Something that happens when you have a chronic condition is that many people want to give you ideas on possible treatments: diets is a big favourite (paleo, vegan, raw, gluten-free etc), alternative/complimentary treatments is another (reiki, homeopathy etc) and then there are types of exercise (especially yoga) and general lifestyle things (from cocoa before bed to moving to another country). Sometimes it’s a tentative suggestion, sometimes full-on old-school Jehovah’s Witness zeal that’s hard to refuse. I know you mean well, but I’m still not going to try it, and here’s why:
I want to get better more than anything, but…
There is no scientific proof that the thing works
This is usually the case, otherwise I’d have tried it already. Yes, there probably are people on the internet who think it’s a miracle, but it’s going to take more than that. People often think we should try everything that might possibly work, but that’s when these factors come into play:
I don’t have time
This may seem strange but people without a chronic illness don’t realise how much time it takes up. There’s time spent in flare-up, when you can’t do anything much productive. There’s time buying equipment or pain relief and maintaining and replacing your special products. Time attending appointments and chasing them up. Time getting your prescription each month. Often pain or lack of energy just makes everything take longer. And we need days off too! There often just isn’t space for attending regular sessions of yoga/acupuncture/homeopathy/reiki, especially when there’s no convincing proof that it will help us.
I don’t have the emotional energy to try it
Trying potential treatments can be really draining. You get your hopes up, sometimes you invest a fair bit of time and money, then it doesn’t work and you feel really disappointed. Imagine riding that emotional rollercoaster ten, twenty, thirty times. On top of which are the difficulties that chronic illness can bring to relationships, friendships and work. I don’t want anyone to think I don’t care about cures, to think I’m enjoying my situation, but please understand I can’t try every suggestion!
It’s too impractical
This is often the case with diets where you’re already on a very restricted diet (or even tube feeding) and for suggestions such as moving abroad or going abroad for treatment, or a treatment suggestion that you know will be extremely painful or exhausting for you, again without proven effects.
I can’t afford it
I already spend a fair bit on medicinal products and equipment. When I went through a more hippy phase, I spent a fortune on herbs and tinctures as well as alternative treatments. The wallet can only take so much.
I’ve tried it already
And it didn’t work. Awkward, since you’ve just told me how wonderful it is. Now I feel like a failure.
So should I just keep my suggestions to myself?
Unless I’ve expressed an interest in trying new treatments, and unless you’re my doctor, yes please. From what I gather, most of us with a chronic condition have the internet and have googled our condition or symptoms many a time. If we want to try a new treatment or diet and we have the time, money and emotional energy, we will.
I know people are being nice and trying to be helpful, but sometimes it can really take over conversations, which are already often about our health.
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For me, whenever I consider any religion, two big questions arise: 1. Is it plausible? and 2. Is it helpful? I think the law of attraction is a new religion that is steadily growing, largely unnoticed, and it’s about time we all had a good look at it. This post will cover ‘Is it plausible?’ and in a future post I will look at the second question.
What is the law of attraction?
The basic principle of the law of attraction is that you tell ‘the universe’ what you want in a specific way, and it will be delivered to you. In their words:
‘Visualize your message as a letter with ‘The Universe‘ printed on its envelope as an address… If you were waiting for new shoes, perhaps you would make space in your shoe rack. Likewise, make space in your life for the order that you have placed with the universe….Speak, walk, talk and breathe as if your reality has already changed for the better, and your original message will be delivered.’ 
It falls in a category involving a host of other beliefs such as belief in chakras and ‘energy therapies’.
A new religion
The United Kingdom has, of late, very much become the land of atheists or, at least, those who identify as having no religion (48.5% in 2014, outnumbering the 43.8% who define themselves as Christian). And yet I have become increasingly aware of a new religion, one that many might not call a religion but which I suggest should be seen as one: the law of attraction. It requires faith and something similar to prayer. It offers to its followers rich rewards. And it has a community of followers with their own online and real-life groups where they meet up and talk about using the principles of this ‘law’ in their lives (at the time of writing, on Meetup alone, law of attraction groups have over 1 million members!).
‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne is a book on the Law of attraction that is, according to the book’s website, a worldwide best seller available in 50 languages with over 20 million copies in print. 
Its followers may well disagree with me and say ‘a religion? Oh no, it’s just another law of the universe like gravity’. But this is not very different to how followers of other religions will also tell you that God is real, a fact. The only difference is that churches don’t necessarily try to convince you God is real by reference to quantum physics (though a few probably do).
I had a message once from someone renting out rooms who thought I might like to live there. Based on me having said meditation is one of my interests, this home-owner told me that he and other persons in the house were law of attraction believers and another person there was a ‘heretic’. A jokey remark, of course, but, I think, hinting at a deeper, and more disturbing, reality.
While most religious people nowadays are aware that others may not believe in God and are usually quite discreet about their beliefs, the same can’t always be said about law of attraction followers. Those who believe that the law of attraction is a real phenomenon can say things such as “I know a great person who can really help with blocked energies”. They don’t realise that the existence of personal energies has not been proven or they assume that for some reason you will share their beliefs (e.g. because you both like meditation). I am constantly coming across law of attraction believers, and it’s time to speak out.
The essence of the law of attraction is as follows: ‘Whether we are doing it knowingly or unknowingly, every second of our existence, we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out.’  ‘When we fill ourselves with negative energies and emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or general pessimism, our frequency is lowered and the universe can only expand on this, promoting greater negativity in our lives.’
As with all religions, no hint of doubt in the phrasing there. But is this real science?
I have been unable to find any genuine, qualified scientist supporting the proposition that we send out different vibrations according to how we feel. And, even were that the case, it would need to be proven that such vibrations attract things to us such as new jobs, new partners, money, illness, etc.
