Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ramblings: The Boy in the Bubble

Its that time of year when I remember that I have hay fever. I always forget about it and always expect that this will be the year I’ve outgrown it. I’ve been expecting this for 30 years. I never outgrow it. It only last a few weeks, is nowhere near as horrendous as when I was a teenager, but it’s still a pain.

As a child I would spend the months of June and July with an itchy throat, swollen eyes and a runny nose. It used to drive me insane. On the plus side, it did give me an excuse to stay inside and read. I also discovered later that this excuse could be extended to sports lesson. I would get my mother to write a note in May stating that I would not be able to go outside until September as I had severe hay fever and this sparked off asthma. This was of course a major exaggeration but no one can argue against the note from a mother.

I once went for allergy testing as my hands kept getting itchy and bleeding. It turned out that I didn’t have a latex allergy (phew) but just washed my hands too much. The nurse applied a control substance to check for a response and my arm swelled up to mammoth proportions. She was very impressed. Apparently I have an amazingly good histamine response, which conversely, is bad.

In the mid nineties, the stress of qualifying as a nurse used to make me come out in random hives on my face. The busier the ward, the worse the shift, then the bigger and redder my facial lumps got. A friend used to go on hive-watch and started calling me the Boy in the Bubble. She advocated that I was allergic to so much stuff that I should live in a giant hermetically sealed bubble. That sounds like bliss.

I hate this modern trend of thinking you’re allergic to anything. I don’t believe half of them. If people tell me they’re allergic to gluten I’m not generally convinced until they show me a lab report of their celiac serology. It’s often affected nonsense.

Although I scoff at others for being precious I’m allowed to have a list of drugs, foods, substances and animals that send me off on one. It’s one rule for them and another for me, of course. I reacted badly to two anti-depressants and ended up with a strange syndrome where my serotonin levels were so high that I couldn’t sit still at all and had to be sedated. I developed total insomnia for two nights after taking a simple painkiller. I get migraines if I so much as look at all the migraine trigger foods (chocolate, red wine, monosodium glutamate, Cola, citrus fruits and strong cheese). Certain breeds of dog make my face swell up and my hands and neck itch like crazy. Excessive amounts of fruit make me come out in huge itchy lumps on my legs and abdomen. Certain aftershaves bring me out in blisters. My favourite allergy of all is pine trees. I’m literally allergic to Christmas. One brush against a tacky old Christmas tree and I’m scratching until dawn.

I spent half my childhood being painted in Calamine lotion. I thought it was normal to have powdery white stuff coating your body. Maybe it is if your life is one long Bukake party. I never went anywhere without my inhaler or Piriton and thought it was pretty standard to spend a lot of time with a wet flannel on your forehead.

Some days that bubble seems like an inviting prospect but only if Paul is allowed in there with me and i can access the internet. Thankfully, I have yet to develop an allergy to books too but sadly I have yet to develop an allergy to tobacco.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Ramblings: An Exercise in Futility

Have you seen the article on the BBC website about the latest research into exercise and depression?
For me it feels like a liberating thing. I’ve always hated exercise and never been keen to undertake it and episodes of depression have lead me into hideous battles with myself to be active. Now, I can be free from the dreaded self imposed exercise regime.

I always hated sport. We weren’t a sporting family. Reading was more our thing. My father would watch the occasional cricket match but that isn’t really a sport; its men standing around in a field. Any game where they wear jumpers is surely not a real sport? I always admired darts players. They could drink and smoke, brandish huge bellies and be called sportsmen. Nice work if you can get it.

Hours of torture in school physical education lessons reinforced my distaste for all thing sporting. As a child, sport equated stupidity to me (I now see I was wrong about this. It’s not true that all sports players are stupid, just a fair proportion). The sports teacher was one of the most asinine people I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. I judged sporting people by his example. Hours of being shouted at, insulted and called homophobic names by him made me realise that it definitely wasn’t for me. I was quite good at running (probably a good thing, given that it was a British comprehensive school in the 1980s and I was a very effeminate boy). I was urged by the teachers to represent the school at running but was revolted by the idea. I had a television and a shelf full of unread Agatha Christie’s. Why would I forsake that joy to sweat and pant and end up all achy and sore? They were less than pleased and very mystified by my lack of competitive interest.

I once decided to join a gym. I’d given up smoking, hit 30 and gained a little paunch. I went to the gym. I looked round the gym. I didn’t join the gym. I ate a bit less and the weight went.

When I became hideously depressed I tried everything I could. I read everything I could about it, sought therapy, took the pills and ate the foods I was told would help. I remained horribly depressed. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I needed to try to exercise too. I thought about it for a good while.

It was a supreme effort. I’d drag myself out of bed and spend hours trying to force myself into the shower. Eventually I’d force myself out of the house and go for long walks. I’d walk for several hours each day in all weathers, hating every minute of it. I saw no joy in any scenery I passed. I didn’t like the music on my I-pod and was fearful and apprehensive of everyone I saw. Such is the nature of depression. It robs you of all ability to experience pleasure. It didn’t help at all. I just felt more defeated. I walked every day for weeks, months and still got no better. I felt even more of a disaster at life.

Of course, I eventually did get better after several months of taking pills, seeing therapists and being off work. Who’s to say that the walking didn’t help a little? It’s hard to unpick if it did or didn’t. I know that I was malnourished and rapidly losing weight, sweating a lot from the pills and was utterly exhausted. Not a good starting point for a long walk. It never felt especially good.

I do know though, that activity helps me a little when I’m depressed, although it’s hard to do. A simple walk to the shop can distract me a tiny bit and help minimally. A minor household task can make me feel a miniscule sense of normality and achievement. Maybe exercise helps in that way. For me, depression tells me that I can’t do anything and it’s a major struggle to counteract those defective instincts and be active. It’s usually worth it if I do though. Sometimes it only helps the tiniest bit which is barely noticeable but it does always seem to help a little. When I’m really bad I can do nothing at all. It’s like I’m weighted down.

For me, this new research tells me nothing new. I already knew exercise is never going to make me happy. Endorphins don’t seem to figure in my make-up. At least I have a damn good excuse now, though, when my inner bully tells me to get up and walk and lighten my mood. I can present it with a piece of research and tell it to do one.

The main point I’d make, is if you think exercise helps then do it. If it doesn’t seem to then don’t. Simple. For me its vive le sofa! Have you seen the facial expressions on some of those joggers? No thanks.