An in-depth reflection on the pros and cons of social media on our wellbeing

This is not another of those articles urging you to take up a ‘digital detox’. But nor is it a biased post with a commercial ulterior motive. These are my reflections on the social media age that we woke up to one morning. At least, that’s how it seems to me. I’m old enough to remember the pre-digital era, but only just. Like most of us, I slipped into using Facebook without a second thought. It went from a niche network of university friends to an online network with an astounding 1.94 billion active monthly users, according to Statista [1]. Rarely has anything so suddenly infiltrated so many parts of our lives, with Facebook messaging often replacing email or text, with photos often being shared in the network, political viewpoints announced to the world, objects bought and sold, jobs advertised, groups formed… the list goes on. But how many of us have really stopped to think about how we use it and how well it serves us? It took me a while to do so, but I’m mighty glad I did. Here are some of the things I thought about social media use (especially Facebook, but also other network.

Envy

Something that often comes up when you talk to people about Facebook is the green-eyed-monster that rises up in us as we scroll down the news feed. Instagram feeds can provoke similar issues. For many, the feed is composed of people showing what a great time they’re having, and, in many cases, how many friends they supposedly have (in the form of likes). No matter how much we tell ourselves we know it’s just a facade and that the number of likes is pretty meaningless, do we believe it? According to new research by disability charity Scope, 62% of Facebook and Twitter users felt their own achievements were inadequate when compared to the posts of others, and 60% said that the sites had made them jealous of other users [2]. The test, I think, is to observe how you feel as you scroll down. Do you feel happy for the people there? Bored? Envious? Competitive? Depressed? Then let your feelings dictate what you do next, be it continuing as you are, limiting how long you spend on Facebook, stopping viewing the news feed or leaving Facebook altogether. For me, this reflection led me to stop viewing the news feed and I chose a photography page I like to be listed first so that generally when I log in I see its latest post. I find that now I more often message friends directly to see what they’re doing, which leads me on to the next point…

natalya-zaritskaya-unsplash-happy-family
Facebook and Instagram often seem to be filled with images of people having a great time with friends or family. Beach holiday image by Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash.

 

Unsatisfying communication

Another issue I’ve heard discussed is the unsatisfying nature of relationships that don’t exist beyond Facebook. Much as it’s nice when someone likes something you post, it’s not a conversation. I do sometimes wonder if actual one-to-one communication has diminished because people spend idle moments scrolling through the news feed rather than sending a text or giving someone a call. Ever since I stopped using the news feed, I’ve definitely been interacting more with people one-to-one, which I find so much more satisfying.

Of course, it is possible to get into discussions on Facebook, but it’s not something I see a lot of. WordPress is much better for in-depth discussion I find, while Twitter is rather worse, due to the character limits.

That said, apparently finding out you’ve received a ‘like’ literally gives you a mini high [3], so on one level it is quite satisfying.

facebook-like-button
It is very difficult not to be at all competitive about likes and not to feel envy when we see someone has got a lot of them.

 

Good for groups

In my experience, Facebook is quite good for groups. It’s easy to set one up and people don’t need to log in twice. It’s easy to share photos and videos and comment on them. Facebook groups are the reason I’m still using the network. Of course, face-to-face groups are great too, probably more so, but Facebook groups have the upper hand when it comes to convenience and reaching people from all over the world. Again, it’s no doubt well worth checking in with how you actually feel when you use online groups; if you’re just getting into arguments or using it as a distraction, it might be time to leave.

Facebook: the graveyard of friendships, if you don’t have regular ‘clear outs’

A friend once described Facebook in this way as we chatted about its negative side. It struck a chord right away. I’ve never found the time or the heart to do a ‘friend cull’ and about 80% of my Facebook ‘friends’ are people I knew long ago. Needless to say, the Facebook algorithms love to let me know that some person I once vaguely knew is happily married, or has had a baby. Facebook also likes to remind me of people I was once friends with via it’s ‘what you were doing x years ago’ feature.

Facebook can be great when you are at school or university with a big network of real-life connections, and you’re meeting new people all the time, but when it begins to look and feel like a dismal graveyard it’s time to either do that cull (hopefully if there’s been no contact for several years no-one will take offence), stop looking at the news feed or leave.