Some refer to experiments on water: however, these are by no means accepted by the scientific community, may not have followed scientific methods, and the ‘scientist’ who carried them out is not well qualified or widely respected . It is also unclear how these ‘experiments’ (where people acted in various ways towards water: really!) could prove the idea that we can send out ‘positive vibrations’ to bring us what we want.
While most of us rely on Google as our main signpost to sources of knowledge, this is not necessarily wise. The top links resulting from a Google search are, presumably, usually companies who have hired a search engine optimisation firm to get them there. Life coaches and energy medicine practitioners need you to find them in a Google search and, as a result, if you search for ‘human energies’ or such, you will find material from those who rely on such pseudoscience to make money.
Really the only major balance to all of them is https://sciencebasedmedicine.org, which clearly states ‘Scientists can detect and measure minute energies down to the subatomic level, but they have never detected a “human energy field.”’  This website contains articles written by qualified scientists who expose the pseudoscience so commonly used by practitioners of ‘energy medicine’ such as reiki. While believers of the law of attraction may not also believe in ‘energy medicine’ and vice versa, there is often an overlap and ultimately both rely on similar claims (e.g. that energy can be purposely sent out from our body to do things like order us new shoes or heal someone’s bad back).
Writers at the New York Times, Psychology Today and some other sources have also refuted the law of attraction .
But what about anecdotes where it has ‘worked’?
The law of attraction and the philosophy around it share some similarities with common sense psychology, and so may sometimes appear to work. Psychological studies have long acknowledged the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ whereby, for example, someone who is always told they are bad at maths may indeed do badly in maths exams due to their poor self-confidence . Likewise those with good self-confidence will probably achieve most in life due to their willingness to try new things and their belief that their endeavours are worthwhile and will pay off. There is nothing radical about this. Believing goals are attainable is crucial to keep us motivated and determined, and believers of the law of attraction are likely to have such a belief.
Elements of the law of attraction are backed up by fact or simply obvious, such as this statement taken from thelawofattraction.com home page:
‘A key part of the Law of Attraction is understanding that where you place your focus can have an intense impact on what happens to you. If you spend your days wallowing in regrets about the past or fears of the future, you’ll likely see more negativity appearing, but if you look for the silver lining in every experience then you’ll soon start to see positivity surrounding you every day.’
People who want to see positive change in their lives don’t need to consult the law of attraction website, books or groups. There are plenty of other sources that can help people and which don’t rely on fake science. Not only that, but there are sources of help that have been tested by eminent psychologists (such as Martin Seligman, Rick Hanson and others), unlike the law of attraction. The law of attraction can actually lead people to worse mental health, as will be discussed in my next post.
As for ‘energy medicine’, it can work by causing relaxation and stress relief and due to the placebo effect. So, yes, it may help but it may also cost people a lot of money and cause them to fail to pursue more useful (and more scientific) remedies.
Left unchallenged, these beliefs will spread. After centuries of truth-seeking and moving away from believing the earth is flat and lightning is God’s wrath, we are at risk of slipping back into superstition and investing great time and money in such beliefs. Google isn’t helping. The internet is awash with support for this theory and proper analysis is hard to find. The same is true for energy medicine. Next time you meet someone who assumes you are a believer, please show you aren’t. Please share this post, or one in the related links below, and help us keep on the path of truth and wisdom.
It’s easy to dismiss these things as fairly trivial, but are they?
Sometimes when I think about low pay in the arts, I think ‘well, I guess it’s not as important as medical services, or food or electricity provision. You can go without the arts’. But can you? Does anyone? Most people watch films and listen to music, even if reading fiction, going to galleries and attending an opera are more niche. Millions watch TV talent shows. It’s easy to dismiss these things as fairly trivial, but are they?
Have you ever been feeling really sad or worried and turned to your favourite film, book or comedian to help you through? I know I have. According to the stats, 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental health problem in the course of a year. . And while drugs and/or therapy might be a big help, I think the arts are a lifeline we often don’t recognise until the time comes.
As a young adult, I remember thinking that, if it weren’t for music, and especially for British rock band, Feeder, I might not still be around. Music has always been massively important to me. No matter how you’re feeling, there’s bound to be a band that can sum up that feeling in a song, even if the song lyrics don’t really match your situation. And for those who prefer to listen to something jolly to cheer themselves up, there’s plenty of jolly music going around.
And the value of music isn’t just anecdotal. Studies in hospital settings have shown that listening to music reduces anxiety and depression, as well as having positive effects on blood pressure and heart rate. 
Of course, it’s not just music that can help people through a rough patch. I had to stop drinking several years ago for a medical reason. At times when in the past getting pissed might have seemed the answer, I now go to the library and get a shitload of books. It’s not glamorous, it’s not massively cool, but it works. Get lost in a book and you’re oblivious to your problems. Not only that, but some books are really uplifting in one way or another, so that by the end you do feel a bit better as well.
What’s your go-to art form? Love musicals or dance shows? Theatre, film, comedy? What helps you feel better? Has anything helped you through dark times?
And then there’s actually getting involved in art; the therapeutic value of this is a little better known. Does painting cheer you up? Playing an instrument? Writing? I should admit right now that I’m partly writing this to escape from the bloody awful week I’m having right now. But I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know your thoughts below 🙂
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.
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.
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 .
Health problems linked to alcohol consumption are :
high blood pressure and heart failure
sudden death due to irregular heartbeat
depression and other mental health problems
sexual problems, including infertility
increased risk of pneumonia
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 .
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) .
Alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of death in the U.S. .
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) .
Over 21% of adults don’t drink at all, so if you give up you won’t be alone . And you’ll actually be more bohemian than when you drank . 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.
Another former drinker’s perspective and experience; an interesting piece: