I want to keep this simple. I try to keep life as simple as possible, and would advocate the same to another.

Many aspects of life are within your control, to a greater or lesser degree. These are the simple things. By keeping these things simple, you can free up your mind to tackle more complex issues at work, or in your own creative projects.

Keep It Simple folks….