If you keep your network fairly small, maybe the news feed items will provide a genuine encouragement to stay in touch with more distant friends rather than simply informing you about people you’ve ceased to care about.

graveyard image
Facebook: the graveyard of friendships unless you’ve had a clear out

 

Political tools, but use with care

I have mixed feelings about politics and social media. Certainly we now have the opportunity to find likeminded people from all over the world and co-ordinate political action. But we also have the opportunity to rant and say the first thing that comes into our head. To anonymously intimidate and threaten. To be highly reactive, not reflective. And to sound off in an (often rather depressing/angry) echo chamber of people who share our views, or bombard those who will simply ‘mute’ us as soon as they see a view they don’t agree with. I’d much rather read a considered blog post, or listen to a vlog, and get into a discussion around that. And I think face-to-face discussion with people we know is probably more likely to impact on their views than a ranty post.

As for getting informed about politics and news on social media, it’s certainly more fun than newspapers but of course there is the risk of fake news when there’s no-one vetting the accuracy of the posts. Social media is also a convenient soapbox for populist characters to make all sorts of claims (you know who I mean, I’m sure…).

Social media use can make us too focused on ourselves and on selfish goals

On the whole, people are happier when they see the bigger picture in life. The more I focus on MY popularity, my likes, my photos and so on, the more self-absorbed I am. We all know someone who is constantly uploading pictures of themselves, and this intense focus on appearance can’t be good for us. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having a ‘brand’ either. I want my friends to be my friends on good and bad days, through boredom and adventure, regardless of my popularity or attractiveness. For me, that means having real-world friends and not investing too much time in the airbrushed version of myself that social media so strongly encourages.

annie-spratt-woman-talking-selfie
There’s no doubt that social media can make us more self-involved

 

I’m also not really a fan of the fact that Facebook posts are so often about marriage and kids. I’m not sure if it’s their algorithms doing this or purely what gets the most likes, but, while I have nothing against marriage or starting a family, I’d rather see posts about people making the world a better place more generally. And I’d rather see creativity than the consumerism encouraged by checking in and constantly posting about restaurants etc.

I even read that the more photogenic dogs are the most popular ones to be taken from dog rescue centres. No doubt some people even get a pet purely to get more likes – pretty silly.

Thinking about these aspects has reinforced my decision to avoid the news feed, which is even easier if you have the messenger app so don’t need to log into Facebook to see your messages. I only post about myself from time to time and always try to remind myself that I’m not on a quest for likes. Another thing that’s interesting to do is to ask yourself why you are thinking of posting something, and if it’s a very shallow reason, decide not to do it.

Facebook is good for appreciation, but is it creating an environment of forced positivity?

The comments that tend to get most likes are positive ones, and I’d certainly agree that it’s wise to appreciate the good things in our lives. However, I do wonder if the fact that most comments are of the ‘I’m so happy’ type might be making it more difficult for people to talk about their struggles. Prior to the introduction of the sad face, angry face and amazed face, negative posts usually received little reaction, and maybe the introduction of those other options came too late to change the fact that most posts are of the gloating kind. In my experience, it’s only worth airing your troubles on Facebook within the context of a support group.

A few other thoughts:

– encouragement of procrastination

– distraction from work/family/relationship/social life/crossing the street safely!

– there are a lot of bots and prostitutes on some networks

– Twitter is extremely commercial: it can be hard to use it for social ends when so many users have commercial aims

BUT…

– social networks are great for sharing information, and indeed I use them to share bits of ‘unconventional wisdom’ and these posts

– easy to connect with people around the world

– sometimes an enjoyable distraction during a tea break etc.

 

What are your thoughts? How do you use social media? Would you like to change how you use it? Share your thoughts below.

 

References

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201703/mental-health-and-the-effects-social-media

[3] http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/teens/how-facebook-is-like-a-drug-addiction/news-story/ad4d1f2cc2cc8ec191dcae6d874b9b47

Related links: (some of many!)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/behind-online-behavior/201408/the-psychology-behind-social-media-interactions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-first-impression/201611/the-psychology-social-media

https://fashionandstylepolice.com/2017/02/28/is-social-media-making-us-more-vain/

http://www.itsbeccajayne.com/2017/04/01/is-social-media-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/

https://lilpickmeup.com/2017/03/06/21st-century-breakups-divorces-are-harder-with-social-media/

Why we shouldn’t automatically describe low libido as a ‘problem’

Guest post

There is a lot of wisdom to be found on the internet. I’ve searched about for advice on many topics, from how to clean a toaster (there were special reasons) to how to deal with commitment phobia. Occasionally, prominent views on the net annoy me quite a lot, and that is the case with the ‘low libido problem’.

Ironically, I first became aware of this view when searching about low libido in men and high libido in women. Instead of finding much about either of those things, I found hundreds of links about low libido in women, and how to ‘solve’ it. (Thankfully there seems to be more about high sex drive in women and low sex drive in men now than when I looked).

I wish to point out at this stage that I like bras, skirts and dresses and I don’t have a problem with anyone ogling a fit woman as long as ogling a fit man is ok too. I actually often find men easier to get on with, and think that masculinity has its perks. Let’s face it, I’m no Germaine Greer.

That said, I find it concerning that pretty much no-one seems to question whether low libido in a woman is a problem. Or whether high libido in men might actually be the problem… Surely this is an issue which can rightly be examined from either viewpoint.

alejandra-quiroz-unsplash-couple-kissing-in-dark
In a society obsessed by sex, no wonder low sex drive is often immediately labelled as abnormal. (This stunning photo of a kissing couple was taken by Alejandra Quiroz and posted on Unsplash.)

The medical profession talks of ‘female sexual arousal disorder’. According to webmd ‘loss of sexual desire is women’s biggest sexual problem’. NHS Choices describes it as a ‘common problem’.

Now, no one knows better than I do that a discrepancy in sex drive is quite a bummer in a relationship. In almost all of my relationships there was a discrepancy and it caused quite a few problems: frustration, uncomfortable pressure, sulking, thoughts of straying and feelings of abnormality. But I never thought that low libido is always the problem and high libido completely normal. And what is ‘high’ or ‘low’ anyway?

As far as I can gather, low libido is not a medical illness. It may occasionally be linked to another illness, but in itself it’s not physically harmful. Arguably, high libido is more of a problem because it could be linked to sexual harassment, viewing hard-core porn and distraction from work or studies. So where are the medicines for lowering sex drive? Or the articles about how to calm those raging hormones?

I can’t help thinking that this whole issue is mainly being viewed from a stereotypically male perspective which suggests that men are entitled to a certain amount of sex and, if they’re not getting it, there’s a problem with their partner. It’s an easy position to get into. When I was the one in the relationship with the higher sex drive, I have to admit I did sometimes feel like my partner had a problem and that it would be quite nice if some harmless food or medicine would give him a bit more drive.

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Relationships are about much more than sex, and sex drives change, unpredictably, over time. (Lovely photo of a couple looking on a hill with a mountain view by Anelise Phillips, taken from Unsplash).

According to sex therapist Graeme Orr, in most couples the sex drive is not equal in both partners [1].Having been both the more sexual and the less sexual partner in a relationship, I’m wary of saying that if you’re not perfectly matched, you shouldn’t be together. And I definitely don’t think that low libido is necessarily a problem: personally I find it quite frustrating having a high sex drive – it often comes with aggressive feelings, tension and stress – whereas with a lower sex drive I can concentrate much better and feel chilled out.

Surely the real issues are: Is your sex drive causing you a problem? And if so, why? Is there a discrepancy in your relationship and, if so, how can you both deal with it in a loving way, from a neutral perspective? Maybe there are ways the more sexual partner can get some release without upsetting the less sexual partner. Maybe there are some simple changes that would make sex more appealing to the less keen one? Or harmless ways to decrease one person’s appetite, as well as potentially harmless ways to increase that of the other?

Male and female sex drive is prone to change throughout our lives, not just in line with hormonal changes but also during periods of stress or depression. I can’t help feeling that the answer for any couple which isn’t perfectly ‘libido matched’ must be to approach the issue in that way, rather than there being the sense that the low libido partner has ‘a problem’.

maxime-lelievre-unsplash-woman-chilling-by-lake
There are benefits to a low sex drive, such as feeling more relaxed. (Great photo of a girl by a lake by Maxime Lelievre, from Unplash.)

And if you’re single with a low sex drive, so what? Plenty of ways to enjoy that.

I’d LOVE to know your views and experiences! Unless you’re a sexist pig – in which case, not so much.

Related links:

http://www.xojane.com/issues/womens-low-sex-drive-is-not-a-problem (love this one!)

http://www.yourtango.com/experts/debra-smouse/mans-low-sex-drive-isnt-always-sign-relationship-trouble

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/5174737/posts/15393 A poem on low libido! Love this.

http://www.sexscience.org/PDFs/Gender%20Differences%20and%20Similarities%20in%20Sexuality%20Final.pdf This seems like a good summary of research on sex drive differences between men and women (there is a lot of nonsense out there, so finding something on this topic that looks well-researched isn’t always easy!)

References:

[1] http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/can-a-realtionship-cope-with-a-difference-in-libido. See also: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/sex-intimacy/info-06-2012/steps-to-resolve-sexual-desire-differences.html

 

 

 

Why we’ve got to stop pretending disability doesn’t exist

Britain is a nation that prefers to ignore what it doesn’t like. And it doesn’t like disability.

Britain is a nation that prefers to ignore what it doesn’t like. And it doesn’t like disability. We live in a society where people believe a number of erroneous things, on one level or another.

We believe we’ll never be disabled

First of all, we all think we won’t become disabled. I know I did. For a start, young people are known to believe they are invincible. And we think we’ll never be the 0.1% or the 1% or even the 10%: it’ll be someone else. We don’t, in general, make any kind of preparation, such as taking out income protection insurance, which provides you with a monthly income if you become too ill to work and your sick pay runs out. I’d never heard of this until recently, and once you have a condition of some severity, forget it, they’re not insuring you.

We also don’t really care about how rubbish government disability provision is. When I say ‘we’, I mean most people who haven’t had much contact with disability. If we did care, there’d be more fuss about how little the government provides, how difficult it is to access any provision, and how humiliating the process can be. There’d be more fuss about how the many of disabled people live in poverty [1], and how difficult it is to access the workplace, and how rubbish public transport can be. And so on.

There’s also a pervasive view that medicine can fix almost anything. People frequently seem surprised that doctors weren’t able to resolve my health problems.

We believe disabled people deserve lesser treatment

A wild claim? Is it really though? I think secretly a lot of people think that disability is often someone’s fault. Some of a hippy inclination think it’s all a matter of mindset. Others think a good diet (whatever their definition of that is) will solve everything. Others may even blame parents for bringing a disabled child into the world. And even those who think none of these things may think disabled people shouldn’t have access to affordable transport options and carers, at the taxpayers expense.

Having become a disabled person in my 20s, it sometimes amazes me how little people are sometimes prepared to do to adapt. For example, my local Abel and Cole delivery man was visibly not at all keen on taking the boxes of food to the kitchen, even though it only took up a minute of this time: maybe less. One day he just didn’t knock and left it all outside, despite knowing I’m disabled. I’m not alone in this: in one poll, 28% of respondents, all of whom were disabled, had experienced people refusing to make adjustments [2].

marcus-spiska-unsplash-basket-of-vegetables
Is it too much to ask for my ‘vegman’ to bring the box in my kitchen? Image by Marcus Spiska. Sourced from Unsplash.

The world often feels pretty unfriendly to disabled people. So many things could easily be adapted to our needs, but aren’t.

We see disability as black and white

People generally accept that someone who can’t walk at all is disabled. But shades of grey confuse them. Almost half of disabled people taking part in a poll said they had talked to someone who didn’t believe they were disabled [3]. A friend once told me that if people saw me getting out of my wheelchair and walking (which I frequently do) they’d think I was ‘an actress’. No doubt some think I’m some kind of benefit fraudster, so beloved is this conception (largely a myth: there are hardly any) [4]. Fact is, I can only walk 15-25 minutes a day without getting so much pain later that I can’t sleep. You can’t get far with 15 minutes, or indeed 25, so sometimes I use a wheelchair or mobility scooter. But the fact that when I walk, I do so completely normally really fries people’s minds. As someone once said to me, ‘It’s hard to believe you need a wheelchair when you get out and walk normally’.

Invisible illness is, in general, difficult for people to take in. This is compounded by our obsession with ‘fakers’. From teachers at school to bosses at work, anyone and everyone is liable to being labelled a faker when they take a sick day. Yes, people do fake sick days. But when you haven’t been faking, and you get treated like you have, it really sucks. You are expected to look and sound awful to ‘prove’ your illness.

I often hear the same sort of problem arising with people whose disability involves exhaustion. People see them weeding their garden and think they’ve recovered.

These perceptions raise dilemmas for the disabled person. I often wonder if I should try to look like I’m having more difficulty walking. I know someone who can only speak a short time before pain sets in. She sometimes doesn’t speak at all, using technology instead, rather than speak a little and then use the app, because people are less confused that way. One disabled person jokes about shouting ‘it’s a miracle!’ when she gets out of her wheelchair to get into her car, again highlighting how strange people tend to find intermittent wheelchair use [4].

Those with M.E. often seem to have the most problems with black-and-white thinking, as some can have patches where they’re fine, then be really ill for a while, and people sometimes think things like ‘well, if you just rest up before our dinner date, you won’t need to cancel’, which might not be the case.

wheelchair-and-feet-pixabay
The general public is not yet used to seeing a wheelchair user get up and walk. Image sourced from Pixabay.

We think it’s ok to phase out the disabled people in our lives

Since becoming part of online support groups for the chronically ill, I’ve discovered that chronic ill health is very often accompanied by isolation. We often see on social media ‘inspirational quotes’ like ‘cut out the negative people in your life; find those who energise and inspire you’. I fully understand cutting out an abusive, unsupportive friend, but these days many people will happily leave by the wayside anyone who’s inconvenient to meet up with or anyone who’s feeling depressed. Even an otherwise wonderful guy I dated at uni didn’t want to hang out with the disabled guy on his course. I’ve heard many a story from the chronically ill of friends just ‘disappearing’, stories that have brought tears to my eyes.

Why do people do it? Surely it must link in with what I said earlier about how we believe it will never be us in that position, and how we believe, perhaps only on a subconscious level, that it is somehow their fault. I am not completely immune to this myself, but I catch myself and think ‘come on, this is ridiculous!’

Many of the chronically ill suspect some friends disappeared because they are uncomfortable with the idea it could happen to them. I think this must happen, just as it does with elderly people. We want to be around happy, shiny people in a bright, perfect world, just like in the adverts. Many people will admit they fear death and so ‘just don’t think about it’, and I suspect much the same attitude is taken to disability. It’s a bit like avoiding hospitals. This is backed up by research which has found that 26% of non-disabled people tend to think of disabled people with awkwardness and discomfort. [5]

The reality is uncomfortable, but we urgently need to face up to it so we can be there for our disabled relatives, friends, employees, colleagues and neighbours.

Learning to live with a physical or mental impediment is hard enough as it is.

 

unsplash-jules-fuchy-man-alone-dark-sky
Many disabled people find their friends ‘disappear’. Photo by Jules Furchy on Unsplash.

Related links:

UK government-commissioned surveys into attitudes to disabled people

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325989/ppdp.pdf

——

Articles on politicians ignoring disabled people:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-blahovec/politicans-ignore-disability-and-its-a-big-problem_b_7784824.html

http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2013/october/govt-ignores-disabled-people-over-pip

http://theconversation.com/ignoring-disabled-people-and-carers-could-cost-parties-thousands-of-votes-40052

—–

Ignoring disability in international development plans:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/oct/13/development-ignores-disabled-people-poverty

https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/developments-cinderella-why-do-development-organisations-ignore-disabled-people/

—–

Ignoring abuse of disabled people:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/26/the-abuse-of-people-with-disability-is-a-national-shame-that-were-ignoring

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-21674047

—-

Ignoring disability links with incarceration and the needs of disabled prisoners:

https://themighty.com/2016/09/we-cant-ignore-the-link-between-disability-and-mass-incarceration/

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article56734053.html

——–

Uk politicians: some raising disability issues, others ignoring them:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/george-osborne-pip-cuts-disabled-disability-laughs-house-of-commons-john-mcdonnell-parliament-a6946176.html

———

On businesses ignoring disability:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sophie-morgan/disabled-accessibility_b_6840528.html

https://crippledscholar.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/but-it-wasnt-designed-for-you-how-ignoring-accessibility-becomes-the-excuse-for-perpetuating-inaccessibility/

http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Business/UK-businesses-lose-1.8bn-a-month-by-ignoring-the-needs-of-disabled-customers

References

[1] 30% of working age disabled people live in poverty according to Scope http://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures

[2] & [3] Polls commissioned by Scope and carried out by Opinium http://www.scope.org.uk/Scope/media/Images/Publication%20Directory/Current-attitudes-towards-disabled-people.pdf?ext=.pdf

[4] http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/guest_posts/2292261-Guest-post-Invisible-illness-Im-fed-up-of-having-to-perform-my-disability

[5] http://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures

 

Chronic pain: an unrecognised taboo

On the whole, talking about the chronic pain I experience tends to be greeted with a resounding silence, and/or rapid change of the subject.

If you’d asked me ten years ago to name taboos in the UK, I’d have said things like ‘female masturbation’ and ‘being transgender’. Twenty years ago, I might have said ‘being homosexual’. Particularly in some circles, these things are still somewhat taboo, but much less than they were. Now I’d include chronic pain, but only because I live with it. If you don’t, you’re probably happily oblivious of the awkwardness around the topic.

The Cambridge UK dictionary defines ‘a taboo’ as ‘an action or word that is avoided for religious or social reasons’. Having suffered from chronic pain for several years now, I’ve only gradually become aware of how often I refrain from mentioning pain, and why. On the whole, talking about the chronic pain I experience tends to be greeted with a resounding silence, and/or rapid change of the subject. No doubt this is why I often avoid mentioning it, or mention it briefly and rapidly change the subject myself.

unsplash-jules-fuchy-man-alone-dark-sky
Living with chronic pain can be a lonely experience when it’s hard to talk about it.

Why the awkwardness?

Are people awkward about chronic pain because they don’t know what to say, like when someone’s parent has died? Or is it because they think you shouldn’t mention it; you should be pretending everything is fine? Hard to know really. Here are my thoughts on possible reasons why people react strangely to talk of pain:

  • Chronic pain, like death, old age and hospitals, is something most people prefer to ignore until forced to confront it. Discussion of these topics causes a sense of unease that people want to avoid.
  • People want to ‘save’ those with chronic pain from talking about something that seems very personal, so strive to change the topic.
  • People are worried about either sounding pitying or heartless, so say nothing or change the subject.
  • Actually, people are only a little awkward but the chronic pain sufferer is expecting awkwardness and that magnifies it in his/her mind.

There’s always the worry that silence means something negative like ‘you need to man up’, especially after actually receiving some rude and inconsiderate comments along these lines in the past.

Then there are other reasons why people with chronic pain don’t talk about it:

  • Fear of sounding like you’re complaining and fishing for sympathy.
  • The complexity of the subject, which can only really be covered fully by a long conversation.
  • Fear of sounding ‘soft’.

This article sums up brilliantly the many reasons why revealing a chronic pain condition can make a person feel very vulnerable: it can feel like you are in a no-win situation. But the less you say (or are able to say, before the topic is changed!), the more likely people are to jump to the wrong conclusions. The more you can explain, the more people are likely to gain understanding.

Why we all need to help end this taboo

The trouble with any taboo is that it creates repression and shame. People feel abnormal and are unable to obtain the benefits of discussing something important to them, such as compassion, getting useful suggestions, and that feeling of carrying a lighter load. And the subject of the taboo remains poorly understood, shrouded by prejudices. Estimates of those living with chronic pain vary, but it is undoubtable that the percentage is high: about 7.9 million people in the UK experience moderately or severely limiting chronic pain (between 10.4% and 14.3%) [1]. How many people do you know with chronic pain? Does it match these statistics? If it doesn’t, then maybe you know some people who are living in the silence of this taboo.

back-pain-pixabay
If chronic pain were visible, perhaps life would be easier for those living with it…

We Brits are well-known for a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude and for euphemisms. We say things like ‘things have been better’, when really we mean ‘things are terrible’. Is this helpful when it comes to chronic pain? Well, there’s certainly a need for much ‘patient endurance’, as chronic illness writer Toni Bernhard puts it. And sometimes we do smile, in spite of the pain, and we must. But we shouldn’t feel pressurised to pretend everything is fine if we feel unhappy. We shouldn’t feel unable to set boundaries, to pace ourselves, and to use mobility aids or other aids which ease our burden. Most importantly, we should feel ok about sharing this struggle, this massive part of who we are.

And with 69% of those with the severest level of pain experiencing anxiety or depression [2], improving the social conditions faced by these people should be a high priority. Feeling that pain is taboo isn’t going to lift anyone’s mood – quite the opposite.

hailey-keen-unsplash-woman-on-floor-in-agony
69% of those with the most severe pain experience anxiety and depression, which could be reduced if there were sympathetic listeners on hand!

How can we get there? If you live with chronic pain, try to start sharing when you can. And if you don’t live with chronic pain, be ready to listen, to show some sympathy, and to discuss this issue which has been pushed into the shadows for far too long.

I’ve started talking more about pain, talking about it whenever a good opportunity arises. I’ve started resisting the urge to not talk about it. And you know what? It feels good. It feels a bit revolutionary. It feels like being myself and like opening the door of understanding, even if merely by an inch.

Related links:

http://sufferingthesilence.com/#sthash.QJKIOsPo.dpbs

http://blog.allsup.com/2014/09/nfmcpa-stigma-persists-for-people-with-fibromyalgia-chronic-pain-conditions/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3204061/Young-people-invisible-chronic-illnesses-like-HIV-Lupus-reveal-conditions-world-new-portrait-series-prove-don-t-suffer-silence-shame.html

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/120574110/posts/996 a personal description of the advantages of telling people about a health condition

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/67332141/posts/796   on the stigma of autism

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/116356880/posts/220  on the stigma of mental health issues

Scholarly articles/research related to this topic:

http://anthropology.mit.edu/sites/default/files/documents/jackson_Stigma.pdf

http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-11182013-152753/unrestricted/rlang.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24548852

Other references to chronic pain as a taboo:

http://mikscarlet.com/the-last-taboo-pain-why-does-it-hurt-us-to-admit-to-it/

http://leeockenden.com/specialties/chronic-pain/

http://www.canadianpaincoalition.ca/media/chronic_pain_final_2.pdf

If you would like to suggest a related link, email me!

References

[1] Prevalence of chronic pain in the UK: a systematic review and meta-analysis of population studies by A Fayaz, P Croft, R M Langford, L J Donaldson, G T Jones, http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e010364.full

[2] The Health and Social Care Information Centre, Sally Bridges, 2012 http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB09300/HSE2011-Ch9-Chronic-Pain.pdf

 

 

We are living in an alcohol delusion

We are living under a delusion: the delusion that alcohol is our best friend. The delusion that we need it to have fun or forget our worries or chat people up on a night out …

I’m bracing myself right now. What I’m going to say won’t be popular, but I think I need to do it. By way of introduction, I’d like to say that I gave up drinking aged 25, as I had a severe reflux problem and even a few mouthfuls of an alcoholic drink made me nauseous. I haven’t drunk since, and I think that distance from alcohol, from drinking, has really opened my eyes a lot.

Firstly, a look at the country’s general attitude to alcohol:

  • it’s mostly harmless
  • it enhances most situations
  • it’s the solution to our problems
  • it’s a crucial part of most social events
  • those who don’t drink are weird and killjoys
  • tales of drunkenness are funny
  • it’s fine to be an alcoholic as long as you still wash and aren’t homeless

Alcohol can be tasty and relaxing, it can give Dutch courage and brighten up a boring evening. It can also, to some extent, drown sorrows. But at the same time, it can do a great deal of harm. It can contribute to unwanted pregnancies, STDs, broken relationships, health problems, accidents and domestic violence.

joey-thompson-unsplash-pregnant-woman-dark-room
Alcohol is a major cause of unwanted pregnancies (e.g. see here). Photograph by Joey Thompson on Unsplash.

I once lived in a house with a lot of drinkers, including one alcoholic and a couple of borderline alcoholics. As a non-drinker, I wasn’t fully accepted by some of them. One sometimes tried to convince me I’d have more fun if I drank, but to be honest living there made me pretty glad I didn’t drink. For a start, the alcoholic had lost friends and opportunities due to her drunken behaviour, and was on the way to losing her relationship. Her boyfriend sometimes slept in the living room when she was drunkenly aggressive. She was a complete mess when drunk: we all got drawn in to her drunken hysteria. She also got cancer, for the second time, which can only have been aggravated by the drinking.

Others in the house also got aggressive when drunk, having pointless arguments. One messed up the football journalism he did at weekends due to turning up late and hungover. There was general disturbance and antisocial behaviour. Alcohol could not have been less attractive.

 

man-at-bar-unsplash-hatim-belyamini
Sometimes having a drink is actually not that attractive! Photograph by Hatim Belyamini. Sourced from Unsplash.

Another effect of alcohol that is often overlooked is the increased risk of accidents. This was demonstrated to me in a striking way when one of my close friends lost his best friend when he fell on the tube tracks after a night out.

It’s a myth that you have to be an alcoholic to get alcohol-related health problems. As the NHS site puts it: ‘Most people who have alcohol-related health problems aren’t alcoholics. They’re simply people who have regularly drunk more than the recommended levels for some years… And it’s certainly not only people who get drunk or binge drink who are at risk. Most people who regularly drink more than the NHS recommends don’t see any harmful effects at first.’ The NHS recommends less than 2-3 units a day for a woman, and less than 3-4 for a man. More than 9 million people in England drink more than that [1].

Health problems linked to alcohol consumption are [2]:

  • cancer
  • brain damage
  • high blood pressure and heart failure
  • sudden death due to irregular heartbeat
  • depression and other mental health problems
  • sexual problems, including infertility
  • obesity
  • disrupted sleep
  • osteoporosis
  • kidney disease
  • increased risk of pneumonia
  • stomach ulcers

Now for some surprising alcohol-related stats. You ready?

In 2013/14, there were an estimated 1,059,210 hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis [3].

medic-563425_960_720
Over 1 million hospital admission s were linked to alcohol in 2013-14. Image sourced from Pixabay.

In England, in 2013 there were 6,592 alcohol-related deaths. This is a 1 per cent increase from 2012 (6,495) and a 10 per cent increase from 2003 (5,984) [4].

Alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of death in the U.S. [5].

Even if you are a moderate drinker, is alcohol really something you want to advertise, a trade you want to support? And do your comments about alcohol encourage alcoholism and reckless behaviour? Since becoming a non-drinker, I’ve been surprised at how many people have criticized the fact I don’t drink (even a barman I’d only just met!). Virtually no-one has praised it. We are living under a delusion: the delusion that alcohol is our best friend. The delusion that we need it to have fun or forget our worries or chat people up on a night out (trust me, I’ve managed all three of these without alcohol). We are buying into the delusion that it is both harmless and necessary in our lives.

We are encouraging alcoholism, glamorising it even. We aren’t helping those who suffer from it. I know this from the house-share I mentioned above: when the alcoholic young woman tried to quit, mainly on an ultimatum from her boyfriend, others in the house drunk in the house and encouraged her to join in.

Approximately 17 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women will be dependent on alcohol in their lifetime (http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics). We need to wake up to the realities of alcohol and stop making drinking feel obligatory at social events, a sign of being cool and fitting in. Interestingly, it could be today’s young people who are leading the way: fewer and fewer young adults (16-24 years old) drink alcohol, and of those who do, fewer engage in binge drinking (a decrease of 1/3 since 2005) [6].

unsplash-bottles-of-wine-felipe-benoit
Is it time to stop giving alcohol such a major part in our lives? Photograph by Felipe Benoit. Sourced from Unsplash.

Over 21% of adults don’t drink at all, so if you give up you won’t be alone [7]. And you’ll actually be more bohemian than when you drank [8]. You’ll be fitter, less likely to get a horrible illness and less likely to die in an accident. You’ll be helping those with an alcohol problem to feel comfortable not drinking at social events. You’ll be advertising the fact it’s ok not to drink alcohol. You’ll probably also be nicer to people, have safer sex and drop that embarrassing late-night texting.

As I mentioned, I gave up alcohol because it was more unpleasant than pleasant for me, due to the nausea. But in all honesty, save the first few months of sobriety and a few isolated occasions since, I’ve been glad I did. My drinking practices were already a bit dodgy and, given some of the hellish times I’ve had over recent years, I’m sure they’d have gotten worse.

Deep down, do you believe our drinking culture is a good thing?

Share your stories of alcohol-related problems, or your personal experiences with alcohol below. Go on, I dare you.

 

Related links

Another former drinker’s perspective and experience; an interesting piece:

https://soberistas.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/booze-britain/

Also:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/51344657/posts/6883

This is from a blog about life post-drinking.

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Some interesting facts and figures (graphs etc) on alcohol consumption patterns:

https://citydistilled.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/uk-drinking-patterns-2/

This is from an alcohol-related blog.

—–

Tips and advice on cutting back:

https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/booze-news-what-are-the-simplest-ways-to-reduce-your-alcohol-intake/

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On alcohol and obesity: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2007/oct/16/drugsandalcohol.health

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/14/boozy-britain-why-do-we-drink

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/08/minimum-pricing-alcohol-red-faced-ranters

—–

Interesting observations of an American woman on our alcohol culture, though the piece was surrounded by huge ads for gin when I looked!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1076364/Why-Brits-DRUNKS–asks-American-writer.html

—–

If you’re really into the topic, a book!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Binge-Britain-Alcohol-National-Response/dp/0199299412

References

1: https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/help-and-advice/statistics-on-alcohol

2: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body

3: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17712

4: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17712

5: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/data-stats.htm

6: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17712

7: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17712

8: http://www.cloudsandwavescrafts.co.uk/blog/teetotal-punctual-and-bohemian